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On screens

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Erin Costelo doc airs Saturday on CBC

The making of Sweet Marie was directed by Amelia Curran.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 3, 2019 at 2:10 PM


Sink into winter Saturday afternoon with a look behind the scenes of one of 2018's best local albums, Erin Costelo's Sweet Marie. Directed by Newfoundland songwriter/legend Amelia Curran, it covers the 10 days Costelo and her band spent in a very nice rural Nova Scotia house.

"I imagine it’s what the Desperate Houseiwives of Atlanta must feel—you just ignore it after awhile," Costelo said of the filming process back in November. "And that’s what I did. I think you can see the dissent of my attempt to look in any way decent. I stopped caring and did what I would normally do in the studio. ‘I’m not puttin’ on fake eyelashes to make a record.’ When I looked back there was part of me as a woman, realizing there’s part of this industry that puts a huge value on that, that made me go ‘Can I use this as promotional material?’ Because I don’t look very glamourous. I had to wrestle with that. Not because of content but because I wasn’t sure if I liked the way I presented myself in it."

Having Curran, a friend and fellow musician, run the filming side was calming and reassuring. "I feel really good about the doc," said Costelo. "It was meant to be a way to hold myself accountable to these 10 days. I know myself and I know my perfectionism would take over, and I would want to do overdubs or build things into a huge thing. But it allowed me to realize that taking longer or being more meticulous doesn’t make a better record. It just takes longer."

Sweet Marie: In Studio With Erin Costelo
Airs Saturday, January 5, 1pm on CBC

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

On Monday, you can see Prince's Purple Rain in theatres

Cineplex's features a one-night-only screening of the artist's 1984 rock-musical

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 12:12 PM

I only wanted to see you / Bathing in that purple rain
  • I only wanted to see you / Bathing in that purple rain

On Monday, May 2, Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane will screen Prince's 1984 rock-musical Purple Rain for one-night-only to honour the recent death of the pop-music royal. Tickets are now on sale for $6.99, with $1.00 of every ticket donated to MusiCounts, Canada's music education charity via The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS).

The 1-hour and 50-minute drama marked Prince's acting debut, and his first album with Prince and the Revolution. The soundtrack won an Oscar for Best Original Score the year of the film's release, and the album—his sixth record at the time—has sold over 22 million copies worldwide. The synopsis: "A young musician, tormented by an abusive situation at home, must contend with a rival singer, a burgeoning romance, and his own dissatisfied band, as his star begins to rise." 

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Local doc Myrtle Beach headed to Slamdance Film Fest

Michael Fuller and Neil Rough take their beautiful portrait to Park City, Utah

Posted By on Fri, Dec 4, 2015 at 4:45 PM

  • Myrtle Beach
  • Michael Fuller/Neil Rough

In January, locally produced documentary Myrtle Beach premieres at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, an independent complement to the Sundance Film Festival that same week. Produced, directed and shot by Atlantic photographers Michael Fuller and Neil Rough, the film follows a few Myrtle Beach denizens to create interesting and dynamic portraits of the human condition. Set against the gorgeous natural and artificial landscapes of the South Carolina vacation town, Myrtle Beach is stunning and emotional, desperate yet compassionate.

"The movie was an attempt, for me at least, to use a slightly different medium to explore the types of things I'd been exploring in my photographs," says Neil Rough, with 20 years of experience shooting all across North America.  In 2011, explains Fuller, "We drove towards Miami with a video camera and a loose idea for a film we wanted to make. The idea morphed, as it usually does, and the landscape of Myrtle Beach and the people there became our focus." Over the next few years, they returned to Myrtle Beach several times and shot the last rolls of footage this spring. 

The film follows several real men in documentary vignettes of unusual characters telling their stories, like Wayne the self-appointed security guard, a veteran named Alvin, the cockatoo keeper, the homeless man and an old man named George, among others. "It's an observation of Myrtle Beach and the people therein, an attempt at finding the 'unfamiliar in the familiar.' It brings to the forefront select individuals who might otherwise go unnoticed," says Fuller. 

  • Michael Fuller/Neil Rough

"The images of the town exist as a way to give a setting to the place where the characters exist," Rough elaborates, "But the characters are the important part. I see a lot of humanity." With Fuller's production, Rough's experience as a photographer becomes apparent in the cinematography, balancing focus and light to show what's revealed through movement, and sometimes silence. Rough says he tapped into a feeling of mystery and hoped to capture it. 

With funding through Arts Nova Scotia and private contributions, the film was completed with a minimal budget and edited by Grant Stewart in New York. All three will head to Utah in January for the premiere, and hope to enter the film in other festivals, while working on new projects. 

Myrtle Beach - First Teaser Trailer from Off Season on Vimeo.

* * * * * * * * * 

For other new docs on America's south-east, check out Sean Dunne's short doc Black Bike Week about Myrtle Beach's annual African-American biker rally and his 2014 doc Florida Man about some of central Florida's strange street characters, as well. God bless the USA. 

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Watch this short doc on the benefits of medical marijuana

Produced by former Halifax journalists, A Different Light is an eye-opener

Posted By on Mon, Nov 23, 2015 at 12:49 PM


"Weed is way more than just weed," says Tristan Williams, the subject of a new short doc on the 'undeniable benefits' of medicinal marijuana by Abandoned Spirt House Films, founded in Halifax a few years ago by King's College grads Roland Eksteins and Nicolas Bergeron. 

Both Eksteins and Bergeron are currently videographers in residence at The Banff Centre in Alberta, but often collaborate on independent work, including A Different Light

"The concept came together in the summer of 2014, in a park in Montreal," says Eksteins. "And the subject of medical marijuana came up almost immediately. I started meeting people who'd benefitted from pot medicinally, which really opened my eyes. An earlier interview subject eventually led us to Tristan, and we started putting the pieces together, slowly but surely." 

Bergeron adds, "I grew up haunted by the stigma and misinformation that surrounded marijuana in the past. To finally learn the truth and have the opportunity to share the facts, especially through a story as inspiring as Tristan's, has been a great relief. The curtain's been lifted."

With an original score by Halifax's Year of Glad, the film is an exceptionally well-conceived contribution to the growing urgency and relevancy of legalization in Canada. Watch below. 

A Different Light from Abandoned Spirit House Films on Vimeo.

Directed by Roland Eksteins
Edited by Nicolas Bergeron
Shot by Roland Eksteins & David Dworkind
Written by Roland Eksteins & Nicolas Bergeron
Colouring by Toomas Meema
Audio Post Production by Philip Gosselin
Animation by Devan Burton & Jessie Altura
Original Score by Year of Glad
Additional Music Courtesy of Choongum & MANN 

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

AFF Reviews: The Lobster, Room

The Lobster hits rock bottom while Room is an exquisite portrait of love and healing

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 2:23 PM

John C. Reilly and Colin Farrell star in The Lobster
  • John C. Reilly and Colin Farrell star in The Lobster

Movie reviewers everywhere are loving The Lobster, the first English-language film by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos. The absurdist comedic satire is set in a UK near-dystopia where it's illegal to be single. So when David (Colin Farrell) gets dumped, he's immediately transferred to this freak-show singles hotel where he has 45 days to find a mate or he's turned into an animal of his choice. Like Salem the cat from Sabrina the Teenage Witch. David's choice is a lobster. 

I don't even know where to start with this movie. I liked the fantastical animal concept (which feels Greek to me, shout out The Odyssey), the cinematography is stunning at times (even if it's very boring), and Rachel Weisz is perfect in everything she does. But that's really all I enjoyed about this movie. The satire was too heavy-handed, the classical Hermann-esque score was fucking annoying, and within 20 minutes, I was praying for this goddamned stupid movie to end. Excruciating. Also, the lady sitting next to me kept burping very pungent smells, which hampered an already blah experience. I'm still not sure why I hated The Lobster so much. I just did. I'm also still not sure why it's being so highly praised. Yes, the satire is effective: society does place pressure on people to find a partner, and yes, it's ridiculous because it's just an old-fashioned construct that serves society and not the individual. Sure, that sucks, but those conventions are changing, and The Lobster just seemed to make single people feel shitty about being single. Because, in the end, it gives in to the very thing it critiques. Plus, it's entirely heteronormative and racially exclusive and the comedy was redundant. And then the forest of 'loners' (a bunch of runaway singles) is depressing and violent. I can't tell which way this movie is swinging. You can't satirize both sides of the coin and expect to be coherent. So. Like. Just. What? 

Aside from a few engaging scenes, and some great acting, I don't have much more to say about this one. Those two things alone don't save this movie for me. But if you're married and want to question your relationship, check this out! And if you're single and want to question your independence, check this out! If you can stand Colin Farrell's idiot face onscreen for more than 20 seconds (unlike me) then check this out! He's in every damn scene. I'm sorry I hated this so much. 

Jacob Tremblay (Jack) and Brie Larson (Ma) in Room
  • Jacob Tremblay (Jack) and Brie Larson (Ma) in Room

On Sunday, Lenny Abrahamson's Room won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, an honour, and an omen of this film's potential. It screened that evening at the AFF; Halifax was the film's second audience ever. I'm going to keep this review short so that I don't blow anything for you. I think this film — based on the novel by Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue — works better if you know nothing about it, so I'll just say this: go see it (limited release October 6; nationwide November 6). Very few films treat this subject matter with such sensitivity and compassion. Very few films can portray trauma beyond the characters; in Room, trauma is woven into the structure and pace of the film itself. It's an exquisite portrait of pain, perspective, love and healing. Exceptional performances all around. This one's a winner. 

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Monday, September 21, 2015

AFF Reviews: Bound, Undone, The Stanford Prison Experiment

Some film festival thrillers from the weekend that explore human psychology

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 1:26 PM

The Apple (1980), I don't even know
  • The Apple (1980), I don't even know

This weekend, several selections at the 35th Atlantic Film Festival explored human psychology through various narrative styles. On Friday, I rolled into the Lord Nelson Hotel at 1:30am to catch 1980 sci-fi musical, The Apple, which was one of the best worst movies I've ever seen, a terribly awesome, tacky romp through the exploitative music industry, set in the futuristic year of 1994. I honestly don't even know what the hell I watched but I wish I had done LSD. 

On Saturday, I made it to the Reel East Showcase 2 at 12:30pm to see some incredible Atlantic shorts and animations. This particular showcase emphasized the skill, talent and resourcefulness of local filmmakers. Highlights included Seth Smith's Wind Through a Tree, which peered into vignettes of human experience from birth to the end of life. Equally comedic and dark, the experimental short had earnest moments of reflection on life's purpose. NSCAD film student, Raghed Charabaty, blew the audience away with Alia, a visually stunning portrait of the Lebanese Civil War (it also won the Starfish Student Art Award in May).  

FILM5 production, Bound, by Daniel Boos
  • FILM5 production, Bound, by Daniel Boos

The most powerful short of the bunch, however, was Daniel Boos' Bound, a FILM5 production that focused on the exploitation of migrant and foreign labour workers. Drawn from a true Irish story, Boos created a short film packed with as much tension as humanity, which was rendered through the visible emotions of the film's characters. It was poignant, important and yet tender. Boos, a 2010 youth festival winner at Cannes, displayed incredible directorial maturity. 

In the evening, Toronto's Director X looked fly as hell for the premiere of Undone, a story of a young Cole Harbour hockey player (Stephan James) whose social circumstances threaten his dreams. Written and produced by Floyd Kane (This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Salter Street Films), and shot in Dartmouth, the story uses 1989 high school race riots and social inequity to show how little things have changed in present-day Nova Scotia. Has anything changed? 

Undone, starring Stephan James (Degrassi, Selma)
  • Undone, starring Stephan James (Degrassi, Selma)

Nope. People are still fucking racist. Women are still being trafficked in the underground sex industry. Young adults with diverse backgrounds still face fewer opportunities and much larger obstacles. This was Director X's first feature, and that actually did show. His notable and impressive work with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West didn't necessarily translate to a longer narrative. The cinematography was sleek, the soundtrack was effective, the acting was especially promising, but the overall vibe was more Degrassi High than Hype Willams. Such important and relevant subject matter could have been handled with more severity. I was expecting something like Belly, I guess. Still, this movie is a huge accomplishment in many ways — as a film that gives voice to the African Nova Scotian experience, to North Preston, to the very real and very present realities of systematic oppression in this province. There need to be 200 more films like this one. Yesterday, Undone was named the Best Atlantic Feature of this festival.

Damn. Right. 

As AFF Program Director Jason Beaudry said, The Stanford Prison Experiment is "one of those smaller Hollywood films that slips through the cracks and ends up here." Starring Billy Crudup, who has the chops to be a bigger star than he is, and a roster of hot young male actors (exclusively), the film recreates the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment that took place at the Californian university in 1971. And when I say 'recreated,' I mean recreated exactly. Everything — the size and design of the simulated prison, the character costumes and appearances, the actual audio footage — was drawn from the archives of the disastrous but insightful psychological trial. The intention of Professor Zimbardo (Crudup) was to show that institutions create situations for violence and abuses of power. It's not that there's one bad apple; the barrel itself is bad. 

The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment

What started as a routine experiment quickly degraded into the worst examples of human behaviour just because it was sanctioned by the "institution." The trial was meant to last 2 weeks; after only 6 days, the experiment was terminated. It's a revealing look at how easy anyone can fall into the role of oppressed and oppressor. It's as simple as the flip of a coin. The performances in this film were superbly convincing. The overwrought scenes were actually an asset and this film might be one of the most accurate portrayals of a historical event. Because the real-life drama was so intense, no additional drama was necessary. Definitely worth watching!

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Friday, September 18, 2015

AFF Review: Hyena Road

The second Canadian war film by Paul Gross is better in fact than fiction

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 12:24 PM

Rossif Sutherland and Paul Gross star in Hyena Road
  • Rossif Sutherland and Paul Gross star in Hyena Road

This week, Paul Gross (Due South, Passchendaele) premiered Hyena Road, the first Canadian contemporary war film, which he wrote and directed, at TIFF and last night at the Atlantic Film Festival. The Afghanistan-based, Jordan-shot film also stars Allan Hawco (The Republic of Doyle) and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald Sutherland). And, just like the film, I'm conflicted. It feels like there are at least two elements that are at odds: its social value and its theatrical value. 

Under social value, there's a lot to be said about Hyena Road's cultural relevance. Is it a coincidence that this opens just before a federal election? I wasn't sure if I wanted to attend AFF's red carpet opening at the Rebecca Cohn until I watched a clip of Donald Sutherland at TIFF. He was asked who he supports in federal politics. Without a pause, he answered "Tom Mulclair," noting his familial connection to social democrat, Tommy Douglas. He said we are destroying ourselves and ended with "Go see Hyena Road." This makes more sense since I learned his son is in it, but at the time, I thought, well shit, if Don-Don is down, I should go. 

So I went. And after about 30 minutes of speeches by directors and sponsors, Gross introduced Hyena Road. He explained that he visited Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 and "cobbled together" stories from soldiers there: "I saw a glimpse into this extraordinarily complex world we've asked our soldiers to operate in, a world with no fixed moral compass. The burden upon our men and women in uniform is absolutely enormous. And I have largely been ignorant of that burden and I don't think I was alone. Large swaths of our country have no idea what we've asked of our soldiers ... And I felt deeply ashamed. We should at least know what it is we're asking them to do." 

And so, as the first Canadian-made film about a contemporary war conflict, Gross delivered. As some form of historical record, Hyena Road was enthralling. In the last decade of war, despite American portrayals and occasional stories on CNN, I've never really considered the context or impact of the war in Afghanistan. I'd never thought about the landscape, the horrors of Kandahar, the class structures, the Taliban, the people whose lives are lost — Canadian and otherwise — the bodies flown home to families. I am, like so many North Americans, almost entirely removed from war. Almost entirely. For this reason, for lack of a better word, I was engrossed. 

Our country is preparing to elect new leadership and Hyena Road has some utility in reminding us to ask ourselves who we are as Canadians, and who we want to be as Canadians. Scenes in this film question or challenge our accepted moral and ethical practices. There were moments in this film where I felt ashamed like Gross — not because I had been ignorant of military duty, but because I can't reconcile our attempt to impose freedom on another country when freedom in this country, Canada, is on such flexible terms: What is 'freedom'? What is Bill C-51?  

As a tool to think critically about international conflict, and to see Canadian soldiers in a context for which many ordinary Canadians have no context, Hyena Road sympathizes with and honours our soldiers. But it also seems to question why we fought this war in the first place. How much is one soldier worth? How big is the impact of military service? The film accomplishes this, at least. 

But then there's Hyena Road's theatrical value — its execution from plot and character development to technique and cinematography. Early on, we are introduced to a roster of stock military characters, some of whom are accurate portrayals of people I've known in the service, complete with maple leaf tattoos and Newfoundland accents. But on a base with an estimated 60,000 people, Hyena Road lets us know only a handful, of whom only two were women (and superficial renderings to boot). Still, we are given reasons to like these characters. As much as they were token portrayals (the beefy Black guy, the horny female communications officer, the hunky sniper), we recognize these people. And while the film didn't take much time to explore their depth beyond what was useful to the storyline, and while some moments felt like they came out of the Criminal Minds writing room, it was all very human. And that's why I cried at the end. As Gross said, these soldiers are "our neighbours, our relatives, our friends and our fellow citizens."

In terms of the intricacies and motivations, Hyena Road relied too much on a flimsy intelligence operation between Afghanis and the Taliban that highlighted the obligation of Canadian intervention within it. At times, Hyena Road exoticized the Middle East by attributing magical powers to Taliban dissenters while it villainized the "Tally" through markers of wealth. Whatever reflection this has in reality was exaggerated. In short, this is a weak Hollywood plot with a strong background. Like any good war movie, however, there were some gruesome scenes that I did appreciate. After Gross told the audience how much he loved Hobo with a Shotgun, his interest in the accurate portrayal of violence gave some power to these scenes. It gave cause for PTSD, for high rates of suicide among retired soldiers and the overall trauma of military service. Unlike horror films, in which we enter a fantasy to escape, the horrors of Hyena Road are powerful because they are — indeed — real. Where the film lacks in fiction, it makes up in fact. 

Hyena Road is worth a view. It opens in Canadian theatres on October 9. 

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Sure Thing Events

  • Pipe Dreams screening and live organ concert @ St. Matthew's United Church

    • Wed., Aug. 28, 7 p.m. $20/$25
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    • Sat., Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m. $37.50
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Vol 27, No 13
August 22, 2019

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