30 by 30 | Arts + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

30 by 30

For the Atlantic Film Fest’s 30th birthday, we’re giving you 30 film reviews from this year’s lineup.

How to buy AFF tickets
Tickets are available at the AFF box office, located in Park Lane Mall, and at all TicketPro outlets (422-6965), including Video Difference (24 hours a day!), or online at ticketpro.ca and atlanticfilm.com. Regular screening tickets are $12; gala and special presentations are $17. For packages and special events, check out atlanticfilm.com.

If you’re a late-pants, there are rush tickets available for all films (including advance sell-outs) 15 minutes before show time. Rush lines start an hour at each theatre before each screening, so get there early.

Thursday, September 16

Score: A Hockey Musical
Oxford Theatre, 6:30pm; Park Lane 8, 6:30pm; Park Lane 7, 6:35pm
A teenage pond hockey prodigy (Noah Reid) defies his hippie parents and his own pacifist ethics to join a junior team, catapulting him to improbable stardom and helping him become a man. And everybody sings. If it took itself even one iota more seriously, Score would miss the net, as the hockey action isn't convincing and the songs are a mixed bag, with lyrics too often wedged into ill-fitting melodies. But writer-director Michael McGowan gets maximum mileage out of the singing-jock concept, playing the material with a knowing wink and serving a generous helping of in-jokes for fans of the sport. From vomiting goalies to puck bunnies to Nelly Furtado as a fan shrieking for blood, McGowan mines hockey culture to create a piece of high-camp Canadiana. -MS

Friday, September 17

A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop
Park Lane 8, 7pm
Once upon a time in feudal China, a boorish yet wealthy noodle-shop owner hires a stern cop to kill his wife and her lover. This is a remake of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, with the plot and some of the dark joys left intact, but a tone and a style unique for the material. Instead of simmering noir as in the original, we have high emotion and operatic expression. Yimou Zhang (of Hero, House of Flying Daggers and the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies) is as spectacular a stylist as the Coens are self-conscious, and here re-imagines their plot as something of Chinese myth or folktale. In the Texas of the Coens', the wife is crafty and capable. In Zhang's China, she is a legend in the making. -HT

Oxford Theatre, 7pm
Nicholas stumbles home to Nova Scotia with his tail between his legs. He's a self-described fuck-up, running from responsibility. His parents aren't particularly happy to see him. Well, his mother. His father is entirely silent. So he hops into bed with the married woman down the lane and makes friends with her son, Quang. The wintry, wooded locales and themes of infidelity and generational schism lends it a bit of an Ice Storm-like quality, with a dash of The Graduate thrown in for good measure, but the local flavour is undeniable. The heart of Whirligig is the surprising relationship between Nicholas (Gregory Smith) and Quang (Siam Yu), forged over archery and BC weed. -CK

Park Lane 7, 9:25pm
After winning Best Canadian Feature for Cole at last year's festival, director Carl Bessai returns with a thriller about three recovering addicts, Kyle, Sonia and Michael, with a peculiar problem: They keep waking up at rehab to relive the same day. Groundhog Day this ain't. The three leads grapple with the emotional and existential implications of their predicament, but only too briefly (much in the same way the cause of their predicament is hastily explained). They act before they think about and struggle with this strange circumstance, which seems unreal even for people who've been living by impulse---lacking impulse control. Bessai rushes straight for the action. Richard de Klerk, who plays Michael, brings a manic, twitchy (almost Crispin Glover-esque) energy to the film. -SF

Park Lane Theatre 7, 7:05pm
Undertow is a ghost story that aims to tug at the heart rather than chill the spine. Javier Fuentes-Leon's film concerns Miguel (Cristian Mercado), a Peruvian fisherman whose dual life---he's married with a baby on the way but also having an affair with a man---begins to come apart when his lover Santiago (Manolo Cardona) drowns. The spirit of Santiago appears to both haunt and taunt Miguel, demanding that he own up to his true nature. That's not so easy for Miguel, who denies his homosexuality to everyone in the religious, gossipy town, including himself. Other than the ghost angle, Fuentes-Leon doesn't bring many fresh ideas to the familiar theme of small-town sexual identity struggle. This lack of insight, and an overabundance of unsubtle symbolism, keeps Undertow from finding real emotional depth. -MS

Saturday, September 18

Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Saturday, September 18, Park Lane 4, 12:05pm
Jean-Michel Basquiat is not the image but the lens through which viewers are given a good look at a community formed and shaped by art. The archival footage of New York, particularly the Lower East Side, in the ‘80s makes this film worth seeing. The conversations with graffiti artist and hip-hop figurehead Fab 5 Freddy and painter/ filmmaker Julian Schnabel are funny and insightful, even more than the interview Tamra Davis, the filmmaker, recorded with Basquiat himself. A tension of place develops between New York and Los Angeles. It’s interesting to see that play out in another arena, apart from music. In the end, personas such as Jean-Michel Basquiat offer passage to the world more than themselves. -SF

The Illusionist
Park Lane 8, 9:20pm
Not the Neil Burger-directed Edward Norton magician drama from a few years back, though there is some content crossover, this is the new film from Sylvain Chomet, who gave us the wonderfully weird Triplets of Belleville in 2003. The Illusionist is far less surreal than Chomet's earlier work but with a similar grace and style in the animation, short on dialogue but long on visual storytelling, allowing it to delight across language barriers, one would imagine. It's 1959 and a French magician travels to Edinburgh seeking work in theatres and pubs as rock 'n' roll and jukeboxes start taking people's fancy. Unexpectedly, he finds himself the guardian of a young woman as his professional life is fast fading. This film's a perfect melancholy treat. -CK

Sunday, September 19

A Screaming Man
Sunday, september 19, Park Lane Theatre 4, 2.05PM
Adam (Youssouf Djaoro) is a pool attendant at a Chad hotel whose placid existence is upended by foreign bosses, an escalating war and the indignities of aging, in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s brooding drama. Adam’s son Abdel (Diouc Koma) has surpassed him physically and, early in the film, also ends up replacing him at the pool. On top of this, the army is attempting to extort Adam for cash he doesn’t have. Jealous and desperate, Adam volunteers Abdel for combat duty, getting his job back but earning the scorn of his family. Passive and petty, Adam isn’t an easy character to like, but Djaoro makes him eminently watchable. As the war---and guilt---close in on him, Adam’s soul begins to scream, bringing a tragic story to a quietly deafening conclusion. -MS

A Film Unfinished
Park Lane 8, 7pm
In May 1942, Nazi cameramen descended on the Warsaw Ghetto to film the day-to-day life of its Jewish prisoners. Historians had long-accepted the resulting footage as an accurate, even "realistic" depiction of life inside the ghetto, but the discovery of a missing reel in 1998 forced them to re-evaluate their previous assessment. With the resulting knowledge that many scenes were staged (many to portray supposed callousness among upper-crust Jews), the irony is that the horrors of the Ghetto are unavoidably prominent in the footage. Unfinished documents the tools of bearing witness to evil: from survivors' (children in the 1940s) memories; court testimony of a Nazi cameraman; historical journals and diaries and the Nazis' own impassive gaze upon their monstrous crimes. -HT

Park Lane 8, 2pm
Mark Hogancamp creates a miniature model town called Marwencol, a World War Two-styled burg in Belgium. It's a 1/6 scale reflection of, and on, his life. Hogancamp started constructing Marwencol after he was brutally beaten by five men outside a bar in Kingston, New York. Hogancamp was in a coma and, once he emerged from that, suffered brain injury. "I created my own therapy," Hogancamp declares during this documentary from director Jeff Malmberg. The filmmaker lets the creator of Marwencol and his sources of inspiration (family, friends, co-workers) tell the story of the town's founding. Hogancamp's frailties, strengths, flaws and humanity emerge at full scale and in tact. He faced "people who hate" (in Marwencol they're represented as the Nazi S.S.) and survived. -SF

Kings of Pastry
Park Lane 8, 4pm
Kings of Pastry starts off as just another straight-up competition documentary, but slowly and steadily the tension rises like a souffle and then they've got you, hungry for more. Husband and wife filmmaking team Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker follow three chefs as they mix, stir and pipe their way into the prestigious almost century-old Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. Held every four years like the Olympics, the chefs train like athletes, perfecting ridiculously tall, fragile sugar sculptures and intricate chocolates that look too precious to be consumed. While this may sound too dainty for some, there's a very macho tenor to the doc, even when the all-male competitors are reduced to tears over smashed sugar flowers. "I don't mean to be harsh." says the MOF president, "but you have to be a man." -SCF

The Taqwacores
Park Lane 4, 12:05pm
Yousef (Bobby Naderi) is an engineering student, newly arrived in America (specifically Buffalo, NY) from Pakistan. He is looking for a room to live in and accepts one in a dank, dark flat occupied by a socio-political rainbow of Muslim punks. There's the straight-edge fellow, the skater kid, the riot grrrl (in a burka), the queer punk, the west-coast punk. Yousef is a bit of a cipher (wide-eyed college kid) and a bit of a sponge (sopping up the rebel yell of his housemates) and doesn't change significantly or even evolve incrementally throughout the movie. The film is about a fresh subculture bound to challenge some, but The Taqwacores is drab, dour and mumbly. It should be vibrant, lively and expressive. -HT

Sea Wolf
Oxford Theatre, 9:30pm 
An adaptation of a Jack London novel, Sea Wolf has the look and feel of a kids' film and bursts of shocking, graphic violence worthy of Tarantino, and the capacity to bore audiences of all ages. An upper-class gentleman (Stephen Campbell Moore) gets lost at sea and rescued by the captain of a seal-hunting boat (Sebastian Koch, from The Lives of Others), who puts him to work as a lowly crew member. The captain is fond of meting out violent punishment, a fact driven home with an endless series of vicious beatings, but his rugged example teaches the gentleman some self-sufficiency. Sea Wolf doesn't sustain enough momentum on either the action or the character front, and it ends up drowning in its inertia and bloated two-and-a-half hour running time. -MS

Successful Alcoholics
As part of Atlantic Shorts 2, Park Lane 7, 9:25PM
Jordan Vogt-Roberts directs a TJ Miller script which, at 25 minutes, is one of those medium-length shorts. Drake (Miller) and Lindsay (Lizzy Caplan) are a Mercedes-driving, perpetually soused yuppie couple infuriating everyone around them by being so damn good at their jobs they can get away with puking on themselves at least once a week. A dark comedy that avoids being trite until Lindsay gets the DTs on a long road trip and the "weirdness" of their lives occurs to her. Too bad about the sobering realism. -CK

The Legend of Beaver Dam
As part of Atlantic Shorts 2, Park Lane 7, 9:25pm
Nothing sober or real in the 12-minute short The Legend of Beaver Dam, starring comedian Sean Cullen as the obnoxious camp counsellor who conjures up an evil urban legend. It's a bloody Glee mixed with '80s hair metal and cheesy old-school horror. In other words, awesome. -SCF

Monday, September 20

Park Lane 4, 9:30pm
Xavier Dolan's first film, I Killed My Mother, was indulgent and brash; Heartbeats goes for a more languid approach, literally---at least 20 minutes occur in slow-motion. A mumblecore indie viewed through a world cinema lens, it's the story of two friends, Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), who both fall for the sexually ambiguous Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Neither will straight up ask him out, so there's some triangular game-playing afoot. Dolan fancies himself a romantic revisionist---he shows his hairdresser a picture of James Dean; a lover of Marie's asks her if she thinks of Brando during---but it's just another layer of influence he needs to get out from under to make good on his obvious promise. He's got an unquestionably terrific eye but a bit of a tin ear for dialogue, and continues to shoot himself in loving close-up, a detriment. His old mère, Anne Dorval, shows up for a cameo worth suffering the masturbation scenes that bookend it. -TT

Tuesday, September 21

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
Park Lane, 7pm
In Woody Allen's half-assed comedy, Gemma Jones is Helena, whose husband (Anthony Hopkins) has left her for a young escort (Lucy Punch, a bright spot). Looking for direction, she begins seeing a psychic (Pauline Collins). Her daughter Sally (Naomi Watts, who is befuddled for most of the movie) is having troubles with writer husband Roy (Josh Brolin), who is tempted by a neighbour (Slumdog Millionaire's Freida Pinto). Sally, in turn, is interested in her boss, Antonio Banderas. Allen has forgotten how to write like people talk, and the muted yellows of upper-class London are as boring as the script, which contains a Viagra joke, in 2010. -TT

Mind the Gap
As part of Atlantic Shorts Gala, Oxford Theatre, 7pm
Although most of the Atlantic Shorts Gala films are already available online, or have been shown on CBC, here's a chance to see some of the region's best on a big screen, and to meet their creators. Shaun Majumder's Mind the Gap is a quick comedy about an older man who sits beside a blonde hottie (Majumder's real-life love, Shelby Fenner) on a train. The seven-minute short stars one of Wes Anderson's regular players Kumar Pallana (The Royal Tanenbaums, Bottle Rocket), who brings his usual, wonderfully expressive silence to the role. -SCF

Wednesday, September 22

This Movie is Broken
Wednesday, September 22, Park Lane 7, 9:25pm
Although This Movie is Broken doesn’t totally live up to the Toronto media’s collective pool of drool, it’s a gorgeous step up from your average concert film. Dream-team director Bruce McDonald and writer Don McKellar (Roadkill) weave footage from a Broken Social Scene reunion show at Toronto’s Harbourfront with a love story that unfolds like a new generation’s Before Sunrise. Childhood friends Ben and Caroline spend one last night together at the BSS concert before she leaves for Paris, their future together uncertain. As hazy and dreamy as last year’s All Tomorrows Parties, McDonald even turns Toronto’s garbage strike into a romantic backdrop, capturing all the anticipation of an urban summer night. Those looking for a concrete, happy ending will be disappointed, but for BSS fans, the multi-camera documentary concert footage will please. -SCF

Oxford Theatre, 7pm
It will be interesting to see the 150-minute feature film that's been carved out of Olivier Assayas' sprawling, three-part TV miniseries about the notorious terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (Carlos the Jackal). Something---either the tense, thrilling action scenes or the detailed character exploration---is going to be compromised. But what's left may still constitute one of the most challenging and satisfying films of the festival, a profile of a man who starts out fighting for Marxist principles but devolves into an egomaniacal mercenary. Carlos also offers a useful tutorial on geopolitics, showing how the ever-shifting international landscape of enemies and alliances depends more on cynical strategizing than ideology. Anchoring it all is Edgar Ramirez's Carlos, a simmering mixture of charisma, intelligence and bloodthirstiness. -MS

Tamara Drewe
Oxford Theatre, 9:30pm
When you think "graphic novel adaptation" you tend not to follow up with "fizzy comedy set in rural England," but here we are. Based on Posy Simmonds' Tamara Drewe, the film centres on a couple (Roger Allam and Tamsin Greig) who host writers' retreats at their farm. He's the success, she is the doormat behind him. Tamara (Gemma Arterton) is less the focus and more the lynchpin in the handful of stories revolving around her, including love triangle(s), junior high shenanigans and a rock star. The film has three generational stories on the go, probably aiming for the educated, older set, but puts too much pre-teen angst in to keep those people interested. It's fun but overlong, not a waste of regular time, but probably of festival time. -TT

Eternal Kiss
Park Lane 4, 9:30pm
Probably destined for a midnight movie cult---though strangely not programmed for midnight showing at AFF---writer-producer-director-songwriter Paul Kimball has made a deadly earnest, almost bloodless and entirely fangless vampire tale. David Price is a documentary filmmaker looking to debunk the vampire myth but discovers they are very real, and very lonely, especially in Harker's Cove, NS (Shelburne standing in). Here's a dialogue sample. Fielding, a real estate lawyer-turned-creature of the night, describing her dark mistress: "She who is the night. She who is the dusk and the dawn. She who is the everything and the everyone. She gives. She takes. She builds and she breaks. She is yesterday, today and tomorrow." David: "She's a vampire?" -CK  

Thursday, September 23

Ride, Rise, Roar
Park Lane 4, 7:10pm
Anyone who's seen David Byrne perform live knows that something magical happens when you're in the twitchy man's presence. Ride, Rise, Roar follows Byrne on his 2008-09 tour, supporting his latest collaboration with Brian Eno. What keeps 58-year-old Byrne relevant is his forward-thinking curiosity; instead of churning out a greatest hits package (oh hai Mick Jagger), the live performances experiment with sound, movement and visuals, which Byrne and his minimalist white-clad musicians, dancers and choreographers discuss in detailed interviews. Pretty much just for Heads and Byrne lovers, but fans of modern dance will appreciate this one, too. Highlight: Byrne belting out "Burning Down the House" while grooving in a tutu. -SCF

Friday, September 24

Stonewall Uprising
Friday, September 24, Park Lane Theatre 7, 7:05pm 
A documentary about a 1969 police raid on a New York gay club, Stonewall Uprising hones in on a moment when members of an oppressed group abruptly transitioned from passive, individual victims into a unified movement. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner use photographs, news footage and interviews with participants in the raid---which escalated into a full-fledged riot---to depict the volatility and danger on the ground. Before they get to the uprising portion, however, the filmmakers establish the historical context, showing how politicians, doctors and the public continued to vilify homosexuality through the 1960s. The story will be familiar to gay rights historians, but when the Stonewall patrons make their stand, their sense of righteous triumph---and the film’s satisfying catharsis---feels fresh and wholly earned. -MS

Myth of the American Sleepover
Friday, September 24, Park Lane 8, 7pm
Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has made a great movie. This is a story of a community of teenagers---loosely connected and tightly knit, as it goes---living in a Detroit suburb and enjoying a last weekend before school starts again. Mitchell shows how the veneer of ritual conceals, or protects, people from the full force of the change they’re undergoing at that time. He illustrates how the thinking and reflective life begins here. This is subtly stated through understated performances by a young ensemble cast. The movements seem at once graceful, almost choreographed, and intuitive and unforced. The light, exteriors and interiors, is natural and illustrative. Despite its simplicity, it’s a beautiful film to watch and a lovely way to look at this time in your own life. -SF

Light is the Day
Park Lane 7, 9:25pm
Halifax native Laura Dawe's first feature is clearly the work of a filmmaker learning her craft. Thankfully, Dawe has the talent and vision to overcome most of her rookie mistakes. Light is the Day is a survival story about a young couple (Erika Ellsworth and Corey Hinchey) who flee a world descending into economic and environmental disaster to join a friend (Tim Mitchell) in a country house. Living off the land proves more difficult than they think, and as the challenges mount and winter closes in, the interpersonal dynamics become more volatile. The dialogue, as delivered by the non-professional cast, is occasionally a beat or two off, and several scenes overstay their welcome. But Dawe captures several stunningly beautiful images and fashions a human drama compelling enough to mask the film's unevenness. -MS

Park Lane 8, 9:20pm
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk) were handpicked by Alan Ginsberg's estate to make a documentary about Howl, the beat poet's iconic and controversial work, and the focus of a highly publicized obscenity trial. But instead of a straight-up doc or biopic, a jazz-like creature emerged, a hybrid film that moves effortlessly from the courtroom to a smoky bar, to a reconstructed interview with Ginsberg to animations that illuminate his words. Epstein and Friedman wisely keep Howl's focus tight---biopics tend to fail when the filmmakers get too attached to details. Although the animation style doesn't always work, and Jon Hamm as a lawyer is slightly distracting (this is early Don Draper era, after all), James Franco is mesmerizing as the young, still awkward poet, coming to terms with his sexuality and trying to find his voice. -SCF

A few More picks from Team Coast

Tuesday, September 21, Park Lane, 7:10pm and 9:25pm
Tuesday night musical double-header: Molly Parker and Tracy Wright (who will be remembered fondly at AFF) star as reunited rock stars in Bruce MacDonald’s latest, followed by the sexy, smoky Serge Gainsbourg biopic.

Barney’s Version
Friday, September 24, Oxford Theatre, 7pm
We’re disappointed Steven Soderbergh’s documentary on Spalding Gray was cancelled. Gray was a unique, underappreciated artist, actor/performer and writer. Check out one of his on-screen monologues, or read them in book form, or read his novel Impossible Vacation. Then go see the film adaptation of Barney’s Version, one of the last books from Mordecai Richler, a Canadian literary giant.

Let Me In
Saturday, September 25, Oxford Theatre, 12:01am
A remake of the elegant Swedish vampire classic Let The Right One In sounds like a horrific proposition. But previews suggest it’s more than a Hollywood hack job.

Also check out...

Wheel entertainment: a serial killer tire, Robert, in Rubber (Friday September 17, Oxford, 11:59pm). Documentary Smash His Camera (Saturday, September 18, Park Lane 8, 4pm): a snapshot of Ron Galella, the original pararazzo. Some suggest Thailand’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives (Friday, September 17, Park Lane 4, 9:30pm) only won the Cannes Palme D’Or because of crazy Tim Burton. You judge. Another Year (Thursday, September 23, Oxford Theatre, 9:30pm) promises to be another great one from director Mike Leigh. There is no try, so go nerd out at The People vs. George Lucas (Friday, September 24, Park Lane 4, 7:10pm).

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