|The Calgary International Film Festival is going into its second weekend and you still want to see a bunch of movies. As the fest hauls out the big guns, its more important than ever to choose your films wisely. Let us help you.
Directed by Michael Haneke
September 30, 6:45 p.m., Uptown
October 2, 4 p.m., Uptown
With its steely misanthropy and narrative obfuscations, Michael Hanekes work presents daunting challenges to even hardy cinephiles. Here, the Austrian director dallies with the form of the psychological thriller to create what is perhaps his most direct and accessible film. That said, its just as ruthless as its predecessors. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) is a TV host whose family is terrorized by a voyeur who secretly films them then sends the tapes to Georges house in anonymous packages. The mysterious videotapes force Georges to contend with a terrible secret involving an Algerian boy he knew in his childhood. Haneke loves nothing more than portraying a bourgeois family in a state of collapse and Cache rigorously depicts the fraying relationships between Georges, wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their son. Hanekes attempts to give the tale political resonance are less convincing and his refusal to deliver a conventional payoff after building so much tension almost seems churlish. Even so, Cache is a superior thriller with a suitably enigmatic agenda.
Directed by Bennett Miller
September 30, 6:45 p.m., Globe
October 2, 3:45 p.m., Globe
Author Truman Capote was the life of every party and a legend in his own mind, and when he ventured into the real world of rural Kansas to make legends out of killers who were about to be killed themselves, many fascinating lines got crossed. This jaw-droppingly assured film owes much to Philip Seymour Hoffman, whose Capote is full of mirth and deception even as his eyes seem on the verge of tears. But Hoffman turning in a riveting performance is not news. Neither are the supple supporting turns by Catherine Keener (as Capote's friend and fellow author Harper Lee) and Chris Cooper (as the sheriff). Let's instead marvel that this is the first feature directed by Bennett Miller (The Cruise) and written by Dan Futterman (he played Judging Amy's brother), yet it has the wit, insight and uppercuts to the throat that more experienced filmmakers dream of. Give these boys a three-picture deal, stat.
CÔTE DAZUR (CRUSTACÉS ET COQUILLAGES)
Written and directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau
October 1, 9:45 p.m., Eau Claire
Imagine a French sex farce without any laughs and you have a pretty good idea of what Côte DAzur is all about. Not that French sex isnt stimulating enough to hold an audiences attention (when the stunning Valeria Bruni Tedeschi is involved), but this story of an entire familys sexual awakening, set against the backdrop of the French Riviera, just doesnt deliver. With all the late-night bed-hopping and door-slamming, this has a few of the earmarks of a classic farce, but the overall tone of the film is too serious to take the material lightly. All of this is completely incongruous to the two musical numbers that punctuate the film. To be fair, Tedeschi almost has enough sex appeal, charisma and charm to save the movie, but when you consider that a lot of Côte DAzurs screen time is devoted to masturbation jokes, its no surprise that it is a bit of a wank.
ESCAPE TO CANADA
Directed by Albert Nerenberg
September 30, 9:30 p.m., Uptown
October 1, midnight, Globe
Escape to Canada, a stylish documentary about 21st century U.S.-Canada relations, is weakened considerably by its shallow, "Joe Canadian" treatment. The films thesis that since 2001 the so-called "boring" nation of Canada has out-cooled its mighty neighbour relies on the assumption that pot-smoking and gay marriage, both of which are more or less legal in Canada are the defining factors of cool. Uh, I guess. It doesnt help matters that Escape to Canada could have been named Escape to Toronto without losing more than about 15 minutes of footage.
The film is most interesting when it dips into Canadas history as a haven of freedom for U.S. military refugees, and the recent reawakening of this role during the Iraq war. Unfortunately, this topic is addressed primarily to highlight Canadas peaceful, welcoming nature which is, you know, really cool and un-American.
Escape to Canada is visually, if not intellectually, engaging, interspersing interviews, newsreels, rallies and Michael Moore-style montages with aerial footage of Canadian scenery and groovy satellite zoom shots. However, its material is so limited that it would work better as a much shorter op-ed news item.
EVE AND THE FIRE HORSE
Directed by Julia Kwan
September 28, 6:45 p.m., Uptown
September 29, 2 p.m., Uptown
While the Catholic lore in this film may be wonky, the relationship between the young Chinese-Canadian sisters who try on Catholicism in a bid to safeguard their family is bang-on. Based loosely on filmmaker Julia Kwan's memories of growing up in 1970s Vancouver, the story of Eve (Phoebe Jojo Kut) and her bossy older sister (Hollie Lo) shows a wonderful attention to childhood detail. The way they play together and relate to their parents (including a graciously understated Vivian Wu) has a ring of truth that's missing from some of the more precious fantasy sequences and narration.
THE FRENCH GUY
Directed by Ann-Marie Fleming
September 28, 9:45 p.m., Plaza
Thats French as in Alfred Jarry, Grand Guignol, baguettes, Serge Gainsbourg and "epater les bourgeois." All of the above (plus the most gruesome French kiss youre likely to see) play a part in Vancouver director Ann-Marie Flemings fictional followup to her lovely doc The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. Babz Chula goes for broke as a brain-cancer patient who develops murderous habits after being prematurely ejected from the hospital. Tygh Runyan is the suicidal songwriter (sample lyric: "wreck, wreck, wreck, the worlds a wreck") who soon regrets ever meeting her. Full of live-action oddness that recalls Flemings animation work, this deranged and grisly farce will try the patience of unadventurous viewers who may be morally opposed to the consumption of human flesh. Yet it will delight anyone who craves some of Jarrys ole pataphysics.
Written and Directed by Elza Kephart
September 30, 4:30 p.m. and midnight, Plaza
With its award-winning black-and-white cinematography, Graveyard Alive is terrific to look at. Elza Kephart and her crew have rediscovered the visual language of the early talkies and put it to good use. The low budget is an asset rather than a liability here, as non-actors with interesting faces walk past hand-painted sets and emit eerily unsynchronized lines of dialogue through the magic of post-dubbing.
Sadly, the story itself isnt nearly as interesting, despite its irresistible pitch line. The writers apparently used up all of their inspiration on the films premise "a zombie nurse in love" (which should have been the title) and then just sat back and let things coast. Other films, such as Shock! Shock! Shock! (1987), and the works of Guy Maddin have done so much more with the style of filmmaking shown here. Still, Im curious to see what Kephart and company will do in the future.
Directed by Don Roos
October 2, 9:30 p.m., Eau Claire
Happy Endings is a multilayered omni-plotted film about 10 people living in Los Angeles. Its also a two-hour-and-15-minute exercise in human behaviour that should have wrapped up in an hour and three-quarters. Writer-director Don Roos uses cinematic trickery to allow his entire cast the freedom to do some fantastic moment-to-moment acting, but other than that, his serendipitous epic has bitten off more than it can chew. Roos fails to reel in his actors at crunch time and lets them scream at each other or wallow in guilt, rather than find a way out of their predicament. Happy Endings is very clever and well-acted and it wouldve been perfect if it had been 20 minutes shorter and less convoluted.
Directed by Michael Jorgenson
October 2, 3:15 p.m., Uptown
When theres nothing to say, even Colm Feores narration doesnt make the saying worth the time. Lost Nuke is a 46-minute question mark punctuating the U.S. militarys first "broken arrow" a lost nuclear weapon and the crash-landing of the B-32 bomber that may or may not have been carrying a nuclear payload when it landed in the mountains of British Columbia. The exposition of the bomb run itself is an interesting enough beginning, aided by dramatization and liberal use of cutaway 3-D diagrams. But beyond the cursory interviews with flight 075s tight-lipped crew members, the weaponeers clueless nephew and a day of footage shot by the first crew to be given an archeological licence at the crash site, director-producer-screenwriter-cinematographer Michael Jorgensen has no more idea of what happened than you do, and Lost Nuke takes the better part of an hour to say so.
Directed by Sean Garrity
September 30, 7 p.m., Plaza
In Winnipeg director Sean Garritys nervy followup to his first film Inertia, an insomniac psychotherapist becomes as unbalanced as his trio of patients. Although Joel (Jonas Chernick, who co-wrote the script with Garrity) does his best to keep it together after his wife and daughter catch him in flagrante delicto at the family cottage, hes clearly falling to pieces. Mysteries and conspiracies begin to surround him, but the big question is why his delusions have so much in common with those of his patients alpha-male hothead Victor (a terrific Callum Keith Rennie), fragile shut-in Chandra (Michelle Nolden) and drug addict Sophie (Lindy Booth). Increasingly twitchy from lack of sleep, Joel feels like the city is closing in on him, and his paranoia may actually be justified. Though the finales revelations wrap up the movie in a manner thats too neat and too familiar, the rest of Lucid is thick with queasy tension and dark wit.
THE MAN WHO COPIED (O HOMEM QUE COPIAVA)
Directed by Jorge Furtado
September 30, 9:30 p.m., Eau Claire
October 2, 3:30p.m., Eau Claire
The Man Who Copied is a beautiful, quirky, quiet love story about an aspiring illustrator who is trapped in the grinding monotony of life as a photocopier operator. The movie captures with delicate unsentimentality the sameness of Andrés (Lázaro Ramos) life, when you learn that he has fallen in love with a woman in a nearby building, who he watches through his precious binoculars, youre not creeped out. The loneliness and hopelessness of Andres life is not spectacular, but the movie makes the point marvellously that people caught in monotonous existences are nevertheless full of hidden stories and surprises.
Although the films first half unfolds a bit predictably, the remainder swerves into unexpected and darker territory. The darkness is mostly comic, and everybody gets what they deserve in the end, not because of their merits necessarily, but because of the inevitability of their desires.
Directed by Tracey Deer
October 1, 3:30 p.m., Globe
Chronicling a few months in the lives of three teenage girls from the Kahnawake reserve outside Montreal, Mohawk Girls weaves a simple but poignant tale. Teenage angst, ambivalence and the struggle to form an identity amidst subtle and overt racism are some of the themes dissected in a very matter-of-fact manner.
Director Tracey Deer doesnt hide her agenda as she sews in footage of her own conflict alongside that of the profiled young women. The dialogue is somewhat predictable given the setting, but as the documentary unravels, layers of pain, hidden motivations and genuine emotion are peeled away. Facades begin to fade and the girls become more vulnerable and endearing, leaving one with a sincere appreciation for being allowed a glimpse into another persons formative years. Showing with Foster Child.
RED LIGHT GO
Directed by Ben Barraud
September 30, noon, Uptown
October 2 9:45 p.m., Plaza
A brief dip into the world of New York City bike messengers, this documentary tracks a small group of professional cyclists as they spin through two years in the business. The filmmakers made the apt and essential decision to shoot half the footage on helmet and bike cams, ably expressing the speed and urgency of this speedy, urgent activity.
These messengers are members of an underground collective who devote many of their days off to checkpoint-style "Alleycat" bike races through the citys core, revelling in the opportunity to use their skills and earn recognition from their clan. The highlight of the film is New Yorks largest and most notorious race, a Halloween rush-hour bonanza, organized almost entirely from one messengers jail cell.
Red Light Gos frequently haphazard editing suits the spontaneity and aggression of its subject matter, and the directors succeed in showing the bonds between messengers and the context of their community. Keeping social commentary to a minimum and balancing talking-head shots with full-blown action, this is a punchy, thoroughly entertaining film.
Directed by David LaChapelle
October 1, 9:45 p.m., Uptown
Ever heard of krumping? How about clowning? Me neither theyre forms of street dance that have become a staple in the poorer (read: black) parts of Los Angeles. As a result of the riots and civil unrest that held L.A. captive in the early 90s, Tommy The Clown started a youth-based hip hop dance class as a way to combat gang recruitment. The design was simple paint your face like a clown and dance. The result was a microcosmic phenomenon. In Rize, director David LaChapelle documents the rise of this art form and the friendly rivalry between the dance troupes known as the Clowns and the Krumpers with stand-up-and-cheer gusto. Not only are the dancers featured in Rize astonishing to watch, their stories make for some pretty intense drama. Bring the kids and enjoy. I did.
Directed by John Hazlett
September 29, 6:45 p.m., Uptown
One of these girls is not like the others. That would be Holly Lewis (The Newsroom), the only actress here who's able to pull off the near-impossible feat of making her character likable, funny and in possession of an ounce of emotional logic. Lewis plays a dippy, enthusiastic Christian teen who, along with her heathen friends Glory (former MuchMusic veejay Amanda Walsh in unfortunate sourpuss mode) and Keira (Wonderfalls' Caroline Dhavernas, in bewildered Wonderfalls mode), spends a summer chasing, bedding, sharing and then almost killing a hunky married man (Angel's David Boreanaz, whose biceps are far better developed than his acting ability). It's hard to laugh at hijinks this strained and far-fetched.
Director Thom Fitzgerald
September 29, 9 p.m., Globe
The title hints that this film is about the spread of HIV. Needless to say, it's not a comedy. Three sad stories on three continents are woven together awkwardly there's nothing uniting the characters except HIV but after a plodding beginning, director Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) builds toward scenes of great power and complexity, not to mention stunning natural beauty. Lucy Liu stands out as a blood collector in rural China who gives birth alone, in agony, on a hillside. Chlöe Sevigny gets more interesting as the film progresses, playing a nun battling South African superstitions. Only the story revolving around a Montreal porn actor (Shawn Ashmore) fails to take flight.
Directed by Mike Mills
September 29, 7 p.m., Plaza
October 1, 9:45 p.m., Plaza
Thumbsucker was a big deal this year at Sundance, and why not? Its the usual solipsistic writer-director nonsense that the festival is known for favouring. Here you will find good actors (Tilda Swinton, Vincent DOnofrio) giving it their all, and big stars (Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn) on art-house, slum-to-conquer missions. Basically, its just another variation on the-scrawny-kid-grows-up-and-gets-his-first-blowjob thing weve all seen before, and even though newcomer Lou Pucci is really quite good as the cow-licked adolescent in question, the flimsiness of the entire precious, Polyphonic Spree-scored enterprise is obvious.
TOUCH THE SOUND: A SOUND JOURNEY WITH EVELYN GLENNIE
Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer
September 28, 7 p.m., Eau Claire
In this full-length documentary that profiles deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer had the daunting task of visually portraying how one gifted musician uses senses other than hearing to listen to and create music. The film utilizes soundscapes from a wide variety of everyday scenarios from German construction sites and artsy Japanese bars to rooftops in New York. Riedelsheimer succeeds in creating the aural canvas and between Glennies unabashed passion and the poetic cinematography, even the more tedious, drawn-out scenes are intriguing.
As Glennie travels the world, collaborating with percussionists, her ability to "hear" rhythms in unusual settings and to feverishly participate in improv sessions prompts one to "listen" in unconventional ways, to connect with the auditory world with fresh ears that arent desensitized to the beauty in the sound of tires rippling over a bumpy freeway or heels clicking on tile floors in an airport.
TRAINS OF WINNIPEG: 14 FILM POEMS
Directed by Clive Holden
September 28, 9:30 p.m., Uptown
Featuring 14 short films that collaborate with the poems that inspired them, this is an excellent chance to experience interesting visuals together with one of Canadas unique voices. From the painterly image to the abstract turn of phrase, from stream of consciousness to sense of humour, Trains of Winnipeg is reverential in its references to Guy Maddin, Sergei Eisenstein and Georges Méliès without resorting to the contrived. With a glorious original score from John K. Samson and Jason Tait (Weakerthans), and Christine Fellows, this work is both patriotic and self-deprecating, like so many Canadians of a certain generation. Unlike going to see a random program of short films, you should prepare yourself for repetition and unity in voice and style that of the director and poet, Clive Holden.
WATER UNDER FIRE: FROM THE NORTH
Directed by George Gallant
October 2, 1 p.m., Globe
One segment in a four-part series, Water Under Fire is a 28-minute documentary on the state of Canadas water. There is a lot of interesting and appropriately grim information, but audience standards for documentaries have risen sharply in recent years, so while this might make a mildly interesting episode of The Nature of Things, it doesnt say anything new. If you arent familiar with the issue, however, this will be a salutary and chilling introduction to the horrifying threats facing our dwindling supply of fresh water. Showing in conjunction with Thirst.
WHOLE NEW THING
Directed by Amnon Buchbinder
October 2, 7 p.m., Plaza
This dramedy marks the engrossing debut of Aaron Webber as Emerson, a 13-year-old who lives with his eco-nudist parents (Rebecca Jenkins and Robert Joy) in rural Nova Scotia and has a confidence that is delightfully at odds with his asymmetrical hairstyle and fantasy-genre preoccupations. Emerson successfully negotiates the transition from home-schooling to middle school, but fails to grasp adult sexual boundaries when he becomes infatuated with his teacher (Daniel MacIvor, who co-wrote the clever screenplay). The film sells out Emerson in the end, but the characters are all original and memorable.
Z CHANNEL: A MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
Directed by Xan Cassavetes
Sept 30, 4:15 p.m., Globe
For a cineaste, there is nothing better than a good documentary about movies. Turning back the clock to a time before Internet piracy, pay-per-view and even home video, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession chronicles the rise and fall of the acclaimed tastemaking L.A. cable station. The brainchild of Gerry Harvey, Z channel combined his love of film and his commitment to cinematic programming of all kinds, not just giving HBO a run for its money, but influencing such directors as Quentin Tarantino and Alexander Payne, and championing underdog directors and their films. One part indulgent film geeks wet dream, one part cable film fest, Z Channel changed the way the North American industry looked at cinema.