Arts &
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Vol. 11, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Andrée Lafontaine
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque Denis Beaumont
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave



Listing + Ratings of films from festivals, art houses, indie




2.5 or more for a noteworthy film
3.5 for an exceptional film
4 for a classic.

3.9 -- ZERO DARK THIRTY, Kathryn Bigelow
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This much-acclaimed (and heavily controversial) fact-based account of the search for and eventual capture of Osama bin Laden is akin in many ways to director Bigelow’s previous Oscar-winning drama "The Hurt Locker." Both are decidedly apolitical and straight-forward, depicting the lives of their no-nonsense leads (whether an explosives expert in Iraq or a CIA analyst in Pakistan) with little-to-no moral posturing and no grand thesis statements on their respective topics (whether it be war or terrorism). These are simply low-level professionals, dedicated to their day-to-day jobs, which just happen to be protecting America from potential threats. In this case it is Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young agent who becomes the key figure in the hunt for bin Laden, and who seems less a fully developed character than a representative cipher for the myriad of CIA professionals who helped lead to bin Laden’s death. Nevertheless, Chastain’s performance is fiery and ferocious, and Bigelow’s mastery of tension and suspense remains unparalleled. Though largely procedural and by-the-books, it is no less effective, making this likely the best film of the year.

0.9 -- PARKER, Taylor Hackford
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest Jason Statham vehicle is an adaptation of the novel Flashfire, from the Parker series of novels, of which the films "Point Blank" and "Payback" had previously been adapted. Though this film would thus seemingly have literary cred, it is little more than an excuse for another generic Statham plot, involving a group of thieves, a double-cross, J.Lo, and a horribly fake Texan accent. If all that sounds rather ridiculous, that’s because it is – but not even in a fun or entertaining way. Instead, this thing is so ineptly shot and cut that it’s barely watchable – director Hackford seems to have forgotten how to construct a workable movie, and thus the plot is full of so many gaps and holes you’d think they were writing the script as they went. Even the action scenes – the prime reason or any Statham picture – are few and far between, leaving one to wonder as to the actual purpose of such a film. Without impressive fight sequences, what’s the point?

3.2 -- CATIMINI, Nathalie Saint-Pierre
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This low-key Québécois drama is an insightful and sobering look and the deeply problematic foster child system, through the eyes of four young girls ranging in age from six to 18. Writer/director (and Montréal native) Saint-Pierre’s overlapping screenplay is an emblem of structural perfection, as it follows each girl for a set period of time before seamlessly transitioning to the next one via the plot device of a shared foster home. The film thus garners sympathy for each of its female leads while simultaneously (and subtly) exposing the cracks and flaws in the system. Through the progressively increasing ages of the four young protagonists, the film tackles issues stretching from borderline racism and homophobia to outright sexual exploitation and substance abuse – weighty themes indeed. Thus, despite the impressive performances of the cast and the intriguing quality of the narrative, this is not an overly enjoyable work, although it is quite an important one.

1.4 -- HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, Tommy Wirkola
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This revisionist take on the classic fairy tale is predictably loud, brash, and obnoxious, but also fun and enjoyable in a goofy sort of way, and thus not quite as awful as you might expect. The titular brother & sister pair (played as adults by franchise king Jeremy Renner and former Bond girl Gemma Arterton), having survived their childhood ordeal with a witch, have grown up to become bounty hunters of said supernatural creature, selling their services to anyone who can pay; in this case, a small German town where a dozen children have mysteriously vanished. Though ostensibly set in the Dark Ages, modern weapons such as pistols, grenades, and even a minigun are present throughout; the thinking being, clearly, that as long as they’re having fun with history, they might as go all the way. As the film is a potential franchise starter, Norwegian director Wirkola (perhaps best known for the Nazi zombie cult hit "Dead Snow") expands upon the Brothers Grimm mythology in order to fill out the narrative and add dramatic stakes to the inevitable action climax. But he also, in the recent tradition of action cinema, ups the gore and violence to the extreme, indulging in the R-rating as much as possible and showcasing the awesome beauty of modern special FX. It’s not a good film by any means, or even a passable one, but it is a suitably entertaining one, as long as you check your brain at the door and run with the concept.

1.8 -- BROKEN CITY, Allen Hughes
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Hughes flies solo for the first time, separating from his brother and usual co-director Albert to helm this NYC political drama starring Marky Mark Wahlberg as a former detective turned private eye (yes, they do still exist – a conceit even joked about) and Russell Crowe as the popular mayor running for re-election (complete with an awful hairstyle and fake tan). The result is a crime tale full of corruption, intrigue and sleaze; unfortunately, it is also one full of ridiculous action sequences and even more ridiculous plot developments. Hughes lets the film get away from him on more than one occasion, and thus things only grow wilder and more out-of-control as the narrative progresses (and not in an exciting or interesting way). The convolutions and contrivances of the plot are actually fairly well structured and revealed; however, the frequently overwrought camerawork and variable performances (ranging from Crowe’s scenery-chewing to Wahlberg’s woodenness) render the story mostly pointless. Therefore, this becomes a largely meaningless and silly film, one without much aim or direction.

2.5 -- PARKER, Taylor Hackford
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Playing Parker won't go down as Jason Statham's greatest acting role, but this fist-wielding dude who happens to be a professional thief, sure knows how to knock out the bad guys using all kinds of survival methods: guns, knives, fists, broken glass, electric cords, even the top of a toilet tank. When bad guys owe him money for taking part in a planned heist and then renege on paying, watch out! This is exactly what this movie is about: chasing down the bad guys for personal payback, and this time the hero not only finds a way to get back the $200,000 owed to him by participating in a heist at the Ohio State (he disguised himself as a priest to make it happen), but he ends up getting a lot more dough after he hunts down the band of guys who betrayed him and left him for dead immediately after shooting him because he doesn't want to do any more heists. Jennifer Lopez plays a real estate agent up to her eyeballs in debt, so when Parker lands at the real estate office in Palm Beach, Florida, where she works without any success, he uses her to get close to the bad guys' hideout. She ends up winning big -- but not before she gets caught in the bad guys' snare. Parker saves the day of course and cashes in on jewels and ends up getting off the bad guys (they rob them at huge auction). He kills them, gets the goods and shares the money with the real estate agent much later. Parker is a good guy who only wants what is promised to him in any deal. He doesn't like chaos or those who don't do what they say they will do, and he will kill to get his fair shake. This film would make a good series around this Parker character, and Jennifer Lopez ought to be included. She added great comedic flare. Not a dull moment to be had, but the blood was as plentiful as the billionaires who keep the banks busy at Palm Beach.

4.0 -- LES MISÉRABLES, Tom Hooper
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Expect the richest feast of lyric and song score with voices sent from heaven and all lush places in between from the gifted mouths of Hugh Jackman (Jean Valjean), Russell Crowe (Javert), Anne Hathaway (Fantine), Amanda Seyfried (Cossette) Samatha Bark (Éponine) and a sterling cast of supporting singer/actors who dramatically convey their individual hopes, but mainly horrors endured during the turmoil of pre-revolutionary France. Based on Victor Hugo's epic 1862 masterpiece novel, this film vividly captures the crush of chaos and inhumanity that begins with the theft of a single loaf of bread! The script and libretto is earth-shattering fantastic. Raw emotion was the only way to go to give each character his/her profound plight. This is a great musical worthy of the $81million dollars spent to make it happen. I saw the Imax version at Cineplex Odeon forum in Montreal, and I recommend you splurge to benefit from the high definition sound. Powerful, stirring and a cinematic feat for all involved.

2.5 -- QUARTET, Dustin Hoffman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An altogether harmless and rather enjoyable romp, set a retirement home in the English countryside for former musicians ranging from opera singers to pianists. The titular foursome refers to a famed group of operatic voices that are reunited when the most popular of the group (played by Maggie Smith) arrives at the sprawling estate. Inevitably, personality clashes emerge and old wounds open, leading to some sense of manufactured drama; however, the stakes are never particularly high – all that’s at risk is a climactic performance of one of Verdi’s operas – and thus the tone remains agreeably pleasant throughout – save for a typically crass and colourful performance by Billy Connolly, one of the funniest men on the planet. But even he is eventually tamed by director Hoffman’s bland filmmaking and adherence to the stagey script – adapted by Ronald Harwood from his own play – that saps the film of most of its life and renders the lively performances mostly inert. Still, it’s not a bad film, just a plain and simple one, geared towards middlebrow audiences by an actor-turned-director who lost his edge a long time ago.

3.8 -- QUARTET, Dustin Hoffman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It doesn't get much better than this! Music, wit, tempers, hurt feelings, flamboyant personalities overflowing with magnificent musicianship and a catharsis as compelling as any opera -- these are the juicy elements that reach their high notes in this delightfully endearing comedy. An illustrious array of over-the-hill opera stars have been put out to pasture -- so to speak -- in Beecham House, a stunning retirement home that resembles a regal estate striding the verdant meadows of Buckinghamshire. Musical ensembles, singing duos, solo practices, piano lessons, choir groups and lectures fill the days of this engaging group of septuagenarians. The plot is as melodramatically thrilling as the Verdi quartet that the main stars will be performing in honour of Verdi's birthday, and most importantly, with the purpose of raising funds to keep Beecham's old ebullient self alive. The cast of characters who steal the entire movie include Cissy (Pauline Collins) Wilf (Billy Connolly), Tom Courtney and Jean Horton (Maggie Smith). Their over-the-top music director is Cedric whose self-aggrandizement is embodied in the flashy garment/costumes he wears every day. Cissy has dementia, and Wilf is a charming letch whose flirtatious charm is practiced on Beecham's Doctor, Lucy Cogan. Each of these characters appears to be characters in their own real-life opera. With the arrival of Jean Horton, Beecham House is thrown into chaos, and the plot intensifies. It seems Reginald was married to Jean for a grand total of nine hours decades ago; he left her when he had found out she cavorted with some Italian tenor in her younger days while on tour. But at Beecham they come face to face once again, and although Jean wishes to make amends, Reginald snubs her -- that is until he along with his friends realize they need her to complete the quartet group for the Verdi benefit performance. Jean refuses. She is a gritty one who does not take ageing gracefully. But she relents once she realizes she has been acting like a vintage prima donna. Action and dialogue pick up their pace marked in moments of various crescendos and diminuendos -- much like Bach's contrapuntal preludes and fugues which intermittently are heard throughout this timeless gem, "Quartet" is a mini masterpiece that is funny, fun and highly sympathetic to the exceptional calling of artists who have so much to offer no matter how old they get. The cast (which also features Dame Gwyneth Jones in the role of a former 'Tosca' star -- vocal rival to Horton) is sheer genius. What an ensemble. Every moment in this film is precious. Bravo!

2.5 -- DJANGO UNCHAINED, Quentin Tarantino
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant, joins forces with Django (Jamie Fox), a slave he picks and frees from a small chain gang being led in the forest by some bad white guys who are on route to sell the poor souls. They too are freed after the bad guys are killed by Schultz. This polite former dentist is looking for the cruel Brittle brothers who work on a plantation who Django can pick out as they used to whip him silly. They are wanted by the USA government for murder. Soon into the story, they are found and killed by both. Django and Schultz become close friends, and now they are trying to find Broomhilda, Django's wife -- separated from him when they were sold. She is tracked down on Candyland Plantation run by Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). They mislead Calvin cooking up a business deal that has nothing to do with their true intentions -- to escape with Broomhilda. Django carries out his love mission; he is a fearless hero who stops at nothing to find his beloved Broomhilda and seek vengeance; she has suffered great indignations and cruel whippings. After much bloodshed, the film ends in happiness, but Schultz is killed in a Candyland shootout when he refuses to shake hands with Calvin after paying thousands of dollars to buy back Broomhilda. The best performances come from Christoph Waltz, an interesting character who plays by the rules which involve upstanding values. Another interesting role was the supercilious slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) Calvin's uber-loyal confident who runs the house. He is a betrayer of his own people, preferring to tattle and seek punishment on run-way slaves, such as Broomhilda. There are so many violent scenes in the film that the message in this love story is drowned in a never-ending series of blood baths. It's a fun western, but don't eat anything while watching it.

1.4 -- THE IMPOSSIBLE, Juan Antonio Bayona
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The supposedly true story of one family’s amazing survival in Thailand following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it seems less concerned with reality and truth than heartwarming fantasy and cheap melodrama (the fact that the family’s nationality was changed from Spanish to British for the purposes of the film speaks to this). Melodrama is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, the invocation of an actual natural disaster which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands for the purposes of cinematic spectacle and tacky sentimentality seems in extremely poor taste, not even a decade removed from the actual event. Thus, any awe or wonder gained by the amazing digital reproduction of the enormous tsunami wave is instantly washed away (so to speak) by feelings of sadness and guilt for the real-life victims. Despite the inevitable uplifting ending, then, this is not an enjoyable film to watch, with images of dread, destruction and death dominating, leaving one notably depressed and downtrodden. What is the purpose of making such a film? To whitewash the actual disaster with a fake tale of survival? If so, what a terrible affront to the remaining survivors, who surely do not want to relive their tragedy for the purposes of entertainment.

3.8 -- THE IMPOSSIBLE, Juan Antonio Bayona
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on a true story, this is definitely the best disaster movie ever made. One of the reasons for its immeasurable impact on us viewers is it is the Baron family through which we witness the horrific impact of the disaster -- namely the 2004 tsunami that ripped open the guts of almost all those caught in its sweeping destruction. In the movie, a loving family with 3 young sons spends their first two idyllic days in paradise. Total natural bliss cocoons the family as they rest peacefully in a hotel bordering a wide expanse of a sensual shore of the Indian Ocean. The Thai service is charming and relaxed. Then on that fateful morning of December 26, within seconds, their lives and unity is sundered apart as each one of them disappears into the sea. They were at the pool when it happened. Maria (Naomi Watts) and her oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), make it to a tree together and while doing so retrieve a little boy named Daniel caught in a tangle of branches. Maria is so badly wounded, that she can not walk properly. Eventually, she and Tom are brought to a hospital where Tom turns into a hero, keeping his mother calm and writing down names of people requesting him to search the halls of the hospital for their loved ones. Meanwhile, Henry, the father (Ewan McGregor) and his two sons find one another, but Henry is determined to find Maria, so he leaves his sons inside the rescue jeep where they are taken to a mountain for help. The family is really separated now. Henry is now alone; he wanders aimlessly through the endless destruction of debris made up of every kind of man-made material and nature itself -- all entwined in a massive, garbled mess of ugliness. The movie is in two parts: detailing the event itself and the havoc and danger it has left Maria and Tom in. The next part is about Maria's survival, Tom's bravery and the eventual reuniting of the family through impossible luck. Superhuman performances especially by Ms.Watts and Mr. Holland were beyond words. Never for a moment did I remember they were actors. Ms. Watts shows such pain while hanging onto a prayer for her life, bolstered by her love for Tom who is always by her bedside in the dirty, chaotic hospital. Her maternal love and courage were heart-breaking. Holland as Tom is spellbinding. This film is so graphically real, so intimate in its portrayal of a family, desperately confused while trying to search for their loved ones while trying to overcome their own injuries. Intense and unforgettable, my eyes teared up several time during this film for the characters and all the people who endured the tsunami terror. The Alicante family portrayed in this film must feel some kind of cathartic release knowing their story is now out to the world -- that their pain and thousands who were there is now emotionally shared. The film has the power to do this. It is as if we are with them. We are amazed by this family. The film was brilliantly shot with overhead shots of the destruction; they were so visually powerful, they remain in your mind long after you leave the theatre. Bravo to all involved in making this film.

2.7 -- HITCHCOCK, Sacha Gervasi
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The making of the titular director’s best-known work, "Psycho," is lovingly depicted in this pseudo-biopic, which details the many obstacles that the filmmaker (Anthony Hopkins under heavy prosthetics) and his long-suffering wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren, as fiery as ever) overcame to craft one of the greatest of all films. Though this would seemingly make for an easily enjoyable work, director Gervasi can never quite decide what kind of film he wants to make. A light-hearted romp showing the complicated production of "Psycho?" A serious drama about the problems in the Hitchcocks’ marriage, due in no small part to Alfred’s perverse obsession with blondes (here exemplified by Scarlett Johansson’s Janet Leigh)? Or a deeper, darker look at the director’s private thoughts and secret impulses, symbolized by imaginary conversations he has with Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein, whose grisly murders inspired the original novel. In the end, Gervasi opts for all three, leading to a muddled, if entertaining mess that can really do justice to none of its storylines, considering its too-short length and schizophrenic tone. Regardless, it’s worth a watch, even if it’s not the film it could (or should) have been.

2.1 -- HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, Roger Michell
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The casting brilliance of Bill Murray as Franklin Delano Roosevelt is unfortunately wasted in this turgid period piece, which focuses more on the president’s infidelity and handicap than his political genius. Furthermore, the usually excellent Laura Linney is strangely bland and awful here, as one of FDR’s (fifth or sixth) cousins with whom he had an affair, and her voiceover narration is curiously lifeless. Though the ostensible narrative of the film, about King George VI visiting the president on the eve of WWII to ask/beg for American help, is fascinating stuff, director Michell instead chooses to centre on Linney’s boring narrator and her inexplicable romance with FDR. Had this been conceived as a sequel of sorts to "The King’s Speech," with Colin Firth reprising his Oscar-winning role, it could’ve been something special; instead, it’s largely uninteresting and mostly pointless, though anything with Murray can’t be a complete waste. He’s mostly underused here, however he does get a few moments to shine; a shame, too, as he’s undoubtedly one of this generation’s greatest actors, comedic or not.

3.2 -- PROMISED LAND, Gus Van Sant
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Originally intended to be Matt Damon’s directorial debut, scheduling conflicts forced him to turn the project over to his "Good Will Hunting "director Van Sant, leaving Damon and co-star John Krasinski as script writers, much as Damon and Ben Affleck were fifteen years ago. The whole thing thus has a familiar feel to it, especially the narrative, which treads Erin Brockovich territory with its storyline of two natural gas company salesmen (Damon and Frances McDormand) visiting a small Pennsylvania town with the intention of buying up the farmland for fracking purposes, and the grassroots environmentalist (Krasinski) who opposes them. Though this sounds awfully generic and predictable, there are enough plot turns and character development along the way to keep things interesting -- at least until the utterly unsurprising ending, which goes just the way you’d expect it to. Still, it’s well-acted, -written, and -directed, with enough quality moments to overcome the glaring lack of subtlety. It’s not surprising that hardcore elitist liberals Damon and Krasinski would write such a preachy and politically-charged script, but they could’ve at least been a bit more nuanced about it.

3.0 -- LE GRAND SOIR, Benoit Delépine & Gustave Kervern
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Two brothers who are completely insane capture our hearts and imagination. One is the oldest punk in Europe who begs along with his sidekick canine companion; the other is a seller of mattresses who gets fired. That infuriates him. This pair is a Laurel and Hardy modern duo. When the older brother (the salesman) loses it and starts destroying everything in sight while shouting insults at the world, the parents who own a Pataterie tell them they do not share the same father. In fact, mom doesn't know who the father is of either. This is a totally absurd film that puts two brilliant comedians (Benoit Poelvoorde and Albert Dupontel) in front of the lens to act out their hilarious antics in a setting of modern mediocrity: small-town Belgian life that is big on big brand-name stores. These brothers are rebelling against it all. The actors' flare, impeccable comedic timing and expressions in talk and walk are totally entertaining. At the same, time each of these boys makes a great statement about the meaninglessness and boredom that inflict us all caught up in keeping up with the status quo. The brothers' rebellion is raucous and wonderful.

2.7 -- DEADFALL, Stefan Ruzowitzky
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Ostensibly just a generic, Michigan-set (but Montréal-shot) crime drama, director Ruzowitzky -- of the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar-winning "The Counterfeiters" -- imbues the relatively standard proceedings -- a brother and sister duo (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde respectively) rob a casino and then go on the run -- with just enough thematic weight and resonance to keep things interesting. There are no less than half a dozen individual subplots at play here -- everything from a washed-up boxer (Charlie Hunnam) recently released from prison to a sheriff’s deputy (Kate Mara) trying to impress her father -- and the script manages to intertwine and resolve each of them (mostly) satisfactorily, if not always smoothly. Things therefore feel a bit rough around the edges; for example, the dialogue’s a bit hamfisted, the narrative a bit contrived, and the characters a bit too broadly drawn. Despite this, director Ruzowitzky manages to wring as much tension out of the convoluted screenplay as possible, and produce a solid, if unmemorable, genre work. It may not be art, but it’s certainly entertainment.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Hip-hop star, Wu-Tang Clan frontman, and occasional actor RZA makes his directorial debut with this homage to martial arts and kung fu cinema. Following in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth (who co-wrote the script with the director) by infusing ‘70s grindhouse material with modern music and slang, RZA makes sure they walk the fine line between entertaininment and cheese, crafting a film just bad enough to be good. And though it definitely has its share of awfulness -- the director’s lifeless lead performance, to start with -- it manages to remain endearingly silly and genuinely enjoyable throughout. After all, what’s not to like about a film that has Russell Crowe as an overweight, opium-addicted British soldier named Jack Knife, Lucy Liu as a whorehouse madam, a whole host of martial arts stars doing their best, and ridiculous amounts of action, violence, blood, and gore? It may not be high art, or even low art, but it is loads of fun, even in spite of (or perhaps because of) RZA’s obvious cinematic shortcomings.

2.9 -- DEADFALL, Stefan Ruzowitsky
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza, his younger sister (Olivia Wilde) are in a bad car accident during a terrible blizzard after running from a casino heist gone wrong. A cop finds the car in the snow, but is instantly killed by Addison. He then sends his sister on a solitary walk to the Canadian border during the blizzard to escape Michigan. He will walk in another direction, but catch up to her . . . eventually. Liza convinces a guy while hitchhiking that she ought to go with him to his parents' farm in a small town. This guy's name is Jay Miller (Charlie Hunnam). He is seduced by Liza, and in fact, the two fall in love during their strange encounter. But Addison and Liza had some kind of a weird sibling relationship which involved more than hugs. He rescued his sister when she was very young form their monster father, by shooting him. Jay is also on the run. He is out of prison and looks up his old manager who he beats up for not paying him money owed. He ills him unintentionally, and is avoiding the police. Both he and Liza have a lot in common. Addison kills a few people on the way in order to get a snowmobile and shelter. Liza has told him where she will be heading -- giving him the exact address of Jay's parents' farm. She does this before she falls for Jay. They all end up at the farm and the violence continues with Addison as the instigator. Liza ends up shooting her brother in order to stop him from killing Jay. This was a good fast-paced thriller with lots of violence, including, a finger flying in the snow off Addison's hand, beatings, a barbed wire accident, shooting and a knife ending up in the splayed hand of Jay. Addison got what was coming to him. Shot in Quebec, the wilderness was steeped in snow as deep as the twisted character Addison, who must traipse through it only to meet his final destiny of self destruction and death.

2.3 -- ANNA KARENINA, Joe Wright
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s famed novel is high on style, turning the Russian writer’s problematic prose into a whirling display of visual flair, but short on substance. Director Wright, best known for previous cinematic adaptations "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," takes the unusual approach of turning the book’s stage-bound narrative into actual theatrical settings, filled with heavily-choreographed, pseudo-musical numbers. Unfortunately, superificial style can only take you so far, and the rest of the film doesn’t nearly measure up. Admittedly, transferring a 864-page novel to a 130-minute film is a daunting task, but Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard don’t necessarily seem up for it, choosing to include unimportant subplots instead of properly building up the doomed romance at the tale’s heart. And it doesn’t help that Keira Knightley (re-teaming with Wright for a third time, after the two aforementioned films) brings absolutely nothing to the table, further cementing her place as one of the worst actresses working today. With this source material and assumed pedigree, there’s potentially a good movie to be found here; unfortunately, this isn’t it.

3.8 -- HORS LES MURS, David Lambert
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Imagination + Nation, now in its 25th year, is a festival is screening over 100 films this year, including such riveting documentaries as "Call me Kuchu'," "Emergency Exit," and "Lesbomundo." A gamut of gay topical films, including shorts and features effectively and artistically subvert the stereotypic collective consciousness most of the population holds on homosexuality. One example of a totally compelling film that depicted gay love inexorably glued to life's gritty realities is the film "Hors les Murs." I was moved by the gut-wrenching performances and plot in this film which was co-production: Canada, France and Belgium.

After seeing the film, I spoke to a gay couple who candidly explained that the tortuous love affair revealed in the film and the situation that imploded from it was completely credible, but that it was outside their own personal experience as a gay couple. Both young men told me that in various pockets of gay communities, all kinds of obsessive and unhealthy experiences happen. Gays are driven by the same yearnings as heterosexuals: the need to connect, feel loved and exalt in joy. Indeed, as this film shows, gay love is not solely a sexual beast. Its source can be found in the need to survive, the quest for stability and the desire to 'fit in' without fear of ostracism. This movie touches upon these aspects of the gay culture, as well as highly profound emotions that affect gay love.. Above all, it tells a story of two men brought together by sheer happenstance and circumstances that both solidify and sunder apart their budding love. Sound familiar? Though we wish for a different ending in the film, it is one of the most powerful to stride across the screen in this festival -- North America's largest and one that attracts an exciting mix of really interesting people striving to make this world a far more just one.

Paulo falls madly in love with Ilir, a bartender at a small club who also plays guitar. Paulo had gotten drunk, and Ilir, who didn't know the young blond-haired man, takes him to his home to ensure he will be ok. Paulo seems schooled in the ways of gay sex, and he is quite taken by Ilir who comes from Albania. Ilir, however, is reluctant to get involved with his new human puppy who offers himself up so easily. But they laugh so much, and are good for one another they eventually embrace each other. In fact, Ilir did not have much choice to take it slow, since shortly after meeting Paulo, this blond beauty's girlfriend kicks him out of her apartment when she realizes he has no interest in her at all. Paulo has no place to go, so he heads for Illir's apartment. Ilir really does not want to live with him, but he accepts. What follows is a tortuous series of events.

Illir leaves on a trip; Paulo eagerly awaits his return, but he never shows up. Finally, he gets a letter form his lost lover. It reveals Illir is in prison for bringing drugs across the border. Paulo is beside himself. But he is a great and loyal boyfriend. Illir's slow descent includes rejecting Paulo's' obsessive visits. He feels seeing him makes him weak, which does not help him survive in prison. He forbids further visits. Paulo takes up with the owner of a sex shop owner who takes good care of him though their sex involves Paulo being subjected to some painful moments (S & M). Paulo seems to be a parasite. But he certainly has a heart of gold. One day, Paulo receives a call from Ilir requesting him to visit him once more in the prison -- though it's been months since he hadn't returned to see his ex-lover. He wants Paulo to smuggle in cocaine. Paulo is still in love with him, so he consents. Illir swallows the tiny plastic pieces in which the cocaine is wrapped. Illir who now has skin cancer has changed. No longer is he virile and happy; he is poor and sick. Finally, Illir gets out of prison and visits Paulo at the shop where they used to hang out -- the one owned by Paulo's present lover. Everything that Illir once knew has changed, too. Paulo has become a rich, dandy and his stunning boyish innocence has been replaced with studied coldness. His new lover has taken good care of him. Still, Paulo books a room for them in a swanky hotel, but is unable to be with Illir. He has made his choice. The reversal of roles and fortune is most striking. This is films is about a gut-wrenching love story between two men who fall in love, but bad luck and wrong decisions have sealed each of their fates. They will not be together again. In the end, both cry -- Paulo is walking down the street from the hotel; Ilir is standing on the balcony of the hotel room watching his ex-lover on the street below. Tears and regret are all that is left for Ilir, and perhaps for Paulo as well.

This remarkable film offers great acting. Matila Malliarakis put in a profound performance as Paulo. Guillaume Goulx as Ilir expressed the turbulent push and pull of love's emotional angst while portraying a smiling character ready for a joke that masks secrets and sadness. What a great movie! This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Image + Nation film festival.

3.8 -- STRUCK BY LIGHTNING, Brian Dannelly
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] High-school wannabe literary genius, Carson Philips (wonderfully acted by 'Glee's' Chris Colter) wants more than anything than to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. The only problem is he is head of Clover High School newspaper that no one writes for -- let alone reads. He lives with a pill-popping mom, and his grand mom has Alzheimer's. She always tells him about her grandson who started a short story about a boy -- a boy who wanted to fly. Of course she is referring to Carson himself, but she is too far gone to connect the dots. This is a film of comedic hilarity with a serious message. The movie opens with Carson leaving to go home, but in the school yard he is struck by lightning and instantly killed. One big flashback about his life comprises the entire movie. His dream is to get into Northwestern University for journalism. The film pits him against many funny and mean characters: a cheerleader bimbo, two football fools, a best friend who plagiarizes brilliant writers, two gay guys who pretend to be macho and a Goth girl who barely talks. Carson has to deal with them all, but the biggest challenge is finding out that Northwestern University will only accept him if he comes up with a novel idea to showcase his writing, so he starts a literary magazine for which he must find funding and students willing to contribute their stories. No one does -- until Carson digs up all the dirt on many of them in order to blackmail them into writing for the magazine. Carson finds out his mother actually tore up the acceptance letter into the university, and he is devastated. There are so many funny characters in this movie with a realistic ending. In the end, he realizes that life is about the now, and that each day is special, that we must live with what we have. His mother is really in the villain in this story -- a depressive woman who ensures no one will succeed -- not even her own son. Her nemesis is losing him. This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Image + Nation film festival.

1.3 -- CLOWN, Selton Mello
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Benjie and Waldemar are the clown duo Pangaré and Puro Sangue. Benjie has no social insurance number or proof of residence. Such is the life of a clown stuck in an aimless clan of circus performers. The tiny circus which is owned by his dad goes from town to town performing the same tired, boring acts. Benjie is fed up with his clown life. He leaves to get a nine-to-five job in some city after he finally gets his ID paper. But in the end, he returns to the life of a clown, joining his dad and the other pathetic members of the troupe. This film was boring, but the lead actor, Paulo José plays irony well. He is quite endearing, so he deserves a far better script that shows his tragic-comedy talent in a far more appealing film that doesn't drag on. After ten minutes of watching, you wanted the act to be over. This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Brazilian Film Festival.

3.0 -- EMERGENCY EXIT, Mathieu Orcel van Velzen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A charming documentary that introduces us to several Argentine gay couples -- some who have married, some who are with to transgendered partners. Some are very young; others in their golden years. They all have love in their heart for their partners. Their emergency exit is their safe haven. For one transgender, it's a shelter where she tends to Aids patients; for others it's a comfy apartment where their union can be sanctified as a married couple. Two lesbians are working together in a butcher business they have opened; another couple met as forest rangers in the park they oversee. Argentina allows for marriage, but transgenders face a problem because their ID card shows their male name, given at birth. It is interesting to hear their stories about how they met, their struggles and their courage to come out it -- a metaphor of an emergency exit where freedom to express love exists. This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Image + Nation film festival.

3.8 -- CALL ME KUCHU, Katherine Fairfax-Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Ugandan President David Bahati is about to pass his anti-gay Bill. Support is given to him by several US fundamentalist (homophobic) groups along with the manager of Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper (no relation to the one in New York). This newspaper manager publishes outrageous fiction about gays, depicting them as freaks, men who coerce boys into sex. He along with the government also claims they are terrorists who belong to Joseph Kony’s Christian fundamentalist Lord’s Liberation Army. Support for the Bill is further boosted by ‘The Family’ -- a US-based evangelical movement whose key members travel to Uganda to fuel the hatred. In fact, the Bill will imprison for three years anyone who does not come forward to identify a gay person he or she might know. When noble crusaders such as David Koto along with lesbian activist friend protest the passing of the Bill going to the High Court, he is murdered -- and just when it appeared, the Bill will not be passed due to UN pressure and media. David had started a communal farm for gays, often giving food to all poor villagers, and had presented a case against this Bill to the High Court, thereby gathering global support form the UN and the media. Although David’s friends are taking up the gay gauntlet, they live in fear, but they persist. One feels that hope in this anti-gay country is covered in a massive lethally legal layer of gloom. This documentary follows David and his friends who crusade against the reign of terror against gays. Lesbians are raped and often forced to abort, even if they want to continue the pregnancy. Gays must party in secret, and work in the dark as Uganda continues to persecute all homosexuals. This country’s draconian dark-age mentality is most disturbing and dangerous for all mankind gay or not! This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Image + Nation film festival.

3.9 -- KILLING THEM SOFTLY, Andrew Dominik
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Following his beautifully abstract mood piece "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," director Dominik re-teams with star Brad Pitt and relocates from the Old West to modern America, but retains the same sense of low-key style and restrained temperament. Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a low-level mob enforcer sent to a generic American city to settle scores after a couple of small-time hoods knock over a card game and disrupt the local criminal economy. Clearly set during the 2008 financial crisis and presidential race to emphasize certain thematic points, this is less a conventional crime film (à la something of the Guy Ritchie or Michael Mann variety) than a commentary on American capitalism, as this relatively minor story becomes a microcosm (or even analogy) of the whole economic system. Brief, heavily stylized acts of violence are intercut with long, static, talky scenes, and the juxtaposition is jarring and obvious. But even when the dialogue tends to stray into heavy-handed territory, Dominik keeps things rolling with his assured direction and even-handed approach. It’s perhaps not as smooth and subtle as it could’ve been, but, regardless, this is one of the year’s best.

2.9 -- SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK , David O. Russell
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A funny and heartwarming look at mental illness, this film feels just as bipolar as its main character, Patrick (Bradley Cooper). Veering from serious drama to rapid-fire comedy just as Patrick oscillates between extreme joy and manic depression, it’s a little unnerving at times, and definitely takes some getting used to. Half the time you’re unsure whether you’re laughing at the characters’ mental illnesses or at the fast-paced dialogue, and the other half you’re cringing in awkward silence at the uncomfortable situations. But for all its unsettling feel and schizophrenic tone, at its heart, this is fundamentally a formulaic and crowd-pleasing romantic comedy, with all the contrived obstacles and uplifting feelings necessitated by the genre. As Tiffany, a fellow bipolar-ite and the inevitable object of Patrick’s desire, Hollywood’s newest A-listed Jennifer Lawrence nearly steals the show, and clearly cements her place as Oscar frontrunner. But, as for the film itself, it’s simply too small, too standard, and too satisfying to be sensational. It’s therefore merely good, albeit with heavy reservations.

2.5 -- RED DAWN, Dan Bradley
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] This remake of the 1984 cult classic (read: rather terrible movie) updates the setting to contemporary times and thus changes the invading nation from the Soviet Union to North Korea (though the Russians still are, somehow, behind it all). Though China would’ve been the more logical choice, and, indeed, was the original aggressor during filming, controversy and (more importantly) China’s growing marketplace for American films necessitated reshoots, leaving this version to (finally) be released to cinemas three years after its initial production dates. However, this is something of a blessing in disguise, at least for the film’s box office chances, as stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson have hit it big with Thor and Peeta (from "The Hunger Games") respectively. As for the film itself, it’s pretty standard Hollywood remake stuff, with a more polished feel, improved backstory, and, of course, even more explosions than the original. It’s not entirely a terrible re-do (albeit the bar was set pretty low), and, as far as action cinema goes, fairly solid. It’s just entirely without a satirical edge or topical commentary, and, thus, not particularly interesting. Still, I suppose you could do a lot worse, at least as far as modern American action films go.

2.2 -- FATHER'S CHAIR, Luciano Moura
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Theo and his wife Branca are arguing terribly. Theo still loves his wife and does not accept the divorce she wants. Their 15-year-old son Pedro enters the house to hear the rage. The only bright thing in this cauldron of anger is the arrival of a new chair -- a present for Pedro from his grandfather -- Theo's father -- but Theo proceeds to smash it. His fury escalates when he sees his wife does not agree with sending their son away against his will to New Zealand to continue his studies. Pedro disappears one day, and Theo sets out to find him. He discovers Pedro has rented a black horse. The search takes Theo on his own journey across two states in Brazil. He travels in his car, on foot, even ends up in a field and on a stationary boat -- all because he is tracking his son down to bring him home. We watch the slow unraveling of a man who madly loves his son. In searching Pedro's bedroom, she discovers her son draws horses, and has been illustrating letters sent to him by his grandfather. Pedro is a great artist. He in fact is staying at his grandfather's house. Theo finds him and reconciles in an instant with Pedro along with his own father whom he hasn't seen in years. The film starts out in a compelling manner, but Theo's search lags into boredom for us. We want him to find his son, not because we care, but because we want the film to finish. This film was screened at Montreal's 2012 Brazilian Film Festival.

3.5 -- SKYFALL, Sam Mendes
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest in the now-half-a-century-old James Bond franchise brings the series back to basics after the overwrought and deeply flawed "Quantum of Solace," which broke Bond protocol by following immediately from its predecessor, betraying an unwillingness or inability to tell its own story. This installment, on the other hand, enlists Oscar winning director Mendes and well-renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins to improve the series’ cultural viability and thematic substance, even while maintaining a certain level of superficiality and ridiculousness throughout. And, indeed, the plot, which finds Daniel Craig’s superspy forced to defend Judi Dench’s M from attacks both foreign and domestic, is appropriately self-referential, without forgetting the core tenants of the franchise: guns, gadgets, and girls. The result of one of the most mature and accomplished entries in the entire series, one which makes sure to layer the shootouts and steamy sex scenes with real meaning and depth. As such, it continues the rebooting process begun by "Casino Royale," forgetting that unfortunate detour in between.

3.3 -- LINCOLN, Steven Spielberg
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] With its pedigree and release date, one could easily assume that this is a conventional Oscar-baiting biopic, telling the epic life story of arguably the greatest American president. But director Spielberg is not so predictable, and thus instead presents only the last four months of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln (played stirringly, if reservedly, by Daniel Day-Lewis), as he attempts to simultaneously pass the Thirteenth Amendment, ban slavery and end the bloody Civil War. More of a behind-the-scenes political drama than anything, it offers an insightful look at the complex factors that led to two of Lincoln’s greatest achievements, and the backdoor politics and careful strategizing which accompanied them. With writing in the Aaron Sorkin mould (albeit not, in fact, scripted by the West Wing and Social Network scribe, but instead Munich screenwriter Tony Kushner) and a veritable who’s who of renowned character actors in the cast (everyone from James Spader to Joseph Gordon-Levitt pops up), it is, indeed, designed to win as many Oscars as possible. However, it is also genuinely well-crafted and fascinating stuff, something we should still expect from the modern master of American filmmaking.

3.2 -- CLOUD ATLAS, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The much-heralded adaption of David Mitchell acclaimed, if divisive, 2004 novel finally finds its way onto screens, and the result is just as to be expected, and certainly more than the sum of its parts. Telling six stories, spanning centuries and continents, all linked by similar themes of human connectivity and yearning for freedom, it attempts to posit some kind of grand unified theory on the human condition, via its meta storytelling techniques and invocation of new age pop philosophy. But while none of the individual stories are particularly compelling or innovative in their own right, the manner in which they are stitched together -- cross-cutting between analogous visual moments, sharing characters and actors via some wildly inventive prosthetic makeup, and the aforementioned storytelling techniques, in which each narrative is revealed to be a tale told or read in the chronologically following story – truly makes this a cinematic experience unlike any other. Though largely a thematic mess, it’s at least a fascinating one.

2.4 -- FLIGHT , Robert Zemeckis
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Zemeckis’ return to live-action filmmaking, after a decade experimenting with motion-capture animation, is as inauspicious as it is banal. Essentially a character drama, starring Denzel Washington as an alcoholic, drug-abusing pilot who miraculously lands a plane but then finds himself under scrutiny, it treats its heavy subject matter with a light comedic touch that is downright offensive; when heavy cocaine use is treated as a joke, you know what kind of film you’re watching. Furthermore, the entire meaning and message of the film is far too blatant and preachy to be truly effective; supporting characters are turned into caricatures, every line of dialogue is on-the-nose and unambiguous, and even the song choices (ranging from the Barenaked Ladies’ “Alcohol” to Cocaine Junkies’ “Sweet Jane”) are obvious and boring. Though Denzel gives it his all, and John Goodman nearly steals the show as his childhood friend/drug dealer, this is simply an uninteresting and unsubtle look at one man’s struggles with his personal demons, disguised as a subpar, warmed-over, Oscar-baiting Hollywood drama.

3.1 -- FLIGHT, Robert Zameckis
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Whip Whitaker is a brilliant airline pilot. He is also brilliant at imbibing copious amounts of the bad stuff that comes out of bottles: vodka, gin, beer and whatever will give him a big-time buzz. In fact, he is an alcoholic. The film opens with him guzzling the stuff with his sexy stewardess Katarina. We do not know if she has done so too, but they are in bed together and it is morning. He puts on his uniform and ends up in the pilot's seat. Katarina gives him a big smile in her uniform as she welcomes him on the plane. Ok, so she works with him. Then as the plane takes flight a storm breaks and turbulence sets the next course of the trip. Captain Whitaker almost breaks the plane as he speeds it in the direction of a clear path between two monstrous clouds. The co-pilot is terrified. When the coast is clear, Captain Whitaker excuses himself and pours two bottles of vodka into his orange juice and then gets Margaret, his head stewardess to give him some coffee and aspirin. There has been no drinking allowed for the passengers because of the ride. Then, without warning, all hell breaks loose. They are going to crash. Whitaker inverts the planes and rolls it into a clear field by a church. Almost all the passengers are saved by Katerina, who, along with another stewardess, is killed. Three other passengers lose their lives. An investigation is held, and the airline union sends a great lawyer -- played by Don Cheadle to kill the toxicology report taken while Whitaker was recuperating the hospital Whitaker tells everyone this plane was doomed to break in half, and in fact, he is right. However, his drinking becomes such a loaded problem that his bet friend, Harling Mays (John Goodman) comes in to sober him up while Whitaker is holed up in a hotel with no liquor to take at all. He finds some in the next room as the adjoining door remain unlocked. No matter how bad things get, Whitaker can't lay off the bottle; in fact most of the time Washington spends his acting role lying on the floor in a drunken stupor. His life is a mess. In the end, during the formal investigation, Whitaker is able to avoid going to jail by lying about drinking during that flight. But when he is asked to confirm that the two empty vodka bottles found on the plane were because Katerina had drunk the contents during that fatal flight, flight, the good captain comes clean; he can't lie. He confesses he is a drunk, and that he is drunk right at this moment. Nobody was ever able to get him to get help for his problem -- not his union rep, his lawyer, his ex-drug addict girlfriend, Nicole, his ex-wife or son. It is as dramatic a moment as the plane crashing into the field. There are religious elements in this film -- his co-pilot wife, the church steeple being ripped off during the crash, (it was in the field), and most memorably, the young cancer patient he meets in the hospital stairwell who talks about God and cancer. That moment was a scene stealer, remarkably played by James Badge Dale, In that same stairwell was Nicole, recovering from a drug overdose. They all met by chance to take a smoke. Denzel Washington played a dark, drunk with complete conviction -- so to speak. He did an admirable job. But I think he plays heroes far better than he does a negative character ("Safehouse"). The film was suspenseful and captivating. Applause to Goodman and Dale for their outstanding acting. As for Washington, he was never boring in his role -- and that is a feat, because it is hard to play an interesting passionate drunk who lies about most everything.

3.3 -- WRECK-IT RALPH, Rich Moore
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Though produced by the main branch of Walt Disney Animation Studios, this truly feels more like a Pixar offering, with its high-concept storyline, sharp writing, and mature themes. In this tale of the titular video game baddie, tired of his thankless villain role, first-time director Moore tackles such weighty, existentialist topics as one’s role in society and the purpose of one’s life, but does so with a deft hand, never overwhelming the formulaic narrative with heavy-handed moralizing. As a result, the film feels fresh and funny, rarely resorting to cheap humour or pop culture references to get a laugh; the myriad of video game references are mostly kept to the background, and serve to establish the film’s world, not define it. With a talented voice cast, especially John C. Reilly in the title role, a tight script, and colourful animation (though dimmed, as always, by the pointless 3D), this is a real winner, and an easy contender for best animated film of the year.

2.3 -- PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 , Ariel Schulman & Henry Joost
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The Law of Diminishing Returns finds its cinematic equivalent in the horror movie franchise, and certainly this series is no exception. The gimmick is tired, the scares are telegraphed, and the plot mythology has grown so thick and wild that it seems unlikely to ever be untangled. But the franchise still provides a frightfully good time, via its now patented formula of ‘wait-wait-wait-something moved-BIG SCARE.’ which remains surprisingly effective. In this sequel, another affluent, all-American family in Southern California falls prey to the whims and terrors of a demonic poltergeist, leading to a lot of strange noises, shadowy figures and spooky happenings. Attempts to upgrade the gimmick -- via Skype video chats and the glowing green tracking dots of an Xbox 360 Kinect -- are mostly wasted, and so we’re left with the same static night-vision cinematography of the previous installments. And while the prior cliffhanger endings at least wrapped things up before leaving the viewer wanting, this is the first in the series to truly be geared towards another sequel, as little (if any) questions are answered. But it still scares, for whatever that’s worth.

3.4 -- SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, Martin McDonagh
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] In many ways this is writer-director McDonagh’s "Adaptation" -- perversely autobiographical, deeply self-reflexive, and very, very funny. And though not as dark or meaningful as his previous work, "In Bruges," it nonetheless extends McDonagh’s streak of quality dark comedies starring Colin Farrell. The Irishman here plays Marty, a Hollywood screenwriter struggling with his latest project, appropriately titled the same as the film itself (hence the self-reflexivity). But when he is pulled into a dognapping scheme by his screw-up actor friend (Sam Rockwell), his writer’s block vanishes and the script seems to write itself. McDonagh makes heavy use of flashback and flashy editing to depict the complex process of writing, and though it is uncertain whether the film represents the director’s actual struggles while attempting to follow up his Oscar-nominated debut, it hardly seems to matter. This is a witty, well-written tale that both demythologizes the romance of writing and stands as a monument to it.

3.0 -- LA MISE À L’AVEUGLE [SMALL BLIND], Simon Gallero
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The opening film of this year’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma is an intimate Québécois drama detailing the life of recent retiree Denise (Micheline Bernard), living a life of quiet isolation and organized boredom. Detached from those around her, she finds solace in her neighbours’ nightly game of poker -- a game she quickly takes to. Denise’s life soon enters another stage, as new relationships are fostered and past ones left by the wayside. Though the story is small in scope and short on drama, director Gallero’s assured hand, combined with Bernard’s fearless performance, craft a mature portrait of a middle-aged woman forced to start her life over again -- and the people she encounters as she does so.

3.1 -- KLIP [CLIP], Maja Miloš
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] In many ways a companion piece to the controversial and infamous "A Serbian Film," echoing that film’s explicit sexuality and apparent political edge. But whilst the earlier work is brutal, disturbing, and without a shred of redeemable content, this one at least maintains its sense of humanity, even amongst the degrading sex scenes and graphic blowjobs. Following the life of teenager Jasna as she deals with her father’s terminal illness, her family’s resigned poverty, and her boyfriend’s carefree misogyny, it is both a criticism of post-communist Serbia and an optimistic look forwards. Though some might find this film far too troubling and misogynistic to be of any value, the fact that it is, in fact, directed by a woman goes a long way in allaying such concerns. Serbia may be screwed right now, but at least there’s hope for the future.

2.3 --CALYPSO ROSE, Guillaume Dero France
[ reviewed by Nancy Snipper] She is the first lady of Calypso from Trinidad and Tobago. She survived rape and two bouts of cancer. Now in her twilight years, she reveals her life story, the hardships and highs. Dynamic and totally uneducated, she tells us how lyricd enters her head during her dreams at night. At 70 years of age, she is a powerhouse of energy and great humour. However, one gets the feeling that this woman who lives alone never really shows her true sadness. What she does show is her pride in uncovering her African roots. As the granddaughter of a slave, she has overcome the odds against a male dominated art form, society and way of life. Unfortunately, the film hits you like a ton of bricks, thrown with great energy to form a mountainous hodge-podge of non-related events. Poorly edited, Calypso Rose, the woman, comes off as being frenetic and strange in her behaviour both on and off stage. We laugh but I am not sure we are laughing out of love for her, or because the film is almost buffoonish to watch. It belittles her. She merits a properly made film that allows us to understand her beginnings and how far she has come, using a logical sequential manner of archival clips and her own on-camera interviews and performances. There was too much slipping in and out of documentary footage that did not blend properly into the points trying to be made or into what she was saying prior to these clips. Mr. Daro ought to go back to the editing room and do it right. of course. It did not help that the film broke down twice during its single screening at the 2012 Montreal Black Film Festival).

3.8 - UMOJA, Elizabeth Tadic
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper> This fabulous documentary shows how a group of determined women who were beaten by their lzay husbands, and raped by the British coming through set off to form their own women-only village. Resourcefulness and courage have made them independent from the men who try to get them back. These women are now putting word out as they travel to other villages in northern Kenya to assist them in setting up their male-free villages. These women are the Samburu; their village is called Umoja, which means 'unity'. Maybe this is the answer to banishing circumcision, beatings and exploitation by the men who are proud of their barbaric treatment of women. It is interesting to note that thee women were rejected by the very men who want them back because they were raped by the British. This movie was followed by another feature documentary titled 'Ballplayers/Pelotero'. It was directed by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin, and Jonathon Paley which brought to life the rigorous training of young baseball players eager to make the MBL. But these young trainees live in the Dominican Republic. One in five baseball players in the US are from there. We see how scouts come down to pick them, but in the end, age becomes a major issue. They must all be 16 by July 2 in order to sing. We follow tow players in particular, and each is doomed to near failure despite their brilliant ability to play baseball. One of them has lied about his age, and the coach who is like a dad to him only finds out after much investigation has been done. The other is refused because the MBL doesn't believe he is only 16. In fact, the scout for The Pirates planted a seed of doubt among his competitor scouts, so that he could sing the boy on. This player has to go through bone scans, blood tests and produce documents to prove his age, but still it is put into question. In the end, he signs on the Minnesota Twins, but after the July 2 deadline. It seems the MBA has a few corruption issues which work in favour of lowering bonus price contracts for each young player. Scheming doesn't just happen on the baseball field but also in those fighting behind the scenes to sing on the best young player. (This film was screened during the 2012 Montreal Black Film Festival) .

1.3 -- LE BONHEUR D'ELZA, MarietteJ Monpierre
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An impishly made film of a woman who goes to Guadeloupe to rediscover her father who abandoned the family in Paris when she was born. She ends up taking care of a little girl whose grandpa is actually the woman's father. She has found out where her father lives and goes to spy on him when she is mistaken for the girl sent by the child care-giving agency, and is invited in. She gets the job; that is how she ends up living with her father - a fact that alludes him. He is a bad man but wonderful to his granddaughter. The ending fo this film has daughter and father reunited. pass on seeing this really silly film that ironically is dedicated to the filmmaker's mother rather than her father - go figure! The acting was terrible, and some scenes were throw-ins without any acting at all - they were merely there to show something about the plot. (This film was screened during the 2012 Montreal Black Film Festival) .

MONTREAL WORLD FILM FESTIVAL (Aug. 23rd to Sept. 3) reviews by Nancy Snipper

0.5 -- HIT & RUN, David Palmer & Dax Shepard
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An almost entirely worthless action comedy, revolving around a former getaway driver-turned-state’s witness (writer/director/unfunny comedian Shepard) and his blissfully ignorant girlfriend (his real-life fiancé Kristen Bell), who embark on a cross-country road trip, only to be chased by his double-crossed partners (including Bradley Cooper in a ridiculous wig), her obsessive ex-boyfriend, the U.S. Marshal assigned to protect him, and a couple of bumbling cops. Racism, homophobia, crude nudity, and other comedic tropes proliferate in this sorry excuse for a film, which gains points only for some admittedly impressive car chases (which nonetheless serve little narrative or thematic purpose). Also, I suppose Tom Arnold, as the flustered, overweight marshal, made me laugh a couple times, mostly for his slapstick; other than that, though, this is basically a waste, one that makes me wonder what Bell sees in Shepard.  

2.8 -- HIT AND RUN, Dax Shepard & David Plamer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] I liked this movie. Dax Shepard plays Charlie Bronson -- a name he gave himself after being placed in the witness protection program. He was part of several bank robberies, but turned in Alex, his psychopathic former bank robbery buddy (Bradley Cooper) in order to void turning in his former bad girl fiancé at the time. All were involved in the robbery; Charlie had to choose between her and his bud. His real name is Yul Perkins, and as his present girl friend (Kristen Bell) finds out Yul is a darling with a lot of packed, hidden baggage. Kristen is offered a job in LA and Charlie is determined to get her there in time for the interview. But Alex, just released from jail, is after him. The movie throws a lot of funny situations our way, but on the journey there is a fair bit of vulgarity entrenched in American stereotyping behaviour that candidly treats the bigotry of that nation. Tom Arnold as the goofball cop is hilarious, and the ensemble acting was great. Still, this movie hits a tad below the belt to rate higher than one to see on a rainy afternoon. The car chases went on far too long, but you know those Americans -- they love their cars. Oops, pardon the stereotyping; his movie which in fact is spoofing elements of low-life American culture, does it well.

1.2 -- THE EXPENDABLES 2, Simon West
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The much-anticipated sequel to star Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 ode to ‘80s action movies and the supermen that populate them, this instalment promises to deliver more of the same, and even up the ante, finding expanded roles for Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris and Van Damme, among others. But this one also suffers from many of the same problems of its predecessor: namely, a bleak, solemn tone, an emphasis on meandering monologues, and, frankly, boring action scenes. These films may pledge to show off the ridiculous stunts and tongue-in-cheek humour of so many ‘80s classics, but, for all their shootouts and sarcasm, they’re actually quite serious. There’s nothing inherently fun about seeing brawny men blasting away at disposable minions for ninety minutes – unless you have a gun fetish – and too much of the so-called ‘action’ of this franchise consists of precisely that. All the over-the-top gore and enormous weaponry in the world can’t make it thrilling, and – apart from an admittedly impressive brawl between Stallone’s hero and Van Damme’s villain (appropriately named Vilain) – there’s really nothing to get excited about here. Stick to smart, exhilarating homages to ‘80s action heroes, such as "Hot Fuzz," and leave these ones for the masses.

2.4 -- 2 DAYS IN NEW YORK, Julie Delpy
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Writer-director Delpy’s follow-up to 2 Days in Paris replaces Adam Goldberg with Chris Rock and relocates from France to America, but retains the same basic fish-out-of-water format – only this time, it is Marion’s (Delpy) insane French family (including her real-life father, Albert, and co-writers Alexia Landeau and Alexandre Nahon) that makes the trip. What follows is as expected – hilarious cultural misunderstandings, inappropriate antics by the out-of-touch Parisians, and godlike tolerance by the all-too-polite American boyfriend (Rock, adding a touch of his stand-up routine to the proceedings). But, while "Paris" was dry and witty, the comedy here seems much more broad and stupid (perhaps a result of the New York setting), pushing Marion’s already unrealistic family even further into caricature territory. Furthermore, a third-act plot contrivance about Delpy’s character selling her soul as some kind of performance art piece is far too pretentious (and portentous) for such an inherently silly movie, and seems at odds with the rest of the narrative. Delpy’s writing is strongest when it is based on real human interaction and conversation, not grand statements about life and existence, and thus her film falters trying to be more than it is – which is, essentially, a traditional French farce transplanted to America.

3.5 -- THE SOURCE, Radu Mihaileanu
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A daring, truthful film that dares to question the subjugation of women within the Muslim world. Abusive customs are graphically explored in this wonderful film. Leila, a stubborn, defiantly brave girl goes on strike as the leader of a group of women protesting against the long climb to the only nearby well to get water. Why don't the men do it? Well, that's the way it goes. Leila goes to visit the Imman along with her group of strikers to tell him no page in the Koran says women are inferior to men. It says they are sisters to men. The implication is clear: women are not lackeys or sexual objects. Set in North Africa in a small dusty hot village, these women form a strong unit, depriving their men of sex until they succumb to this fetch-and-carry chore. May women have miscarried doing it, taking falls and living without rest. Men must get the water. The music, acting and intimacy of this film combine to make the authentic plight of these women and all like them an engrossing movie. Mihaileanu is without a doubt is a filmmaker who tastefully tackles highly important subjects related to the human condition -- most specifically about dowager traditions and customs that destroy the chance of personal freedom. In this film Leila's principles prevail. The macho yoke cloaked in religious wrongs is choking these women. Finally it is broken. In addition, the two secondary love stories in this film also show the weakness of men; they are devoid of Leila's fortitude and discipline. A film with many political and religious implications that surely will be banned in most Muslim countries.

3.0 -- TO ROME WITH LOVE, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Woody at his most whimsical. Four stories of love set in Rome -- the perfect city to make such an absurd story line that is enchanting nonetheless. Allen takes iconic situations and has a whole lot of fun as they play themselves out: boy-friend falls in love with girlfriend's best friend; virginal couple discovers the joy of sex by happenstance and a mix-up with questionable momentary partners, but end up of course together in every way; a has-been opera impresario discovers the voice of a lifetime that must be heard -- a mortician who sings best in the shower, and thus operas are staged with him singing in an on-stage shower booth; a nostalgic man takes a visit to his old haunt, escorted by a young fellow, an architect student who is as naive about love as he used to be; a nobody who becomes a somebody of adoration and fame for a few days until another nobody is marketed to the Roman mob. Judy Davis was the best thing this ode to Rome, and quite frankly, Allen ought to consider making her his life in real life (she plays his psychiatrist hubby in the film with deadpan humour). Ellen Page as the neurotic boyfriend stealer shows diabolical narcissism to the max. But I find her annoying and affected no matter what role she plays. Alec Baldwin is such a great actor, but in the role of the older man walking down memory lane, he did not give out much. Ensemble acting was admirable, but the plot was silly and there were not enough witty lines. Davis and Allen took the lion's share as far as snappy funny dialogue, but I wanted a lot more.

1.8 -- PARANORMAL, Sam Fell & Chris Butler
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Aside from the cute voices and funny characters of Norman's valley-girl sister and his fat friend, Neil, this ridiculous stop-motion movie gives us Norman who is not normal. He is a young little guy who sees the dead and talks to them. His mission is to stop the yearly curse of the now dead Jodelle -- a little girl who lived during Puritan times in the town, and was reincarnated into a witch after being tried by seven Puritans, then sentenced to death for sorcery. The fact is, she was just a weird quiet kid but we only find this out at the end of the film. Norman succeeds by tracking the 'witch' down and reading her a bed-time story. Jodelle relents and explains how hurt she was and still is for being hated and done away with by so many and in such a dastardly way. (Her demise is not shown in the film). Norman tells her he is like her, and after their heart-to-heart encounter, peace settles into their historical town of Blithe Hollow -- a place where many spirits still roam and where tourists come to track down ghosts. The plot is so flimsy, the action repetitive, and despite the fact Laika Studio printed over 31,000 faces for the production and needed over 100,000 samples of ten different kinds of materials for finishing these faces, this film falls flat on its Zombie faces. Moreover, it is too scary for kids and too immature for teens, and a total yawn for adults, so I believe this movie will not meet with much success. Laika's "Coraline" was far superior.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A documentary on Perenco's dastardly actions towards the Mayans of Guatemala. This Parisian-based oil company is the sponsor of an exhibition of Mayan art in a Parisian museum. All the big wigs and art patrons are there, including directors of all kinds; even the President of Guatemala is there to show how wonderful and invaluable Perenco is to Guatemala in order to justify the laying down of an intrusive network of above-ground pipelines smack in the pristine forest of Mayan habitation. One Guatemalan leader is there proclaiming what a great company Perenco is. He declares the company is utterly caring about the Mayans. As the film's narrator points out, it is Interesting that not one Mayan is there other than the man who is paid by the French government to handle his own people. But nothing could be farther from the truth. There has been a huge oil leak into the ground where the Mayans try to grow crops. Perenco claims it happened before they actually took over the previous company that had been drilling there. We remain highly skeptical, and so do the hundreds of misplaced Mayans. They now live directly behind the lines; some even have these ugly, dangerous lines going right into their huts. And 'huts' is a flattering word for what Perenco gave them to house them is shameful. These displaced people now live in abject squalor; mud and straw is what is under their feet and over their heads.The oil-filled ponds are all they know. Perenco has donated hundreds of new desks for the school there. The camera shows beat-up desks that should have been thrown out long ago. The Mayans have lost their food source, clean water, their schools, hospital, little shops -- in essence essential elements in their culture.The hypocrisy of Perenco is blatant and their truths are false. The sad thing is, for every village in Latin America, you will find the equivalent of a Perenco. The rape of the Mayan's land and their slow deterioration is most cruel. Perenco is clever in the way it puts on this exhibit -- a great PR job to mask its capitalistic, inhumane sins. This film was screened at the 2012 Montreal First People's Festival.

4.0 -- WE STILL LIVE HERE, Pamela Yates
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This inspiring documentary puts the language of Wampanoag back on the map. The determination of one woman (Jessie Little Doe) from the island area near Martha's Vineyard to resurrect the language of their aboriginal tribe (a people that once populated sizable Massachusetts) takes her on a journey where she not only rediscovers important nuances of her language but her own latent scholarly abilities: she enters the academic world of linguistics at MIT without any prior college or university background. Hooking up with a professor who becomes her mentor and friend, she travels back in time via 17th-century books, religious conversion lists and the bible to discover how to teach her language to her community. She excels as a teacher and is eventually selected to join the linguistics faculty at MIT. Her methods of teaching her people involve the examination of a comparative native language chart of dialects within Wampamoag language, along with the missionary bible that has page by page translations in her native language. Soon her children, her husband and the entire community are conversing in the language. It is thrilling to see people enjoying a culture and language they once had lost, but also Wampanoag customs and the spiritual values and beliefs of their ancestors. This crusader has proven a dead language can be brought back to life when it should never have been wiped out in the first place. This film was screened at the 2012 Montreal First People's Festival.

4.0 -- GRANIT0; HOW TO NAIL A DICTATOR, Pamela Yates
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Documentary filmmaker. Pamela Yates was young when she first went to Guatemala in 1982 to to film the guerrilla rebels fighting the forces of the army general, Efrain Rios Montt, who ordered the genocide of villages inhabited by Mayans suffering under greedy landlords. However, the film opens 25 years later with a forensic anthropologist who, in the huge cemetery well of Verbena, is busy recovering skeletons and identity cards buried in the horrific evidence. Freddie is his name; he has come back to his country to try to give people a voice and, most importantly, to hook up with Yates who has returned once again to film witnesses to the genocide and research and prepare her evidence in an attempt to bring the army general to court in Spain. She has been asked to do this by a female lawyer. The two women are joined by another female, an expert criminal archivist. Yates' second trip puts her in contact with damaging evidence against the army dictator she and her team are trying 'to nail.' Footage from her first documentary film along with interviews and riveting scenes of fighting on both sides create powerful proof that the genocide was ordered. Yates is great at getting 'in' good' with the army dictator; she even goes up in the helicopter with him and a few of his soldiers whereupon they are shot down. But they survive. During her second visit her first documentary film is shown to the villagers. All her hard work is impacting profoundly on everyone. Now it is time to go to the High Court in Spain in an attempt to prove there really was a genocide, so that this general may be tried for his crimes. The judge is sympathetic. After hearing villagers, who were flown in to provide testimony, and the evidence presented by Yates and her amazing team, it is decided that th perpetrator must come to Spain to face trail. In the end though, Guatemala does not obey the orders. He receives impunity. The uncovering of thousands of police documents gives the team further evidence that this general gave orders and knew what his men were doing. Yates meets up with so many people who were in her first documentary, but it would seem that their voices and hers are to be choked. In the end of the film, Freddie receives a death threat letter ordering him to stop digging up the cemetery. The poignant point that until admission, trial, retribution and compensation comes about, Guatemalans will continue living in a silence of fear: the threat of further genocide remains in their psyche. Her determination to seek out a key witness who now leads and informs the villagers of the genocide he witnessed as a child also makes for powerful footage. She also meets up with a journalist she had met on that earlier trip to make her first documentary. In the end, all felt nothing was effectively accomplished and the team returns to the United States. It is Freddie who is left dangling in mid-air as he descends into the dark hole of the cemetery with his courageous intent to shine an unforgettable light on that which continues to be buried in the dirt of muted darkness. This gut-wrenching fillm brings you to your knees crying for the world to stand up and change the current course of events. It is one of the most important political documentaries ever made on Latin American genocide. It was screened at the 2012 Montreal First People's Festival.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A cute rather original way to show the tribal life of this group of traditional humorous people who live in a dusty, dry part of the plains. The director was actually adopted by one member of the tribe and together they film the antics and going-on of three light-hearted people. What is amusing is the way they make fun of themselves as they direct, improvise and choose the parts they wish to play to show how they live. A novel way for a people to make their own film the way they want to. They also openly declare they are to adopt to the modern world, but one which will respect their culture and traditions. The movie was part of the 2012 Montreal First People's Festival.

2.4 -- TOOMELEH, Ivan Sen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A sad realistic film that slowly captivates you as become part of young boy's daily life of despair. His name is Daniel. Choosing not to go to school classes, he hangs out with gangsters in Toomelah, his home turf which is in fact a displaced Aboriginal community; it was caught in the clutches of missionary conversion, and life has come to a stand-still. His mom, dad, auntie and grandmom -- all pathetic and wasted are visual testaments to what happens to people who lose their identity and homes. Now the people spend time fighting, smoking and drinking; such are the major pastimes for all who can no longer invoke their totem (tribal animal of ancestry). That cultural vibrancy is gone, along with just about everything else that once defined their aboriginal way of life. This is a film about rootlessness and rage. Still, in the end, Daniel -- influenced by the intermittent coaxing of a girl he has a crush on -- enters the doorway of a classroom where kids are learning their aborignal language. Daniel Connors, who played his namesake, was brilliant. The others were equally remarkable in their roles. Interesting that in the the film they took on their real-life names. Most uprooted never recover and sweet memories become those that haunt and paralyze us. The movie was part of the 2012 Montreal First People's Festival.

1.7 -- TO ROME WITH LOVE, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest in Woody’s romp through European capitals, this one differentiates itself by presenting an anthology of four different stories set in The Eternal City, rather than one cohesive narrative, all dealing in some way with love & sex (as with all the director’s films). But it is in this fashion that the film falters. Anthologies tend only to work when there is some form of connection between the stories, whether narrative, thematic, or otherwise, and there is nothing of the sort here, apart for some rather weak conceits about Rome’s beauty and romance. None of the stories are particularly memorable, ranging from a fish-out-of-water tale involving naïve newlyweds to a heavy-handed critique of celebrity culture starring everybody’s favourite Italian, Roberto Benigni. Woody himself returns to acting for the first time in six years, but fails to leave much of a mark, as do most of the other performers, including Woody-lite Jesse Eisenberg and a tired-looking Alec Baldwin. There are a few bits of amusing physical comedy, and some decent lines, but, for the most part, this is not that funny, not that romantic, and not that good.

2.7 -- COLLABORATOR , Martin Donovan
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Character actor and perpetual ‘that guy’ Donovan (perhaps best known as Al Pacino’s partner in "Insomnia") makes his directorial debut with this small, intimate portrait of a struggling playwright (the director himself) who returns home to Los Angeles and clashes with a childhood neighbour (the hulking David Morse), who has grown into an alcoholic ex-felon. While the plot and themes turn out to be rather simplistic and obvious, the interaction between the two former neighbours is so explosive and well-acted that it’s hard not to give the film a recommendation, even if it ultimately feels half-baked. Morse, especially, gives it his all, an impressive feat considering the breadth of his many performances over the years. Donovan isn’t as showy, but his direction is assured and his writing confident, making for a narrative that treads familiar territory in an unusual manner. It doesn’t break the mould, just fills it differently.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The best film I have ever seen in a long time! Tear jerker, laugh maker, lesson giver and so much more. Comedic in intent with moments of sadness, this uber-charming film brings a group of people in their golden years together in a beat-up dowager Indian hotel. These beleaguered people are from London, and they are coming to this hotel for their own hard-luck reasons. One needs a hip operation (impecably acted by Maggie Smith). Boy, can she deliver a line with superb comedic irony! Joining her are the other strangers: an older couple fraught with a nightmare marriage and financial woes; the husband, (brilliantly played by Bill Nighy) is stuck with a nasty, nagging, negative wife. But his kindness and loyalty keep him with her, until he begins to fall for another elderly lady (Judy Dench). Her husband has just died form a heart attack, and like the couple, her funds are in short supply. Her hubby basically left a huge debt, and she is forced to sell her London flat. Then there's Norman, a sex-obsessed lonely chap determined to make his final years happy ones via a final fling. Another man has come back to track down his lover -- a man who was left to fend for himself when the government caught the two together some 40 years ago. The hotel is about to be closed due to the hard-nosed mother of the young fellow who has no business sense and is trying frantically to run it. You'll recognize him (Dev Patel) at once. He took the leading role in "Slumdog Millionaire." He plays his part with great enthusiasm; he wants desperately to preserve the hotel and he will mask its real problems from everybody until the end.

2.2 -- PEOPLE LIKE US, Alex Kurtzman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A straight-up familial melodrama of this sort, without a high-concept hook or at least some kind of gimmick, is somewhat of a rarity these days, and in this sense first-time director Kurtzman’s straightforward method is slightly refreshing. But any points gained by sincerity are immediately squandered on a banal, dragging storyline and an utterly toothless approach to the thematically rich material. Though clearly designed as a family-friendly, feel-good summer flick, the film’s convoluted plot strands would do well with a darker edge, an added twist or two, or at least something to make the proceedings interesting and unpredictable. For his part, Kurtzman -- perhaps better known as the co-writer of summer blockbusters "Star Trek" and "Transformers" -- keeps things flashy and visually engaging, even if it’s in service of a basically meaningless story. While I suppose there are worse options to be had in the dog days of summer, this attempted crowd-pleaser isn’t that pleasing, and ultimately feels more depressing than anything.

3.8 -- COSMOPOLIS, David Cronenberg
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest Cronenberg, heralded as a return to form after the unusually classical "A Dangerous Method," is neither a reactionary retreat to the body horror genre on which the director made his name nor another experimental foray. Instead, Cronenberg, adapting Don DeLillo’s poorly-received 2003 novel, melds his usual cinematic style to the author’s unique linguistic technique, creating a film that is at once both exceedingly talky and startlingly beautiful. Robert Pattinson, fresh off his "Twilight" success, is surprisingly impressive as Eric Packer, the billionaire protagonist who undergoes a Homeric (or Joycean) odyssey through the streets of New York in his white limousine, visited by a veritable mixture of Canadian pop icons (from Jay Baruchel to K’naan) and European thespians (Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton, most significantly). For the most part, the director keeps DeLillo’s trademark dialogue intact, preserving his prescient social commentary and adding a bit of Occupy Wall Street relevance for flavour. But this is still a Cronenberg, and the director seems most concerned, as always, with the limitations and excesses of the human body, expressed in Packer’s desire to break out of his controlled lifestyle and truly feel something. In this sense, it is perhaps closest to "eXistenZ" in the director’s oeuvre, with its blending of contemporary concepts, Cronenbergian concerns, and cool CGI.

2.2 -- HYSTERIA , Tanya Wexler
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A cinematic telling of the invention of the first vibrator in Victorian England would seemingly lend itself to envelope-pushing humour and a borderline-scandalous storyline, but director Wexler seems content to force her film to remain firmly within the lines of the romantic comedy genre, period setting be damned. There is thus nothing surprising or innovative about this piece of narrativized history moulded to resemble generic entertainment more than factual reality, including the ironic distance with which most modern films choose to view the past. There’s a kind of winking acknowledgment of topical issues as characters discuss women’s roles in 19th century society, but instead of the smug sense of superiority usually granted by these archaic exchanges, we’re mostly left depressed and discouraged as we realize how little we’ve come, especially when it comes to feminine health rights. So while the film may ostensibly champion women’s rights and open female sexuality, it really serves to remind us of the inherent patriarchal nature of our society, and how even the vibrator was invented by rich white men.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest in a new wave of Scandinavian crime thrillers, this film from Norway depicts the complicated life of a corporate recruitment specialist, who moonlights as an art thief, and soon becomes embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an ex-mercenary-turned-CEO. Based on a popular novel, the film lets its complex, detailed narrative unfold with restraint and craftsmanship, neither forcing things nor slowing down for the benefit of confused viewers. The result is an assured, confident movie, which flirts with topical relevance and social commentary, but ultimately settles for being a solid, exciting chase thriller, albeit one with significant amounts of dark comedy and disturbing violence. It would be moderately unfair to label it a Coen-esque work, but the themes and stylings are there, if modified somewhat; instead, call it simply the Norwegian response to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which similarly dealt with crime and death in a uniquely Scandinavian fashion. But while the Swedish film is brutal and unforgiving, this is far lighter and more easily digestible (relatively speaking), making for a more enjoyable and less traumatic moviegoing experience. On the whole, then, it’s a worthwhile cinematic venture, if not a particularly innovative one.

0.7 -- DARLING COMPANION, Lawrence Kasdan
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] It takes a special kind of a skill to craft a film this devoid of energy and meaning -- one which you wouldn’t expect from director Kasdan, whose résumé includes ‘80s genre staples "Body Heat" and "Silverado." But this is an utterly lifeless affair, wasting its admittedly impressive cast (Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins etc.) on a silly, meandering narrative (everyone looks for a lost dog) more suited for an after-school special, what with its insistence on forcing every protagonist to undergo some sort of personal epiphany. It surely doesn’t help that none of the characters are likeable or sympathetic, and while that certainly isn’t a prerequisite for a good movie, it would’ve at least livened things up here. As it stands, it’s simply a tedious exercise in assembling a well-regarded cast for a pointless vanity project.

2.6 -- EDWIN BOYD, Nathan Morlando
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Essentially a Canadian attempt at Michael Mann’s "Public Enemies," the film depicts the rise and fall of the titular bank robber/folk hero in post-World War II Toronto with an exceedingly bleak aesthetic and stylistic flourishes to spare. But the film forgoes Mann’s dynamic digital look in favour of a washed-out colour palette and accordingly retro feel; in fact, first-time director Morlando is so indebted to the film noir form -- both in style and content -- that shooting in black-and-white would’ve been a wiser (and more interesting) choice. Regardless, the narrative remains a by-the-numbers affair, livened up only sporadically by Scott Speedman’s energetic lead performance and Kevin Durand’s intimidating supporting one. Though Morlando strives to inject some vibrancy into his film via the songs of contemporary blues-rockers The Black Keys, it is Max Richter’s moody score -- evoking Elliot Goldenthal’s work on the aforementioned Mann picture -- that truly sets the atmosphere of the movie, and which should’ve instead been emphasized. Ultimately, then, the film is mostly uneven and atonal, even if it occasionally transcends its monotonous, ‘true-life’ storyline with flashes of directorial innovation.

2.8 -- L'AFFAIRE CHEBEYA, UN CRIME D'ETAT?, Thierry Michel
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In 1985 a brave man named Floribert Chebeya formed La Voix des Sans-Voix, a secular activist organization that spoke the truth about the Democratic Republic of Congo -- the country to which he gave his life. He went against presidents, the police, fascists and anyone who further exploited the poor, university activists, journalists and the scores of gallant groups who dared speak out and demonstrate against the corruption and chaos running and ruining the country. On June1st of 2010, on the militaristic heels of the elected new president, Joseph Kabila took power; within 10 days, Chebeya was done away with. He was brutally murdered -- found straddling the front seat of a car with obvious traces of having been tortured. Of course, the police said he was found with evidence showing he was in the midst of an aberrant sexual act that went wrong. Lying in such humiliation in the abandoned car, this hero had his pants pulled down, condoms and other paraphernalia at the crime scene -- the classic framing job masterminded by the police's top dog; the underlings murdered Chebeya upon the orders of the chief of this powerful and totally corrupt police state. The head honcho, named Numba claimed he had nothing to do with it; he gets suspended. But his orders came from an untouchable who also implicated a fellow named Mulukay who also claimed he was completely in the dark about this murder; he was far away from the scene. He powerfully defends himself with the recurring refrain: you are trying to blame me; I know nothing and I never saw Chebeya at all. In fact, it was this dog of a human being who summoned Chebeya to his office. Tragically, this young wonderful Congolese voice of the people, along with his 'disappeared' chauffeur named Basala, never saw the light of day again. One must applaud Thierry Michel whose camera follows the months of investigation that gathered journalists from all corners of the world. Fifty lawyers represent the Chebeya family; 14 reprsent the seven police who are tried. The actual court process began five months after Chebeya's murder. What is so astounding is the absolute denial on the part of the police they had anything to do with his murder. Pages of police appointments have been ripped out from the log book. There are no traces of interrogations on paper. The police perpetrators on the lower level of the totem pole take the fall and are sentenced to death. As we follow the evidence which takes us all over the town of Kinshasa, fellow Africans attend outside and inside, wherever the large group of lawyers and judges go to seek out the 'truth'. Pathetically, but typically, the judges did not convict the top police guys, only their subordinates. Today, Chebeya's widow and her children live in Canada. There is so much more to say about the evidence as Michel shows it with each passing month of the trail. This documentary is a must. But do not watch it when you want a day on this earth believing justice is for all, living with the illusion that compassion is the strongest driving force compelling man towards a world where human rights prevail. This film played at the Latin American Film Festival (Montreal).

3.6 - TAMANTASHAR YOM (18 DAYS), Yousri Nasrella & collective of 9 others
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A superb hastily shot compilation of 10 vignettes that reveal the terror, chaos, courage and hope that fueled the overthrow of the Egyptian government (January 25th to February 11). The daring and determined swept up the populace, young and old alike. Some survived; others fell. These vignettes bring us face to face with individuals and groups. They include: reactions from men in an insane aylum; a man who is arrested and tortured. His fate ends in death; he takes daily medicine, but now he is deprived of it. He dies with 'liberty' as his final word -- written dozens of times on a single piece of paper; a father and son who are prevented from going home due to a curfew; a flag seller who can't sell his flags in support of Mubarek, so he writes, on the flags, 'Down with Mubarek.' We meet a diabetic tailor who is about to run out of medicine, having holed himself up in secrecy in his shop in order to avoid the chaos, death and destruction on the streets. Then there's the husband who gets paid to beat up rebels. His wife at least can now feed her brood. Finally, there is a barber whose shop becomes an instant refuge for the wounded. Their cuts are sewn up without an anesthetic. It's mayhem and martyrdom. At the end of the film, we see his wall plastered with pictures of all who lost their lives, including a brazen boy who enters the shop at the beginning of this particular vignette. But he quickly leaves the barber shop to fight for the cause on the streets. All of these compelling and often touching stories are framed within the larger context of the astounding events that the world watched on the Internet. It is a brave film that deserves endless praise. It cleverly holds up 10 mirrors that reflect humanity's involvement in one of the Middle East's most important revolutions. This film played at Montreal's Vue d'Afrique Film Festival.

3.5 -- LA DÉLICATESSE, David and Stéphane Foenkinos
[reviewed by Ondrej Hlavacek] Charming is perhaps the best word to describe this film which stars the perennially lovely Audrey Tautou in a role that has pretty well defined her career. Based on David Foenkinos’ novel of the same name -- one, which the author himself turned into a screenplay and directed in partnership with brother Stéphane -- “Delicacy” recounts a perfect love between Nathalie (Tautou) and François (Pio Marma?) that is tragically curtailed one morning. Nathalie subsequently renounces love and romance despite concentrating instead on her career, while warding off her boss Charles’s (Bruno Todeschini) advances. Fate has other designs when, one day, Nathalie suddenly kisses co-worker Markus (François Damiens) full-on in her office. What ensues is a journey back to romance as the two main characters struggle with their shyness and desire. The film does not stray from the conventions of romantic comedy, though a North American audience will certainly appreciate the absence of Hollywood’s penchant for hyperbole and slapstick. Tautou is back completely in her element in this light film with understated humour, impressively well-developed mise-en-scène as well as clever use of first-person narration.

1.4 -- TODAY I FELT NO FEAR, Ivan Fund
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The director of this go-nowhere film should feel a lot of fear if he has left his day job in order to make films. Fund is no fund of imagination, judging by this film which follows two sisters and their family in a series of unrelated, repetitive scenes. We watch them sew, party, ride on a motorcycle, meet their dad, go to a fortune teller and live out their very small lives within a rural Argentine area. We also meet the older generation drinking, visiting a swamp area and being tested for dementia. Fund has held up a video camera to the people in his life; even he is filmed along with his small crew. But the results are incredibly boring and meaningless to the audience. In fact, this film crosses out Argentina as a place to visit -- at least if you thought you might want to see the daily side of limited lives. There is such a thing as a film that brilliantly conveys content within a natural style, but this type of film demands an incredibly skilled filmmaker who merges plot and people within a moving context. This was not the case of the film I sat through for two hours; it was without artistic merit or interest. This film played at the Latin American Film Festival (Montreal).

3.0 -- MY FIRST WEDDING, Ariel Galardi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This adorable Argentine absurd comedy is a pre-wedding fiasco. The Jewish groom Adrian and his bride-to-be Leonora find out that happiness is not about wedding rings, religion or flashy style, but good old down-to-earth chivalry and true love. The problem begins when Adrian tosses the marriage ring up in the air long before the ceremony gets under way, and loses it somewhere within a radius of hundreds of walls and flowers on the grounds of the estate where the marriage is to take place in a few hours. Most of the movie is about his attempts to retrieve it by shutting off water pipes, going down a well, climbing walls and down them. To make matters worse, the rabbi and the priest end up getting lost, thanks to Adrian. In order to derail the ceremony, he gives the taxi driver whose passengers are the two religious leaders -- the wrong directions. It's a true comedy of intentional errors where destiny overcomes chaos, and love prevails. It's a light-hearted film that shows off the wit and understated delivery of Argentine actor, Daniel Hendler. His boyish charm slips a wedding ring on any gal's finger. This film played at the Latin American Film Festival (Montreal).

4.0 -- CHICO AND RITA, Tono Errando, Javier Marsical, Fernando Trueba
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This superb animation is an uber-love story that coyly unites two lovers as they discover their mutual need to make music together (Chico is the pianist and Rita is the singer), then sunders them apart through jealousy, misunderstandings, hot tempers and performance engagements in New York, Nevada and Paris. But they finally reunite in their old age, thanks to the tenacity of Chico who constantly tracks down la Belle Rita. The story is told within the setting of the Batista era when Tito Puente and so many greats brought Cuban music onto the international scene. When Chico is framed by Rita's New York agent on a drug charge, he is deported to Cuba -- the very day he was to meet up with Rita in Nevada and marry her. He returns to a new Cuba of revolutionary fervor, and is relegated to becoming a shoe shine fellow. One day, his old piano is brought to the hall where he used to play and a beautiful young girl gets him playing again as she sings his trademark song, Lily. What is utterly remarkable about this story, is not only the musicians we meet along the way, such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, but the entire film is based on a true story. The singers representing Rita and her daughter were incandescent. They were Eman Xor Ona and Limara Meneses. This film played at the Latin American Film Festival (Montreal).

2.1 -- BULLY, Lee Hirsch
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Ostensibly a collection of case studies on the universal problem of school bullying, it seems to work better as a commentary on the various social ills plaguing the Bible Belt, U.S.A. As the chosen victimized children all live between Oklahoma and Georgia and are mostly white (that the one bullied black girl depicted is arrested for brandishing a gun to defend herself speaks to a greater racial issue than simply kids picking on kids), the film is seemingly more a condemnation of the homophobic, hyper-Christian and morally perverse culture that pervades these southern states, rather than a truthful look at the nature of bullying. But instead of examining the bullies themselves and identifying the underlying social issues as a root cause of their behaviour, director Hirsch seems content to stick to the unfair victimization of a few children. Bullies are not inherently evil creatures, but by willfully ignoring them and refusing to investigate both sides of the issue, the film ultimately becomes merely another pseudo-activist documentary instead of a raw, powerful look at a complex, troubling subject.

1.3 -- THE MOTH DIARIES, Mary Harron
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An über-Gothic tale of adolescent sexuality, awakened femininity and seductive vampires, set at an all-girl’s boarding school somewhere in New England or Eastern Canada. The inherently queer nature of the form is exploited, revealing lustful lesbian desires and tying vampirism to burgeoning female sexuality (think "Ginger Snaps" with a different mythological beast), but the presence of Scott Speedman as the dreamy English teacher ultimately chains the film to heteronormativity. Furthermore, it’s particularly awful, formally speaking (perhaps uncharacteristically for Harron, who made the brilliant "American Psycho"), with the haphazard editing, dreary cinematography and stilted performances combining to represent the very best of modern Canadian cinema. What is it about our country that forces even our art to feel (and look) inferior? At least our lax (relatively speaking) censorship laws allow the requisite T&A for such a subject matter, even if for just a fleeting moment; prudish "Twilight" this certainly is not.

3.0 -- THE RAID: REDEMPTION, Gareth Evans
[reviewed by Ondrej Hlavacek] We are by now very familiar with the narrative arc of the action/martial arts film, which for the most part, focuses on a single individual in his (or her) struggle against many opponents -- a formula from which writer/director Gareth Evans’ “The Raid: Redemption” does not stray very far. Here, an elite Indonesian S.W.A.T unit is commanded to penetrate a tenement apartment block fortress belonging to a ruthless gang-lord and his personal army. Of course, almost everything goes wrong from the onset as the unit is cut off, decimated and trapped inside the maze-like structure. Rookie cop Rama (rising martial arts star Iko Uwais) vows to save whomever remains, complete the mission and arrest the boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Thus the film zooms along in a hail of bullets, generous splatter of blood, graphic violence, brilliant stunts and choreographed fight scenes until the final ‘surprise twist’ the plot has to offer. Without question, Evans knows his business, having previously directed “Merantau” (2009), one of Indonesia’s most successful action films ever. For fans of the genre, “Raid...” showcases Indonesian style pencack silat in its arsenal of martial arts techniques in fight scenes remarkably unfettered by over-impulsive use of slow-motion photography. However, for actioned-out audiences of this continent, the only redemption may lie in the change of culture, language and milieu.

2.7 -- POLISSE, Maïwenn
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] In faux cinema-vérité style, “Polisse” follows the day-to-day operations of the police officers working for Paris’ 14th arrondissement’s Child Protection Unit, a division charged with investigating child abuse. Their work consists mainly in interrogating victims and perpetrators of physical and sexual violence, including incest and rape, so it’s no wonder that the job takes its toll on the officers. They are presented as truly devoted, their hard-work only matched by their hard partying and chaotic personal lives. Maïwenn is never complacent with regards to her characters, and she presents what seems to be a very fair and balanced characterization. Some characters, however are definitely less interesting, more flat, than others. Ironically, her character, Melissa, is one of those: as a photographer mandated to document the unit’s work, she ultimately brings nothing to the story. The film contains some particularly effective and emotionally powerful scenes.

2.8 -- FACING AGRIPPINA, Nayo Titzin
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Superb singers perform Handel's opera. We watch the artistic directo,r Rene Jacobs, work with costume designer Vincent Boussard during rehearsals as they bring to life this gripping story of Roman intrigue that holds a mirror up to Agrippina, the ferocious mother of Nero, also wife to Claudius, as she pushes her son into becoming the next emperor. The voices are extraordinary, but the ridiculous surreal costumes that modernize the opera with additional circus-like elements spoil the drama completely. The poor performer who plays Claudius ends up painting himself and wearing a hoola hoop-like tutu, since his part is played as a buffoon rather than the benevolent brilliant man he was. No need to modernize this remarkable Baroque period opera. Sometimes, opera directors think they have to do something way out of the box to stand out. Still, the opera singers were sublime. This film played at Montreal's 30th FIFA film festival.

3.0 -- 1,2,3 DANCE, Julien Ringdahl
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Having suffered an ankle injury, Ringdahl has called it quits as a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, but all is not list. In this interesting documentary, this dancer films several behind-the-scene events that affect some of the company's key dancers: Cecile Lassen who has a strange leg injury, American darling, Carling Talcott and principal male dancer (pulled from the corps de ballet), Alben Lendorf. It is film on dance about dancers and their daily struggles dealing with physical and mental issues. I liked this film. It showed us the reality behind the beauty. No pain, no gain holds true the dance world. This film played at Montreal's 30th FIFA film festival.

2.0 -- EXTASY, Carine Bijlsma
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Dutch Conductor Reinhart de Leeuw, born in 1937, must wait some forty years before fulfilling his lifelong dream to conduct Arnold Schoenberg's massively complex work titled, Gurre-Lieder. This choral piece involves over 356 inexperienced musicians including singers and an orchestra whose string section alone comprises 84 performers. The camera becomes the conductor's shadow for ten days as it follows him around during rehearsals and in moments of solitude. Obviously, this rather intense cigarette-smoking, humourless condutor was deeply obsessed by this work which I found to be a pale imitation to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and its miraculous choral Ode to Joy. Did Schoenberg try to imitate this masterpiece in a modern way? I do not know, but I did not understand why Reinhart de Leeuw loved it so much, other than the power he felt when conducting it. I did not like this piece, nor the conductor nor the film. Ecstasy was not an emotion I felt watching this film, though the same could not be said for this conductor when climactic moment came -- the finale. He was without words and exhausted post-performance. This film played at Montreal's 30th FIFA film festival.

1.9 -- CASA DE MI PADRE, Matt Piedmont
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] What’s essentially a one-joke premise (Will Ferrell speaks Spanish!) more suited to a SNL skit is instead stretched over an entire feature film, inevitably and unsurprisingly wearing thin rather quickly. Though director Piedmont tries to liven things up by fashioning his film after the Grindhouse model (missing reels, intentional celluloid scratches, obviously fake sets, etc.), his attempts are either too overdone (by practically throwing the joke in your face) or underdone (by being so subtle that you nearly miss it) to work effectively. Ultimately, it’s symptomatic of a film that can never find a cohesive tone, fails to capitalize on its concept, and, in the end, isn’t really that funny.

1.0 -- THE HUNGER GAMES, Gary Ross
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] As somebody who has no stake in this burgeoning franchise (having never read the books or even been aware of them prior to the announcement of this adaptation), I found this to be a load of silly, generic nonsense -- "The Running Man" crossed with "Battle Royale" by way of "The Lottery." But I still could’ve gotten behind it had it not been so ineptly directed and cheaply produced. Director Ross insists on using a handheld camera throughout, ostensibly to add ‘realism,’ but instead it simply muddles the frame and disorients the viewer, turning action sequences into mishmashes of colour and noise. There’s a time and a place for the shaky-cam aesthetic, and here it simply does not work. Add to this the ridiculous costumes and set design (outlandish yet boring) and an extensive backstory/mythology which serves only to confound those unfamiliar with the story, and you’re left with a hollow, ugly film that will no doubt please the rabid fans of the novels while leaving everyone else cold.

3.5 -- THE HUNGER GAMES, Gary Ross
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Twelve districts some 74 years ago rebelled violently against the well-heeled ruling class. Every year there is a 'reaping' where one young girl and boy are selected to form the twleve districts to fight. This is their punishment -- their sacrifice for the uprising. There can only be one winner. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 volunteers in place of her younger sister, Primrose who was selected as a contestant. Peeta Mellard (Josh Hutcherson) is also selected from District 12. The games involves a multiple of strategies for survival. Sponsors choose their favourite player after watching them being interviewed before their training starts. These sponsors can assist them by inserting survival kits, weapons and food into the drama. Of course everything is cleverly controlled and created from central operations. Killer dogs, wasps, a forest fire, even nighttime are artifically produced in the forest into which these contestants must fight until the finish. There is a love interest between the protagonists with ironic consequences. Maybe this time, there can be two victors? Based on the book written by Suzanne Collins, this unique film offers suspence set in highly imaginative settings and costumes (note the garish pink dress of the populace). The problem was, there was no on-screen chemistry between Lawrence and Hutcherson. The film vividly shows the cruelty and blood lust reminiscent of Roman times when gladiators fought to the finish. These scenes were artfully done; the director must be commended for this. Future times or not, it seems there will always be a ruling class, thinking up a variety of ways to control and enjoy the near-starving masses that must take part in the games. The sets were impressive as was the general cohesion of the film. This film was seen compliments of Empire Theatres, Rideau Centre, Ottawa.

2.4 -- THE HUNGER GAMES, Gary Ross
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] “The Hunger Games” is finally upon us. Faithful in every respect to its source-material -- the popular young reader trilogy -- the film is certain to make a fortune as theaters everywhere have already made special plans to accommodate the incoming hordes of fans. One can easily understand the attraction, for the idea behind the book is indeed appealing. Set in post-apocalyptic times, America has been divided into the Capital, a futuristic metropolis, and twelve rural, backward districts. Every year, each district must provide two tributes -- a man and a woman -- to compete in a survival competition which crowns the last-person standing. This alone should evoke “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale,” but also 'reality' television shows such as “Survivor,”“Big Brother” and “America’s Next Top Model”. It’s in this last respect that “The Hunger Games” stands out, for it makes clear that the only justification for the blood battle is its entertainment value. Tributes are ranked and evaluated, and people from all districts are glued to their television sets for the duration of the competition. Bets are placed, and wealthy viewers can buy their favourite tribute food and medicine. The tributes must therefore make themselves likeable to viewers: they go through a thorough makeover, are dolled up in glitzy outfits, and they go off to desperately try and make an impression. However, the movie, like the book, suffers from authorial laziness in its unwillingness to turn its critical eye onto itself. Simply said, the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too: to criticize commercially generated love-stories while at the same time revelling in its own “Twilight”-like love triangle. And since the filmmakers are direly aware that the love-story is where the money is, they unabashedly milk every last moment. “The Hunger Games” flirts with smart ideas and bitter critique just enough to let you know how good a movie it could have been, had its producers fully committed.

1.5 -- JOHN CARTER, Andrew Stanton
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The long-gestating adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ "Princess of Mars" serials (as well as Pixar director Stanton’s live action debut) is predictably loud, large and digital, but fails to depict a truly epic scale or capture a real spirit of adventure. Part of this is due to the confounding mythology and backstory surrounding the narrative -- think Thor with even more characters and alien races -- but it’s mostly due to the terribly fake look of the film. CGI has never been known for its realism, and occasionally it can contribute to the unreal feel of so much fantasy, but here, in what is supposed to be a period piece (taking place in the 19th century, after all), it just continues the argument that digital effects will be the death of genre filmmaking. Nothing looks real, nothing is at stake, and thus nothing really matters.

3.6 -- THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS, Andy Sommer & Gordon
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What a delightful film! It beautifully and vividly performs the music composed by Camille Saint-Saëns -- brought to life through the simultaneous telling of the classic story in the famous book. Each night a different group of animals comes to life, leaving the pages as they magically interact with the live orchestra. The father and son share the fun -- a world full of animals moving to music that is presented in various ways. Nothing is stagnant: sometimes the orchestra members are alone playing to the movement of the animals; sometimes they are in a line, and sometimes in normal seating arrangement. The two pianos (four hands) played by women who are rather good actors add to the musical amusement as animals float by them, land on the piano keys and generally frolic along in the music. These animated animals (black and white) steal the stage with their antics; the music seems to merge with their personalities. The father, who is telling the story to his son, is rather amusing, as he sometimes finds himself no longer in his son's bedroom, but on stage, holding the conductor's baton trying to lead the orchestra. It's a classic story told in such an imaginative way. This film played at Montreal's 30th FIFA film festival.

3.0 -- ROMEO ONZE, Ivan Grbovic
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Poor Rami is spastic, but as the movie progresses, we discover that he is far more crippled by complexes than the two legs that turn inward as he walks. His alter ego comes into play in a chat room where his name is now romeo11. A girl named malaury26 keeps on responding. He finally summons up the courage to meet her at a hotel room. He poses as a VIP business shark who is in town, and that is why he tells her he is at a hotel. It's really quite pathetic. But when the knock on the door comes, he panics and cannot answer. The prelude to this moment is most touching, as he lays out his clothes, practices his lines and dolls himself up as he psyches himself up. Poor Rami is so shy, so damaged by his infirmity, that he has dropped out of anything that could give him a future, including his math courses to prepare for his HEC exams. His father is cold and frustrated and his mother is too motherly. What I didn't buy into was his constant outbursts of feeling sorry for himself and ranting against his dad. Surely, from the time he was a child, he would have been given a psychologist to deal with his anger and lack of confidence. It was so obvious he needed help. His parents were caring, so I wondered about that missing link. Still, the ending is moving when Rami decides to 'get off his feet' and enter into the hub of things -- in this case, the crowd of people dancing at his sister's wedding. And one of those dancers happens to be the girl he has just been introduced to. It is a very powerful film, largely due to the miraculous performance by Ali Ammar (Rami).

3.3 -- ROMEO ONZE, Ivan Grbovic
[reviewed by Ondrej Hlavacek] Rami (Ali Ammar) struggles to find himself. Faced with a seemingly inevitable future as an accountant -- his father Ziad’s (Joseph Bou Nassar) wishes -- and suspended in the quiet, precise routine of his traditional Lebanese family’s life, Rami pretends to prepare for his entrance exams, all the while escaping into a world of online chatting where he poses as a successful, worldly man. In reality, Rami is painfully shy, scarred by a childhood disability that has affected his legs and posture. He daydreams of a carefree existence of wealth and beauty, and risks alienating his family by a daring plan to woo his online sweetheart. Cinematographer (and co-writer) Sara Mishara’s camera is precise and frank, making the most of natural light to beautifully frame and isolate the film’s characters, for many of whom (including Ammar and Sanda Bourenane, who plays Rami’s younger sister) the film is a debut. One would never guess that “Romeo Onze” is writer/director Ivan Grbovic’s first feature. His background behind the camera is clearly evident throughout in a film that subtly depicts the problematic of masculine self-image as reflected in both traditional immigrant communities as well as western society at large.

3.0 -- ROMÉO ONZE, Ivan Grbovic
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] All parents want their children to be happy -- code for good job, married with kids. Rami works in his strict and fastidious father's Lebanese restaurant. At the same time he's studying to become an accountant. He's under significant pressure to succeed scholastically and find a wife, especially since his sister is now engaged. But Rami is withdrawn and troubled. He suffers from major complexes due to a birth defect which left both legs severely atrophied: he doesn't walk but shuffles -- like an old man. Online, as romeo11 (man of the world), he meets malaury26. They connect and decide to meet in real life. Without tugging at the heartstrings, "Roméo Onze" will break your heart. In its at times excruciating baring of Rami’s fragile emotional state, we are brought face to face with what is universal in the human condition, which for many means learning early in the game that life isn’t fair and that too much depends on the luck of the draw. It's also about the risks of online dating and short shrifting the protocols of disclosure. Shot in the gorgeous reds and yellows of Montreal's celebrated autumn, this is not a formulaic, uplifting, we-shall-overcome-film; we all make mistakes in life, some of us learn from them. Between Rami and romeo11 where does the truth lie? This very affecting and mature film concludes on a sublime Felliniesque note which speaks to an outstanding debut from Ivan Grbovic.

2.3 -- LA HORA CERO, Diego Velasco
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In Caracas, the doctors are on strike. Everyone is fighting the government to do something. Enter Pardo, the anti-hero, a hit man whose targeted victim is his girlfriend, but he doesn't know that the woman he shot was the love of his life. He violently barges into a private medical clinic for the rich, demanding doctors save her life. She is also pregnant. But it isn't his baby; it is in fact the director of the police who got her pregnant. His little thing on the side with her was only that. After all, he is married. His mistress threatens to go public about the baby and who the father is and that is why he ordered the hit on her. There is humour in this fast-paced film. In the operating room, we see Miss Venezuela getting a boob job, but that procedure is put on hold while Pardo and his cohorts try to control the doctors and save the mother and her baby. She watches it all as she lies on the operating table. We also see the newscaster lady whose ambition gets the better of her, and she ends up being held hostage along with others. Pardo makes a statement while she holds the camera to him inside the hospital. He tells all the poor to come to the clinic to receive medical attention. This film is so frenetic that the plot twists get lost in the bullet spray that splats on the screen throughout most of the movie. Combining humour with raw edge violence, the film shows absurd aspects that blight Venezuelan life. Still, I felt nothing for the characters dead or alive. This tautly constructed film is part of Montreal's celebrated Festivalissimo film festival, and although I gave it a so-so rating, it is worth seeing if you want a super speedy ride that has too many bumps along the way.

2.7 -- ACT OF VALOR, Mike McCoy & Scott Waugh
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] One could easily, based on the promotional material and advertising surrounding the film, write this off as a heavy-handed jingoistic exercise in war propaganda, or something equally terrible. And there’s definitely an argument to be made there. But the film is actually quite apolitical, more concerned with generic terms like ‘honour’ and ‘freedom’ than any specifically American qualities (though I suppose one could say that is exactly how the United States defines itself). And, in between the hollow letter-writing voiceover that bookends the narrative, it’s really far more interested in depicting a series of Call of Duty-esque missions/action sequences, interwoven with a loosely connected storyline about Chechen Muslim terrorists or something. Alas, I digress; where the film truly succeeds is in these action sequences, exciting and kinetic and inventively shot, mixing point-of-view, night vision, and bird’s eye angles to truly capture the look and feel of a video game. Some may find that troubling; I found it refreshing. In this age of chopped-to-ribbons action and disorienting editing, it’s a welcome change of pace. Just don’t think about it too hard.

3.2 -- THE FLOWERS OF WAR, Zhang Yimou
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A Chinese war epic depicting the “Rape of Nanjing” by the Japanese Army in 1937 that veers dangerously close to Orientalist (or Edward Zwick-ian, in cinematic terms) territory by focusing on John Miller (played by Christian Bale), an American mortician forced to impersonate a Catholic priest in order to save a convent of young girls. And, make no mistake, this dashing white man does get to save the day in the end. But unlike "The Last Samurai" or even "Dances with Wolves," there are significant plot reasons and historical precedent for this Westerner’s heroic opportunity, even if the character’s overall arc is shortchanged in the process. Aesthetically, Zhang dials back his flamboyant style in order to capture the dirt and grime of war-torn China, but still makes room for some virtuoso tracking shots à la "Saving Private Ryan." Though the film still threatens to become the worst kind of foreign blockbuster -- whitewashed and Hollywoodized -- its devotion to its story and characters -- whether they be priests or prostitutes -- ultimately proves its worth.

2.5 -- GOON, Michael Dowse
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A good ol' fashioned, blood-soaked, Canadian hockey romp -- think a 21st century "Slap Shot." But for all its nationalist pride and sensationalist violence, the film is deeply problematic on a couple levels. Despite being scripted by Canadians Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, it nonetheless plays into the same kind of overblown stereotypes we're used to from American depictions -- lots of beer-guzzling, funny accents, and sentence-ending 'ehs.' Perhaps intended ironically, but more likely done to appeal to the American market. Further -- and more worrisome -- the film glorifies and glamourizes the role of the enforcer in hockey (as its title makes plain); mindless violence might've been okay in the '70s, but in this age of headshots, concussions and ex-goon suicides, it's more than a little troubling. Still, there's laughs aplenty to be had, so perhaps it's best to ignore the issues and just have a good time.

2.2 -- THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] “The Secret World of Arrietty” is finally making its way to American screens, almost two years after its release in Japan where it quickly became one of the highest grossing animation features. The film of first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi comes attached with Hayao Miyazaki’s reputation, as the master of animation wrote the screenplay and supervised the project. Critically acclaimed, the movie does succeed in creating the compelling, visually stunning and colourful images we have come to associate with Studio Ghibli productions. Based on Mary Norton’s 1952 “The Borrowers,” the film targets a young audience, its appeal for adults being limited. There’s very little in terms of wit or originality, and both language, characters and plot are despairingly simple. While adults will cringe at the film’s devotion to a sappy and anti-climatic narrative arc, the quasi-celtic music and slow, almost dull, pacing seem ill-advised for young children. At the screening I attended, numerous children were seen hurriedly leaving their seats in packs for an exciting extended trip to the bathroom.

4.0 -- UNE SEPARATION , Asghar Farhadi
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The father has Alzheimer's disease; the son is alone with his daughter who is very studious and religious. The wife has just separated from him, and he hires a deeply religious woman to care for his father. But all hell breaks loose as the Koran opens up on what is right and what is wrong. The son comes home to find his father has been tied up and money is missing. The woman returns and he is furious at her. There is an altercation, and to make a long story full of incredible events less eventful, both end up in front of a judge. She was pregnant, and loses her baby due to the fall she claims she had when the altercation turned into a heated physical one. Did the son know the woman was really pregnant because in Iran that is murder? After all the baby died in the womb. But religion plays itself in this remarkable movie, where the father comes clean and so does the woman. In this film we see that lying can be acceptable if the security of the family is involved. In the end, the two families are not the same as they were in the beginning. Interestingly, the focus changes to the daughter who stands in front of a judge to reveal to him which parent she wishes to go with. We never find out, but I believe she chose her father. Religion in this movie dictates actions that are both tragic and redemptive. Wonderful performances! It was interesting to see how people react to their mistakes, how they fess up to them in Iran. It makes us Westerners look like selfish cowards.

3.5 -- A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi
[reviewed by Robert Lewis] If we can agree that all the major religions of the world, in their own fashion, subscribe to the spirit of the Ten Commandments, the most successful will be the religion that inculcates the notion that our transgressions, large and small, entail very real theological consequences. By that measurement Judaism and Christianity -- and to a lesser extent Buddhism and Hinduism -- are dysfunctional compared to Islam. Asghar Farhadi's award winning "A Separation" casts a radiant light on the meaning of God-fearing and the men and women (a diminishing tribe) who embody that precious notion -- strangers in a strange land.

Nader and Simit, married for 14 years, are separating. Nader has to hire a domestic (Razieh) to look after his father who is suffering from Alzheimer's. One afternoon, she has to leave for a while and ties Nader's father to the bed so he doesn't wander off on his own. Nader returns from work to find his father on the floor, nearly dead, and Razieh disappeared. She can't adequately explain her absence, on top of which money has disappeared from one of the drawers. Nader accuses her of stealing and refuses to pay her daily wage. She refuses to leave without pay and he has to physically push her out the door. The next day he learns that she's in the hospitable, has suffered a miscarriage, and that he is being charged with murder (of the unborn), which the judge later reduces to a three year sentence if found guilty. Nader claims he didn't know Razieh was pregnant. His daughter, on the other hand, at the urging of the mother who has her own agenda, has a different point of view. Will she, should she testify against her father? Simit, guided by self-interest, intervenes and arranges for a financial settlement, the money of which Razieh's indebted husband will use to pay off his creditors and avoid going back to prison. But Razieh has to swear on the Koran that Nader is responsible for the miscarriage. Among the many issues at play in this complex, gripping domestic drama are the arbitrariness and severity of justice in Iran. From the fiery opening exchange between Nader and his wife Simit, the dialogue is absolutely riveting, charged with stuff of life in all its shadings; and the performances are magnificent. Negatively disposed as most of us are toward Islam (sharia law, its intolerance of other religions, systematic debasement of women), we discover in certain situations that the truth, wherever it lies, is the sole preserve of the God-fearing. "A Separation," in part, dedicates itself to the unveiling of these exceptional believers and the sources of their strength and dignity. This is a must-see film.

3.5 -- A SEPARATION, Asghar Farhadi
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] There’s something very Sartrean about this spectacle of bad faith. Oscar nominee “A Separation” begins with a confrontation between Simin and Nader, a couple on the brink of divorce. Simin wants to leave Iran to raise her 11-year-old daughter abroad while Nader prefers to stay home to take care of his Alzheimer-stricken father. Unable to obtain a divorce, and forced to remain in Teheran, Simin moves back with her mother while Nader, unable to take care of his father on his own, must hire outside help. Reticent of letting a man alone in his home, he hires a woman whose religious beliefs, however, prevent her from fully attending to the old man’s needs. And so the film unfolds, as a series of Gordian knots and conundrums. “A Separation” is less about a divorce than it is about the rules and boundaries we erect to regulate human interactions and that simultaneously imprison as they protect us. Indeed, the separation in question sets in motion a series of events that are only exacerbated by each character’s infuriating stubbornness. Well worth seeing.

3.6 -- IN DARKNESS, Agnieszka Holland
[ reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] Based on “In the Sewers of Lvov” by Robert Marshall, “In Darkness” tells the true story of a group of Jews who, with the help of a Polish Gentile sewer worker, hid in the city’s underground system for 14 months. Among them were a pregnant woman and two children; Pawel, aged 3 and Krystina, aged 7, who lived to tell her story and who is now the last surviving member of the group. It is unfortunate that so many would readily dismiss this film as “yet another Holocaust picture.” With so many mindless romantic comedies being produced, the mere suggestion that the Holocaust has been overdone is almost offensive. Notwithstanding this, Agnieszka Holland’s film conveys with incredible conviction the claustrophobic environment of the sewers, and the absolute terror and chaos reigning above ground. Where Holland’s film stands out (if we really must find a reason to see her take on the great tragedy) is in her nuanced and psychologically-rich portrayal of the protagonists and of their motivations. By avoiding strict good/evil dichotomies, her film proves to be a truly insightful reflection on the human condition.

2.0 -- ALBERT NOBBS, Rodrigo Garcia
[reviewed by Andrée Lafontaine] In "Albert Nobbs," Glenn Close plays Albert, a middle-aged woman passing as man in order to work as butler in 1890 Dublin. Albert’s life is shaken after meeting Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a married painter who shares a similar secret and who convinces Albert he can lead a normal life, provided he finds the right woman. A traumatic event and economic circumstances, rather than choice, account for Albert’s 'conversion' at age 14; throughout the film, it remains unclear whether s/he actually prefers dressing up in man’s clothes. Would Albert still pass as man if financial independence did not demand it? A scene has Albert try out a woman’s dress and bonnet, and then run wildly on the beach, smiling for the first (and only) time, conveying the sense that this change of clothes has finally freed him from a false identity. Similarly, Page -- who also converted following an abusive hetero relationship -- claims to even dress in man’s clothes when home alone, but only so as not to arise suspicion. Contrary to Page -- who is clearly a lesbian -- Albert’s sexual preference remains a mystery. When courting Helen (Mia Wasikowska), it is unclear whether he is actually attracted to her, or whether he just wants her to complement his identity. As much as I hate to knock down such a well-intentioned project as this one, I must say that I found it almost unbearable to sit through. For reasons that escape me, the filmmakers have willingly decided not to tackle any of the issues their otherwise gutsy subject matter brings up. Unable to convey facts and emotions through images, the director has Albert look like a deer-in-a-headlight constantly mumbling to himself. This, added to the fact that Glenn Close and Janet McTeer do not for one second stop looking like women uncomfortably passing as men, leaves the impression that the entire Irish people must be a tad stupid for not seeing what is obvious to us. We’re miles away from Hillary Swank and Josiane Balasko, and anyone hoping for progressive cinema will be bitterly disappointed.

2.1 -- CORIOLANUS, Ralph Fiennes
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Set in modern times, Rome's masses are starving and the patricians -- headed by Coriolanus won't give the plebs access to grain or much else. Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes), a dangerously brave general of violent temperament, is attempting to kill off all the Volcians who are led by another equally determined leader played by Gerard Butler. The movie doe not work despite the tight execution of each scene and the high pitched drama of it all. The Shakespearean language was so obtuse and antithetical to the modern context; each actor seemed to be straining with pregnant pauses, overly expressive faces and gestures in the attempt to make each sentence understood. The play, the weakest of all of Shakespeare's works -- according to some scholars -- shows the disastrous results of inflexibility as seen in Coriolanus, and the equally fatal results of a crowd so flexible; it shifts loyalties in a nano-second. After his victorious exploits, Coriolanus wins the people over for a moment as he is proclaimed consul, but then they turn on him and banish him from Rome. He goes over to the side of the Volcians to turn against the Romans. It is the plea of his mother that induces him to make peace with his own people, but his opponent will have none of it. Ralph Fiennes became a hysteric in the role, and Butler seemed uncomfortable in his. Frankly, like the character he plays, Fiennes ought to be hoisted on his own petard for choosing a role that due to thespian narcissism backfires in his own face. Still, one must make mention of Fiennes's superb set of lungs. You may want to bring earplugs to the film. Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' mother was however, worthy of commendation.  



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