Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 13, 2014

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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
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
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines



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 -- AMERICAN SNIPER, Clint Eastwood
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on the true story of American Navy Seal Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) who performed four tours of duty, killing over 200 terrorists in Iraq -- 116 confirmed, including Islamic terrorist torturer the 'butcher,' this brave gifted sniper known as the Legend led his men into convoys, rooftop shootings, door busting ops, and on the ground reconnaissance maneuvers that the movie puts before us -- with more dramatic impact than a bomb dropping on the silver screen. Kyle's total commitment to God and country -- those are his words -- is scrupulously conveyed in a gripping film that creates its effects through meticulous attention to tactical details. My heart was racing in so many scenes. The film shows the grueling training Kyle underwent, the technique of a sure-shot sniper and the hideous snap-second decisions soldiers must make. This film powerfully convinced me that the soldiers who give their lives in the name of freedom were totally justified in their allegiance to the flag. The film also shows Kyle's suffering through PTS depression after the war and his recovery. He ended up assisting veterans, and sadly met his own demise right on American soil; he was killed by a veteran he was trying to help recover from depression. Bradley Cooper is indescribably brilliant in the role; the man is already a veteran actor. Clint Eastwood is a directing genius -- as this unforgettable movie attest to.

2.4 -- INTO THE WOODS, Rob Marshall
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]
Though the singing is great, the accents are inconsistent -- half the cast is English; the other half American. The lyric is superb; Stephen Sondheim is a genius, but the film fails to convince that having four Brothers Grimm fairytales converge into a forest weaves a winning tale -- despite the exuberance of its musical genre and the cast's performances. I did not come out whistling one melody, so no song is particularly catchy. The stories include: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Bean Stock and Little Red Riding Hood. Best singers/actors by far are Meryl Streep as the witch, Emily Blunt s as the childless wife of Mr. Baker, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (memorable in Les Misérables), Tracey Ullman as Jack's mother and Johnny Depp as the wolf. Chris Pine as the prince is hilarious in his campy posturing. The cast looks like they had fun doing this film, and the energy levels were terrific. A dark film with a bit of racy and scary plot turns that seems to get lost; you can't see the forest for the trees in this convoluted Disney musical that decidedly is not a fantasy for young kids.

2.4 -- FELIX AND MEIRA, Maxime Giroux
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Felix (Martin Dubreuil) meets Meira (Hadas Yaron), and pursues her with great passion. The only issue is she a Hassidic Jew with a husband -- well-played by Luzer Twersky who is a miserably boring, highly possessive man. The film slowly develops how Meira slowly falls for Felix, sheds her wig and leaves her husband, grabbing her child to run away with Félix to Venice. But will she really be able to live as a secular? It is a well-crafted film that shows the stifling life of a young, shy Hassidic woman who can't accept the life of her claustrophobic community. Some are meant to spread their wings; others to have them clipped every day.

3.6 -- WINTER SLEEP, Nuri Bilge Ceylan
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Winter Sleep is Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest film set in the windswept ‘steppes’ and sandstone formations of Cappadocia in central Anatolia, where inhabitants had carved out entire cities in in rock. Former actor Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is proprietor of a picturesque, somewhat isolated, hotel carved into a hillside. Though one of the local elite, and owner of various properties, he prefers to leave business matters to his hotel manager, Hidayet (Aybert Pekcan), and occupy himself with more intellectual matters such as writing weekly columns in the local paper. His only other companions during the slow winter months are a few hardy tourists, his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag) and young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen). A confrontation he witnesses between a tenant and Hidayet leaves him grasping for his moral compass and retreating to the sanctum of his study to write an article about the necessity for propriety, cleanliness and conscience. As wealthy patriarch, Aydin is seemingly respected while also nearly absent in the community. He styles himself as beacon of morality and conscience and yet shows disdain for, and disgust with, humanity. Wealth has granted him the freedom to escape into his own system of banal morality, which he uses to judge others. This same privilege allows his immediate family to create their illusions and, in turn, judge him. Winter Sleep is masterful but difficult; it lumbers -- perhaps matching well the pace of its main protagonist who shuffles about with a false sense of purpose -- and often stalls in scenes of tense discussion, dripping with resentment and deliciously cloaked in ulterior motive. Long shots and a static camera reveal an extraordinarily detailed mise-en-scène that is a joy to experience and fully justifies the film’s pacing. Exterior scenes of the region’s beautiful vastness hauntingly mirror the bleakness that we glimpse within. Be forewarned that Winter Sleep is a heavily psychological film, whose central characters, albeit brilliantly portrayed, may not be very likeable. Ceylan is, however, non-judgmental in his treatment, allowing the audience to fully engage with the film on a fundamental level, which makes for an extremely touching, completely relatable experience despite the gulf of culture, time and space.

3.9 -- THE WRECKING CREW, Donny Todesco
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A superb documentary on the vitality of American bands and their development and a hidden truth. The title is the name of all the key instrumentalists - those famous studio session guys who were in the fabulous 50s 60s music scene of rock and roll who played on everyone's album. They were there for the Beach Boys, The Monkeys, the Mamas and Papas, Herb Alpert, Dave Brubeck and Herb Alpert, Rickie Nelson, John Denver and more iconic names that tilted the world on a several new axes. Interviews with behind the scenes producers and musicians make this doc not just a great music fest with name-label dropper: Capitol Records, Liberty Records, Dick Clarke and Jimmy Webb, Hal Blaine, but it also puts a historical eye and ear onto techniques of recording, how tracks were laid and musicians got their fame, particularly in new York inside the Brillo building wall. Then the LA scene exploded. New York produced a rougher sound and rolled behind the big surfing wave that hit California. One big horror secret is the fact that all the musicians in the band The Associations never played a note on their albums. It was the studio guys who made the music happen on the vinyl spun out. Never were their names put on the albums. All producers signal out Beach Boy, Brian Wilson as a genius. Guitar god Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell before his singing, guitarist Al Casey and drummer, Earl Palmer, bassist, Carol Kaye were part of the Wrecking Crew. The film also features stars such as Cher, The Crystals, Sam Cooke, Phil Specter's Righteous Brothers, and more. The New Orleans scene is explored, and the beat goes on. This is a highly important film that features a detailed chronicle of our favourite music from rock, pop to big band music and beyond. The Wrecking Crew era ended when bands began to play their own instruments vibrantly and writing darn good songs. Buffalo Springfield AKA Crosby, Stills and Nash are a perfect pioneering example of this. The music is unbeatable in this must-see film.

3.4 -- TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (DEUX JOURS, UNE NUIT), Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Sandra (Marion Cotillard) embarks on a humiliating mission to try and save her job at a solar panel factory. The director has decided that an employee must be fired or the whole team loses their lucrative bonuses. Under pressure from supervisor Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet) they vote on a Friday to keep their bonuses and let Sandra -- recently returned from sick leave -- go. Due to the intervention of a friend, Sandra has the weekend to confront and plea with her colleagues to go against their obvious self-interest. The Dardenne brothers explore a class under threat of extinction by austerity. Though this background is important in understanding the tragic motivations of Sandra’s co-workers, the film focuses most keenly on the profound interactions of human beings caught up in their own lives. In utter absence of the type of moral dichotomy with which North American audiences are too often coddled, Deux jours, une nuit, holds steady in its unflinching view of human frailty and the crucial little victories that lie at the actual core of potential happiness -- one sadly overshadowed by artificially lofty self-expectations.

2.0 -- TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (DUEX JOURS, UNE NUIT), Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Sandrine (Marion Cotillard) has stopped working due to clinical depression, and her illness intensifies when she is told that there will be a second vote after the weekend regarding the choice to reinstate her -- but only if the majority of the 16 workers are willing to forgo the 1000 Euro bonus they've been earning by working overtime to make up for her last hours. Sandrine visits eleven of the workers to plead with them to reinstate her -- to not believe the lie told by their boss that if they vote for her, one of them will get fired in her place. However, when the vote arrives it's a deadlock. Sandrine however is told she can come back as they will not renew the contract of one of the workers. She opts out, and forgoes her job so that the worker will stay on. The film is all about Sandrine' s decent into deep depression and the process of buckling up or under while having to confront all the workers by visiting their houses and asking them to vote for her. The scenes become very repetitive, and even improbable. When she takes a full batch of Xanax out of despair, she finds out that there is one worker who will turn the odds in her favour. She ends up at the hospital; but how implausible that the next evening she's out listening to music with her supportive hubby in the car and having a grand time. Don't they usually give therapy to someone who has just tried to kill themselves with an overdose? Marion Cotillard does a fine acting job, but the film is doomed as much as her job is. Boring, the setting in the town of Liege, Belgium made it all the duller. Ironic that Sandrine works in a small solar panel factory that, nonetheless, failed to shed a single ray of sunshine on this depressing and extremely boring film. There was no subplot; it could have benefited from one.

2.0 --  THE GAMBLER, Rupert Wyatt
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] English lit professor, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) has a voracious appetite -- for compulsive gambling. He’s a terrible professor who creates classes aimed to shock and insult his students, except for one girl whom he claims is a genius. (Yes, he ends up with her). Jim’s serious case of depression becomes a bore to watch and understand, particularly since he was born with a silver spoon in his chip-happy hands. He owes over $160,000 to one casino owner and a loan shark (John Goodman who basically steals the entire movie). Jim involves two students who are superb athletes in a clandestine bet-on-a-basketball match to out win his predators out for payback. He orchestrates a shaky plan in order to pay back the two bad guys. In the end, the money goes to the two students as the good professor planned it. It’s a crazy plot whose irony cannot rescue the improbable dialogue of pretentious dribble (and the basket ball game hasn’t even begun when things run foul). It is badly acted, stagnant and poorly scripted. I would not place my bets on this movie unless you like seeing Mark Wahlberg naked from the waist up. Professor Bennett it seems really does want to go naked as he casts off his old life and starts anew; he does run off into the dingy part of the city to claim his real winning -- the girl. The film superficially digs beneath a man obsessed with gaining high victory in anything he engages in regardless of the vice involved. It is worth watching this film if only for Jessica Lange who plays Jim’s mother; she was spectacular in her acting.

1.7 -- CORNER GAS, Brent Butt
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Corner Gas, the bar, the diner and the hotel -- owned and run by Brent -- is in serious trouble. The mayor of Dog River where this one-street town lives has made a bad investment in Detroit, so there's no more money left for Dog River. Electricity and gas have been cut, and everyone is scheming to make their own money. There are bad vibes going all around; friendships are wrenched apart by misunderstandings and selfishness. No one wants to chip in to help Brent out to save the town, except bossy Lacey, Brent's main secret squeeze. She rallies the town to motivate them into entering the Quaintest Town contest, fix up the town and make an impression on the reporter about to arrive. But everything goes wrong, including a run-away horse, a fire, a flower throwing fight and all kinds of mayhem just as the reporter pull up. She cans the town as a Quaintest Town contest contestant, but instead writes a much better story about how the town is now about to give every dollar and muscle to Dog River to bring it back on its feet. She has been present when the folks have a final meeting in Bret's bar. They make a firm final pledge of support. A silly story but the gags and characters are funny. I would can the song at the end. I was never a fan of the TV series, as it all seemed far too hokey, and this movie is an inane caricature of the series.

3.3-- BIG EYES, Tim Burton
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Written by noted biopic specialists Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon, The People vs. Larry Flint), Big Eyes recounts the life of painter Margaret Keane (Amy Adams) and her second husband Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) whose marketing genius propelled her work to international renown -- by claiming her work as his own. Years go by. Walter sells, Margaret paints. Walter, slowly engulfed by megalomania, reaps the rewards of super-stardom while Margaret’s conscience takes her to the breaking point. The tightly woven script inspired long-time Margaret Keane fan Tim Burton to direct the film, which marks a decided visual and thematic departure from his usually darker projects. Burton shows tremendous respect for the script, the film’s subjects as well as the subject matter. While a lesser production team could have steered the film’s characters into caricature, Burton’s maintains an exquisite tension in Margaret’s strength and vulnerability and Walter’s innocent charm and devilish scheming. Burton further underscores this tension by creating a unique palette that so richly evokes the era of the 50s and 60s and yet one that so consciously flirts with visual artifice that it becomes a perfect metaphor for artistic creation itself.

3.4 --  BIG EYES, Tim Burton
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] Behind every 'great' man is a woman, and nothing could be truer for this film for theme and time period -- the late 1950s. Margaret (Amy Adams) is a single mother who has moved to San Francisco with her big-eyed daughter, Jane. Margaret paints her daughter and embellishes the size of her eyes into big saucer-like haunting orbs with a waif-like expression. One day while painting by the harbour, Margaret meets Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who seems to be a painter. He charms Margaret and recognizes her talent so much so that he wants to claim it along with her. He marries her. Walter is a genius salesman and PR mongrel who knows how to get fame rolling for him along with notoriety and dough. The only problem is he claims to be the painter behind the big eyed girl. Margaret is aghast at his lie, but plays along with him, for the money is something she can’t resist. But her shame is obvious. Walter holes her up in the upstairs attic to churn out lots of paintings, but soon all hell breaks loose. A visit by Jehovah Witnesses causes her to come clean, and she goes to court to proclaim her true talent as the painter behind the eyes. The biopic is highly captivating; it’s almost unreal to believe how such a diabolical man could get away with his false persona and fool the public for ten years. Only in America. He spawned posters that people rushed to pay for, along with postcards, and all kinds of kitsch to keep his glory going. Imagine how big his eyes must have been when he was found guilty of fraud.

3.5-- FOXCATCHER, Bennett Miller
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] From its opening scenes Bennett Miller creates an atmosphere of impending doom in Foxcatcher, based on the tragic true story of John E. du Pont’s obsession with the world of wrestling and its elite sibling duo, the Schultz brothers. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo star as Mark and Dave Schultz, gold medalists at the 1984 Olympic Games. While Dave, a truly gifted coach, has settled into family life, Olympic glory has been less kind to younger brother Mark, who struggles to find meaning in daily existence. He is thus pulled into the orbit of John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), the eccentric heir to the du Pont family fortune. Philanthropist, noted ornithologist and self-proclaimed coach, harbouring a twisted patriotism only tolerated in the obscenely wealthy, John offers Mark an opportunity to train well out from his brother’s shadow as part of his private team Foxcatcher. We sense early on that, for John, the need to be a role model is part of an emotional Gordian knot at whose centre stands disapproving mother Jean (portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave). As John manipulates Mark into an ever closer relationship -- aided by alcohol and cocaine -- Mark loses the anchor of family love as well as the psychological compass that wrestling provides. Bennett’s direction is impeccable in its depiction of the isolation and frustrated desires of both, the ultra-wealthy, as well as the elite-level athletes involved in disciplines all but ignored in America. Moreover, Foxcatcher is a bugle-call that heralds the arrival to maturity of two generations of actors whose nuanced and restrained performances make the film soar.

1.8 -- HONEYMOON, Leigh Janiak
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Two young honeymooners, Bea and Paul, have taken to the wife's parents' cabin to enjoy their blissful new life as a married couple. But everything sweet, sexy and loving turns into sour, weird and awful. Is this a bad case of cabin fever or just a bad story? The sci-fi suspense film has Bea going from making pancakes to sleepwalking, profusely bleeding from her private parts, and soon, transforming into a complete weirdo wife; her skin turns into a web-like texture. Something is coming after the two of them according to Bea, so she hides Paul by tying him in the boat to the anchor and dumping him overboard. We never find out what the creepies is going on. The acting by Rose Lesley and Harry Treadaway was intense and believable, but it seems the script got lost on the dirt road one really dark night, and so the climax never resolved itself.

[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Paolo Virzi adapts Stephen Amidon’s novel Human Capital to suit Italian political and social realities in a drama whose main characters seem to be greed and avarice. Fabrizio Bentivoglio portrays Dino Ossola, a minor real-estate agent dazzled by the old-money wealth of the Bernaschi family. His daughter Serena (Matilde Gioli), however, is decidedly less taken with boyfriend Massimilano (Gugliemo Pinelli), the hapless Bernaschi heir. One day, while dropping Serena off, Dino forces himself into an introduction to Massimilano’s mother Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and insinuates himself into a tennis match alongside Massimilano’s father Giovanni (Fabrizi Gifuni). The fateful day is the nucleus of a complex multi-family drama that interrogates middle-class desires and upper-class realities, neither of which are shown in a very kind light. While the men fail -- in every way -- the women attempt to negotiate their coldness and disinterest on the one hand, and their possessive desire on the other. Virzi cleverly uses multiple points of view in isolated chapters to unfold the plot, which serves as a terrifying metaphor for the alienation we witness on screen. Nearly everyone exists in a bubble of dramatic self-involvement that draws the families into a tragedy in which the less fortunate ultimately pay a terrible price for being in the way.

2.0-- SERENA, Susanne Bier
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] For, budding lumber baron, George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper), meeting Serena Shaw (Jennifer Lawrence) is love at first sight. In her he finds a perfect mate; they fall in love quickly and he brings her back to his Carolina lumber camp as Mrs. George Pemberton. Serena proves to be a formidable partner. Cunning in business, a shrewd judge of character, she soon earns respect in the man’s world of logging much to the chagrin of George’s partner Buchanan (David Dencik). Feeling slighted by her presence, Buchanan soon forms other ideas on how to rescue himself from the financial difficulties in which the operation finds itself. Divided loyalties lead to betrayal and murder. The film is set at the start of the 1930s -- an era of Hollywood cinema during which female characters on-screen enjoyed greater breadth and depth than at nearly any other time since. Ironically, it was also during this period, prior to the tightening of the Production Code in 1934, that themes of motherhood in particular showed the strength and resilience of female characters. Shamefully, director Susanne Bier chooses to adapt a novel, in which motherhood is so integral to female identity that a woman necessarily faces annihilation in its absence and love loses all meaning when a male heir -- even an illegitimate one -- is threatened.

2.3 -- SERENA, Susanne Bier
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Set in North Carolina's smoky Mountains (but actually shot in the Czech Republic), lumber man George Pemberotn (Bradley Cooper) falls madly in love with Serena and takes her in as his wife and partner of the business. However, he already has a business partner, Mr Buchanan (David Denick) who is jealous of the closeness Serena has with Pemberton. Serena is an asset. She can swing a mean axe and trains an eagle to kill poisonous snakes that prove deadly to the men working for Pemberton. The love between the couple is passionate and intense, but a dark cloud soon appears. She gets pregnant and loses the baby. She then finds out that her husband already has a little baby boy by Rachael who is rehired at the lumber camp. In the background is an evil character named Galloway who ends up swearing an oath to protect Serena as she saved his life. The film deals with betrayal on many levels and murder seems to swallow up Pemberton's dreams. He has been fixing the ledgers and is caught, but Serena finds her own way to try to save her hubby from ruin. Serena is a possessive, wild beauty who does not come without her own past tragedy. The film was melodramatic and the ending was ridiculous. Jennifer Lawrence was miscast, and should stick to the Hunger Games. She acts with little subtly and this part needed a mature actress, as the character is very complex. Perhaps Lawrence worked hard on the part, but she revealed too much too soon. Cooper was alright, but again, too Hollywoodish to put himself into a lumber camp character.

3.7 -- THE HUNGER GAMES; MOCKINGJAY - PART 1, Francis Lawrence
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This third sequel offers a darker, less sensational feel than its two predecessors. The film starts where The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ended -- when Katniss Everdeen killed the games by having pierced the force field with her arrow. The film opens to a dispirited Katniss stuck in a new environment. She wakes up to discover she is living in a humungous underground bunker complex inhabited by District 13 which is led by their leader President Colin (Julianne Moore). Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been taken by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who continues to run the Capitol like a dangerous predator; he's intent on killing any 'radicals.' Snow has destroyed District 12 in retaliation for Katniss's actions, and kills anyone who dares start any kind of rebellion. Katniss must rebuild her confidence and once again spread her Mockingjay wings to exert her moxy and fierce fighting spirit to lead a rebellion against The Capitol. However, she is reluctant to do anything. She misses Peeta and thinks he is dead until District 13 receives an unexpected broadcast. Peeta and the evil ringmaster of the former Hunger Games - Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) are taunting everyone. Peeta seems to have turned against Katniss and sided with the enemy. During the interview, he urges Katniss and her followers, comprised of all the people who aren't in the Snow camp, not to rebel. He tells them to cooperate for the sake of peace. It takes a series of propos (video filming) taken while she's visiting the death and destruction of District 12 where she once lived; she rediscovers her bellicose public persona and become enraged enough to raise her fist in fury against President Snow. During another visit to a terrible hospital swelling with the wounded in one of the Districts (Snow eventually bombs it, killing everyone), Katniss is ready to rouse all the oppressed to join forces to recapture Panem. The movie is really exciting. The rescue of Peeta and others who appeared in previous Hunger Games has a surprise ending which is sure to result in yet another sequel. Yes, the characters are there once again, and yes, the theme of good versus evil reply, but it works. Good acting, fabulous sets and understated intensity drive the film to its climactic ending.

1.9-- INTERSTELLAR, Christopher Nolan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The world is literally drying up, and Porter (Matthew McConaughey) and his young daughter, Murph, stumble upon a hidden Nasa station with a diabolical heroic plan, engineered by Michael Cane who claims they need the best pilot to search out another planet to which humans can be sent to ensure a new start to life. But beware of golden age guys whose time is past.There are 12 planets which have already been explored by astronauts, and Porter must investigate to see which one will do. This is a complex film where time travel, gravity and desolate terrains converge into a mishmash mess of a movie. You really have to have a degree in quantum physics to understand all the information overload upon which this film is based. It's a father daughter film that ends up being a Benjamin Button bomb at the finish. The effects were hypnotic, the story outrageous, the conflicts unbelievable. When the astronaut, exploring one of the planets, is visited and he takes off his suit inside his station, we see Matt Damon, and wonder if his Bourne identity issue had shot him into outer space onto the wrong set. McConaughey was miscast in this part. Nobody cared about the relationship in this film whether anybody survived or not.

2.3 -- HALF A YELLOW SUN, Biyi Bandele
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Two sisters educated in London, England return to Nigeria, but soon they and their lovers are caught in the 1967 civil war between the country's northern Hausas and the Igbo of the southeast -- and all this just after Nigeria won independence. The movie unfortunately fractures scenes from the titular book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Destitution reaches its climax at the end of the film. Biafra is brought back to the big screen as the beginnings of the catastrophe unfold. Fleeing from place to place, region to region, we see what the once comfortable couple now must endure to survive. Thandie Newton admirably plays Olanna -- wife to Master (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who did not capture the depth of character created in the novel. Tragic events played out in the movie as a confusing and cluttered matrix that did not affect us the way they should have. (This film closed the 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival).

3.1-- AIDEPENDENCE, Alice Smeets
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The NGOs have got it all wrong in Haiti. This rather depressing film shows how different companies are not working together with each other and most importantly, they are not working directly with the people who stride the lowest echelons of Haiti's shattered shanty towns. We meet Sabina, an American girl, who with her boyfriend work hand-on digging and rebuilding with the people to create Cité Soleil, a little one-street town in Haiti. We witness how clinics, hospitals and schools never open due to NGOs refusing to help out independent givers who respond to important community needs. World Vision, Oxfam and so many make their presence known by hanging out their logo beside some make-shift structure (we see this in the film). According to the Haitians interviewed -- sociologists, directors, anthropologist and many more -- it becomes apparent that in most cases the aid has hindered rather than helped. Guilty of unequal distribution, this lack of parity creates jealousy and anger among disparate communities shattered not just by the earthquake but by being left out. It's pan-endemic this NGO sham. Euopre, and especially, America, shame on you! The tiny 2 x 8 tin dwellings called T-shelters are infested with insects. Many of these ridiculous sheds are being given to the same person who then goes ahead and rents it to another Haitian who does not have any money. Evil lurks far beyond this island, yet hope prevails and it manifests among many hard-working people born in Haiti and in the industrial countries. It is the individual that makes a difference -- not these well-intentioned, but misguided members of NGOs. In the end, it's a matter of uniting face to face, hand in hand, stone by stone to build bit by bit each part of the island. As long as the Haitians are doing it with some involved help by experts who also dig their teeth into the ground, there may be a Haiti that comes out proud and renewed. (This eye-opening documentary was screened during the 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival).

3.5-- BETTY'S BLUES , Remy Vandenitte
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A claymation/traditional animation mix that fetchingly shows the terror of being black via the performance of a strung out guitar player that the few odd customers have no interest in -- until he gets deep into his song. The director brings to life the 1920's New Orleans Blues legend of Blind Boogie Jones. Ku Klux Klan and love with revenge has our guitar player reminding people that music and passion can kill the enemy and revive the dead soul. Don't try to understand the plot; just enjoy how images morph into miracles before your eyes. (This wonderful 12-minute short was screened during the 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival ).

3.4-- NINAH'S DOWRY,Victor Viyuoh
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This film's title might as well have been, "A Hundred Ways to Beat up your Wife in Cameroon and Treat her like a Mule Tied to a Rope." Compelling, dramatic and superbly acted, the story introduces us to 20-year-old Ninah whose thug husband brutally beats her at every turn. Unfortunately, he is supported by other men, even women. When Ninah tells him she no longer can live with him, he demands her to pay back the dowry -- money given to him by her indifferent dad. Her father knew what a violent man her husband was, but he wanted money more than the preservation of his daughter's life. Ninah keeps running away, but her horrid hubby finds her and most of the movie is about them traveling back to his home on foot with his two other pals helping him out. In the film, we see that even Ninah's son gives her hiding place away when her husband comes looking for her. I would have liked to have known if this movie is a true representation of a large or miniscule segment of the population's domestic abuse situation; I was waiting for the info during the final credit role. As none was given, I must assume that this film is an authentic if not significant part of life in that country. This diabolically inhumane treatment of women in Cameroon must stop! The director dared to show us the cowardly behaviour of Cameroon's men and their intense disdain for women wanting a better life for themselves. (This powerful film was screen at 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] You know when you see a new shirt or dress on the clothing rack inside a swanky store, then you try it on, and it looks horrible -- well that analogy certainly holds true for this film. I am sure the script looked like a killer story but put onto the screen it morphs into a major flop. I have no idea what the iconic Spike Lee was thinking of, other than trying to make a modern non/Hollywood terror film. It's about a blood-hungry professor named Dr. Green, who kills to satiate his addiction to blood. His open fascination with the ancient blood-sucking customs of the Ashanti tribe seemed to have literally and physically gotten under his skin. The scenery was nice -- Martha's Vineyard, and his house was gorgeous, but the lead actor, Michal K. Williams, was a stiff board, who is able to seduce all kinds of women as soon as he opens his mouth (before he drains to the dregs his victims of their blood). Why women fall for him is another puzzlement, as he is rather unpleasant to look at. Only an hour before the official screening of the film, Spike Lee, who made a special trip to Montreal for the festival, received on-stage king-of-cinema kudos from famous people connected with the festival, including the great hockey player P.K. Subban, referencing his inspiration as a human being and filmmaker -- that he is a guiding light for youth, and was most certainly for him. The irony was almost comic, as if everyone were talking about a different filmmaker -- at least after the screening to a full house. If this film epitomizes Mr. Lee's noble character, I think something grave is amiss. Someone suggested he is going through an artistic crisis. I think he is experimenting and trying to be obtusely trendy. The film belongs in the Fantasia Festival. I am an honest reviewer, and the fact I saw people leaving during the film says it all. What's in a name? Sometimes everything and sometimes nothing. This film is an embarrassing disappointment for fans of Mr. Lee -- a pioneering story-teller with a social conscience. The persistently unsubtle, in your face metaphor of society's parasitical ways is the only redemptive message of this film which address exploitation, the dynamics of addictions and those who service them, and well as the deliberate obfuscation of one's real intentions. The profundity of masks Dr. Green has hanging on his walls is certainly symbolic proof of this latter metaphor for deception that eyes can't see. The film was a classy enough and slick, but the music got on my nerves: too much of it and totally unrelated to the film. During the afternoon press conference, Mr. Lee was invited to talk about the film, but he declined to do so. Now, I know why. Such silence -- very atypical of the loquacious Mr. Lee -- indicates a lack of enthusiasm for one's work, in my opinion. Perhaps, this is one film he is already not proud of even though critical faculty challenged Fantasia Festival groupies will surely find merit in it. (This was the second film that screened during the 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival - the largest of its kind in Canada).

1.9-- HOPE, Boris Lojkine
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It's an age-old story of leaving Africa for Europe (from Nigeria and Cameroon ). The film brings together two desperate people -- Hope and Leonard -- strangers to each other at the beginning of the film. They have joined a group of men crossing the Sahara. When Hope is discovered to be a girl, she is raped and left behind. Leonard refuses to continue the journey without helping the girl (Hope) that he does not particularly like. Soon, the two are thrust together and a bond develops as each endures unspeakable brutalities at the hands of thugs who feed them. Leonard even sells Hope to other men in order to make money. Love eventually unites the couple, but only one actually makes it on the boat alive that is headed for Spain. The plot sounds great, but the slow pace and confusing scenes dulled our understanding of what is actually going on. This is a tale that is often left untold, so one must applaud the filmmaker for attempting to reveal this plight of escape and horror. In the hands of a more experienced editor and better actors (I heard the roles were portrayed by non-actors). Sometimes the intention is noble, but the result disappointing. 'Despair' would have been a more suitable name for this film which opened up the 10th edition of the Montreal International Black Film Festival, the largest of its kind in Canada.


3.8 -- DR.CABBIE, Chris Diamantopoulos
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Once in a blue moon, there comes along a film that you will never forget. Why? It made you laugh, it made you worry for the characters, and it sharpened your senses against the cruel strokes that people in power can cut you down with. It also made you fall in love again. And all this is done in a film that cleverly delves into serious societal issues within a comedic framework. Political correctness is dashed in this film because the hero Dr. Deepak Veer Chopra (Vinay Virmani) has traveled all the way from Delhi India to fulfill his vision to become a doctor in Toronto, Canada. The plot is the trigger here and the hero at the helm hits his mark, but not without enduring so many hardships to deter -- even destroy his long-awaited professional mission in life that he takes most personally. After so many rejections by hospital heads who are stuck in their own dowager attitudes towards non-Canadian doctors, Deepak takes to the road as a cabbie to earn money. One night, he picks up Nathalie (Adrianne Palicki) a pregnant girl and delivers the baby in the back sit of the cabbie. His pal, Tony (Kunal Nayar from Big Bang Theory), films the whole thing from the front seat, using his cell phone. It goes viral. Deepak becomes very busy in his cab. His patients flock inside to get treatment. He diagnoses and prescribes meds. He even saves many people's lives, urging them to go to emergency at once or to see specialists to prevent irreversible damage if not operated on. Nathalie and Deepak begin to see one another, but there's a problem: the jerk who got her pregnant is running for mayor, and he pulls strings to do everything to get Deepak deported. He is breaking the law. It's a happy ending, and the Bollywood makes its impact via the music and dancing. There's even a CD out. This is an 'infectious' film but in all the healthy ways, but beware: the warm fuzzy feelings it gives are contagious!  

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The latest entry in star Liam Neeson’s mid-career resurgence as an action hero, casts the Irish thespian as alcoholic NYPD cop turned unlicensed private detective Matthew Scudder – the protagonist of a series of Lawrence Block crime thrillers. In this adaptation of the tenth Scudder novel, the hard-boiled gumshoe is hired by a clean-cut drug trafficker (Downton Abbey heartthrob Dan Stevens) to track down the men who kidnapped and subsequently murdered his wife, leading Scudder down a narrative labyrinth of sinister alleyways, nasty characters and grim conclusions. Writer/director Frank doesn’t attempt to transcend the mystery genre so much as embellish it, paying homage to classic sleuths Sam Space and Philip Marlowe and imbuing Scudder’s quest with a monumental, archetypal feel, while the lead role itself seems a part Neeson was born to play, blending the solemnity and steeliness of his character turns with the sheer badassery of his recent work. It results in a quiet, yet no less impactful, tale of the dark side of vengeance and humanity’s endless capacity for evil.

1.3 -- BABYSITTING, Nicolas Benamou & Philippe Lacheau
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Proof that even the French are prone to making roundly offensive and deeply unfunny 'comedies,' this Frankenstein’s monster of a film mashes together a boatload of lowbrow Hollywood laugh-riots in a feeble attempt to capture the same sort of improbable box office success. Combining the found-footage conceit so popular in recent years with the ‘one crazy night’ subgenre populating American comedies since time immemorial, it comes off simply as a hackneyed rip-off of similarly themed (and equally terrible) Project X, keeping the racist, sexist and profoundly homophobic sense of humour found in the earlier film. Though attempting a kind of pseudo-commentary on our technology-obsessed times, it instead falls back on familiar character tropes (the hard-nosed boss, the sultry ex-girlfriend, the doofus best friends) and a loose-fitting, barely-there storyline to fill out its empty and meaningless existence. And, of course, as with every other mainstream comedy in history, everything works out in the end, defying logic and reason in its desire to give each and every character a happy ending. It never feels real, and it certainly doesn’t here.

1.5 -- THE GIVER, Phillip Noyce
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Lois Lowry’s original young adult novel finally gets the big-screen treatment, over 20 years after the book’s publication and in the wake of fellow dystopian adaptations The Hunger Games and Divergent. The result of this delay being, of course, that the film can’t help but resemble the narratives and tones of these works, despite coming first. And for a plot so predicated on notions of uniqueness and difference, it’s rather ironic that it feels so similar to every other dystopic film in recent memory. There’s a seemingly ideal society, shot in gleaming black-and-white to plainly indicate the colourlessness of such a world. There’s a special young man, chosen for a particular and important purpose. And there’s a group of faceless elders, led by Meryl Streep, bent on maintaining their ordered way of life. It’s all so familiar, and certainly director Noyce’s bland approach to the material doesn’t help matters; his use of stock footage is just that, and the film’s gradual colouring only recalls a similar effect in Pleasantville. By the time it reaches its climactic moralizing on the virtues of love and emotion, the film has lost us.

2.0 -- YVES SAINT LAURENT, Jalil Lespert
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A by-the-numbers biopic of the eponymous fashion designer, focusing more on his personal troubles than his artistic genius. Spanning a good twenty years, from Saint Laurent’s appointment as head designer of the House of Christian Dior in 1957 to his own company becoming the prominent name in French fashion in the late ‘70s, the film covers the requisite rise-and-fall-and-rise of the central figure. From his manic depression diagnosis and struggles with homosexuality to his later drug addiction and infidelity, all the major hallmarks of your standard biographical film are hit – albeit often only in a perfunctory manner before the next big life moment comes along. But through it all, the complex relationship between Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé endures, surviving the highs and lows of the designer’s tumultuous lifestyle. Though this kind of love in the face of all odds has become so common as to be cliché, here it manages to work, primarily due to the commitment of the two actors involved. As a biopic it feels familiar and conventional, but as a love story it’s surprisingly warm.

3.0 -- THE F WORD, Michael Dowse
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] In this case, the F stands for friends – as in what young Torontonians Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) are determined to stay, despite all indications and generic conventions to the contrary. Of course, one soon falls for the other, leading to a series of uncomfortable situations and awkward interactions – the staple of any romantic comedy. Updating When Harry Met Sally for modern times, director Dowse attempts to put a contemporary spin on a familiar form but winds up bowing to tradition anyway. That’s not to say that Radcliffe and Kazan don’t share an easy, warm chemistry, or that the film isn’t generally witty and likeable, just that it’s not nearly as progressive as it purports to be – especially when it comes to issues of race or gender. Regardless, you could do a lot worse as far as modern-day romcoms go, and it’s always welcome to see a film so clearly shot in Canada actually set there; for once, Toronto is not forced to stand in for New York or Chicago, but allowed to merely play itself.

1.6 -- TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, Jonathan Liebesman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The titular heroes in a half-shell are rebooted from their ‘80s origins and given the full Michael Bay treatment, although the divisive director is only credited as producer. Instead, hack director Liebesman brings his hack sensibilities to bear, adopting a Bay-lite visual style and even casting former Transformers babe Megan Fox as intrepid reporter April O’Neil. Unfortunately, though, the turtles themselves are reimagined as monstrous digital creations, sporting enormous shells and resembling freakish green babies more than anything, while their nemesis Shredder becomes a nondescript samurai robot firing boomerang blades and saying nothing. The result is an awful, soulless work, more concerned with product placement than narrative coherence, which soon degenerates into an extended action sequence with little real-world resemblance. When every element of a scene is computer-generated, it’s hard to feel an attachment to the on-screen product, and with the added hindrance of the 3D gimmick, it’s all the more removed.

3.2 -- THE TRIP TO ITALY, Michael Winterbottom
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Four years after British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon crossed the English countryside, touring restaurants and swapping impersonations, they’re back at it again, this time traversing the gorgeous Mediterranean coast of Italy. Though acknowledging early on that sequels are never better (save for The Godfather Part II, of course) and vowing the avoid comic impressions, the duo soon slip back into their duelling Michael Caines and further expand their repertoire to include Al Pacino, Christian Bale and Tom Hardy. Ostensibly retracing the footsteps of 19th century poets Byron and Shelley on their Italian voyage, the pair begin reflecting on their own lives and careers, with Coogan desiring more time with his estranged children and Brydon wishing to free himself of his familial clutches – a noted inversion from the first film. As usual, pop culture references abound, but they take on a more austere tone this time around, with Godard’s Le mépris, Rossellini’s Viaggio in Italia, and Wyler’s Roman Holiday amongst the films mentioned. In general, it’s a more mature affair, but that doesn’t mean it’s also not very funny; indeed, the pair’s banter is as witty and wickedly hilarious as ever, only now with a surprisingly substantive air.

3.6 -- CALVARY, John Michael McDonagh
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A Catholic priest (the always dependable Brendan Gleeson) in a coastal Irish village is told in confession one Sunday that he is to be murdered the following Sabbath for the Church’s past pedophiliac sins, and thus spends the subsequent week attempting to affect as much change as he can in this cynical modern world. Echoing Bresson and Dreyer in its pious solemnity, but given a darkly comic twist, the second feature by writer/director McDonagh (brother of fellow filmmaker Martin) is a bleakly hilarious work, at once both mocking and revering faith and devotion. As the stereotypically good priest is forced to contend with the increasingly derisive and faithless members of his parish, he confronts the absurdity and meaningless of existence (and his own impending end) with equal parts wry humour and resigned acceptance, and Gleeson is the true cornerstone of the work, stoic and warm, delivering his greatest performance to date. But even he is only one piece of the whole; stunningly shot on location in Ireland, with a stellar ensemble cast (also including Kelly Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, and Aidan Gillen) and a tone-perfect mood, it’s the rare religious film that works even on skeptics.

2.7 -- 1987, Ricardo Trogi
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The six-years-later sequel to Québécois comedy hit 1981 picks up with protagonist Ricardo (a fictional representation of writer/director Trogi) and his friends graduating from high school and ready to enter adulthood; as in any coming-of-age film, that means getting a car, entering a bar, and losing their virginity. Trogi doesn’t diverge too significantly from the formula, but adds in a few autobiographical touches – such as Ricardo’s desire to start a youth discotheque, or his appropriation of his Italian heritage to become a mini-mafioso – that keeps things fresh and interesting. There’s plenty of late ‘80s stereotypes, including big hair, white tuxedos, and a soundtrack ranging from Twisted Sister to Pet Shop Boys, evoking feelings of nostalgia for the decade, giving the film an American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused quality. Further, metatextual scenes set in an educational curriculum meeting, while strange, lend the film a slightly self-aware nature that allows it to somewhat transcend the genre. Regardless, this is a strictly personal affair.

1.3 -- MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Another year, another Woody Allen European vacation moonlighting as a motion picture. This time, he heads to the French Rivera of the 1920s, as a cynical British illusionist (Colin Firth), masquerading as a Chinese magician, is tasked with exposing a young American woman (Emma Stone) claiming to be clairvoyant; of course, romance is never far from their minds, and the two leads ably fill out the predetermined roles of a May-December love affair. This is Woody on autopilot, half-heartedly running through all the popular elements of his work – light fantasy, sardonic comedy, atypical romance – in a downright perfunctory fashion. Firth is more than capable as the director’s proxy – a pragmatic, sarcastic man with a deeply rational outlook on life – but Stone seems out of her element as the enigmatic mystic who manages to bewitch him. The whole thing comes off merely as an extended justification for Allen’s infamous extramarital affair, with its talk of the inexplicability and irrationality of love, but as an autobiographical act of absolution, it just doesn’t work.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This graphic gourmet gore feast film may change the thinking of activist groups fighting for Aboriginal rights in Peru's Amazon jungle. If anything, it certainly will make us all think twice before wanting to take a trip down the Amazon or tread into the jungle. In this cannibal flick, a group of ultraistic students led by Alexandro -- the sleaziest of corrupt creeps -- follows his bidding to pull off a publicity stunt for the world to watch. All are convinced he is doing great things, risking his life (and theirs) to head for the jungle. They fly into a specific spot in the jungle, chain themselves to trees to stop in-your-face bulldozers from demolishing the area while they record the bulldozers approaching them on their cell phones phones. One of the girls Justine is the heroine who has a gun pulled to her head. Alexandro shows no concern back on the plane when everyone is heading home. But the plane crashes near some incredibly flesh-hungry-eating dudes and dolls. We find out, this plane crash was caused by an explosion, part of the plan to divert one competitor to claim the jungle area over another, and Alexandro seems to know about such things and has a part in it. Anyway, they all get picked up by these kidnapping cannibal tribes. They are taken by boat to their huts -- except for those lucky enough to have been killed in the crash. One by one, they get slaughtered. Of course the movie shows about seven ways how to kill and eat humans. Justine escapes, and when picked up by a plane, and brought home, she lies to her father and his buds who are connected with the UN. She tells them she was well treated, and that there was no cannibalism. Guess she was a true believer in letting wild dogs live and lie -- even when they are blood thirsty beasts. I'm sure tourism in Peru will drop dramatically after people see this movie, and although Peru's food is rated the best in the world, it's a given that no one will be rushing to catch a meal after the film's credits roll.

4.0 -- BOYHOOD, Richard Linklater
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Stunningly ambitious, shot over the course of twelve years as lead actor Ellar Coltrane grew from a kindergartener to a college freshman, director Linklater’s epic character drama just might be his masterpiece. Less a standard narrative than a series of vignettes, the film is a sprawling, grandiose work, covering the entire adolescence of a single boy in less than three hours and managing to do justice to all the complexities and wonders of life itself. As Coltrane’s divorced parents, Linklater staples Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke age along with him, maturing from icons of youthful foolishness into bastions of wisdom and experience; even Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, tags along for the ride as Coltrane’s elder sister, at once both loving and disapproving. Such a film is remarkable in both concept and execution: broad and expansive in scope, yet extraordinarily personal and intimate in vision. It’s the reconciliation of these two ostensibly contrary viewpoints that makes the film one of the true cinematic jewels of the new millennium; a 21st century tour-de-force for us to call our own.

4.0 -- BOYHOOD, Richard Linklater
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It's been a decade since that the visionary Richard Linklater announced he planned to chart the growth of a family over a decade using a committed cast of great of actors to make an authentic narrative. Each month, he took three days out of each month for ten years to film them and craft the movie. The film is a remarkable feat and is superbly engaging. We meet a young sensitive intellect named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha. Their parents are brilliantly portrayed by Patrica Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Two divorces later, we watch the kids become teens ont eh verge of adulthood scholarly ventures, as they both enter university. I felt the family was real. The men in the film were total losers, except for Hawkes' character who does mature into a great dad. His acting was brilliant. This film is stellar piece of family life told in one of the most unique ways as we follow them all growing up, ageing and facing all the bumps in lfie that come their way. A must-see! It walked away with the Silver Bear Award, Berlin International Festival and scored tops at the Sundance International Film Festival.

2.8 -- HERCULES, Brett Ratner
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Ratner and star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s take on the Hercules mythos isn’t a larger-than-life recreation of the demigod’s famous twelve labours, but rather a pared-down deconstruction of the legend. Depicting the titular hero not as an immortal being but rather a flesh-and-blood man, the leader of a group of mercenaries for hire, the film offers up a revisionist version of the fabled story (à la recent historical interpretations of King Arthur and Robin Hood), with Hercules himself indulging the tales so as to boost his name and increase his asking price. It’s a progressive concept, actively removing the fantastical elements from the stories (creatures like centaurs and Cerberus revealed to be mere illusions), and though it doesn’t always work – in part because Hercules isn’t an actual historical figure – the film’s demythologizing is refreshing and welcome within the growingly outrageous sword-and-sandals genre. For his part, the usually incompetent Ratner stages the inevitable battle sequences crisply and cleanly, and Johnson is predictably badass as the legendary warrior (although upstaged in the comedy department by his cohorts Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell). It’s not great filmmaking, but it is interesting storytelling.

3.2 -- A MOST WANTED MAN, Anton Corbijn
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last completed lead role is in this adaptation of John le Carré’s post-9/11 espionage thriller, playing a boozing, smoking German intelligence agent running a counter-terrorist team in Hamburg (where the September 11th attacks were planned). As opposed to the spy thrillers of the Cold War era, all shady dealings and cloak-and-dagger actions, this contemporary drama is more concerned with diplomacy and morality – and specifically with what to do about a Chechen Muslim and suspected terrorist who washes ashore and stakes a claim to his dead father’s substantial fortune. Director Corbijn, a former photographer and music video helmer, maintains the restrained, patient style of his previous features Control and The American, and his cast, from Rachel McAdams as an amnesty lawyer to Robin Wright as a clandestine CIA operative, are similarly subdued, resulting in a low-key, if unexciting, spy drama. But this is Hoffman’s show through-and-through, as the actor reliably delivers another terrific performance, this time as an unconventional secret agent with a regretful past, providing a suitable capper to his brilliant, too-brief career.

3.6 -- SNOWPIERCER, Bong Joon-ho
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] After a last-ditch attempt to curb global warming goes awry and freezes the planet, the remnants of humanity load onto a perpetually running train circling the globe, with the rich and the poor divided along class lines: the wealthy and powerful at the front near the engine, and the impoverished and weak forced into slum-like conditions in the rear. One rear-dweller (Captain America himself, Chris Evans) has had enough, and so organizes an uprising with the end goal of capturing the engine and controlling the train; of course, much mayhem and bloodshed ensue, bizarrely depicted with the unhinged eye of director Joon-ho. In his English-language debut (after helming Korean genre staples Memories of Murder, The Host, and Mother), the filmmaker presents a post-apocalyptic Marxist allegory that’s just as disturbing and violent as it is ingenuous and comical. The multinational cast (also including Jamie Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, and Octavia Spencer) impresses, but the real standout is Tilda Swinton as the bureaucratic figurehead Mason. Wearing false teeth and thick glasses, her speech clipped and Yorkshire-accented, she is the embodiment of middle management, working to keep everything in its place so that the train of life keeps running, enraging both the upper-class authorities and lower-class workers. Such is the way of the world.

1.7 -- WISH I WAS HERE, Zach Braff
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Ten years after Garden State, former Scrubs star Braff returns to the director’s chair for his sophomore effort, ostensibly a decade wiser and this time backed by Kickstarter. As in his debut feature, the eternally youthful actor casts himself as a struggling actor with daddy issues – only now he’s married (to Kate Hudson, improbably) with two kids. Letting his wife support the family with her menial data entry job while he "chases his dream," Braff comes off as a narcissistic asshole, especially once he is forced to pull his kids out of Jewish private school and homeschool them; instead of teaching them proper education, he chooses to impart valuable life lessons such as “lose yourself in your hero fantasy daydreams” and “fail to provide for your kin.” Though relentless in its skewering of Jewish traditions and culture, the film is more saccharine than anything, providing greeting-card sentiments on the importance of family and being different while converting a generic dramedy into something even more cloying and irritating. Given Braff’s own brand of egocentric, fidgety acting, the film’s base annoyance is hardly a shock.

0.6 -- PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE, Roberts Gannaway
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A sequel to a spinoff from Pixar’s worst franchise is already destined for awfulness, but the film does itself no favours by mixing adult humour and dated pop-culture references with an infantile story and simplistic characters, resulting in a tonally confused work that appeals to no one. The opening dedication to the heroism of firefighters indicates a reverential mood to be followed, and yet the remainder of the runtime does everything in its power to work against it, employing fart jokes, racial stereotypes and misogynistic undertones to tarnish the legacy of firemen and women worldwide. Furthermore, the film muddles its ideology, seemingly proclaiming the triumph of the exceptional individual before affirming the virtues of teamwork and government support. It’s hardly shocking that an animated feature about anthropomorphic vehicles battling forest fires isn’t intellectually sound, but it’s all the more saddening that even contemporary kids flicks can’t keep their values straight; in an era of political complexity and ambiguous morality, this much should be sacred.

3.0 -- BEGIN AGAIN, John Carney
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Once director Carney brings his low-key romantic sensibilities across the pond to New York City, casting Keira Knightley as an amateur musician jilted by a recent breakup and Mark Ruffalo as the down-on-his-luck record executive determined to produce her. It’s a clichéd plot, and yet the director and stars manage to wring real emotion and pathos out of the cliché, utilizing the same kind of restrained sentiments that made Once so successful. Knightley, thankfully freed from attempting an American accent, hasn’t been this likeable and warm in years (or ever?) and Ruffalo is reliably affable as a rumpled man going through a series of midlife crises. As in Once, romance is briefly hinted at but never consummated, giving the whole thing a refreshingly genuine vibe; even the stunt casting of The Voice co-judges Adam Levine and CeeLo Green as, essentially, versions of themselves (Levine as Knightley’s rock star ex; Green as a rap mogul and former client of Ruffalo’s) can’t blunt the authenticity. Though a third-act attempt at critiquing the record industry and contemporary pop music feels ill-conceived and heavy-handed, for the most part, the film rings true.

3.4 -- PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE, Bob Gannaway
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This adorable sequel to the first animation that introduces Dusty, a dust cropper plane, now speeds forward as Dusty the dynamic dare devil. He loves to race with his other plane friends. But, Dusty's gear box is ready for the dumpster; it malfunctions every time he goes past a certain high speed. He always has to pull back. He is relegated to changing his status as a fire fighting plane, and will probably never race again, but Dusty proves he's got more mettle in him than a failing gear box. He steps up to the plate and ends up saving some pretty desperate people caught in fires, including a trailer couple called Winnie and RV. (All characters in this movie are planes, vehicles of all kinds, and there's a train). The one bad guy in this sequel is the ranger car of Piston National Park. He knows 'his' big fancy just-built lodge is bringing money in, and despite a raging wildfire, he refuses to evacuate his car customers in time. All of course ends well, including Dusty brushing off his wings, and getting a new gear box so he can race once again. But one suspects, he will continue in his new flying role as a fire fighting plane. The film cleverly creates all kind of expressive characters in the form of cars, fork lifts, fire engines and more. It's a cute heroic story in typical one up in typical Disney fashion, but its fascile plot lacks the complexities that we've enjoyed in recent Disney films. Nonetheless, this charming film with great lines, plane and car personalities, along with a slew of gags is sure to appeal to kids of all ages. It's cute when the 'shi...'curse word is said as "Chevy".'

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Adapted from the popular series of children’s books, this sequel to 2009’s Le petit Nicolas finds the eponymous youngster on summer holidays at the beach, making new friends and learning the ways of adulthood. In the spirit of the source material’s 1950s origins, director Tirard keeps the proceedings light and colourful, adopting a loose-fitting narrative structure that strings together slapstick and simple jokes. While this allows for a family-friendly tone, it also broadens the comedy to the point of sheer unfunniness, as the literal toilet humour and other lowbrow gags seem exclusively directed at children. While the film’s summertime setting, beach locale and farcical form recall the Jacques Tati classic Les vacances de M. Hulot (even the titles are analogous), Tirard doesn’t know how to bring out the sophistication in slapstick, relying on a crass, unrefined approach that simply fails to impress. The bright colours and gross antics may amuse the kids, but for the rest of us, there’s not a lot to like here.

1.9 -- EARTH TO ECHO, Dave Green
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Crossing the found-footage conceit of Chronicle (and others) with the Spielbergian sense of childhood wonder in Super 8, director Green helms this low-rent sci-fi adventure that barely amounts to more than an E.T. rip-off. When three outcast kids, forced to move out of their soon-to-be-demolished Nevada suburb, discover strange messages on their phones, they follow the alien symbols and discover a stranded extra-terrestrial, hunted by the government and desperate to return home. The nostalgic feelings engendered by this familiar storyline isn’t enough to keep things fresh, so Green utilizes a (rather broad) found-footage technique that includes voiceover narration, non-diegetic music, and on-screen graphics, speaking to the evolution of the stylistic form. The film is thus much more interesting from a formalist perspective than a narrative one, as there’s nothing innovative or exciting about the directions the plot takes; trading in well-worn themes of lost adolescence and blossoming maturity, it’s merely telling an old story in a new fashion.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The fourth entry in the franchise adaptation of the titular Hasbro toy line is exactly as one has come to expect from the series: expensively designed, confusingly plotted and incoherently constructed. Swapping out former lead Shia LaBeouf for his Pain & Gain star Mark Wahlberg, director Bay indulges even deeper in his love of true Americana, depicting a wholesome Texan family torn apart by both the evil federal government (here symbolized by CIA black ops head Kelsey Grammer) and a corrupt technology corporation (led by Stanley Tucci’s thinly veiled Steve Jobs caricature) after they team up with outlaw Optimus Prime and the rest of the hunted Autobots. Bay’s unique brand of jingoism has always privileged the blue-collar individual above state institutions, but this might be his boldest statement to date on the inherent villainy of big business and government bureaucracy. It may be patriotism, but it’s a very specific kind: Tea Party patriotism.

3.8-- THE HUNT, Thomas Vintenberg
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Forty-year-old gentle Lucas has settled into a small Danish town where he helps out at a small school filled with kindergarten kids. He is great with them, and perhaps because he is quiet and shy, the kids make him come to life. But one little girl, Klara develops a crush on him, and one day when all the kids are tackling him she kisses him on the lips. Taken aback, he tells her this is wrong. She has also given him a little love note. Klara loves Fanny, Lucas' dog, and Lucas of her parents and brother. But one day, Klara behaves oddly, and tells a dirty lie about Lucas which turns his life into a nightmare. He is fired and loses all his friends, including Klara's family whose father was Lucas' best friend. In fact, he is totally ostracized from everyone, and is basically banned from every daily interaction; he is prevented from even entering the supermarket. Things get violent and Lucas is deteriorating into a broken man. Despite Klara's deceptions that take the form of a 'he did it -- he didn't do it,' confession, all the staff and the kids join her in the accusation, and then, everyone refuses to accept her story when she recants, saying she was just saying something foolish and not true. A year later, however, we see that Lucas is once again embraced by everyone. The children however fail to realize that Lucas has no basement which is where they tell the police it all happened. Marvelously acted (Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas was excellent) with a sensitively plotted out script, the film shows that even a lonely little girl scorned by someone she fancies can be the ruination of that man. It also shows how dangerous the crowd mentality can be. Ironically, the weak link in this chain of mounting hysteria occurs when things get happy and life is better for Lucas; this sudden ending offers a denouement that dishes out an unsatisfactory and implausible result. As well, the symbolism of an innocent deer being hunted and shot was somewhat infantile although the analogy ran parallel to his own life..(This film was viewed compliments of le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

3.0-- TIM'S VERMEER, Teller
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A fascinating and brilliant inventor named Tim Jenison is obsessed with the idea that the 17th-century painter Vermeer could not have captured the likeness, light and extraordinary details he was renown for without optic devices of some sort. Jenison reconstructs Vermeer's studio, making everything himself in his Texas warehouse. He discovers that by using a mirror attached to a handle stem -- much like a dentist's mirror held inside one's mouth -- one can actually colour in exactly the image onto paper that is reflected in the mirror. He first tries this out by taking the image portrait of his father-in-law and is able to replicate to-the-T the exact original. Jenison is not a painter and through many successful steps that lead him to the final concave lens he uses to 'trace' every detail in Vermeer's painting, called "The Music Lesson," he recreates the exact painting itself. A private showing by the Queen of England of the very painting inspires him to complete the project which took more than half a year to paint in the privacy of his Vermeer 'veritas' studio. This documentary moves far too slowly though, especially as he paints the painting. His meetings with artists David Hockney and Philip Steadman bolster his belief that Vermeer definitely employed this method to create his paintings. Moreover, it is concluded that paintings are visual documents and as such science and artistry are needed to produce these painted documents. The famed duo of Penn and Teller are in the film; Tim is a friend of Teller's. His partner Penn Jillette, who narrates and often appears in the movie -- more so than silent Teller -- co-produced the film with Farley Zeigler. (This film was viewed compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.8-- DEVIL'S KNOT, Atom Egoyan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on a true story, the film takes us into the rather harrowing mysterious events that took place in a small backwater southern town in Arkansas in 1993. Three darling boys were murdered -- their bodies found in a place of water called Devil's Den where few dared to go. But on that fateful day (May 5th) thee boys innocently rode their bikes there. A travesty of justice and a conspiracy of a cover-up of evidence and interviews ends up pointing the finger at three boys -- none of whom did it. The evidence, by implication, retrieved by one persistent investigator, pointed to Terry Hobbs, the father of one of the dead boys and the complicity of most of the town folk. Based on the book by Mara Leveritt, this tragic story put three innocent teens in prison for 18 years, released them but still with the title of guilty -- not to mention the total lack of justice which should have led to a retrial and the introduction of substantial evidence. The crime was never solved nor any attempt to find the culprits, and I think the ending suggests why: too many of the locals were agents of the devil cult and the killing of these boys.

3.5-- BLOOD TIES, Guillaume Canet
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A terrific film of great realism involving a family with specific focus on two brothers, one of whom is ex-con who wants to get back on track with his estranged younger brother who is a cop (Billy Crudup), and bring in dough for his new girl who soon becomes his wife. Their ailing father, excellently acted by James Caan, is trying to keep the boys together -- as is his devoted daughter. High tension and inner conflict drive a huge dark wedge between the brothers. Their worlds collide during a robbery and most poignantly, at the end of the film when Chris saves his brother from taking the bullet of an angry thug, ex-convict Frank who is now free. He comes after Frank for 'stealing' his wife (Zoe Saldana), a woman Frank was once involved with. The relationships in the film are complex; each has its own history whose ongoing story unfolds in this excellent film that proves family love overcomes hatred. (This film was viewed, compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A slickly made stylized somewhat absurd recounting of an amazing concierge named M Gustave who inherits his wealthy lover's priceless painting, called "Boy without Apple," along with her other properties, including this dowager ritzy hotel (hence the title). The story of his adventures is told by M Gustave's lobby boy who is now grown up and running the hotel. This immigrant boy ends up becoming M Gustave's loyal friend. The poetic Gustave ends up in jail being accused of murdering his lover along with stealing her painting which her children are desperately trying to get back. They hire a man to kill off those who stand in the way. The film's mayhem chase scenes spice up the action with motorcycles, trains, sleds and skis. The sets are gloriously belle époque, the cast has gathered the biggest names in Hollywood most in cameo roles, and the film is so odd and full of ridiculous escapes from the clutches of WWI police and others of their kin that it effectively emulates 1920 comedic farce. As well, Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave impeccably catches the character; one wishes that every hotel concierge could be as graceful, fearless and poetic as M Gustave. (This film was viewed, compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

1.7 -- LE VRAI DU FAUX, Émile Gaudreault
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] When famed Québécois filmmaker Marco Valois (Just for Laughs staple Stéphane Rousseau), creator of a fictional street racing franchise à la The Fast and the Furious, is blamed for the car crash death of a fan, he decided his next movie will be a more profound and truthful work – an account of PTSD soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Encountering a particularly deranged one, Éric Lebel (Mathieu Quesnel), Marco sets about filming the tortured veteran day and night, even accompanying him back to his industrial hometown to understand his backstory; meanwhile, Éric’s psychologist and parents frantically pursue the pair, aware of the ex-jarhead’s disturbed psyche and wary of the director’s intentions. It’s rather disappointing (though not entirely surprising), then, that this incisive probe into the lasting effects of war is mostly played for laughs, highlighting the cultural differences between Marco’s urban lifestyle and Éric’s rural past. Asides about the true purpose of cinema and value of fiction in storytelling are mostly distractions from the comedy, which adopts a rather inappropriate tone in its mockery of serious subjects. “It’s not a documentary,” Marco asserts at one point, and director Gaudreault makes certain of that.

3.2 -- VENUS IN FUR, Roman Polanski
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Exiled director Polanski, in a startling act of self-criticism, casts his wife Emmanuelle Seigner opposite his younger lookalike Mathieu Amalric for his adaptation of David Ives’ two-person off-Broadway play. Amalric, as Polanski’s proxy, plays a frustrated theatre director attempting a Parisian production of Venus in Furs, the Sacher-Masoch novella credited with popularizing sadomasochism; Seigner is the auditioning actress who begins to truly inhabit the lead role of Wanda, asserting her dominance over Amalric’s increasingly meek director. Whatever insights into Polanski and Seigner’s real-life marriage and sex life are gleaned, though, it pales in substantive comparison to the filmmaker’s thoughts on performance and art, as the pair’s witty, wicked tête-à-tête gradually blurs the line between fiction and reality. Akin to Polanski’s prior Carnage (an American version of a French play, reversed here), in its overt theatricality and heightening insanity (of both theme and plot), it’s a far more fascinating and incisive work, examining the relationship between director and actress with a ruthless, exacting tone. When Amalric winds up in lipstick and high heels, tied to a giant phallic cactus, we find out more about Polanski than we ever wanted to.

1.8 -- I’LL FOLLOW YOU DOWN, Richie Mehta
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Former child star Haley Joel Osment, all grown up and sporting an oddly shaped head, headlines this low-rent Canadian sci-fi yarn, playing a genius physics student whose quantum researcher father (Rufus Sewell) disappeared mysteriously 12 years earlier. With his mother (the suddenly ubiquitous Gillian Anderson) overwhelmed with grief and depression, Osment and his professorial grandfather (Canuck icon Victor Garber) research the disappearance and come to the only logical conclusion: time travel. So, naturally, Osment sets about following in his father’s footsteps by opening up a space-time wormhole and building a pod-like machine to travel back to 1946, ostensibly for a meeting with Albert Einstein himself. In the tradition of Shane Carruth’s Primer, the film is heavy on the technical gobbledygook and convoluted chronology, but writer/director Mehta is less interested in the physical and philosophical implications of time travel than the impact a father’s disappearance can have on his family. As a result, this is strictly soft science fiction, explicitly putting its human characters and relationships above scientific research and delving into ethereal spiritual concepts such as the soul. And in its depiction of an attempt to change the mistakes of the past and create an idealized world, it’s less a challenging work of heady sci-fi than a fluffy piece of romanticized fantasy.

3.3 -- THE ROVER, David Michôd
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Ten years after a worldwide economic collapse, the Australian Outback is a wasteland of criminals and outlaws, not unlike the futuristic landscape of Mad Max or the lawless frontier of the Old West. An unnamed, taciturn man (a bearded and gaunt Guy Pearce) tracks three men who have stolen his car, dragging the injured younger brother (Robert Pattinson) of their leader (Scoot McNairy) along. Long stretches of dialogue-free driving or inane conversation are punctuated by shocking acts of violence, brutally encapsulating this savage environment. Pearce’s character is clearly drawn from Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, driven by a bloodthirsty quest for vengeance, and Pattinson’s Southern simpleton (a new kind of role for the erstwhile Twilight heartthrob) epitomizes the loss of innocence in a cruel and unforgiving world. The growing fraternal relationship between the two men forms the heart of the film, such as it is, but the narrative’s climactic twist and final gut-punch reveal that there are no happy endings in the desert.

2.7 -- LA PETITE REINE, Alexis Durand-Brault
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Based on the life and career of maligned Québec cyclist Geneviève Jeanson, this flashy cycling drama follows professional star Julie Arseneau (Laurence Lebeouf), the leader on the World Cup circuit and just two races away from winning it all. Just one problem: she’s doping, at the demands of her abusive, violent trainer JP (Patrice Robitaille). But when her doctor comes clean and reveals her crime, Julie must find a way to get out from under the thumb of the psychotic JP while also winning on her own terms. Director Durand-Brault stages Julie’s conflict well, if rather heavy-handedly, and Lebeouf is up to the challenges of the performance, believing portraying a trained cyclist. But the film is melodramatic to a fault, invoking stirring music during the race scenes and depicting Julie with damn near operatic reverence; for a film ostensibly based on real life, it’s startlingly one-note, never really rising above its exaggerated tone. As a generic sporting drama, it’s above average, but as a complex Québécois character study, it’s unfortunately middlebrow.

1.3 -- THE LOVE PUNCH, Joel Hopkins
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An excruciating attempt at a modern caper comedy, starring better-than-this British icons Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson as a pair of bickering exes who reluctantly team up to seek revenge on the cartoonishly evil French tycoon who liquidated their pension funds and post-retirement future along with it. Their ludicrous plot involves traveling to the south of France to steal a ten-million-dollar diamond from around the neck of the billionaire’s supermodel fiancée -- a harebrained scheme that includes low-speed car chases, Mediterranean scuba diving and preposterously fake Texan accents. Though notions of feminist agency and post-recession economic hardship underpin the simplistic narrative, director Hopkins seems more interested in broad, sophomoric humour than thematic relevance, turning the entire exercise into little more than a rehash of Le Week-End without the maturity or sophistication. Of course, it all ends in a manner akin to the once-ubiquitous comedy of remarriage, proving that, for all of the film’s faux-progressive protestations against female objectification and late-stage capitalism, ten million dollars really can buy love – or in this case, love again.

2.4 -- RUNNER RUNNER, Brad Furman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Runner Runner keeps us on our toes. When Princeton grad student Riche Furst (Justin Timberlake) is told he can no longer sell online gaming site access to his fellow students or else he'll be kicked out, he's furious. He needs the money to do his Masters and so he bets every last dime he has, but gets swindled out by some unseen player on the biggest on-line poker site run by Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in Costa Rica. Richie heads out there to find him and when he does, he plays all his cards telling him his multi-billionaire empire is cheating people. So what does Ivan do with this potential enemy, he hires him to work for him. Richie is pulling in big loads of cash and his bright pals from Princeton come down to help the company even further by using their amazing math and computer skills. But soon, the FBI gets involved and Richie finds out just how evil his boss is. However, the cards fall in his favour when he plays the biggest but most dangerous game yet. He traps Ivan and his empire comes tumbling down by bribing officials; Richie has found a clever way to bring him down, while flying away with a suitcase of dough and the girl that once was Ivan's. Director Brad Furman has made a fun, fast-paced movie, placing big bets on the cast. Ben Affleck can play a cavalier cad in all kinds of evil ways and Justin - well - he's Justin. Gemma Artherton dresses up the plot and visuals with her beauty -- enough to make any man play all his cards to win her. (This film was viewed compliments of Le SuperClub Videotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun Quebec).

3.3 -- IDA, Pawel Pawlikowski
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A low key film in black and white with an interesting story line. Anna, an orphan, has been raised in a convent in Poland and is set to take her vows in four days. She visits Wanda, her aunt for the first time. Wanda tells Ana she is in fact Jewish, not Catholic. Together, aunt and niece set out to find out where Ida's parents have been buried. Wanda drives to the house where the family once lived. It is now illegally occupied by the children of the neighbour who hid the family during the war. Wanda and Ida set out to find the father who is now lying in a hospital bed. A surprise visit by the son is what they need. The son says he will show them where they were buried if Ida gives them the house. It is agreed. It turns out Ida had a brother who along with his parents were killed by the son. The father had in fact fed them and hid them well in the forest, but the son was the one who killed them. During their search, they pick up a hitchhiker, and he falls for Ida and vice versa, but Ida is a strict Catholic. Wanda ends up jumping out her apartment window and Ida dresses in her clothes and spends a night with the hitchhiker. The end of the film sees Ida sneaking out returning to the convent where God awaits her. This is a quiet film of unspoken horrors that live in the memory of Wanda and the family who has taken over the house she once lived in. The film walked away with multiple awards in European festivals. I found it far too slow. Still, it is a film that shows the aftermath of shattered lives in a subtle manner, and that makes it very special.

1.7 -- MALEFICENT, Robert Stromberg
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Disney scavenges from their deep well of animated classics once again, reappropriating Sleeping Beauty into a dark, revisionist tale of the titular villain’s backstory. Sultry superstar Angelina Jolie, returning to live-action roles after a nearly four-year absence, stars as the malevolent fairy, utilizing her rich lips and high cheekbones to give Maleficent the full supermodel treatment and believably cackling and glowering throughout her magnificently evil turn. But director Stromberg, a former FX wizard helming his first feature, has no idea how to properly surround Jolie’s towering performance, opting for an effects extravaganza that feels more like a ninety-minute sizzle reel than a coherent film. The subsequently digitized fantasy world winds up seeming rather boring, and even the revelation of Maleficent’s tragic past and a feminist twist on the canonical narrative can’t make the film any more interesting than Disney’s recent crop of fairy tale reimaginings. Though not quite as soulless as Alice in Wonderland or Oz the Great and Powerful, it’s still rather hollow.

3.8 -- THE IMMIGRANT, James Gray
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The dark underbelly of the American Dream, turned over and exposed at last. Marion Cotillard’s titular Polish émigré Ewa Cybulska arrives at Ellis Island in 1921 with her coughing sister, only for said sister to be quarantined and Ewa bound for deportation. Enter Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix), a slick conman who preys on the hopes and dreams of immigrant women like Ewa, turning them into icons of exoticism for his burlesque cabaret and prostitution ring. Ewa, alone and destitute, has no other choice but to join this three-ring circus, selling her body in a vain attempt to earn enough money for her sick sister’s treatments. Hardship after hardship sets in, turning Cotillard into a grim-faced martyr on the same order of Jeanne Falconetti in Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc; even Bruno’s cousin, a charming magician named Orlando (Jeremy Renner) who takes a liking to Ewa, can’t break this endless cycle of misery and despair. Director Gray, known for his Brooklyn tales of crime and romance (including We Own the Night and Two Lovers), dials his classical approach even further back, unveiling the grand illusion of the proverbial land of freedom. America: where only the greedy and the lustful succeed.

2.7 -- ATTILA MARCEL, Sylvain Chomet
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] It’s easy to see the influence of animation upon French director Chomet’s live-action debut: cartoonish characters, fanciful imagery, and an emphasis on sound and music above dialogue and exposition. In telling the story of Paul Martel, a mute pianist raised by his domineering aunts after the death of his parents, Chomet (known for his Oscar-nominated animated features The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist) naturally relies on the aspects of filmmaking familiar to him, resulting in a larger-than-life, whimsical tale full of hallucinogenic flashbacks and musical memories. Nonetheless, something is inevitably lost in the transition between media, and for all of the film’s delightful surface pleasures, it’s lacking thematic substance in its narrative. You’d think a tale of an orphaned man searching through his own remembrances (with the help of a mind-altering drug) to find out what happened to his parents would be full of heart and emotion, but in Chomet’s florid hands, it becomes more about the whimsy than the why, missing the dramatic forest for the brightly-coloured, singing-and-dancing trees.

1.5 -- THE MONUMENTS MEN, George Clooney
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What should have been a suspenseful film of great importance turned out to be a subtle comedy of directing and acting errors. During WWII when seven non-soldiers -- dressed as soldiers charge themselves with recuperating stolen works of art owned once by Jewish French families, they stumble upon thousands of priceless stolen pieces, along with gold bullion and barrels full of gold fillings (from the teeth of those slaughtered in the camps) in a mine in Germany. Hitler had intended the art works to go to his soon-to-be-built Fuhrer Museum. Trouble is the film was a sleepwalker, falling flat. One should not cast comedians such as Bill Murray, John Goodman and Jean Dijardins -- all funny actors -- in serious roles. Their performances came off as non-consequential and their dangerous task light-hearted. It was almost embarrassing to watch. The only credible actor was Cate Blanchet who handed over the book which listed where all the Jeu de Paume art work was stored by the Germans; she worked for the Nazi Stahl who oversaw the robberies and clandestine hiding places, so she knew what had become of them. Confusing to watch and terribly boring, this is probably the worst movie ever to come out on such a momentously important subject inspired by a true story. Although Clooney's intentions were good: to pay tribute to these men who risked their lives -- two of which died while participating in this unique covert operation -- nonetheless, his direction and acting were a joke. The tragedy in the film was the unintended mockery of a timeless story that is historically true. (This film was viewed compliments of Le SuperClub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec)

3.0 -- THE GRAND SEDUCTION, Don McKellar
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An English-language remake of the popular Québécois comedy La grande séduction (also known as Seducing Doctor Lewis), transposing the setting from a small Québec island to a tiny Newfoundland harbour. International star Brendan Gleeson (muddying his traditional Irish accent to make it a bit more Newfie) stars as Murray, newly appointed mayor of the ailing fishing village of Tickle Head, who concocts a scheme to lure visiting plastic surgeon Paul Lewis (played by Canadian-born Hollywood hunk Taylor Kitsch) to reside permanently in the harbour, in order to win a factory contract and bring jobs and pride back to Tickle Head. The ensuing antics are high on fish-out-of-water shenanigans and culture-clash comedy, with the rural inhabitants pretending to love cricket and Indian food in order to better seduce the doctor, but director McKellar and screenwriters Michael Dowse & Ken Scott (the latter of which also scripted the original) keep things light-hearted and fluffy, if hewing rather close to the jokes and plotlines of La grande séduction. Those not familiar with the source material will likely enjoy themselves, but for the rest, it’s likely to be another case of cinematic déjà vu.

3.0 -- THE GRAND SEDUCTION, Don McKellar
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] Brendan Gleeson and the beauty of Newfoundland are the main attractions of The Grand Seduction, exuding a natural charm that infuses a lackluster story with a soothing and buoyant languor. The inhabitants of a destitute and doctorless fishing village must convince a handsome young doctor on a month-long visit to stay long-term, his presence the final crux in their bid to have a job-generating petroleum treatment plant built on their land. Toward that end, the collection of charmingly provincial middle-aged talent begins listening to the doctor’s phone calls to figure out how best to transform their community into a place he might like to stay, pretending to love cricket instead of hockey and supplying him, in the person of Gleeson's character, with a father figure he never had. Luckily the peeping toms include Gleeson and national treasure Gordon Pinsent as well as a pair of old women who man the listening station and are far too matronly and adorable to let the creepiness set in for long, and the ethical implications of their actions are deflected by some carefully modulated naughtiness involving their happening upon the doctor engaging in some not-so-naughty phone sex. Seduction is most notable for the sense of resignation that it somewhat offensively sees as a logical condition of getting older, as the single member of the community who voices any concern over the coming of a petroleum treatment plant is the only young woman who seems to live within a hundred kilometer radius. That people might instead rely on each other in times of need is an idea better left to the idealistic types, which seems to make Seduction a surprising reflection of a culture that purports to prize natural beauty yet cannot see beyond a politics of petroleum-as-liberation.

2.4 -- WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, Rob Meltzer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An entertaining film that takes the stars and you outside an ad firm and into the jungle to test the mettle of the employees. Chris (Adrian Brody) is a highly creative, quiet and rather weak-willed dude whose ideas always get stolen and pitched by his mean superior Phil who believes it's his right to steal. Storm (Jean Claude Van Damme) who claims to be an ex-marine is hired by the president of the firm to take the 20 employees to a desert island infested with all kinds of dangers. The most resourceful of the lot will be promoted to VP of the company. The plane lands, but the pilot has a heart attack. To make matters worse, a tiger attacks Storm and he goes over the cliff. No one sees him after that, but days later, he returns. He is badly wounded and can't walk. He confesses to being a fake with no survival credentials to speak of. By this time, Phil has dressed himself up as a Neanderthal god, named Orca. Everyone is under his command, save for Chris, two girls -- one of whom Chris fancies -- and a helpful radio ham guy. This funny made-in-Hollywood comedy is not as predictable as one might imagine. It takes a good share of the plot from the William Golding classicLord of the Rings, for Phil and his slaves have completely shed any trace of suits and civility. Chris puts his boy scouts skills into full gear, flies off a cliff to prove he is Icarus (he's made wings) and Phil loses his following to Chris. In the end a boat rescues them, but Phil is left behind. Chris refuses the VP job and walks out of the office into a new life, bringing the girl along. It's a fun comedy whose improbable plot somehow works. The hammy acting made it all the more outrageous. There's nothing wrong with turning an unsung hero into the company star even if it takes a jungle to do so. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Quebec).

2.4 -- GRUDGE MATCH, Peter Segal
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It's hard not to like a movie that stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro. These two ageing veterans have a score to settle and they do it in the boxing ring. Stallone plays Razor Sharp and De Niro Kid. Both are asked to return to the ring after 30 years to duke it out; the last match was a tie breaker. Razor lost his old-time girlfriend Sally (Kim Basinger) in a one night-stand to Kid; Sally thought Razor had been unfaithful to her, and wanted to even the score. A son came out of that union, and he ends up coaching Kid. It's a hoot of a film as the two old pros can't stand each other. However, both show true sportsmanship during the final knock-out. Razor takes the trophy, but gains Sally and Kid back into his life. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron at 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal)

1.8 -- FADING GIGOLO, John Turturro
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Character actor and sometime director Turturro takes a page out of the Woody Allen playbook and casts himself as the romantic lead, playing a middle-aged New York City florist who starts whoring himself out to sexually unsatisfied older ladies. Allen himself co-stars (in one of his few acting roles for another director) as Turturro’s best friend, who takes it upon himself to act as his pal’s business manager/pimp; delivering one of his trademark performances of neurosis, the esteemed filmmaker quips about Jewish heritage and modern sexuality in equal measure. But Turturro himself, sleepy and underplayed as the titular sex god, lacks the self-deprecating spark that makes Allen’s narcissistic romances more clever than cloying, coming across as a chauvinist director indulging fantasies of male desire: being renowned for your sexual prowess, paid for your lascivious acts, and sought for a threesome with bisexual buddies Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara (former and current sex symbols themselves). It’s ridiculously egotistical, making even Woody Allen himself look downright humble.

2.4 -- FADING GIGOLO, John Turturro
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Murrary (Woody Allen), a Jewish somewhat money-hungry, manipulative New Yorker married to a black woman with kids convinces his best friend Fioravante (John Turturro) that he ought to go into business with him to service lonely rich women. It started with Murray's dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) who out of the blue asked Murray if he knew of a stud man to service her sexually for which she will pay a handsome fee. Murray relates this to his good-looking pal who reacts with astonishment. Murray proposes his pal take up the offer. Given the book business they run is closing, Fioravante agrees but he is not totally comfortable in the role. Murray lives in a Hassidic neighborhood as does Dovi (Liev Schreiber). He is a highly religious vigilante who becomes suspicious of Murray and his outings with his friend to women's apartments. Dovi and his friends kidnap Murray; they haul him into their car and drive him to a place to face a Hassidic tribunal; they are there to question, judge and possibly punish him. All is saved though when the sweet, lonely widow Avigal, (Vanessa Paradis), a highly devout Hassidic interrupts the proceedings to confess she consulted Fioravante -- having been introduced to this healer via Murray. Avigal and Fioravante have fallen in love, and Avigal tells the tribunal that this healer did touch her back (he massaged her as part of the treatment). When asked, she reveals to the solemn judges she she cried not out for shame but loneliness. Nonetheless, she ends up with Dovi who has been in love with her since a child. Murrary is dismissed. The ending of the film along with most of the film flops and fails to satisfy the viewer despite the iconic humour of Woody Allen that is injected into several scenes.

3.8-- MILLION DOLLAR ARM, Craig Gillespie
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The first of its kind as an American-Indian baseball movie with big bits of Bollywoodish overtones. It's sure to hit a homerun at the box office. Based on a true story, the plot puts in the front seat baseball agent Jamie Bernstein. His hotshot company for athletes is about to go belly-up. His four baseball biggies have retired and he has zero clients. He banks on Pogo, a football star in the making, but the tattooed big shot backs off: not enough money offered. One night, Bernstein watches Susan Boyle on TV's Britain's Got Talent competition and surfs from that to a cricket match taking place in India. He goes back and forth between the two channels, and the idea dawns on him to hold a huge try-out contest in India to find potential baseball players with promise, train them, and bring them back to Los Angeles. Billions of Indian young men show up for the contest. He chooses two, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. The trip to L.A. starts with their training, but it doesn't last long enough. Bernstein is forced to hold a big bonanza PR publicity show with the two players. He is hoping they'll throw with incredible speed and accuracy. Anything over 85m/hr at this point is impressive. It's a risk as they have received limited training due to financial backing deadlines set by Chang, his Chinese investor. This movie is full of things going wrong from the get-go both in Bernstein's dream and the dream of his two Indian athletes. Steeped in obstacles that make the odds so unlikely for the two baseball hopefuls to win any big contract, they seemed doomed to failure. Part of the problem is Bernstein himself who is so driven and abrupt with the two young men, they lose confidence come show time. They've got to pitch perfectly. It doesn't happen. Ominous tidings begin with their landing in L.A. They are experiencing cultural clashes way out in left field. Yet these scenes are both amusing and heartwarming. Brenda. Bernstein's tenant, becomes his love interest who seems to save the day for both Bernstein and his transplanted protégés who end up living with him. No hotel wants them due to their total lack of understanding about modern-day life that gets them into trouble. The film never approaches any stereotypic or slapstick humour. It's a drama that is nonetheless funny and touching because these Indian guys with their humble little Indian translator prove to be of immeasurable value both professionally and personally to Bernstein -- more than he could ever have imagined. This is a film for everyone. You don't have to be a baseball fan to thoroughly enjoy this American/Indian dream team story whose incredibly happy ending is a real-life miracle

3.9 -- AMAZONIA, Catherine Thierry
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A darling young capuchin ends up being crated in a small plane to some village, as his little girl who supposedly owns him bids goodbye. But the plane crashes in the Amazon and the documentary dazzles as the little fellow tries to find his way into survival mode. Snakes, a leopard, eagle, spiders and all kinds of the strangest creatures seem to follow him as he travels on a piece of driftwood down the Amazon River. We are captivated by the capucin's vulnerability and expressive reactions as he tries to understand his new dynamic and often dangerous environment. Another capuchin comes to his rescue while he drifts -- after having tumbled into a huge waterfall. Amazingly, he is taken into the friendly capucin's group, but one nasty rival keeps the little newbie at arms length from his tree and his woman -- in fact, he is the mate of the very female capuchin who rescued the stranded primate. In the end, the lost capucin is found. Although he ends up seeing the little girl again, he makes a hasty retreat to his new-found monkey-see, monkey-do family. The creatures shown in this film were shot with incredible microscopic close-up lenses. The most compelling of these creatures were the oddest looking insects ever to crawl before your eyes. The 3D view made it all the more astounding; to see the wildlife in action is a cinematic thrill. The only complaint I raise concerns the end credits of the film. Photos of the different animals with identification would have brought us more insight into what we were actually viewing. A superb French/Brazilian co-production that is a once-in-a-lifetime rainforest spectacle.

1.9 -- UN ÉTÉ EN PROVENCE, Rose Bosch
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] After their parents separate, two Parisian teenagers and their deaf-mute little brother are shipped off to the south of France to spend the summer with their estranged grandparents (played by Jean Reno and Anna Galiena), former Woodstock hippies who now own an olive tree farm. What follows is generic fish-out-of-water antics, with the teens’ urban personalities and tech-heavy lifestyles inevitably clashing with the country folk’s luddite way-of-life and sun-soaked attitude; of course, as in all films of this type, the out-of-water fish soon come to embrace their strange new environment, quite literally falling in love with the Mediterranean countryside and its exotic inhabitants. Director Bosch can’t even be bothered to craft a compelling plot, settling for half-baked drama and low-grade shenanigans instead; even her song choices are derivative, from Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” expressing the deaf kid’s viewpoint to Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” as a bunch of aged motorcyclists roar down the road. This blatant lack of creativity and imagination is indicative of the work as a whole: a plagiaristic assemblage of other, better films, coalesced into an utterly safe and completely insipid family-friendly dramedy.

2.2-- UN ÉTÉ EN PROVENCE, Rose Bosch
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Three children including a deaf little boy set off with their grandmother to visit their grandfather Paul who lives in Provence. Things do not go well. Paul is irascible and very strict. The two teens find their own crushes and ways of escaping, as does their grandmother who is joined with her ageing hippy motor-cycle-riding friends. They have located Paul on Facebook and the reunion is nostalgic at best. In fact, Paul and his wife rode all over Europe in their younger days with these friends. The big reveal is made insignificant in the film. In fact, the show stoppers are all the scenes that do not involve the main characters. The movie is ridiculous as it plays old 60s songs with these 70-year-olds friends sitting around a fire strumming a guitar and dressed in hippy clothing. There is actually nothing interesting in this movie except the handsome dude who plays the acid-taking pizza man who seduces the daughter. He's good looking. Of course, the scenery is lovely as is typical town life in Provence -- the only part that 'peaks' our interest. Peter Mayle who wrote the book might be more than a tad disappointed at the screen result.


2.3-- O GRAND KALIPY, Zézé Gamboa
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] La Maison des étudiants de L'Empire in Lisbon was formed to keep bright African students from stirring up political problems and integrating. They were watched diligently by the police. The MPLA (resistance movement) was active; it comprised the Ambundu ethnic group and the educated intelligentsia of Luanda, the capital of Congo. In 1960 up until 1974, Portuguese colonization in Angola brought evil and opportunity. One of the better vehicles that drove the dramatic change for Angola was letting students study abroad in Portugal and Brazil. The film however does not weave in a stirring manner this political backdrop with the personal aspects, and the overall dual themes create a diffuse landscape, and tension is lost. The plot is huge, and is worthy of being told. João Fraga from Luanda in Congo, is one such student. He comes from wealth and is accepted by high society. He's classy and confident. The film vividly shows how a bright engineering student is accused of being a Don Juan with White women (which he is -- he has a white lover, Carmo -- daughter of a Minister. She pays him for sexual favours and more). He also makes a play for Rita -- his best friend's girlfriend. She only has eyes for Rui, her boyfriend. He brings both to a seaside house that one imagines Carmo has paid for. He meets Lola, a high class club lady -- a stripper and he starts up with her. Carmo follows them and she intentionally hits João with her car. One day in the countryside, he is stopped by the police and Lola's car is the one he's driving. He says she's his wife The best scene is inside a Fado club. We hear a Fado singer and Rui sings too. He is also great. Rui has deserted from army training, and makes a getaway with his best friend helping him. He will go to France. Maybe, he'll do Fado there. Meanwhile back with the main plot: Lola is visited by João and the cops are there. Lola works for the head cop, but she feels bad about it all. João is taken in. Rui's photo is shown to João and he refuses to tell the cops he knows him. They beat him. He returns to Luanda and works in a travel agency. His father is angry that his son has wasted his future, but gets him a job at the ministry in the finance department. He embezzles, and with the money, acquires a vintage car and a new girlfriend named Mitó -- all the while generously supporting the illegal MPLA and a soccer club with his money. His friends are black and white. The narrator telling this entire story comments that it is inconceivable that this insignificant man living in a white milieu has dared to have a white lover. The biggest surprise is the discovery that his own father is sympathetic to the MPLA. One night at a nightclub, this multi-womanizer -- he takes up with his childhood girlfriend (father of the man who sold him his new car, cheats on her) is arrested. The old cop from Lisbon is back. However, rumours circulate that Joäo is actually an undercover agent trying to infiltrate the MPLA. He becomes very powerful, but his childhood gal's father brings in the cops and he is put in jail. Finally, Angola gets independence, and the hero is freed. The film did not focus on anything intense. The director is a documentary filmmaker, but this biopic failed to move us.

3.3-- VIVRE, Maharaki
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An adorable short from which features Thomas in his classroom in Guadeloupe daydreaming about what he wants to be after his teacher asks the students. His imaginary journey takes him from being a drug dealer to an astronaut. The superb editing and humour make this production from France a winner.

1.1-- DAKAR TROTTOIRS, Hubert Laba Ndao
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Salla and her ruffian boyfriend Siirou are subject to the threat of Blinky, a man taking over the girls of the neighbourhood that the violent Siirrou 'protects.' Siirou ends up killing him and together the pair flee to the protection of Padre, her older friend. While taking refuge there, Salla drops her ring, given to her by this man when she was young. She discovers her misfortune once back in her home -- without Siirou. She returns to this man and they make love. She wishes to marry him; he's a good man. Siirou robs an old man in his apartment and beats him up. He buys drugs. He kills in order to find his girlfriend who by now is with Padre. Siirou has not only lost her but his sanity. Poor Padre is killed by him and Salla sees it all. The streets and sidewalks of Dakar (Senegal) are full of treachery and hopelessness. It seems women have the worst of it -- always needing to fend off the overtures of men or in need of their protection. Murder, depravity and confusion constitute this sorry film. A bad film all round, but the acting was tolerable.

1.3-- SOLEILS, Olivier Delhave & Dani Kouyaté
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The daughter of a 16th-century king seems to suffer from a lack of identity and depression. The king summons his healer who is the girl's uncle. He's also a great story teller. He tells stories that have messages, and illustrates them by going back in time. Together, the wise man takes her into various scenes where philosophers, liars and personages throughout history engaged in slavery and other evil deeds. This film says the sun has three locations, material, vocal and living creatures of sweetness. I did not understand the ramblings of disconnected scenes that seem to deal with different comedic farces and tales of deceit between villagers. Lies and truth were obsessively, yet gently referred to in these various vignettes. Nelson Mandela even came up in topic and scene. As morals and men of history are revealed, the healer takes his niece to Ouagadougou, Le Cap, Robben Island, Berlin, Mali and Belgium. A total Burkino-Faso/France screw-up, yet the philosopher/healer/story teller was enlightened, and he held our interest. The music was great, but the acting was more theatrical than cinematic in delivery.

3.7-- HORIZON BEAUTIFUL, Stefan Jäger
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gorgeous film about an orphan boy whose dream is to go to Barcelona and train properly for soccer. Even his school does not have any soccer. He hears Franz Arnold, a superstar recruiter from Switzerland is going to be in Addis Abeba to watch some players. He is totally disinterested, nasty and heartless; he despises the people. That little boy tracks him down but arranges for a fake kidnapping by a gang of teens, but the gang seriously wants to kidnap him for money. The kid follows Frnaz as he escapes from the thugs. He ends up jumping into a garbage truck and the little fellow jumps too. Franz has passed out. He has a heart condition. Together, they trudge through the backwoods of Ethiopia. The journey is one of discovery for them both. This heartwarming film offers the unexpected with an ending full of sadness and success. The acting was superb, and the little boy is not really an actor, yet he stole the entire movie; his range of emotions was incredible.

3.5-- C'EST EUX LES CHIENS, Hicham Lasri
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Majhoul has been in prison for 30 years and is freed in 2011. There is a huge demonstration going on in the central square of Casablanca in which he gets caught up -- it's the 1981 grand strike all over again. Majhoul is accosted by a reporter and his camera man. They try to get him to stay and talk in the camera, but he's a highly stubborn and taciturn fellow; he refuses to talk. He's very disoriented after being a prisoner for so long. All he wants is to find his wife and children once more. The reporter and his cameraman keep him in the car, driving around, promising they will help him find his wife, but first he must be interviewed. They woo him by feeding him, buying him a wheel for his son's bike which he never lets go of. Bit by bit, the puzzle of Majhoul's life unfolds and as it does his wife -- now remarried is fianlly located. His son now a bitter adult disowns him, insulting him. He tells him never to come back. By dropping in on old friends, knocking on wrong doors and revisiting old haunts, Majhoul terminates his quest. The reporter and cameraman have become his best friends. This heartwarming and often funny film offers frenetic camera movement that imitates the fractured memory and mind of the film's poor hero in search of his family. Reality hits Majoul at the end of the film, and for the first time he addresses the camera directly; he says a true sentence about the beginning of his life. "I was born in Casablanca in 1950." The film ends there. You either love or hate this film which does go on too long, but as we follow Majihoul, his strange behaviour and dogged determination to find his family become part of our life too; we begin to wish we were tagging along helping him.

0.0 -- IMINIG, Menad Embarek
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Moussa and his wheel-chair-bound mother live in total solitude on the shore of some Algerian town. Their only escape is the sea they sit in front of -- as seen in the closing scene in this depressing film. They dream of getting out of their terrible existence in a land where Moussa's dad met his end through Islamic terrorists. That part of this short was referenced in a line only. Who could imagine that the 20-minutes that snail along in this short could be interminably long and oh so boring!

2.2-- LA LEÇON D'ANGLAIS, Sophie Robert
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In this 18 min. short, a young Mauritian couple try to get accepted to immigate to Canada, but they can't speak English and that is the reason they aren't accepted. The young wife Lakshimi gets a job taking care of a little rich white girl named Victoria. They really get along and Victoria begins to teach her English. The wife ends up giving her husband some classes too. They research London, England, and the film ends with them on the airplane. Evidently, it's a happy landing for them both.

1.5-- FAMILY SHOW, Pascal Lahmani
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A rather ridiculous story passing off as presenting an entertaining comedic plot. The story involves two neighbouring families whose kids are friends though the parents aren't. This is due in part to one of the grandfather's ongoing philandering with the neighbor -- but he's dead now; his ashes are carried around by his old heavy daughter -- even on stage when the two families become rivals on a dance TV show called, Family Show. Differences are solved though when they join forces to beat out a rather nasty rival team. The stage dancing is silly and it goes on far too long. The little girl who is the force behind getting her family on the show in the first place and who directs them as she dances is a darling actor, but even this petite dame's talent can't save this facile movie whose entertainment value wears thin after they all hit the stage of Family Show.

2.3 -- AYA DE YOPOUGON, Marguerite Abouet
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An amusing feature animation that gives us an inside glimpse into Yopo City, a working-class neighbourhood in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. Everyone is sleeping around, yet no one knows what is really going on until secrets are revealed. Aya is the main character who ends up with no one, but her friend becomes pregnant. She is the daughter of an employee at the city's beer company. She pretends the big shot owner's son Moussa is the true father of her unborn son. But when the baby is born, it becomes clear that the little guy bears no resemblance to Moussa, but instead, looks just like the neighbour who sports a huge afro -- just like the baby has -- chaos ensues. The music and colourful drawing capture the refreshing spirit of the town. The animation brims with details that add entertainment value to the otherwise silly plot substance. (This film opened Montreal's 2014 Vues d"Afrique Festival - celebrating its 30th anniversary this year).


1.4 -- LABOR DAY, Jason Reitman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A good idea on paper, but not on celluloid. The acting was lame and the story so improbable. An escaped convict ends up in Adele's house with her son and she falls for him, especially because he makes such a great peach pie. He also plays guitar and fixes things. The only good thing about this film was learning how to make a great peach pie. There was zero chemistry between Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Winslet wore the same worried expression throughout the entire film. There was no suspense either. The silly background classical guitar music that played throughout the film did not convey any of the heavy weight of the past both characters carried with them. It made the movie even more flat. The only believable burden in this film lay in the watching of it. (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Videotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A totally new challenge for Hercules in this slick forward-looking film on the ancient Greek myth: he must accept and harness his god-given powers in order to return to Tiryns and reclaim the kingdom of his murdered father and the Cretan princess who lives there with her father. The new victor hates Hercules and thinks his new wife took a lover who is in fact the biological mother of this strong son. He eventually kills the queen and sets his favoured evil son on a course to track down Hercules who escaped months ago. It is the journey Hercules -- together with his best friend Sotiris -- must endure (battling as a slave in wagered combats and experiencing depraved conditions) that turn the omnipotent being into the man-god he becomes. His true nature is revealed to him through Hera. Zeus came to the original queen and impregnated her Hera. The story is rather riveting though a tad complicated. The special effects surpassed any modern-day Superman movie. The fight scenes were excellent. An action epic that brings the ancient past into present-day action sophistication. (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Videotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

3.9-- PHILOMENA, Stephen Frears
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A true story that vividly portrays the heartbreak of Irish mother, Philmena Lee. She gives birth to a boy out of wedlock and is forced to live at a nunnery. It is here that her child is given up for adoption -- wrenched away from her when he was barely three. Fifty years of guilt and sadness fill Philomena's life, lit up by the few bitter-sweet memories she has of her estranged little boy. However, Martin Sixsmith, a BBC reporter who has been unjustly sacked, decides to help Philomena locate her lost son. He is hired by a British magazine to do this. The film has this misbegotten pair traveling together to the United States to track him down. Martin's dogged research leads him to an unhappy truth about her son. Philomena is a staunch Catholic, and Martin an atheist. Both find their own redemption when the truth about a cover-up by the nuns -- one in particular -- is discovered. Philomena and Martin have come full circle in the quest to bring some kind of closure. The film has brilliant dialogue and is not without humour. The acting of Judy Dench in the role of Philomena and Steve Coogan as Martin is worthy of international accolades. The film, based on the 2009 book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee reveals the story and speaks for the thousands of Irish young mothers still trying to locate and emotionally connect with their sons that were taken away from them in the 1950s. A must-see film. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A comedy where the lines of fantasy and reality are blurred stylistically and plot wise. Walter Mitty is a negative point man for Time Life. He is painfully introspective, but is forced to face reality when Time Life is about to publish its last print issue while laying off a multitude of employees. Walter is assigned to retrieve neg #25 -- a mysterious photo destined for the front cover taken by Time Life's star global trekking photographer, named Sean (Sean Penn). The trouble is the neg is missing; there are only three strange photos that suggest where Sean is. Walter tracks him down but the journey to find him is arduous and fraught with danger. He ends up in the sea battling a shark, climbs the Himalayas and rides a bike towards an erupting volcano. Romance happens from the get-go when he meets Sheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig) who works in the same company, but his shy heart and the assignment steers him towards Sean, but with her face always edging him on in his daydreams, he successfully gets the neg and the girl. Guess what the front page cover features? His job is gone but his new life is just beginning. Ben Stiller is the quintessential Walter Mitty. His comedic timing and authentic manner makes us all believers in Walter Mitty, a man who morphs into a real-life hero. Based on the book by James Thurber, the movie does not disappoint though it does go on a tad too long. (This film was viewed compliments of Le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

1.1 -- BAD WORDS, Jason Bateman
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] Jason Bateman’s directorial debut is stupid, hateful and boring, but it does have Phillip Baker Hall, which is something. A grown man enters a spelling bee for teenagers and begins sabotaging it, doing hilarious things like tricking a girl into thinking she has had her period onstage by putting a ketchup packet on her seat. He also calls the woman who runs the competition a lesbian because she is stern and wears a pants suit, and a boy he befriends who is of Indian descent Slumdog and curry trap. Edginess established, it turns out the man has a secret reason for being a jerk which has to do with the guy who started the competition, played by Phillip Baker Hall as man who would doubtless have been a more interesting and, in Bateman's place, less self-serving main character. As it is, after five minutes the only secret is how such a sad project could have made it past the script stage. Call it vanity or idiocy, but really no word is bad enough.

1.8 -- THE RAILWAY MAN, Jonathan Teplitzky
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Yet another based-on-a-true-story World War II movie, this time telling the harrowing story of British Army officer Eric Lomax, who was captured by the Japanese after the surrender of Singapore in 1942 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. Though the film has an impressive pedigree, with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman playing the elder Lomax and his second wife Patti respectively, it never accounts to anything more than a warmed-over The Bridge on the River Kwai leftover, only with a contemporary frame story preaching peace and reconciliation added on. It’s undoubtedly an inspiring tale, as Lomax eventually meets, forgives, and even befriends one of his captors, but there’s almost nothing new or interesting to be gained by this depiction of it. At a certain point, one has to think that every single WWII story has been told and the genre can slowly die out, but here we are, with another sub-par historical drama from that era distracting us for a couple hours but never really delving into anything profound or genuine. It may ostensibly be drawn from real life, but the middling, mundane melodrama told here is pure fluff.

3.7 -- ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, Jim Jarmusch
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The growingly stale and toothless vampire genre gets a much-needed reinvigoration from American indie auteur Jarmusch, who brings his trademark laconicism to this tale of centuries-old nosferatu lovers. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston star as the ageless paramours, creatures of art and culture who just happened to have encountered (and influenced) some of the most renowned, peerless thinkers of the past millennium. Opening with a starry night sky before transitioning into a spiraling montage linking the two vamps (unsubtly named Adam and Eve), Jarmusch identifies the two as cosmic figures, as constant as the stars, and subsequently seems content to merely loiter about his protagonists’ nocturnal lives as they wax philosophical on history, society and humanity. In Jarmusch’s vampiric world, humans are the mindless monsters (Adam calls them ‘zombies’), while the mythical bloodsuckers are highbrow bourgeoisie, composing music (Adam having switched from classical to rock over the years, with his psychedelic tunes actually created by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL) and lazing about their dilapidated mansions. Here, the vampire is not some bloodthirsty beast, craving human flesh and sustenance, but merely a bored immortal, awaiting the collapse of civilization; with Jarmusch’s meticulous eye and striking compositions, the end of the world has never looked so stylish.

3.2 -- LE WEEK-END, Roger Michell
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A squabbling British couple (played by seasoned vets Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan) take a weekend trip to Paris to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, desperately trying to save their on-the-rocks marriage by returning to the site of their honeymoon. With him worrying about money and her uninterested in rekindling their waning romance, the pair constantly bicker as they wine and dine the City of Love, eventually running into an old school friend of his (Jeff Goldblum); a narcissistic, talkative intellectual, he invites them to a party for like-minded individuals (read: academics and artistes) where the couple’s simmering problems come to a head. In its loose, meandering structure and loquacious, snarky rapport, the film resembles another ten-years-later sequel to the Before Sunrise series, albeit with heightened bitterness and cynicism, but it’s not so much a pessimistic take on love and aging as a realistic look at the perils of growing old with someone whom you simultaneously love and hate. British director Michell (known on this side of the pond for his frothy romcoms Notting Hill and Morning Glory) and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi thus take a delightfully naturalist approach to things, resulting in a caustic yet genuine tale of aged love.

2.9 -- THE BAG MAN, David Groivc
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Jack, (John Cusak) is a tough, loyal guy who kills when ordered or when people get in the way of the task at hand -- in this case -- to pick up a bag and check into room 13 at a seedy motel. His academically inclined sadistic crime boss has ordered Jack not to look in the bag and to wait for him to come and get that bag. But a mysterious street sultry woman (Rebecca Da Costa) whose life is in danger, gets into his room and hides. This is when the plot twists and turns, and Jack's plan gets derailed over and over again, plunging the movie into deeper darkness and suspense. One moment, Jack needs to get rid of her, the next she is saving his life. The double twist at the end has them both coming together with a whole lot of dough in their pockets. The lies and criminals in the film aren't revealed until various climaxes. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

2.7 -- THE FAMILY, Luc Besson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Robert De Niro reprises his wise guy persona. He plays Giovanni Manzoni -- a Mafia murderer who has snitched on his gang of thug friends in order to gain immunity. He's now under the witness protection program with his wife and two teenage kids. They have been placed in a home in a small town in Normandy. But this family can't let go of their bad habits which means violence is the way to solve their frustrations. When they can't get what they want -- decent drinking water, peanut butter and respect at school, each one, including the kids puts into action what they do best: beat up people. His FBI ever-watchful agent (Tommy Lee Jones) is beside himself, as Giovanni -- now called Fred -- keeps drawing attention to himself through some pretty nasty deeds he's doing in town. Even his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) has her own match to light when she's cross. The film is very funny, however. It's a black comedy that cleverly combines great acting with a dark theme in a light-hearted manner. It's is an original plot based on an old theme. (This video was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

3.8 -- BEARS, Alastair Fothergill & Keith Scholey
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Once again Walt Disney brings us a superb nature film. Set in the Alaskan wilderness, this feature lets us into the most loveable grizzly bear family. Sky is the protective mother with her two cubs Scout and Amber. The mother's single purpose in life is to get enough fat in order to feed her two cubs during the six-month winter hibernation. The film tracks this family during the first year as Sky fends for her new-born cubs. Her quest demands she with her two cubs walk over steep snow-covered craggy mountains that are not without their own avalanches. She must also face territorial bears that covet all the salmon areas which she tries to reach. On the way she must fend off wolves, the reoccurring appearance of the great grizzly Magnus who is as hungry as her family is. She wishes to reach the Golden pond that is brimming with salmon and that goal is one that nearly gets them all killed by predators and nature's savage ways that conspire against this family. Shooting this film was a feat in itself. The cinematography was exceptional; not a single close-up or angle could have been better. Never will you think of grizzlies in the same manner. One would be hard pressed to meet a mother walking on two feet as brave and caring as Sky. The cubs were utterly adorable and their personalities were irresistible.

3.4 -- LAST VEGAS, Jon Tureltaub
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Hilarious lines and a very cute story make this comedy a laugh-out-loud pleasure. Four old-time friends agree to meet up in Los Vegas for a bachelor party as one of them is getting married. The kicker is he's marrying a 32-year-old and he's in his 60s -- as they all are. Billy is the dude getting married (Michael Douglas) and Paddy (Robert de Niro) a widower who really doesn't want to be there ends up falling for Diane, a nightclub singer (Mary Steenburgen). Paddy holds a big grudge against Billy for not showing up at his wife's funeral, and as we later find out, it was Billy who the deceased wife eally wanted to marry. Anyway, the plot is funny and touching, but it is the ensemble acting and witty lines that make this a great film. I love the fact Diane's character displays disarmingly magnificent moxy; she has great wit and spars as charmingly as she sings. When you watch this film, take out your pencil and pad to write down some of the lines, you'll want to use on your buddies. (This video was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

2.6 -- LE WEEK-END, Roger Michell
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] What happens when two British highly literate totally opposite people are about to celebrate their 30th anniversary? They take off to Paris, of course. Only, what is supposed to be a coming together of good times ends up on a rather sour note that nonetheless ties both together as a couple ready to stay together and last into their 70s face to face. The entire weekend is fraught with issues between them both. Nick, her husband, is dedicated to his rather nasty tongued-wife, but most of the time, there are too many moments of personality clashing and bashing, especially on the part of restless Meg (Lindsay Duncan). She is bored with Nick, and wants to change her life completely; she even considers abandoning Nick who clearly gets on her nerves. They meet Morgan (Jeff Goldblum), a former student of Nick's who has become a successful novelist. Nick however, has languished in his philosophy post at a college where is has just gotten sacked for insulting a student. He is miserly and miserable about his own life, and both have a penchant for an enjoy-and-run modus operandi. Things seem to be heading into grifterhood for them both; on two occasions they forgo paying a restaurant bill, and after they whack up an incredible sum for their posh penthouse suite at a stunning hotel, they simply walk out without paying. In fact, they have used up all their Euros. The film ends on a rather stagey incredulous note that has the couple with Morgan dancing in a café -- the very dance they saw on TV at the hotel. Meg is even wearing the same hat the girl dancer was wearing. They are hippies and they are ageing unhappy folks who want to be carefree but are too caring to be so. These two seem to waffle in between wanting to be a part of high society and spurning it. The acting was very good, but I recommend they both get a divorce.

3.8-- CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, Paul Greengrass
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An excellent thriller film that is based on a true event. Every segment and stage in the film that went into the 2009 Somali hijacking of the Maersk Alabama ship led by Captain Philips (Tom Hanks) was covered in great detail and with absolute credibility. Most exciting was the part when the pirates are trying to get onto the ship. No amount of hoses spraying tumultuous torrents of seawater at their little boat nor swerving of the captain's ship to hit them could stop Muse (Barhad Abdi) and his two Somali. Nothing was rushed or glossed over for the sake of fast sensational action. The editing was superb. In this film we find out that these hijackers have their own unseen boss named Garaad, the warlord who manipulated these poor fishermen to do the hijacking, but their take would be considerate. Terrorism on the sea is illustrated in this marvelous film. I thought the best actor was Muse's assistant, played by Barkhad Abdirahman. His eyes displayed the madness that can drive one to commit terrible acts for money. Captain Phillips was a brave man, and despite the ordeal continues to be so: he returned to the seas one year after the event. His leadership was second to none as displayed by his quick thinking and clever decisions. A film worthy of the six Oscars it received. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).

3.4 -- 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Steve McQueen
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This biopic recreates the twelve painful years endured by Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Trickery and terror entrap him forever changing his life and his identity. A fine violinist and literate, he is known by many, including the deceitful. He accepts an offer to join a circus with the promise of receiving a handsome pay by two strangers who entice him in. He dines with them, and wakes up to find himself in chains inside a ship on its way to the South. Gone are the days when he was a free citizen who enjoyed a wonderful life in New York with his family and children. He ends up having to work for a brutal man named Epp whose wife is equally heartless. Whippings, rape and lynching figure in this epic film that paints the fierce cruelty that Northup and his fellow slaves endured. Luck finally enters his field of vision. He meets a man named Bass (Brad Pitt) who arranges his reentry into freedom via a letter this brave white man writes on his behalf. He along with all the other slaves are the heroes of this harrowing time in Southern history. Chwetel Ejiofor did a credible job playing Northup. The cast was compelling, but the film had some fuzzy lines of editing and some of the intense scenes delievered dialogue that seemed theatrical. Inspired by a true story, the impact of the film's depiction of shame and degradation is one that the United States, to this day, carries in its collective conscience. Let's hope the admittance of guilt and the lessons still to be learned don't disappears into the dustbin of history. (This film was viewed compliments of le Superclub Videotron, 5000 Wellington, in Verdun, Montreal).

1.4 -- DRAFT DAY, Ivan Reitman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Taking a cue from Moneyball’s inside baseball approach to present a behind-the-scenes look at the titular NFL event, this Kevin Costner-headlined sports drama sees the resurgent actor playing the GM of the Cleveland Browns, trying to turn around a perpetually losing franchise. Though not based in fact, it echoes the earlier film’s dramatization of backroom wheeling-and-dealing and managerial politics, turning seemingly mundane tasks into the stuff of Hollywood drama; however, it falls far short of its progenitor, lacking the intelligence (and savvy scriptwriting of Aaron Sorkin) to successfully pull it off. Plagued by cringe-worthy expository dialogue, baffling split-screen overuse, and flashy graphics and logos, the film resembles a two-hour advertisement for the NFL more than an actual movie. Furthermore, in its emphasis on clichéd sports traits such as character and gut feelings over statistics and actual talent, it feels closer to Clint Eastwood’s grumpy old man rebuke Trouble with the Curve than anything. If nothing else, it’s a final death knell for once-noteworthy Canadian director Reitman, now resigned to making shitty formula pictures -- quite the fall from Ghostbusters.

3.3 -- THE RAID 2, Gareth Evans
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Picking up right where the first left off, this martial-arts sequel expands upon the simple structure and single setting of its predecessor, becoming a bona fide crime epic complete with warring mob families, twisted character dynamics and deep-cover policemen. While this inflates the runtime by almost an hour over the original, it also allows for a bit of breathing space in between all the stunningly choreographed fight scenes, making this sequel seem more like a conventional cops-and-criminals tale than the video-game atmosphere of the first one. That’s not to say that the action takes a backseat in this installment; if anything, Evans outdoes himself this time around, adding a thrilling car chase to the franchise’s already-impressive repertoire of hand-to-hand combat. But if Evans the action choreographer has improved in the three or so years since his last feature, then Evans the director has taken leaps and bounds, developing his filmmaking style into something ominous, evocative and deeply unsettling. The Raid: Redemption was the consummate action movie, taking the genre back to basics and excelling within a Spartan framework; with the fundamentals mastered, then, Evans sets his sights on something much more ambitious and complex, aiming for the bigger picture. In this revelatory follow-up, he truly succeeds.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] As much a sequel to The Avengers as the first Captain America, this installment finds the genetically-enhanced star-spangled soldier working as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., the globe-spanning intelligence agency at the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When an attempt is made on director Nick Fury’s life, the Cap becomes an enemy of the state, teaming up with fellow Avenger Black Widow to track down the clandestine plotters and their clandestine plot. Obviously paying tribute to ‘70s conspiracy thrillers (a connection made explicit by casting Robert Redford as a shadowy government official), the directing brothers Russo attempt to strike a similarly paranoid, cloak-and-dagger tone, but the eventual reliance on large-scale action and brightly lit battles is less Three Days of the Condor than Transformers. While the ostensible focus on atmosphere and characters above spectacle and explosions is admirable, too often the demands of the Marvel brand and its overarching storyline supplant the mood of political intrigue, resulting in an uneven work that mixes concrete contemporary concerns with fanciful imagery. As post-9/11 social commentary, it’s surprisingly astute (if unambiguous); as just another superhero blockbuster, it’s disappointingly mediocre.

2.9 -- AFFLICTED, Derek Lee & Clif Prowse
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Two Canadian friends (directors Lee and Prowse, playing versions of themselves) embark upon a yearlong globe-trotting vacation, with one of them filming the trip – via a veritable armory of camera and equipment – for the stated purpose of video blogging; when the other is bitten by a vampire and begins to turn into one, the visual documentation soon becomes necessary as a recording of events. Thus the found-footage conceit of this latest horror entry in the ever-growing cinematic form is explained, albeit not entirely convincingly (on-screen text and graphics betray the hand of post-production, somewhat dissolving the film’s illusion); the movie itself is, however, not just another point-of-view recording of paranormal events, choosing to emphasize the medical and scientific over the supernatural and mythological. That doesn’t mean it isn’t suitably scary and visually striking, though, as the filmmakers take advantage of their concept to depict abnormal acts and unearthly sights from the simulated viewpoint of the mythic creature itself. Though hardly the only vampire movie to present vampirism as a disease with biological symptoms, it might be the first to attempt to place the viewer in the visual perspective and psychological mindset of the legendary bloodsucker, actually making us identify with the monster – and thus come to terms with the capability for monstrosity within all of us.

1.2 -- 3 DAYS IN HAVANA, Gil Bellows & Tony Pantages
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] An insurance salesman from Vancouver (played by co-writer/director Bellows) gets caught up in an assassination plot in the Cuban capital in this sub-par Canuck noir/comedy, unfortunately just another indication of the dwindling quality of English Canadian cinema. Obviously inspired by both the hard-boiled conspiracy thrillers of the ‘70s and more contemporary twists on the formula (by the Coen Brothers, among others), the film frankly offers nothing new or interesting to the genre, seeming content to recant well-worn narrative tropes and no-longer-shocking plot twists. Even the look of the film is depressingly inferior: a kind of low-grade digital cinematography that would feel right at home amidst the cheap documentaries and local programs on CBC. It’s a sad fact, indeed, that this is the accepted standard for Canadian film outside of Quebec – mediocre knock-offs of Hollywood brands, complete with derivative screenplays and ugly camerawork – but it may also be telling that, instead of trying to develop our own national cinema, we simply ape America’s.

3.4 -- TOM À LA FERME, Xavier Dolan
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Quebecois wunderkind Dolan changes gears for his fourth narrative feature, abandoning the garish melodrama of his Trilogy of Impossible Love in favour of something more pared down, suspenseful, and downright Hitchcockian. The young writer/director himself stars as the eponymous Tom, who travels from Montreal into the countryside – and the titular farm – for the funeral of his recently deceased lover; once there, however, he realizes that not only does his late boyfriend’s mother not know who he is, but she had no idea that her son was gay. Dolan crafts a threatening, oppressive atmosphere, one exacerbated by the arrival of his lover’s brother, a dark, angry man with secrets of his own and a vicious desire to hide the truth from his mother. Tom soon becomes wrapped up in a sadistic, violent game, and, as such, Dolan gradually narrows the aspect ratio of his frame, visually representing the tightening circumstances of his protagonist; it’s just this kind of formal brilliance which has made Dolan one of the premier young filmmakers working today, both in Canada and around the world.

2.0 -- MEETINGS WITH A YOUNG POET, Rudy Barichello
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A series of encounters between a young French-Canadian poet (Quebecois actor Vincent Hoss-Desmarais) and Nobel Prize-winning Irish playwright Samuel Beckett (acclaimed Canadian thespian Stephen McHattie) form the narrative backbone of this low-key Canuck drama, filmed and partially set in Montreal. Director Barichello, making his English-language debut (with a large helping of French), takes an episodic and non-linear approach to the story, jumping between ‘90s Montreal and ‘60s Paris, but all this does is kill the momentum of his movie, giving it a start-and-stop feel. The two actors share a warm chemistry and witty repartee (in two languages), but that’s about the only thing the film has going for it; furthermore, background knowledge of Beckett’s works (especially his French plays) seems a bit like required reading in order to understand the dense references and dominant themes of the film, making it a strictly for-the-fans affair. For the rest of us, unfamiliar with Waiting for Godot et al., it comes off as rather impenetrable.

3.4 -- NYMPH( )MANIAC, Lars von Trier
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Provocateur extraordinaire von Trier crafts perhaps his most controversial work to date: a four-hour (split into two parts) odyssey through one woman’s sexual history, presented as explicitly and unromantically as possible. Von Trier’s newest muse Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as the titular nympho Joe, who is found beaten and bloodied one night by the asexual intellectual Seligman (Von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgård) and proceeds to recount her entire story to him. Interruptions and analogies to fly fishing, classical music and Jesus Christ Himself abound, giving the film a self-deprecatory pretentiousness that is downright hilarious at times. The Danish director isn’t so much interested in telling a serious, moralizing account of the horrors of sexual addiction as he is attempting to remove the shackles of censorship and repression from society’s attitudes about sex. Throwing in everything and the kitchen sink in his valiant attempt to kick-start a frank, open discussion on the nature and history of human sexuality, von Trier’s ambitious, sprawling film doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s staggeringly brilliant.

2.9 -- DIVERGENT, Neil Burger
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] Neil Burger's dystopian tale for the Twilight set substitutes block-headed earnestness for originality, and makes out pretty well with recycled material. In a postwar future Chicago, a young girl faces a Hogwarts-esque initiation and discovers that she doesn't fit any of four rigidly defined societal classes, prompting her to hide her 'divergence' and join with the 'dauntless' warrior class tasked to protect the future city against unspecified outside threats. Soon she transitions to the requisite training montage and meets the requisite brooding sexy instructor, with whose help she rises through the ranks before discovering that not everything about the four class structure is requisitely as it seems. The two leads make eyes at one another while keeping things PG, and a full-figured Kate Winslet shows up in a blue suit to prophesy bad things and suggest a true divergence that the film's pubescent conservatism labours to suppress. Other attractions include Ashley Judd as the girl's mother and Maggie Q as a 'dauntless' member with too little screen-time, who join with Winslet to surround the girl with an aura of female power as commanding as all the muscle the male stars can muster.

3.6 -- ENEMY, Denis Villeneuve
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal reteams with his Prisoners director Villeneuve for this Toronto-set cerebral thriller, concerning an existentially bored history professor who spots his doppelgänger in a movie and becomes determined to find the man. Based upon José Saramago’s novel The Double (not to be confused with the Dostoyevsky text), it is deeply psychological and truly creepy, probing the fractured mind of a disturbed individual with the utmost of style and purpose. Almost Cronenbergian at times, especially in its T.O. setting and increasingly prevalent spider motif, but the talented Québécois filmmaker distinguishes his material well enough, keeping the conventional horror stuff largely figurative and turning the narrative weird in a less obvious manner; specifically, by utilizing an endlessly roaming camera, a deliberately obfuscating editing pattern, and an unsettling score to set the mood. The result is the kind of abstract puzzle movie favoured by the likes of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg: a surreally strange story with no easy answers, one that follows thematic beats instead of narrative turns, and one that ends on a horrifying, enigmatic note, not meant to be conveniently solved.

2.5 -- MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN, Rob Minkoff
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Based upon the Peabody’s Improbable History segments found in the classic animated TV series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, this kids flick follows the time-traveling adventures of the titular bow-tie-wearing genius beagle and his adopted pet son in their WABAC (or Wayback) Machine. Successfully adapting the short segments to feature-length and updating their attitude to contemporary times – while still maintaining its educational spirit – it is a largely inoffensive and childish affair, depicting various historical eras (including Ancient Egypt, the Trojan War, the Renaissance, and the French Revolution) as colourful, cartoonishly violent periods. Director Minkoff, well-versed in family-friendly fare (having co-directed The Lion King, amongst others), keeps the sense of humour relatively light – with a few notable exceptions. For jokes regarding decapitation, disembowelment, Oedipus, and Bill Clinton himself fly fast and furious, likely aimed at parents and certain to go right over their kids’ heads – a sign of the film’s misjudged comic tone. However, even more damning is the film’s frank lack of ambition; it’s amusing enough, but in an era of Pixar and Miyazaki, it just feels inadequate.

1.7 -- 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, Noam Murro
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] In the pantheon of unnecessary sequels, this follow-up to Zack Snyder’s 2007 sword-and-sandals graphic novel adaptation certainly ranks amongst the most superfluous. Missing both Snyder’s visual flair and star Gerard Butler’s raw charisma, it is a fundamentally flawed affair, continuing a story that seemed finished whilst discarding the one thing the original had going for it – its distinctive look. Untested director Murro aims to mimic Snyder’s slo-mo-heavy approach and comic book stylings, but, frankly, lacks the skill to pull it off, resulting in a muddled collection of incoherent aquatic battle scenes and faux-serious monologuing. It certainly doesn’t help that Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, filling Butler’s boots as the impossibly buff lead, simply doesn’t have the acting chops or gravitas to pull off his role as heroic Athenian general Themistocles, coming off as wooden and uncompelling – especially when compared to Eva Green’s villainous turn as erotic, ferocious naval commander Artemisia. Butler may not be much of a dramatic actor, but his dominating presence certainly would’ve helped balance the scales here.

2.7 -- MIRACULUM, Daniel Grou
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A horrific plane crash connects people of all religious backgrounds in this highly spiritual Québécois drama, helmed by prolific director Grou a.k.a. Podz. The ensemble cast of characters includes a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses (one of whom played by wunderkind filmmaker Xavier Dolan) wrestling with their beliefs, an older couple engaged in a torrid affair, an upper-class husband and wife dealing with their marital problems in self-destructive fashion, and two estranged brothers, one of whom wishes to get his life back on track. Grou weaves the interconnected, non-linear story (written by Gabriel Sabourin, who also plays the down-on-his-luck brother) with aplomb, but his overtly religious themes – reflected in the title – threaten to overwhelm the basic concerns of the narrative. The use of soaring choral music and soft-focus cinematography, depicting these struggling figures from an ostensibly God’s-eye view, borders on self-parodic at times, even if Grou’s ideas and notions about miracles and the universe’s larger purpose are deftly handled and thought-provoking. It’s definitely a striking work, if not an altogether subtle one.

3.4 -- RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS, Jeff Barnaby
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] A solid entry in the growing corpus of Native Canadian cinema, Jeff Barnaby's Rhymes for Young Ghouls paints a Native reservation of the 70s or 80s as an occupied territory, replete with a population besieged by sadistic agents and marked by the daily reality of alcoholism and drug use. Some ten years after a tragedy involving the deaths of her mother and brother saw her father hauled off to prison, a young Native woman copes with her father's return and the harassments of the head agent and prefect of the reservation school, which dwarfs like some massive asylum or parliamentary building the surrounding land. Always one step from being locked away, she splits her time between helping her uncle distribute pot to Natives and visiting with her grandmother, a woman whose stories and creased leather skin suggest the cultural memory that haunts the land and takes shape in the ghosts of the girl's dead family members. Their presence demands retribution, a call that Ghouls gladly answers in a virtuoso turn that converts despair to righteous defiance and salvages an ember of hope in a history all but snuffed out. Part ghost story, part tale of real perseverance and suffering, it's also a fantasy of revenge to warm the hearts of the weary, a fictive history to hand down in place of stories ripped away.

2.5 -- 3 DAYS TO KILL, McG
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] A diagnosis of terminal cancer sends a CIA hitman home to Paris to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter. Promises are made and quickly broken as a sexy and mysterious CIA agent shows up dangling an experimental cure and coaxes him out of retirement to find and kill a non-descriptely European drug trafficker and his bare-headed albino accomplice. Meanwhile the hitman finds a family of Mali immigrants squatting in his apartment and enough humanity to let them stay through the birth of the patriarch's grandchild, while he splits the rest of his time between torturing bad guys and teaching his daughter to ride a bicycle and to dance. The mixture of European locations and thoughtless brutality only means that this is another film to which Luc Besson has attached his name, though the moral repugnancy turns to blandness after passing through McG's most non-existent of auteur sensibilities. Lacking the perverse drive that makes a film like Taken never less than watchable and a script that makes any sense, Kill banks on Costner's gruff charm, which is somewhere between the retired alcoholic baseball player from The Upside of Anger and the stoical, quick-shooting cowboy of Open Range. In a film designed to be thrown away, the parts that he recycles are built to last.

0.8 -- 3 DAYS TO KILL, McG
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A bizarre collision of various styles and tones informs this Paris-set action-thriller, produced and co-written by French craftsman Luc Besson and directed by American hack McG. Kevin Costner stars as a dying former CIA agent desperate to reconnect with his estranged wife and daughter when he is offered a potentially life-saving cure by the agency – specifically, a ridiculous femme fatale type (Amber Heard) – in return for the stereotypical One Last Job. While Costner aptly fills the badass requirement of the aging acting star role usually owned by Liam Neeson, his Ugly American routine (proudly declaring “I don’t speak French” at one point) pales in comparison to Neeson’s transatlantic charisma, echoing the quality of the rest of the film. Shockingly inept, with confounding editing, obvious mistakes, and a wildly inconsistent tone, it appears to have been assembled in the editing room from a half-dozen different films; part European existentialism, part American crassness, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie that never should have been created.

2.3 -- DEVIL’S DUE, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Another January, another supernatural found-footage horror flick (the second this month), this time with an overtly satanic twinge (as opposed to the mere demonism of Paranormal Activity). These things are a dime a dozen these days, rarely showing much imagination or indelibility, but it was hoped that filmmaking duo Bettinelli-Olpin & Gillett, making their feature debut after their impressively terrifying contribution to the anthology flick V/H/S, would be able to inject some much-needed creativity into the subgenre. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The directors exhibit shockingly little vision in this conventional Rosemary’s Baby rip-off, always stopping just shy of depicting something truly scary. Whether inhibited by major studio backing or simply lacking enough ideas for a full-length film, the pair show little to indicate they will become major names in the genre, crafting a disappointingly dull and clichéd demonic child tale that never really captures the unspeakable terror that the devil’s name conjures up. And in abandoning the point-of-view conceit that makes found-footage so popular in the first place, in favour of a collection of surveillance video feeds, the film begs the unanswered question: who, if anyone, is assembling this film?

1.5 -- LABOR DA, Jason Reitman
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Canadian wunderkind Reitman (son of Ivan) follows his string of snarky contemporary dramedies (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air, Young Adult) with and old-fashioned melodrama, disguised as a coming-of-age story. Middle-aged Henry Wheeler (voiced and briefly played by Tobey Maguire) narrates a tale of his thirteenth year, when a menacing-looking escaped convict (a goateed Josh Brolin) took him and his lonely mother (Kate Winslet, all nerves and acting tics) hostage over the titular holiday weekend; of course, love soon follows, and the convict – revealed to be not-so-menacing after all – becomes a stand-in father figure for the teenaged Henry. It’s a ridiculously contrived plot of the highest order, and though Reitman shoots it prettily (including some wonderfully impressionistic flashbacks), everything is presented so straightforwardly and unironically that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Classical film melodrama has always had an element of self-awareness, if not self-deprecation, to its heightened emotional states and overdone narrative, and that’s something desperately lacking in this overblown Oedipal tale.

2.6 -- RIDE ALONG, Tim Story
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Kevin Hart is probably the funniest man on the planet right now, or at least the most popular funnyman, and it’s a testament to his comic abilities that this otherwise lame Training Day spoof is as funny and watchable as it is. The diminutive comedian plays a high school security guard/wannabe cop who wishes to impress his girlfriend’s brother enough for him to give his blessing to marry her; the latter, a hard-ass Atlantic police detective (Ice Cube) instead offers to take him on the titular act, with the hopes of scaring him away. Director Story isn’t much of a craftsman, but he keeps things light and uncomplicated (for the most part), emphasizing his star’s manic energy and the hilarious juxtaposition with Cube’s stoic, borderline emotionless, composure. Though the plot, such as it is, derives from so much cliché it’s practically a template, and the supporting cast is mostly wasted (especially Saturday Night Live MVP Jay Pharaoh as a random street thug), Hart brings enough laughs via his off-the-wall, improvisational style that it’s at least an enjoyable buddy-cop comedy, if not a particularly memorable one.

2.7 -- JIMMY P., Arnaud Desplechin
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Linguistic chameleon Benicio Del Toro adopts the distinctive cadence and intonation of Native Americans to play the titular Plains Indian, a Blackfoot who returns from WWII fighting with a traumatic head injury and seemingly unrelated migraine headaches. French actor Mathieu Amalric also stars as pioneering ethno-psychologist Georges Devereux, who begins to treat Jimmy at the famous Winter Hospital in Topeka, Kansas and whose book the screenplay is based upon. Director Desplechin, making his English-language debut, depicts Jimmy P.’s backstory in a non-linear and abstract fashion, including some impressionistic Freudian dream sequences, but his visual style is much too flat and plain to successfully convey the confusion and wonder of thought and memory. For his part, Del Toro is predictably great, imbuing his underwritten character with warmth and empathy, but the film’s frequently to focus on Devereux’s womanizing, unorthodox doctor shifts the importance away from Jimmy, ironically lessening his impact in the film named for him.

3.4 -- THE WIND RISES, Hayao Miyazaki
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Apparently the last film for Japanese animation master Miyazaki (although he’s said that before), this is somewhat of a departure from his prior fantastical works, as it tells the dramatized life story of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed the fighter planes used by the Empire of Japan during World War II. The director (mostly) avoids controversy by showing none of the war and making Jiro a regretful figure, while still using whimsical elements and fantasy sequences – trademarks of his oeuvre – to help tell the largely fictional tale. In a way, though the film is clearly unique amongst Miyazaki’s work, it almost feels like an encapsulation of the themes and ideas he has wrestled with throughout his career, using the story of a man who dreams and imagines his inventions before building them – not unlike what Miyazaki does – to pose questions of art, creativity, and legacy. Jiro wants to be remembered for his achievements long after he’s gone, and seemingly so does Miyazaki; thus, as the director’s ostensible final film, it is also perhaps his most important.

3.2 -- THE LEGO MOVIE, Phil Lord & Chris Miller
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] What was originally thought to be a depressing emblem of cinematic commercialism and diminishing originality turns out to be a clever and hilarious riff on Hollywood blockbusters – not surprising when one learned of the résumé of co-directors Lord & Miller (they also turned Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street from conceptually bad ideas into pretty good movies). Instead of crassly and soullessly shilling the titular toy, the duo take a self-aware (and self-reflexive) approach, thumbing their nose at their corporate overlords even while selling their product perfectly. Co-opting the traditional hero narrative, but then undercutting and rewriting it at every turn, the pair strive to make a statement on the very nature of creativity in art, simultaneously crafting a film that is both commercial and unconventional. Only a final-act stumble, in which the implicit self-consciousness is made explicit and therefore loses some of its impact, prevents the movie from reaching greatness; for most of the time, though, this is animated merchandising done right.

0.8 -- ROBOCOP, José Padilha
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 satirical sci-fi masterpiece gets its inevitable 21st century reboot, following the Total Recall rehash of a couple years ago; however, unlike that generic, uninventive remake, a fair chunk of the original’s effect and spirit is maintained, even if Brazilian director Padilha (known for his Elite Squad crime duology) ultimately comes up short. Re-focusing the target of satire from ‘80s apathy and excess to contemporary imperialism, militarism and blind patriotism, Padilha’s approach is much angrier and more self-righteous than Verhoeven’s absurd comedic tone, but that seems likely due to our more divisive times. Where he does falter is narratively, as the straightforward set-up (a Detroit cop is nearly killed by a car bomb and rebuilt into the titular cyborg) eventually degenerates into a convoluted climax with ambiguous villains and baffling motivations. While it’s admirable and even reflective that there is no clear-cut bad guy, the film’s cathartic conclusion seems to indicate otherwise, and its further suggestion that some kind of universal wrong has been righted is out of touch with not only the film’s own themes, but real-world sentiment as well.

2.4 -- BELLE ET SÉBASTIEN, Nicolas Vanier
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The popular 1960s French children’s novel and subsequent TV series finally arrives on the big screen, allowing the titular orphaned boy and his adopted Pyrenean Mountain Dog to reach a whole new generation of fans. To its family-friendly tale of childhood loneliness and newfound friendship in a small mountain village, though, director Vanier has added a distinctly historical sensibility, setting his film in 1943 and shifting the mountain location from the Pyrenees to the Alps, specifically the French-Swiss border (rendering the dog’s breed somewhat illogical). Not only does this allow him to use everybody’s favourite bad guys, the Nazis, as his cartoonishly evil villains, but it also lends his simplistic story an air of feigned importance that would be lacking otherwise. Regardless, it remains merely a kids movie with serious aspirations, as actual Nazi atrocities are whitewashed in favour of bread-stealing and merely threatening, allowing Belle and Sébastien to easily defeat them. The result is a satisfying but pedestrian affair, where even a third-act reveal of the stereotypical Good German can’t grant the black-and-white tone any ambiguous shades of grey.

3.0 -- POMPEII, Paul W.S Anderson
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Vulgar auteur Anderson indulges his inner Emmerich for this disaster flick, depicting the final days of the eponymous Roman resort town and the subsequent cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius with the requisite fire, ash and brimstone. Before the tragic ending, though, he presents a narrative mash-up of Titanic and Gladiator, focusing on a Celtic slave (Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington) who falls for a Pompeii princess (Emily Browning) even while seeking vengeance against the Roman senator (Kiefer Sutherland, taking after his father) who murdered his family; a story indeed worthy of Ridley Scott or James Cameron. However, Anderson seems less interested in the broad strokes of this ill-fated romance than in the small details and odd perversities of a doomed civilization, counting on the audience’s existing knowledge of the sword-and-sandals subgenre to fill in the blanks; but, for his part, the director still gives us what we came for: wanton destruction, fluid action and CGI-enhanced visuals. The 3D is pretty wonky, as expected, and the dialogue is nothing to write home about, but as far as B-movie genre entertainment goes, it’s hard to beat Anderson’s use of spatial geography and slow-motion choreography. Vulgar? Perhaps. Elegant? Definitely.

3.3 -- OMAR, Hany Abu-Assad
[reviewed by Samuel Burd] After participating in an act of violent resistance involving the shooting of an Israeli solider, a young Palestinian man (Omar) is arrested by Israeli authorities, tortured, and released with the mandate to inform on the friend who pulled the trigger. He quickly disregards the mandate and lands back in prison only to be re-released with the same mandate, distrusted now by Israeli intelligence as well as his Palestinian friends, one of whom leads the resistance movement and happens to have a sister with whom Omar is in love. Soon a kind-eyed and cold-hearted Israeli official begins threatening violence against the sister, and Omar finds himself caught between allegiance to his friends and the fear of losing the woman he loves. Everything reaches pitch-levels as the possibility of a traitor enters the mix, yet the melodrama is consistently brought to earth by the film's brutal portrait of Israeli occupation, which lends a familiar story a sense of topicality and daring. That this daring is not more shocking is another indication that damning views of Israeli war crimes are increasingly palatable in the mainstream today, yet the most affecting scene in the film is among the least literally violent: chained and beaten, Omar stands before the desk of the cold-hearted Israeli intelligence official who breaks from the business of Omar's incarceration to answer a call from his wife about his nagging mother. The balance of the horrific and the mundane will be familiar to anyone raised under the spectre of Nazi horror, and though "Omar" uses its protagonists's desperation as a way to read the desperation of a people, it is this subtler comparison, and interaction, that seems more believable, and more terrifying.

[reviewed by Samuel Burd] In the waning days of World War II, a Native American veteran (Benicio Del Toro) enters a progressive psychiatric facility seeking a cure for powerful and inexplicable bouts of blindness. There he begins treatment with a psychiatrist-ethnographer who is inexplicably fascinated with native culture and mysteriously closed about his own past, which somehow involves France and perhaps his being persecuted as a Jew. A lot of talk involving incidents of childhood abuse and betrayal follow, all involving women, and a few Blackfoot words are thrown back and forth, but otherwise the film has no interest in native culture and all the interest in the world in Del Toro's native accent, which commands most of its energy and attention. Otherwise a WASPY female love interest shows up to dispel any homosexuality the doctor's flamboyance and effeminacy might suggest, while the film's central scenes of doctor-patient dialogue manage to avoid the 'who's treating whom' cliche only to replace it with a moderately offensive mixture of Freudian dream analysis and a vaguely native symbology of animals and spirit guides. It gets old fast, but, like Del Toro's accent, sounds fine in the moment.

1.6 -- JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, Kenneth Branagh
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The Cold War’s ostensibly been over and done with for more than two decades now, but that hasn’t stopped those pesky Russkies from making trouble for our favourite fictional action heroes in the intervening time. Following the unfortunate lead of last year’s Russia-set A Good Day to Die Hard, this fifth installment in the adventures of the late Tom Clancy’s most celebrated spy (rebooted once again and now played by Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine) travels to Moscow, but not before telling the topically tragic backstory of our fearless Dr. Ryan, shaken by 9/11 and shot down in Afghanistan. Indeed, such time is spent on this drawn-out introduction that the film’s proper narrative is chopped to ribbons and rushed to conclusion, even forgetting to truly establish director/co-star Branagh’s cartoonish villain, some kind of Russian banking miscreant. In fact, the plot’s focus on financial terrorism (mixed in with traditional acts of bombing) seems to retroactively blame the Former Soviet Union for the Wall Street crash, absolving heroic American financiers of their crimes. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that, after all these years, it’s still all Russia’s fault.

0.4 -- THE NUT JOB, Peter Lepeniotis
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Dredging up the bottom of the barrel of animation, Canadian director Lepeniotis’ first full-length feature (an adaptation of his 2005 short Surely Squirrel) is predictably awful and unfunny, set in Manhattan during the bizarrely specific fall of 1959 and concerning a motley crew of wild animals collecting food for the coming winter. Aiming for similarly themed Over the Hedge seems even too high a mark, let alone other furry flicks Ratatouille and Fantastic Mr. Fox; the plot, as evidenced by the title, involves a nut heist, coincidentally occurring simultaneously with a film noir-esque bank robbery. It’s a curious thing, with a typical children’s film narrative laid right over top of the grown-up dramatic story it’s aping, but any ironic juxtaposition is overcome by the sheer atrocity of it all. Singular moments briefly interest, but are soon drowned out; likewise, adult themes of desperate survival and the evils of democracy are largely supplanted by generic platitudes of ‘heroism’ and ‘sharing’ – a not-so-subtle socialist message, for kids! While the recognizable celebrity voices of Will Arnett, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser and Liam Neeson inhabit various woodland creatures, the most heinous use of pop culture in the film is the anachronistic use of Gangnam Style, a fad now two years out of date; a feeble attempt at topicality and relevance if ever there was one.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A spinoff from, rather than a direct sequel to, the dirt-cheap, insanely profitable found-footage horror franchise, this installment forgoes the static surveillance footage and upper-middle-class McMansions of its predecessors in favour of gritty, handheld camerawork and a working-class apartment complex – a formal decision owing, at least partially, to the film being gearing toward the Latino market. Hewing therefore closer to other, more conventional films of the sub-genre, it seems to lack the deliberate patience and attention to detail that distinguishes this series, even as it continues the deepening and darkening of the complex mythology, adding magical superpowers and mystical time portals to the already-bizarre mix of possessed children, demonology and witch covens. Still, the scares and set-pieces remain grimly effective, although the shaky-cam does much to soften their blow; gone is the slow buildup and truly earned frights of the earlier films, replaced by jump scares and quick blows. If nothing else, it’s a sign that all things must regress to the mean, and that even this Latino-targeted edition is not immune from white-bread tastes.

[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The long-awaited, much-anticipated sequel to the 2004 newsroom comedy-turned-cult classic finally arrives, with Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner reprising their roles as the moronic Channel 4 News Team. This time, the team is relocated from 1970s San Diego to 1980 New York City to become part of the first 24-hour news channel in history; however, as in the first one, the plot is merely a loose structure on which to hang a series of increasingly random skits and non-sequiturs. Despite a few inspired moments of social commentary, mostly relating to notions of modern cable news, the film is largely a collection of sketches and tangents – some much more funny than others – all leading up to a cameo-laden climax that aims to top the original’s infamous news-team, parking-lot showdown. Though the sheer quantity and quality of famous people present clearly outrank the relatively modest assemblage of the first one, there is nonetheless something amiss comically; it’s almost as if, in their desire to cater to overgrown expectations, the filmmakers simply tried too hard.

3.2 -- WHITEWASH, Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Something of a rarity – an English-language Quebecois film – this slow-burn thriller/character study is shot and set in the dense forests of the Laurentides during a tremendous blizzard. American character actor Thomas Haden Church, best known for his Oscar-nominated turn in Sideways, stars as Bruce, an alcoholic snowplow driver who accidentally hits and kills a man during the aforementioned snowstorm. As Bruce heads for the woods to hide out, growing more despondent and desperate by the day, a series of flashbacks reveal what really happened between Bruce and his victim (played by Quebecois actor Marc Labrèche). First-time feature filmmaker Hoss-Desmarais, a former commercial director, masterfully captures the bleak and unforgiving frigidity of Canadian winters while simultaneously presenting a stark portrait of a man slowly unraveling, and Church, for his part, is terrific, utilizing every one of his acting tics to portray a man who finds his world crumbling around him. Though the film’s darkly comic tone recalls the work of the Coen Bros. (specifically Fargo) and their offshoots, Hoss-Desmarais takes things to an even more bitterly cold degree, capping things off with a tone-perfect final line.

2.2 -- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Jean-Marc Vallée
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] The AIDS crisis of the 1980s is depicted with unflinching realism in this by-the-numbers biopic of Ron Woodruff, a homophobic Texan cowboy fond of unprotected sex and intravenous drugs. When diagnosed with HIV in 1985, though, he becomes a crusader for gay men and transsexuals alike, creating a ‘buyers club’ of unapproved drugs and untested remedies to combat the fatal illness, subsequently putting him at odds with doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the FDA. Matthew McConaughey, continuing his career renaissance, lost 50 lbs. to play the gaunt Woodruff, and Jared Leto, in his first film in six years, adopts a similar look to play Rayon, a transgender woman and fellow AIDS patient who becomes Woodruff’s partner; apart from these two impressive performances, however, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about this work, as it portends to be little more than one (white, straight) man’s experience with the disease. Twenty years after Philadelphia broke down walls and transgressed borders with its depiction of an HIV-infected gay man, it’s somewhat disheartening to see how little we’ve accomplished.

4.0-- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, Melisa Wallack
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gritty biopic on the equally gritty man, Ron Woodroof, an AIDS sufferer. The film tracks his steel-like determination to give away -- via smuggling from various countries which he personally travels -- the best non-toxic cocktail of vitamins and more, including Interferon that proves to stop the virus from accelerating so rapidly, while prolonging a life to be lived in comfort. Matthew McCaughney was devastatingly brilliant in the role. This movie shows the evil collusion of the FDA with drug companies, even though there is a better immediate remedy for AIDS patients that would obliterate many of the drug companies producing AZT. On the way, Ron tries to expose this fact. He opens up his office to help other victims with the help of a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto), who becomes his invaluable assistant and friend. She has AIDS, too. When Ron discovers that AZT is in fact killing AIDS patients -- he learns this first-hand, this is where the bull-riding cowboy really digs in his heels. He risks all to get at minimum cost non-chemical meds that are non-toxic, along with Interferon to replace AZT. Ron Woodroof was a hero -- driven to help himself and all who suffer from AIDS. McCaughney and Leto make an extraordinary acting team.

[reviewed by Samuel Burd] Intimations of mortality steadily accrue in Le Grande Beaute, a tale of la dolce vita that begins with an Asian tourist dropping dead in Rome. This bit of wish fulfillment for natives whose lives otherwise embody wishes aborted or half-realized leads us to the film’s eponymous Mastroianni figure, a one-time novelist and sometimes journalist of high culture who spends his afternoons haunting the Roman streets and his evenings partying with his fellow middle-aged and moderately depressed intellectual cohorts, all the while pining for a lost love and remarking with bemusement the second novel he has failed for 30 years to convince himself to write. This pattern is thrown into question when he learns that his past love is dead and had loved him all along, triggering a buried sense of lost possibility and bringing intimations of approaching death to a boil, as one disturbed character kills himself and another dies of an undisclosed disease. All of this is conveyed in bright colors and swooping camera movements which suggest the clarity and liveliness with which the writer views a world that he cannot allow himself to channel into words. Yet it is the one exception to the parade of hues and eloquent, attractive middle-agers -- an ancient, silent, toothless nun -- that gives weight to those hints of mortality, arriving in the film’s final minutes, all papery skin and brittle bones, to say everything that the film and its writer-hero are too enamoured with stimulation to say about life, death, struggle and beauty.

3.8 -- LONE SURVIVOR, Peter Berg
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Based on a true, terrifying story of a navy SEAL band of four men who are on a mission to eradicate Shah, the Taliban leader of a high-level al-Qaeda operative living in a mountainous village in Afghanistan. The men seek high ground under tree cover in the rocky cliffs overlooking the village where Shah is spotted by them. However, things go wrong. Goats led by some Taliban herders stumble upon the group who is hiding out in the mountain. The band of brave heroes captures them and ties them up. A soft decision is made; it is based on doing no harm to unarmed enemies, so the SEALS do not kill them. Two from the group disagree and feel they should be shot. The men's kindness sounded their death knoll. Of course, they are found out, discovered, outnumbered and slaughtered as they receive riddles of machine gun holes in their bodies. All eventually succumb except one -- Marcus Luttrell (real author of the first-person memoir of the book who supervised the movie.) The film assiduously follows the tragic events that included wrong decisions by the men in the mountains and at ground level operations. In fact, the men were left stranded for a long time. When Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) hides out, a Pashtun villager named Gulab finds Luttrell who is at death's door. Gulab risks his life and that of the villagers to bring Luttrell back to health while hiding him. There is a 2000-year-old code of the Pashtunweli that dates back to the pre-Islamic era. It commands aid for a person in dire need from his enemies, Unfortunately, the Taliban murderers find him, and are about to decapitate Lutrell, when this heroic man who found him shoots the would-be murderer. But they are undaunted, and return to basically massacre the entire village. Luttrell is rescued in time by the Americans. So much suspense ending in tears by those watching this film. Brave, brave brilliant men whose lives lasted as long as each one of these fighting brothers protected one another. Their dedication has been posthumously honoured by the bestowment of medals and the making of this astounding movie. The film gave a vivid face to the names of each who lost their lives. Their stories are now told, and we shall not forget them. I am sure the book is equally brilliant.

1.4 -- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, John Wells
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] A veritable who’s who of Oscar winners and heavy-hitters populate the cast of this stage adaptation, led by the twin female titans of modern American acting: Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Scripted by Tracy Letts from his stage play and directed, simply and ably, by TV veteran Wells, it is an unsurprisingly theatrical affair, chronicling a few days in the life of a dysfunctional, volatile family in rural Oklahoma. Weighty topics and themes abound, ranging from simple concerns of life and death to more disturbing content such as adultery, incest, and pedophilia; however, all are covered with the same melodramatic and histrionic tone. Nearly every performer is give the opportunity to overact and, as trained thespians, they are more than willing – perhaps none more than Streep, who ages herself quite a bit to play the nasty, domineering matriarch Violet, verbally attacking her three daughters and swilling back handfuls of pills. It’s undoubtedly a showy, exaggerated performance, suiting the demands of the story, and yet it feels entirely too big for the screen, as if the sheer monstrosity of her character can only be played on stage, not captured on film.

4.0 -- AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, John Wells
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An incredible tour de force drama created by the star-studded cast. Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and more familiar faces who make up this excruciatingly abusive family which is led by man-hating matriarch meanie, Violet (Streep) who happens to have mouth cancer -- but she continues to chain smoke. Streep masterfully plays a drug-taking terrifically horrid mother whose acerbic tongue lashes out at every moment. This family has secrets and when they come out, all hell breaks loose. Each of the three daughters joins in their parents' train wreck as their own tattered lives leave each of them derailed on a lonely track. They come together at the beginning of the film, meeting up in their mother's hot and humid home in Osage County, situated in one of Oklahoma's vast plains. They are going to go to their father's funeral, and this is where the film's drama unfolds. Much in the line of playwright, Eugene O'Neil's: Long Day's Journey into Night, the worst interaction of these foul-mouthed, nasty women takes place around the dinner table post-funeral. The dinner ends in an intense scene in which Barbara, the oldest of the three daughters (played by Roberts) and her mother get into an on-the-floor cat fight: Barbara is intent on wrestling mom's pills out of her rigid grip. Roberts plays anger very well, and Streep -- well - there are no words to describe her gut-wrenching gift. The plot is riveting as it covers every dark corner that aberrant people hide in, and in the case of this family -- they eventually expose themselves for all to see: incest, drug and alcohol addiction, adultery and divorce. Tthe entire two hours is a piece of movie magic that one rarely sees coming out of Hollywood.  

3.5 -- MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Justin Chadwick
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This significant film realistically captures the long journey involving several sacrifices -- including 27 years in prison which resulted in the loss of self-determination, both personally and for his people for too many years. It shows through archival photographs and film clips the horrid violence that continued in places like Sharpeville and Capetown when Mandela was in prison and even after the AMC party reached an agreement with the governing power. It portrays the brutality and fear of South Africa's whites treating blacks with ongoing degradation -- a way of life which was built into the political law of the country itself. Nelson Mandela had a single purpose in mind simply and eloquently embodied in most of his speeches; he always stressed his insistence that his people must obtain power in order to self-govern. At times, he resorted to aggressive acts, but only those that targeted empty buildings -- this at the beginning of his political involvement when he was young and wanted to capture attention of whites to show them that blacks could not take anymore oppression and outright murder by the police, including the murder of women and children. Passbooks were burned by blacks with their leader setting an example. Mandela played a clever game with the rulers when power was finally passed onto the AMC and he became President. He was a brave man who miraculously obtained what he worked for even while in prison. His wife Winnie made her own kind of sacrifices, and time in prison she was subjected to torture and suffered loss of self. She came out a changed, angry woman who opted for violence rather than the peace Mandela urged and sought for his people. Ultimately, he rejected her. This film ought to be viewed by everyone who needs to see what it takes to be a hero in the making.

3.0 -- AMERICAN HUSTLE, David O. Russell
[reviewed by Pat Allen] "American Hustle," the new film from David O. Russell, tells the story of two New York con artists, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), as they are forced to help an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) entrap a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Despite fantastic costumes, music and setting, the often-sluggish pace of "American Hustle" never seems to match the trashy, excessive lifestyle of its characters. Overly long and predictable, the film manages to find charm in its great soundtrack, humour and stellar performances all around (especially so from Jennifer Lawrence). This is not an exceptional film but it is the most coherent and worthwhile film from a director who has previously received enormous praise for much lesser efforts.

3.5 -- INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Joel & Ethan Coen
[reviewed by Pat Allen] Inside Llewyn Davis, the newest film from Joel and Ethan Coen (Oh Brother Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men), starts with a tired plea for death and then follows a man who can't take leave of his miserable life. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a talented folk singer in the early 1960s, unwilling to simply 'exist' but unable to get his career off the ground. The film trails Llewyn on a mildly Odyssean journey (with a feline companion named Ulysses) through a slate-grey New York as he tries to launch his career and give himself something to live for. Rich with yearning folk music, the Coen Brothers' sardonic humour, and a fantastic supporting cast (including Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, F. Murray Abraham and Justin Timberlake) Inside Llewyn Davis is a patient chronicle of a nowhere man looking for anything to call his own.

3.6 -- WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, Barry Cook & Neil Nightingale
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Patchi is a puny Pachyrhinosaurus -- the runt of the litter but as he grows up to defend his huge herd, he becomes a dynamic hero. The film introduces all kind of dinosaurs who lived 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period in present-day Alaska. The characters and their wit along with the somewhat convoluted plot are great in this movie, but this obvious blockbuster is definitely for kids. The special effect were superb, and the story a typical one of good versus evil heroism.

2.6 -- FROZEN, Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Following the grand success of 2010’s Tangled, Walt Disney Animation Studios returns to the great well of fairy tales for their latest feature, this time loosely adapting Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. However, co-writers and directors Buck and Lee forgo the traditional Disney narrative of good vs. evil in favour of a more complicated and mature story of two princess sisters, one destined to be queen, who are separated when the eldest one’s magical freezing powers grow out of control. Even though the archetypal elements of a handsome prince, a comedic sidekick and an adventure quest are all present, the story lacks a true villain, making the narrative feel lopsided and turning the main plot problem into more of a misunderstanding than a real danger; while this deviation from the norm would usually be welcomed, in this case it has the unwanted side effect of making the entire film feel rather low-stakes and meaningless. Still, there’s a lot to like about the movie, from the impressive voice cast to the plentiful humour to the enjoyable musical numbers (even if they border on too many), so perhaps a trivial narrative can be forgiven.

1.8 -- OLDBOY, Spike Lee
[reviewed by Daniel Charchuk] Director Lee’s remake (or, in his words, ‘reinterpretation’) of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s 2003 revenge thriller is predictably redundant and unneeded, making minimal changes to the narrative (apart from the necessary Americanization) and succeeding only in increasing the violence over the already-brutal original. Considering the cult status of that film, even when factoring in the foreign language, it’s unclear why some thought a Hollywood remake would be successful or even wanted, as the disturbing content matter further limits an already small audience. Still, on the whole, it’s not much of a downgrade from the overpraised, too-solemn Korean version (itself based upon a Japanese manga) and there’s a kind of gleeful nihilism to the extreme violence this time around, but in its recreation of the original’s most famous scenes – the hammer fight, the twist ending – it plays more like a parody than a remake, forgoing self-seriousness for pitch-black comedy.

3.5 -- MAN OF STEEL, Zack Snyder
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An extremely thoughtful approach given to this timeless story. The film is dedicated to our Superman hero, graphically telling what happened on Krypton and how his father and mother saved their precious baby (Superman) from obliteration as the kryptonite energy was dwindling on their planet, then was harvested only to implode. But an evil man groomed to protect the planet lets no one stand in his way, as he knows it will soon not exist unless he can get hold of the Codex which evidently contains the magic needed to regenerate the plane. He is captured however after he kills and attacks those in power, including baby Superman's dad. He sent into frozen encapsulation as punishment, as are his fellow fighters. It all sound silly but it works. Leap light years forward, and we see Cal (his real Krypton name) as a school kid saving those around him. His father does not want his son to tell the world of his powers, and this is a major theme in the film. Cal grows up to fight the return of the evil man who is intent on repopulating earth with his fellow Krpytons. He hunts down Cal with the intention of killing him; Cal wants to save Earth, and the muscle-bound all powerful anti-hero wants to use Earth as his breeding ground. The Lois figure is introduced and the film does end with the two heroes getting together. Cal, now Clarke, dawns on those famous pair of glasses to start incognito in his new job at the Daily Planet newspaper working alongside Louis. Henry Cavell does a valiant job playing Superman, and newbies and old timers alike will like him. The epic story is most enjoyable. Lots of fantastic special effects, but the fighting scenes go on too long. I enjoyed far more the human part of the story -- the first hour of this sophisticated 142-minute-long intriguing blockbuster. (The movie was viewed compliments of le Superclub Vidéotron, 5000 Wellington in Verdun, Montreal).




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