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Talk to Her
City of God
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Barbarian Invasions
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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
The Past




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

3.1 -- MUSTANG, Deniz Gamze Ergüven
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] On the last day of school, five sisters, living near the Black Sea in Turkey, head to the beach to frolic with some local boys. A passerby notifies their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas), and by the end of the sunny day their strict uncle (Ayberk Pekcan) has confined the girls to their hillside home, hoping to save them from perversion and promiscuity. They have to be good wives after all, their grandmother thinks. Of course, locking up pubescent girls doesn’t quell their abandon. While the first feature from Turkish-born, French-raised director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is a story of imprisonment, it is also one of escape and boundless joy. Told from the eyes of the youngest, curious Lale (Günes Sensoy), we watch as her teenage sisters attempt to flee the home before being forced into marriage. By positioning the story from Lale’s eyes, Ergüven and co-writer Alice Winocour use the character’s youth and innocence to examine patriarchal norms, as the pre-teen moves between loyalty to her sisters and the strict rule of the father. The performances from the five girls, mostly newcomers, are exuberant and natural. Unfortunately, apart from Lale, they are an interchangeable lot that mostly swoon at boys and sulk at their uncle’s plans. The commentary about religious and sexual norms in Turkey stings. However, one wishes the five sisters and their sly acts of defiance were more distinct. Still, this is lively, feminist entertainment, its sensations of camaraderie something that could make it stand out in a rather bleak collection of Oscar nominees for foreign language film.

3.9 --  THE REVANANT, Alejandro G. Iñárritu.
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] The world knew it had been gifted a great actor when it brought us the spellbinding performance of Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? In the film, Catch Me If You Can, he played a master conman on the run from the FBI. But the reverse happens in this latest DiCaprio film which is based on true events that occurred in 1824. Here, the 2016 gory suspense thriller of gruesome proportions has the star actor chasing John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Glass is a fur trapper and guide for this band of Americans trappers. Their job it is to hunt and sell the pelts back home. The film shows the greed of both the French and the English as they pillage, lie and cheat to get their pelts. Aside from being incredibly mauled by a grisly bear, Glass must face the harshest of climates, stumble upon the Indian who helped save his life hanging from a tree, witness the murder of his son, and then use every ounce of muscle left in his body to find the man who killed his devoted son. This movie is a series of journeys that travels into treacherous territory both physically and emotionally – for actors and viewer. It is a great film, and Di Caprio surely is up to win the Oscar for his astounding performance. He hardly ever articulates clear sentences, which causes some frustration for the viewer. However, talk about gritty realism, the director spared his cast any comfort. The crew spoke of enduring a “living hell,” of being forced to work in -25C temperatures, of travelling for hours to remote locations in Canada and Argentina to film for a mere 90 minutes, the result of Iñárritu’s decision to shoot only in natural light. “If we ended up [using] green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time,” the famed Birdman director told The Hollywood Reporter, “everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s---.“ Truth is, he may have been right. The sacrifice paid off. The film is remarkably savage in all aspects. You could feel the cold right through your bones.

3.4 -- 13 HOURS; SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI, Michael Bay
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gripping and tragically true series of events that happened on September 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya's most dangerous city. A handful of courageous CIA soldiers are left on their own to fend off an ongoing attack on an American compound. The outcome is most disturbing, especially because the house office chief of these soldiers was an autocratic bureaucrat whose bad judgment was responsible for the US ambassador's fate there, and those of the soldiers. No one really cared about them. Medals were gotten but pinned on lapel of the wrong person. The film is formidably confusing in the beginning regarding plot, but perhaps this helped us all empathize how the solders felt as events progressed. A tour de force film whose special effects of firing against the enemy rival any science fiction film.

3.4 -- ANOMALISA, Duke Johnson, Charlie Kaufman
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A story of pathos about the human condition -- specifically man's inability to connect to others and himself. The use of puppets fascinates and softens the inherent truth of absolute alienation that humans feel in society as seen in the film's anti-hero, The irony is poignant: though each very real puppet has the same voice and appearance, suggesting we are all conformists -- carbon copies of one another -- no one is able to form lasting connections. Brilliantly co-directed by Charlie Kaufman, who also wrote the script, and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa is understated and disturbingly brilliant.

2.3 -- SON OF SAUL, Lazlo Menez
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A claustrophobic setting of Jews in a Hungarian death camp who are in charge of cleaning up the floor full of bodies from the gas chamber and throwing their ashes into the river. One of them men finds his son in the heap of bodies and he is still breathing, but not for long. A Nazi suffocates him, but the father is determined to give him a burial and avoid the autopsy that is ordered. He has about 24 hours to find a Rabbi to do the Kiddush and find a way to get his son out. Unfortunately, the film is a plot mess of confusion, and we really do not care that much about what happens to the dead body. I also found there were grave flaws that weakened credibility. The boy had no rigor mortis, and the ending was not real. So much ambiguity took away from a film that was supposed to be poignant and unforgettable.

3.8 -- THE MARTIAN, Ridley Scott
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An excellent film that has your heart pounding and at the same time mourning for astronaut Mark Watley (Matt Damon) who finds himself alone on Mars. The team was hit by a terrible storm and the commander (Jessica Chastain) and her team can't find him. He is thought to be killed during this frightful storm when they were all working outside of their ship. Alas, Watley is not dead and most of the film presents his ingenious survival tactic, including growing his own potatoes and making water. Meanwhile on earth, everyone thinks he is dead, too, but a message from outer space proves it wrong. Most of the film is spent developing ways to rescue him, and the final solution is more exciting and dangerous than being stranded on mars. This is a great film. Jordan's Wadi Rum desert served as the Mars setting, hundreds of special effects companies and folk were used, and one of the world's largest sound stages played its due role -- the one in Budapest. I loved the film, and Damon and the entire cast made you feel this was actually a documentary. I found all the techno explanations that figured in the film fascinating but I was a space head when it came to comprehending it all. Still, it did not come off as pretentious; rather; astrophysics its added great suspense to the story. Matt Damon is fittingly funny during segments of the story, and his understating, utterly convincing acting is remarkable.

3.7 -- JOY, David O. Russell
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Joy Mangano creates a fabulous miracle mop that instantly flops on TV when the man selling it on QVC shopping network doesn't know how it works. This is just one set back for Joy whose determination and moxy allows her to mop up every serious debt and crook that puts her into a failure position -- not to mention a bad-ass half-sister who ruins things for her along with callous father whose new love (Isabella Rossellini) is a rick bitch who has no intention of seeing her money investment slide away into Joy's mop when things are going very badly. Joy finds an incredibly clever and courageous way to force her enemies to own up to their wrongs financially. Stealing people's ideas and patents have something to do with these wrongs. Jennifer Lawrence as Joy is remarkable, as is the all-star cast -- except for Robert De Niro who has become a parody of the comic characters he has played. His simpy smile and throw -away emotions diminished the film's impact. A must-see movie.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire and the death of Darth Vader, the malicious First Order is taking over the world as it destroys the Republic. The young evil man, masked like Darth Vader with furious power, is ironically a conduit of two opposing forces, for his connection to Princess Leia and Han Solo -- both who make their reappearance in this film -- is alarming. When Fin a former First Force member turns against the First Order, he meets a scavenger, a tough powerful gal named Rey. They team up with a droid that belongs to a hero fighter, now missing in what one believes to be the downing of his plane during an attack. This droid contains the missing piece of map that shows where Luke Skywalker is, the last Jedi standing. The film focuses on the First Force trying to obtain the droid, and they capture anyone who can give information about the whereabouts of the map. They must find Luke and kill him if they are to obliterate the last of the forces of light. There are some wonderful plot surprises at the end with lots of fighting scenes. It is a dashing rollercoaster fight-in-the-skies-and-on-ground Star Wars Vll episode in the legendary series. Despite the cutting edge spectacular scenes where technology takes over the screen with super effects, nothing can compare to the original earlier creations where the novelty of it all and the characters delighted and amazed us. The impact in this latest Star Wars wonder is more like a falling star, but it will rise with a new sparkle in the future -- as the plot suggests.

2.1 -- IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, Ron Howard
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In 1820, many crewmen (Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy) boarded the New England whaling vessel Essex with the task of bringing back oodles of barrels of whale oil. It was harrowing to go out in their small boats and harpoon the beasts. They only got one before the giant one appears. Things really fall apart, and to make matters worse the captain, who makes poor decisions and hates his first man Chase (Chris Hemsworth), faces a harrowing battle for survival when a whale of mammoth size and strength attacks with force, crippling their ship and leaving the crew adrift in the ocean. Pushed to their limits and facing storms, starvation, panic and despair, the survivors must resort to the unthinkable to stay alive. Their incredible tale ultimately inspires author Herman Melville to write the tale. The story is told in flashbacks as the old man Chris Nickerson reveals what happened to a young Melville. Nickerson was just a lad when he worked on the Essex and experienced the horror of that great big whale. The film was slow moving until the whale steals the scenes. Hemsworth needs to take elocution lessons; he mumbles, and there was no consistency of accents among the cast playing the crew who set out from Nantucket, New England. Some had accents from England, and some southern accents, and others no accent. The sea scenes were marvelous. Melville published his book in 1830. Hawthorne, his idol, equated it to an epic of Homer, and deemed it as the best American novel ever written.

3.6 -- DADDY'S HOME, Sean Anders
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Hilariously funny with a tightly knitt scenario brimming with highly entertaining gag scenes, this comedy pits Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) against Brad (Will Ferrell) -- both of whom are vying for the love of their two children. Wife, Angie was once married to Dusty, but now she is married to Brad which makes him the step-father. The two dads couldn't be more different from one another, and the comedic contrast is sharpened by this difference. Brad is nerdy, reliable and emotional; Dusty is a virile hunk. He's handy, rides a motorbike and relates to his daughter and son like a cool friend. Moreover, Brad has thus far not been able to give Angie another child, and Dusty -- as one scene at the fertility specialist shows -- is more than able to fulfill the task. Anyway, Brad does a pretty dumb thing in public at the Lakers basketball game, and he feels ashamed; he packs his bags, conceding the daddy role to Dusty, so Dusty seems to have won back his seat as daddy… until. What a unique feel-good movie! The chemistry between both 'opponents' is outstanding. Having these two actors team up once again -- they were in the 2010 action comedy The Other Guys -- was a good move.

3.6 -- MACBETH, Justin Kurzel
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In the new Weinstein brothers production of Macbeth, director Justin Kurzel uses cinema to its greatest advantage while preserving the essence of a stage play. Kurzel deftly mixes excellent on-location cinematography with subtle special effects to focus more deeply on the interiority of his characters’ development. In doing so, and despite the important screen time dedicated to the witches, the discourse on evil and the supernatural recedes into the background in favour of a more modern account of evil as the desire for power at all costs. While Richard was, at the very least, a sociopath by all modern understanding, Kurzel’s Macbeth (a brilliant Michael Fassbender) is not. His tyranny is an externalized expression of his howling guilt and his pride will not allow him to bend. Unlike Richard (again), who methodically plots to eliminate any an all opposition, Macbeth acts to bury his guilt and to remain unexposed. Kurzel favours understated performances. Marion Cotillard is a softer and more desperate Lady Macbeth. The film’s major soliloquies and monologues are less explosive, often appearing as hushed asides. However, tight framing and the cast’s impressive range of dramatic expression draw out the psychological drama at the core of this Shakespearean tragedy. It is in its visual presentation that the main themes of Macbeth begin to take a more modern form. The film gives impression of an immense difference between the material state of a Scottish noble and a king. Macbeth does not live in a castle. Though he be Glamis and Cawdor his is a life of relative squalor compared to the splendour of court. These visual cues suggest that Lady Macbeth is initially seduced by material status and she guilts her loving, honourable husband into getting her out of the mud and rain. Uniquely, the film does not end with the death of the tyrant and the resolution of his fate. Rather we are left to ponder the witches’ second prophecy: that Banquo would sire a line of kings. After all, his son Fleance escapes his murder. While the play leaves Fleance at large, the film closes on him as he steals upon the field of battle and runs away with Macbeth’s sword. Much is made in Shakespeare of the divinity of kings, with regicide held as the ultimate corruption of the divine order. Far from being supernatural, the witches represent a thoroughly pragmatic point of view. God does not shake at Duncan’s murder. Malcolm flees and returns with a foreign army. It is power that lies at the heart of Macbeth. Power is taken, royal lines established and extinguished. Somewhere in the Scottish highlands, a lad grows older and bolder, whispering his dead father’s prophecy that gives him claim to hold a throne.

3.6 -- CAROL, Todd Haynes
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] In the lush new film from director Todd Haynes, set in the early 1950s, none of the characters utter the word 'lesbian.' None of them dare speak about what exists just beneath the surface of a tranquil New York winter, as quiet shopgirl Therese (Rooney Mara) befriends a wealthier older woman, the titular character played by Cate Blanchett. Their first glance is across the expanse of a department store. (Judy Becker’s production design is so era fitting, you feel like you can walk into the screen). After Carol leaves her gloves behind for Therese to return, their friendship – or another word beginning with 'L' – begins to blossom. Beyond maneuvering around the social mores of the period, there are men taking up much of Therese and Carol’s lives. The former is on the cusp of settling down with the boyish Richard (Jake Lacy), while the latter is in the throes of a divorce and custody battle with husband Harge (Kyle Chandler, undervalued). Phyllis Nagy’s adroit screenplay, adapted from a Patricia Highsmith bestseller, teases the central affair with sly, suggestive humour and plenty of pregnant pauses. Meanwhile, who better to direct Nagy’s fine screenplay than Todd Haynes, who combined dazzling colour with emotional complexion in another 50s-set melodrama, Far From Heaven? Edward Lachman also photographed that 2002 throwback; here, he washes the screen with hues of evocative green, until the film looks like a smokier Edward Hopper painting. Beyond its ravishing look, Carol contains two of the year’s most wrenching performances. While Blanchett is reliably compelling, this is Mara’s most accomplished turn yet, as a woman both trembling with excitement and unsure of where this journey could lead.

3.4 -- CAROL, Todd Haynes
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Phyllis Nagy’s screen adaptation of The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith tells of taboo love in the repressive 1950s. Set in 1952 in New York, young sales clerk Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) has a chance encounter with Carol Aird (Kate Blanchett) at the department store where she works. The attraction is palpable, as is the younger woman’s curiosity about the sophisticated and enchanting older woman. Chance brings them together again when Carol invites Therese to lunch by way of thanks for returning her forgotten gloves. The latch locks and the two women’s variously troubled lives become irrevocably intertwined. Haynes continues to evolve a beautiful visual style and to document an era he so spectacularly brings to the screen in Mildred Pierce. Though the film focuses foremost on the relationships of women, it nevertheless shows a great deal of empathy for the men. Both, husband Harge Aird (Kyle Chandler) and boyfriend Jake Lacy (Richard Semco) see Carol and Therese’s involvement as a direct threat to their masculinity. The film grieves as much for the fragility of the male archetypes of the era as it does for the women’s limited agency in a male-dominated world. Frequent Haynes collaborator Edward Lachman great camera work becomes a veritable master class on deep focus and the close-up. Along with the judicious use of Carter Burwell’s excellent score, the restrained and nuanced performances give the audience plenty of space to flesh out the film’s complexities while enchanted by its visual spectacle.

2.6 -- EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE, Wim Wenders                
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]  Tomas Eldan is a depressed self-absorbed writer struggling with writer’s block. On the way home from his ice fishing jaunt, he hits Christopher, a little boy whom he brings back to his mother’s house which is just up the little hill the boy was sliding down on his toboggan. Eldan is relieved the car caused no injury. But in fact, his car killed Christopher’s brother Nicolas who got shoved under the wheels. This, he does not know until his mother asks Christopher where his brother is. This tragedy forms the epicenter of the film, but eventually begins to spoke out into every facet of the writer’s life. However, Elden keeps it all together by not talking about it. His feelings are buried deep within. His relationship with his girlfriend falls apart. He forms a friendship with the mother of the boy he killed; she is religious and from the get-go says it was not his fault. It was an accident. Eventually, he becomes a successful writer with his new wife and her daughter basking in his new-found fame. However, Christopher, now an 18-year-old comes back into Elden’s life -- an unwelcome occurrence on Elden’s part. It would seem he’s being stalked. The young man needs to sort things out; he is angry and bitter. Wracked with guilt and pain, both men find a way to finalize their suffering. The slow-moving realism of the film works well, but James Franco as Elden is miscast. Also, (inexplicably) no one aged in this film despite the passing of time. The only ones who did were the two children Christopher and Nina, the daughter of Eldan's wife. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marie-Jose Croze and Rachel McAdams round out the rich cast of characters. The women in this film are heroines.

3.9 --  KAHIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET, Rogers Allers
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] Eight of the poet’s poems have been integrated into the story of Mustapha who has been put under house arrest for several years. His ideas are perceived as a threat in the Arabic world. Mustapha represents Kahil Gibran, and in the film, we see how peaceful and poetic his soul is. Each of the poetic parts are thematic, and present a guide for humanity to follow during such events as work, love, death etc. All have been magnificently created through animation -- thanks to over 12 of the world’s best animation artists. The music is stunning, and Liam Neeson seems to enhance it with his voice; it’s perfect for the poet’s part. The entire film is a magical visual tapestry of beauty in art, music as it embodies the magnificent mind of Kahil Gibran. The plot is touching and uplifting, but I doubt most children would follow the excerpts from The Prophet that are widely and wisely used throughout the film.

2.3 --  WELCOME TO THIS HOUSE, Barabar Hammer
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] A documentary on the poet, Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979). Hailing from a one-street town in Nova Scotia, Elizabeth, a lesbian, ends up with a coterie of relationships -- the most meaningful being with Brazilian artist and innovator, Lotta de Macedo. They set up home in the mountains. Voice-overs, narrations and a slew of poets, writer, including Quebec’s own Marie-Claire Blais and friends all bring to life the roaming life of Elizabeth Bishop. Her poetry was odd and rarely rhymed, but when it did, she echoed that of Dorothy Parker. The film though interesting did not highlight her supposed brilliance. I found her poetry -- some read in the film to be flat and unmoving. Her childhood was like her adult years, lonely and not fun. This film was screened at Montreal's 2015 Image+Nation Film Festival.  

3.9 --  OUT TO WIN, Malcolm Ingram
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] A riveting documentary on athletes and the horrific inner and public struggles they faced when they came out as being gay. Some lost all endorsements, such as tennis titan, Billie Jean King after being rudely outed by her secretary-lover. Others ended up committing suicide, such as Justin Fashinu – having been accused of sexually assaulting a young boy gay couple. But this is a film about heroism and triumph as seen in such players as football pro Sam Davis and many iconic leaders who bravely announced their homosexuality – the first one being Dave Kopay in 1975. baseball player Billy Bean actually married and lost his bearings when he chose to play in a game rather than attend his lover’s funeral. Then he came out, and left baseball, only to be named 16 years later as an ambassador for the sport for young people. Movements such as Campus Pride, Be True along with pioneers such as Pat Griffon, who founded -- an advocacy org for LGBT athletes -- were key players in advancing the cause. At the end, we see two baseball players, who in their youth found the courage to help one another through their coming out, and eventually receiving celebratory acceptance from their teammates. They end up participating in Gay Pride Parade in Portland. This is a fascinating film that shows that gay athletes have come a long way, but there is still much work and education to be done. The NFL has made great strides in welcoming gay players. It’s how well you play that counts; your sexual orientation has nothing to do with athletic achievement. This must see film was screened at Montreal's 2015 Image+Nation Film Festival.  

2.9 -- THAT'S NOT US, William Sullivan
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A gay couple, a lesbian couple and a straight couple are on vacation somewhere by the ocean in Maine. The film wonderfully charts the issues involved with each couple's relationship. The straight couple has power struggle issues; the gay male couple is experiencing anxiety, as one of them will be leaving to go to university in another city. The two lesbians are really having issues, as one is no longer interested in having sex. All ends up well, however. Spiked with humour, engaging personalities and original music, this opening festival feature for Montreal's 2015 Image+Nation Film Festival is not without real issues affecting all couples -- straight or gay.

1.3 -- TWITCH, Jules de Niverville
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A short experimental video of an acrobat spinning in a hoop hung high above a huge pool of brown water. The reflection in the pool did not work that well. Artistic but too repetitive. Even the addition of coloured strips attached to the hoop did not further any interest. This film was screened at Montreal's 2015 Image+Nation Film Festival.  

1.3 -- GOLDEN, Kai SäänickeDirector
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A boy is born with a body in the colour of gold. As he grows up, he feels cut off, but then he meets another like him. They kiss. Golden boy -- now a man -- keeps on meeting others like him. A silly short about being different. Why not make the message more poignant -- a hair lip or some affliction based in reality might have rung true. This film was screened at Montreal's 2015 Image+Nation Film Festival.  

2.4 -- TRUMBO, Jay Roach
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Trumbo is Jay Roach’s bright, supremely entertaining look at one of the ugliest chapters in Hollywood’s history. It follows renowned screen scribe Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston, magnetic), who was jailed and blacklisted for his Communist beliefs. Much of the opening half, thick with exposition, reduces an important, inflammatory figure and his political standing to a collection of one-liners and truisms. The story gets more of a bounce in the 1950s, as Trumbo’s crusade to churn out a screenplay a week for a lowbrow studio (written, of course, under pseudonyms) clashes with family time. Trumbo is slick and sometimes wry, but the showbiz comedy, adapted by John McNamara from a biography on the screenwriter, feels nowhere as substantive as it should. The quality of this character study slackens when there is such a quantity of years to track and supporting players to follow. Among those yearning for more to give to the story include Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo, Elle Fanning as daughter Nikola and Michael Stuhlbarg as a conflicted Edward G. Robinson. Nevertheless, fans of classic Hollywood will likely be tickled by the presence of big stars and bigger scandals. There is some fun watching some of today’s best actors throw what looks like an elaborate period-themed costume party. While it is frothy, Trumbo would have benefitted from a sharper focus of the screenwriter, and one that more fully captures his rage and emotional range. Those looking for a weightier take at this story should seek out Peter Askin’s 2007 doc of the same name.

3.7 -- SPECTRE, Sam Mendes
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Loved this intense and realistic film that spares us from corny lines and gimmicks of girls James Bond seduces and then leaves for good. Not this time, in a gritty highly relevant plot , Bond is discharged once again from his duties as 007 for interfering without the go-ahead from M15 to get Sicarra, the baddest guy in Mexico City who heads a secret global surveillance operation that makes Big Brother look like a midget. The film has a spectacular opening where thousands of people dressed iin macabre costume are walking like zombies to celebrate the year of the Day of the Dead. The killing of the bad guy supersedes all other imaginative scenes we have witnessed at the opening of each Bond film -- 23 of them thus far. On his own, Bond faces one of the most evil people -- a product of our information society. He also endures horrific torture. In fact, everything seems to be falling apart, including the instant dismantling of the M15 that is now being taken over by a merge with M16, run by a cocky psychopath called C. The fight scenes are fabulous, the villains totally real and plausible as a product of today's society. This film is super sophisticated, dark: we even find out a few more pithy details about Bond's youth as we follow the slick plot one of Mendes's best Bond film ever. This film is so real, it ranks as one of the most compelling Bond creations to hit the modern screen. Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Craig, Christopher Waltz and Léa Seydoux sizzled in this pot boiler movie mix. Great chemistry, focus and brilliant music by Thomas Newman make Spectre an ominous shadow tht lingers long after you leave the theatre.

3.3 -- POLICE ACADÉMIE (COP CLASS), Mélissa Beaudet
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In its closing sequences, Cop Class presents a frightening statistic: the high ethical standards of police academy graduates decline sharply once they join the force. This may explain the current disconnect between the ideals of public policing and its everyday practices. Mélissa Beaudet’s debut feature follows a group of young Collège Maisonneuve students from their 3rd year of their preparatory police course and through to their police academy training. Their reasons for wanting to become police are various. Most are very young; some have comically naive reasons for choosing law enforcement, and others are born into it. Regardless of their motivations, Cop Class dispassionately shows a system that does its best to breed professionalism and respect in its recruits. The students are made aware of their responsibility towards the public at every turn. While being drilled in protocols and legal justifications of arrest procedures, Beaudet quietly hints at more a fundamental shortcoming of a vocational model, which seems to ignore the need for more fundamental, academic education. Police training in Québec does not require higher education. Social sciences and humanities subjects are sidelined. While the public regularly experiences the schism between theory and reality of community policing, statistics show that the collapse of graduates’ ethical compasses is due to disillusionment with the realities of what is obviously very difficult work. In this light, perhaps more fundamental course work, and a little bit more maturity could make the difference in the practice of policing. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

3.1 -- MAMAN? NON MERCI! (NO KIDS FOR ME, THANKS!), Magenta Baribeau
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In general, parenthood so valued as to eclipse all other forms of self-realization. In an audacious example of Québec’s documentary tradition No Kids For Me, Thanks! confronts a taboo that continues to plague women in the 21st century: motherhood. In her debut feature, director Magenta Baribeau shows that women who choose to not be mothers swim against a very strong current of expectation. In many ways, adults who choose to not have kids often find themselves infantilized, second guessed and, in the extreme cases, living a closeted existence as non-parents. Even in a liberated society such as Québec’s, women's rights to reproductive choice are unquestioned only up to the point of not choosing motherhood. No Kids For Me, Thanks! explodes the myth of feminist advancement and shows through various testimonies that the core societal assumption of maternity remains unchallenged and expected of women even today. These expectations are inbred, beginning with close family and friends and extending to broader society whose members often feel justified in challenging what is in effect a personal choice. Baribeau’s film succinctly demonstrates that we live in a cult of motherhood, whose machine perpetuates nuclear family stereotypes and shrouds the reality of maternity in a cloak of idealized bliss.This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

2.8 -- STAR*MEN, Allison Rose
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Director of Love at the Twilight Motel, Alison Rose offers a very personal project through which we learn as much about her passion for astronomy as we do about the film’s subjects. The subjects of Star*Men are nevertheless exceedingly interesting. Together, Wal Sargent, Donald Lynden-Bell, Neville Woolf and Roger Griffin represent some of the 20th century’s landmark advances in the observation and understanding of the universe. In 1960 these men all found themselves on post-doctoral research at Cal Tech -- one of the world’s premier astronomy schools. Drawn together by their British roots, they became known for taking off on various rambles through the American southwest in a beaten up station wagon. The film follows their 50th reunion and return to their southwestern stomping grounds. For what may perhaps be their last ramble together they tour some of the country’s iconic astronomical installations. Touching, poignant, with spectacular time-lapse imagery and breathtaking images of the cosmos, Star*Men does get a little sentimental at times. Equally trying is the film’s music -- a documentary equivalent of elevator music -- which adds nothing to the overall quality of the film’s cinematography. Star*Men gives pause to consider the wider questions of our existence in a stupendously huge cosmos made slightly more concrete thanks in part to the contributions of these great scientists. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] As a long time centre of coal production, the northern Chinese city of Datong faces huge environmental and social challenges -- ones its mayor, Deng, hopes to overcome with a bold scheme to re-erect the city’s ancient walls. The scheme requires extreme determination and micro-management. Deng navigates a system whose vast financial investments trickle down to irresponsible and self-serving subcontractors. His is also a vision not everyone shares as thousands of homes must be demolished and thousands built in order to relocate the people. With unprecedented access to the mayor, director Hao Zhu turns the camera on the mechanics of centralized planning. Deng is ferocious in his desire to affect change. He believes that rebuilding the ancient city will rejuvenate the city’s cultural history and cement Datong’s future legacy as a tourist city. The Chinese Mayor is a difficult film to watch. It starkly presents the massive inequalities between ordinary people and the ruling elite. In so doing it goes on to show how everyone is, to a degree, trapped by system’s deep rooted corruption and lack of accountability. Though Deng wields tremendous power, he is at the mercy of the Party’s whims as much as the city’s citizens are at the mercy of his grand plans. Yet he is also critical of the structure of which he is part and desperate to implement change for the benefit of future generations. Gambler? Megalomaniac? Humanitarian? Deng is, if nothing else, passionate and deeply committed to finishing what he started. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

3.0 -- AFTER CIRCUS, Viveka Melki
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] At once touching homage to the dying art of traditional circus and rumination on growing old, Viveka Melki presents the stories of a community of circus performers who have settled in Sarasota, a Florida city whose ties with circus go back to the beginnings of the art in the United States. What Montréal is to Nouveau Cirque, Sarasota is to its traditional big top grandparent. Unlike some forms of artistic expression, circus performance, especially in its more physically demanding disciplines, makes for short careers. The film focuses on, Circus Sarasota, the project of legendary aerialist Dolly Jacobs and husband Pedro Reis. Their goal in creating the circus is to preserve the traditional circus heritage while giving both rising young artists as well older masters in the twilight of their careers a place hone their craft. While, Jacobs, in her 50s, continues to perform, she is facing the inevitable reality of having to retire one day. Her Sarasota circus family keeps its heritage very close, never forgetting those who no longer perform. The loss of the circus lifestyle, as well as the act of performance represent fundamental losses to retired circus artists. Moreover, the loss of revenue from a non-traditional income source far leave many former circus artists hovering on the edge of poverty. After Circus gives a voice to invisible legends, whose often well-documented fame is likely never to penetrate into the mainstream. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] An 18 minute short. What a brave little ten-year-old. Giovanni is determined to join the Netherlands' synchronized swimming team and make it to the championships. But gender -- aside from not being able to do the splits -- is his greatest deterrent; boys aren't allowed on the team. Still he trains with the girls, masters the splits, and actually passes the try-out for entry into the country's grand competition. Another entertaining side line to the story is the support he gets from Kim, his Goldie locks girl friend. Their banter is akin to two adults approaching marriage (which adds more amusement to this true story). However, the pull of the water is stronger than the pull of any long term commitment, and so, Kim and Giovanni change the status of their relationship to friendship. What a darling short -- a film that also sends an enduring message: unconventionality wins the day. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

3.0 -- THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 2, Francis Lawrence
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The bleakest film franchise of the 21st century concludes in compelling fashion, despite some awkward pacing. You can blame some of that bloat on the “Part 2” from the title. (The decision to split the final book into two films should help the studio reap extra box office, though). In this last installment, we rejoin heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the fiery rebellion leader from author Suzanne Collins’ grim dystopian universe. Katniss and her young, athletic set of friends prepare to get rid of Panem’s fascist ruler, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and return the world to peace and civility. The film’s middle third, a tense mission into the heart of Snow’s Capitol, balances character development with some meaty thrills, including a suspenseful subterranean set-piece where Katniss and company have to fend off creatures that look like compact versions of the monster from Alien. Elsewhere, this fourth Hunger Games installment shifts between stilted and rushed, between exposition and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it plot developments. Still, this closing chapter makes potent use of the franchise’s best assets. First, there’s the political subtext: Katniss may have been a victor in a savage tournament, but she doesn’t feel like a winner. The discussions about murder, trauma and the cycle of violence are mostly engaging, and lend Francis Lawrence’s film grit. Second, there’s the other Lawrence – Jennifer – who has anchored the four-part series with grace and gravitas. Her Katniss is mighty yet wounded. She takes the role seriously, so the audience responds by taking this dark, disturbing story world seriously. Also starring Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore and, in his last screen performance, the legendary Philip Seymour Hoffman.

[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Through the voices and instruments of some of its most important musicians, They Will Have to Kill Us First is a bitter look at how the conflicts in northern Mali have destabilized the region’s essential musical culture. Schwartz follows artists from Timbuktu and Gao as they struggle with exile in southern Mali and other west African havens after their cities fall under Islamist imposition of Sharia law. The medieval interpretation of Sharia preferred by the extremists forbids any form of musical expression deemed ‘modern.’ Music is central to Malian cultural expression. In Abderrahmane Sissako’s stunning 2014 fiction film, Timbuktu -- also about the Islamist invasion of northern Mali -- the outlawing of music represents one of the key traumas. Schwartz’s film details these injustices and moves beyond music. The musicians feel a sense of social responsibility and their craft as a weapon against oppression and a tool for reconciliation. Beautifully filmed, focusing on the words of the participants with no additional narrative, They Will Have to Kill Us First is an admirable first feature effort and an important film that showcases an exceedingly admirable culture suffering the terrible fate of greater regional and historical instability. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

3.0 -- JESUS TOWN, USA , Billie Mintz & Julian T. Pinder
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Jesus Town, USA introduces a cast of hundreds in what is America’s longest running outdoor passion play. Since the 1930s a small town near Lawton Oklahoma, known as the Holy City of the Wichitas, has been putting on an huge production of the Passion of Christ every Easter. Drawing, at times, crowds of tens of thousands, the production is a multi-generational community project that defines its participants through their involvement in the spectacle as well as by their Christian faith. Mintz and Pinder’s documentary, though unscripted, uses to a certain narrative ‘advantage,’ the huge amount of footage shot during their six-month immersion in the community, to tell the story of the production and of its current 'Christ,' Zach Little. Highly motivated and not at all camera-shy, Zach wins the audition to play Christ after the play’s long-time ‘Christ’ suddenly announces his retirement. The film’s original intention may have been to expose a quirky Christian event in small-town USA along with its cast of bumbling faithfuls. However, Jesus Town, USA ends up portraying the process of coming out against a community’s deeply held belief system to surprising results. Director Mintz -- on hand during this Québec première -- shies away from defining his film as a ‘hybrid’ documentary although the narrative bend inherent in the film’s editorial choices is clearly evident. Nevertheless, the film sets up an entertaining level of suspense as everyone struggles with the paradox of a ‘Christ’ who professes a different faith. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival.

2.7 -- MISS YOU ALREADY, Catherine Hardwicke
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Catherine Hardwicke’s new film, Miss You Already, is a refreshing contribution to the woman’s film genre -- a genre that has been much diminished by cheesy romantic comedies and equally vacuous 'chick-flicks' of recent decades. The film, co-produced by both Hardwicke and writer Morwenna Banks, tells the story of lifelong friends Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) whose lives are permeated by shared seminal experiences -- from first flirtations, through love, to committed partnership and children. When Milly learns she has breast cancer, Jess is tirelessly at her side even to the point of tension in her own complicated relationship with Jago (Paddy Considine). The ravages of breast cancer leave Milly reeling and questioning her very womanhood. She becomes estranged away from committed partner Kit (Dominic Cooper) and phases into whim and fancy as means of coping with the loss of her self identity. On its surface, the film is deceivingly simple and could be wrongly dismissed as yet another feel good chick flick. While there are some predictable plot devices that complicate the women’s relationships, Hardwicke maintains the film’s focus on Milly’s experience as she rejects the socially acceptable forms of expressing her anger at the loss of her femininity. This identity crisis is made all the more potent in Milly’s realization that her body is currency and that so much of her own self worth is wrapped up in her physical attributes. Don’t be fooled by its chick-flicky, cookie-cutter surface, Miss You Already is a serious film that remains steadfast in its focus on the women at its heart without too much gushy sentimentality.

3.1 -- PEGGY GUGGENHEIM; ART ADDICT, Lisa Immordino Vreeland
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Thirty-eight years after the death of eccentric art collector and 'manizer' with the artists she befriended and promoted, Peggy Guggenheim is the focus of this stimulating, insightful documentary. It's a sterling mix of voice overs: the director and her subject engage in conversation bringing up all topics related to Guggenheim's two loves: art and the men whose paintings she exhibited in Paris, London and New York. Precious audio tapes were found of Guggenheim, and so the director made use of them while showing old stills and movie clips of her life. Enriching was the cornucopia of paintings shown in the film - of Europe's great modern artists, including Leger, Deschamps, Dali, Ernst and Pollack (her New York find, along with de Kooning). A woman of great vision and courage, she managed to find a way to save all the paintings in her museum in France during the war. Guggenheim will be remembered. Homely and having had a sad family life -- her father lost his life in the Titanic tragedy, and her sister killed her self and her two children -- this New York Jewish lady was and will always be a giant in galvanizing the status of modern art. Not only that, she brought over countless Jewish artists before Hitler could get to them. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

3.8 -- DEMOCRATS, Camilla neilsson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A superb film (2014) shot over a three-year period in which director Camilla Nielsson gained exclusive access to the inner circles of politics in Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe by following the two political opponents: the bullish, buffoonish Mangwana of the long-time ruling party ZANU-PF, and the Movement for Democratic Change's progressive Mwonzora, from the MDC party headed by President Morgan Tsvangirai who won the 2008 presidential election. Refusing to accept the outcome, Mugabe's vote rigging efforts successfully forced a run-off election. To stop the subsequent brutal and widespread ZANU PF politically motivated violence, Dr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off election.
The stage is now set for the drafting of a constitution. Mwonzora is a former lawyer whose gentle manner, respect for people, diplomacy and evolved thinking are virtues that are completely in contrast to his adversary with whom he must now collaborate on writing a new constitution for the country. To do this they face people all over the country. The process is marred from the outset: sinister unfair tactics from ZANU-PF corrupt a nationwide consultation designed to hear the people's voice. Secret police and government supporters stymie people from expressing their real views about the present government and what they wish to see written in the constitution. The death of a teenager during a violent meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, adds oil to the already heated scene where Mangwana threatens to fire the writers who are drafting up the constitution. Why? Because one of the clauses states that no president can hold office for more than ten years. This horrifies the theatrical and now hysterical Mangwana and puts him in grave danger, as this clause implies that Mugabe must be ousted; he must go; yet Mangwana is the puppet representing and loyal to the president. Panicking, he actually gets Mwonzona put in jail for two months on trumped up charges from 2003. Interestingly and eventually, he begins to come on side with Mwonora, his collaborator whom he thus far he opposes; he see that the constitution is so important and that with the revision of that clause -- Mwonzora takes care of modifying the terms -- that limits the duration of a president in power will come into effect in the future. Mangwana gains great respect for Mwonzora, for making concessions for the greater good, for setting an example of democratic compromise. Both now are determined to push on. As the drama unfolds, the grave personal costs to reaching political victory become clear. Two years after due date, the constitution is finally written, Mugabe, nonetheless is suspiciously reelected. Still, the laws are now written, and dictatorial hell may one day diminish if not altogether disappear. A brilliant film with astonishing developments that pit two politically diametrically opposed men against one another; yet their mandate to work together triumphs. The outcome is riveting. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

3.2 -- THE OTHER SIDE, Roberto Minervini
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Mark and Lisa are methane addicts, but function autonomously and with loving care towards each other. Mark is highly intelligent and able; he's a good soul who cares for his sister and niece, and most of the old timers he visits in the run-down backwoods of Louisiana. Mark and his kind are pretty darn isolated. We meet a band of self-appointed men who form a militia against the American government. They are armed and are learning training tacits to protect their families. All the men and women we meet are like red-neck, yet caring people from another part of the universe. Social and economic deprivation has shaped the impoverished minds of these folk who have been left to fend for themselves -- abandoned by society and shunned by Americans who live comfortably. Despite their problems, the family unit and family values remain intact. This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

2.6 -- TRUTH, James Vanderbilt
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In his first director’s credit, producer and writer James Vanderbilt takes an Oliver Stonesian look at an event that some view as the definitive death-knell for independent, investigative journalism. Truth is based on a 2006 book by Mary Mapes, which recounts the events and politics surrounding CBS’s ill-fated 60 Minutes report that revealed George W. Bush may have been AWOL for over a year while in the Texas Air National Guard. Produced by Mapes -- then coming off a groundbreaking report about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib -- the film follow’s the story’s development as well as the ensuing scandal that led to the destruction of Mapes’ and legendary CBS anchor Dan Rather’s careers. A powerhouse cast featuring Cate Blanchett as Mapes and Robert Redford as the Rather, drives a tense and crisply written drama. Vanderbilt shows an even hand, eschewing the ubiquitous SteadyCam shakiness, to deliver a well paced suspense that nicely blends newsroom drama with biography. The film aspires -- in both style and content -- to the likes of All the President’s Men (1976). The journalistic process is carefully detailed, as are some of the corners the production team may have cut in their rush to air the story. ThoughTruth sagely leaves enough room for interpretation, the film does present the ugly corporate reality of being caught on the wrong side of a politically sensitive issue. Vanderbilt seasons his film with just the right amount of conspiracy. Unlike the threatening calls to the editor and shadowy underground parking meetings with codenamed operatives though, the conspiracy in 'Truth' is maddeningly mundane. What is certain is that Vanderbilt demonstrates flexibility and good judgment -- and perhaps a promise of more hard-hitting and mature themes to come from a Hollywood figure thus far renowned for blockbuster fare.

2.1 -- TOUCHED WITH FIRE, Paul Dalio
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Mario ( Luke Kirby) is manic depressive. In the hospital, he meets Carla (Katie Holmes), kindred spirit and poet, As soul mates they fuel each other's manic side, and run afoul of parents' authority and hospital doctors. The outcome proves that manic depression can't be controlled without drugs, but Marco feels his manic side is a girl; he refuses medications, and in so doing, loses Carla. She ends up with another man and a new book under her belt. There is much to this film, but it is long and in parts, lacks credibility. However, the director -- also the scriptwriter -- ably captures how bi-polar people see the world, and how others view them. The music by Vangelis was superb, as was the acting. This was the opening film for Montreal's 2015 Au Contraire Festival.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The Bois de Vincennes comprises 2459 acres, and serves as a living hideout for those wishing to escape from society's pressures. In this documentary, we meet all kinds of sordid characters (prostitutes, voyeurs), some of whom use the park for clandestine homosexual encounters, or as a background for painting, or simply to stretch one’s legs. We meet tree specialists who take care of the trees, and biologists who study salamanders. This park is a universe unto itself right in the heart of Paris. Four lakes, biking paths, a bridal path and meadows everywhere, the park is a sanctuary for those who yearn for nature and the simple life. What enchantment! This film was screened at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM).

1.8 -- BURNT, John Wells
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Given the popularity of programs about gastronomy over the last decade -- from Iron Chef to Top Chef -- it was only a matter of time before Hollywood tackled the rock-star world of ultra-fine dining. John Wells’ Burnt tells the story of a two Michelin-starred chef, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), who has tanked his Paris career through the toxic combination of drugs, alcohol and many poor decisions. Now, older, sober and having completed a self-imposed penance, Jones comes to London to start anew. His objective: the elusive third Michelin star. The character’s trajectory is emblematic of a world in which dictatorial management techniques (à la Gordon Ramsey -- who ironically tutored Cooper for the role) are still quite common as are seriously obsessive and addictive behaviours. The film is nice: nicely scored, nicely filmed with great attention paid to the cookery. It is at the same time unbelievably reductive. Its characters are synthesized from all of the various backstories of great chefs and great failures and thrown into the mixing bowl of Hollywood’s formulaic ‘boy makes good’ narrative. One of the film’s greatest follies includes the ludicrous relegation of Omar Sy’s ‘Michel’ to that of a catalyst for Adam Jones’ rebirth as the man he was always meant to be.

3.0 -- MEET THE PATELS, Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] “So when are you going to find yourself a nice -- and settle down?” is a question everyone loves to hear at a family gathering. Now imagine coming from a culture, where marriage has evolved into an international matchmaking network. Geeta Patel pushes her brother, comedian and writer Ravi Patel, to document his capitulation to the Patel dynasty machine and begin the search for an Indian mate. Meet the Patels is a very frank look into the heart of a close-knit Indian-American family whose family ties are, at once, cultural ties. People from the state of Gujarat are famous in that most share a common family name -- Patel. The Patels form an incredible diaspora known for their propensity -- unique even among Indians -- to marry within their regional borders through an ever-evolving system of arranged marriages. The film will speak volumes to anyone who comes from a close-knit family regardless of culture, race or religion. At the same time, Geeta Ravi’s direction speaks very seriously to issues of racism, cultural elitism and resistance to change that so often accompany (or haunt) groups whose goals are wrapped up in the propagation of traditional family values and specific culture. Yet, at the same time, the harmony, joy and security of membership in a group so far flung and familiar poses -- for both Patel children -- a powerful attraction that binds Ravi to try, at the very least, to satisfy his parents’ expectations. There is no trace of malevolence or coercion in the endeavour; only the absolute certainty voiced by many a happy Patel couple -- including parents Champa and Vasant -- that the system works if you let it. The only problem with the second generation Patels in this tale is that their desire for familial bliss may have outgrown the boundaries of race, class and culture their own parents take for granted. Be forewarned that Meet the Patels assumes certain traditional family values as ironclad. Otherwise, the film is a heartwarming, hilarious look at a unique culture whose success transcends borders and, ultimately, even racial and cultural barriers.

3.4 -- MANOS SUCIAS, Josepf Wladyka
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Rugged Jacobo and naive Delio, from the infamous drug port of Buenaventure, embark on a small boat to deliver a metal capsule -- the size of a gigantic bullet carrying inside it oodles of packages of cocaine as it floats under the water; it is tied to a rope on the boat. The two brothers who have not been together for years, endure harrowing events over a period of three days; they cannot turn back; they must deliver it at a certain meeting point or suffer potentially lethal brutal consequences. Devastating events occur along their way, including having the drugs stolen, witnessing a killing and having to kill, as well. Brilliantly acted and shot on location along the Pacific coast of Columbia's drug-infested shores. Spike Lee was the executive producer. An unforgettable film. This film was screened during the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival).

3.9 -- SELMA, Ava DuVernay
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A riveting reenactment of the historic struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior to secure voting rights for black Americans ('Negro' was the word used at that time). This biopic fastidiously focuses on every angle of strategy and team work used by the great leader and his team -- a small group that rarely wavered from their goal: to get that vote. The strife and cruelty inflicted on blacks particularly in the South was unbearable and robbed all the people of dignity. When four little girls are killed by a bomb that explodes in a church in Selma, the suppressed force of black Americans rises up to begin a dangerous march from Selma to Montgomery. In crossing the Pettus Bridge, they are attacked by the horrid white police force. Later they attempt to cross it again, and when the police retreat -- orders from Lyndon B. Johnson -- Dr. King turns back, after kneeling with his people and praying -- asking God to tell him what to do. He can't bear the thought that more people will be killed in a trap of some sort, or so he thinks, and that is why he had a change of plan. Several useless conversations with President Lyndon B. Johnson are to no avail for King who tries to get the vote for his people. Only when the brutality is shown on TV during one of the marches does the president grant the vote, ordering Governor George Wallace to tear down the obstacles preventing them from voting. Ironically, he used the words King used to him, saying to Wallace he would go down in history as the man responsible for allowing Negroes to die at his own hands. What a powerful time in history. Dr King's faith and perseverance was compelling and brave. After the film there was a panel discussion between four leaders of different religions. Most importantly, Dr King's son was the guest speaker whose humour and love for his father made the evening more than just a film event. It was thrilling to meet him. This film was screened during the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival).

3.4 -- SICARIO, Denis Villneuve
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The Spanish word, 'sicario' means hit man. It would seem everyone in this gritty, highly compelling thriller is involved in either pulling the trigger or receiving the bullet. When Arizona FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) uncovers a Mexican cartel's house of death, she is recruited -- more like coerced -- into a secret black-ops mission which is headed by Alejandro,- a Columbian hit man who was once on the cartel side. Benicio Del Toro stole the entire film in his role as Alejandro, mixing tenderness with cold killing. He serves as a somber foil for his US casually laid-back partner, Matt Graver. Alejandro is on a personal mission that is compatible with cartel hunters -- like Matt. A butcher who headed one of the cartels slaughtered Alejandro's family, and so the widower is on a mission of revenge. The only problem is nothing is done by the books. Kate is walking in the dark about why she has been told to come along for the ride. But in the end, she and the audience find out just why her presence was so invaluable. Nothing like a signature to make the operation look lawful, and in this case, it's Kate's signing -- with a gun held to her throat that makes the lawless look lawful. The film is violent and totally realistic. The scene in Juarez is brutally poignant. This film shows how the bad and good guys seem to be one and the same. Does the end justify the means? The film thrusts Kate into the horrid heart of a secret and brutal battleground of ruthless cartel players, manic assassins, clandestine American spies and special swat teams for whom all means justify the ends. Vile or virtuous, the audience is left to decide between right and wrong. Saintly Kate comes out losing the battle; the legal ground for her is where she stands, but the facts on the ground reveal just how ineffective and naïve she is. Emily Blunt as Kate was far too pretty, vulnerable and weak for us to believe she was really in charge of the Arizona kidnap-response-team before she ends up taking the nightmarish journey on her new assignment. She has no idea what is really going on behind her back, and when she finds out -- it's game over.

2.4 -- AMERICAN ULTRA, Nima Nourizadeh
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Mike Howell (Jessie Eisenberg) is a supposedly sweet sensitive stoner whose girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Bell) is a devoted supporter of his graphic novel characters that never go beyond his desk at home. Mike suffers from anxiety attacks. Unbeknownst to him, he's a trained killer -- the subject of a CIA experiment, but he suffers from blocked memories about his childhood and the origin of his killing skills. Now he is wanted by an ambitious CIA head who wants to bring him down. Most of the film is about Mike trying to a find perfect moments to propose to his girlfriend, but bullets and knives derail him. As well, his identity crisis causes obsessive confusion that leads him to question his past and present. When Mike finds out his girlfriend was initially hired as his handler, his romance falls flat -- for a moment, but then all the bad guys get killed -- thanks to Mike, and he goes off with his new wide Phoebe to kill more bad guys, but this time knowing what happened to him under his CIA training some years ago. His immediate and loyal traine, a woman of courage and substance, refused to let him be killed. The plot has some pretty nifty twists with violence that gives you more than a bang for your buck. Much was amusing and campy with Jesse Eisenberg leading the way in his soft-spoken manner.

1.9 -- THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. , Guy Ritchie
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A rather flat remake of a fabulous TV series. Neither Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) or Armie Hammer as Ilya Kuryakin can come close to the pair of spies we all fell in love with in 1964. The film starts with them trying to kill one another as enemies, but a nuclear weapon has both Russian and American chiefs uniting the two in order to infiltrate the fortress of a couple who hold the key to set it off. Set during the Cold war, this film has tons of great car scenes, stunning Italian scenery and an over played soundtrack that might well be suited to a show by the director's ex-wife (Madonna). The music seemed to compensate for the one vital element missing from any good film -- no matter the genre: credible acting. The dated glam turned it all into a sham

2.9 --  IRRATIONAL MAN, Woody Allen
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] This movie is a stand-out example of: It worked as a book, but not as a movie. Widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy, the book introduced existentialism to America in 1958. In this radical book, the author, William Barrett, discusses the views of 19th and 20th century existentialists Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre and interprets the impact of their thinking on literature, art and philosophy. Evidently, it lit up a huge neuron in Woody Allen’s brain path. Told by the two central characters as voice over comments to reveal their inner thoughts, and also acted in real time, Jill -- the young philosophy student and Abe, her professor -- have an affair. Abe, a marginalized intellectual, is on his last bottle and is depressed and apathetic. He’s lost all vigour for life and seems to enjoy hanging out dirty laundry to those who will listen as he reveals his angst and failures, including his sexual dysfunction. And then along comes Jill, and she thinks she’s found her Jack -- in Abe. He begins to smile. But his newly found happiness and energy does not come from her so much as it does from the murderous plan he hatches and carries out in the name of taking control of life – especially his own and giving it meaning. There is far too much verbal diarrhea in the film; it is static; for a depressed guy, he sure talks a lot. Still, Abe draws everyone in, including us as he naturally expounds on the haplessness of life and the chaotic thoughts that spin in people’s minds. Nothing makes much sense for him, but he changes that around. Joaquin Phoenix as Abe just didn’t quite hit the mark; in fact, he was dull -- even boring, but it’s hard to play such an unattractive selfish weirdo and win friends, attract film fans and influence them enough to want to pick up the book that inspired the film and read it. Emma Stone was excellent as Jill. It was one of the few films where the director himself did not make a cameo appearance. One wonders if the deadpan ideas espoused by Abe may indeed be a mirror reflection of Mr. Allen’s own as he nears the sunset of his life. An unusual intriguing story featuring one of the most understated but diabolical characters to walk into a Newport, Rhode Island university.

2.2 -- IRRATIONAL MAN, Woody Allen
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Woody Allen is back with yet another tale of American upper-crust’s existential malaise. Philosophy professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives at a Rhode Island liberal arts college to teach a summer semester. Being the tortured bad boy of the academic world, his reputation precedes him and his appointment is already a hot topic of gossip. One of his philosophy students is standout Jill (Emma Stone), who seems wiser beyond her years and unabashedly drawn to Abe, who is also pursued by unhappily married Rita (Parker Posey). Abe is, indeed tortured. The philosophy which has seen him through a lifetime of attempted self-realization fails him miserably, until one chance day at lunch with Jill, they overhear a conversation that gives him a twisted existential purpose. This is not Woody Allen at his best. Needless to say, the cast deliver their prerequisite off-beat performances but the drama is all-too lighthearted for the darkness underlying its central premise. All told, Irrational Man is simply too cute for its own good and so obvious in its endearing chastisement of bourgeois values that it cannot sustain the straight-faced hilarity of some of Allen’s truly memorable fare.

3.0 --  MISSION IMPLAUSIBE, Christopher McQuarrie
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] When IMF is disposed of because of CIA’s complaints about their unorthodox tactics, Ethan and his pals are without a job, but Ethan is intent on catching the bad guys. He’s being hunted down now by everyone now. His labyrinthine journey into hiding while at the same time tracking down the evil guy who heads an international unauthorized syndicate takes him into Morocco, London and Vienna. This syndicate leader, named Lane, has set up an expansive operation to take over the world. The movie is so complicated but entirely entertaining -- it doesn’t matter if the good guys are really the bad and vice versa. It’s high action -- better than James Bond, but there’s a price to pay: the twists becomes so confusing that in the end one is still left trying to figure it all out. And stretching credibility to the breaking point, I wonder how Ethan, after so much battering, still manages to get up. He’s truly super human. The opening scene is one of the best in the series of Mission Impossible flicks. Simon Peg added wonderful comic relief and warmth to the film, playing Ethan’s best bud and brilliant computer man. Another touch that shows Ethan is fallible occurs in a very watery tank scene; he gets bonked on the head by a rotating propeller. The Turandot opera music used both from a scene in the film as later used in the background was a daring if not a dramatic ploy to heighten our senses.

3.1 -- TRISTESSE CLUB, Vincent Mariette
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Léon (Laurent Lafitte) and Bruno (Vincent Macaigne) Camus’ philandering, deadbeat father is dead. Léon learns first and informs younger brother Bruno and the two set off on an inopportune journey to a Savoie backwater for the funeral. On their way they meet alluring Chloé (Ludivine Sagnier) who stuns them with a double whammy of news that gives the brothers a new purpose. Tristesse Club is precisely the type of human-scale comedy the French so often get right. The cast’s solid performances flesh out believable characters who negotiate a series of hilarious obstacles. Even if the film’s endearing resolution appears a little too neat and contrived, Mariette’s debut feature film makes for lighthearted, entertaining viewing, presents an especially timely break for those suffering burnout from Fantasia’s relentless intensity. Tristesse Club opens July 31st at Cinéma Beaubien.

2.9 -- MR. HOLMES, Bill Condon
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] It is 1947 and an elderly Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) resides in a cottage in south England. He tends to his beloved bees, with only housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her young son Roger (Milo Parker) for company. Holmes faces his old age with trepidation and regret. Having recently returned from Japan with a prized plant known for its restorative properties, the legendary detective desperately attempts to keep senility at bay. Haunted by a case that forced him into retirement, he struggles to solve the the mystery whose facts are confounded by his fading memory.
Bill Condon’s Holmesean swan-song is dignified and graceful even if a bit too tidy in its conflict and final plot resolution. Ageing himself, Ian McKellen brings his trademark wryness to the role and bears the Holmes mask well. Altogether, it feels like the character of Holmes represents the actor’s own anxiety about losing the best parts of himself to age. Offbeat and humble, Condon’s
Mr. Holmes offers touches of wisdom, showing the redemptive power of self-forgiveness -- even in the twilight years.

3.6- - AMY, Asif Kapadia
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] British documentary film maker Asif Kapadia explores the tragedy of the life of Amy Winehouse in the recently-released AMY. Born in the 1990s, Amy Winehouse’s life has been documented through numerous media from early on. Kapadia uses a lot of home-made footage taken by various members of the Winehouse family and entourage, giving an intimate view of her early development, her talent and her shy, humble character.
The film thus casts light upon the central conflict in Amy Winehouse’s brief life: the untenable tension between superstardom and her desire and need for privacy. The consequent sensationalistic and highly public media intrusion into Winehouse’s troubled personal life created the perfect storm that caused the artist to seek shelter in drugs and alcohol.
Kapadia, however, does not offer lamentations about the nefarious nature of British media, nor does he moralize about the pitfalls of stardom, or hunt for someone to blame. Rather, he allows those closest to her to to deal sincerely with their own failings, while recognizing Winehouse’s own. Without passing judgment, the film goes on to show how the actions of those closest to her -- her husband Blake, her agent/tour manager and her father -- added to the pressure and eventually pushed Winehouse into an irreversible downward spiral.
Above all else, however, the film keenly captures Winehouse’s talent, passion for jazz and uncanny lyrical ability that taps directly into her personal experience. Recognized as one of the singular female jazz singers of all time, Kapadia’s film celebrates the genius of Amy Winehouse, while steering clear of simple characterizations and easy judgments. A must-see, AMY plays at Excentris and Beaubien until July 15, and at Cineplex Forum until July 16.

3.8 -- THE LITTLE DEATH, Josh Lawson
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A hilarious sex fetish film from Magnolia Pictures that takes place in Australia. The comedy brings together hilarious scenarios of couples trying to 'fix up' their stagnant sex life and fulfill their fantasies. Their strategies include arousal from staging a rape, role playing different professionals, watching your mate cry and also sleep. Of course the good old foot fetish one is there. What makes the punch happy plot so clever is the credible yet outrageous lengths one of the partners will go to for her or his own sake. In fact, there is a lot of covert plotting on the part of one partner to get her/his jollies off; it is done without the other suspecting the manipulation behind the devious behaviour. The scene at the end is hilarious when paid video sex takes place in a skype line. A deaf young man uses a signing interpreter on skype; she signs what the sex worker is saying to get him aroused. He never actually sees the lady, just the signer. The sex worker is busy feeding her paralytic mother in a chair who has had a stroke,. The scene is so incongruous; conversations merge and the sex talk becomes more like an elder abuse situation than a raunchy verbal ramble. There are several entertaining scenes with ironic twists. Even though the couples aren't laughing, we are.

3.8 -- BIG GAME, Jamari Helanderr
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Two parallel hunts that collide bring together Oskari, a Lapland boy, and the US President. The day he is about to turn 13, and prove his manhood, he must go deep into the forest and hunt down a deer. But his quest turns into more than just a hunt. Up in the sky, the President of The United States is being attacked by planes and a missile, so his bodyguard sends him out into a capsule to escape. The bodyguard who is really a bad guy kills everyone on board. He's in cahoots with a terrorist on the ground. Their big catch is the President. The boy and the President meet up by lucky chance, and while trying to escape, they are being hunted as big game by the terrorist and end up experiencing a series of harrowing adventures. Rising to the challenge of impossible feats prove Oskari is a true brave hero and more man than the thugs who try to kill him. The film is hilarious, suspenseful, hammy and heartwarming. Irony and coincidences are so exaggerated, the film requires more than a modicum of suspension of disbelief, but we buy into it whole heartedly. Samuel Jackson as the President, purposely plays a weak one, and his distinct voice contributes to the humour of his holding a position that doesn't suit him. His facial expressions and lines bring strong laughs. Onni Tommila as the teen is great in his acting. What a little hero he is. I'd like to see this Remstar film -- presented by Fantasia but not shown during the actual festival -- become a box office comedy hit.

3.4 --  JURASSIC WORLD, Colin Trevorrow
[reviewed  by Nancy Snipper] What a wonderful idea, as long as Indominus, the creature created by the mad scientist who heads In Gen for Jurassic World theme park does not escape from its walls. After all it is more terrifying than T-Rex. Velocioraptors in this bio-genetically engineered Disneyland-like dinosaur world have been trained to obey Owen’s (Chris Pratt) orders, but when an evil entrepreneur envisions using them as potential weapons for US enemies, he puts them to the test; they are sent to kill Indominus. But all hell breaks loose and everyone almost gets eaten up – except the good guys. Imagine being able to actually make dinosaurs, and that is what this sci-fi action flick is about. There are many suspenseful moments in the film, especially when the two children, Zack and Gray are stuck in the park and come face to face with the thundering monster who can outsmart even the cleverest of scientists. There is a moral in this flick about greed, family connection and human insanity. It all happens 22 years after the incident at Jurassic Park inside the same now completely new park. This is the fourth film of the series, and although nothing can 'outeat' the first, it does manage to serve up a pretty spectacular presentation on the big screen.

1.4 -- TERMINATOR GENISYS, Alan Taylor
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] We are in the future. Kyle Reese is sent back to1984 by his mentor John Connor to protect a young Sarah Connor whose protector (Arnold Schwarzenneger) faces off in the dastardly Skynet invention run by machine terminators and killer robots posing as men in order to keep control of their takeover. The film is a confounding mess of time travel scenes that have everyone confused including the protagonists. This sci-fi flick is part of the trilogy which explains or at least tries to the story behind the entire terminator takeover. I give it a thumbs down, despite the fact that Schwarznegger as the good machine can still pack a mean punch and perform better than any 'human' in the film.

[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Mark Ruffalo stars as Cameron Stuart, a father of two who struggles to stay on an even keel after being diagnosed bi-polar. Separated from wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and girls Amelia (Imogene Wollodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), Cameron struggles to re-integrate himself into the family dynamic.
Cam comes from a traditional Boston Brahmin family, and although he and Maggie are both well educated, they nevertheless find themselves on the fringes of poverty. Scarcely subsidized by the Stuart matriarch Pauline (Beth Dixon) who controls the family’s vast fortune, Maggie is accepted to an MBA program at Columbia University and must leave Amelia and Faith in Cam’s tenuous care.
In her directorial debut, Maya Forbes presents a fictionalized account of her childhood growing up with a bi-polar dad. Her background in comedy -- she worked on The Larry Sanders Show -- is apparent in the film’s portrayal of precocious children’s reactions to unstructured adult behaviour. This makes
Infinitely Polar Bear more an homage to an enigmatic father figure rather than a serious examination of the effects of mental illness.
It is perhaps the passage of time, which allows Forbes such a sentimental view of her childhood. She downplays the trauma in favour of a positive regard that celebrates her father’s successes in dealing with his illness. Thus, the film’s central message seems to be that even broken adults can -- under the right conditions -- create nurturing, loving environments for children. After all, it is due to his illness that Cam takes a radical step, for the time, to stay at home so that Maggie can pursue a career path.
It is disappointing that Forbes choses to stay on the surface as her family history is genuinely fascinating and more than a little impressive. After over a decade on Wall Street, her mother became the first African-American woman to establish an investment advisory firm. Both, she and her sister China went on to Harvard educations and success in their chosen fields. Though humorous and endearing with flashes of interpretive brilliance,
Infinitely Polar Bear’s sentimentality and low-fat treatment of the central issues ultimately leaves one yearning for the path less traveled.

3.1 -- MY LOVE, DON’T GO DOWN THAT RIVER, Jin Mo-young                
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Part of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival, this moving documentary spans almost two years of filming from September 2012 -2015. Koreans, Jo Beyong-man, a 98-year-old who is very ill man has been married to Kang Kye-yeo for 76 years. She married him at the age of 14, and had 12 children – six of which passed away when they were young. The couple is 'air-tight-sealed' devoted to one another. They play like children, throwing leaves, snow balls and water in their faces. They still do physical labour to keep their farm going in Hoengseong County in Gangwong Province where they try to survive. Their conversation is funny and hearwarming. Their eldest daughter and son visit occasionally, but fight in front of Kang and Jo. In the end, death comes to the husband. Should anyone wish to see a sterling example of love in marriage, this inspirational film is not to be missed.

3.2 -- WOLFPACK, Crystal Moselle
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This sad documentary lets us into the claustrophobic lives of the Argula family who lives in a slum in New York City. The father, Oscar, who comes from an unspecified country in Latin America, doesn't allow the members of his large family to leave the house to interact with the outside world. They are only allowed to watch the thousands of movies their father owns. He refuses to work but insists that his seven children (all boys and one girl) obey him. His wife, who homeschools the children, is a prisoner, too. Oscar is obsessed with bucking the system and has named all his children after Indian gods. They all have long hair and they all look alike. Finally, when the oldest sneaks out of the apartment one day, he ends up being arrested and sent to a mental hospital. He actually learns how to make friends there. The ending of this film sees all the children leaving and Oscar has lost his power over them. The oldest son makes a short film starring all his family members; they are all disguised as creatures. One hopes that the kids who we see as young ones and watch as they grow up find a way for themselves in the world beyond their apartment walls.  

3.1 -- SAN ANDREAS, Brad Peyton
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Raymond 'Ray' Gaines (Dwayne Johnson) is an L.A helicopter-rescue pilot. In the midst of a divorce from his estranged wife, Emma (Carla Gugino), he learns that his wife is about to move in with her new Donald Trump-type boyfriend who later on, reveals himself to be a supreme coward during the earthquake. Their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) is going with them to San Francisco. We learn that Ray and Emma had another daughter that drowned during a river rafting excursion; her dad was with her, but he couldn't' save her. Meanwhile, seismologist professor, Lawrence Hayes (Paul Giamatti) and his assistant have invented a way to predict earthquakes, and as they are testing their machine in the Nevada dam, an earthquake occurs, killing his colleague. The film is terrifically frightening, and as the San Andreas tectonic plates shift, everything horrid continues without ending. The film has Ray rescuing his daughter and traveling by truck, airplane and boat to do it. The one on-going fault of this movie is the consistency. Why does his wife have a bloody ear in one the scene, and the next it is perfect? Why is her hair perfectly coiffed after she almost got killed in an earthquake? Why does Blake whose legs were trapped in the front car seat, move like an athlete, immediately after she is rescued by a stranger? Why does the American flag draped over a pole suddenly unfurl as Ray states that America will build once more? Hollywood corniness for sure is the answer to that one. The acting was lame except for the Ms. Daddario's portrayal of the daughter; she ended up being braver than all of them put together. The 3D film is excellent in terms of showing the non-stop devastation the earthquake wreaks as it rips through California. I enjoyed the film, save for those "faults" referred to in this review.

2.3 -- INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, Leigh Whannell
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper]
Oh no! Another demo- n is not only trying to kill psychic Elise Rainier  well played by Lin Shaye -the only shining actor in this horror film), and she faces it in order to help 17-year-old Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) who, aside from doing a lot of crying, wishes to contact her deceased mother, but the demon is taking hold of her. Elise comes to the rescue, and is able to banish the demon, retrieve Quinn from the demon grip and restore all to normalcy, but a price that is sure to be revealed in a sequel. Good acting, but the horror moments were more kiddish than scary.

2.8 -- WOMAN IN GOLD, Simon Curtis
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The true story of Maria Altmann trying to retrieve family possessions stolen by the Nazis -- the most famous item being Klimt's iconic painting, "Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer." Sixty years after fleeing Vienna, Maria teams up with the inexperienced but totally committed young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, to go to Vienna to try to convince the Belevedere Museum to give her back the painting which in fact is a portrait of her aunt. It hung in the family house before the Nazi's took it and banished the family to the camps (Maria escaped with her husband to Los Angeles in a clandestine plot). The case ends up going to the Supreme Court in Vienna, but not without going through the American court first. The film admirably details the tumultuous relationship between Maria and the lawyer who refuses to allow Maria to give up, even though it was she who started the ball rolling. The film has some poorly raced over scenes in flashbacks, but the ending is happy, cathartic and pleasing. Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds do a great job. Interesting that Randy's grandfather was the great composer and, Maria's herself came from a family associated with Austria incarnate. The restitution law of Austria has proven to be somewhat of a sham, as most Jews can't reclaim their possessions without paying over a million dollars to follow procedures if they conduct their case from Austria.

3.4 -- DANBÉ, LA TÊTE HAUTE, Bourlem Guerdjou
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This compelling film is based on the true story of Aya Cisoko, a Franco-Mailian, young girl blamed by her mother for the loss of her father and brother in a fire in France. As well, her little sister loses her life to meningitis. Aya is angry and a victim of systemic racism and her mother's anger. Aya becomes a boxer. Despite her mother's interference, Aya starts boxing at the age of eight, and becomes the World Champion. She wins, but breaks her neck, and comes back to claim the title. Despite much hardship, Danabé's life is a lesson in determination -- she holds her head proud and triumphs over all adversity. (This film was screened at Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival).

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In February, 1984, Birmingham's Central TV's hilarious "Spitting Image" was launched to the joy of everyone who despised the Conservative government of England, including the coterie of politicians surrounding Margaret Thatcher. It lampooned everyone who was famous or wanted to be. This wonderful documentary takes us into the genesis of the show and all the challenges incumbent with making over 1000 puppets, working with puppeteers, creating a scripts, the thorny relationship of different co-producers having to get along with whole shebang of eccentrics who were as funny as the puppets they made. The geniuses behind the show demonstrate that biting edge satirical comedy can endure as long as the Brits are there to laugh at themselves. Despite the backlash of some politicians, the show thrived. It met its demise in 1996, but we need it more than ever these days. If only they would bring it back. Wish they would bring it back. (This film was screened at 2015 FIFA - Montreal's Inernational Festival of Films on Art).

0.0 -- KARIM + HADJER, Elijas Djemil
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This 9-minute silent black and white film is a bore. The only interesting part was the singer at the beginning of the film who sings in French about love. It would seem that the two love-birds -- Karin and Hadjer -- aren't destined for one another because of differing traditions. Who knows? A total cop-out. (This film was part of Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival).

2.4 -- AU RYTHME DU TEMPS, Elijas Djemil
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This 20-minute documentary shows musicians in the city of Oran in Algeria and how they are adapting Western musical styles and making them their own: reggae, pop, rap, and more figure into the new equation of music, though there are no radio stations who play their music. Still, these musicians love music modern-times music regardless of whether their own people hear it or not. (This film was part of Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival).

3.0 -- GOOD KILL, Andrew Niccol
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] “War is a first person shooter” states Lt. Col. Johns (Bruce Greenwood) in one of his many diatribes in Andrew Niccol’s atypical war film Good Kill. Niccol casts Ethan Hawke, star of the director’s eerie 1997 film Gattaca, as Major Tommy Egan, a veteran pilot with thousands of hours flight time and eight combat tours in the Middle East. Political reality and changing strategic paradigms have grounded Egan and relegated him to flying UAVs -- Unmanned Aerial Drones -- from Nellis Air Force base outside of Las Vegas.
In what seems like a forgotten corner of the base, drone crews work inside a row of high tech steel boxes in apparent isolation. The 24 hour cycle operation blurs the distinction between day and night. Inside the control boxes, America ceases to exist as the crews virtually experience various parts of the world. Then, strangely, like any other workers, they open the armoured doors, and go home to wives, children, marital problems and barbecues.
It is darkly portentous that one of the nerve centres of the American drone program should be located in a city that is singularly emblematic of western decadence. Even more surreal is the fact that this virtual conflict is largely controlled from a city at whose core lies the idea of virtual space and virtual experience.
While the narrative does not stray too far from the predictable arc of this type of film, it is nevertheless compelling in its portrayal of the psychological damage caused by virtual warfare. Niccol argues that the compression of space and time between battlefield and home goes beyond ordinary PTSD-type psychological trauma, into uncharted territory that the military is not equipped to handle. Among the many diatribes that show the profound unease with the war on terror, Johns uses various buzzwords as shields against mental breakdown. At one point Lt. Col. Johns, urges Egan to “keep compartmentalizing” when the latter shows misgivings about their new CIA-controlled missions. While many of the dialogues seem anachronistic, Niccol’s handling of the subject matter belies a deeper awareness of the philosophical debate about virtual warfare, suggesting that what is said operates on a deeper, symbolic level, much as does the sign on the control box door that reads “You are now leaving the United States of America.”
The film’s aesthetic -- one of its main strengths -- is designed to be isolating. A bulk of its cinematography is transmitted through high resolution bird’s eye images of drone cameras that look down upon the various spaces that are bombed. Niccol continues to use high angle camera shots when following Egan through the surreal landscape of iconic Vegas architecture and cookie cutter subdivisions of urban sprawl.
Good Kill is essentially about distance: it puts its characters into close quarters while consistently thwarting opportunities for real intimacy. All comes to a head in the character of Egan, for whom the terrible distance and horrible intimacy of drone killing becomes untenable.

3.2 -- RESPIRE (BREATHE), Mélanie Laurent
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] In her latest directorial project, Respire (Breathe) Mélanie Laurent explains very little of the relationship between main protagonists Charlie (Joséphine Japy) and Sarah (Lou de Laâge), except to show they are both vulnerable. While this relative silence is maddening to our adult minds, Laurent’s film teeters on the edge of ambiguity as the only means of insight into the overly emotional, difficult years of late adolescence during which pressure to race towards adulthood often smashes against the barrier of emotional immaturity, creating the potential for very toxic results. In doing so Laurent creates a film that favours interpretation. Themes of obsession, desire, rage and even good versus evil are all fair game as perspectives from which to view the film.
Charlie seems a well-integrated teen, in her last year of high school, with a tight-knit, happy-go-lucky entourage. One day, her class welcomes transfer student Sarah -- a girl who is obviously more worldly and experienced than her middle-class peers. Immediately drawn to each other, Charlie and Sarah strike up a fast friendship, which develops into a heavy, frightening, sexually charged intimacy. Things become exponentially more muddled as Sarah’s sophistication steamrolls over Charlie’s relative innocence continually creating situations that become increasingly darker, isolating and more ambiguous.
Laurent’s film relishes ambiguity. As if in direct contrast to the simplistic plots and shallow characterizations in many coming of age films, the world of Breathe teems with everything we could associate with adult melodrama, except that each conflict has the potential to spiral into an all-consuming vortex of singleminded emotion. It therefore does not matter who is right or who is wrong. Things evolve, as they so often do, out of the thousand and two fleeting nuances that lead to questions asked, answers withheld, silences prolonged and lives suspended over the precipice of ill-communication.
Such is the terrible beauty of Breathe. All of the above may well be valid; on the other hand, the film may simply be a psychological thriller in the grand tradition of Gaslight. Laurent does not give much indication as to which way the wind blows and some may find this frustrating and even a little sadistic. No matter, the film is compellingly shot -- despite some Steadicam excesses -- and very well acted. Boasting an excellent sound design with nods to films such as Coppola’s Rumble Fish, Breathe ultimately guarantees one thing: not to leave its audience unmoved.

1.6  -- PATCH TOWN, Craig Goodwill
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A factory controlled by an evil leader, Yuri cuts open tons of cabbages that give birth to babies that become toys. Yuri’s father found a way to freeze abandoned babies in cabbages in fields. These are the babies that are frozen to become workers in Yuri’s factory. It’s utter nonsense with a surreal feel. The film has a ridiculous story, but it’s a total spoof on family and perhaps a reference to the provenance of cabbage patch dolls. John and Mary have actually kidnapped one of the babies and are hunted down by Yuri. John wants to find his mother though and he does. To make a story short, suffice it to say, that the toys adults are are freed and Yuri ends up in his own solitary patch of loneliness inside his own factory.The film transports you to an insane world that may or may not turn you off eating cabbage ever again. Directed by Craig Goodwill, the film is a bit Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton and Broadway buffoonery rolled into one. This film was screened during Montreal's 2015 Fantasia Festival.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A documentary that shows how Frank Lloyd Wright founded two schools of architecture from which he chose three 20-year-old brilliant students to design the amazing house that blends in with the surrounding nature. The contemporary masterpiece was a feat of engineering and creative genius. The house was commissioned by Edgar J .Kaufmann, but it is his son who speaks on camera as well as the wife of Edgar in old black and white clips. Mr. Wright tells a lot about nature which for him is integral in the design of any structure. Money, commitment and the adoration of nature make the stunning finished product legendary for all to behold who visit the house. (This film was screened at 2015 FIFA - Montreal's Inernational Festival of Films on Art.)

[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek]  In the Bélier family, everyone is deaf except teenage daughter Paula (Louan Emera), who has grown up to become a conduit between the silent world of her family and the wider agricultural community in small-town France. Since her early years, her voice has represented her family’s business in the market place, in negotiation with suppliers, veterinarians and farming colleagues, not to mention interpreting the information streaming into the household from the hearing world. At the beginning of a new school year, she ends up in the school choir, where a passionate ‘has-been’ musician Thomasson (Eric Elmosnino) forces her to confront her singing talent.
Director Éric Lartigau thus inverts realities and focuses on the struggles of the hearing-impaired in a world of verbal communication and sound. By doing so, he shows both, the strength and resilience of the deaf community in the face of inadequate understanding and resources -- at least in France, it seems -- as well as its fragility. Caught up in strong family bonds made all the more complex by her ability to hear, Paula must make a choice she knows may estrange her from her family.
The film is not forceful in the points it raises preferring humour rather than a soapbox. Lartigau represents society’s intolerance and bigotry in the figure of the mayor (Stephan Woltowicz) whom the Bélier patriarch Rodolphe (François Damiens) vows to beat in the upcoming mayoral election. The main conflicts, however, are internal as we follow Paula’s struggle to accept that which sets her most apart from her loved ones. Louane Emera is very convincing in her role, and expresses well the feelings of anger, resentment, guilt -- and pressure -- her character feels.
Aside from the conflict that the mayor creates, the community backs Rodolphe’s goal to become mayor and while his deafness is seen as a logistical problem, we also sense that the community is split along more important socio-political and economic lines. After all, a French film would not be complete without a little dollop of class politics.
Ultimately, the film reveals potentially deeper motives behind the Bélier family’s rejection of Paula’s new-found talent. Although the Béliers may be somewhat isolated by their disability, their over-reliance on Paula’s hearing has perhaps become a comfortable habit rather than a necessity. Thus, family ties, budding adulthood and its inevitable rebellion against family are all important themes in this well played and directed drama that will pull at heartstrings and elicit more than a few giggles. La Famille Bélier runs (in French and subtitled for the hearing-impaired) at Cinéma Beaubien from May 8th to 14th.

3.2 -- L’HOMME QUI RÉPARE LES FEMMES, LA COLÈRE D’HIPPOCRATE, Colette Braeckman & Thierry Michel
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A devastating look at the epidemic that has swept Eastern Congo for the past 20 years. It isn’t AIDS; it isn’t malaria, and it isn’t Ebola. It is the systematic rape of children and babies as young as two months. Rape is used as a war weapon by the Hutus of Rwanda and men of Congo -- all have been complicit in this. The hero in all this monstrous atrocities is Dr. Mukwege, winner of the 2014 Sakharov Prize. He has endured attacks to his person physically and emotionally; he has endured insurmountable dangers -- walking 30 kilometres each day to tend to the 30,000 women who he treated in Panza Hospital – which was eventually burned down. The army is terribly guilty of atrocities, and the fathers and brothers of Eastern Congo have blood on their hands, for it is they who commit these horrific acts. Dr Mukwege, has spoken at the UN, has been an invited guest of Hilary Clinton, and most importantly returned from exile in France to work in his native country. He has seen just how irreparable the physical and emotional damage these incredibly violent rapes have caused. Without going into details, this riveting documentary, makes one wonder if men are born disturbed, violent and sadistic – at least in that part of the world. This exceptional man not only operates on the girls, but treats them at his center for recuperation. Beside him are the women who are determined to eradicate the barbarism of the men, Sadly, some women even give their children to men for money. This film is part of Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival.

3.4 -- EX MACHINA, Alex Garland
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Nestled deep in a mountainous wilderness lies a sprawling, high tech complex blended into the landscape. This is where Nathan (Oscar Isaac), founder of Bluebook, the world’s most popular search engine, lives and works in secrecy and isolation. One day, he flies in one of Bluebook’s star programmers, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) -- recent winner of a contest to spend one week with the founder -- to assist in an experiment whose outcome may forever change the world.
Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that his task is to perform the Turing test on a stunning female android named Ava (Alicia Vikander), in order to establish whether she is truly an artificial intelligence. We are thus drawn into the meticulously crafted world of writer Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. In this, his directorial debut, Garland, who has previously brought us 28 Days Later (2002) and Sunshine (2007) re-imagines the modern Frankenstein story in the context of the technology world’s current holy grail.
In so doing, Garland delivers a damning portrait of the boy-kings who are today amassing spectacular wealth developing cyber-tools whose development and application have already posed serious ethical dilemmas. It therefore does not take long for Ex Machina to surgically expose the temptation as well as the lack of judgement that seem to haunt every technological progress. Garland further suggests that at the core of this arrogance lies the fiction of control -- one our species assumes and one that history disproves all too frequently.
While a great deal of science fiction has already tackled artificial intelligence, Ex Machina posits, fairly realistically, how such a breakthrough might be achieved and, more disturbingly, who may be the people that succeed. Caleb weakly resists Nathan’s confidence, quoting Oppenheimer’s famous lament following the first successful atomic detonation though the latter brushes off his misgivings. Drinking heavily, Nathan does not seem to contemplate Being or sentience in any particular way, seeing Ava as a product. He is thus also blind to the possibilities of how such an A.I. might view the level of control he imposes.
Engagingly paced, with clever cinematography that often uses the machine perspective of looking out on the world from within technology, Ex Machina delivers a haunting tension. Magnificent landscapes contrast with oppressive interiors to cast doubt not only on Nathan’s project but on humanity’s incessant meddling in nature without forethought or humility -- a pattern of progress that ultimately calls into question our ability to survive our own nature.

2.4 -- THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM, Andrew Mudge
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Atang's father has died, and the only thing he cares about is exchanging his expensive coffin for a cheaper one so he can keep the money. He leaves Johannesburg for Lesotho to bury him and exchange that coffin. Here he meets a lovely woman whom he falls for whose sister is shut up in the house by the father because she has AIDS. He also meets a young boy who takes him on a journey which becomes a mystical learning lesson for Atang. He seems to change and ends up returning to the woman he loves. This film is about lost identity, corruption and the shame of AIDS. It is a s well-crafted statement on human nature. The scenery added to the magical element in this film - screened at Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival.

2.4 -- L'OEIL DE CYCLONE, Sékou Traoré
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Once a child soldier fighting as a rebel against the army -- always a child soldier -- even if when you become an adult. In this powerful film, a rebel had been accused of atrocities, and is now in jail. No lawyer wants to defend him, for fear of reprisals. However, one female lawyer whose father is connected to the president of the country (no one specific country is named in this film) does try to get him to speak about his childhood capture. She eventually trusts him, and whole heartedly defends his actions. It turns out, her father was a diamond king working with the president. it also turns out that the rebel kills her in his cell at the end. In Africa, there are hundreds of thousands of adults who were child soldiers, who have never been deprogrammed. This was the message of the film that despite its most serious subject had humorous scenes. This film is part of Montreal's 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Bella is a cabaret singer who is owned by Keba, a horrid drug dealer who beats her and the other women. She meets a wonderful man who works for the United Nations. Her quest in life is to escape and find the daughter she was forced to abandon at birth. She finds her daughter in Paris, but it is a reunion that takes the throwing of her cowrie beads and persistence to express how sorry she was to have given her up. It is a happy ending, and the acting was excellent on the part of the lead actors. The setting was somewhere in Burkina Faso or Guinea; it was too ambiguously presented. This two-hour film, screened at the 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival, would have had potential if a great editor had come on board before it hit the big screen.

2.3 -- JIMMY GOES TO NOLLYWOOD, Rachid Dhibou & Jimmy Jean-Louis
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A documentary that takes an honest look into the few successes and infinite failures of the Nigerian film 'industry.' Films are made without any financing, but friends all get into the action -- lending their time to become instant actors. The film shows clip of movies made on embarrassingly low budgets, directed by those who have no access to proper training and or film specialists to help them. We do see some star moments when actors receive an award at the African Movies Association Awards ceremony. Because 70% of the Nigerian population is living in poverty, films rarely make it to the international screen, but are pirated by many companies which sell their DVDs for $1.50 on the streets of Lagos. There are over 20,000 films made a year -- most find their audience appeal in church basements in some neighbouring countries. What I liked about this film was this fact alone: people who are involved in the business are brutally honest about all the problems and issues they have trying to make a film in Nigeria. Jimmy Jean-Louis who is known for his Hollywood appearances in TV series, such as “Arrow” talks to various actors and directors about it all. Isaiah Washington also appears, as strident crusader of the country’s films. He makes a case that Nigerian films must be seen in Hollywood, and that he is the one who can make that happen – an arrogant promise considering he was kicked off the set for good of “Grey’s Anatomy” for making homophobic comments. That wasn’t mentioned in this documentary. This film -- part of 2015 Vues d’Afrique Festival -- illuminates the corruption that has affected the country’s wish to have their films move beyond the dirt and noise of Lagos.

2.3 -- THE CONNECTION (LA FRENCH), Cédric Jimenez
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] The Connection returns to one of France’s most legendary crime sagas that stretches back at least to the 1930s when Corsican gangs began importing legally grown surplus Turkish opium -- bought on the black market -- to Marseille. Once there, they distilled it into heroin of storied quality and smuggled it into the United States through Canada, supplying much of the American market for decades before finally diminishing in the early 80s. In its time the'“French connection' made Marseille one of the most notorious cities in Europe.
Director Cédric Jimenez focuses on mid-seventies Marseille, in the waning days of the smuggling operation, when internecine gang wars and increasing international cooperation combined to disrupt the well-organized and entrenched crime syndicates. The film recounts the demise of famed godfather, Gaëtan “Tany” Zampa (Gilles Lellouche) as he is pursued by the obsessive young magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin). The drama plunges the viewer into the complex Marseillais world of organized crime, corrupt politics and cultural norms steeped in tradition, forged in history and galvanized by war.

The Connection is a curious film. While the French have a grand tradition of action and crime films, Jimenez’s work is full of stylistic and textual references to the American gangster film tradition. While most will undoubtedly look for links with Friedkin’s famous 1971 The French Connection, Jimenez disappoints with a much more languid and sentimental account reminiscent of Goodfellas and The Untouchables -- especially in its focus on the brotherhood and camaraderie of gangsters and cops.
Jimenez thus has the doubly difficult task of going back in time with a story set in the sweaty 70s, while creating an original rendition of a well-worn subject. He invariably splits the difference, which is the heart of the problem. While the film’s production quality lives up to its budget, the film itself flounders along, mired in sentimentality and peripheral narratives. Much of the narrative is taken up with scenes of marital tension and familial bliss that exist purely because -- as John DeFore points out in
Hollywood Reporter review -- modern crime dramas require their heroes and anti-heroes to be somehow justified so that audiences can better understand and identify with the good and bad guys. We are thus far, far from Friedkin’s ‘Popeye’, about whom little is divulged and whose obsessive, violent character is nearly opaque. With Michel, we are given a pure motive in his war on the drug lords and Zampa is portrayed as a dedicated family man who does all to secure luxury for his family.
As such,
The Connection is a cinematically compelling, beautifully detailed, terribly well acted story of a notorious time in France’s criminal history. Jimenez furthermore pays homage to Tarantino with an excellent soundtrack, which adds a music video dimension to The Connection in the tradition of Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill. Sadly, due to these various borrowings and references, the film becomes a pastiche of clichés that ultimately betrays its failure to travel back in time, to find its own voice, its own point of view and to craft its own aesthetic. With so much possibility The Connection only achieves a comfortable -- if somewhat entertaining -- mediocrity.

3. 7-- THE SALT OF THE EARTH (LE SEL DE LA TERRE), Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado look back at famed documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado’s 40 year-career, which gives witness to some of the modern era’s most notorious humanitarian disasters. A true adventurer, Brazilian-born Salgado’s photography pierces to the heart of his subjects’ situations due to his deep immersion -- often for periods of many months -- in their milieus. Whether traveling with refugees fleeing war and famine in Africa, following the daily routine of gold-miners in India, or spending weeks with remote aboriginal peoples in the depths of the Amazon, Salgado focuses, above all else, on the documentary portrait. Through his portraits of death, desperation, perseverance and, ultimately, human dignity, Salgado keenly encapsulates the perpetual distress in which many human communities continue to live.
The film itself pays homage to Salgado’s modus operandi -- the deep immersion he practices during his projects. The photographs from his trips have been published in seminal books of photography, each of which compiles images from the multi-year projects. The film follows the evolution of Salgado’s style by chronicling the experiences that contributed to the publication of his major works. To honour his process, Wenders and Salgado’s son, Juliano, spend long periods shadowing the photographer during several of his voyages into the remote regions the world.
The film’s structure successfully circumvents didacticism. Wenders and Julian Salgado’s cameras capture the intense connection Salgado forms with his subjects -- a connection that almost destroys him after documenting the genocide in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. The narrative is remarkably sparse and direct, giving ample space for Salgado to qualify his experiences and elaborate his vision. Though the film does use off-camera narrative, it is restrained and factual, and allows the audience to interact more directly with the film’s subject and subject matter. The profoundly moving stills are beautifully integrated into the film’s breathtaking cinematography, which flirts with inter-subjectivity in scenes where the subject turns his camera on those who shoot him. These various techniques create a sincerity that makes the narrative all the more poignant.
It would be easy to shrink in horror from the images presented in The Salt of the Earth were it not for the incredible respect with which they are treated. Though these images often allude to humanity’s heart of darkness, the film allows them to reveal their own power, thus enabling us to see both, the fragility and power of existence. Le sel de la terre is an excellent film about a fascinating subject and should be seen -- if only to be confronted by aspects of human (and non-human) Being from which our own realities give us the ignoble luxury to isolate ourselves. The Salt of the Earth opens at Cinéma Excentris on April 24th.

1.4 -- THE GUNMAN, Pierre Morel
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Pierre Morel is back loosely re-working the themes and style of his breakout directorial hit Taken, though this time, without the writing and production assistance from the legendary Luc Besson. Trade in Liam Neeson for a buffed up Sean Penn; tweak the cover identities from CIA to Army Special Forces; add a pinch of geopolitics as well as corporate villainy and out comes The Gunman.

It is not that the film’s plot is necessarily bad. Based on highly acclaimed French crime writer, Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel
The Prone Gunman, it features an unresolved love interest, a truly unlikeable corporate warrior villain and a psychopathic mining corporation willing to destroy anything that stands in the way of its interests. Thus while the plot itself should set a reasonably good ground for the action, it is the writing that dooms the film to failure.

The writing subverts and ultimately neutralizes talent, cinematography, production design and direction. Actors’ talents are wasted on pointless dialogue in scenes where nothing is resolved and nothing even really expressed. A particularly egregious case is Javier Bardem’s incoherently angry and self-destructive character. Bardem starts out as Sean Penn’s friend who creepily lusts after the former’s love interest, Jasmine Trinca. Later, having married her he becomes a drunk, sadistic bastard. Meanwhile, Sean Penn’s tortured, reluctant hero moves through the narrative with robotic determination. Seemingly trying to out-perform Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne, his metered blandness is punctuated only by the inopportune attacks of his tragic flaw, wherein he explodes in melodramatic expression.

Moreover, as if this was not enough, it seems that writers Don Macpherson (guilty of the 1998 film adaption of
The Avengers), and Pete Travis (responsible for the 2012 remake of Judge Dredd) feel truly uncomfortable with female roles. Trinca’s character is introduced as a surgeon working for a NGO in Africa. After Penn disappears from her life, she seemingly throws in the towel to become Bardem’s kept woman and target of his sadistic jealousy. It is only once her and Penn’s love is rekindled that she feels secure enough to return to Africa and practice medicine.

The Gunman suffers from the same malady that plagues the action genre: using greater and greater sums of money to create a spectacle that crumbles under the weight of an atrocious script and misdirected performances of powerhouse actors. To be gracious, one must respect the efforts made to elevate The Gunman above the fray of its competitors, however, the film is too bound by the tired clichés of the genre and a few bright plot ideas are not nearly enough to rescue it from itself.

2.4 -- THE SEARCH, Michel Hazanavicius
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] The Search is Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius’s sprawling mega-production that aims to give a sense of the humanitarian nightmare created by the Russian Army during the second Chechen war of 1999-2000. Inspired by a 1948 film that tells the story of an American soldier’s efforts to reunite a young Czech boy with his family in post-war Berlin, The Search intertwines the fates of Hadji (Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev), a young Chechen boy and Carole (Bérénice Bejo), a French representative of the European Commission on Human Rights, working to document human rights violations in Chechnya. To complete the narrative triangle, Hazanavicius includes the story of unfortunate conscript Kolia. Dubiously busted for drug possession, he is given a choice between military service and prison. Once in uniform, he is subjected to brutal violence at the hands of his superiors, and is indoctrinated into a prevailing culture of apathy, violence and racism, not to mention alcoholism and drug abuse.

The film thus has plenty of material to work with in order to deliver a gritty, sobering view of the ravages of a dirty war in which civilians pay a heavy toll. Through careful cinematography and impressive production design, the film creates the kind of harsh realism reminiscent of pioneering films like
Platoon and Saving Private Ryan. Against this war zone backdrop stand monolithic issues synonymous with all large-scale human conflicts: the marginalized roles of NGOs, international apathy to the plight of a displaced people and the cynical politics of an international community that does not want to get its hands too dirty. Hazanavicius thus takes aim not only at Putin’s Russia -- which is generally depicted as a corrupt, reactionary regime -- but also at a European bureaucracy content to play realpolitik while turning a blind eye to humanitarian disaster.

While the film delivers the expected grit and realism of a political war film, the relevant issues that it presents are left to hover on the periphery of the narrative. Bejo’s hard-boiled human rights researcher is subverted by the character’s awakening of her maternal instincts. She displays none of the professionalism and experience one would expect of someone in her position and Hazanavicius seems content to undercut her character in order to criticize European apathy towards the Chechen conflict. Enduring nearly two and a half hours, the film ends on a blandly sentimental note of family reunion against all odds while returning to the field of battle to reiterate Russian barbarism. Despite its potential to offer a nuanced, meaningful perspective on international human rights work,
The Search ultimately undercuts itself by retreating into easy sentimentality and overly simplistic political criticism.

3.0-- THE DUFF,  Ari Sandel
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] The nerdy awkward teen makeover is a tried and tested cinematic trope. Ari Sandel’s high school comedy, The DUFF, is a refreshing take on this aging theme. Bianca (Mae Whitman) is the quirky third in a trio friends alongisde beautiful Jessica (Skyler Samuels) and sporty Casey (Bianca A. Santos). All is well until Bianca’s long-time neighbour, and school superjock Wesley (Robbie Amell), wises her up to her actual role in her friendship: she is the DUFF -- Designated Ugly Fat Friend -- and foil to the others’ beauty and popularity. Horrified, Bianca cuts herself off from Jess and Casey and enlists Wesley’s help to make her over to be more desirable.
The narrative seems straightforward enough in the makeover comedy tradition: superjock Wesley teaches Bianca in the ways of ‘cool’ so that she can shed her DUFF image and attract crush, Toby (Nick Everman), the school’s number one soulful musician artist. The film steers into interesting territory in its portrayal of Bianca as a basically together kid with a reasonably high self-esteem. Essentially, she wants to appear more attractive, not to fit in, but to explode the school’s social norms that force labels on students.
While films of the same genre tend to depict much more clearly delienated stereotypes, Sandel’s high school world is more complex. Pretty girls are brainy, jocks act normal when not in the spotlight of their social jockness, and everyone goes to the same parties. Ari Sandel thus comes to the heart of the high school reality: it is a microcosm of conformity because no one likes being an outsider. While most negotiate this social landscape in an itinerant manner with tacit participation, Bianca actually recognizes its irrelevance and vows to dismantle it.
This may put THE DUFF entirely in a class of its own. Yet, there is a squeaky clean aspect to film that begs the question: does it do justice to the complex themes it presents? Most notably, Sandel’s lighthearted -- albeit humorous -- treatment of cyberbullying could be accused of undermining its extremely destructive reality in favour of entertainment. While there is no question that Sandel makes a fun, entertaining and relatable high school comdey, the above issues are sure to fuel debate among fans of the genre, which is inherently a good sign, for there is enough substance in The DUFF to warrant discussion.

3.1-- LES LOUPS, Sophie Deraspe
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] With a documentarist’s eye Sophie Deraspe follows troubled university student Élie (Evelyne Brochu) on a quest in search of her biological father. Taking up residence in an off-season motel -- much to the surprise of its proprietor -- Nadine (Cindy Mae Arsenault), Élie attempts to penetrate an insular Îles-de-la-Madeleine community whose existence is ruled by the annual seal hunt. She is an outsider and stirs suspicions among the community’s elders -- chief among them, local matriarch Maria (Louise Portal) -- who have bitter memories of conflict with animal rights activists of years gone by. Holding on to a painful secret, Élie has no ulterior motive other than to find out where she comes from: she is desperate to belong.
Deraspe’s experience in documentary film is evident and also wonderfully appropriate for the subject matter. The camera follows Élie on her quest without adding too much narrative subtext, thereby highlighting her otherness and isolation. Likewise, the brutal reality of the seal hunt is presented without moralising or justification. As such, Deraspe allows the audience to come to its own terms with the community’s existence and the rhythms that animate it, all the while making clear that outsider prejudices fall far short of the complex relationship to the natural world that lies at the heart islander life.
It would be easy to say that the cinematography is spectacular simply because of the rugged natural beauty of the islands. In fact, natural elements are used to great advantage to contain characters as part of the landscape and to isolate them in relief against it. Nature in turn binds and frees its human subjects and the camera becomes a participant in the dialectic of exclusion that defines the community’s rhythms as well as Élie’s situation. Les Loups is a hauntingly beautiful film animated by a powerful realism that will stay with the viewer long after the screen goes dark.

2.4 -- ELEPHANT SONG, Charles Binamé
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Xavier Dolan has had quite a year. Bounding headlong into an acting project on the heels of his spectacular success with Mommy, Dolan acts alongside Bruce Greenwood, Catherine Keener and Carrie-Anne Moss in Charles Binamé’s film adaptation of Nicolas Billon’s play of the same name. If Elephant Song has anything to teach us, it is this: Xavier Dolan is, simply put, brilliant. It is almost frightening to think of what the man has accomplished. Seeing him act in a production not his own makes one realize the sheer breadth of his talent. There are Oscars and Palmes d’Or in his future indeed.
This said, Elephant Song does not fully harness Dolan’s or anyone else’s talents. Set in 1960s Montreal, the film pits crafty mental patient Michael Aleen (Dolan) against an unsuspecting psychiatrist, Dr. Toby Green (Greenwood), in what should be an epic battle of the wills in the tradition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Unfortunately Binamé does not succeed. The razor sharp tension he establishes at the film’s outset swells into a tide of inevitability that undercuts the denouement of the film’s climax. Likewise, the complex, intertwined relationships in Elephant Song are left largely unexplored. Green’s troubled marriage to Olivia (Moss), and his complicated professional and personal relationship with head nurse Susan Peterson (Keener) provides rich ground for interpretation, but Binamé leaves too much in the background, perhaps in an attempt to comment on the social mores of WASP society in the 1960s.
Likewise, the heavy themes of homosexuality, difficult maternal relationships, jealousy and childhood trauma are all introduced, paraded and flaunted for the audience but only to sensational effect. It is like witnessing the psychiatric equivalent of a Santa Claus parade: one stands and watches the various floats without any sense of suspended disbelief, for the wheels of ordinary cars and trucks are clearly visible.
It is unfortunate to think of the missed opportunities of this Canadian production. Harnessing powerhouse talents the likes of Moss, Keener, Greenwood and Colm Feore (in cameo), it unabashedly portrays a 1960s social reality of Anglophone dominance in Québec, and tackles difficult themes that would be taboo for the period even in a psychiatric context. In short, Binamé’s effort is at once audacious for its reach and timid in its treatment. Fortunately Dolan shines bright enough to be enjoyed. Sadly, it feels like we’re watching a forsaken child playing alone.

3.3 -- MR. TURNER, Mike Leigh
[reviewed by Nick Catalano]
Sony Pictures Classics stirring film Mr. Turner so graphically places the audience inside J.M.W. Turner's art and vision that it may well result in fresh appraisals of the already acknowledged English romantic master of landscape painting. Time and again we view Turner's masterpieces dramatically situated by cinematographer Dick Pope whose adroitness captures the artist's revolutionary impressionistic renderings, daring formlessness and the powerful mystical utterances which cry out with a force only great film technique can render. Screen writer/director Leigh has skillfully referenced the aesthetic context of the 1820's by including scenes featuring Benjamin Haydon (a journeyman painter and friend of John Keats), John Ruskin (an ardent Turner devotee and leading Victorian art spokesman),John Constable a leading Royal Academy painter and a young Queen Victoria. The performances led by Timothy Spall as the virtuoso painter,Paul Jeeson as his beloved father, Marion Bailey as Sophia Booth, and Martin Savage as Haydon are flawless as is the work by the supernumeraries in this epic cast. Spall's triumph was celebrated when he won the best actor award at Cannes last spring and the failure of the Hollywood crowd to even nominate him is jolting. It suggests that this remarkable film, which has received rave kudos from a host of American critics, has not been understood by Academy judges and its importance sadly disregarded. Turner lived from 1775 to 1851- the height of the Romantic period in English literature - and his contemporaries included Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Byron, Shelley and Blake arguably the greatest voices of Romanticism in European culture. Turner's romantic achievement places him on the podium beside these immortals. Mike Leigh's film underscores his titanic triumph.

3.8 -- TIMBUKTU, Abderrahmane Sissako
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] You don’t argue with those holding weapons. Timbuktu is Abderrahmane Sissako’s cinematic masterpiece, depicting the chaos created by jihadists in North Africa. The film speaks only peripherally to Western considerations, concentrating more on representing, as dispassionately as possible, the paradoxes at core of radical Islam. Timbuktu also portrays a region virtually unknown to most Western spectators, one with richly complex socio-cultural and ethno-religious interactions made all the more difficult by the transcultural and multi-ethnic jihadist movement. Sissako frames the Islamist infiltration as colonial invasion by a new language (Arabic), new laws (Sharia) and a wilful ignorance of local customs, culture and ethnicities. The leaders are predominantly Arabic speakers from outside and unfamiliar with (and apathetic to) local ethnic and linguistic complexities. Such is the stratification that, even among each other, the jihadists often revert to common second language to communicate.
Much seems to be lost in translation. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) is a Tamasheq cattle farmer who lives in the dunes outside the city with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and adolescent daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed). Their lives are difficult, from a material standpoint, yet relatively undisturbed by the jihadist presence compared with those in the city, although a jihadist newcomer (Hichem Yacoubi), who has his eye on Satima comes around to pester her whenever Kidane is away. Tragedy strikes the family when an argument with a neighbour over one of Kidane’s murdered cattle leads an accidental discharge of a gun and the man’s death. Kidane is accused of murder and forced to stand trial in a Sharia court. Sissako presents all of the above as a clash of cultures casting the jihadists as foreign invaders who ignore not only local culture but also Muslim custom. The local imam (Abdel Mahmoud Cherif) attempts to mediate with the jihadists through a translator with little success. It becomes chillingly clear that the two sides’ views cannot even find common ground in the Quran. This is perhaps the most profound and important point made in Timbuktu and one that is aimed directly at Western audiences: there is no one Islam, nor is one religion inherently more susceptible to fanaticism than another. The imam plays the very delicate role of teacher; not only for the audience but also for the jihadists whose understanding of Islam seems to be so narrow that the two parties can mutually comprehend only the honorific phrases used with particular holy words. A further critical point is the film’s elaboration of the meaning of “jihad.” Though this concept has two iterations -- internal and external -- the imam places all importance on internal jihad as it represents the perpetual struggle toward self-perfection and moral atonement in the eyes of God, who is necessarily the only perfect being in the universe! The invaders, on the other hand, take their own moral state as already perfect in the eyes of God and therefore feel justified in waging jihad upon others. One feels that this self-righteousness is, in the eyes of the imam utter blasphemy. The difference is, once again, that the invaders have guns to back up their zeal and he does not. Power subsumes all other considerations. Power also justifies any other behaviour including visits to a local shaman, forcing marriages that thwart both law and custom, and passionately discussing soccer while outlawing its practice. The film explodes our limited perception and experience of the jihadist threat in a frighteningly intimate way. The threat itself is not of one religion or other, one interpretation or other. It is, as Sissako argues in Timbuktu, the rule of ignorance in the absence of reason and fanatical application of violence in the absence of self-reflection. It is about power and its projection -- a concept that should be familiar enough to Western audiences.

3.6 -- LEVIATHAN, Andrey Zvyagintsev
[reviewed by Andrew Hlavacek] Corruption in Russia is nothing new, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan -- fourth in a series critiquing the new Russia -- says as much to darkly hilarious effect. It comes as no surprise to anyone then that, when car mechanic Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) goes on a crusade to save his property from expropriation, bad things happen to everyone involved. Kolya’s lot overlooks a spectacular inlet opening out on the Barents Sea and is coveted by local mayor Vadim Chevelyat (Roman Madyanev). Kolya is proud of his achievements and passionate about his freedom. He enlists the help of his former army comrade turned Moscow lawyer Dmitry (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to argue his case and win, at the very least, a more just compensation. The hopelessness of the struggle is a foregone conclusion. The film evokes a feeling of stasis that is underscored by glaring contrasts. Crumbling infrastructure is contrasted with the shiny new vehicles of the elite; the slick modern nightclub jars with the shabby interior of the hotel restaurant. Freed from their shackles of ideology, the elite -- represented by Vadim -- can publicly articulate their contempt and hatred the masses. Though subtle the film quietly points to an important shift in power politics of modern Russia: the elite no longer feel any responsibility towards the rest of the population. Naturally, contempt fuelled by impunity begets violence. According to Zvyagintsev, Leviathan is loosely based on the Book of Job in which man’s faith is tested through misfortune. Kolya is commonly understood to be the Job figure in Leviathan. While Job is steadfast in his faith despite being put through misery by god, proud Kolya believes only in his own independence. He has no real faith in or understanding of the forces that control his destiny. While all of the film’s characters profess, at the very least, implicit 'faith' in the impunity of the “God-State,” Kolya misguidedly dismisses both political and divine authority. Zvyagintsev thus ironically and masterfully perverts the story of Job in order to make this most important point: nothing has really changed and nothing really will. The film challenges us to harness our Slavic souls and laugh at the insane predictability of its own conclusions -- and then down a quarter of a bottle of vodka in one shot. For, Vodka is the salve everyone employs to either forget or live with the hypocrisy, and criticism is indulged only when made irrelevant by “respect for the appropriate distance of history.” Zvyagintsev diffuses his vision into every aspect of the film from its humour to the brilliant cinematography, which bookends the film with a series of static shots of the wild landscape as if to express metaphorically, the unalterable facts of being: the continued survival of the elite that has always existed in Russia, and the ancient landscape which motivates their myth-making. And yet, the little change there is seems, definitely, to be a change for the worse.  

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.




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