Arts &
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Vol. 16, No. 1, 2017
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Nick Catalano
Lynda Renée
Andrew Hlavacek
Jordan Adler
Daniel Charchuk
Samuel Burd
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Marcel Dubois
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus
The Good Kill



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

3.3 -- I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, Raoul Peck
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America.” These are the words of black author and intellectual James Baldwin, the prophetic 20th century voice whose luminous thoughts on race, culture, and the collisions between the two remain essential in the 21st century. A month into the Trump regime, Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated tribute to Baldwin feels palpably urgent, if also a bit unfocused. The documentary excavates part of the manuscript from Baldwin’s unpublished novel Remember This House, which would have examined the author’s relationships with three civil rights activists: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. From there, Peck’s film conquers a lot of time and space; the former, in the way Baldwin’s comments echo across footage from Ferguson riots, while the latter in how Peck juggles many of Baldwin’s blistering essays and equally thought-provoking public speeches and interviews. The filmmaker also moves between capturing the intellectual’s gentle voice as he articulates tough ideas in simple prose with the equally silky tones of Samuel L. Jackson (who narrates much of the film). Baldwin’s interests and insights were boundless, such as takedowns of religion in America and Hollywood caricaturing of black men and women onscreen. His searing takes on Sidney Poitier’s controlled studio characters still remain useful as cultural criticisms today, as does, sadly, much of what Baldwin says emphatically about race relations in the United States. With such a wealth of material to attach to a singular voice, I Am Not Your Negro sometimes moves haphazardly between subjects. Peck tries to fit too much into a brief 94 minutes. This doc could have been an hour or two longer, and lost none of its stark, stunning power.

2.4 -- A CURE FOR WELLNESS, Gore Verbinski
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] It is a rarity to see a major studio, especially in today’s risk-averse cinematic landscape, release an R-rated thriller clocking in at 146 minutes that has no prior source material. The sometimes-unnerving new film from Gore Verbinski looks and feels unlike any recent title that has entered the marketplace (aside from Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shutter Island, which also takes place at a psychiatric facility). A Cure for Wellness follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), a young executive at a vague New York firm who travels to the Swiss Alps to retrieve his CEO, Pembroke (Harry Groener), from a wellness centre. The task seems simple, until Pembroke refuses to leave the sanitarium, run by Dr. Volmer (a slick Jason Isaacs), and Lockhart has to prolong his stay after suffering an injury. Then, odd things begin happening. Lockhart, and the film’s audience, will spend much of the first hour gaping at the estate’s gothic oddities, such as the hydrotherapeutic events and the seemingly endless number of secret doorways and corridors. (An early hallucinatory sequence inside a steam room is a highlight). Without a constrained running time, screenwriter Justin Haythe (who co-scribed Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger) can bask in macabre visions, slowly creeping suspense and even some character development, such as Mia Goth’s innocent yet cryptic patient Hannah. She is a standout, and DeHaan gives a capably horrified performance. However, by the time the first hour has gone by, many filmgoers will have pieced together many of the second-half surprises. There is only so much arresting imagery one can take – from dreamy mountain views to icky pools full of eels – before the creaks in the narrative make one restless. One wishes A Cure for Wellness had sustained its madness beyond the 90-minute mark, when it becomes an increasingly rote psycho-thriller.

3.0 -- JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2, Chad Stahelski
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The lean and nasty (if repetitive) action hit John Wick gets a sequel that improves on its predecessor. Keanu Reeves has made the most of a role that uses his steely blankness to its advantage. Wick has a reputation among crime syndicates but is also an enigma, a silent and deadly contract killer who first appears in shadow and shot from low angles. Trying to settle into retirement, the well-tailored shooter gets one last gig from Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio). Wick must murder D’Antonio’s sister, so that the crime lord can take her chair at some hazy organization. The details of the vast, interconnected criminal underworld that populates the film – one that Wick wants to evade and live in peace – is somewhat scattered. (Despite his shadowy persona, people in all corners of Rome and New York seem to know his name and grant him security). But even though Chapter 2 is more plot-heavy than the linear 2014 film, the thrills are grander and the challenges more compelling. (The original has some inventive action sequences, but almost all of Wick’s kills there are brusque headshots). Stahelski, a former stunt double of Reeves, is the rare action filmmaker who shoots much of the mayhem in long shots, giving the audience a chance to observe the rhythms of the combat and orient us with spaces such as Roman catacombs and an American chop shop. The clarity of robust action and the cutlery of weapons that Wick uses on various baddies will more than suffice for action movie fans that have been panting for a sequel. Meanwhile, Montreal moviegoers will not have to look too hard to notice how frequently the city doubles as New York. Co-starring Laurence Fishburne, Peter Stormare and Ian McShane in grand, scenery-chewing supporting roles.

3.1 -- GULISTAN, LAND OF ROSES, Zayne Akyol
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] As ISIS militants approach the mountains of Kurdistan, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) guerilla fighters keep a close watch on the nearby warring factions. This new documentary, from Zayne Akyol and co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada, gives intimate access to a small but tough brigade of female fighters in the PKK. Akyol follows these soldiers through rigorous training sessions, as they prepare for the possibility of a sudden incursion near their communities. The fighters are risking much, as women and girls are considered the spoils of war for ISIS. But, there is a greater danger if Kurdish land is not protected. As one of the women interviewed, Rojen, tells the filmmaker, “I take up this struggle not just for my mother, but for all mothers.” This empowering glimpse of women prepping for combat reveals their camaraderie and quiet courage. Akyol keeps her camera trained on a number of soldiers, but mostly comes back to Sozdar, a woman of deep calm and tactical brilliance. Near the start of the film, Sozdar shows off the bumps and bruises that have come from training, before exclaiming how a scar on her face during battle would “make me more beautiful.” Gulistan, Land of Roses may have benefitted from a post-text, as the film cuts away before the PKK head out to fight. But there is value in spending time with these fighters during the wandering and waiting period, as they accumulate intelligence, bond with comrades and boast of their weapons’ might. Their defiance and dignity is a gift Akyol is more than willing to share.

2.4 - THE FOUNDER, John Lee Hancock
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The story of an American charlatan grifting small business owners is coming out in theatres on the same day as Donald Trump’s inauguration. Mere coincidence? The Founder could be, thanks to distribution choices, the appropriate first film of this presidential era, although one would wish for more daring or incisive commentary. John Lee Hancock’s film focuses on the true story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a travelling salesman circa 1954 who quickly sees dollar signs when he visits a restaurant called McDonald’s. Brothers Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch), who own the thriving, original San Bernardino location, have an efficient system to get burgers and soda to customers 30 seconds after they order. Scribe Robert D. Siegel lets the brothers recount their early history and approach to food service with the same speediness and thrall of that busy kitchen. Ray eats up this slice of business acumen, and proposes to franchise the restaurant (and its golden arches) across the Midwest. Hulky character actor Lynch, given a role of gentle gravitas, is the beating heart of The Founder. However, Kroc’s journey from an idealistic businessman who listens to inspirational mantras on his record player to a shortsighted schemer needed more nuance. Keaton, alongside Siegel’s script, piles on Kroc’s sleazy charm from the first scene – a sales pitch directly to the camera – and too rarely finds notes of grace, conflict or vulnerability to create a more dimensional anti-hero. We’re rarely rooting for Kroc to succeed, ensuring the drama wilts when the McDonald brothers are offscreen. As product placement goes, the calorie-high options look savoury, to the point that audiences could leave both angry (about sponsoring the fast food empire) and hungry for a Big Mac. Co-starring Laura Dern in a neglected role as Kroc’s neglected wife.

3.2 -- LA LA LAND, Damien Chazelle
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Damien Chazelle’s new musical honours the Technicolor song-and-dance classics of yesterday, although it ends up working better as a pastiche than a narrative. La La Land focuses on two striving artists, first shown stuck in traffic, who later bond over their love for show business. Mia (Emma Stone, perfectly cast) works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio lot and occasionally shuffles off to movie auditions, with little success. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, too seasoned for the role) dreams of opening a jazz club, but has to settle for lame side-jobs to pay the rent. When the two find a kindred passion for the arts, each tries to help boost the other’s languishing career. While Chazelle’s previous film, Whiplash, made music out of chaos, La La Land is a bit too seamless. The director films many of the musical numbers with single takes that, while technically impressive, feel controlled to a fault. The sequences don’t pop with the explosive energy as Whiplash star J.K. Simmons, who has an extended cameo here. Still, Stone and Gosling, in their third film together, have a finely tuned chemistry worth swooning over. This is perhaps the reason why the film’s most dazzling show-stoppers are the ones where both stars play naturally off the other. Meanwhile, the musical has some finer points to make about the paradoxes of Hollywood, a place that worships everything and values nothing, as one character espouses. Chazelle understands how much of Los Angeles consists of shiny neon trying to sparkle up the facades of ragged, century-old buildings, to the point that he’s made a film that works as its own extended metaphor. Expect Academy voters, who have indulged in other postmodern tributes to the power of entertainment (Birdman, The Artist), to eat it up.

2.7 -- LION, Garth Davis
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] Eight years after an 18-year-old Dev Patel captured our attention in Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s intoxicating and fantastical lensing of India told through flashbacks of Patel’s winsome protagonist as a boy, the British actor stars in a film that could have worked better with that film’s jumpy temporal structure. Instead, director Garth Davis, making his narrative feature debut, and scribe Luke Davies tell the true story of Saroo Brierley chronologically. In Lion’s superior first half, we meet young Saroo (Sunny Pawar, who ably carries the drama on his petit shoulders). One morning, the boy awakens on a train travelling hundreds of miles away from his mother and older brother in rural India, and ends up stranded in Calcutta. Unable to speak the regional Bengali, Saroo scavenges by the river and lands up in an orphanage. Soon, an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham), adopt the beaming Indian boy. The drama’s second half, with Patel as university-age Saroo, lacks the energy and vivid specificity of the first. Here, Saroo, haunted by feelings of abandonment toward the Indian family he hasn’t seen in years, tries to track them down. Google Earth becomes his tool of choice, although the filmmakers don’t quite know how to dramatize Saroo’s scrolling and searching. Patel’s deeply expressive face is left to do much of the heavy lifting. After chronicling the boy’s riveting adventures of adversity, Davis and Davies try too hard to fit in subplots belonging to the film’s supporting characters, and thus rely on telling more than showing. Kidman’s monologues as the protective adoptive mom do little except acknowledge her role as Saroo’s white savior. Co-starring Rooney Mara in a thankless supporting role as Lucy, the protagonist’s girlfriend.

3.6 -- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, Kenneth Lonergan
[reviewed by Jordan Adler] The third feature from playwright Kenneth Lonergan is a drama about grief and family dysfunction that manages to find enough stirring notes of levity and grace to become a staggeringly rich experience. Casey Affleck is squirrelly and often shattering as Lee Chandler, a Boston handyman making a humble wage who returns to the titular town after his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies from a degenerative heart condition. There, Lee is oddly reticent with his mourning – one that we later learn stems from a numbing tragedy years earlier. Lee also wants to help Joe’s son, 16-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), adjust to life without a father. Yet, the boy seems more occupied with getting laid and replacing the motor on the family boat than dealing with loss. The repairman’s biggest challenge is figuring out a plan of action, after he finds out that Joe left Patrick to his custody. Lonergan’s screenplay shifts between delicate emotions and tough language. The profane bickering between Lee and Patrick, sometimes unspooling over one or two medium-long shots, has a rhythm and cadence one finds more often on the stage. The film dips into flashback naturally, giving the audience just enough information to inform the intensity of later scenes without interrupting the present-day story. Affleck, with sunken eyes and a rascally voice, is arresting as a man trying (and often failing) to be a vessel of compassion for those in his life, while Hedges is a talent worth watching. Manchester By the Sea rarely sentimentalizes; however, an overbearing score from composer Lesley Barber strains against the naturalism of the performances, ruining some of the film’s more potent scenes by drowning out the dialogue and melting the icy mood. Co-starring Michelle Williams as Lee’s estranged ex-wife and Gretchen Mol as Patrick’s mom, another estranged soul.



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