TIFF 2013: Proxy – Zack Parker

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I chose Proxy to be the final film in my festival for a few reasons. One – it looked pretty dark. Two – Colin Geddes had programmed it for the Vanguard section of the fest. Three – I couldn’t really find out much detail about it, which meant that it was likely to surprise me. When Colin introduced the film at the premiere, he said that it had caught him off-guard more than once when he first saw it, and when you consider how long that man has been programming Midnight Madness, that is really saying something!

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I ended up being very glad that I knew almost nothing about the plot or the film itself going in, so I am going to try and keep my review as vague as possible, while also hopefully conveying how much this flick freaking rocks.
As Esther (Alexia Rasmussen) walks home from a doctor’s appointment, only a week or so away from giving birth to her first child, she is attacked visciously in an alley and left there to die. Esther survives the brutal attack, however, and shortly after leaving the hospital, she seeks comfort and community in a local support group. It’s there that she meets Melanie (Alexa Havins), and the pair form an unlikely friendship, which evolves very quickly into the kind of close bond they both need.

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However, a chance encounter sets Esther’s world careening out of control once again, and before long, even the audience has trouble determining what – and who – they can really trust.
Proxy takes so many twists and turns that even when you try to expect the unexpected, it still manages to knock you sideways a few times. Parker’s deft direction allows for such intimate closeness with a character one moment, and then sweeps you back out for a glance at the larger picture the next. It’s the kind of film that you need to see more than once, just to make sure you understood everything. By the end, all you really know is that nothing was what it seemed, and that’s where Proxy’s simple brilliance really lies. The two leading ladies are outstanding – both are engaging and wonderful to watch. In addition, standout performances from Kristina Klebe and Joe Swanberg will have you craving even more – but I won’t tell you who they play in the film, because I don’t want to give away any more than I already have! ;)

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Proxy is one for the thriller history books, and the less you know going in, the better. Get out to see it if you can…and then get out to see it again. The ride is off-putting and – often – horrifyingly well worth it!
Get more information, including upcoming screenings, at the sites listed below:

Official Site

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Twitter

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TIFF 2013: Tom At the Farm (Tom a la ferme) – Xavier Dolan

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The film opens with an upset Tom (Xavier Dolan) driving somewhere.  He appears to be getting further and further from civilzation, and expresses what seems to be anger, sadness and possibly loneliness as he gets further into the country, to a more remote area where his crazy hair, skinny jeans and leather jacket seem woefully out of place.  When he finally arrives at his destination – a farm pretty much in the middle of nowhere – no one is there to greet him, and he can’t get any service on his cell phone.  Unsure what to do at first, Tom manages to locate a key, lets himself in, has a look around, and then settles into the kitchen to wait.

A woman, Agathe (Lise Roy), stands in the doorway watching him sleep for a moment before waking him to ask who he is.  We find out that Tom is, in fact, the good friend of Agathe’s recently-deceased son, Guillaume, and that Tom has arrived to speak at the funeral.  Agathe welcomes Tom into her home with open arms, even insisting that Tom sleep in Guillaume’s bed while he is there.

From there, things get tense and weird pretty quickly – more so than they already have been.  See, Tom’s not just Guillaume’s friend – they were lovers.  Guillaume’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), also lives in the house with Agathe, and the boys apparently still share a bedroom, even though they are now both grown men.  A creepy, sparse little room, with two single beds and a nightstand.  Agathe doesn’t know that her son was gay, and Francis is determined to keep it that way, by any means necessary.  He makes his intentions abundantly clear to Tom on the first night, and just gets increasingly threatening and violent from there.  In addition, he’s made up a girlfriend (Evelyne Brochu) for Guillaume, using the name Sarah and a photograph he’d coerced his brother into sending him to trick their mother into believing both of her sons were straight.  The relationship that then builds between Francis and Tom is like a broken roller-coaster ride, and serves to raise the tension level to crazy heights throughout the film, and it becomes very difficult to tell who among them is the more insane, after awhile.

Dolan wears many hats with Tom At The Farm, from director to star to co-writing the screenplay with Michel Marc Bouchard.  Oh, and he edited it, as well.  But he wears each hat very well, and manages to pull the entire film together into a very stressful 95 minute experience.  More is said between the lines than is vocalized, and the camera angles cut between following Tom around the farm at his shoulder when he first arrives, to tight close-ups on a character’s facial expressions in pivotal moments – all of which successfully draws the viewer into the film as a whole.  By the end, we almost come out of the film understanding Tom less than we did going in, and not in a bad way.  The moody atmosphere of this one will stay with you long after the final frame has rolled.

TIFF 2013: Gerontophilia – Bruce La Bruce

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I wanted to see this one primarily because the lovely and talented Katie Boland is in it, and additionally because there really aren’t many films out there which examine the gerontophilia fetish – certainly not from such an intimate and beautiful standpoint, at any rate. As director Bruce La Bruce stated during the Q&A after the screening, the fetish comes first and foremost in this tale, but at the end of the day, it’s also a love story at heart – and a romantic comedy of sorts.

Young Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) slowly discovers that he seems to have a fetish for elderly people – primarily men. His mother is kind of a mess when it comes to dating and relationships, and his girlfriend, Desiree (Katie Boland), is in love with people (primarily women) who she sees as revolutionary in some way. After an incident at a pool where guy is lifeguarding, his mom lands him a job at a care facility for the elderly, and things kind of take off quickly for him from there. He meets, pursues and eventually falls in love with Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), a resident whose son doesn’t visit much at all, and who appears at times to be far too medicated by the doctors and nurses responsible for his care. Concerned for Mr. Peabody’s health, Lake breaks him out of the nursing home, loads him into his car, and makes for the Pacific so that Peabody can dip his toes into the ocean once more. It’s a long drive across the country, however, and the unlikely pair continue to grow their relationship, even as events continue to unfold which stand in the way of their being together.

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I found it hard to buy into Gerontophilia for the first while as, to me, the desire to have sex with someone comes from a place of knowing and liking the object of my affection. I wouldn’t sleep with any woman just because I’m gay, nor would I want to – the attraction comes from our interactions with one another, and is strongest usually if I feel the other person is attracted to me in particular. So watching this young guy ogle every older person just because they are old made it difficult for me to relate to him. Additionally, Lake’s need for sexual encounters regardless of who they were with seemed superficial to me – almost dangerous, even, as though he couldn’t walk down a street without mentally raping every old person who crossed his path. For me, there’s always been a difference between attraction and the NEED to fulfill it.

Later on in the film, however, it was apparent that Lake and Peabody were actually falling in love with one another, and it was a mutually beneficial relationship – as much as it could be for two fellas on the road, at least. Also, as an actor, Lajoie in particular has such an earnest, expressive face that one couldn’t help but buy into his character completely. He was easy to empathize with – relate to – and it was that open and honest quality that pulled the whole film together for me in the end. Plus – did I mention Katie Boland? That girl is positively hypnotic every moment she spends on screen, so even if she’d been the only thing I enjoyed about the film, it would have been enough. However, incredibly strong and brave performances from Lajoie and Borden also worked to elevate this gentle and gorgeous film.

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TIFF 2013 – Philomena – Stephen Frears

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Usually, I try to get to the first screenings of films at TIFF. The Q&A’s and the experience of watching a movie with the people who made it is often as much fun as the film itself. With Stephen Frear’s Philomena, however, I was determined to get to any screening at all, just to make sure I could see it. If the director and cast alone weren’t enough to draw me in, the plot – based on a true story – was bound to do it.

Dame Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee, a woman who is trying to find the son she was forced to give up 50 years ago. Aiding in her renewed quest is Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), a disgraced reporter trying to get back into the journalism game by doing a human interest story about Philomena. The seach takes the pair back to the beginning of Philomena’s story, and from there unexpected twists and turns thwart their every move. But Philomena’s determination to locate her son, mixed with Martin’s stubborn unwillingness to take no for an answer propels them both into unforeseen territory.

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There’s nothing new or revealing that I can say about this film that won’t have already been said by anyone who has seen it. Obviously, Dench and Coogan are immeasureably incredible in the way they completely inhabit their characters and bring the viewing audience into their world in the most intimate and personal of ways. Each discovery along the way becomes a punch to the gut, and a testament to a mother’s love for the son she never got to know. Time melts away as flashbacks and photographs dot the landscape of the present journey, and as Philomena struggles to retain balance between her love of her faith, and her love of the child that same faith forced her to give up. The viewer is forced to confront certain hard truths at Philomena’s side, and I’m not sure we would all be as strong as she proved herself to be. My own confusion and anger grew as I watched the constant lying and deceit Philomena and Martin met at every turn. To my view, whatever the reasons may have been in the past, to continue that behaviour so completely now is outrageous and unnecessary. And yet, Philomena bears it with every step – for the love of her son.

This is a film not to be viewed without a supply of tissues on hand, and the darker the room, the better. There is,of course, plenty of humour to lift us past the heavier moments, It was definitely a highlight of my festival experience this year, and beyond that, will likely come out as one of my favourites of 2013 overall. Philomena has a ton of heart, a whack of charm, and proves once and for all that the struggle to keep people apart can not remotely compare to the struggle two people have to find one another and come back together again.

Official Site

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TIFF 2013: Oculus – Mike Flanagan

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Ever since I first discovered the awesomeness of TIFF (1998 or so?), the Midnight Madness program has kind of always been my thing. I used to set up ticket-buying with friends, meet everyone in line, and have a blast at whichever movie we saw. But things started to fall apart after a few years, and when I made the decision to go in by myself when a couple of friends didn’t show up on time for the screening, I started planning to go alone, and never really looked back. There’s just something special about the crowd at a Midnight Madness screening. From inflatable items being passed around, to rhythmic clapping through the Loreal commercials, to the near-patented “YAAARRRRR!!!” that found its way to the anti-piracy warning screen before every festival screening – the MM crowd is one of a kind. Everyone is there to have a great time, to cheer and jeer between the screams. Colin Geddes gets the house whipped into a frenzy of excitement and anticipation before every film, and the post-screening Q&A’s are among the most hilarious and enjoyable I’ve ever seen.

So when I was diagnose with MS and started going on this weekly injectible medication that makes me feel like ass for a couple of days each week, I quickly found out (last year) that midnight screenings are way harder on my body now than they ever were before. When three of them nearly did me in last year, I decided that I had to cut down to one per TIFF…maybe two at most. But I definitely have no intention of giving them up all together, and while it wouldn’t be the same seeing a daytime screening from that program, it would still be better than missing some of the films completely, just because my body and brain aren’t working together so well anymore.

This year, my film of choice was Oculus, directed by Mike Flanagan. In one sense it was a no-brainer for me, because Katee Sackhoff is in it, and she is awesome. The fact that it seemed to be a twist on the haunted house story – which is one of my favourite kinds of horror tale – only with a haunted mirror instead of a whole house, just made it all the more intriguing to me. I even played it past a couple of friends after I’d gotten my ticket, just in case anyone wanted to join me, and lucked out with my old pal, Jen, with whom I’d last seen You’re Next as a Midnight Madness screening. We got in, chose our seats, and as soon as the giant inflatable globe started bouncing around, we settled in happily for the madness.

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That was a long-winded way of explaining why I was so excited to see this particular film, and why my anticipation level was so high. Now, maybe, when I say that not only was I not disappointed at all with my choice, but that my expectations were actually far exceeded, you’ll understand just how much I freaking loved this movie! Oculus introduces us to a pair of siblings who apparently went through something pretty horrific when they were children. The brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) in fact, is just being released from some sort of mental hospital ward ten years after whatever happened happened. His sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan) is doing far better, happily engaged to a nice man, and working at some sort of auction house. She seems particularly interested in a huge black mirror which gets sold for a tidy sum while she looks on.

Kaylie picks up Tim upon his release, and within moments of his first breaths of free air in the past decade, she tells him that she “found it”. From there, the film flips back and forth between past and present, showing us what happened in their house ten years ago, and what’s being done about it now. There’s only one trouble: The siblings don’t seem to share the same memories as to what actually occured. Tim is keen to find his place in the outside world again – he gets a hotel room to have his own space, buys a cell phone and figures out how to work it, etc. Kaylie, however, has other plans. She still owns the house from when their parents died that night, and she works out a temporary way of getting the mirror back into it under the disguise of a repair work order through the auction house. Her plan is to provoke the mirror into action, and then kill it.

Wait…who was the crazy one again?

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She gets her brother to agree to stay for awhile, at least, and then explains her whole set up – everything she’s discovered over the years – recording everything as she goes through it. Her obsession is palpable, and the flashback scenes between the two show two completely different sets of memories – one pretty normal, and one not so much. Before long, it was difficult to tell whose recollection was more accurate. At least, if we weren’t at a Midnight Madness screening, it would be hard to tell. As it was, however, I was pretty sure the crazy-seeming girl was bang on, and that little brother had been rationalized out of his memories.

For awhile, however, nothing happens. The mirror is just a mirror, the plants are all alive, Dog is practically napping, and it’s a peaceful evening in an almost empty house. Then, without warning, the shit hits the fan. Within seconds, the film flips us on our heads and the ride is begun in earnest. Nothing we see can be trusted. Young Tim and Kaylie and events from the past collide and inhabit the same space as the sibling duo in the present, and nothing is what it seems. Just the mirror, hanging there all innocent, watching over everything with an evil grin on its…no wait, it doesn’t have an actual face, per se. Still…

Oculus is brilliant, terrifying, and even rather sad. At one point, I thought the flashbacks to the kids when they were little would be fine, since we know they survived their first mirror ordeal, but after awhile, I wasn’t even sure I could rely on that idea as fact. For all I know, they never really got away from it in the first place. Maybe they never really left the house. It is THAT messed up! And that’s what I loved about it. The film is put together so well, and doesn’t rely on gimmicks to get the scare. Even when you think you can guess what’s about to happen – and then it does – your smugness is short-lived, because chances are, it wasn’t what you thought, after all. I love when a film can keep me guessing, I love when it legitimately scares me rather than just making me jump a few times, and I really love when I can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it after. I can’t say enough about this one, and I am so glad I made it my one allowed Midnight Madness screening that I could see actually AT midnight. The perfect film with the perfect crowd at the perfect time of the year. I need to see it again.

Just one major question that I didn’t think to ask during the Q&A – did Dog go off and live a happy, healthy life somewhere after? Or was he ever really there at all?

Oculus is screening at TIFF 2013 as I write this, but then once more again on Sunday September 15th at 6pm. Don’t miss it!

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TIFF 2013: The Sacrament – Ti West

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I don’t think I’ve mentioned before how happy I am to see Colin Geddes programming the Vanguard films at TIFF now, too, in addition to his regular Midnight Madness crazy duties. I’ve come to hold Colin’s opinion in high esteem, particularly where the weird and wacky of the fest come into play, so it’s no wonder that this year finds more Vanguard films than usual on my docket, and so far I’ve not been disappointed.

I kept going back and forth on whether or not I wanted to have The Sacrament on my list. I was a big fan in particular of Ti West’s film, The Innkeepers, and I love me some Eli Roth once in awhile (he was a producer on this one, in addition to bringing his own feature to the festival’s Midnight Madness lineup again this year), but I wasn’t sure how this particular film was going to play out. Would it be super fun and gory like we’ve come to expect from Roth? Or creepy and atmospheric like West’s Innkeepers? Eventually, I decided that the cast was too good to pass up (anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much Amy Seimetz impressed me in this past season of The Killing, for example, and don’t even get me started on how much I frakking LOVED You’re Next), and the story itself seemed pretty compelling, so I decided to give it a go.

Turns out that was the right decision for me, as I enjoyed the film a great deal – in addition to discovering that it’s actually neither gory fun nor creepy atmospheric overall. Instead, The Sacrament is its own brand of horror – not found footage (because, as Geddes pointed out, the footage was never lost), and not a blood-stained, terror-filled, thrill-ride from start to finish. Rather, The Sacrament is a slow-burning, tension-building, character-driven, documentary-styled horror…that is actually kind of heart-achingly sad at some points.

When Patrick (Kentucker Audley) receives a letter from his sister, Caroline (Amy Seimetz), a recovering addict, inviting him to visit her at the remote commune she joined in an effort to live a cleaner lifestyle, he decides to take his colleagues, Sam (AJ Bowen) and Jake (Joe Swanberg) along for the ride. Sam and Jake are both Vice correspondents, so the trio of men want to try making a documentary about the commune itself – Eden Parrish – while Patrick checks in to see how his sister is doing.

Once they past the heavily-armed guards at the gate, the guys find that Eden Parrish is guided by the almost mythical hand of the mysterious “Father” (Gene Jones). Everyone they speak to sings his praises time and time again. None of them would be there, if it weren’t for Father. The commune wouldn’t exist were it not for his persistence and devotion. It doesn’t take long for all three men to buy into everything they’re seeing and experiencing – Father has a way with words (even after he enters every room to rock-star-status greetings), and everyone they meet seems happy and content. There are no arguments, everyone is fed, clothed, has a place to sleep, and a purpose to fulfill in keeping Eden running. They’ve built everything themselves, live off the land, and create their own familial bonds with one another.

It truly does seem that Father and his followers have created a version of Heaven on Earth.

What could go wrong?

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The film draws heavily from Jonestown in particular, but tries to look at the psychological aspects and horror of the event from the inside, rather than sitting in judgement on the outside the entire time. When Father asks Sam what’s wrong with wanting to live in peace, away from the troubles and technology of the outside world, Sam doesn’t have an easy answer. In fact, no one can really pinpoint one solid reason to suggest why Eden Parrish isn’t the ideal set-up, and coming up with reasons why anyone would want to leave at all becomes increasingly difficult. Even as a viewer suspecting that everything is about to go straight to hell, it was interesting to sit and watch uncomfortably from inside my own head as events happened in front of me, and wonder how I would have coped in a similar situation. By the time cups of Kool-aid were being passed around, I had to ask myself: If the life you’ve built for yourself and your family is suddenly taken away from you, and you’re left with nothing but the spark of life itself – if you’ve lost literally everything, what is left for you to live for? Is a perfect life – however short-lived – worth dying for?

The Sacrament is screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Tuesday September 10th at 9:45 PM and Friday September 13th at 8:45 PM

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TIFF 2013: Bad Words – Jason Bateman

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I adore Jason Bateman. I think his wicked and often irreverent sense of humour is amazingly similar to my own, and his talent on screen really knows no bounds. So when I found out he was setting his feature directorial debut in the competitive world of the national spelling bee (I was Area 4 champion in Grade 8 – just sayin’), I knew I had to see it. Getting a ticket wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, however, and I ended up having to stand in a rush line in the rain to get into the second screening, but it was well worth it. WELL worth it.

Bateman plays Guy Trilby, a grown man in his forties who – for reasons unknown – decides to exploit a loophole in the rules and enters himself into a spelling competition intended for elementary school-aged children. Guy is intent upon making it all the way to the national championship and winning it all, therefore showing no mercy to his young competitors, their parents, or the contest administrators. To aid him in his quest, he brings along a rather sexy (though she doesn’t know it) reporter, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), who helps to ensure that no manner of angry parent nor displeased coordinator can have Guy ejected from the competition prematurely.

One by one, Guy destroys the other competitors, either by beating them outright with his mad spelling skills, or by messing with their minds to throw them off their games. On his way to the big show, however (the National Quill Spelling Bee to be televised, no less), Guy accidentally – and despite his best efforts to the contrary – befriends one young boy, Chaitanya (Rohan Chand) who would turn out to be one of his biggest challengers to the spelling bee trophy. The lad is so charmingly sincere and alone that Guy decides that maybe it’s okay not to keep absolutely everyone at arm’s length, and takes the youngster under his wing – for better or for worse.

The script from Andrew Dodge is perfectly-paced, and the laughs come fast and furious throughout the entire film. Bateman’s comedic timing and pitch perfect delivery is superb as always, and he has surrounded himself with talented costars at every turn. Some lines are so chalk full of hilarious content that I’d laugh so hard at the first third of a sentence that I’d drown out the next two thirds with my own gales of guffaws. As a director, Bateman dances around, over and back across the line of what his lead character should be able to get away with, and in anyone else’s hands, I’m not sure this film would work quite as well. Every time I thought Guy had gone a bit too far, he’d dial it back and be so begrudgingly sweet that one couldn’t help but root for him. The chemistry between the three leads is immensely evident from the start, as well, and Rohan’s performance in particular lends a great deal of heart to a film that could have ended up being more of a one-note tale, had everything not all clicked together so well. Instead, however, Bad Words is a lovely layered film worthy of multiple viewings, and I have no doubt that it will be a permanent resident in my collection as soon as it becomes available.

I already can’t wait to see it again.

Bad Words screens one more time at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday September 14th at 9pm.

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TIFF 2013: Empire of Dirt – Peter Stebbings

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Empire of Dirt is the latest offering from actor-turned-director Peter Stebbings, and while I haven’t yet seen his first film (Defendor), I was definitely looking forward to delving into this second effort. The film opens with TIFF 2013 Rising Star Cara Gee as Lena, the young, single mother of a teenaged girl, who works long hours cleaning houses as she struggles to provide a life for her daughter, Peeka (Shay Eyre). When Lena loses her job, however, and Peeka is hospitalized after getting high off spray paint fumes with friends, the time for drastic change has come. Lena grabs whatever they can carry and hitchhikes them both north out of the city, and all the way back to the place where she grew up, and moves them in temporarily with her mother, Minnie(Jennifer Podemski).

The mother she’d told Peeka was dead.

I had a hard time understanding Lena’s reactions and motivations for much of the first half of the film. To me, she came across as a tempermental hot-head who would rather storm off and blame everyone else for her problems than actually face them and deal with anything. Her struggle with addiction had been her mother’s fault, but her mother’s gambling addiction was also her fault, as was her father’s suicide. And while Peeka seems to be heading on a similar downslide, to Lena, that is somehow someone else’s fault, too. She continues to lash out abruptly at her mother in particular, even as Peeka begins to settle in and become more acquainted with the First Nations culture Lena had tried so hard to leave behind by moving to the city.

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The things the three generations of women say to one another – or, rather, scream at one another – is completely disproportionate to all the things left unsaid. Rather than finding any sort of balance between her two worlds, Lena has instead created a gulf between them within herself, often dragging Peeka along as an unknowing and unwilling participant. Peeka knows things like that her last name means “wolf”, but has no real understanding of her culture or history beyond what she could read in a book or look up on Google. Lena, on the other hand, ran from what she felt was a suffocating life among family and friends – including Peeka’s biological father – to the city, where she could maintain as large a degree of anonymity as she so desired, and even deny her native heritage if she wished.

Watching Peeka slowly begin to embrace a quieter lifestyle with the family she never knew she had is what first began to truly win me over with this film. Not only does she begin to see how generations of addictions and mistakes made by those who came before her have affected her present reality, but by breaking out of her own bad habits, she starts to grow and spread her own wings a little bit, even as her mother continues to fight against it all. None of the women can go back in time to do anything differently, but slowly they all begin to make changes in the present, and move forward to the future – past and beyond the past – to finally bridge the gap and find balance within themselves once again. When tragedy strikes, the three women must all come together to discover the true meaning and importance of family.

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The true success of this film lies not only in the performances Stebbings captured from his cast, but also in the wonderful script (written by Shannon Masters), which manages to tell the story of a particular indigenous family while also encompassing themes that can be found in any family, of any culture, throughout time. The issues the characters face are universal, and while not tied specifically to First Nations women, the story is told in a way that honours and respects a specific culture, while still opening itself up to interpretation and understanding from viewers the world over. The struggle to make peace with the past and embrace the future is something anyone can relate to, and yet Empire of Dirt still manages to find a unique and fresh lens through which to tell an age old tale.

Follow the film on Twitter for further updates!

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TIFF 2013 – CinemaNovels – Terry Miles

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It’s possible – even likely – that I am kind of biased towards Lauren Lee Smith in general. I mean, she’s funny, sweet, smart, talented and fairly gorgeous (if you’re into that breathtaking sort of thing), and since Tim and I now count her as almost a friend, it’s only natural that I would head to her film’s premiere this year as a show of support. I didn’t even need to know what it was about, or anything, in advance. All that mattered was that LLS was starring in a film at TIFF, and sign me up!

As such, most of my focus was on her performance in particular, but that actually didn’t stop me from getting into the film overall, and enjoying it from beginning to end. CinemaNovels introduces us to married couple Grace (Lauren Lee Smith) and Ben (Ben Cotton) who are trying to get pregnant, though we quickly learn that one half of the pair isn’t trying quite as hard as the other. Guess which one?

Her estranged father – a world-famous filmmaker who left Grace and her mother for his leading lady, Sophie (Gabrielle Rose) long ago – has also passed recently, and Grace offers to put together a festival of his films, as a sort of memorial tribute to his career, even though she’s never seen a single one of them before. This delving into her father’s inner world takes Grace on her own journey of self-discovery, and brings her closer to her father in ways she never would previously have thought possible. With her quirky friends (including Clem, wonderfully brought to life by Jennifer Beals) and help from a neighbour, Adam (Kett Turton) who happens to be an expert on the subject of her father’s work, Grace explores her father’s past and comes out with a better sense of her own identity in the process.

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From the start of the film, Smith imbues her character with an almost child-like sense of wonder. She moves through the world around her as though not quite a part of it – as a stranger or visitor in her own life. If she looks down and sees only one slipper, then that’s the one she wears. A full pair is not necessary, as she is barely there to begin with. It’s like she sees people doing things in the world around her, and tries to emulate them, so that she can feel more connected, too. It’s not long before we realize that not feeling as though she had her father’s love while growing up still very much affects her. His absence is still very present for her.

Making her way through his films (or at least the parts she manages to stay awake through), Grace begins to take on various personality traits of young Sophie (Catherine Michaud), the star of every film he made. Or rather, Grace begins to bring parts of each film character into her own life, as though she feels that by being more like this woman her father once loved, that she herself could feel worthy of that same love from him in some way now. She has moments of connection with those around her – her husband, Clem, Adam, and even sort of with his roommate, Charlotte (a hilarious turn by Katharine Isabelle) – but they almost seem to be not quite real, as though Grace is just going through the motions and hoping it all comes together for her for real someday. Her inner world seems pretty lonely, and director Terry Miles give us a slew of tight close-ups through which we see only Grace, rather than what she’s looking at or who she’s talking to, thereby denying the audience any sense of connection with other characters in those moments, as well. Grace is very much alone, despite the presence of people around her, and one senses that the loneliness and disconnect she feels now all goes back to her initial sense of abandonment as a child. Smith plays it perfectly, too, treating the audience to the occasional flicker of genuine emotion that, even when she’s smiling, can break your heart with how raw and real it is. In fact, the only times Grace seems to be completely present and happy in a moment are the ones when she is eating and chatting with Clem’s daughter, Julia (Sarah Grey). Her appetite is apparently aroused when she can just be herself without feeling watched or judged, and in all honesty it’s a lot like watching someone discover pie or chicken for the first time ever. She eats with pure zest when she’s relaxed and no one is asking anything of her,and that in itself is pretty hilarious to watch!

CinemaNovels is screening once more at TIFF on Sunday September 15th at noon.  Find out more at the links below:

Official Site

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TIFF 2013 – Hateship Loveship – Liza Johnson

hateshiploveship_02I knew almost nothing about this film going into it – just that it had a wonderful cast and was based on a short story by Alice Munro, which I’ve yet to read. As such, it was nearly impossible for me to predict anything that was going to happen, and before long, I found myself letting go and settling in to enjoy the ride.

The story follows Johanna (Kristen Wiig), a quiet, unassuming and somewhat lonely woman whose long-time job as a caregiver to an elderly woman comes to an end after the woman passes on one morning. Johanna follows a lead on another job, caring for a teenaged girl,Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld) who lives with her maternal grandfather (Nick Nolte) after her mother is killed in a car accident and her father, Ken (Guy Pearce), is charged in her death. Young Sabitha needs a female figure around, and Mr. McCauley needs help raising a teenager, so hires Johanna as live-in, full-time assistance.

At first, it would appear that Johanna is out-matched in this world – the family has money and a big house, but is so full of secrets and unspent anger that a woman as used to living in her own head (and out of one suitcase) as Johanna would seem to be a fish out of water by comparison. However, Johanna quickly proves she’s more than equal to the task by not letting Sabitha get away with her rebellious teenaged antics, and still managing to run the household efficiently. Her only downfall, it would seem, is her aroused interest in Sabitha’s recovering addict father. When Johanna is misled into believing that Ken has feelings for her, too, she sets an incredible chain of events into motion, and never looks back again.

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Hateship Loveship is Kristen Wiig’s film from start to finish, and it’s a side of her we’ve never really seen before. The film showcases her talented acting chops, proving she can carry a dramatic piece as well or better than any comedy she’s done so far. Her performance is wonderfully restrained and subtle, filled with unflinching moments of raw emotion, barely hidden behind a curtain of restraint and shown to the audience through tight, unforgiving close-ups. There are many wonderfully comedic moments throughout the film, as well. In fact, one in particular wherein the camera focused and lingered on Johanna for an extra beat as the barest hint of a reaction crossed her features, was so perfectly played that it nearly brought the house down. Each member of this incredible cast turned in amazing performances, but Wiig is definitely the one to watch. She is a delight from beginning to end.

As mentioned, I have not yet read the source material, but it is my understanding that this was a modernized adaptation of the short story, as well – set in a different time and place – yet still staying true to the universal themes of the author’s original intent. The script was very well-written and strong, letting the dialogue grow sparse when required to allow the actors to inhabit the space and tell the story beyond the words. This telling shines through with the director’s deft and patient hand, letting the audience follow Johanna through the motions of quietly yet persistently pursuing the life she wants for herself most of all, and showing that sometimes the fish out of water is perhaps the only one who really understands how to navigate the world around them at all.

Hateship Loveship screens once more at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday,September 14th at 9:45am.

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