The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin (2018)

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Directed by Renée Beaulieu
Country: Canada

It’s widely known that every person’s skin reacts differently to touch, pressure, temperature, levels of stress, and several other external factors. But what the main character of “The Naturally Wanton Pleasure of Skin” tries to understand is how disparately the skin cells react to love and desire in a close linkage of dermatology and sexuality. For that, Marie-Claire (Brigitte Poupart), a down-to-earth, well-established scientist and university teacher, uses her own body and several male guinea pigs in what she calls ‘experiments’. These include sexual intercourse, which she practices without any preconception or guilt, despite being happily married and mother of two.

In truth, Marie-Claire is a pleasure-seeker, who uses her ongoing research as an excuse to feed intense carnal appetites. Soon, it became an addiction. So, it’s not uncommon to see her embarking on a wild sexual activity with a complete stranger; a fellow scientist, Alexandre (Normand D'Amour), head of her department; or even a literature doctorate, Emile (Pierre Kwenders), who is 20 years younger and makes sure to attend her classes. Men simply love her type: carefree, independent, unpossessive, wanton.

Adam (Vincent Leclerc), her husband, is often traveling and had agreed to an open relationship, but things go astray when she casually opens up about her secret life. Gradually, her fully open smile is swallowed by preoccupation, to which further contributes the delicate situation of her vulnerable 14-year-old daughter, Katou (Romane Denis). It’s not that Marie-Claire doesn’t care for her. She’s just tremendously inattentive, being too immersed in her thing. When the situation is barely out of hand, is her mother - another hedonist - and her volatile, depressed, and eternal unsatisfied best friend, Mathilde (Nathalie Cavezzali), who stand on her side.

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The complexities rendered by Renée Beaulieu in her second feature drama do not always succeed, but, as a character study, the film poses some interesting points of view regarding family and happiness, love and desire, as well as men and women with their commonly associated roles of predators and victims, respectively.

The reappearance of mechanical procedures and an invariable tone in each human contact may difficult the viewer’s engagement, limiting the curiosity about this woman’s behavior. Nevertheless, things improve a bit in the second half, when the affective facet overcomes the libidinous.

One of the strongest aspects of the film, in addition to Poupart’s performance, is the score by David Thomas, whose mixture of ominous textures, expert beats, and occasional ethereal chants, compensate the prosaic sex scenes with sync commitment.

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Diamond Tongues (2015)

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Directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson
Country: Canada

Leah Goldstein, vocalist of the Canadian alternative rock band, July Talks, gives an amazing performance in this incisive examination of an aspiring actor who tries by many possible ways to become successful in the sometimes-shallow world of the film industry.

Pavan Moondi (“Everyday Is Like Sunday”) and Brian Robertson directed with gusto and a sharp eye, employing a spontaneous approach and endeavoring to create a voice of their own. They actually succeed because Edith Welland (Goldstein), the intriguing main character, makes us totally immersed in her private and professional lives, where we can discern frustration, resentment, pretension, craftiness, rejection, and a bunch of intricacies related to her complex emotional state.

Every scene is meant to reflect Edith’s miserable situation and how she quickly slips into a web of lies and delusion that grows faster than a snowball descending a steep mountain. Everything becomes out of control and Edith cannot control her lies or her life anymore. A couple of genuine encounters with fellow actors allow us to foresee a bad ending for the viperous Edith, whenever she tries to pass the idea of a success she definitely didn’t find yet, almost stealing the others’ conquests for herself.
At the same time that she reveals outstanding acting skills during a tough audition and in her latest project, she also can’t dissemble a compromising lack of confidence in herself. This is so much stronger than her, to the point of preferring to sabotage the gig of her roommate and best friend, Clare (Leah Wildman), than fight in an honest way to excel in her vocation. 
Moreover, she’s pissed off with her ex-boyfriend, Ben (Adam Gurfinkel), who unexpectedly got the male leading role in the same play she’s participating. She had broken up with him due to her intention of prioritizing her career.

Bored and disorientated, she only finds some peace of mind when in the company of her friend Nick (Nick Flanagan), a writer/comedian who never gets tired of advising her to focus on her career instead of wasting energy with other people’s things, and trying to convince her to enroll in acting classes to evolve, meet people, and consequently embrace work opportunities. However, she opts for the easiest and yet unsafe way - giving herself to tricky personalities that claim to work in the film business, or whimsically faking her true identity to steal auditions from other actors.  
Although a number of episodes may suggest an apparent contentment, Edith tumbles in the spiral of false hopes, irresponsible schemes, and dirty tricks that hustle her into a discouraging deadlock. Amidst the variety of embarrassing situations, Edith gradually learns her lesson and assumes her own guilt. 
It's time for a fresh start.
 
Technically, the film doesn’t disappoint, benefiting from the attractive, lustily colored settings and the eccentric vibes drawn by the characters. Still, a few specific scenes in need of more maturation and less precipitation were identifiable. This quibble never made us overlook the consciousness of “Diamond Tongues”, a curious tragicomedy well founded in Mr. Moondi’s sturdy screenplay.

Born to Be Blue (2015)

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Directed by Robert Budreau
Country: Canada / USA / UK

I was always a big admirer of Chet Baker’s music, but that’s not the reason why I recommend “Born to Be Blue”, a part real, part fictional drama written, directed, and produced by the Canadian Robert Budreau. 
Ethan Hawke, despite the physical dissimilarities, was chosen to play the trumpeter, and he does it intimately enough to make us forget such an important detail.

The film takes us to the early 50’s where we can listen to the beautiful standard ‘Let’s Get Lost’, immortalized by Mr. Baker, one of the greatest representatives of the West Coast jazz scene. The black and white images tell us that we’re before a memorable moment recovered from the past. 
The present, portrayed in color, shows a quite different reality. Now a heroin addict, Chet Baker lies on the floor of a prison cell and gets the visit of a filmmaker who wants him to play himself in a movie about his earlier years as a heroin addict. During the shootings, Chet makes an impression on Jane (Carmen Ejogo), a struggling actress who agrees to go out with him. That night was only pleasurable until a certain point because Chet’s dealer resolved to settle their accounts by breaking all his teeth. This was the cruelest punishment for the trumpet player who's told he won't play again.

Emotionally devastated, Chet will ever accept this sentence. With his mouth still sore, he tries to play until he spits blood.
However, Jane stays always by his side, becoming his dear girlfriend and supporter. With her, Chet finds a genuine love that gradually makes him recover the lost stability and gain not only the confidence to play again but also the strength to stay away from drugs. After an arduous adaptation to the instrument, new opportunities will come up and the success is in no one’s hands but the musician’s.

Mr. Budreau’s approach is aesthetically neat, giving us more a good general idea about the man’s life than a detailed portraiture. 
Even though, we get concrete notions about Chet’s relationships, namely with his sour father, a professional musician who gave up playing and says to be embarrassed about his son; his old producer and friend, Dick Bock; and his fellow jazz trumpeters, the friendly Dizzy Gillespie, and the usually critical Miles Davis.
By using spasmodic flashbacks, the film might not always be chronologically elucidating but evokes the times with honesty and sensitivity.
Amidst the entertaining moments, there were two magical ones, when Chet sings ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘I’ve Never Been in Love Before’ with all his soul.

The Confirmation (2016)

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Directed by Bob Nelson
Country: Canada

“The Confirmation” is an unfussy comedy-drama that relies on a down-to-earth script to provide us with a good time for relaxation, also taking the opportunity to relaunch Clive Owen who was distant from an interesting role since 2012, when he starred as an MI5 officer in the political thriller, “Shadow Dancer”. 

Directed by Bob Nelson from his own screenplay, the film puts aside the mediocre, pathetic tones brought by the modern comedies in detriment of a sober and more realistic approach, in a story about a sensitive eight-year-old boy who shows a gorgeous complicity with his good-hearted yet alcoholic father.

The smart boy, Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher), despite confused about religion, is preparing himself psychologically to do, all at once, the first communion and the confirmation, within one week. At church, carrying a disarming innocence, he drives the priest crazy as he confesses a total absence of sins. His mother, Bonnie (Maria Bello), and father, Walt (Owen), who no longer live together, are waiting for him outside. Anthony is going to spend the weekend with his dad while Bonnie and her wealthy boyfriend, Kyle (Matthew Modine), go out of town. Walt, a down-on-his-luck carpenter who’s not a bad guy at all, is warned by his ex to stay away from alcohol, an old problem that is still not completely put away.
The weekend brings restlessness for father and son, and not only because of the adult’s drinking problem. After finally being hired for a job, Walt realizes that his valuable toolbox, a legacy of his late father, was stolen from the back of his pickup. Moreover, he receives an eviction note, since he was unable to pay the rent on time, and his car breaks down in the middle of the street.

Breaking into Bonnie’s house and borrowing Kyle’s car, the penniless Walt and the gracious Anthony will undertake a persistent search throughout the town in order to find the thieves and recover the coveted tools.
A few respected ‘informers’ are contacted, cases of Vaughn (Tim Blake Nelson), a reborn Christian who let his kids play with real guns, and Drake (Patton Oswalt), who’s thrilled with the opportunity to play the private investigator and is in the center of the most hilarious situations.

Living from the perfect consonance between Owen and the young Lieberher, the story maintains an amiable disposition and an uninterrupted positive energy that never extinguishes.
Bob Nelson, who was nominated for an Oscar in 2014 for the original screenplay of the extraordinary “Nebraska” (he lost for Spike Jonze), has here an enjoyable directorial debut at the age of 59. By putting into practice a pragmatic plan of action and assuming a subdued predisposition, he created a funny, malleable, optimistic, and well-intended film. 
Even not breaking new ground and feeling impetuous in some of the plot’s resolutions, “The Confirmation” throws in feel-good vibrations and a handful of jokes that really make the grade.

Remember (2015)

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Directed by Atom Egoyan
Country: Canada / Germany

I went to watch “Remember” with some reservations. All because the Canadian filmmaker of Armenian descent, Atom Egoyan, hasn’t been so inspired in the last few years, presenting trifles such as “Chloe”, “Devil’s Knot”, and “The Captive”. However, his career started incredibly encouraging, and films like “Family Viewing”, “Speaking Parts”, “The Adjuster”, “Calendar”, “Exotica”, and “The Sweet Hereafter”, are no less than fundamental, forming the solid foundations of his individual filmmaking style. 

In “Remember”, Mr. Egoyan redeems himself from the recent frivolous creations and, together with the veteran actor, Christopher Plummer ("The Sound of Music", "Waterloo"), brings into the world an arresting, fairly balanced, and constantly tense drama, which is a subtly relentless revenge tale.

Mr. Plummer is terrific as Zev Gutman, a 90-year-old Auschwitz survivor who lives in a retirement home and struggles with a galloping dementia. Whenever he awakes from his superficial yet recurrent sleep, so characteristic of the old age, the only thing he remembers is his wife Ruth, who had passed away a week before. Invariably, a solace comes from his closest friend, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau), another former captive who managed to escape with life from Auschwitz. Max persuades Zev to make a risky, solitary trip to find and kill the former Nazi guard, Rudy Kurlander, the man responsible for the death of his family. Considering that the man’s memory is deteriorating, this is a problematic task that gets even harder when he realizes that there are several Germans called Rudy Kurlander living in the US. Only the right one must die and Zev thinks of himself as the right executioner, as he had promised to his friend. 
Now you are probably asking how the hell he manages to remember about the details of an almost unfeasible mission? The answer is: through a handwritten letter, provided by Max, which contains all the important details he needs to know about himself and thorough instructions to successfully accomplish the task.

The hazardous trip comprehends distinct encounters with different Kurlanders. The first one confesses he always agreed with Hitler and is still proud to be a Nazi, but only served his country in the North of Africa; the second encounter was unexpectedly emotional; the third was a terrifying experience; and the ultimate encounter brings a decisive twist to a story, written by the newcomer Benjamin August, that empowers the overall appreciation of the film.
Without reinventing the wheel, Mr. Egoyan shows a commendable confidence that reverberates in the performances, bestowing the decorous benefits to make the film interesting. Even dealing with a few narrative gaps, he sets up the adequate nail-biting tones to spare us from boredom.

Room (2015)

Room (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Country: Canada / Ireland

Movie Review: Brie Larson, who had already impressed me in “Short Term 12”, gives a spectacular performance, together with the young Jacob Tremblay, in the suspenseful drama “Room”, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (“Frank”) from a screenplay by Emma Donoghue based on her own 2010 international best-seller novel of the same name. The story follows a protective, caring mother, Joy (Larson), and her sensitive five-year-old son, Jack (Tremblay), whose lives are limited to a small space that they call room. The room is actually a shed, placed in a desolated backyard and well protected with a code lock system, which is owned by a man known as Red Nick, who seven years before had abducted Joy, confining her to a life of forced imprisonment. So, it’s easy to conclude that Jack is his son. The scoundrel father, who doesn’t have a job and only appears occasionally to bring food and sleep with the hapless woman, never has any contact with his son who is kept in a wardrobe until he leaves. The minimum accidental interaction between them leaves Joy out of control, in a raging effort to protect her precious son from the predator. The tiny room is actually the real world for Jack, whose unique contact with the exterior is through an old TV that is turned on whenever the power is available. His mother has told him that everything he sees on the TV is imagination and that beyond the room there’s just the outer space. Now that Jack, whose long hair made me easily mistaken him as a girl, turned 5, his mother decided to tell him the truth about the outside world, which naturally provokes confusion and apprehension. In addition, she engenders a risky plan to set Jack free and ask for help. The plan is consummated, however, the outside world is not the paradise she thought it would be, starting with the refusal of her own father in accepting Jack as his genuine grandson. A terrible depression takes care of this psychologically affected woman who does the best she can to hold onto life. For the film’s benefit, the mother/son relationship is depicted in a very strong way, a fundamental aspect that Abrahamson assures to extract from the performances, which are unquestionably Oscar-worthy. “Room” is an honest portrait of a terrible, abusive case, which reminds us a few real cases that have been disclosed by the media. Infused with confidence and narrative tightness, the film is not only gripping but also touching, and after two well-spent hours (time flies here, which is a good sign), it will leave you cogitating on the matter.

Tu Dors Nicole (2014)

Tu Dors Nicole (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Stéphane Lafleur
Country: Canada

Movie Review: One of the most wonderful surprises of this year is undoubtedly the Canadian drama “Tu Dors Nicole”, which has much to be appreciated. Exhibiting indolent tones and a leisured pace, the film grabbed me in a very satisfying way both in terms of script, whose creativity, spontaneity and even some surrealistic elements (like a kid talking with an absurdly deep voice) successfully enraptured me, and in terms of the engrossing black-and-white visuals, which were capable of making me feel the warm breeze and the relaxed ‘dolce fare niente’ of the summertime in a quiet, small Quebecois town. Julianne Côté, whose outstanding performance deserves all the accolade she can get, embodies Nicole, a young student who seems to be enjoying her time alone at home, a consequence of her parents’ absence for a prolonged vacation. The scene that first introduces her is illuminating - when she wakes up in the bed of a guy and responds in an indifferent manner to his question if they’re going to see each other again. Back at home, she receives a phone call from her father, reminding her of the home tasks to be completed, and finds an envelope in the mailbox with a credit card in her name. What a joy! This was exactly what she needed to fight the boredom of the hot days, mostly spent doing nothing special in the company of her best friend, Veronique (Catherine St-Laurent). Both are planning to leave their fastidious jobs and make a trip to Iceland, an idea that is reinforced when Nicole’s contentious brother, Remi (Marc-André Grondin), suddenly appears at home, bringing his longtime pal, Pat (Simon Larouche), and a new friend, the flirtatious JF (Francis La Haye), respectively bassist and drummer of his indie rock trio, to rehearsal. The multiple interactions among these characters suddenly change the airs from undisturbed to weighty. Directed with delicacy, intelligence, and insight by Stéphane Lafleur, who completely avoids one-dimensional characters, “Tu Dors Nicole” has this sort of mood that many emerging directors would like to bring into their cinema. It’s so effective and simple in its processes, so mature in depicting the human relationships, and so deliciously funny in its sometimes-offbeat posture and dialogue, that the result is an extraordinary modern gem not to be missed.

The Forbidden Room (2015)

The Forbidden Room (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Don't expect anything linear when it comes out of the insubordinate, tortuous mind of the Canadian cult filmmaker Guy Maddin, who in his last sumptuously demented tale, “The Forbidden Room”, had the contribution of the newcomer Evan Johnson as co-writer and co-director. As in the majority of his past works, the film masterfully evokes the black-and-white silent classics and Technicolor fantasies in order to create a layered story that despite the numerous sinister characters and baffling interactions among them, can be summarized as a man desperately looking for a woman. A jocose spirit is present since its very beginning when a man wearing a robe discourses about how to take a bath. This hilarious little dissertation leads us to the central story – Cesare, a courageous woodsman, mysteriously appears aboard of a submarine that is condemned to explode. He’s looking for his kidnaped love, Margot, now an amnesiac prisoner of The Wolf who is kept in a nauseating cave. This main story breaks into multiple inventive fragments that entangle one another with more or less complexity, but which can be easily remembered by their own. They’re all bizarre with no exceptions, yet two sections are particularly mesmerizing: one involving a man identified as The Dead Father, whose mustache is of crucial importance to maintain his family in an emotionally controlled state when he plans to abandon them, and another, in which a woman called Gong had to be subjected to a gut-wrenching re-break of her bones in order to fix them correctly. The casting includes reputable international actors such as Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Maria de Medeiros, Jacques Nolot, Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, and the recurrent Louis Negin. Near the ending, the inscrutable Mr. Maddin reveals the solution for the perplexing cinema he’s been digging in for more than two decades. He tells us with every word about the stuff his films are made of: dreams / visions / madness. With “The Forbidden Room”, Maddin’s fans will continue to rejoice while a few new followers can be dragged into the cult.

Turbo Kid (2015)

Turbo Kid (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: François Simard /Anouk and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Country: Canada / New Zealand

Movie Review: “Turbo Kid” is an expeditiously diverting Canadian actioner that rekindles the adventurous spirit of “Indiana Jones”, the post-apocalyptic eccentricity of “Mad Max”, and the gory feast of Japanese action flicks. It’s undoubtedly a film of excesses, however, its vigorous pace, tasteful imagery and score evoking the 80’s, a diversity of props that enrich the rambunctious atmosphere, and finally, a throbbing, creative script that has much amusement to offer, provides a wonderful time punctuated with a few good laughs to the viewers who dare to embark on this insanely radical fun ride. The story takes place in futuristic 1997 in a wrecked uncertain place known as the Wasteland. The Kid (Munro Chambers), protected by his helmet and a couple of vital survival rules, rides his bike, scavenging old stuff, now seen as precious, that he trades afterwards for a minimal portion of water. At the bar where the trader can be found, he admires Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), a sharp-tongued arm-wrestling champion whose brother disappeared after being captured by the sanguinary savages of Zeus (Michael Ironside), a loathsome one-eyed ruler who affirms he has ‘eyes’ everywhere and takes his time inventing abominable ways of torturing people. In the meantime, in one of his scavenges, the Kid bumps into the apparently effusive Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), a pink-haired teenager who was speaking to the cadaver of a friend and almost forces the Kid to accept her as a daily companion. A genuinely sweet romance starts to take shape, but during the desperate attempt of escaping from one of the Zeus’ vassals, Apple is captured while the Kid is granted with a special superpower when engulfed by a hidden trapdoor. At this point, the Kid fearlessly saves Apple, who unveils a secret of her own, and together they team with Frederic in the battle against the evil. Kids should stay away from “Turbo Kid”, an enthralling adventure for adults that sometimes feels disgusting and yet effectively ingenious. The newcomer trio of writers/directors known as RKSS Collective, despite the blood overdose, did an exceptional job.

Guidance (2014)

Guidance (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Pat Mills
Country: Canada

Movie Review: This newly discovered offbeat comedy about a psychologically disturbed former actor, who decides to help problematic teenagers at Grusin High, is the first full-length feature from Canadian Pat Mills, who also stars as the main character. He confidently plays his alter ego, David Gold, who was a promising TV star in his childhood, but completely forgotten in his adulthood. He doesn’t have an acting role for so long that he decides to apply for a school guidance counselor job under the stolen identity of Dr. Roland Brown, whom he studied thoroughly. Moreover, the sudden, direct, insolent, and occasionally furious David, who was also diagnosed with skin cancer, has serious problems with alcohol, exhibits immoral behaviors, and still lives in a stubborn denial about his gay sexuality, even with the insistence on peeing sitting down. Besides all this, he’s completely broke and on the verge of being evicted by the ‘mean’ landlady who gives him 13 days to pay the rent. The few relatives whom he still maintains contact think he’s an embarrassment, and David spends his lonely days in a depressive mood that he fights by repeating to himself: ‘I have a high self-esteem’, ‘I’m well-adjusted’, or ‘I have a healthy body and mind’. For a brief idea of his operation method with the teen students, let me tell you that, first he starts with a few shots of vodka (to break the ice), before giving his personal advice and/or breaking the rules with them. He allows himself to smoke pot with the student who was expelled for selling pot, to bully the bullies, or to encourage the fat to be fatter and the slut to continue being a slut. This way, the new counselor becomes an idol for the teens and a curiosity for the colleagues, especially the gym teacher who stalks him. By the end, in the peak of his madness, he runs away with Gabrielle, a dyslexic and physically abused student who has a crush on him. They steal a car and rob several tanning salons before he becomes aware of the ‘beginning of his real self’. The very personal and sarcastic “Guidance” is cynical in the good sense, and Mr. Mills is officially authorized to return to the screens.

Aloft (2014)

Aloft (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Claudia Llosa
Country: Canada / Spain / others

Movie Review: Claudia Llosa, the extremely gifted Peruvian filmmaker, whose previous films, “Madeinusa” and “The Milk of Sorrow”, cast some sort of a dazzling spell on me, returns with a permissive drama, “Aloft”, her first English-language film with a few minutes of French, completely shot outside her country - Manitoba, Canada was the chosen place. Set in the Arctic Circle, this is the story of Nana Kunning (Jennifer Connelly), a woman with healing powers who abandoned her son, Ivan (Cillian Murphy), 20 years ago, right after he has been responsible for the death of his gravely ill younger brother in a terrible accident. Nana became a renowned artist and healer while Ivan, left to his own luck with no explanation, followed his passion for birds of prey and became a falconer. The arrival of a journalist, Jannia Rassmore (Mélanie Laurent), who is trying to cope with her own health problems, will provide an opportunity for mother and son reunite again after so many years apart. Soft in its procedures and packed with boring routines and inconsequent romance, “Aloft” was never capable of attaining something distinguishable. The melodrama and the characters are so lifeless and uninspiring that along its first half I had already given my time as wasted. I felt sorry for Llosa since I’m aware of her capabilities. The problem here wasn’t the direction, or the cast, or anything else but the script, whose obstacles are so notorious that it is almost impossible to connect with what the movie is trying to tell us. The icy landscapes and the tolerable performances end up being the less critical aspects in a film whose pretentious enactment was already doomed by a troublingly insecure plot. This is one of those cases we wish the director had never left his roots.


Big Muddy (2014)

Big Muddy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jefferson Moneo
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Debutant director Jefferson Moneo falls short in his inglorious attempt to turn “Big Muddy” (based on his 2011 short film) into a memorable neo-noir thriller with glimpses of western. Amid the many reasons that contributed to its non-accomplishment, we can point as the most determinant: an overfamiliar plot that was also disjointed, inexpressively dry characters, and a dismal approach. Probing a troubled family with a lot to clear up, both in the past and present, the film opens with an ireful man shooting two cops in the woods after escaping prison. Donovan is the fugitive, and his most probable next move is to look for Martha Barlow, the mother of his teenage son, Andy. The misunderstood Martha is a horse connoisseur turned outlaw, being involved in a series of violent robberies perpetrated in the company of her immature, jealous boyfriend, Tommy. Evidently, she’s not an example to be followed by Andy, who will confirm a sort of bad seed cursing the family; beyond stealing money from his mother, he shows no remorse when pulling the trigger on Buck Corber, Martha’s dodger former lover. The latter had already finished Tommy off, after having been hoodwinked by him in the most ludicrous scene of the film. Martha sees no other possibility beyond fleeing to Big Muddy and ask her estranged father for shelter. The confused Andy is the one who doesn’t know exactly what to do when he finds himself between a father who wants his family back and a grandfather who wants to teach him how hard is being a farmer. The title Big Muddle would have fit better, and not even the shootout scenes put away our enervation. Leaving much to be explained, especially concerning the characters’ past, Mr. Moneo’s writing would benefit if more definite and diligent toward a tight storytelling.

Backcountry (2014)

Backcountry (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Adam MacDonald
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Adam MacDonald’s directorial debut feature is a credible, tense indie thriller, based on true events, that realistically explores the misadventures of a passionate urban couple in the Canadian wilderness. Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) agree to go on a relaxing weekend trip into the nature, spending some well deserved time together, surrounded by sky, trees, and waterfalls. Convinced he knows pretty well where he was going, and planning on proposing to her, Alex lost the track for his route. Horrified, the couple finds themselves lost in the territory of a threatening black bear, without a map or cell phone. Even before that, Mr. MacDonald tries to distract us with the appearance of a suspicious stranger whose talk and behavior caused some uneasiness. In a first stage, the film relies on common strategies, playing with disturbing noises where the silence reigns, and tenuous lights upon the darkness. These preparations last almost an hour, with Jenn’s facial expression suggesting she was premeditating something harmful, especially whenever they had to opt for a direction. When the bear effectively attacks, we are shaken by the powerful, shocking images that convey a genuine sensation of terror. Alex, completely disfigured, ends up being meat dish for the avid bear, while Jenn is abandoned to her own luck, trying to follow her surviving instincts. “Backcountry” doesn’t really break new ground, however, its story is solidly built to a crescendo, what is another point in favor. It’s as if we wanted the story to come to an end, finishing with the agony, and at the same time keep on watching more. The score by Fréres Lumiéres was adequate for each situation while cinematographer Christian Bielz did a nice job.

Mommy (2014)

Mommy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Mommy” proves that there’s a young Canadian filmmaker out there named Xavier Dolan who has a lot to give to contemporary cinema. His past dramas evinced a strong sexuality component associated to homosexuality, but “Mommy” can be seen as a slight change of direction, maintaining however the high dramatic levels of its predecessors. The story follows Diane Després (Anne Dorval), a widower who gets his hyperactive 16 year-old son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), back from a juvenile center for troubled youths, after he has set the cafeteria on fire causing a lot of material and human damages. Steve is plagued with frequent raging attacks that not even his mother, the person he cherishes most, is completely immune. The relationship between them is closer to brother and sister than mother and son, and Diane doesn’t seem to have the ability or strength to deal with her son’s unpredictable behavior. When the situation seemed out of control, some hope rises in the horizon when Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a teacher in a forced sabbatical leave, answers affirmatively to Diane’s call for help, giving the desirable assistance that she needed to handle Steve. Not without some manipulation, “Mommy” still presents an enormous emotional weight, for which contributed the superb performances by the trio of actors. How artful from Dolan setting up a sequence of mesmerizing, unfocused images to mirror Diane’s dream of hope for the future, to suddenly discontinue it with a painful reality that would lead us to a devastating finale. Elaborated at a vehement pace, “Mommy is also visually bold, making use of empathic close-ups and expressive detailed scenes, beautifully shot, in its majority, in a non-standard square ratio of 1:1.

Mourning Has Broken (2014)

Mourning Has Broken (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Brett and Jason Butler
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Mourning Has Broken” is a micro-budgeted independent comedy drama that comes from Canada by the hand of the Butler Brothers - writers, directors, producers and editors. Despite the efforts to succeed and the good performance of Robert Nolan, “Mourning Has Broken” seemed a montage of little situations that were never sufficient to draw my attention. The story follows a man who realizes his wife his dead next to him, on their bed. Mourning is never easy and Nolan’s character found a particular way to deal with the matter. Uncontrolled and ravaging, he starts long monologues while driving mad, as well as confronting everyone around him who are misbehaving. A few situations have to do with his car – being nagged by a neighbor while washing it; provoking a woman while was parked in her private spot; getting a ticket while trying to buy a red velvet cake; tying up a mechanic who wanted to rip him off. Among these and other situations, the peak comes when he decides to get up on the stage of a movie theater and report what he thinks about respecting the silence in the site. It’s very appreciated what the Butlers tried to do in “Mourning Has Broken”, taking into account the financing struggle, but the film was never particularly funny, deep, or even satisfyingly conclusive to be a reference. The husband’s mourning, based on silly moves and crack-brained attitudes, soon became more irritating than righteous, in a black dramedy where the narrative was always superior to the visuals.

Gabrielle (2013)

Gabrielle (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Louise Archambault
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Gabrielle” tries to celebrate love and hope, while depicts the story of the title character, a special woman suffering from Williams syndrome who seeks for a questionable independence. Mentally challenged and diabetic, yet effusively happy, 22-year-old Gabrielle is in love with Martin, her colleague in the recreation center where they are rehearsing with a choir of people in the same conditions, in order to perform with the famous Quebecois singer, Robert Charlebois. When they are caught half-naked in a party given at the center, a meeting is promptly scheduled to clarify that the rules are strict. In the meeting were present Gabrielle’s beloved sister, Sophie, who are renitent in going to India with her boyfriend, and Martin’s ultra protective mother who forbids her son to see Gabrielle again. From this moment on, both will see their limitative conditions get worse due to sadness, but fate will get them together in the final concert. With an appreciable direction and some charm, “Gabrielle” should please the fans of heartwarming dramas with its sensibility, even considering the musical moments overextended and the story occasionally too sweet in certain scenes. The urge for love is perfectly achieved by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, an actress who has Williams syndrome in real life and sings in a similar choir in Montreal. The questions on how to protect these people, giving them the freedom and opportunities they deserve, and how their condition affects the ones around them, were put on the table with pertinence in this sophomore feature film from Louise Archambault.

Miraculum (2014)

Miraculum (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Daniel Grou
Country: Canada

Movie Review: “Miraculum” was conceived by two minds utterly connected to Canadian TV series: Gabriel Sabourin, actor and writer, and Daniel Grou, the director. However, this wasn’t the first time that the two collaborators work in feature film, and “Miraculum” diverged from that format for its own good. The celebration of love, the end of love, religious fanaticism, and even hope, are presented with a cheerless posture. All of these aspects were coordinated with an imminent fatalism, turning it into a pertinent, reflective exercise, which in the impossibility of surprising us in its whole, was capable of sparking the debate about Jehovah’s witnesses beliefs, the difficulty of making irreversible decisions, and the mysteries of fate. The multi-narrative encompasses eight different people, who momentarily interconnect – Etienne, slowly dying of leukemia, refuses to receive blood in accordance with the strict principles of his Jehovah family, while his girlfriend breaks the rule; a man who returns from Venezuela loaded with drugs inside him and eager to meet with his young niece with whom he has a strong bond; an elderly couple, both employees in a casino, who leave their marriages behind to embark in a life together; a powerful businessman, lost in his addiction for gambling, is left for good by his alcoholic wife. Structured in an involving way and demonstrating well-controlled camera movements, this cerebral drama counts with the actor, writer and director, Xavier Dolan, in its powerful ensemble cast. Though not every little story (and character) has the same impact, “Miraculum” still provides us with a few thoughtful moments.

Tom at the Farm (2013)

Tom at the Farm (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Country: Canada / France

Movie Review: Ambitious Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan, directly associated with queer cinema (“I Killed my Mother”, “Heartbeats”, “Laurence Anyways”), has in “Tom at the Farm” his first exercise on thriller with mixed results. It’s undeniable that Dolan is a very talented man, considering that he also stars as the main character (not a novelty) and was responsible for the adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s novel, production and editing. The issue is that the good and the bad alternate constantly. While some scenes were capable to surprise or even intrigue me, other seemed completely forced and unbalanced. Coming from Montreal, Tom arrives at a farm in the countryside to attend to the funeral of his lover, Guillaume. For his surprise, Gullaume’s mother, Agathe, wasn’t aware of his son’s sexual orientation, while his frustrated brother, Francis, tries everything to show who’s the boss around, making Tom extremely uncomfortable. Entering in a dangerous game that was much defiant and abusive, Francis, shows a sort of perversion difficult to decipher, while Tom acts like a scared sensible child. To complicate more the situation, Sarah, the woman who the family always thought to be Guillaume’s girlfriend, arrives at the farm. With a keen photography and not rare big close-ups to penetrate in the characters’ innermost souls, “Tom at the Farm” is a tragicomic thriller that still may have something to be enjoyed, despite the flaws and lack of a real climax.

Whitewash (2013)

Whitewash (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Canadian actor Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais has in “Whitewash” his directorial debut, a thriller that didn’t thrill me at all. Set in the extremely cold Quebec, the story follows Bruce (Thomas Haden Church), a snowplow operator with a problematic past who sees himself overwhelmed by his fellow Paul (Marc Labrèche), an insidious gambler. Accidentally, Bruce kills Paul in the middle of a snowstorm, burying the body and hiding himself from the authorities as his consciousness nags him continuously. Little by little and through flashbacks, we become aware of the men’s intractable relationship, but I only started slightly to involve myself in the story after the first hour, just to see its ending 30 minutes later. Haden Church’s performance was much more convincing than Labrèche, in a film that seemed set in layers, almost without a coherent narrative continuity, which affected strongly the final result. Despite of Bruce’s undesired encounters, tortured thoughts, and monologues where he expresses his fear by imagining a police interrogation, the film is devoid of real stimulation and keeps going round in circles, without any unsettling moment capable of grabbing my attention. I would say that Hoss-Desmarais risked too much in an almost-solo, non-charismatic character, and the outcome is neither minimalist nor conventional. The power of the mind over the body can be very benumbing. Only in this particular case, I also felt numb, and it wasn’t from the Canadian cold.

Afflicted (2013)

Afflicted (2013) - Movie Review
Directed by: Derek Lee, Clif Prowse
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Co-directors, writers and actors, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, introduced themselves in the first minutes of “Afflicted”, before elucidating us about the dream trip around the world they’re about to record on video. Yes, this is another footage film, so in vogue nowadays, that tries to get close to the documentary format. But only a few minutes were necessary to realize that everything here is an inventive creation from the duo’s minds. Apart from Derek’s brain disease, the trip starts in an uneventful way, but everything changes in Paris, after he meets with a strange woman who turns him immortal and bloodthirsty. From the minute 45 on, we can follow Derek experiencing the unexplainable, in sequences of scenes varying from gross (vomiting blood or taking an eye out), funny (asking for blood in Italian), and moderately scary (having seizures or committing a live suicide). As expected, all the film was shot with super-shaky hand-held cameras to maintain an appealing intensity, and the result is simultaneously pointless and effective. This could be a good choice for vampire aficionados, depending of their taste. If you like elaborated dialogues and a more stylish approach, I would recommend “Only Lovers Left Alive”. In turn, if you prefer a raw and dirty style, “Afflicted” can do the trick. After all, considering the low budget, it presents some good ideas that will leave you wondering about the motives that led to disgrace: evilness or kindness? The film was worthy of the special jury citation at Toronto Film Festival.