Dork Shelf film writers Andrew Parker, Phil Brown, Will Perkins, and Noah Taylor take a look at some of the films playing at this year’s Canadian Film Fest. For more information and tickets, visit the festival’s website.
All screenings at THE ROYAL in Toronto.
The Canadian Film Fest’s opening film is kind of like On Golden Pond, except with two foul mouth lesbians as the leads. Ok, so maybe it’s not like that Fonda/Hepburn joint at all, but Thom Fitzgerald’s new film is one of the rare stories about the elderly that’s neither pandering nor lifelessly dull. It’s the tale of two retiree lesbians who drive to Canada in search of a legal gay wedding to save their home. Olympia Dukakis stars as a feisty, beer-swigging old gal, while Brenda Ficker plays her sweet, legally blind life-partner. Along the way, the Oscar-winning actresses pick up a 20-something former male stripper (Ryan Doucette) to add some gender, generational clashes, and life lessons to their trip down the highway. That all might sound a little cornball, but Fitzgerald’s script as vulgar as it is heartfelt. He constantly undercuts the cheese with welcome humour (including a particularly graphic old lady) and liberal use of the profanity to create the sweetest R-rated elderly lesbian road comedy you’ll ever see, if not the only one. (Phil Brown)
Screens Wednesday, March 28th at 8pm
Director Jesse Mann spins and stitches together this fast paced fly-on-the-wall look at the world of independent fashion as he follows Toronto based designer Bruno Ierullo as he attempts to put together his first ever fashion show in 2009. Mann lucks into capturing a real firebrand for a subject, and fashion junkies will have a lot of fun with this interesting “inside baseball” style look of a very particular man working outside the status quo with a very limited amount of time, money, and resources. Still, one wishes Mann wasn’t always trying to match Ierullo’s motormouthed tendencies, as the editing tends towards the unnecessarily chaotic and an intrusive musical score doesn’t really allow some of the film’s more interesting elements to play as well as they might have. It’s worth a look mostly because of Ierullo’s personal vision and the élan and intensity he brings to his work. (Andrew Parker)
Screens Thursday, March 29th at 7:45pm
Below Zero is a slice of Canuck horror by way of Adaptation about a struggling screenwriter (Edward Furlong) so desperate to finish his new script that he locks himself into a meat freezer until he finishes the assignment. He starts writing about a guy much like himself who’s trapped in a freezer for even less logical reasons and ends up being pursued by everyone’s favourite bald, hillbilly horror veteran, The Hills Have Eyes’ Michael Berryman. Inevitably reality and fiction start to blend with almost every member in the cast taking up dual roles in the film’s reality and fiction. Furlong proves to be a surprisingly strong lunatic lead, while Berryman gets his biggest and best role in years. Kristin Booth also slips in a delightfully perky performance with a hilariously thick Canadian accent as Furlong’s host/captor/unwilling writing partner. All the meta-mayhem eventually becomes a little too convoluted, wrapping up with at least three too many false endings. Enough works in Below Zero to warrant a recommendation but, it just feels like the actual screenwriter Singe Olynk might have gone a little crazy herself while cranking this one out. It helps that the film takes place in the same meat locker she wrote the movie in. (Phil Brown)
Screens Thursday, March 29 at 9:55pm
Waiting for Summer
This meandering Toronto-centric tale about troubled childhoods and intertwined fates would work better if only the two leads had more chemistry together. Individually, the stories of Zack (Caleb Verzyden) and Chantal (Virginia Leigh) are interesting yarns about making up for lost time and self-discovery, but whenever the two characters fatefully come together on screen the film grinds to a total halt. Both in their twenties and living downtown, Zack and Chantal are still coming to terms with serious abandonment issues stemming from childhood neglect. You’d thinking having that in common might bring them together, but it only serves to drive them apart. Charming in small doses but ultimately uneventful, Waiting for Summer may leave you waiting for something to happen… anything really. (Will Perkins)
Screens Friday, March 30th at 7:45pm.
Despite the fact that many people consider horror films to be a bit of a ‘niche’ market, in the world of lower budget filmmaking you will not see a genre more frequently visited. Perhaps this is because, I’m sorry to say, the low standards that most horror films are measured by. Some of my favourite films fall into the horror category, but I don’t see 99.5% of the new ones released because, like The Unleashed, they rely too heavily on overused scare tactics. Instead of thinking of new ways to startle us, the director leaves the work to the soundtrack, make-up and special effects. With a story focusing on that pesky old Ouija board and its abilities to summon old not-so-friendly former friends, those more susceptible to the aforementioned tried and tested horror tactics will get their jumps and “ewww”s but the rest of us will have to wait for the next Ti West movie. (Noah Taylor)
Screens Friday March 30 9:55pm
If I Should Fall
Trooper Marc Diab of the Royal Dragoons was the 112th Canadian casualty in the long running War in Afghanistan, and his story from childhood and beyond his passing is chronicled in director Brendon Culliton’s well made documentary. Utilizing some great interviews with Marc’s family, friends, and fellow soldiers and even first person footage shot by Marc himself, Culliton tells a personal story of a single fallen soldier and the impact his death had on those all around him. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, and it lags a bit even at 83 minutes, but Culliton knows the form and function of the type of film he’s making – filled with some great personal insights and some neat looks at the minutiae of day to day military life – and he delivers a respectful and refreshingly apolitical look at the effect that the armed forces have on everyone’s daily lives. (Andrew Parker)
Screens Saturday, March 31st at 2pm.
As one could probably guess from the title, Webdultery is about Internet-aided infidelity. Unfortunately this story requires many of the film’s scenes to centre around one of those two things: the internet and sex. Watching people instant message at a computer screen isn’t the most cinematic experience, but the sex scenes in the film offer a little more shock and awe – even if the sheer number of them begins to get a little tiresome. That being said, Webdultery does create intrigue by having multiple characters carrying on extramarital activities with varying degrees of anonymity. While both husband and wife flirt with the uncertainty of strangers on the web, we watch to see who will go further and who will truly get screwed. (Noah Taylor)
Screens Saturday March 31 6:15pm
Hit ‘N Strum
Nothing starts a movie off quite like a hit and run. When Stephanie (Michelle Harrison), a successful Vancouver career woman, hits a homeless man named Mike (Kirk Caouette) with her car, the pair strike up an improbable relationship built on her guilt for running him down and a shared love of music. Mike is suffering from tuberculosis and is too proud to accept help from anyone, while Stephanie, needing a distraction from her unfulfilled life, turns the sickly but talented street busker into a pet project. The sometimes heavy subject matter of Hit ‘N Strum is thankfully offset by a fairly catchy soundtrack written and performed by Caouette. The actor also wrote and directed the film, and never lets it stray into the sappy Disney territory that any other movie like this would make a break for. There is only one hobo-to-rockstar makeover montage, we promise. (Will Perkins)
Screens Sunday, March 31st at 4:15pm
CFF SHORT FILMS
My Loss, Your Gain
My Loss Your Gain is a science fiction short about a man, a fly swatter, a basement, and some kind of science experiment. Not a word of dialogue is spoken as familiar motifs and montage show a passage of time spent obsessing over… something to do with flies? At only 5 minutes, the shortness of this short is emphasized by ending just when things start to get interesting. (Noah Taylor)
Screens Thursday March 29 9:55pm
As any Toronto dweller knows, Long Branch is the end of the line… not the subway line, but the streetcar that takes you to the suburb of Etobicoke. When Lynn’s looking for a one night stand and finds nice guy Gray, the 2-hour public transit commute doesn’t exactly fit into her anonymous sex-seeking plan. Long Branch is a cute little story with a probability that lends it an autobiographical feel. Since it was written and directed by a male/female duo, it could have happened to either of them, perhaps this is why we can relate to both Lynn and Gray in this scenario. (Noah Taylor)
This impressive short from 16-year-old filmmaker Joseph Procopio would be much less impressive from anyone out of their teenaged years. Procopio seems to already be establishing himself as an old soul by centering the story around a boy who is ostracized for writing a girl a letter instead of texting her. With several other short film credits to his name, I’m guessing that a family involved in the film industry contributes to Procopio and Onion Skin’s maturity, but I think viewers no longer in high school will still find it hard to relate. (Noah Taylor)
Rosie Takes the Train
Rosie’s train ride starts in 1930 when she is a little girl and becomes a metaphor for her whole life. Despite elements of fantasy, like the conductor who does not age, the frank style with which it was shot and the inclusion of some very familiar Canadian faces lent this short the feeling of watching one of those greatly missed Part of Our Heritage moments. (Noah Taylor)
One of the better shorts I’ve ever seen, the entire film takes place in a bathroom with two characters and is shot in one long, uninterrupted take. Without the advantage of editing or knowing anything about these characters, Hangnail is able to strike several different emotional notes in its 10-minute running time. This wouldn’t work if the actors weren’t on their game but the real star is the Steadicam and its extremely choreographed movements constantly finding new ways to frame the action. (Noah Taylor)
Screens Saturday March 31 12:00pm