Tag Archives: Canadian content

Angelique’s Isle

Sault Saint Marie, 1845: a trading post. A beautiful young Ojibway woman named Angelique (Julia Jones) marries a French-Canadian voyageur named Charlie (Charlie Carrick). The newlyweds sign up to work at a camp during the copper rush and set sail for Lake Superior’s Isle Royale in search of a more prosperous future. Fortunately or unfortunately, they’re a little too successful. They find a whole boulder’s worth of copper, only it’s too big to take back on their little barge. The company men leave Angelique and Charlie behind to ‘guard’ their find. Two weeks, they’re told, though Angelique is reluctant – that boulder has sacred carvings on it, and she knows it shouldn’t be removed.

Alone on the island, Angelique is haunted by nightmares of residential school and her life before. She and Charlie tough it out with minimal food and dwindling hope, but as you might have guessed, those Detroit folk were not exactly honourable. Weeks turn into months. The no longer wait for a boat, they wait to die – of starvation or cold is the only question.

As she waits for death to claim her, surrounded by the undeniable beauty but also savagery of the land, she is visited by the spirits of her ancestors and her inner demons. Angelique isn’t the only one to be visited. It’s going to be a long winter for everyone involved.

Directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Michelle Derosier obviously have a feel for and a respect for the land. A Canadian winter can take your breath away both literally and figuratively. As this particular winter drags on (and all Canadian winters feel about 16 months too long), Angelique will have to rely on traditional ways to ensure her survival, and her spirituality to guide her. Cousineau and Derosier have chosen well with Jones as their heroine; Angelique is strong and fierce. She is worthy of our attention.

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Living Proof

When I was a little girl, my school had an annual “read-a-thon” to raise money for MS. Finally, a “thon” that little unathletic Jay could win! And boy did I: hundreds of books read, and hundreds of dollars raised.

Film maker Matt Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was only 19 years old. A debilitating, incurable disease, both Matt and his family were devastated by it. His father, Ashton Embry, was frustrated at the paltry support offered by their doctors and with the lack of long-term results offered by any of the medication available. So he did his own research, and thanks in part to Judy Graham’s book about living with MS MV5BMjZhYmVmNTctNTlhZC00YmQ5LWJkZTUtM2ExN2RiMTc3ZWEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc4MTI1OTQ@._V1_naturally, he developed a diet for his son to follow. Matt eats unprocessed food – no gluten, no dairy – mostly fruit, veg, and lean meats. And since MS occurs more often in northern countries, like Canada, he takes a big ole dose of Vitamin D, like sunshine in a bottle. Yes, it’s a strict diet and requires constant preparation and vigilance. But if you’ve known someone cut down by MS, their bodies just literally abandoning them, you’d probably find such a possibility to be suitably motivating. And thanks to this lifestyle, Matt is still symptom-free, TWENTY YEARS after diagnosis. He has never taken any medication, but he has had a procedure called CCSVI – many people with MS have significant blockages in their jugular vein, which means not enough blood flows through to the brain.

Staving off MS without expensive drugs is reason enough for a documentary. Though it’s likely not the answer for everyone, it seems harmless enough to try, so Matt and his family have been devoted to disseminating the information, free of charge. But MS patients must happen upon it themselves, because none of the official avenues will so much as suggest it as an alternative. People my age are confined to wheel chairs and nursing homes because big pharma is only interested in medical alternatives that will make life-long paying customers out of patients. Diet and exercise are not profitable.

But you and I expect no less of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s unconscionable.  What really got my goat was the complicity of the MS Society of Canada, and its many chapters around the world. They raise millions of dollars, give a fraction to research, and literally suppress invaluable information from the people who suffer from MS and depend on them for resources. They accept donations from pharmaceutical companies, they endorse their drugs, and they funnel the money back toward research for medicine that will not cure MS. I am enraged to know that I ever gave\raised money for the MS Society. I was even more enraged to see them using the donations of well-meaning, hard-working people to sue the likes of Matt Embry. No wonder there have never been any significant advancements in MS research. It’s enough to make you sick.

TIFF18: Giant Little Ones

Giant Little Ones is post-gay, mid-spectrum, pro-fluid. It’s a very specific adolescence, and except for a few details, it could be mine or yours.

Franky (Josh Wiggins) is on the swim team at school – the kind of swim team who showers together, shaves together, slings homophobic slurs together, apparently without irony. Franky’s best friend Nic is on the swim team too. They do almost everything together, but for Franky’s 17th birthday he’s planning something without him – the loss of his virginity, to his girlfriend, who is nice enough and pretty enough but just not that interesting. Is that a problem? Nic is emphatic: no. Nic and his girlfriend do it 6 times a day!

Franky’s mom (Maria Bello) leaves the house unattended for the party but things don’t go exactly as planned, and at the end of the night it’s just Franky and Nic, like the sleepovers of their childhood. Except this one ends in a blow job. In the morning, Franky is surprised by this turn of events, but Nic is many more things: ashamed, upset, angry. Nic destroys their friendship, and Franky’s reputation, and makes Franky’s life at school hell. The only person who doesn’t desert him is Nic’s sister, Natasha.

I really love Franky’s openness to this experience.  Josh Wiggins is a big part of this: he is giant-little-ones-e1536901112178charming and sweet, handsome and approachable. Franky doesn’t question his identity, he just absorbs it as part of it. It doesn’t need a label or a judgement. But there is a complication: Franky’s father (Kyle MacLachlan) has recently left the family because he’s gay. Franky’s resentment is mostly due to the abandonment and not the sexuality, but his feelings are complicated and confused and it makes dealing with this just a little harder than it has to be.

Every generation has its own set of unique problems and we’re still uncovering and discovering what it means to be young right now. High school is as hard as ever, but it’s fascinating to be able to peek in through the window to see today’s particulars. I saw Giant Little Ones on a whim and an inkling and it ended up being a really nice find, which is a happy festival occurrence. We go in with such high expectations for the Oscar hopefuls and at best all they can do is meet them. But a little Canadian indie like this can genuinely catch you off guard, and in reinvigorates you when you’re on movie #32 of the festival.

 

TIFF18: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is a good movie in the shadow of a great one.

As a child, Rupert Turner was enamoured with a teen hearthrob, John F. Donovan, who was actually an adult playing a teenager on some soapy high school drama. A budding actor himself, Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) writes to Donovan (Kit Harington), telling him of his ambitions and desires – namely, to one day act alongside him. Surprisingly, Donovan writes back, and a beautiful friendship is forged, strictly as pen pals. But when that relationship is discovered, first by Rupert’s mother (Natalie Portman), then by the press, the friendship is misinterpreted and Donovan vilified. He dies before our two buddies can ever meet up.

john_f_donovanTen years later, a grown-up Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) is releasing a collection of their correspondence as a book, and a skeptical reporter (Thandie Newton) is interviewing him. The truth of their friendship is revealed through flashbacks, as is Donovan’s life, which of course was not all rainbows and lollipops.

Behind his privilege, Donovan had an absent father, a family that fauns over him and resents him in equal measure, an alcoholic mother (Susan Sarandon), an agent who is decidedly not his friend (Kathy Bates), and a girlfriend/childhood friend (Emily Hampshire) who is also his beard (unknowingly). He’s hiding a lot. He lives in a world filled with illusion. He’s pulled in a thousand directions and has no friends who aren’t on the payroll, and yeah, it is kind of sad that he unburdens his soul to a kid, but it’s also kind of understandable, which is sadder still.

Director Xavier Dolan is uniquely positioned to have something to say about child actors and the celebrity beast and I really enjoyed his attempts at profundity in this film. This is his first English-language film and while there are still traces of his typically auteur-ish style, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is perhaps missing just a little of what normally makes a Dolan a Dolan. It also suffers a bit from bloat. Susan Sarandon’s performance is quite good, her character very interesting, but there isn’t a lot of room for her, as Dolan cut the movie down from 4 hours to just over 2 (and left Jessica Chastain completely on the cutting room floor). Kathy Bates’ part isn’t really a part at all, barely more than a cameo.

Dolan’s crime seems to have been starting out with too much to say and then having a hard time parting ways with any of it during editing. But I think John Donovan is a character worth getting to know. And the topic of celebrity death, and our cultural obsession with it, and possibly contribution to it, is ripe for harvesting.  I think the wording of the title has something to say about it all by itself. This movie isn’t all that it could be, and coming in to a Xavier Dolan film, I can’t help but bring high hopes and standards. But there’s something worthwhile here, and I hope it will be mined for the diamonds and not just the flaws.

TIFF18: Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

If you were present in the literary world of the early 2000’s and you have a sharp memory, you may remember JT (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy as the author of a New York Times best-seller, Sarah. That is a true thing that happened.

Now here’s where it immediately gets messy. JT LeRoy was a teenage truck stop prostitute who idolized his mother Sarah, also a hooker. Except JT wasn’t actually a real person, he was just an “avatar” used by the book’s real author, Laura Victoria Albert, who developed the pseudonym in the 90s while calling suicide hotlines. She found it easier to talk about her pain if she attributed it to someone else, and she MV5BZjI3NDk1NWUtMmQ4NS00MWMzLTljMmQtZjBhNWU0NWU0ZDFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI0MTEwNTY@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_found male identities received more sympathy. Eventually she found a way to turn it into art, and several stories and books were published under the name. She wouldn’t be the first writer to write under an assumed name, but she might be the first to have gone to such great lengths to present a pseudonym as a real person. She recruited her boyfriend’s androgynous sister Savannah to “play” JT in person, granting interviews and posing for pictures as him – even signing the rights to a movie contract. Of course, when the truth comes out, as it nearly always does, the world was kind of mad about being duped, and there was a big backlash.

So that’s the true, and truly weird, story explored in the film, where Laura is played by Laura Dern and Savannah/JT is played by Kristen Stewart. Laura does all the talking over the phone (as a phone sex operator, she has a knack) and Savannah plays it cool and quiet in public. But both of them grow increasingly attached to the character and are possessive of him – particularly when a beautiful actress/director gets involved (Diane Kruger). Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. Laura develops other personas, like Speedie, JT’s obnoxiously British manager who mysteriously and confoundingly does a lot of his talking for him during interviews.

Every year at TIFF, there are certain themes that pop up. This year it’s addictions, and also cops killing black kids. But a third, and quite odd theme, is literary hoaxes. Melissa McCarthy plays a forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays controversial memoirist James Frey in A Million Little Pieces. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy provides two very juicy roles for Dern and Stewart, and the tension it creates between them is pretty addictive in itself. Stewart is cast to perfection and in JT’s gender-neutral shoes, themes of sexism and identity leap out so easily. Laura Dern is similarly well-matched, and she somehow makes the juggling of personas look easy. We get the sense that Laura feels her limitations in the field keenly, while Savannah embraces this shadowy second life, perhaps feeling a bit freer in a wig and dark glasses.

I thought Laura deserved a bit more from the script, and the end in general needed a little more oomph in order to match the intensity that comes before it, but this is an interesting story you have to see to believe, with 2 out of this world performances. You should take all of your personalities to the cinema to see this one.

Our House

Our-House-TrailerOur House is a retelling of the age-old cautionary tale about the dangers of science. As we all know, science experiments’ most common outcomes are monsters, ghosts, and superviruses, with temporal paradoxes or dimensional portals being all-too-common as well.

Despite the known risks of science, Ethan (Thomas Mann) has to experiment and push the envelope anyway, consequences be damned, as he works on his wireless electricity machine. The Fly poster on the wall of Ethan’s garage/lab is a sure sign that his science project is a risky one, bound for disaster, and he should know better. Even so, for a while it seems like Ethan’s project might actually work, since when his machine is on his little sister can talk to recently deceased loved ones, but inevitably, much more sinister beings begin to make their presence felt.

IMG_2042Full disclosure: I was fortunate  to watch this film with a ferocious guard dog on my lap, so I knew I could handle whatever scares were thrown my way. You likely will not have that same advantage, at least while Our House is in theatres. But even without the dog, the first hour of this movie will be bearable for everyone, including scaredy-cats like Jay. There’s not any significant tension in this film until the final third of the movie, but that last third contains a very suspenseful sequence that made me wish the intensity had been raised sooner, to allow for a longer showdown with the ghosts.

Leaving me wanting more is not a bad thing, and the movie is right to lean heavily on the family drama aspect with its very strong young cast including Mann, Percy Hynes-White, and Kate Moyer. It’s just that a few more ghosts would have made this movie more memorable, because it’s when those ghosts are actively pursuing Ethan and his family that Our House is at its best.

Summer of 84

All year long I wear the badge of wimp proudly. It’s made out of bubble wrap and bandaids, and is attached with safety velcro in order to never risk the prick. I DO NOT WATCH HORROR MOVIES. I do not. In fact: I cannot. I even turned my cowardly back on Hereditary despite its starring one of my all-time-favourite actresses, and I stalk her from beneath her floorboards 4 days a week. I don’t watch em. I can’t do it. They don’t just make me scared, they make me mad. And not just husband sleeps with your best friend on your birthday mad. Oh no. I’m talking REALLY mad. Mad that I have ALLOWED myself to feel this bad. So I sit there seething. Self-loathing. And so scared I might pee – and that’s not an expression, it’s an alarmingly real possibility.

But.

But in July, I make an exception, an exception called The Fantasia Film Festival. It shows an incredible lineup of genre films, which takes me out of my comfort zone and challenges me as a movie lover, watcher, and reviewer. It’s got odes to action, horror, sci-fi, and loads besides – the most frontier-pushing stuff from Japan, South Korea, and more, and stuff to inspire fresh nightmares for a year. Truly something for every sicko out there, and I love it.

And this isn’t the first time I’ve let myself be pee-strength scared. As a kid I remember that a simple game of hide-and-go-seek would strain my 7 year old heart into cardiac arrest territory. Relocate that game to the woods, and set it at night, and I was a cowering, quivering mess. Did anyone else put themselves through these MV5BNWNjOTNkNTAtOTQwNi00MzM0LWE0OTktY2VmYzE2NDdiY2Q2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTU4ODA4MTg@._V1_neighbourhood games of hell? Obviously someone must derive pleasure from being on the brink of abject horror, and at the beginning of Summer of 84, we meet 4 such young fellows. Davey and his friends are 15 in the summer of 84, mere shadows of mustaches playing on their upper lips, and haven’t yet outgrown their midnight game of “manhunt.” I think it’s creepy even before the big news is revealed: the Cape May slayer is on the loose in their community. With 13 confirmed kills and a preference for teenage boys, Davey and his buddies should rationally be concerned about this serial killer but they’re kids, hornily hovering about the precipice between childhood and growing up, and instead they think it’s kind of cool.

Kind of cool until Davey (Graham Verchere), an amateur conspiracy theorist, convinces Eats (Judah Lewis), Woody (Caleb Emery), and Farraday (Cory Gruter-Andrew) that his next-door neighbour Mackey (Rich Sommer) fits the serial killer’s profile, and that Mackey’s job as a cop is nothing more than the perfect cover. So even though there’s a beautiful girl next door, a couple years older and rocking a side pony, Davey is single-minded in his surveillance and suspicion of Mackey. Which makes me hyperventilate on at least two fronts: 1. If Mackey IS the killer, Davey et. al are drawing an awful lot of attention to themselves, and 2. If he is not the killer, then the killer is on loose, and the boys are very distracted, which makes them easy targets. 

This is the most recent offering from directors RKSS (Roadkill Superstar), a trio of talented young Canadians otherwise known as Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Summer of 84 is inevitably being compared to Stranger Things, but that comparison isn’t really fair, just a lazy nod to the 1980s nostalgia they both evoke. Summer of 84 more like The Goonies, a childhood adventure movie, but with higher stakes. RKSS is not afraid to let some kids meet with some pretty real-world consequences.

As you can imagine, this movie is brimming with barely-awakened testosterone, and enough tension to blow the roofs off several treehouses. 105 minutes is a long time to be barely containing the urge to scream “Get out of there!!!!” in a theatre full of heavy-breathing moviegoers. My notebook reveals that I survived the ordeal by sketching people’s shoes. But I also survived by being pleasantly surprised by the production value in this movie. RKSS know and love their gore, but they’ve also crafted a movie that looks terrific. It certainly looks levels above what their budget must have dictated, and it’s rooted in an 80s realism you’ll identify as “grandparent’s rec room chic” rather than the too-slick, glossy, neon, facile and over-stylized way many other directors are dazzled by. Of course, it’s rather ironic since the film makers were not likely even born yet in the summer of 84, but who’s counting?

The four young actors are all quite good; Verchere has an honest and earnest face that’s hard not to root for, and Emery’s face is probably already familiar to you. There’s an easy and genuine camaraderie between the boys, which makes it easy to care for them even if their characters aren’t exactly well-developed. And getting us to care for the lambs being left to slaughter isn’t something you can take for granted in a horror movie. Blood comes cheap, but RKSS pays full price.