Tag Archives: Jean-Marc Vallee

Canadian Film Day

FacebookAvatar_ENIt’s National Canadian Film Day! I’m sadly spending it watching American movies in New York City, but not to worry, I celebrated a bit early before I left, and I’ve got just the thing for this fantastic day in cinema (which for some reason is commemorated on                     4\20…stupid Canada.)

Canadian cinema will never compete with Hollywood, in part because we don’t have the people or the resources, but also largely because L.A. is already 80% Canadian. Even Matt’s brother lives there! (Hi, Mark). Well, okay, that figure’s a bit high, but all the talented ones are Canadian. Deadpool is Canadian. Seth Rogan. Ryan Gosling. Rachel McAdams.CZgTE5PWwAAfFcE Shatner. Michael Cera. Ellen Page. Jay Baruchel. Catherine O’Hara. Eugene Levy. The Sutherlands. Will Arnett. Victor Garber. Michael J. Fox. All the funny people from SNL. There are talented Canadians in the director’s chair as well: Cronenberg. Cameron. Atom Egoyan. Norman Jewison. The Reitmans. Sarah Polley. Patricia Rozema.

To celebrate more specifically, here are some little gems of Canadian cinema that I think you’ll enjoy no matter what nationality you are.

Mommy-by-xavier-dolan-cannes-posterXavier Dolan’s Mommy: Before Dolan was directing Adele, Jessica Chastain, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon, he was just a young Quebec boy with a lot of ambition. His movies have been increasingly polished and mature, culminating with Mommy, a disturbing movie about a complex mother-son relationship.


Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal: Although best known for his Oscar-Jesus_of_Montreal_FilmPosternominated Les invasion barbares (The Barbarian Invasions), an older work in his catalogue, Jesus of Montreal, is quite a trip. A group of actors are hired to put on the passion of the Christ in Montreal. Jesus is interpreted a little differently than usual and the church is not happy. The movie works on its literal level and also as a biblical allegory, so you can watch and rewatch this one and always come away with something new.

incendiesposterDenis Villeneuve’s Incendies: He’s now known for Prisoners and Sicario (and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel) but shortly after Polytechnique, he directed one of Canada’s best films of this millennium. The story follows twins as they follow they unwind the mystery of their immigrant mother’s life after her sudden death. The film is haunting, sharp, and will make you put your head down and weep.

Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y.: You may know Vallée from Dallas Buyer’s Club220px-CrazyFilm or Demolition, but Canadians got to know the filmmaker long ago, with solid movies like C.R.A.Z.Y, the story of a young gay man growing up in his conservative father’s household along with 4 brothers in Quebec during the 1960s and 70s. The soundtrack’s spot on, the writing is honest, and the acting is top-notch.

My_winnipegGuy Maddin’s My Winnipeg: Described by Maddin as a “docu-fantasia” and by perplexed critics as a surrealist mockumentary, nobody knows exactly what the hell this is, but it IS both an experiment and an experience in cinema. Maddin casts someone else as Maddin and then paints a mythologized, metafictional tribute to his beloved town of Winnipeg. If you love movies, you have to check this out. You’ll feel it in your toes.

Being fairly well-versed in national cinema, Matt, Sean and I also watched a movie by a local filmmaker by the name of Quiz_Film_300x300Vincent Valentino. We met him briefly at the Monster Pool Horror Anthology and have wanted to see more of his work since. He just happened to have a little ditty about washed up porn stars that starred lots of familiar-to-Ottawa faces, plus the always-arousing presence of Ron Jeremy. And how better to celebrate Canadian Film Day by having a laugh with your friends.


Tiffing Like Crazy

I hardly know how to begin summing up our crazy time at the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re actually only about halfway through our experience, but if I don’t start putting down some thoughts now, I’m going to run out of usable memory space.

Day 1

Demolition: Our first film of the festival is still probably my favourite. Music-obsessed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) calls this the “most rock-n-roll movie I’ve ever made” and while that’s not the descriptor that immediately came to my mind, I do get where he’s coming from. I would call this movie vigorous. It’s very alive, ironically, since it’s about a man (2015 Toronto International Film Festival - "Demolition" Press ConferenceDavis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s been numb for the past dozen years or so. It takes the sudden death of his wife for him to realize that he probably didn’t love her. And once that realization is made, his whole life starts to tilt to the left. He becomes obsessed with understanding and improving small, safe things: the leak in his fridge, the squeak in a door, the defective hospital vending machine. A surprisingly confessional letter about the latter connects him to a lonely customer service lady (Naomi Watts) and they stumble together toward truth, just two lost souls helping each other without even meaning to. Gyllenhaal is nothing short of amazing. We see him removed from grief, literally doing whatever he can just to feel – manual labour, loud music, the embracing of pain. Gylllenhaal does disconnection eerily well. But he also has some bracing bonding scenes with a young co-star, the two careening from frank discussions about homosexuality in Home Depot, to the point-blank testing of bullet proof vests. The mourning in this movie is off-kilter to say the least, and jumpcuts and flashbacks keep the loopy momentum going – sometimes quite elegantly, as the editing and cinematography are both superb. Davis busies himself with demolition – he likes taking things apart, methodically, to see how it looks inside, but he can’t quite put it all back together. The physical demolition of his house, of the things surrounding him, serves as an apt metaphor for his sorrow, for his life up until now. It is brutal and quirky and offbeat. Gyllenhaal has been turning in solid performance after solid performance, but this one might be The One. It’s an unconventional movie but also deeply spiritual in its way. Jean-Marc Vallée, when asked after the movie about this theme, responded: “Have you ever smashed the shit out of something? It feels great!”

The Lobster: I realize now, having used words like quirky and offbeat to describe Demolition, that there aren’t words to describe this one. Director Yorgos Lanthimos is a sick man. He has imagined a world not so unlike ours, he thinks, where single people are so ostracized that it’s 40th TIFF- 'The Lobster' - Premierebeen made illegal to be without a spouse. When alone, they’re forced into this hotel where they either find a mate, or get turned into an animal. Many fail. Exotic animals abound.This is how we meet Colin Farrell and John C. Reilly as they desperately attempt to be lucky in love. It’s got the deadpan feel of a Wes Anderson movie, only instead of the warm and fuzzy nostalgia, there’s bleak and panicky hopelessness. This movie won’t appeal to most, or even many, but if you can stomach the brutality, this movie is not without some major laughs. And believe me, you earn them. Sean was having a little post-traumatic shock as he lef the theatre, but a few days a lots of reflection later, he found the movie to be undeniably growing on him. The movie is absurdist and bizarre and unique. It is occasionally shovel-to-the-face brutal. Lanthimos understatedly calls it a movie “about relationships”, and his leading lady, Rachel Weisz called it his most “romantic” yet.

Eye In the Sky: Helen  Mirren and Barkhad Abdi  joined director Gavin Hood in introducing this wonderful film to us – just icing on the cake as the film itself would have been more than enough. Helen Mirren, as you might expect, is completely compelling as a Colonel who’s been tracking radicalized British citizens for 6 years. Just as she’s found them she encounters bureaucratic hell trying to get permission to do her job – that is, to eliminate the threat. What I didn’t realize going in to this movie is that it would not solely be a vehicle for Mirren but a really heleneyestrong ensemble cast who all pull their weight to give this film so many interesting layers. Drone warfare is obviously a pretty timely discussion, but this movie is also an entertaining nail-biter, successfully blending ethical dilemmas with on-the-street action thanks to Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) who ratchets up the tension. The crux: there’s a house full of terrorists. They’re literally arming themselves for an imminent suicide attack. Capturing them is not an option – they must be killed before they kill dozens, or hundreds. But just outside this house is a little girl, selling bread. So government officials debate her fate. Mirren the military tour de force is adamant that the terrorists must be stopped at any cost. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad), the guy with the finger on the trigger, is not so sure. You can see the weight of this decision in his eyes, knowing it’s not his to make, yet doing everything in his power to stall. If he’s the heart and Mirren is the head of this operation, there are dozens of politicians muddling up the chain of command in between. The movie is asking us what is acceptable – the sacrifice of one bright little girl to save potentially dozens? The politicians waffle. The girl herself is not the problem, rather it’s the way it would look to the electoral public. How can they spin this? Who will win the propaganda war? Hood does a great job of subtly reminding us that no matter what, not everyone in the kill zone deserves to die. But at the same time, he lets us feel the urgency, lets us count the potential dead bodies if the suicide attack is allowed to continue. And who would be responsible for that? This movie never stops being tense, even when it draws uncomfortable laughter: Alan Rickman, at the head of the table of the dithering politicians, rolls his eyes for all of us as everyone passes the buck. This movie never flinches and it doesn’t take sides. There is an emotional heft to it and I felt it on a visceral level when this sweet little girl is callously referred to as but “one collateral damage issue.” Oof.

'Sicario'+Stars+Stunned+by+Ovation+Sicario: Matt was ultimately disappointed with the film but was still lucky enough to be at the premiere where Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro were both on hand to answer questions along with Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.

We Monsters: A German film by Sebastian Ko about a mother and father who follow their most primal instinct to protect their teenaged daughter even as she commits an unspeakable crime. It’s weirdly relatable and abhorrent at the same time, and keeps asking us what we would do even as it pushes the envelope to deeper and darker places. Many shots are obstructed, Ulrike-C-Tscharre-Sebastian-Ko-175x197keeping shady characters exactly that, a little out of focus, a little blurred, a little on the sly. The cinematographer cultivates a sense of dread expertly, boxing those characters in, keeping the shots almost claustrophobic. There’s a real sense of panic, of increasing alarm and desperation, and it’s not easy to watch. But it is kind of fascinating. Afterward, Ko was on hand to answer questions, and when someone asked him about the recurrent shots of a butterfly eventually emerging from its cocoon, he confessed that at first it was just meant as a metaphor for adolescence, but in the end he was struck that what emerged was a “pretty ugly creature” and made for a pretty fitting parallel.




TIFF 2015: Demolition

DemolitionNot only was my promise to Jay, based on my previous TIFF experience, that getting tickets to her favourite films would be a cinch with a festival pass a little too optimistic, it turns out picking them up once they’re already paid for can be a nightmare of its own. Jay, Sean, and I stood in three different lines at once (thankfully we had strength in numbers) and barely caught our noon screening of Demolition this afternoon.

From up in the balcony at Roy Thomson Hall, I advised Jay and Sean to learn to love the TIFF commercials at the beginning of the screenings because they’ll be seeing a lot of them. There were more than I remembered it turned out and the woman sitting next to me was already yawning by the time the movie started.

I am happy, even relieved, to report that Demolition, the much-anticipated collaboration between Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Valle, was well worth the wait. Jake and co-star Naomi Watts may have been no-shows at the third and final screening but a sure-of-himself Vallee was onstage to introduce and answer questions about the most “rock and roll movie I’ve ever made”.

Gyllenhaal, on a hot streak lately, is never short of compelling as Davis, a successful investment banker who becomes both destructive and self-destructive after the death of his wife. Davis becomes obsessed with taking things apart and discovering how they work. With nothing left to lose, he starts saying what’s on his mind, giving Jake a chance to practice more of that fast-talking and disconnected delivery that worked so well in Nightcrawler.  Because Davis, unlike his character in Nightcrawler is anything but a psychopath, he gets a chance to being even more depth to his performance.

Also taking elements that have served him well in the past but taking it much further, Vallee – as pointed out by one member of the audience during the question period- has become an expert at stories of rebuilding and starting over after a tragic loss. The painful and beautiful memories are handled similarly as in last year’s Wild, with the sound and images as fading echoes instead of traditional flashback scenes  it works even better here, with the director having a much richer and surprisingly funny- script to work with.

This marks the first time I – usually too excited at a screening – have ever cried at TIFF but Demolition really is that powerful. I’m already emotionally drained with 11 movies left to go.


A bright but maybe a little spoiled University student (Reese Witherspoon)’s world falls apart after the unexpected death of her mother (Laura Dern). After a particularly dark period where she turned to heroine and compulsive sex instead of what seemed like a pretty strong support network, she decides to hike the 1,100 mile Pacific Coast Trail (PCT, as everyone keeps calling it) in hopes to find herself along the way. Having packed way too much, all the wrong things, and boots that are way too small, her trip gets off to a rough start but before long, she starts to realize that she may be tougher than she might be made of stronger stuff than she ever thought possible.

Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, this is an awards season must-see with Reese being almost gauranteed an Oscar nomination. It’s not necessarily a movie I would have ever gone to see otherwise but my annual quest to be as prepared for Oscar night as possible has led me to sit through worse. My main concern was Reese Witherspoon. Not that I have a full-on hate-on for her; in fact, she can really rise to the ocassion when she gets a good part. She’s just not one of those actors I would have thought to be compelling enough to watch wander through the desert alone.

Reese turns out to be more than up for this challenge, equally convincing during Cheryl’s journey of self-discovery as she is during flashbacks of her near self-destruction. Director Jean-Marc Vallée may deserve some of the credit for this. Between Wild and last year’s Dallas Buyer’s Club,, he seems to have found a niche for himself getting egoless performances from movie stars who have done a few romantic comedies too many.

Vallée and Witherspoon have their work cut out for them to keep this all from getting dull. Luckily, the film cuts to flashbacks often enough to keep this interesting and rarely stays in the same place in time for very long. The flashbacks are handled beautifully, more of a stream of consciousness than following a rigid structure. Strayed seems to have learnt more from this journey than I did though and it’s not always as profound as it would like you to think it is but it’s one of the best edited and acted movies you’re likely to see this season.