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Inside Out Film Festival

hr_1986_IO_2015OttawaFestival_websitebannerNot to be confused with the latest Pixar offering, Inside Out is a not-for-profit film festival that runs in both Toronto and Ottawa and showcases movies from around the world that are made by or about the LGBT community. Access to queer cinema is a big draw in the community, as evidenced by a packed house at the Bytowne and the enthusiastic applause that ended the night. Inside Out screened The Girl King earlier this week, which you may know we took in a few days ago at another film festival. That’s right. We hit up two film festivals this weekend alone.

We did catch a screening of Fourth Man Out, about a small-town car mechanic who comes out to his best friends on his 24th birthday. They promise him that their relationship won’t change…famous last words. Because things fucking change. Of course they do. The quartet of young actors are greatfourth-man-out together, but I’m not going to call this a bromance because I think that word cheapens and mocks friendship between men. They are good friends, and Adam’s coming out does mark a big transition for the group – although it’s someone on the outside who has to remind them that this is not really about how hard it is for them. The movie is legitimately funny and accessible, but as Matt pointed out, feels a bit dated. “It’s okay that our friend is gay” feels like something that should have been made 15 years ago, and if it’s taken this long for a movie like this to get made, that’s a sad commentary indeed and even more justification for festivals like this to exist.

Another movie that we haven’t begun to talk about yet is Mississippi Grind, which Sean and I saw at the New Hampshire Film Festival (a third festival, but that was last week, keep up!). Mississippi Grind is about a chronic gambler (Ben Mendelsohn) who meets a human good luck charm, or so he MSGbelieves (Ryan Reynolds), who bankrolls his new loser buddy on a redemptive road trip. They scheme to travel the country together raking in the big bucks, but let’s remember that gambling is a serious addiction, and these people never know when to quit, and, voila: you know this isn’t going to get a happy ending. Ben Mendelsohn is great, and as much as I loved him in Animal Kingdom, it’s nice to see him in such a nuanced role; he seems quite comfortable straddling the line between pathetic and hopeful. Ryan Reynolds is at his best, which is nowhere near what Mendelsohn is doing, but he’s in his comfort zone so this odd pairing works on a strictly chemistry level. The script is loose and leisurely, maybe too leisurely for its genre, but I enjoyed its unpredictability and defiance of the expected arc.

Where Better to See Swedish Films than Upstate New York?

IMG_3139The St. Lawrence International Film Festival is nothing if not ambitious. It’s hosting movies in four different cities this weekend, in two different countries: Ottawa and Brockville in Ontario, Canada, and Canton and Potsdam in New York state, USA. This is its inaugural run and it has not been without wrinkles. The website and handbook tend to disagree an awful lot. On Friday night we took in a movie that was slated to run until 9:06pm, according to the internet, which meant that a second movie at 9pm was a no-go. The program told a different story and indeed we were out by 8:40 and could have made the other film. We saw another instead. The next day the internet had us at Snell Theatre at SUNY college when in fact the movie was in another auditorium altogether. We discovered this mistake before it was fatal, but the run-time was again amiss (and it didn’t help that they started late) so we missed our next movie. When you’re asking people to travel to different countries, which in fact we had, it’s a long IMG_3145way to go to be disappointed. Fortunately, this festival has been a lot more than just its mistakes. We already told you about the fabulous opening night gala with Dan Aykroyd at Gatineau’s beautiful Canadian Museum of History. where we screened an anniversary edition of Blues Brothers but guess what – we actually saw some movies that are not older me!

At the American Theater Canton, NY:

The Girl King: tells the incredible (true) story of Kristina, Queen of Sweden since age 6 (roughly 17th century, I believe), who fought against the conservative values and religion of the time to THE-GIRL-KING-Key-Artmodernize her country, to make it a mecca of wisdom and curiosity. And she also happened to be a lesbian, which would have been frowned upon anyway, but when your first job in life is to produce a royal heir, it’s a crazy scandal. Malin Buska is stunning and gives a great blank stare (and also, she’s like 78% legs, so when she gallops about it’s kind of a thing to see) but she’s most dynamic when lady-in-waiting cum royal-bed-companion (Sarah Gadon) shares her screen. At times the film is quite lush and there are certainly lots of costumes fit for a queen, but the film betrays its limitations; there’s a low-budget filter over the thing, and the production values just aren’t there, especially considering it’s a period piece. But it’s a pretty great story with an interesting philosophical bent, and it’s refreshing to see a historical female figure for once.

The Break-In: about a couple going through a rough patch in their marriage who seem to bond anew over a shared trauma when they accidentally murder an intruder. The film starts with the break-in and subsequent concealment of a dead body in their freezer, and then unravels backward in time to let us know how exactly we ended up at this awkward point in time. Even though you know about the murder in advance, this movie still managed to keep me on tenterhooks almost the entire time. The director has these agonizingly long shots that keep us watching beyond what’s comfortable. We feel the tension; we become complicit in it. Betrayal and failure waft throughout this thoughtfully quiet film, leaving lots of room for the morality of the thing to seep into our bones. It’s interestingly ambiguous, with neither a true villain nor hero, and guarantees a lively discussion during the car ride home. Director Marcus Ovnell and leading lady Jenny Lampa, who gave a restrained but strong performance as the disconnected and discontented wife, were both on hand at the screening, and Ovnell said of casting both his wife and Lukas Loughran, that you hire great actors and “hopefully they do something interesting.” And I believe that in this small and humble way, they have.

At the Proscenium Theater, SUNY Potsdam, NY

The Hunting Ground: an intensely riveting documentary from the people behind The Invisible War spotlighting the troubling epidemic of rape on college campuses across the country. Unflinching in its approach, it bravely puts a face (in fact, many faces) to the overwhelming statistics: nearly 1 in 4 the-hunting-ground-e1422286410932female college students will be sexually assaulted during their studies. 1 in 4. Think about that. Do you have a daughter going off to school soon? Is that a number you can live with? It’s a tough one to swallow, so the schools are all complicit in massive cover ups to massage those numbers down. They revictimize the victims by discouraging reporting of any kind. If a woman cannot be intimidated into dropping the charges, the schools hold disciplinary committees that are a joke – out of the 259 reported rapes at Stanford during the past couple of years, only 1 of the rapists was expelled. So now your daughter has not only been raped, she’s forced to attend class with her rapist, eat meals with him, see him on campus, maybe even share a dorm. And she’s likely receiving death threats from her fellow students, especially if she’s accused a BMOC. The big men on campus, namely fraternity brothers and student athletes, are completely insulated from consequences by the universities because the schools’ main priority is not student safety but fundraising. And scandal doesn’t pay. So rapes are constantly swept under the rug, women feel violated by administrators who won’t support them, and not a single thing is being done to remove predatory repeat offenders from campuses that provide them a steady stream of young, ripe victims. The film’s scope is quite impressive and paints the villain as not just institutional but societal. It’s high-impact and unapologetic and I hope it gets an Oscar nomination not only because it’s very effective film making, but because this cause needs to get as many eyeballs on it as possible. Executive producer Sarah Johnson was on hand to tell us that it is the activism and the outreach behind the film that is most important to her – check out the website to find out what campuses are screening it now, and how to get a screening at yours.

Lady Gaga’s stirring song in support of the film:

Dan Aykroyd Brings the Blues to the St. Lawrence International Film Festival

The opening gala for the St. Lawrence International Film Festival kicked off Thursday night in Ottawa with none other than national treasure and hometown boy Dan freakin Aykroyd introducing the 35th anniversary screening of Blues Brothers.

IMG_3062The Blues Brothers were actually born in Toronto, which is where Aykroyd ran into John Belushi for the first time, at a bar on Queen Street where Downchild Blues Band was playing. Belushi was more into metal and punk but Aykroyd schooled him that night, and the music won him over, and musical director Howard Shore put a little bug in their ear, saying they should maybe start a band, and call it Blues Brothers.

The next time they met, Belushi had some 300 blues records and was already picking songs for a record for a band that didn’t exist blues-brothersyet. As you know, the two went on to be part of the original cast of Saturday Night Live, and they used this little band idea of theirs in a sketch. The rest is history: they recorded Briefcase Full of Blues, which topped the charts and sold 3.5 million albums, then they made seven more, plus the movie, and its sequel, and even a radio show. Belushi died in 1982, so now when the Blues Brothers play, his brother Jim joins Aykroyd on stage.

Aykroyd worked on the script for Blues Brothers while appearing on SNL. In it, Jake Blues (John), fresh out of prison, puts together his old bbrsband to save the Catholic home where he and brother Elwood (Dan) were raised. The film has a little bit of Ottawa influence in it: the ballroom of the Palace Hotel where the final performance takes place was patterned after Aylmer’s Chaudiere Club. And the air-raid siren atop the Bluesmobile was inspired by the one at Our Lady of Annunciation, where Aykroyd attended school in Hull – all in the Assholes’ backyard, as it were.

Aykroyd pulled up to the festival in a Bluesmobile of sorts, and walked the red carpet in his trademark shades. He sat down before the movie and told us that his favourite character to play was fe9d953c8dc8edccde5ad7dec9bdf039Beldar, the coneheaded alien, which he followed up with an immediate impression. I guess it’s not an impression if it’s YOUR character. “I talk at home like that,” said Aykroyd, and we believe him. His favourite movie, though, was Blues Brothers because “I had to use all the skills” – acting, writing, singing, dancing, playing the harmonica, stunt driving, not getting killed by Carrie Fisher. When someone asked about the pinnacle of his career, the question is quickly retracted, the asker not wishing to imply that the pinnacle isn’t perhaps still ahead. “May it please be behind me,” quips Aykroyd, and he’s quick to name the highlight: dancing on stage with James Brown.

Without further ado, he introduces the movie, an extended cut with extra car chase, and assures us IMG_3081that he still has 80% of the moves. Watching him break out into a frenetic dance up on the big screen, you kind of want to call him on it. I’m struck by the tremendous sideburns worn by Aykroyd and Belushi, and by Elwood’s white socks. The movie is full of cameos you can hardly believe – Aretha Franklin is sassy in a stained apron, Ray Charles plays so fervently we can see the reflection of the piano’s keys in his glasses, James Brown preaches to the choir (including Chaka Khan), and John Lee Hooker gets everyone stomping.

Matt’s favourite part was hearing that Beldar bit, but mine is hearing Matt’s giggles throughout the IMG_3101movie (he’d never seen it, if you can believe that). The movie is being screened as a special 35th anniversary edition, and it’s nice to see it on the big screen rather than “in a motel room at 1am,” as Aykroyd puts it.

Afterward, there’s a gala reception where we are treated to a poutine bar (eminently Canadian) and drink Crystal Head vodka (Aykroyd’s own brand).  Downchild Blues Band is playing for the crowd, sounding just as good or better than they ever did. When Aykroyd joins them on stage, it’s electric, and pretty soon we’re dancing on and sharing the stage with a real live Blues brother.