Film
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A still from the 1998 film “Last Night” starring Sandra Oh and Don McKellar.

Canadian filmmakers have long maintained an uneasy relationship with romantic films – comedy or drama – at least in their classical form. If the Hollywood version ends by finding stability in couples (and the famous last kiss), the typical Canadian romantic comedy leaves its lovers alone and somehow unfulfilled. They tend to be off-kilter, with only a few actually telling a romantic tale straight up. In a country more famous for producing seriously deranged love stories such as Lynne Stopkewich’s Kissed and David Cronenberg’s Crash, notable Canadian romantic movies have been few and far between. Here’s a sampling of the best half-dozen for your Valentine’s Day viewing – and some even have a happy ending.

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In the News
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Once again a Québécois film has been nominated for a best foreign-language Oscar. In 2011, it was Denis Villenuve’s Incendies and in 2012 it was Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar. This year, the honour goes to Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle (War Witch is the English title).

In War Witch, a 12-year-old girl named Komona (Rachel Mwanza) is kidnapped by rebels in an un-named African country and forced to become a child soldier. But she soon discovers that she has magical powers – she can see ghosts in the jungle and knows when government forces lie in wait. War Witch covers two years of Komona’s life told in flashback and voiceover, an odyssey that veers into slaughter, witchcraft and magical realism. It’s a harrowing story told with a great deal of humanity and strikingly authentic performances, especially by Mwanza, an untrained street kid who was found on location in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to the film’s Oscar nod, Mwanza won the Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival and best actress at the Tribeca Film Festival. War Witch received 12 newly minted Canadian Screen Awards nominations (formerly the Genies), including best picture, best director, best screenplay and best actress for Mwanza.

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Film
History
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The tag line for Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story is: “A Tribute to the Original, Traditional, One Hundred Per Cent, Red-Blooded, Two Fisted, All-American Christmas.” Except that the film isn’t. American that is. It’s a 100-per-cent Canadian production, shot on location in St. Catherines and Lindsay, Ontario, and studios in Toronto.

This is the story behind one of the most popular Yuletide movies that’s right up there with the holiday holy trinity of A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street

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Film
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A still from my favourite Canadian Christmas film, Treevenge.

A still from my favourite Canadian Christmas film, Treevenge.

The Canadian holidays are a lot like the American holidays, but with a higher chance of snowfall. Plus, Santa’s workshop is totally in the Canadian north, right? I say we call dibs on the guy in red – back off, Coca Cola.

My favourite thing to do around Christmastime is to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot chocolate and watch Too Many Things. Too Many Things could be that DVD box set that you got from a loved one, or the goodies waiting in your instant qeue on Netflix. Whatever it is, you’ve got to watch it. This holiday season, my must-watch movie spree includes some classic Canadiana. While Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may be on TV repeat, hunting down the following movies and TV specials will make your holiday season merry, bright, and especially Canadian.

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Film
History
In the News
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After the film Argo had its world premiere at the Toronto International Festival in September, friends of Ken Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, criticized it for minimizing Canada’s role in the real-life events that inspired the film. Critics say that the film suggests that the CIA were the real heroes of the rescue mission and that for political reasons, Canada took the credit. It also paid short shrift to Taylor’s role as the mastermind of the operation.

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Film
History
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Arguably the most famous film ever shot in Canada, Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North was first shown to the public 90 years ago in New York City and then around the world in the summer of 1922. It caused an immediate sensation with its real-life depiction of the people and their struggle to survive the harsh landscape of Canada’s Far North. The film went on to exert considerable influence on the development of documentary films worldwide, although the word “documentary” was not in use when the film was made. It came later, in 1926, when Scottish film critic John Grierson, the man who would go on to create the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, coined the word to describe Moana of the South Seas, another Flaherty film.

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In the News
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Entrance to the TIFF Lightbox Theatre (Image: TIFF).

“If there is anything the Festival of Festivals should avoid becoming, it is the Cannes Film Festival.” Jay Scott, film critic, The Globe and Mail, 1981

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), now in its 37th year, is one of the world’s great film festivals without question. Second only to the Cannes Film Festival in terms of audience/press attendance, prestige and number of films screened; yet, since it opened its impressive five-story digs – known by its corporate name, the Bell Lightbox – in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district in 2010, many questions remain unanswered. The big one being: how do you fill the 1,400 seats in the five state-of-the-art cinemas beyond the festival’s 11-day run during the first two weeks of September?

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In the News
Glasgow Film festival
Glasgow

In Glasgow. Image: Paul Williams

I arrived in Glasgow early on the evening of February 3rd via Scotrail by way of Edinburgh. Typically, passengers looking to travel to Glasgow from London would board a train at Euston station for a direct route to the city, but an early morning freight train derailment led to the rerouting of all northward traffic to nearby King’s Cross, thankfully just one stop over from Euston on the tube. Selecting this route takes travelers along the eastern coast of the United Kingdom – a slice of the island not often written about due to its farness from more attractive tourist spots like Brighton, Wales, Northern Ireland and the islands of western Scotland. Sadly, as I gave in to the overpowering urge to nap shortly after having lunch onboard the train, I also have not much to report about those sodden seaside villages.

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In the News
Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s second feature as writer/director, Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby, will be released at the end of the month. Polley, who is 33 and has been acting since the age of four – landing her first part in the Canadian movie One Magic Christmas and starring in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen at the age of eight – has become one of the most respected directors in Canada, a remarkable achievement for a high school dropout.

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Film
In the News
genie-awards

The 2012 Genie Awards are upon us once again with high hopes and low grumbling.

There are high hopes for a film industry perennially long on promise but short on delivery, and grumbling from critics who have watched the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, the organization responsible for the Genie and the Gemini Awards, struggle to live up to its claim that its awards are the “ultimate accolade” for Canadian films.

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Film
In the News
David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg at the Toronto International Film Festival, Maclean’s

“If David Cronenberg did not exist, would we invent him? Could we invent him?” – Tom McSorley, Take One: Film in Canada

Living in this peculiar, fractious confederation called Canada, it is satisfying to observe the slow but certain ascension of David Cronenberg to the status of full-blown Canadian cultural institution – to see him in the polite, lofty company of Margaret Atwood, Peter Mansbridge or Robert Lepage. For this is a country of supremely timid and conservative cultural inclinations, which tends to favour longevity over vitality, and cast its more indelicate cultural voices into permanent exile from the mainstream.

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Film
In the News
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TIFF 2011
The Toronto International Film Festival is upon us, and with it, a crop of homegrown films from both new and established directors and stars. Here, a taste of what’s to come:

Bruce McDonald returns with Hard Core Logo, his hilarious and deftly written 1996 punk rock mockumentary (named the second best Canadian film in the past 15 years by Playback) and its anticipated sequel Hard Core Logo II.

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