Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 2

So happy that I could take in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival last weekend – ten minutes from where I live.  What a treat.    I saw six movies in 36 hours.  My butt is sore and my eyes are burning but it was an interesting weekend.  Something good about every one of them.


How to sum this one up?  A crazy road trip with a 15 year old dope smoking teenage girl who is going blind and her card-shark gambling father from Winnipeg to  Churchill, Manitoba  with a stop in Flin Flon as they try to escape a couple of goons that the dad owes $100,000 and make a trek to see the Northern Lights.  When I write this down it sounds pretty weird but it works, thanks to great screenwriting and acting by  the two main characters as played by Josh Chernick and a very talented young Joey King.  It sounds like this film will be in theatres soon and although there is nothing earth shattering  about it,  it is a good Canadian story that will not disappoint. I talked to someone else after the movie who said “It all felt natural.”  Eh?

Closet Monster

I didn’t know much about this film when I decided to catch it on Sunday morning. It fit my schedule. It went right over my head that it might be about that “closet”.  And really it wasn’t just that.  I also am reluctant to call it a “coming of age” film as that just seems so trite.  The film took us into the world of a young man struggling with separated parents, education choices,  sexual discover,  adolescent friendships and homophobia without making any one of those the only challenge.   I must admit that there were a couple of scenes where the acting, editing and escalating throbbing music put my pulse up and almost made me feel frantic.  I have never been so driven by the sound in a movie before.

Like the others, it is a Canadian made movie with Canadian talent. It was shot almost entirely in Newfoundland (without any Newfie accents).  Lots of closet analogies and symbolism on many fronts.  Great natural acting, direction and a credible screenplay. It won the best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF in 2015.  The kid in the movie, when asked “Do you feel anything?” honestly replies “I don’t know”.  This kind of sums up the chore of maturing when  you are 18.  Maybe that job never ends.


Films I think you should definitely try to catch are Closet Monster, Into the Forest and Borealis.  Now where to catch them is the problem. They are not Hollywood blockbusters and I wonder where they will turn up.  It is really too bad that the movie house market is so dominated by the big name, big budget films.  Look for these Canadian-made gems and support them.



Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 1

For the past few years I have treated myself to a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), soaking up movies, lining up with other movie fans and getting the occasional glimpse of Hollywood celebrity.

I have volunteered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival for a couple of years but never set the weekend aside to enjoy it fully. This year, I have done that, buying a VIP pass that lets me in to any or all of the movies and events.

In the next two blog articles, I will give you a brief rundown of the movies I have seen.

Guantanamo’s Child

This is a thought-provoking documentary based on the Omar Kadr case – a young Canadian man whose family moved to Afghanistan when he was a boy.  He was accused of terrorism and killing an American soldier and after being wounded severely in the firefight when he threw the fatal grenade, he was taken prisoner and subsequently spent 13 years in detention, first in Bagram, Afghanistan  and later in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.  Eventually, with the persistence of an Edmonton lawyer who argued on his behalf, he was transferred into custody in Canada and later released on bail.

The movie revolves around Kadr’s telling of his story (in a remarkably calm and articulate way) and interviews with others that were somehow involved with him over his incarceration time.  It explores the horrible treatment that he and other Guantanamo prisoners have received, ostensibly at the hands of a “civilized” nation like the U.S.A., the complicit cooperation of Canadian officials, the guilt and trauma suffered by one of the American interrogation officers who, after reflecting on the trauma inflicted on Kadr as a kid has become demoralized and suffering from PTSD based on the actions he committed in the name of war.  It is interesting to see how Kadr seems to have overcome to some extent this past, or at least found a way of putting it in a place that allows him to move on, arguably with the help of many hours of psychotherapy and how this US solder is suffering much more intently from his actions and, one wonders, with what kind of support.  Both men were caught up in war and acted at the time in a way that was expected of them and perhaps natural in terms of self defence or knee-jerk response to their situations.  Kadr, a kid at the time, is incarcerated as a dangerous terrorist.  The solder was just doing his job. Who will suffer longer?


This is a western so full of clichés and so predictable in it’s dialogue and plot line that it is almost laughable.  But that is also its appeal.  It is the traditional spaghetti western, gunslingers, bad grammar, an evil land baron threatening the town, a thwarted love story, revenge, street shootout, bullets breaking bottles in the saloon and men shot off the roof and crashing through the balcony to the street below. I have seen almost the same thing acted out in ten minutes by stunt men at Universal Studios in Florida.

But this one has both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in it, along with Demi Moore and Brian Cox.  It was shot in Alberta, just outside Calgary at a town set up specifically as a movie location – CL Western Town. (you can read about this filming location here)  The movie is about to be released in Canada and apparently is doing very well on the pay-per-view circuit and will be on the Canadian iTunes store next week.

LIt was fun to have one of the producers, who went to Lasalle High School in Kingston many years ago, and a couple of the Canadian actors, including bad guy Aaron Poole, at a question and answer period after the movie.  Poole was booed as he was introduced – a response to his hard-hearted character in the movie. He loved it.

The Messenger

This is documentary focusing on the decline in songbird populations around the world.  It seemed a bit disjointed to me, many short vignettes from around the world showing the various conditions that are interfering with songbird survival – climate change, domestic cats,  noise and light pollution, insecticides.  But how to solve this?  Eradicate cats that kill 1.4 billion songbirds every year and were described as an invasive species introduced by man and equivalent to Zebra Mussels? Or maybe it would be. better to wipe out mankind since it is us who is disrupting the balances of nature.  Given time we may do that ourselves.If you are interested in this topic the movie also has a good website with lots of resources associated with this film at


Into the Forest

This was an engaging and at times disturbing movie about two young women facing an apocalypic scenario somewhere on the west coast of North America in the near future.  It reminded me of other survival films like Gravity or The Martian or even Night of the Living Dead but for me it was much more effective and realistic and because of that i could relate to the challenges and was never quite sure how it was going to turn out.  Also great to see the two protagonists being resourceful yet vulnerable young women – played admirably by Ellen Page and  Evan Rachel Wood.  I was not quite on the edge of my seat but found myself totally immersed in this struggle and definitely leaning forward on my chair. I would much prefer this movie to some of the big blockbusters with CGI and a more fantastical basis.  This one was believable.

I can’t seem to find a trailer for this movie.  This is pretty cool. No warning about what is in the film.  So no spoilers from me either.  Here is a still of the two main characters. Sisters caught in an apocalypse.


Stay tuned for Part 2.



A few movie reviews from the past 10 days.

A post-Christmas tradition for me when I spend a few holiday days in Sarasota is to go to a couple of movies. If the weather looks dull, I jump on the Longboat Key trolley into town to catch a matinée.

Here are some of the films I have seen this week.

Gone Girl.

imageGenerally I like this kind of film with convoluted plot lines and the peeling off information like layers on an onion. When I got to the end, however, I left the theatre feeling generally uneasy. I was not sure why. I think that by the end of the movie, I was feeling like I had spent two hours with characters, none of whom, I liked. I liked the acting. I didn’t like the characters. Maybe this is a credit to the movie that they could get under my skin so much.
I had the initial plot twists figured out almost from the word go. So I enjoyed the second half of the movie more, not being sure where it was all heading.

I looked online when I got home to find that there has been quite a bit of discussion about the ending of the book (and movie). It seems that I was not alone in finding it unsatisfying. It is difficult for me to say much more without a lot of spoilers. So I will let you see for yourself. 3 1/2 Stars out of 5 from me.

Into the Woods

I will start by saying that I am generally not a Sondheim fan. I find his music lacks tunefulness. And Into the Woods is particularly lyric heavy with the music fitting the lyrics rather than the other way around. I have also said before that there are very few stage musicals that adapt well to film.

imageThis one is an exception. The fantasy and story-line(s) of Into the Woods worked better for me as a movie than when I have seen it performed live. In a movie you can make a real Giant, a beanstalk and a witch that disappears in a whirlwind of dust. This visual stuff was lots of fun.

I liked Meryl Streep when she was witchy, Johnny Depp when he was Wolfish and the two princes made me laugh out loud when they were singing “Agony” while splashing around in a waterfall. The kids in the movie were fantastic and I liked it that the actors were not all people I knew. In Les Mis I was put off by the fact that I was very much aware that I was watching Hugh Jackman and Sasha Barron Cohen and Russell Crowe.

I came away thinking that there must be a life message here somewhere but the problem is that there are hundreds. Lots of overlapping themes – parent and child, good and evil, old and young, rich and poor, right and wrong, lost and found – you named it, it’s there. Then again, isn’t that like life itself. We are wandering in the woods and never sure what is coming next or where it will take us. Life just isn’t a straightforward story.

This movie may become the 21st century equivalent of Wizard of Oz. It must have been tempting for director Rob Marshall to shoot this film in 3D but I am glad he did not. No need to overwhelm us.

If you like the stage play you will probably like the movie. If you can’t let your fanciful self go into the muddle in the woods or you don’t like people singing their dialogue you may find this one over the top. I liked it and give it 3.5 stars of 5.

The Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking is certainly an unusual phenomenon and this movie outlines the earlier part of his life extremely well. Sometimes it is a struggle to watch but then you think what a struggle that life must be to live, both for him and his family. Incredible, really. I am sure there were many moments in the lives of Hawking and his family that would not make for good cinema so we are just witnessing the tastier bits.

Eddie Redmayne is consistently in character and gives a realistic portrayal of the disabled Hawking. His contorted facial expressions are all that he has left near the end to tell us what he is thinking and feeling and he does this extremely well. Oscar bait here.

Felicity Jones (who is she, anyway?) also gives a strong, moving and credible performance as Hawking’s wife, Jane.

Cambridge as a backdrop is elegantly perfect.
Warning: you will shed tears. 4 stars of 5.


I picked this one to see as I thought it would be different. It was.

imageIt is a mash up of Mork and Mindy/ET/Fred and Ginger meet Austin Powers done up Bollywood style, set in Bruges, Belgium and Delhi, India and all in Hindi with sub-titles.  It is a 2 1/2 hour story about a big-eyed, big-eared alien from another planet trying to get home and two star-crossed lovers who need his help to find themselves again – with social commentary about religion and a few song and dance spectacle numbers thrown in.   The film is awash in pastel colours, almost cartoonish at times but very pleasing to watch.  And I must admit that I like the Bollywood production numbers, if just for their vitality.

Although it has broken the record for Bollywood films internationally I was alone with two women who did not need sub-titles in the theatre watching it the afternoon I went. I have no idea how many stars to assign to this movie.  I have nothing to compare it with.  I did find it entertaining. And it was drizzling rain on the beach so this was a bright alternative.