With pretty much every major Montreal summer festival either cancelling for 2020 or rescheduling until the fall due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we can happily report that the Fantasia International Film Festival will take place this summer with only slightly different dates (August 20 – September 2). The only other difference is the festival will take place entirely online.

No, this doesn’t mean that the internationally famous destination genre event will be making this year’s films available for on-demand streaming. Instead, they’ll be replicating the in-person cinema experience as much as possible through Festival Scope and Shift72’s virtual screening platform.

If you buy tickets to a movie premier that starts at 8pm but log on at 8:15pm, you’ll miss any trailers or intro material offered as well as the beginning of the film. They’ll also be limiting tickets to a number comparable to the capacity of the venue that would have, under normal circumstances, played host. The event will also be geo-restricted to Canada.

The security of the platform will allow Fantasia to still offer global premiers. This approach will also mean they can avoid having to compete with other major film festivals that usually run in the fall.

They will also offer as many Q&As with special guests as possible. It won’t be completely the same experience as in years past, but it will be as close as possible to it given the current public health restrictions.

Fantasia runs August 20 – September 2, 2020 and is still accepting submissions, so we don’t have a lineup yet, but we will announce it when we do. For more: fantasiafestival.com

This is the time of year where thoughts start to turn to summer and, in particular, all the shows the season usually brings to Montreal. At Forget the Box, this is when we start thinking about just how we’re going to cover all the festivals (music, theatre, comedy, etc) and what sort of ticket giveaways we may run.

This year, as everyone knows, will be quite different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even if some of the restrictions currently in place are loosened and things get back to some semblance of normal, the summer’s events won’t be coming back until next year, or in some cases this fall.

So there are no shows to cover, but that doesn’t mean we can’t run a contest to give away tickets. You’ll just have to wait a while to pick up your prize.

With everything upside down, what time better than the present to start thinking of the future. If we beat this thing with our social distancing, we’ll have reason to celebrate.

So without any further ado, here’s FTB’s Lockdown Contest:

The Prize

The Grand Prize is two tickets to the show of your choice with some restrictions. Given the huge financial hit the event industry is bound to take this year and the fact that they’re probably all too busy right now to coordinate a contest with us for the future, these won’t be promo passes.

Instead, we’ll be buying a pair of tickets like everyone else and then giving them to the winner free of charge. As such:

  • It can be any concert, play, comedy show, festival, etc, but it must happen in the Greater Montreal Region (if you can get there by bus and metro, it’s in the zone) before the end of 2022.
  • Tickets to the concert or show must be available for purchase to the general public. So if a show’s sold out for the public, it’s sold out for this contest, too.
  • We don’t guarantee your first pick, or preferred seating, but we’ll do our best.
  • Price of a single ticket can be no more than $200. Depending on what you pick, you might get access to an entire indie festival, a day’s worth of top-notch concerts or just one really great show.
  • You must be legally allowed to enter the venue where the show is taking place.

How to Enter the Contest

Normally with giveaways, we try to keep things simple. This time we’re asking a little more. Here are the details:

  • Send us your best Montreal on Lockdown Story by email to forgetthebox@forgetthebox.net with Lockdown Contest in the subject line before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We’re looking for uniquely Montreal stories – funny anecdotes, personal tales of how you’re dealing with our new reality, interesting accounts of how people are respecting social distancing in their own way, heartwarming tales of community solidarity, whatever you think might inspire, interest or amuse. They could be written, told through photos, or a combination of the two.
  • Share this post either on Facebook or Twitter and tag @forgetthebox also before May 22nd 2020 at midnight.
  • We reserve the right to publish the stories we receive and will definitely publish the winner (so please let us know how you would like to be credited – just one name, a name and an initial, your full name, a fake name, etc. – if not we’ll just use your name.

We know that these times are trying and that not everyone is in the right headspace to be positive right now. This contest isn’t designed to preach positivity, but rather to try and give everyone something to look forward to.

The shows will return. This summer will look and feel very different in Montreal, but if we all do our part, we’ll all be partying together at some point – and you can be the one who got in with free tickets!

Adapted from Eileen Atkin’s 1994 play of the same name, Vita and Virginia is based on the real-life romance between aristocratic socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf. With a scandalous romance, the glamour of the 1920s, and famous works of literature, Vita and Virginia’s story in the right hands could have been a very special film. Unfortunately, despite some strong acting and beautiful cinematography, this film is an uneven mess that never quite comes together.

When we first meet Vita (Gemma Arterton) it’s hammered into us that she’s a thoroughly modern woman; she drives her own car, wears pants, declares proudly that “Independence has no sex.” When Vita goes to a party hosted by, as her mother (Isabella Rosselini) describes,  “bohemian communist socialists” that she meets the elusive Virginia Woolf (Elizabeth Debicki). 

It’s made clear from their first meeting that their relationship will be a sexual one; Vita observes Virginia dancing from across the room with a decidedly male gaze. Virginia, as the object of desire, acknowledges that gaze and welcomes it.

Arterton and Debicki do what they can to save the film with their performances. Arterton is more than capable of showcasing the charm and insatiable lust of Vita, who while in an open marriage, had affairs with both men and women alike. And Debicki (who should have broken out after the criminally under-seen Widows) gives the strongest performance in the film. She is so good here she makes you forget all about a certain Australian actress who won an Oscar for portraying the same woman.

But despite these performances, the film falls apart under the direction of Chanya Button. While the melodic electro score (by Isobel Waller-Bridge) is beautiful and perhaps meant to show these women were not of their time, it takes you out of the story. The same goes for the decision to have the women read their letters to each other aloud while looking directly at the camera. It’s overly stagey and completely unnecessary. 

And then there’s the magical realism that’s thrown in to show Virginia’s increasingly unstable mental state. If it had been used all throughout the film perhaps it would have made more sense, but only used a few times it doesn’t work. Not to mention that Debicki is a more than capable performer who could have showcased Virginia’s bipolar disorder without a scene where a flock of birds who aren’t really there attack her.

The real-life Vita and Virginia continued a friendship long after their romance fizzled, until Virginia’s death in 1941, which for some reason, Button decided not to mention in the final title card was a suicide, although Virginia talks about death throughout the film.

Their relationship inspired one of Virginia’s most popular books, Orlando. If you’re curious about these fascinating women and their influence on each other, I recommend you read that book (or see the 1992 Tilda Swinton film adaptation) instead.

J. J. Abrams, you had one job…and you pulled it off. The Rise of Skywalker is both an epic end to the nine film Skywalker Saga that hits all the right emotional punches and at the same time a visually stunning and fun movie that works as a cap to the current trilogy’s character arcs.

Well, not completely in regards to the current trilogy, but more on that later. For now, let’s dive in with a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING in full effect:

Rey and Emperor Palpatine

Star Wars in general, and the Skywalker Saga in particular, has always been, at least at the highest levels, about good versus evil, or more specifically the Jedi versus the Sith. In The Rise of Skywalker, we get all the Jedi, through Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally destroying all of the Sith in the form of previously dead Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

McDiarmid delivers as always and fully embodies absolute evil and Rey is finally paired with an opponent who matches her albeit newly confirmed importance in the Force. The big reveal that she is his granddaughter makes sense and adds to the finale.

Her choice at the end to go by the name Skywalker delivers the right emotional punch to cap off nine movies. At the same time, Ridley’s performance was on point and helped Rey’s character arc come to a solid completion.

If these story choices sound like “too much fan service” as I have seen in other posts, well, I’m a fan and feel properly served. It’s the only way this saga should have ended.

I saw the movie on the preview night and I’m still thinking about it. That’s what Star Wars should do.

Farewell Leia

This movie was also the end of Leia’s story. In fact, it was originally supposed to involve the Princess turned General quite a bit, a task that seemed next to impossible to accomplish after the incomparable Carrie Fisher passed away.

Yet, with just a bit of unused footage from The Force Awakens, one use of a body double and some seriously clever scripting and shooting, Abrams was able to make Leia a major character in this movie. Honestly, her inclusion only looks slightly off twice.

He also gave Leia’s character a proper farewell. While it was doubly sad given that Fisher is no longer with us, it really worked.

Kylo or Ben, Doesn’t Matter

The only major arc I really didn’t buy was Kylo Ren’s redemption story.  To be honest, I never really liked him as a villain or as a match for Rey.

She’s way out of his league both in terms of Force powers and romantically. That kiss was cringy (and I’ve seen Empire), but at least she got to defeat Palpatine on her own.

Ben getting closure with his parents was good, and the Harrison Ford cameo was cool and probably cost Disney a ton of cash. He didn’t need closure with Rey, though.

Fast and Funny

The comedy was on point. This movie managed to bring the humour that is integral to any good Star Wars film.

You even got the feeling that you were in the middle of a comedic adventure story. New characters, aka old characters, like Lando (Billy Dee Williams) just melded in. The best comedic moment coming when Leia asked the random resistance fighter to be more positive.

Sure, it was juxtaposed with all the epic drama, but it seemed properly balanced. My only complaint would have to be that some of it seemed rushed.

I Now Like The Last Jedi Less

It seems like the only major problems I have with this movie are actually issues with the last Star Wars Skywalker Saga Film The Last Jedi. While I may have been in the camp that approved of Rian Johnson’s entry in the franchise, I now see how much better this movie could have been if the last one had been different.

In particular, the ex-stormtrooper crew we first meet near the end of the film and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell) and Babu Frik who we meet soon before are very interesting characters. If we had met them during TLJ instead, those parts might not have seemed so rushed here.

Also, all that Force Skyping between Rey and Kylo really seemed cheesy under Johnson’s direction, but here, it works. Hell, they even have a lightsaber fight without even being in the same room.

J.J. solved the problems that persisted from the previous entry and delivered what I would consider to be the best entry in the current trilogy and a solid end to the saga.

Job well done!

Anne + is a web series where Anne (Hanna van Vliet) has just moved into her first grown-up apartment after graduating university in Amsterdam. While out on an errand, she runs into her ex-girlfriend and first love Lily (Eline van Gils). The encounter makes her ruminate on her ever-evolving dating life since their break up four years earlier.

Split into six stories running about ten minutes each, the episodes explore how all of Anne’s relationships have helped define the person she has become. While the main character is queer, the relationship issues she experiences are universal; your first big romance fizzling out, falling in love with someone who just wants to be casual (or the other way around), being attracted to someone’s wild personality but then getting overwhelmed by it.

The series is run by Maud Wiemeijer and Valerie Bisscheroux, two Dutch lesbians who wanted to create more authentic media for queer women. And in that goal they absolutely succeed; although your window into each of Anne’s relationships is brief, they feel real and lived in. And each episode builds off the last so, by the end, you really feel like a world has been created.

My personal favourite episode was Anne+ Esther, where she has an affair with an older boss. After a devastating infatuation with a woman who didn’t love her back, Anne is giddy sleeping with Esther (Kirsten Mulder). She’s getting off on the secrecy of it all and assumes Esther just wants to keep things casual. Especially since she’s already in an open but committed relationship with someone else. But when she discovers that’s not the case, now it’s Anne’s turn to let someone down. 

The series really works because of the appeal of its lead, Hanna van Vliet. She’s a character you immediately root for, even when she dumps sweet Lily for wild Janna, or feels no shame about sleeping with her married boss.

While there are a few supporting characters that show up throughout the season like her friends Casper (Alex Hendrickx) and Jip (Jade Olieberg) it’s mostly Anne who carries this show, and van Vliet does easily. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Anne’s exploits (they’re currently filming season two) in the future. 

You can watch all of the Anne + episodes (some of the episodes already have subtitles, other episodes you have to fiddle with the settings) on the show’s official English website

Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin’s third feature And Then We Danced is about sensitive dancer Merab (real-life dancer Levan Gelbakhiani making an impressive acting debut) coming to terms with his homosexuality in the conservative, hyper-masculine world of Georgian dance. While that may sound like a giant bummer, the film manages to retain a sweet optimism throughout. 

When we first meet Merab, his dance instructor is chastising him for being ‘soft’. It’s clear that while Merab is extremely passionate about dance, he doesn’t quite fit in this world. He’s too expressive with his movements, too sensual.

But still, Merab is desperate to please. He comes from a long line of dancers and despite his father’s warnings that the profession can destroy you, wants to take it seriously.

Merab’s life changes when newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishivili) arrives. Irakli is brash, talks back to the instructor, and immediately becomes a rival for dance numbers.

They eventually do become friends, and then more, when members of the dance troupe go away together for the weekend. I mean who wouldn’t want to experiment with their sexuality when you’re drinking wine and dancing to Robyn shirtless in the woods? 

Lesser films would have focused solely on the melodrama of Merab and Irakli’s ill-fated romance. Yes, Merab is devastated at how it works out, but the story isn’t focused on that.

The real focus is about how that experience helps him become the man he’s truly meant to be: He meets some new like-minded friends and has an epic night out. He’s able to come clean to his longtime dance partner/sort-of girlfriend Mary (Ana Javakishvilli) about who he really is.

But most importantly, Merab dances the way he wants to dance, not the way his instructors have tried to drill into him. There’s no big Flashdance moment where Merab impresses the dance company so much they completely change their minds about him, but as he walks offscreen for the last time, you can’t help but feel it’s off to a much better future.

An adaptation of Fiona Shaw’s novel, Tell it to the Bees has plenty going for it. There’s a strong cast, led by Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger, beautiful Scottish countryside locations, and dreamy period costumes.

While there’s nothing revolutionary here (small-town people were prejudiced in the 20th century!), for most of the film the story works. That is until the unfortunate third act, where the screenwriters lean into the outdated cliche that a story like this can only end in tragedy and sadness.

At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a grown-up Charlie (voiced by Billy Boyd, heard but never seen) as he reflects on growing up in Scotland in the 1950s. There we meet young Charlie (Gregor Selkirk) who’s being bullied at school. After a fight with his schoolmates, Charlie is brought to the local doctor by family member Annie (Outlander’s Lauren Lyle).

It is here Charlie meets Dr. Jean Markham (Paquin) who has just inherited her father’s medical practise and estate. Sensing that Charlie needs more than just medical care, she befriends the young lad, eventually becoming friends with his mother Lydia (Grainger) as well.

Both Lydia and Jean aren’t new to town gossip: Lydia is in the middle of splitting up with Charlie’s dad Rob (Emun Elliot) and Jean left town many years earlier after she was caught kissing another woman.

As Lydia and Jean’s relationship progresses, especially after Lydia becomes Jean’s housekeeper and she and Charlie move into Jean’s house, the town becomes increasingly hostile towards them. But even so, the two women find themselves falling in love.

Paquin and Grainger have excellent chemistry together; their scenes are without a doubt the highlight of the film. When they do finally consummate their relationship, it’s a moment that both feels earned and is very sexy without getting too Blue is the Warmest Color.

And then the unfortunate third act arrives. A film that spent most of its time being a gentle love story suddenly has moments of rape, domestic violence, and a scene where Annie is forced to get an abortion after her family discovers she’s gotten pregnant by a coloured man.

There was no reason for this horrific scene except to ramp up the melodrama and it feels really forced. Eventually, Jean and Lydia are separated for good, and as an audience member, we’re left wondering why we spent time investing in this relationship in the first place.

Tell it to the Bees plays at Université Concordia Cinéma Alexandre de Sève on November 24th as part of IMAGE+NATION and is available to watch on Netflix.

Returning for its 32nd edition, the LGBTQ Film Festival Image+Nation will be running from November 21st to December 1st in downtown Montreal.

“As we live through times of social change in the world, image+nation 32 proudly brings new films from countries that share stories through LGBTQ cinema’s newest voices,” states Programming Director, Katharine Setzer, “with an emergence of exciting Eastern-European filmmaking, the cream of local talent, and even a pioneering Guatemalan production, this year, more than ever, we’re bringing the best new and innovative storytelling to Montreal.”

Below are five films that I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s festival.

This is Not Berlin

Hari Sama’s semi-autobiographical epic of adolescence in 1980s Mexico City. Outsider Carlos (Xabiani Ponce De León) finds his life changed when he gets swept up in a punk-filled world of sexual liberty and drugs. Navigating the storms of his sexual awakening in the process, Carlos finds himself faced with a choice; the comforting inclusiveness of popularity, or being true to himself.

Tell it to the Bees

Charlie, a young boy in 1950s Scotland befriends the new doctor in town, Dr. Jean Markham. Concerned about this relationship, Charlie’s recently single mother Lydia confronts the doctor.

When she subsequently falls on hard times, Dr. Jean invites her to come work for her and live in her home. While Lydia begins as Dr. Jean’s cleaning lady, the relationship quickly becomes something more when the women realize their undeniable chemistry.

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

This documentary explores how 1980s horror films, in particular Nightmare on Elm Street, were in part a backlash against Reagan conservatism and the terrors of the AIDS epidemic.

The Prince

Based on a pulp novel, this 1970s homoerotic prison drama follows Jamie, a new inmate who gets the nickname “The Prince” by an older inmate he forms a friendship with.

Vita and Virginia

A fictionalized version of the real-life romance between London socialite and popular author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf.

Image+Nation runs November 21 through December 1, tickets and full schedule available through image-nation.org

If you walked into Noah Baumbach’s latest drama Marriage Story without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was a love story. It opens with the leads Nicole (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) talking about each other’s greatest qualities; she is a good mom, dancer, is attentive even to strangers. He is a good dad, eco-conscious, self-sufficient.

But then the rug is quickly pulled from under you. These lists were created after a marriage counsellor suggests they read them to each other.

Charlie passive-aggressively offers to read his first, Nicole doesn’t want to read hers at all. That’s when you realize this isn’t going to be a movie about a hip New York theatre couple. This is a movie about a frustrated separated couple that will soon become a divorced one, and the brutal road it takes to get there.

This is Baumbach’s second foray into directing a movie centred around divorce. The 2005 film The Squid and The Whale was inspired by his parents’ divorce and in that story, Jesse Eisenberg was clearly the Baumbach stand-in.

This time it’s Adam Driver’s turn, in a story based on his own 2013 divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh. Because Baumbach is using moments from his own life to write and direct this story, it’s perhaps not surprising that Driver gets more of the focus in the film.

While I did want to see more of Nicole’s side of things, honestly focusing on Charlie didn’t ruin anything for me. I’ve loved Driver ever since he was the horny weirdo on Girls and in this film he delivers a career-best performance in a career that’s already filled with really great ones.

The scene about half-way through the film when Charlie and Nicole decide they need to have a sit-down in his temporary LA apartment he’s begrudgingly rented to spend more time with his son stands out especially. It’s a 10-minute one-act play in many ways.

It begins with the couple tensely but calmly expressing the desire to work out their issues, and increasingly escalates until people are punching the walls, sobbing uncontrollably, and wishing the other person was dead. It’s a master class in acting and guaranteed to get Johansson and Driver both Oscar nominations. In Driver’s case, I think he has a really good chance of winning.

Neither Charlie or Nicole is a blameless victim in this split. Yes, Charlie cheated, but Nicole has also taken their son across the country to LA and has no intentions of sending him back to New York.

Their lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) go from trading witty barbs to brutal punches as they try to paint their clients as the victims or heroes in this story. But we know that neither is really the case.

While this all sounds like a monumental bummer, I assure you the film isn’t all non-stop heart-wrenching drama. There are in fact plenty of humorous moments in between all the serious ones to give you some breathing space in between the more intense scenes like the one I mentioned above.

The product of all this is without the best film I saw at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, and so far my pic to win all the awards this season.

Marriage Story will have a limited run in theatres before streaming on Netflix December 6th

“So that was basically Inglorious Kingdom, right?” I overheard someone tell their friend as I left Cinema Imperial after last Sunday night’s screening of Taika Waititi’s (What we do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarock) latest project, the Nazi-buddy comedy Jojo Rabbit.

As I’ve thought about the film the past few days, I feel it’s the perfect way to explain this movie to people: It balances broad comedy and the (historically inaccurate) horrors of war like Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds while also being a sweet coming of age story filled with fairy tale colours and hipstery music choices like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The film tells the story of Johannes (newcomer Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old boy living in World War Two era Germany. So much is Johannes indoctrinated in the Nazi propaganda machine that whenever he needs a good pep talk to get himself psyched up, he imagines the Fuhrer himself (played by Waititi, who is a triple threat here as writer/director/actor) coming to give him some words of encouragement.

While it’s a little suspicious that Johannes would envision his hero to be this silly and effeminate, as a viewer you get it. If there’s anyone out there who deserves to be mocked and derided, it’s Adolph Hitler.

As we follow Johannes to Nazi youth camp, (where his instructors include Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson, who all deserve recognition for doing their best with very cartoonish, undeveloped characters) we see that as much as he protests that he’s “really into swastikas” he can’t murder a rabbit when asked. It’s very clear that Johannes, or “Jojo Rabbit” as he’s now called by his fellow Nazi youth campers, is never going to be the ruthless fascist he aspires to.

Johannes’ blind devotion to the cause gets even more muddled when he returns home and realizes that his eccentric mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie, who gives another amazing performance after last year’s Leave no Trace) in the walls of his dead sister’s bedroom. Talking with Elsa whenever Rosie is out of the house, Johannes comes to realize that all the stuff he’s heard about Jews is wrong. And maybe instead of being revered, Hitler should just fuck off?

Jojo Rabbit has received mixed reviews since premiering this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some people have said the film is not funny (which I vehemently disagree with, I thought it was hilarious) and that trying to make a coming-of-age story set in Nazi Germany is problematic.

I do agree with that to some extent. The film definitely shows the horrors of war when it wants to, and then either avoids or over sentimentalizes other moments when it wants to focus on the comedy/coming-of-age bits.

But that still doesn’t dissuade me from recommending this film to people. In fact in many ways, I’d say it’s the Hitler buddy comedy you never knew you needed.

Jojo Rabbit has already played at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. But it’ll have a wide release in Montreal theatres this fall

Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother I’ve been a huge fan of the Spanish auteur. I’ve always been impressed by how this filmmaker can make films that are outwardly so outlandish in scope; with their eccentric characters, brightly hued colour palettes, and melodramatic storylines… feel so intimate and authentic.

A lot of has to do I think with the autobiographical elements the filmmaker sprinkles into his stories. With his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates one of his most personal stories yet.

It follows a charming but depressed ageing director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance). Salvador is not-so-subtly inspired by Almodovar himself. His house is apparently an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and Banderas even wears some of the director’s own clothes.

One of the reasons Banderas’s performance is so great here is while he gives a brilliant homage to one of his most frequent collaborators (the pair have made eight movies together since the 1980s) he still manages to make Salvador feel like his own man. Never once when you’re watching the film do you feel like “This is Banderas playing Almodovar.”

Salvador hasn’t made a film in years and he’s consumed with a litany of physical ailments that may or may not be psychosomatic in nature. Just when he’s wondering what the hell to do with himself, he gets a call from the local cinematheque; they want to screen one of his films from thirty years ago and would like him to come speak to the audience afterwards.

This call inspires Salvador to track down the star of the film Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he famously had a falling out years before. Seeing Alberto again is both a disaster (he convinces Salvador to try heroin for the first time) and a good thing; it allows Salvador to reflect on other key moments from his past.

He ends up reconciling with an old lover. We see glimpses of his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz and then portrayed in later years by Julietta Serrano) and his first crush on a local handyman Eduardo (Cesar Vincent) that sparked his realization that he was queer.

Dealing with these ghosts of his past seems to spark hope in the director. He may not be the bad boy of Spanish cinema anymore, but he’s ready to create more personal, contemplative stories.

Again it’s hard not to see the parallels between Salvador and Almodovar himself here; because this film is without a doubt his most personal and contemplative yet. Critics have been comparing this film to Fellini’s 8 1/2 and it’s an apt comparison.

Let’s just hope instead of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking back, that this is just the beginning of many more Almodovar films to come.

Pain and Glory plays on October 17th at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema and opens in regular theatres October 18th

Dirty God, Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak’s English-language debut, tells the story of Jade (Vicky Knight) an acid attack survivor who’s trying to rebuild her life. Fresh out of the hospital, Jade has plenty to contend with; nightmares of her ex-partner and father of her child who perpetrated the attack, her young daughter calling her a ‘monster’, her hard-partying circle of friends not quite knowing how to handle her.

After interactions with her family and friends don’t prove helpful, Jade turns to the internet for relief. First through obsessively researching plastic surgery options, secondly by connecting with strangers for video sex chats. Unfortunately, both of those avenues lead to disaster as well.

In the hands of a lesser director, Dirty God could easily have become either a dreary drama about a woman who can’t catch a break, or a sentimental puff piece about someone finding the beauty within. Thankfully the film walks masterfully in between those two extremes; it’s able to find moments of happiness for the feisty and resilient Jade without losing its grasp on reality. Jade has had a hard life and it’s likely only going to get harder, but she’s a woman strong enough to face these adversities and keep going.

There are some strong supporting roles in this film, such as Katherine Kelly as Jade’s shoplifting mom Lisa, and Bluey Robinson as Naz, Jade’s best friend’s boyfriend who just may have feelings for her as well. But what really makes this film worth seeing is the performance of Vicky Knight in the lead.

It was important to director Polak that Jade be portrayed by a real burn survivor. As a child, Knight’s body was burned badly in a fire. Imagining Knight would understand what Jade is going through isn’t much of a stretch. The fact that she easily carries this whole film on her performance alone, especially when it’s the first time she’s ever acted, is something even more impressive.

Dirty God plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema on October 18 and 20th

What is it about dysfunctional father/daughter relationships that female directors find so appealing? Whatever the attraction is to tell these kinds of stories, I’m glad they’re being made; it’s led to some truly great cinema. After last year’s Leave no Trace, the actress turned filmmaker Annabelle Attanasio gives us her impressive debut feature Mickey and the Bear.

Set in rural Montana, the film tells the story of teenage Mickey (Camila Morrone) and her Iraq-war veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale). While there are brief glimpses of Hank’s charm, he’s mostly a violent and pathetic addict who doesn’t know how to function in the world anymore. With her mother dead for an undetermined amount of time, Mickey has taken up the mantle of running the household.

Mickey celebrates her eighteenth birthday early in the film and with adulthood, she finds herself at a critical crossroads. Does she stay in Montana and keep taking care of her father, who clearly won’t survive without her, or pursue her dreams of a life out west?

While it’s clear she loves her father, it’s impossible to deny their relationship has become increasingly toxic. Things get especially disturbing when Hank gets a little too handsy and keeps calling Mickey by her mother’s name during his binges.

Morrone and Dale both give impressive performances as the conflicted father and daughter, but it’s Dale who really shines. Hank likely was a good person at some point but has let his rage and disappointment in the world consume him. Dale manages to show all of that with a simple glance or line delivery.

It’s the first film I’ve ever seen with Morrone but after her nuanced performance as a teen desperate to discover her purpose, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next.

That goes double for writer/director Annabelle Attanasio. Although I’ve seen this type of film before, both as a writer and filmmaker she manages to make it feel fresh through the intimate story, interesting music choices, and most of all, allowing her performers to shine.

Mickey and the Bear plays at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema October 15th, 16th and 19th

Anyone who knows me even casually knows my deep devotion to film. Which is why I’m excited, after years of blogging about music and theatre, to be getting back to my roots and covering the Festival du Nouveau Cinema for Forget the Box. I encourage anyone interested in international film to check our site during the festival, as I’ll be posting regular reviews of the films I see.

While preparing for my upcoming festival experience, I had the pleasure of speaking with Zoé Protat the head of programming. She explained that while other Montreal film festivals cater to niche audiences, FNC is more of a general festival that has “a little bit of everything for everyone.”

Her rule of thumb while selecting which films make it into the festival? “Basically it comes down to two things,” Protat explained, “I want to be surprised, and not bored.”

One of Protat’s personal pics for this year is Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century

While Protat is eager for audiences to see all the films, she admits she has a soft spot for new talent: “The core of this festival is really about showcasing first features.”

In that vein, when I asked about films she’d recommend this year she gave me the following three suggestions; Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (which recently won Best Canadian First Feature Film at The Toronto International Film Festival) and Jérémy Clapin’s I Lost My Body (Which has won several awards including the Grand Prize at the Cannes Critic’s Week) and the Polish film Monument which Protat describes as one of “the boldest, edgiest films I’ve ever seen.”

So what am I looking forward to at this year’s FNC? It’s a combination of the newest offerings of my favourite auteurs, discovering new female filmmakers, and a couple of wild cards that could either be amazing or complete disasters.

Without further ado, here’s my top five FNC list in no particular order:

Dirty God

After being the victim of an acid attack, a young single mother in London must try and make sense of her life in this film directed by Sacha Polak.

Marriage Story

Yes, this Baumbach divorce drama will hit Netflix eventually. But given the opportunity, I want to see it where one should see an auteur’s most personal work to date; on the big screen.

Mickey and the BearMickey and the Bear

Camila Morrone stars in Annabelle Anttanasio’s Mickey and the Bear

Teenage Mickey takes care of her PSTD-afflicted father. As their relationship becomes increasingly toxic, Mickey is forced to make major decisions that will change the rest of her life in this film directed by Annabelle Attanasio.

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s latest film explores Japan’s phenomenon of “rentaru furendo“: agencies that fill emotional voids in people’s lives by offering the services of actors to pretend to be family members or lovers.

Feral

A young homeless woman on the streets of New York City does what she needs to survive before the first snowstorm of the year hits in this film directed by Andrew Wonder.

Featured Image: Scarlett Johanson and Adam Driver star in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

The Festival du Nouveau Cinema runs from October 9th to 19th

I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the Olympia theatre to see Steve-O: The Bucket List. Steve-O is mostly known for his work on the MTV stunt films and TV show, Jackass. The description said he’d be talking about stunts and showing us clips. It didn’t feel like the kind of thing you’d see at Just for Laughs, but it was that and a whole lot more.

It should be said that this show is not for the faint of heart. If you have issues with seeing feces, nudity, semen, pus, and excruciating pain, you might want to avoid it, but if you have a strong stomach and an open mind, you need to see this show.

Opening for Steve-O was Brad Williams, who’s been coming to Just for Laughs for years. Williams is a comedic powerhouse, a dwarf who is unafraid to make fun of himself and anything else.

True to the pattern in his comedy where he bitches about how he’s frequently mistaken for other famous dwarves, he came on stage announcing that he was NOT Wee Man, the dwarf from the Jackass series. The rest of his set was jokes about being married to a tall woman and the challenges it brings. It was a great intro.

When Steve-O took the stage my first thought was that he got old. He was clad in a plaid shirt and khakis – the clothing choice of middle aged men everywhere – and above his glasses he has a little gray about the temples. His hoarse voice proceeded to talk about getting older, proposing to his fiancé, and the challenge of what to do now that he’s in his forties.

Does he continue his ridiculous stunts or not? The show was about tackling his bucket list of crazy stunts he wants to do.

Before showing the video clip of every stunt, Steve-O tells the audience the tale of what inspired the stunt, the logistics involved, and any difficulties they ran into along the way.

The overall vibe you get from Steve-O is one of gratitude.  His storytelling is at once dramatic, engaging, and funny. He is self-deprecating and endearing and the video clips that follow his stories are every bit as hilariously absurd as he describes.

The stunts you will see include things like “Vasectomy Olympics”, which he attempts painful crotch torturing activities following his vasectomy, and “Skyjacking” in which he masturbates before skydiving nude.

One particularly hilarious stunt was when defecates into an electric fan. In the story preceding the video he describes how the stunt made him realize his fiancée was “the one”, as she was the only one who didn’t run when the stunt went awry. Though the show was graphically disgusting in many ways and I had to cover my eyes at least once, of all the Just for Laughs shows I’ve been to so far, it was at this one that I laughed the hardest.

That said, if you’re feeling brave see this show. You will laugh and cheer for Steve-O.

Just for Laughs continues until July 28, tickets available through hahaha.com

Nick Broomfield’s new documentary, Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love follows the peaks and valleys of beloved Canadian singer/songwriter/poet, and Montreal local, Leonard Cohen’s life, throughout his career up until his death, beginning with his time on the Greek island of Hydra in the 60s.

It was there that he first met his longtime lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, who served as inspiration for one of his most beautiful and successful songs, So Long, Marianne. When Ihlen and Cohen first found each other, Cohen had yet to cross over into the world of music, and spent many of his days on the island, which was at the time somewhat of a known Bohemian Utopia, doing speed and working on his book, Beautiful Losers.

Ihlen, a Norwegian expat and recent divorcée, was also seeking refuge from the trials of life on the idyllic island with her son, Axel, when she met Cohen. There was an immediate connection between the two, and thus began the start of an on/off relationship which would go on for a decade, and a connection that would last for a lifetime. 

Nonetheless, what seems to be the beginning of a blissful companionship under the sun between the poet and his muse is put on hold when Cohen decides to return back home to Montreal. While he’s there, he decides to play a piece of Suzanne for Judy Collins.

Also featured in the documentary, Collins recounts his nervousness, as he says he can’t sing or play the guitar, but the song ultimately speaks for itself. Suzanne is an immediate hit, and Collins gets Cohen to perform it at a fundraiser with her. His timidness on stage—even leaving the stage halfway through the song, only to be brought back out by Collins—is a huge part of what has made the charming, but humble poet so beloved by all.

This is a life-changing moment for everyone; Cohen’s success skyrockets from this point on, as the world gets a new star, but Ihlen’s picturesque partnership with Cohen will never again be the same.

Though the title posits a love story, Ihlen’s presence in the documentary is scarce. In spite of the director’s inside connection to her as a close friend as well as a former lover, very little detail of Ihlen’s personality or life is incorporated into the film, with her only notable screen-time being footage from her deathbed—arguably something perhaps too intimate for the screen.

For the most part it seems that the film is primarily a Leonard Cohen story, following the eruption of his career and success, and weaving through the familiar tale of his fame, including his countless lovers, indulgent drug use, and overall turbulent mental health.

What we see of Ihlen is a fragmented portrait of a young, blonde woman, often looking out longingly at the sea, seemingly dreaming only of Cohen. Contrasted by the occasional peripheral remark about the toll of it all on her young son, Axel, who spent much of his life in and out of institutions as a result of the somewhat hedonistic insouciance that characterized the 1960s and 70s.

The story is in many ways more revelatory of the time than it is of its characters, with little unique insight into the mind of either Cohen or Ihlen. In the light that Broomfield sets the scene, it feels to be somewhat evident that the “undying love” between Cohen and Ihlen proves to be far less romantic than Cohen’s poetic ballads. 

Overall the documentary makes for an interesting watch as you are guided for a nostalgic stroll down memory lane with a great deal of interesting footage of Cohen throughout his career. Though of course there is undoubtedly substantially more documentation of Cohen available for use than there would be of Ihlen, perhaps titling the film Marianne and Leonard is somewhat misleading.

Broomfield still, however, manages to paint a complete picture of the time during which the famed relationship occurred, and even chips away somewhat at the unwoven seams of Cohen’s character and career, even if Ihlen’s character is never developed beyond mere ‘muse’.

There is still a chance to catch it in theatres.