VIFF 2020: Favourites from the festival with Thomas from ForReel Movie Reviews and Leanne from QMFM!

The 39th Vancouver International Film Festival is officially ended! It was a great festival, and well executed given the current state of the world. Before the festival started Thomas from ForReel Movie News & Reviews talked on Zoom about our most anticipated films of the festival, and this week as the festival drew to a close I once again joined him, along with Leanne McLaren of 103.5 QMFM to talk about our festival favourites.

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VIFF Review: Beans is a coming of age story set against a horrible, true, Canadian backdrop of violence

Beans

In 1990 a developer was permitted to expand a golf course and build condominiums in Montreal. Straightforward enough on the surface, but the land they wanted to build on was ancestral land of the Mohawk people of that region. They had been attempting to make a land claim there for years, but with that claim not being in place at the time they were not even consulted nor would the municipal government even speak to them about it.

I am sure I am missing all the nuance and detail of this story, but the result of this was a 78-day standoff between the Mohawk people and the government that resulted in one death and over 100 wounded, mostly on the Mohawk side. This is the Oka Crisis.

It is a truly Canadian story, and a black mark on our record of dealing with First Nations peoples, which is mostly just a series of black marks. This is the story that Beans, the new coming of age film by Tracey Deer.

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VIFF Review: ‘Time’ is an unforgettable indictment of the American justice system.

Time

There is a saying: if you do the crime, you do time. It’s a popular one in certain circles, but it raises one question for me: who, exactly, determines how much time each crime is worth?

In the first frames of Time, Sibil “Fox Rich” Richardson is a young woman. Fresh out of jail, reunited with her children and expecting two more. She has served three and a half years for driving the getaway car for her husband as he robbed a bank, a sentence she received by taking a plea bargain. Her husband, Rob, who did not accept a plea, receives 60 years, or what will most likely be the rest of his natural life.

Who decides that 60 years is an appropriate sentence for a bank robbery? I don’t have an answer to that question I can tell you that in the absence of any death, 60 years is too much. The fact of the matter is that in many ways, and for many people, the American justice system is one centred not around rehabilitation, but punishment. Who is being punished with that 60-year sentence, though?

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VIFF Review: ‘The Curse of Willow Song’ highlights the bad side of Vancouver

The Curse of Willow Song

The downtown east side of Vancouver is a ghetto. We don’t like to admit that, but it is. There are a lot of issues, and there’s no easy conversation or solution, but the result is that there is a whole segment of the population that is challenged, exploited, and abandoned.

The Curse of Willow Song takes place in the downtown eastside of Vancouver and follows a recovering addict and ex-con as she tries to navigate life in single room occupancy housing, a difficult job market, and discrimination at every turn. It also follows the journey she takes as the latent supernatural powers within her.

The issue is that while one of these stories feels complete, the other one does not.

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VIFF Review: ‘In the Name of the Land’ is a melancholy tale about life on a modern farm

In the Name of the Land

Farming is hard work. I don’t know that those of us who live in the cities and suburbs really appreciate that all the time. That all the food we buy at grocery stores often ends up there as the result of many people doing backbreaking labour, seven days a week.

We tend to think of farming as a simple life, but in truth, modern farming is anything but. As corporate interests push further and further into the market they make it harder and harder for farmers to get ahead, all the while profiting off the sweat of the working man’s brow. That might sound like hyperbole, and it is, but it’s also true.

If you still aren’t convinced, In the Name of the Land is here to set you straight. Édouard Bergeon’s generational family drama tells the story of a man struggling to stay afloat as the world changes around him. It is a melancholy tale, with an excellent central performance, and despite being set in France feels like it rings true for everywhere that corporate interests are involved in farming.

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Patron Exclusive: Helen Shaver Video Interview

Helen Shaver / Happy Place

Hey team! This year at VIFF I have taken on a few interviews. The first of them was with Canadian director Helen Shaver to speak about her first feature film, Happy Place.

I conducted that the interview via Zoom, and now as a bonus Patrons at the Lieutenant level and higher can watch the video.

Keep your eyes on this space for more patron exclusives. This week I should have a review of The Haunting of Bly Manor available to patrons at least two days ahead of running it here on the site. If all goes to plan that will be the case for some other content, too.

Thanks to everyone for your ongoing support.

Matthew

VIFF Review: ‘My Salinger Year’ is a fine coming of age tale

Margaret Qualley / My Salinger Year

You have seen this story before. A young, bright eyed person has to New York City to pursue their artistic dreams, and gets waylaid in a job adjacent to their dreams in the mean time. It has been told so many times before that I doubt you could count them, so it takes a lot to stand out.

My Salinger Year, based on the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff, has everything going for it. An up and comer in Margaret Qualley in the lead role. A major star in Sigourney Weaver in the main supporting role. It is set in a nostalgic period, recreated in exquisite detail. What a film like this needs to become truly great is that certain extra something, the Je ne sais quois that can make something add up to more than the sum of its parts.

This film does not have that. But that’s not an indictment, because the film is perfectly lovely as it is, adding up to exactly what it is.

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VIFF Interview: Curtis Woloschuk, VIFF Associate Director of Programming, on the changes and challenges of hosting a festival in a pandemic

Curtis Woloschuk

There’s no denying that 2020 has been an abnormal year for film, and film festivals are by no means exempt from that. I sat down with Curtis Woloschuk, associate director if programming for the Vancouver International Film Festival, to talk about this years festival moving online and other challenges of hosting a festival during a pandemic.

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VIFF Reviews: ‘Flowers of the Field’, ‘The New Corporation’, and ‘Black Bear’

VIFF 2020

There are over 100 films to watch at the Vancouver International Film Festival this year that it’s hard to keep up, so here are shorter reviews of three films I’ve watched this week.

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VIFF Review: ‘Women in Blue’ is a good look at why reforming the police may be a lost cause

Women in Blue

It is easy to see what drew documentary filmmaker Deirdre Fishel to the Minneapolis police as a subject. At the time Women in Blue starts chronicling their story, the first female police chief, Janée Harteau, has been sworn in and has made it a point to promote women to positions of leadership. Women, Harteau points out, now occupy a position in every level of the department.

Following the shooting death of Jamar Clark in 2015 by Minneapolis it becomes apparent that something needs to be done. Protesters occupied the local precinct following the Jamar Clark shooting for 18 days; an even that helped Harteau understand the need to detoxify the police beyond her own experience of fighting back against a workplace hostile to women.

What’s incredibly frustrating about this story is that while it’s focussing on the story of Harteau, along with four other female police officers at various ranks in the organization and the misogyny they face, the story of the institutional racism within the police force is playing out in the background seemingly unobserved. Harteau says that the policing needs an update for the 21st century, but she also ended that 18-day protest at 4 am with 10 minutes notice and arrested anyone who didn’t vacate.

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VIFF Review: ‘Another Round’ has Mads Mikkelsen giving one of the best performances of the year

Mads Mikkelsen / Another Round

Most people have had, or will have, a moment like the one Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) is having at the start of Another Round. Coasting through life, disengaged from his work as a school teacher, the parents of his students organise an intervention because they know their children are going to be ill-prepared. Disengaged from his home life, exacerbated by his wife working nights as he is working days, or is that her choice because he is simply not present?

At dinner with four colleagues one night, following a confession that he knows he has lost something but can’t exactly put his finger on what, someone presents the hypothesis that the human body has a 0.05% blood alcohol deficiency. That people are more relaxed, more confident, and better able to achieve when they are just slightly drunk. Martin and his friends decide to put this hypothesis to the test.

The idea of being slightly drunk all the time sounds like an appealing one, empowering even. The fantastic thing about having slightly less than two drinks is that it can feel like anything is possible[1]. The problem with having slightly less than two drinks is it leads to the urge to have slightly more than two drinks.

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VIFF Review: ‘The Town Of Headcounts’ is a bleak, brutal comment on control

The Town of Headcounts

George Orwell’s 1984 has somehow become even more meaningful in the last few years, as those who clearly think it had a happy ending extend their reach through deception and deceit. Its central message has been updated and traced several times onto the current issues of many places. Yet somehow, Shinji Araki’s The Town Of Headcounts uses this same template in a fresh way to paint a metaphor of life in Japan that is as relevant a statement on Japanese culture as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was to Korean. The end result is a brutal, shocking parable that will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

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VIFF Interview: Cheryl Foggo on her film ‘John Ware Reclaimed’

Cheryl Foggo / John Ware Reclaimed

John Ware Reclaimed is a look at one of the least told types of stories in Canada, that of black history. John Ware himself is a locally famous figure and telling his story has been a lifelong interest of Canadian historian and writer Cheryl Foggo, who wrote and directed the film. I have already watched and reviewed it, and spoiler alert: it’s good.

I was able to sit down with her over Zoom this week to speak about the film, Black Canadian history, and the stories that get told.

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VIFF Review: ‘John Ware Reclaimed’ looks to change the conversation about the famous black cowboy

John Ware Reclaimed

A famous person you have probably never heard of. This is the description that Cheryl Foggo gives John Ware, an African-American cowboy who migrated north following the American civil war and became one of the earliest ranchers in what is now Alberta. He is the namesake of two mountains and a creek, but what, really, do we know of him?

As with many people who have places named after them, we only ever hear the stories we tell about them and those stories are often, in a word, shallow. John Ware is no exception to this. Much of what we know comes from the book John Ware’s Cow Country by former Lt. Governor of Alberta Grant McEwan. It’s well-intentioned enough, but it was still written by a white man in the 1960s and is tainted by the cultural attitudes of the day.

Who was this man really, though? For a man steeped in local legend, what do we really know about him? This is what Canadian historian, playwright, and filmmaker Cheryl Foggo aims to find out with John Ware Reclaimed.

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VIFF Review: ‘Jumbo’ is a sweet film about love and acceptance

Jumbo

Jumbo, on its face, is about a young woman who falls in love with a carnival ride. No, not “oh hey I love that ride”, she develops a deep emotional and sexual attachment to a carnival ride.

Yes, that’s a bit weird, but that is just the surface of the story. At its heart, Jumbo is about the fact that love is love, that love is not always what we expect, and that sometimes even if we don’t understand something, acceptance is the best way forward.

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