Film

EIFF reviews

Station to Station
Station to Station

With the Edmonton International Film Festival once again set to flood our downtown core with new, independent and international cinema, we’ve gotten ahold of a scatter of screeners of what’s to come, and thus offer up our thoughts on the films we saw. Of course, the festival includes more than 150 films—including the ever-popular Lunchbox Shorts series for those who work downtown—so don’t be afraid to take some chances, either. Let these reviews serve as an entry point into 10-days of cinematic endeavours.

Reviews by Bruce Cinnamon (BC), Brian Gibson (BG) and Jordyn Marcellus (JM). All screenings at Landmark City Centre Cinemas.

Sun, Oct 4 (4:30 pm)
Al Purdy Was Here
Directed by Brian D Johnson
Two Stars
Al Purdy Was Here starts obnoxiously, with documentarians asking young people walking past the great Canadian poet’s statue in Toronto if they know who he was. They don’t, obviously, and that tone of condescending hagiography permeates throughout the film. The film tells two stories: one about Purdy’s life, poetry career and fierce nationalism and another about the efforts to restore one of Purdy’s cabins in rural Ontario that was one of his favoured writing spots. With interviews with CanLit luminaries including Margaret Atwood and Joseph Boyden, the film is best when focused on the impact Purdy’s work has on others rather than the worshipful look at Purdy the man—which seems to elide his more negative qualities. JM

Fri, Oct 9 (9 pm)
Borealis
Directed by Sean Garrity
Three Stars
Borealis is a strange film, a road-trip dramedy set in Manitoba that doesn’t quite know what its tone is. It’s got wrenching family drama, oddball comedy and just a hint of a crime film as luckless loser Jonah (Jonas Chernick) takes his daughter Aurora (Joy King) from Winnipeg to Churchill to see the northern lights before Aurora loses her sight permanently.
The comedy tends to hit the mark more often than not—thanks to great performances by Kevin Pollack as hot-tempered, mid-level gangster Tubby Finkelstein and Clé Bennett as Finkelstein’s cool-headed compatriot Mr Brick—but there’s too many sudden tonal-shifts for the drama to fully be effective, which dampens many powerful scenes, including the film’s ending. JM

Sat, Oct 3 (6:30pm)
Brooklyn
Directed by John Crowley
Four Stars
1951: young Irishwoman Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) sails to New York, works as a shopgirl, and falls for an Italian-American boy … only to be called back to County Wexford by tragedy. Something of a throwback—historical melodrama; old-fashioned “weepie”—Brooklyn is sharper and savvier than it may seem. Ronan’s excellent as a callow but resolute émigré, forced to mature, fast, in this big modern city across the Atlantic. There are many deft little touches: iconic tableaus; the sound-driven sense of Eilis’ first time on a boat; wry humour, especially ’round the boarding-house table presided over by no-nonsense Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters), who sees “giddiness” as far from Godliness. Emory Cohen does seem Brando-imitative as the Italian heartthrob, with his smart-alecky little brother too modern a child. But it’s the focus on one immigrant’s loneliness and split-ness (between old and new worlds) and on women’s work—struggling; forbearing; sacrificing; trying to make a home—in that hesitant, straining stretch of years before the sexual revolution which makes Brooklyn worth visiting. BG

Sat, Oct 3 (7 pm)
How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town
Directed by Jeremy Lalonde
Three Stars
When her mother dies, sex columnist Cassie Cranston (Jewel Staite) returns to the childhood hometown where she was branded the town skank in high school. Her vanilla ex-classmates ask her to plan an orgy to spice up their lives, and mild comedy ensues. Orgy suffers from a saggy middle and inconsistent pacing, but when it finally works itself through the tiresome foreplay and up to its outlandish climax it’s good for a few laughs. The characters are at times loosely sketched stereotypes—the stick-up-her-ass housewife, for example—but its peppy actors bring energy to their roles. A tame romp, given its salacious title, but good for a lazy afternoon viewing. BC

Fri, Oct 9 (4 pm)
Station to Station
Directed by Doug Aitken
Three stars
Station to Station is a modern-day Koyaanisqatsi. Doug Aitken covered a train with lights and drove it across America from coast to coast, stopping in 10 cities and documenting the artistic “happenings” along the way. Interspersed with shots of industrial concrete wastelands and beautiful natural vistas are musical performances and artist interviews on the train. Station to Station feels less like a narrative-driven documentary and more like 62 individual minute-long music videos spliced together. The kaleidoscopic variety keeps the film from ever feeling dull, but it’s hard to make all these disparate pieces cohere. BC

Thu Oct 8 (7pm)
This Changes Everything
Directed by Avi Lewis
Three Stars
A doc about worldwide environmental crisis that’s too sweeping in scope and gradual, even elementary, in its argument. The pro-environmentalism-means-anti-capitalism argument of This Changes Everything (connected to Naomi Klein’s book of the same name) only revs up beyond North American borders, when the documentary travels to Greece—then India and China—to follow local people opposing (with protests, legal fights and barricades) the destruction and pollution of their mountainsides (by a Canadian mine company), wetlands, or even cities. This is where Klein’s argument against our limitless-growth economic-globalization model finally lands—first and foremost in austerity-wracked Greece, the hearth of Western democracy—and we eventually see a country (Germany) that’s made a massive energy-transition to renewables, pushed to it by popular movements. More details of that (how exactly did those movements force German governments’ hands?) would have been nice. Klein’s argument is too step-by-step and basic here; her narration’s too hand-holding and hope-filled, and not incisive or forceful enough. Criticism and idealism can be a hybrid fuel for conversion, too. BG

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