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The 2014 Whistler Film Festival and an Imitating Snowman

The Imitation Game -- Opening WFF 2014!
by Jason Whyte

For this writer, Whistler Film Festival is like Christmas. Okay, this writer isn't being up and honest with you. It IS Christmas. What better way to celebrate the love of movies then in one of the most beautiful spots in the world? Every year it is a chance to feast on great movies and interact with fellow film-goers in Whistler Village, BC, Canada. Whistler Film Festival is 13 years old and I will be there for my 8th year in a row to check out the annual festivities. It is the most wonderful time of the year, and I say this as a seasoned film festival veteran who travels North America in search of the next big movie. Whistler Film Festival is the real deal.

The 2014 edition of Whistler Film Festival kicks off Wednesday night with Morten Tyldum's THE IMITATION GAME, which is the Western Canadian Premiere of the film. This was the Audience Award winner at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, which is a rather big deal. Past winners such as 12 YEARS A SLAVE, A SEPARATION & SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK have all went on to Oscar wins, and no doubt the same thing will happen here with Tyldum's film which is about famed code-breaker Alan Turing during the second world war. The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing (himself earning lots of Oscar buzz) along with Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode in a period piece with a lot of power behind it. The screening takes place in the grand Whistler Conference Centre ballroom, and I couldn't think of a better way for Whistler attendees to see the film. (An expanded review is below.)

Whistler is also a strong breaking ground for Canadian cinema, and this year's Borsos Competion for Best Canadian Feature is no slouch. Among the entires this year include WOLVES from Sophie Deraspe about a young woman who travels to a small North Atlantic island that is beset with mysterious seal hunting in its region; AFTER THE BALL which is Sean Garrity's new movie set in the world of fashion design; MOUNTAIN MEN from director Cam Labine about two brothers with a past who travel up to a cabin in the Rockies to get rid of a squatter; FELIX & MERIA (reviewed below) about a unique relationship in a section of Montreal, BANG BANG BABY (also reviewed below) which is a wacky musical and sci-fi story starring Jane Levy, and RELATIVE HAPPNIESS (also reviewed below) starring the adorable Melissa Bergland who is a bit down on her luck and runs a Bed & Breakfast in Nova Scotia.

And the Canadian love doesn't stop there. Vancouver features such as Joel McCarthy's AFTER FILM SCHOOL, Peter Benson's WHAT AN IDIOT and Matt Sadowski's PRETEND WE'RE KISSING are among the most anticipated new Canadian features playing at Whistler. There are also some outstanding Canadian documentaries on tap this year too, including the much anticipated THE BACKWARDS CLASS which was a huge hit earlier in the year at HotDocs and STAY AWHILE from director Jessica Edwards about her family ties to the 60's group THE BELLS.

On the international front there are the likes of '71 starring the up-and-coming actor Jack McConnell, WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS featuring Wellington Vampires (more on that in my review below), prolific director Francois Ozon's new movie THE NEW GIRLFRIEND, Simon Pegg in KILL ME THREE TIMES and the stunning Gemma Arterton in GEMMA BOVERY. Still not enough and looking for an indie discovery? Check out I PUT A HIT ON YOU featuring Sara Canning and Aaron Ashmore (both attending the festival) and the NY shot indie ELSEWHERE, NY which was shot with a crew of two people. Yes, two.

Closing the festival is a mountain documentary, which is sometimes a tradition of the festival, being in a mountain town and all. The feature documentary SNOWMAN has been getting a lot of buzz around Whistler. The movie is from director Mike Douglas and it's his first feature and about this very town, and details Douglas' friend Kevin and a helicopter crash in the North Shore mountains. The movie also looks like a celebration of Whistler as well, and seems like a perfect choice to close out the festival on Sunday night.

Film fans are well covered at this event. As I have raved about every year, the festival all takes place within Whistler Village, so there are no shuttles to take and no furiously running from one venue to the next. Everything takes place within the intimate village setting, making filmgoing a breeze. The majority of the fun takes place at the Conference Centre with not only industry gatherings but as well the Spotlight On series (this year featuring Sarah Gadon & Kim Cattrall being recognized for their work) as well as Variety's 10 Screenwriters to Watch panel, with additional screenings and events happening at the nearby Village 8 Cinemas, Millennium Place and Garfinkel's Bar, which is hosting one of the Shortwork Showcase screenings.

(Side note: if you're into short films, there is no shortage of great feature-length packages of short films playing throughout the festival. I recommend GODHEAD by Connor Gaston which screens as part of the Shortworks competition, as well as producer Paul Armstrong's projects BEDBUGS: A MUSICAL LOVE STORY and the bizarre EARTHLICKERS. I liked all of the above, so be sure to check them out!)

There are also countless hotels, restaurants and shops right in the village, making for a relaxing weekend at a film festival. (You can usually find me grabbing a hot dog with fried onions inbetween shows at Zog's right next to the gondola.) As much as I love learning the TTC subway system to navigate around TIFF or navigating the maze of artists and interactive guests at SxSW, this is a welcome break from the craziness.

But we are also here to talk about the movies. What should you see at Whistler Film Festival? You are more than welcome to also ask me up in Whistler, but while we're here, I have provided a quick look at a large selection of the stellar lineup this year. Here's a look at over two-dozen of the feature films playing at the fest with my take on each.

A Life in Dirty Movies (HOT PICK, 3.5/4): A telling look at director Joe Sarno, who was one of the early directors of the sexploitation genre in the 1960's. He created artful pictures about sex and relationships and mostly focused on the female side and were made long before the 70's porno era that was all about schlock and entertainment value (although admittedly, I'm also a fan of these types of movies). This document of Sarno's early life alone would be interesting, yet A LIFE IN DIRTY MOVIES takes it a step further by showing the beautiful relationship between Joe and his wife Peggy into the later years of their lives and how they have been still creating movies long over the decades. By the time we meet them, Joe has already made over 50 feature films in his career and it's truly amazing to see the home they have created, the relationship lasting this long and the legacy Joe has left on filmmaking, whether you like these kinds of movies or not. A pretty great documentary.

After Film School (HOT PICK, 3.5/4): Rarely a Canadian movie comes along that completely surprises, takes over my entire funny bone and rocks it to the core, yet here we are with an ingenious concept from director Joel Ashton McCarthy and a rag-tag team of Vancouver talent. AFTER FILM SCHOOL is the story of a young filmmaker named Maximus Park who is just out of film school, yet commits suicide and leaves the world with one final screenplay. His roommate Adam (Bruce Novakowski), himself a struggling filmmaker, takes over the screenplay about a high school shooting and turns it into more of a comedy involving a high school shooting MUSICAL. You'd think the material is bizarre enough, but if you read Maximus' original script, you'd understand.

This is such bizarre material that is handled not only in hilarious mockumentary fashion, but it is a telling look that hits very close to home of what happens after your post-secondary education, especially for film school and where one goes next to make movies. It's pretty biting social commentary on indie filmmaking and how we could all push a little harder to get noticed. McCarthy, no doubt a victim of the Vancouver Film School system himself, has crafted a near perfect satire on the love of making movies for no money, and while I loved the entire cast (in particular there's an ingenious casting of a young actor from a famous 2007 sex comedy movie I dare not spoil here), lead Bruce Novakowski is a revelation as the struggling director who keeps this whole scam together. His performance is something of a miracle; fully confident yet having no clue what he is doing, always showing up to a room and knowing what to do yet making mistakes, his work in this film is the making of a movie star. He has one line in the movie about Canadian cinema that takes BALLS to say to say IN a Canadian movie, and it's the biggest laugh in the movie. This ever so slight Christopher Guest-esque take on making movies is a brilliant idea, and it is the makings of a classic.

Ally Was Screaming (HOT PICK 3.5/4): A great Canadian indie which really snuck up on me, the movie asks the brilliant question of what one would do when they knew they were sitting on a fortune but were in a very complex situation. The movie unfolds in a beautiful, natural fashion from when two brothers stumble across a winning lottery ticket from their recently deceased friend Ally, and and the only thing keeping them from cashing it in is their sister (an excellent Camille Sullivan). It's a fresh concept for a movie that really handles itself well with a deft slow-burn of a drama and then finishes off with a really beautiful touch. Director Jeremy Thomas really shows love for these characters, as flawed as they are, and it all leads to a final moment that I thought was pretty near perfect. Here's hoping the movie gets the attention it deserves on the festival circuit.

Backcountry (3.5/4): If you have ever been out camping and were too afraid to venture off the trail in search of adventure, this movie may not be for you. Based on a true story, Adam MacDonald's first feature is about what happens to a young couple as they embark on a camping trip off the grid, and run into a very unfriendly animal creature in their adventures. What's pretty outstanding about BACKCOUNTRY is the nice, slow pacing of getting into the forest then getting lost in the woods, and the actual reveal of their unfriendly nature guest is one of the most shocking pieces of cinema I have seen all year. Partially shot in the nearby Squamish, BC area for the trained bear that makes a cameo in the movie, this movie will make you want to think twice about taking that off-path adventure. But it is a very scary, real life situation that is still makes for very compelling cinema.

Bad City (3/4): Carl Bessai, a filmmaker I have known for years and is one of the most profilic filmmakers anywhere (not just in Canada), has a fun idea up his sleeve creating a buddy cop movie based on not only 1970's blaxploitation era, but the Canadian version of it as well, called 'Canucksploitation'. The leads, cop Frankey New Guiney (Aaron Brown) and his detective partner Reverend Grizzly Night Bear (Dustin Milligan) are on the case to find the bad guy named Kincaid who is unleashing a bad party drug in the streets of Bad City (really an unnamed city which looks like a mix of Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago and New York with a lot of visually conflicting information and stock footage, which I loved). There are lots of stereotypical characters from the era that all lead to the dark comedy and tongue-in-cheek fun. It's far from perfect (sometimes it gets a LITTLE too on-the-noise with pointing out what it wants to do and the current-day televised interludes I felt were a slight distraction), but this is a fun, light-hearted comedy that calls back to a generation of filmmaking that I truly loved. I am sure will find its home with Whistler Film Festival audiences. If Carl is also reading this, may I also suggest adding more film scratches and changeover cues? You'd make the projectionist in me smile.

Bang Bang Baby (3/4): Winner of some pretty big awards at TIFF, Jeffery St Jules' musical-slash-horror film -- about a young woman (Jane Levy) who yearns for a bigger life as a singer and gets more than she bargained for when a hip rock star (Justin Chatwin) gets stuck in her small chemical factory town -- is not for every taste, but it is led by a performance by Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Suburgatory) as our small-town gal Stepphy that is stunning on every level. It's matched by a pretty unique visual style that wears its corniness on its sleeve; as the movie plays out you are treated to bizarre but catchy musical numbers led by Levy, a wicked supporting performance by Peter Stormare (THE BIG LEBOWSKI) as Stepphy's boozing father and a bizarre level of circa 1950's monster effects. A far from perfect big screen experience but such a bizarre premise and execution that I couldn't help but like it.

Big Muddy (3/4): There seems to be no easy way out for any of the people in a small town in prairie Saskatchewan, in particular Martha (the always outstanding Nadia Litz, best known for MONKEY WARFARE) who seems to always be running from trouble with her son. Her past catches up with her. I feel like I have seen this premise done to death with no real room for new takes on this John Dahl like type of story, yet excellent work from Litz, James Le Gros and Stephen McHattie outweigh some sluggish pacing and strange character decisions in an otherwise likable small-town story about some pretty tough people. It ends on a rather downbeat note (with the exception of an outstanding final shot) that I wish would aim a bit higher, but there is still a lot of strong material here. Also it is by far the best looking film I have seen so far at the festival; a great use of wide-screen, color and lighting balance throughout making for a nice big-screen presentation. Many low-budget movies could learn a lot just by checking out the visuals on this one.

The Cocksure Lads Movie (3/4): A delightful musical comedy from Murray Foster (himself a former band member of Great Big Sea and Moxy Fruvious) about an optimistic group called The Cocksure Lads as they arrive in Toronto from the UK to start their North American tour, and all the wackiness that ensues. (Already one of my favorite moments in a WFF movie this year; when one of the British members of The Cocksure Lads finally arrive from the UK for their international tour, he looks at the CN Tower in Toronto and beams, 'America!') Thus begins a sweet-hearted, funny look into a down-on-their-luck band trying to make it in Canada and all the fun parts of our culture within. Everyone in the cast is great, from the band to the girlfriends that surround them. Also, despite the very 60's look and feel, this movie takes place in modern day and it's a lot of fun to see a lot of sections of Toronto depicted so well. Be sure to see this with a very good sound system as the music sequences just pop off the screen.

Deadly Virtues (2.5/4):Part of WFF's late night series and for good reason, this very bleak home invasion drama takes a lot of bold chances and while it doesn't always work, I admire the filmmakers for trying. It opens on a married couple as their home is broken into by a strange man who ties the husband up in his bathtub and then proceeds to have a mock 'wife experience' with the woman in very unpredictable ways. In many ways the movie gets more confusing when you see the wife either going along with the plan, or not trying hard enough to fight back. This movie was directed by Ate de Jong, who is known to cult classic audiences for the bizarre movie DROP DEAD FRED decades ago, and yet it feels like his trademark oddness is very apparent even in a serious drama such as this. The final sequences are the most crazy of them all, and I almost want to recommend the movie alone just so you can see them. They can't be unseen.

Elsewhere, NY (HOT PICK, 3.5/4): Five minutes into this DIY, indie-shot movie, I was ready to shut it off. The grungy, near-amateur look was off-putting, even although I already knew this NY shot story was made by a very small crew. But then I stuck with it and really became invested with these flawed characters all trying to make something of themselves in New York. When a young woman is near-stranded upon arrival to the city, she meets a nice young bartender and the two of them have a one night stand. They part ways, but two years pass and lo-and-behold, that the same bartender is the now-roomate of her current boyfriend. As the story progresses we really see a fresh and unique spin on New York with all of the subways, side-streets, bars, clubs, parks and rooftops that only a DIY, indie-feature can provide as these characters come to terms with one another and if the one-night stand actually meant something more. The look and feel of the movie does take a while getting used to, but Jeffrey P. Nesker's directorial debut is nothing short of unforgettable and the kind of indie-gem I love to see at film festivals.

Felix & Meira (3/4): There seem to be quite a few entires at Whistler this year that would quality as 'slow-burn' and FELIX & MEIRA, one of the Borsos Competition films, is no different. Set in a small community in Montreal, we see what happens when two totally different people from very alternate backgrounds, Felix (Martin Dubreuil) a loner grieving over the recent death of his father and Meira (the stunning Hadas Yaron), a young Jewish wife who is feeling lost and alone and also against her religion as well. The relationship that develops between them; a very slow one, but gradually leading to one that is heartfelt and unique, and it's also quiet heartbreaking to see traditions get in the way for Meira as well. Director Maxime Giroux (who was last at Whistler with JO FOR JONATHAN, still unseen by me) has a lovely eye for showing all of the characters traits and personalities while also showing a unique side of the world in Montreal and, later, abroad. I worry this movie might get lost in the mix at Whistler, but I do hope it connects with audiences here.

Gemma Bovery (2/4): As much as the idea of a spin on Madame Bovery and literature is interesting, Anne Fontaine (who infuriated me last year with the cheating-wife movie ADORE which made my list of the worst films of the year) seems to be a filmmaker hell bent on irritating me with bad characters doing awful things and getting away with them. And this movie is no slouch either, although it does contain a very strong performance from Gemma Arterton (TAMARA DREWE) as Gemma, who moves to a small French countryside town with her husband and proceeds to cheat on him constantly, and for the most part being followed around by the town's local baker Martin (Fabrice Luchini) who keeps finding a lot of the stories that happen around him parallel with literature, and in this case Madame Bovery. It's a good looking movie with a lot of good actors in it, yet the movie is creepy beyond words and I don't think this was Fontaine's intention, either. This is nowhere as disappointing as her film ADORE but I hope her next film gets a few more likable and happier characters who learn something from messing about.

The Imitation Game (4/4): A grand choice to open Whistler Film Festival this year, THE IMITATION GAME won the audience award winner at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. And I felt back in Toronto, and still do today, that the honor is well deserved. The movie follows the legendary Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, getting lots of deserved Oscar buzz), a brilliant mathmetician as he is brought on by the British intelligence to break Nazi war codes, and comes to develop a machine, an early computer, that became one of the turning points of the second World War. The premise initially sounds a bit familiar to the movie ENIGMA from the early 2000's yet THE IMITATION GAME has a bigger ambition by following Turing's character and how he was a homosexual (which was illegal in England at the time) and was also fighting autism. Also with great performances by Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, the story takes place over a decade and has some truly harrowing sequences as we follow Turing through his struggle in this unforgettable part of history. It's a great film that doesn't pull punches, yet also will be a crowd-pleaser to audiences. One of my favorite films of the year.

I Put a Hit on You (3/4): An incredibly strong premise matched by its two strong leads, I PUT A HIT ON YOU is a dark comedy of mistakes made in relationships that could potentially have devastating consequences. As the film opens, we meet Harper (Sara Canning) who is having dinner with her boyfriend Ray (Aaron Ashmore; twin brother to Shawn). Harper proposes marriage to him out of the blue, he refuses, and when she gets drunk later on in the night she puts out an online ad asking for her boyfriend to be 'offed' in exchange for the engagement ring. To Harper's surprise, the ad actually works, and tries to put a stop to it by confronting Ray and trying to get the killing averted. What results is a part thriller, part romantic drama that had me pretty gripped throughout, even with a SLIGHTLY weak finale that I will still forgive thanks to the great play on character between Ray and Harper throughout its lean 78 minute running time. What also helps is our two leads are fascinating to watch on screen; Ashmore is outstanding as a man who is reacting to a potentially crazy girlfriend, and Sara Canning gives a star-making performance as a woman who really has to come to terms with not only the mistakes she has made at the start, but the relationship she built. It's a tricky premise but it works, and I loved watching the drama unfold in almost real time.

Kill Me Three Times (2.5/4): A film I had high hopes for at TIFF this year, this Australian comedy-thriller is part Elmore Leonard, part Tarantino and sadly doesn't always work. Simon Pegg (yes, Simon Pegg!) plays a contract killer led to a small Australian coastal town where it seems everyone is a con of some sort, and all of the plot surrounds a woman (Alice Braga) needing to be killed in order to get money. I could go on and on about the twisty, pulpy plot that unfolds but it's not terribly interesting aside from some really surprising bursts of violence and action. Anchoring the movie is Simon Pegg, who is as always watchable as ever as a hitman who has his own unique look at the world. It's far from a bad movie from director Kriv Stenders, just a rather forgettable one after all the bizarre mayhem has happened. If anything, this movie makes me long for more movies with Teresa Palmer (WARM BODIES, TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT) in them; reminiscent of a young Naomi Watts meets Nicole Kidman, she should be in much bigger roles than this.

Northern Borders (2/4): I hate to be hard on indie features, yet this small town drama featuring Bruce Dern (who was nominated last year for Alexander Payne's wonderful film NEBRASKA) is a sad dullard of a movie, even with a strong cast behind it. Set in the 1950's on a small farm in Vermont, the movie stars Bruce Dern and Genevieve Bujold as farmers making maple syrup. In comes their ten year old grandson who challenges their bickering, decades old marriage and also becoming a coming-of-age story for the boy who must deal with the new life around him as well as this old married couple. Maybe it just wasn't for me, but I can't see much of an audience getting wrapped up in director Jay Craven's story that moves too slowly and never reaches farther than its simple set-up. I give it points for being a good looking movie with strong talent, but even so if just left me wanting more. A lot more.

The Outlaw League (2/4): A modern day FIELD OF DREAMS...kind of? Featuring kids? There's no outside voice telling these kids to build a ball park and a bunch of ball players will arrive, but there ARE a group of kids wanting to fix up a broken down ball-park and return baseball to their small town in Quebec, much to the chagrin of the local community. Surprisingly filmed on the coast of New Brunswick yet featuring an all French cast and crew, I couldn't find much originality or memorable action in this simply directed movie, although there are a few fun moments of childlike dream and determination. Yet I feel like I have seen this story told a lot before and with more energy. BAD NEWS BEARS, this isn't, but I was still expecting a bit more fun and liveliness from the storytelling. The kids might like it, however.

Point & Shoot (HOT PICK, 3.5/4): Now here is a story for those of you wanting to make something a bit out of your life! Matthew Vandyke, a young American who needed a bit of spice in his life, decided in 2011 to get a motorcycle and a video camera and travel on a 35,000 mile adventure across North Africa and the middle east. He then winds up befriending a group of people in Libya and eventually gets wrapped up with the Libyan revolution, eventually getting imprisoned for months after filming. This is the kind of premise that great narrative features are made out of it but this ALL really happened, much through Matthew's camera along with post-event interviews with his family, animated re-creations when he is in prison and a very strong narration. What I loved about the documentary is how even though all of the events are horrific and we really yearn for Matthew to overcome it all, it's still a telling look at someone who wants to do something different and new with his life and sets out to challenge himself. We can certainly learn a lot from Matthew, even after all that happened. It also helps this is a documentary with a lot of humanity, surprising level of humour at times and featuring unforgettable war footage along with getting to know a pretty interesting individual.

Pretend We're Kissing (HOT PICK 3.5/4): In preparation for Whistler Film Festival this year, I sat down with this Toronto-shot 'non' romantic comedy about a down on his luck young artist (Dov Tifenbach) who meets a lovely young woman named Jordan (Tommie-Amber Pirie) and tries to kick-start a relationship after a meet-cute. I watched the relationship unfold, enjoyed it and moved onto the next movie. I liked it a lot and pretty much left it at that and wanted to move on. But then something interesting happened; I kept thinking about the overall romantic story plotline and how it refused to pull punches, its brilliant, three-dimensional characters kept haunting me, and I kept reflecting on how the relationships kept reminding me of my own and the mistakes I have made trying to start something that just isn't there. I sat down to watch the movie a second time and came out loving the story even more and connected with it deeply. Director Matt Austin Sadowski clearly brings a lot of his own personal story up onto the screen, and it truly will resonate with anyone who has tried to start up a relationship and is forced to give up because 'It' isn't there. I think everyone has been in this situation in one way or another, and this movie tells its story in such a beautiful, entertaining manner. It's also refreshing to see not only Toronto portrayed on screen as a beautiful place to live, but also how one can deal with a relationship with honesty and humour. This movie is simple yet wonderful, cinematic and yet real.

Relative Happiness (3/4): Adorable beyond words, Lexie (a terrific Melissa Bergland) runs a bed & breakfast in a small Nova Scotia village and despite running a great B&B and having the most adorable smile, she is still unlucky at finding a boyfriend, and having even more trouble trying to secure a date to her sister's wedding. What is Lexie to do? In walks a man who stays at her B&B and despite thinking a relationship is building, there's a lot more under the surface that Lexie is unaware of. What starts out as a simple premise develops into a surprisingly moving dramatic story involving all of Lexie's troubled family and friends, and the nice relationship that builds between her and a somewhat-drifter (Aaron Poole, star of last year's THE ANIMAL PROJECT) who fixes Lexie's broken roof. I was fearing the worst in the first twenty minutes or so, but once it kicks in we see the sharp writing based off of Lesley Crewe's novel and Deanne Foley's lovely direction. This is a sweet and enormously likable film that becomes surprisingly lean and memorable by the end. Well worth checking out on the big screen too, for the lovely Nova Scotia visuals. I hope to crash at that B&B one day.

(efilmcritic.com also interviewed Deanne Foley for her last feature BEAT DOWN when it screened at the Victoria Film Festival, which you can read HERE!)

Stay Awhile (3/4): The Bells, one of the early Canadian groups, formed in the 1960's and were considered an early example of 'Supergroup' (in the way The New Pornographers are a supergroup today). Maybe you haven't heard of them today, but they made many hit singles and records in that era, including the title track 'Stay Awhile' which had gold record status in that era and led to a successful US tour. Director Jessica Edwards, who is the daughter of two of the lead members in the group, has created a very affectionate documentary to remember the band and its past, as well as including new interviews on where the lives of The Bells have went. There's even an interesting comment in the movie about how this band was popular before the infamous 'Can Con' required Canadian content regulation for Canadian radio stations that is very interesting to see. Although I had a few slight quibbles with the inclusion of the older footage (sometimes I felt it was a bit too much and I wanted the doc to move forward faster), I was nevertheless fascinated by a loving portrait of a generation of music from another era. Plus the personal touch to the story makes it all the more compelling.

Still Alice (HOT PICK, 4/4): One of my favorite films from TIFF this year is getting incredible attention and Oscar buzz for its lead performances by both Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart for some of the best work in their respective careers. And as well it should be, as STILL ALICE is an emotionally powerful and unforgettable movie about Alice (Moore), a famed professor who starts to lose her memory at age 50's and is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. We see a slight loss in her at first but eventually it gets worse, and the effects it has on everyone around her, and how through this illness she reconnects with her daughter (Kristen Stewart) whom she has never seen until now. Anyone who has had a family member with any kind of illness will be moved beyond words, but it also wonderful that director Richard Glatzer shows this topic with a lot of reality, strong characters and a willingness to show Alice's memory loss without holding back. There will not be a dry eye in the house by the end of its running time.

The Theory of Everything (3/4): Although in slightly wide release already, Whistler is presenting a special screening of James Marsh's film on the early university years of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Reymayne, brilliant) as he meets his eventual wife Jane (Felicity Jones) and with it the early stages of Stephen's Motor Neuron disease that eventually made him wheelchair bound for the rest of life. As the movie is based on Jane Hawking's novel TRAVELLING TO INFINITY, we see more of the story unfold from her perspective and how she deals with not only Stephen and their children, but also blossoming relationship with a family friend. That said we also get a great glimpse into the early genius of Hawking, and Eddie Redmayne is a revelation as Hawking in a performance that he totally disappears in. For my money, however, I found Felicity Jones' performance as Jane the absolute standout and the strongest part of the story. It skips over some important parts later in Stephen's life, but the guts of their relationship is still there, and the movie is still very strong for it.

We Were Wolves (HOT PICK, 3.5/4): One of the strongest character studies I have seen this year set on a beautiful lakeside retreat in Ontario, WE WERE WOLVES changes gears frequently but in a very strong way over a single setting about two brothers who are estranged yet are forced to reconnect after the recent death of their father. The entirety of the unfolding story all takes place at this vacation home so there is a tiny bit of claustrophobia throughout the story, as well as a neighbor character who is also a key factor in the story. There is also a lot of alcohol present in the surroundings, which leads to even more toxicity. Despite the harsh subject matter and even more powerful bitter fights between the two, the amazing lead performances by Steven Cochrane and Peter Mooney were so convincing I immediately attached to them as brothers from the very first sequence, and I loved how director Jordan Canning gave both leads time for them to flesh each other out. The elegant lake setting around them made it very wonderful to watch, and that it ends on a pitch-perfect note and understanding is just icing on the cake.

Whan an Idiot (3/4): Actor and filmmaker Peter Benson's Vancouver feature at first starts out as a pretty silly premise - what happens when a down-on-his-luck office drone (Benson himself) pretends to be gay just to flirt with his boss (Julia Benson) - but then turns itself around at about the halfway point and becomes a solid screwball romantic comedy that is surprisingly old-fashioned and funny, especially because both of the leads are husband & wife in reality, and you see the immediate chemistry leap off the screen. The entire cast is a who's who of Vancouver talent from Michael Eklund as a realist brother to Aleks Paunovic as one of the most aggressive gay characters I have seen in a long time. The movie has its shortcomings (it's a bit TOO vulgar at times to the point of being annoying, and I kept feeling uncomfortable about open, dirty sex talk in public situations by the lead characters while everyone around them ignored it) yet I still remained impressed throughout by the chemistry from all the leads, and finally a romantic comedy finale that makes total sense. It's good fun and worth seeing with an audience.

What We Do in the Shadows (3/4): No doubt there are fans of Flight of the Conchords out there, and if you are one of those folks I highly recommend checking out this mockumentary style feature about a group of vampires from all sorts of age groups all sharing a house together in Wellington, New Zealand. Yes, Wellington vampires. And they are being filmed by real humans, which doesn't help matters when these Vampires like to party. Both a hit at TIFF (where it deservedly won the Midnight Madness Audience Award) as well as Austin's South By Southwest Film Festival, the movie has cult status written all over it and it has wicked dark humour to spare. It's great to also see Jemaine Clement on screen once again, and he and his cast are a lot of fun to watch as well. And again, Wellington vampires. You can't lose.

The coverage of Whistler Film Festival continues all week! Be sure to check back for filmmaker interviews as well as a wrap-up article with my top selections of Whistler throughout next Monday. A gigantic thanks to Kim Bowie, Courtneay Napper, Lindsay Namiache and the Jive PR team for assistance with this article.

For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website HERE

Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival on my Instagram at jason.whyte!

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com



link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3708
originally posted: 12/02/14 01:24:48
last updated: 12/04/14 11:51:30
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