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Still Mine

103 minutes – Drama
Release date: May 3, 2013
Canadian Distributor: Mongrel Media

Based on true events and laced with wry humour, Still Mine is a heartfelt love story about an 89-year-old New Brunswicker (James Cromwell) who comes up against the system when he sets out to build a more suitable house for his wife (Geneviève Bujold) whose memory is starting to go. Although Craig Morrison is using the same methods his father, a shipbuilder, taught him, times have changed. Craig quickly gets on the wrong side of an overzealous government inspector, who finds just about everything unacceptable, including the unstamped wood Craig has milled from his own trees. As Irene becomes increasingly ill – and amidst a series of stop-work orders – Craig races to finish the house. Hauled into court and facing jail, Craig takes a final stance.

Northernstars.ca reviews Still Mine.



Michael McGowan
Avi Federgreen
Jody Colero
Tamara Deverall

Executive Producer:

Richard Hanet

Associate Producer:

Nadia Tavazzani


Michael McGowan


Michael McGowan


Brendan Steacy C.S.C.


Roderick Deogrades


High Marsh
Don Rooke
Michelle Willis

Production Designer:

Tamara Deverell

Art Director:

David Gruer

Costume Designer:

Sarah Millman

Cast: Roles:

James Cromwell
Geneviève Bujold
Chuck Shamata
Ronan Rees
Julie Stewart
Rick Roberts
George R. Robertson
Hawksley Workman
Joe Pingue
Jonathan Potts
Zachery Bennett
Barbara Gordon
Campbell Scott
Lewis Hodgson
Kristin Shepherd
Chris Farquhar
Verlyn Plowman
Ray Landry

Craig Morrison
Irene Morrison
Chester Jones
Food Terminial employee
Rick Daigle
Jeff Leblanc
Margaret Jones
Gary Fulton
Dr. Murphy
Marty Klinkenberg

Still Mine – Review

Poster for the 2013 film Still Mine courtesy of Mongrel Media

There is an old joke contained in the not so funny line, “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” In real life there are innumerable stories of how the average working Joe has run up against some bureaucrat who owes their career to the steadfast belief that the line isn’t a joke but a mantra from a religion built on a faith that the government knows best. Craig Morrison is one such average tax payer and the central character in Michael McGowan’s new film, Still Mine.

This is the writer-director’s latest feature and his smallest to date. His career began with the ambitious and successful Saint Ralph, continued with the hit One Week and then Score: A Hockey Musical which opened that year’s Toronto Film Festival but went on to mixed reviews. Canadians take their hockey far too seriously and we were clearly not ready for a musical about our national sport despite excellent performances throughout the film. Now comes Still Mine. If I may be allowed to possibly coin a new genre, it’s a coming of old-age movie.< It isn’t the first, but Still Mine stamps the genre with all of the necessary ingredients. An older couple behaving in a way that has their children and assorted friends and neighbours cringing in disbelief while they sort out their lives, relationship and sex drives. The difference here is that the character, still_mine_still_002Craig Morrison, played by James Cromwell in a performance that brought him a Canadian Screen Award earlier this year, is a real person and the story is a real story.

It all began in 2008 when the local newspaper laid out the details in a piece with a dateline of West Quaco, New Brunswick. Morrison is one of those self-sufficient Canadians who wouldn’t ask for help if they we’re being mauled by a bear while helping a cow get through a difficult calving session. The facts, quickly, are that Morrison’s wife of 61 years is showing signs of dementia, the house they live in isn’t the right place for her anymore so he decides to build a new, smaller cottage on his own land with his own wood using his own two hands. Problem is the local inspector won’t let him, saying he’s not following the building code. As he is quoted in the article by Marty Klinkenberg, Morrison is hurt and confused: “I’ve lived here all my life and have always had the freedom to do what I wanted, and it makes me feel bad that they are doing this to me. There is no need: It’s my own house, and I’m building it with my own money and my own materials on my own land.”

Of course it’s more complicated than that but McGowan gently lets the story spill out as we grow to embrace the elder Morrisons against the best intentions of their children, neighbours and of course the officious prats who can’t get past the idea that sometimes a rule book should be nothing more than a guide and not a hard and fast set of laws that beg defiance.

Against Cromwell’s stoic performance is the rambunctious play of his wife, Irene, portrayed wonderfully by Geneviève Bujold. Very much older now, appearing frail herself, she plays Irene to the hilt. While Cromwell stands silent against his perceived enemies, Bujold’s character lifts the lines of Dylan Thomas’ poem from the page and brings them to life. She is determined not to "go gentle into that good night," and behaves, one suspects, as she always had. One brief, still_mine_still_003touching scene is bound to have the kiddies rolling their eyes. Irene says to her husband that she wants to see his body. A quick cut to a post-coital bedroom scene saves us from the details but serves to remind us that old people are people too.

Still Mine also serves to remind us that we have given our elected officials too much leeway in our lives. The problem with lawmakers is that they want to make laws even when the laws they want to make impinge on our lives and freedoms.

While this is a coming of old-age film, Michael McGowan has made a movie for everyone. The story is both universal – we’re all going to get old some day – and highly personal. It faces the blunt realty that sometimes our enemies will be real and sometimes they will be ourselves. Young people need to see it to get a better understanding about their parents or grandparents. Older people need to see it to get a better understanding of what life could be like in just a few short years. Government employees at all levels need to see this to get a glimpse into the murmuring anger they are capable of creating when they stop being people and become nothing more than extensions of the unfathomable baffle gab they represent. It is joyous in all the right places and harshly real in all the right places.

Still Mine reminds us that we enjoy nothing more than a tenuous grip on the people and things that are important to us and that we’d better hang on to them while we still can.

Published on May 3, 2013 this review is by Ralph Lucas, founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began reviewing movies in the mid-1970s as part of his career in radio in Montreal.

The Making of The Legend of Sarila

(February 21, 2013 – Toronto, Ontario) When the animated feature The Legend of Sarila opens in Québec on March 1st it will be making film history in Canada. According to the producers behind the film, 10th Avenue Films and Carpe Diem, it is only the third feature-length animated film to be made in Canada and it is the very first to be made in 3D. A project that began as a script in 2001 has taken a long time to finally come to the screen and it features the voices of some of the country’s best including Christopher Plummer and Geneviève Bujold. Northernstars Publisher, Ralph Lucas, asked Eric Clément of Montréal’s Modus FX and VFX supervisor for Sarila about how the film was made.

RL – I understand from 10th Avenue, one of the production companies behind The Legend of Sarila, that they had the script in 2001. Now, 12 years later, it’s about to be released. How did Modus FX become involved? Did you go after the project or did 10th Avenue come to you?

 Once 10th Avenue had teamed up with Carpe Diem to produce Sarila, they contacted us in 2010. Together we worked on a plan to make the project happen and jumped into the adventure.

RL – What year did Modus FX begin to work on this film?

Eric Clement - Modus FX,/center>
Eric Clement – Modus FX,/center>

 We worked on the animation from the beginning of 2011 to August 2012.

strong>RL – This is, I believe, only the third feature-length animated film to be made in Canada, and the very first animated 3D movie? 

Sarila is the first feature-length animated 3D movie produced in Canada. I don’t know whether there have been other animated features before this.

RL – Modus FX is renowned for its work in visual effects, which usually involves changing or improving existing non-animated film footage. Have you done animation work before? Or was this a new venture for the company?

While the main focus of Modus is on high-end visual effects, we like to take on animation projects like this one. Our first foray into this was with March of the Dinosaurs, a 90-minute, fully animated movie that came out in 2011. We designed several creatures and environments for that movie and, along the way, developed our animation expertise.

RL – You must have added a significant number of new people. Where did they come from?

The core team of twelve artists from various divisions was already in place, but for an animated feature film like Sarila we needed to expand every department. The animation lead, along with HR, managed to create his own team of sixteen people, bringing in a mix of seniors and young talented animators from all around the world.

RL – I don’t know very much about the animation process and I’m particularly interested in the work involved when we see the characters speak. Do you animate those scenes to a pre-recorded voice track? Or do the actors need to match the animation, much like when they do ADR or looping sessions? 

We received the pre-recorded voice track. The animation workflow started with a blocking pass, in which the animator showed the layout of a shot based on the storyboard. Most of the time this pass was “chunky” to allow quick back-and-forth review. From the director’s the_making-of_sarila_still_02feedback, we then generated a more elaborate animation pass, making it more smooth and realistic by adding details, such as the body weight of a character walking or jumping.

Once approved, the animators moved to the last part of the animation pipeline, called the finagling stage. This was where lip-synching and the simulation of clothing and hair were done. The voice tracks were imported into the animation software (Softimage) to allow the artist to animate and listen to the track line at the same time. The emotion and expression of a character needed to be taken into consideration from the beginning because there is a lot of body language that accompanies facial expressions. Having said this, it was important to lock the overall animation before going into these details. Animators were often using mirrors and cameras to experiment and mimic the dialogue so they could study what the facial expressions actually looked like.

RL– I would think that one of the major differences between non-animated and animated films, is that in a regular movie a director may call for many different takes, a few different camera set-ups, actors may flub their lines…. but with traditional animation, the storyboard becomes the Bible and there’s very little room for change or experimenting. Is that true with computer generated animation? Is it easier to manipulate camera angles, easier to try something different despite the storyboard?

With VFX the challenge is to make it photoreal, that is to say, invisible to the audience. Animation allows for much more creativity because you don’t have to conform to a plate. The art director from Sarila had a unique signature, which looks like watercolour painting. He wanted us to help him express his way of seeing the story, and find a way to break the straight 3D renders into something more stylised. That was a nice challenge.

CG permits a lot of flexibility, but the trick is that the budget limits the time you can experiment on a shot. The storyboard is indeed the Bible. We made sure the workflow was flexible in the beginning of the process (e.g., layout stage, animation blocking), but as the shots were moving into the pipeline it became more and more difficult to make major changes. We had to respect as much as possible the workflow of the director, Nancy Florence Savard, and make sure that approvals were done at every step along the way.

RL – Once the film is done, is the 3D effect just that… an effect? Or is there far more involved in creating the left-eye, right-eye versions of each frame? 

With compositing software like Nuke, it was fairly easy to create the left/right comp. The challenge was to make the best stereo comp out of every shot. Traditional 2D tricks like adding a last-minute matte painted background or adding some live footage of snow falling in the foreground will not work in stereo. The stereoscopic approach needed to be carefully planned. For instance, a 2D matte painting needed to be projected on a multi-layering of rough geometry through the z-axis to get it to work properly in stereo.

The stereo process began at the layout stage: from the storyboard, the team generated a scene with the proper camera, characters and environment. The animation department did a blocking pass to confirm the overall action of the scene. From there, layout did a second pass to adjust and optimize the stereo cameras. The resulting output was in grey shading, i.e., with no texture or proper lighting, and this was reviewed for stereo approval. After a few months of animation, lighting and compositing (in mono), we were finally ready to review the result in stereo.

RL – Usually in visual effects work, you make your name by creating something so realistic no one notices…. this is different. Everyone gets to see every frame of your work. That must be very gratifying?

It is always magical to see the movies that are out there and then be able to do one of our own. To take the challenge of looking at drawings and concepts and turn them into something real is a great source of motivation. To go from concepts to 3D assets, from animation blocking to final animation with voice over, and finally, to see it all comped and cut properly – it’s very impressive.

There aren’t many places where I could have done that. I was thrilled to be part of this and I look forward to doing it again soon!

RL – Finally, what’s next from Modus FX? And, is there another animated feature in the works?

We’re working on three feature films right now and have a few in development. The animation world has a very high level of expectation. Our animation department has shown what it’s capable of and our pipeline will only continue to improve.

Back to the Cast & Crew of The Legend of Sarila.

Images courtesy of Modus FX and Alliance Vivafilm. Used with Permission.

leafRalph Lucas is the Founder and Publisher of Northernstars. He began reviewing movies when he was in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.

Road Movies: A Two Lane Highway

Road Movies: A Two Lane Highway
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher

(November 9, 2011 – Toronto, Ontario) All movies are stories and all stories have a beginning, middle and end, even if editing sometimes confuses that linear process. I recently saw two road movies, which are similar in their construction, but different in ways that go beyond the modes of transportation used in each film. The first was the long-awaited Don Shebib film, Down the Road Again. The second was the Emilio Estevez film, The Way. To start at the beginning of Shebib’s film, you have to go back a few decades.

It’s hard to think of Down the Road Again as a sequel. In today’s movie making world sequels are often planned as the first movie is being shot, if not before. Release schedules are often based on generating as much anticipation for the sequel while the first film is still in theatres or as it’s about to be released on DVD. Recent successful multi-film releases include the Harry Potter series of films and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Some films, like the James Bond films, have survived across 5 decades with six different actors playing the shaken not stirred, licensed-to-kill hero in a so far endless string of more than 20 features. As sequels go, Down the Road Again, coming 41 years after Goin’ Down the Road was released, hardly qualifies and only came after one of the lead actors in the first film, Paul Bradley, had passed away. With his death came the death of his character, Joey, and shortly after the start of Down the Road Again Joey’s ashes are delivered to his old pal, Pete, played by Doug McGrath in both films.

The Way, 2011 movie poster
The Way, 2011 movie poster
In The Way, Martin Sheen plays a comfortable, well-to-do, ophthalmologist whose son – played by his real son, the writer-director Emilio Estevez – has tired of an upper-middle-class existence and heads out to travel the world starting with the famous 500-mile European pilgrimage route along the Camino de Santiago, which starts in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I was attracted to the film because of my own time in Spain, although I had never made it to the north coast, and the fact the film costars Canadian Deborah Kara Unger. It also costars James Nesbitt, a Scottish actor I like a lot for his TV portrayals in the series Jekyll and more recently in Monroe, and Yorick van Wageningen, a Dutch actor who provides welcome comic relief. It shouldn’t destroy your enjoyment of the film if I reveal that we learn very early in the story that the boy dies on the first leg of his journey and a few scenes later Sheen’s character decides to finish the pilgrimage taking his son’s ashes with him.

There the films diverge in their mode of transport. The Way is done on foot, and sometimes some try to use a bicycle. Pete goes looking for the car he and Joey drove to Toronto in Goin’ Down the Road. It’s the car that carried them to Vancouver when they quit Toronto in the closing scenes of that film. It might be a bit of an in-joke that Don Francks turns up in a cameo appearance as the keeper of the old car. In real life, in addition to his acting career, Francks is often the go-to guy for filmmakers looking for special vehicles. The films also take different paths in that Sheen’s journey was filmed along the actual famed route and in real locations across northern Spain during a six-week shooting schedule. Down the Road Again might be about a journey from Vancouver to Cape Breton, but it was shot almost exclusively in and around Toronto.

Both films are ultimately stories about family and are unabashed in their attempt to leave no dry eyes at several points during the telling. For some reason I expect to laugh when I see a comedy and I expect to be frightened if I see a scary movie, but I dislike being manipulated into false emotion over some celluloid characters on the screen when I am watching drama. The power of the medium, plus the craft of the directors and the ability of the actors to crack my stoic exterior usually leaves me secretly enthralled at their ability to wrest water from a stone, but there you are. By the way, most credit for emotion must go to the composer. As I (and others) have written, the pictures and dialogue may tell you what to think, the music tells you what to feel.

Speaking of music, in Down the Road Again, the ancient Chevy convertible is like a ’60s jukebox on wheels, each song used perfectly to support a specific scene. The music in The Way is also excellent. There is one scene in particular set in an inner city barrio where the local “gypsy” population has gathered to welcome the four pilgrims. The guitars produce a rising, rhythmic thunder and the unique Spanish hand clapping in time and in syncopation with the beat provides an envelope for the half-Spanish half-Moorish singing which transforms what sounds like pain into a heart-grabbing passionate rhapsody that for just a moment called to me and said quite clearly this is what is missing in today’s modern YouTube/mp3 compressed and filtered life.

Down The Road Again. 2011 movie poster © Alliance Films
Down The Road Again. 2011 movie poster © Alliance Films
There are surprising performances in both films. Doug McGrath is far too good to be so unused in film. The seemingly eternally young Kathleen Robertson showed more than I had expected and there are several tough scenes between Jayne Eastwood and Cayle Chernin, who was dying as the film was being made and did not live long enough to see it released. The benefit of the gap between Goin’ Down the Road and Down the Road Again is that you really don’t need to see the first to understand the second. Beautifully digitized scenes from the original are used in rare flashback sequences and help rebuild the long lost connection between Pete and Joey. The final scenes and reveals are a bit of a stretch but if you were there in the 60s they are not only plausible but more than likely based on some truth somewhere. You are forced to wonder what sequel Shebib would have made had Paul Bradley not died, but this film honours his memory and the memory of an almost iconic Canadian character, Joey, as well as the time when two young kids from Cape Breton thought the streets of Toronto were paved with gold.

I hope The Way gets a good run and Mongrel Media, its Canadian distributor, should be applauded for supporting what is a small, independent film despite the pedigree of its director and cast. Martin Sheen can often go over the top and there’s one scene which recalls his darkest days while making Apocalypse Now, but he is excellent throughout. Unger’s portrayal of a woman looking for some way forward and unable to let go of her past is honest, raw, and in places surprisingly powerful. She is so much better in this than she was in the series Combat Hospital.

Road movies follow that old dictum about travel. It isn’t the destination it’s the getting there that’s important. Both of these movies take very different paths and both are ultimately very different stories. That said, the lesson from both films just might be that although we are all on our own separate journeys we share the same path and it is better to help our fellow wayfarers than to abandon them at the side of the road.

Northernstars logo imageNorthernstars.ca founder and Publisher Ralph Lucas began reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.

Remembering Gordon Tootoosis

Gordon Tootoosis, actor,

(July 06, 2011 – Toronto, Ontario) – Native Canadian actor Gordon Tootoosis has died. His career as an actor spanned more than 35 years, but his early life was marked by one of those dark moments in Canadian history and the treatment of our indigenous peoples. Tootoosis began life as one of 14 children born into a family of Plains Cree where he was raised in those traditions on the Poundmaker Reserve near Cutknife, Saskatchewan. But he was a victim of the infamous Catholic Residential Schools and was taken from his home. Harshly treated and forbidden to speak his own language, the young Tootoosis was often in trouble at school partly because his father, John Tootoosis, was an activist for aboriginal rights.

After his traumatic school years, Tootoosis went into social work, specializing in work with children and young offenders. His interest in his own cultural traditions led him to become an accomplished native dancer and rodeo roper, and he toured with the Plains InterTribal Dance Troupe in the 1960s and 1970s throughout Canada, Europe and South America.

His first acting role came in 1972 as Almighty Voice in the film Alien Thunder, which costarred Chief Dan George and Donald Sutherland. He would go on to appear in more than 40 films and is particularly remembered as Albert Golo in the CBC-TV series North of 60, and as the title character Big Bear in the mini-series Big Bear.

He was awarded membership in the Order of Canada on October 29, 2004 and his citation recognizes him as an inspirational role model for Aboriginal youth.

Relatives say he passed away from pneumonia at St. Paul’s hospital in Saskatoon yesterday, July 5. He is survived by his wife, Irene, four children and grandchildren. His daughter, Glynis, passed away from cancer more than a decade ago, but Mr. Tootoosis and his wife had been caring for their grandchildren ever since.

Gordon Tootoosis was 69.

Midnight in Paris – Review

Midnight in Paris costarred Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams

Midnight in Paris
Review by Ralph Lucas – Publisher

I need to begin with an admission or two. First, I dislike Woody Allen and have trouble separating the man from the artist. I believe that a bevy of apologists cannot fix the man who married his adopted child. Second, once upon a time I was a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories, but especially his memoirs of Paris in the 1920s compiled in the slim book A Moveable Feast and published three years after he took his life. Finally, I used to be a fan of Ray Bradbury way back when, and always enjoyed his literate approach to science fiction and fantasy storytelling. And so with that baggage I trotted off to see Midnight in Paris primarily because it costars a couple of Canadian actors, Rachel McAdams and Alison Pill.

Fully prepared to not like the movie simply because of its writer and director, the opening act quickly establishes Gil (Owen Wilson) as the Woody Allen character, which he plays to perfection, and Inez (Rachel McAdams) as the woman he is supposed to marry but should escape from as quickly as possible. Gil is a highly successful screenwriter who is trying to leave that and the Los Angeles lifestyle behind. He has written his first novel. But, as McAdams has been quoted as saying, "Inez is used to having her way. Gil wants to stay in Paris. Inez wants Gil to keep writing lucrative screenplays so they can have a comfortable life in the United States. McAdams effectively transmits the spoiled brat bitchy fiancée she is playing so well you actually become uncomfortable every time she opens her mouth to deliver Allen’s lines. To my surprise I was beginning to like the film, which was, after all, selected to open the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The relationship between the two lead characters becomes jeopardized with the appearance of an old pal of Inez, the know-it-all Paul (Michael Sheen) who is one of those show-off intellectuals. Inez has had a crush on him since college but Gil thinks he’s the pompous ass he really is. After a trying night out together, Gil opts to walk home.

Instead of going on to a night of dancing, Gil, lost, tired and a little confused, sits for a while and watches the traffic flow up a narrow, winding Paris street. A clock nearby strikes midnight and the next car coming up the hill is a 1920s limousine. It pulls up opposite Gil and the people inside coax him into joining them. Now the magic begins.

Midnight in Paris, Alison Pill, The romantic comedy shifts subtly into fantasy or sci-fi but never strays too far from its core. We know before Gil does that he has slipped in time. When the couple introduce themselves as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill), Gil thinks he’s at a costume party. Then he’s is introduced to his hero, Ernest Hemingway, acted with impeccable bombast by Corey Stoll. Stoll presides over some of the funniest scenes in the movie and his over-the-top macho dialogue captures the essence of the man that has come down to us through some sort of intuitive understanding of the famous writer even if you’ve never read a word he has written.

When Gil wakes the next morning he thinks at first it was all a dream. When he tries to drag Inez along she just doesn’t have the patience and splits for their hotel just as the clock strikes midnight again. Gil now understands he has found a portal to the past, which he visits again and again to the point where his future father-in-law has become suspicious of his midnight ramblings and hires a local detective to follow him. That leads to another funny but unnecessary scene toward the end of the movie.

The key to Allen’s marvelous portrait of Paris is Paris itself. Largely unchanged for decade after decade, the ease of moving from one era to another – and at one point to another – using real locations is seamless. If you didn’t know it was impossible, this film goes a long way to convincing you otherwise and more importantly, almost makes you wish it were possible. As Gil makes his nightly escapes into the past we get to meet and spend time with Gert (Gertrude Stein) played superbly by Kathy Bates, as well as with Pablo Picasso and a whole list of famous people from the past. The most important one is Adriana, a girlfriend of Piccaso’s played by the exquisite and beautiful Marion Cotillard. When she first meets Gil she comments on his tie. When Picasso met a girl named Marie-Thérèse Walter who would become his mistress and model she did not know who he was but supposedly made a comment about the tie he was wearing. The portrayals, these sorts of details and the timeless beauty of the city itself lend credence to the idea behind the film. I can’t spoil the film by revealing the truth that time travel is impossible, but in the end Gil gets to live the life he wants in the present and that is Allen’s greatest message here.

Poster for the movie Midnight in Paris
Ultimately it dawns on you that this gentle masterpiece is not so much about escaping the life and times you live in but learning to accept these times as some future generation’s ideal destination if only they could get back to where we are now. Global warming, excessive gas prices, unpredictably destructive weather, politicians who follow the polls instead of leading by the courage of their convictions, it is difficult to think this might be anyone’s ideal time to be alive, but it is our time, the only time we have and we had better make the best of it before it – and we – are gone.

The other thing we have is great filmmakers, and with Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen reaffirms his genius as a writer and director. I may never be able to change my opinion of the man, but I plan to see this film again. There is a timelessness about this instant classic. It’s like some new version of It’s a Wonderful Life or Casablanca, in which Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine says, "We’ll always have Paris." I think we’ll always have Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Midnight in Paris is distributed in Canada by Mongrel Media. It opened in Toronto and Vancouver on Friday, June 3, 2011.

Northernstars, logo, imageRalph Lucas is the founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca. He began reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in 1976.

Stills from the production by Roger Arpajou © 2011 Mediapro, Versátil Cinema & Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with Permission.

Barney’s Version – A Review

Barney's Version, movie, review,

Barney’s Version
Review by Wyndham Wise

(December 29, 2010 – Toronto, ON) Richard J. Lewis’ Barney’s Version is the third screen adaptation of a Mordecai Richler novel, and in terms of quality, it rests somewhere between Ted Kotcheff’s 1974 The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, widely acknowledged to be a classic of Canadian cinema, and 1984’s Joshua Then and Now, also directed by Kotcheff, which by all accounts was judged to be a failure.

The movie begins with a flashback to Barney Panofsky’s (Paul Giamatti) misspent youth in Rome in the early 1970s. In the novel, the setting is Paris, but Richler’s loveable curmudgeon has a cult-like following in Italy and producer Robert Lantos had no trouble securing Italian financing for this co-production. Among Barney’s gang of carousing layabouts is a hard-drinking aspiring writer named Boogie (Scott Speedman) and a loopy, free-spirited ‘hippy chick,’ Clara (Rachelle Lefevre from the first two Twilight movies). Barney, the responsible one of the group, has already launched a reasonably successful business enterprise, exporting olive oil back home to Canada. His idyllic existence is suddenly cut short when Clara becomes pregnant, and he believes the child is his. This leads to a shotgun wedding, the birth of a stillborn mixed-race baby (the father turns out to be another of Barney’s buddies) and an unpleasant end for everyone involved.

With this set-up complete, the movie jumps to the present with Barney back in Montreal. He is a now a successful television producer with a company called Totally Unnecessary Productions (TUP), which is apparently a satirical poke at Alliance Communications, the company co-founded by Lantos in the 1980s. To deepen the in-joke, TUP’s most successful series is something called O’Malley of the North, and Paul Gross makes a cameo appearance as a Mountie dressed in full Red Serge, recalling his most famous role in Due South, a series produced by Alliance. In one brief scene, David Cronenberg has a comic turn as an exasperated TV director. (Directors Atom Egoyan, Denys Arcand and Ted Kotcheff also make cameo appearances throughout the film.)

Barney might be successful but he needs a wife to complete the picture. He unwisely chooses a high-maintenance Jewish Princess for the ‘second Mrs. Panofsky’ (Minnie Driver), but on the day of his wedding he falls head over heels for the beautiful Miriam (Rosamund Pike) whom he pursues relentlessly until she finally gives in. In the meantime, Boogie, now a serious alcoholic and drug addict, wanders in and out of his life until Barney catches him fucking the second Mrs. Panofsky. After a blowout between the two, Boogie dies in mysterious circumstances and the second Mrs. Panofsky leaves him, giving rise to the suspicion that Barney might have killed Boogie. Certainly a dogged Montreal cop (Mark Addy) thinks so, and Barney is haunted by Boogie’s death and hounded by the cop throughout the rest of the film.

His divorce clears the way from him to finally marry Miriam. They start a family and live in bourgeois bliss for a while, until Barney’s philandering manages to screw things up again and she eventually leaves him for another (Bruce Greenwood).

Director Lewis and first-time screenwriter Michael Konyves faced a tall order in adapting the popular, Giller Prize-winning novel, and they have met the challenge with uneven results. Certain characters are rendered in cartoonish proportions that are way too aggressive. For example, Driver, as Barney’s ill-chosen bride, is directed to play her Jewish-Princess role to the hilt. It’s an unpleasant caricature and often difficult to watch. Dustin Hoffman, on the other hand, appearing sporadically as Barney’s rough-edged but warm-hearted ex-cop father, is wonderful. He steals every scene he’s in, and Hoffman and Giamatti seem wholly at ease with each other, together comprising a miniature story within the movie.

Barney's Version, movie, poster,
Poster for Barney’s Version © 2010 Serendipity Point Films − All right reserved.
But taken as a whole, Barney’s Version is too much of a sprawl, with too much to say about the ephemeral nature of relationships, Jewish guilt, politics and the television business, even hockey, to have much of a lasting emotional impact. There’s something wandering and indistinct about the picture, and you’re often not sure why you’re supposed to be investing time and interest in this guy, who, while charming and likeable, is a self-absorbed jerk.

The cinematography by the veteran Guy Dufaux is superb, the art direction by Michele Laliberte and production design by Claude Paré is first rate, and it’s perhaps the best film ever made about the television business in Canada. Look for it to clean up at the Genie Awards in 2011, and Giamatti (who already has a Golden Globe nomination for best actor) and Hoffman are serious Oscar contenders. Unfortunately, Lewis (whose only other feature as a director is Whale Music) has a knack for turning the movie’s various story strands – a murder mystery, a bittersweet romance, a buddy comedy – into the equivalent of an expensive, up-scale movie of the week. The film lacks a certain cinematic flare. Even if you can forgive the crude caricatures and the shameful way it attempts to make you weep, you’re still left with great actors stuck in a too-cautious script with pedestrian direction.

Also see: The Cast & Crew of Barney’s Version.

Northernstars, logo, imageThis review was written for Northernstars.ca by Wyndham Wise, a contributing editor at Northernstars.ca.

The Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade

The Top 10 Canadian films of the Decade, 2000-2009

The Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade
by Ralph Lucas, Publisher

(December 31, 2009 – Toronto, Ontario) – The first decade of the new millennium was quickly drawing to a close when we first published this article in early December. Northernstars had started life in the late 1990s and we had built an intimate, if not encyclopedic knowledge of the Canadian film industry over that time. We felt we owed it to our readers to look back over the decade and choose just 10 Canadian films that for various reasons stood out from all the rest. And so we announced the Northernstars Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade.

The process was rather simple. Without consulting any previously published list, I asked our Contributing Editors "Which 10 Canadian titles first come to mind when you think back over the past 10 years?" The results were remarkable, given differences in age, location, and personal preferences. All of the films on our final list were on at least two of the lists submitted. Many of them showed up on all submissions.

Only after the final 10 films were selected did we measure them against their performance following their initial release. This included box office take, length of time in release, and awards history, but those criteria were less important in the final analysis. Some films that were highly popular didn’t make the list largely because although they were well-made, competent films that found an audience, they didn’t quite offer the "something special" the final 10 films brought to the screen.

Following are the Northernstars.ca Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade:

An authentic recreation by director Zacharias Kunuk of an oral tale told over thousands of years, the film demystifies the exotic, otherworldly aboriginal stereotypes by telling a powerful, universal story.

AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Musical Score, Claude Jutra Award; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Cannes – Caméra D’Or; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film, Best First Feature.

Away from Her is made all the more poignant by the impressive cast and Sarah Polley’s sensitive direction. It’s Gordon Pinsent’s best performance in a long and distinguished career and Julie Christie is simply magnificent. A heartbreaking masterpiece.

AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor (Pinsent), Actress (Christie), Supporting Actress (Kristen Thomson), Claude Jutra Award; Oscar nominations – Actress (Christie), Adapted Screenplay; Golden Globes – Actress in a Drama (Christie); Screen Actors Guild – Female Actor in a Leading Role (Christie); New York Film Critics – Actress (Christie), Best First Film (Polley); Los Angeles Film Critics – New Generation Award (Polley); National Board of Review – Actress (Christie); Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
Brimming with humour and bittersweet drama, C.R.A.Z.Y. is the best film about Quebec’s chronically dysfunctional families since Léolo. Director Jean-Marc Vallée makes brilliant use of fantasy passages to mimic the boy’s fantasies and beliefs.

AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Michel Côté), Supporting Actress (Danielle Proulx), Editing, Overall Sound, Sound Editing, Art Direction/Production Design, Costumes, GRA; Prix Jutra – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Marc-André Grondin), Supporting Actor (Côté), Supporting Actress (Proulx), Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Sound, Costumes, Makeup, Hair; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film.

David Cronenberg’s Russian mob movie is set in London, England, and features some powerful performances, specially Viggo Mortensen who was nominated for an Oscar. It’s an intense and masterful crime thriller with a fight-to-the-death sequence in a bathhouse that’s a splendid tour-de-force piece of filmmaking.

AWARDS: Genies – Supporting Actor (Armin Mueller-Stahl), Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Musical Score, Sound, Sound Mixing; Oscar nomination – Actor (Mortensen); TIFF – People’s Choice Award.

Like its predecessor, Le Déclin de l’empire américain, Les Invasions is brilliant entertainment, full of bemused skepticism, and Arcand’s evident love for these people and their vanishing lives.

AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Rémy Girard), Supporting Actor (Stephane Rousseau), Supporting Actress (Marie-Josée Croze); Prix Jutra – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress (Croze); Oscar – Foreign-Language Film; Oscar nomination – Screenplay; César Awards (France) – Film, Director, Screenplay; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Cannes – Screenplay, Actress (Croze); National Board of Review – Foreign-Language Film.

The storyline is bit far-fetched and the scenes on the home front in Alberta are sentimental and somewhat clichéd, but the battlefield action is credible, recreating the muddy hell of northern France with gut-wrenching authenticity. An unusual Canadian war epic, which proved a critical and box office success for Paul Gross.

AWARDS: Genies – Picture, Art Direction/Production Design, Costumes, Sound Editing, Overall Sound, Golden Reel Award.

As Guy Maddin films go, The Saddest Music is relatively easy to follow, and yet, given its convoluted narrative connections, it resists easy synopsis. At times it sags under the weight of its ambitions, but Maddin’s inventiveness outweighs his weaknesses. The lasting impression is of mad ingenuity without a hint of arrogance.

AWARDS: Genies – Editing, Costumes, Original Music.

SPIDER (2002)
Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson give exceptional performances in a cast that is uniformly excellent. Spider is starkly austere and asks the audience to question what is fantasy and what is real as it moves to its shattering conclusion.

AWARDS: Genies – Director; TIFF – Best Canadian Feature Film; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.

It playfully alludes to Jacques Tati and acknowledges influences from Betty Boop to 101 Dalmatians to Windsor McKay, but in reality Les Tripletttes de Belleville is one of the most bracingly original animated films to come along in a long time. It’s comic, touching and a visual knockout.

AWARDS: Genie – Picture; Oscar nomination – Animated Feature; Toronto Film Critics – Best Canadian Film.

WATER (2005)
Water is director Deepa Mehta’s richest, most complex work to date and completes her self-described ‘elements trilogy’ that includes Fire (1997) and Earth (1999). It’s the work of a deeply committed humanist, made with tenderness and a true concern for the plight of all her characters.

AWARDS: Genies – Actress (Seema Biswas), Cinematography, Musicial Score; Oscar nomination – Foreign-Language Film.

There were a number of films that would have made the list had we extended it to the top 12 or 15 films, but we decided to draw the line at 10. As Contributing Editor Wyndham Wise pointed out with his usual hint of sarcasm, "The Times of London ran a list of the 100 top films of the past 10 years on its website. 100? In this digitally-saturated, rollercoaster-thrill-ride universe of today’s movies, can there be 10 worthy of note?" We decided not to name the films that came close to making it into the Top 10, as that would be just like putting them on the list.

As we were preparing this story for posting, Wyndham Wise sent a follow-up note, making the observation that we had… “Two films by David Cronenberg, indisputably Canada’s finest, most ambitious filmmaker, and there would have been a third film on this list, if A History of Violence were a Canadian film, which it isn’t. Like The Fly and Dead Zone, it’s one of his American films. Perhaps surprisingly, a film by Atom Egoyan doesn’t show up on this list, reflecting the fact that he hasn’t made a real impact with his films since The Sweet Hereafter, which was more than 10 years ago. It remains to be seen if Chloe will be his comeback film.”

Contributing Editor and Inside Québec columnist, Maurie Alioff made the observation that "despite diversity of genre, content, and setting, all these Canadian films – including the ones with a big canvas – are at least partly driven by the drama around relationships between father and son in one film, or husband and wife in another, or a group of friends, or a criminal and potential victim, and so on. Each has at its core an intimate relationship." Glen Russell, our West Coast Contributing Editor found a unifying force at work in films like Water. "This is one of the reasons I loved this film, it was a chance to learn more about the history of Indo-Canadians, an act of unification."

We set out to find a handful of films based not just on their awards or box office performance but whether or not they were memorable. All great films have survived because decades after they were made people still remember them. We believe that will be the case for the 10 films we have chosen.

Northernstars.ca congratulates everyone involved in the creation and distribution of these Top 10 Canadian Films of the Decade.

Poster images are copyright by their respective distributors.

Manufactured Landscapes – Review

Poster for Manufactured Landscapes courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Manufactured Landscapes – Review
by Paul Townend

(September 29, 2006 – Toronto, ON) Jennifer Baichwal’s latest award-winning feature-length documentary is on the life and work of Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian photographer who specializes in large-scale photographs of "manufactured landscapes" – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams. He travels throughout China to such sites as the controversial Three Gorges Dam, the largest in the world, and a Shanghai electronic-parts factory that is literally a kilometre in length. Manufactured Landscapes’s visual beauty is greatly enhanced by the cinematography of Peter Mettler (Gambling, Gods and LSD), who accompanied Baichwal and Burtynsky on their search for areas of large industrial waste and serves as a creative consultant on the film. Mettler also provided some of the synthetic score that is used extensively throughout the film.

Production still courtesy of Mongrel Media.
Production still courtesy of Mongrel Media.

In many ways, Burtynsky is a classicist, looking for beauty even in the worst toxic wastes. His photographs are stunning works of landscapes or abstract art, and he can make a large pile of computer parts resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. In one revealing scene, Baichwal and her crew are filming while Burtynsky is negotiating with a site manager who is reluctant to let him photograph the piles of coal slag. The Canadian translator is telling the manager – who wants the cameras turned off – that he will make it look beautiful. Metter stops filming, and the rest of the scene is shown in a series of still photographs and voice over. Burtynsky has brought along a book of his work, and convinces the manager to let him take a look. The resulting beautiful photograph is shown on screen.

Manufactured Landscapes opens with an extraordinary, uninterrupted eight-and-a-half minute dolly shot inside the huge factory. The voice over by Burtynsky is about Nature (with a capital N) and industrial landscapes, and this immediately presents the film with its fatal flaw. There is nothing in Burtynsky’s generalities that is not obvious, yet said in such a way that suggests he thinks he is imparting received wisdom of the ages. The first time we see him at work, he is high on forklift overlooking the factory from the outside, setting up his camera and fussing

Production still courtesy of Mongrel Media.
Production still courtesy of Mongrel Media.
about the light. As he is doing this, Mettler’s camera is prowling through the orderly crowd, listening in as section leaders berate their work units (all carefully numbered) for poor performance and sloppy work. Mettler’s camera takes in the whole scene and the details.

Ironically, and probably not intentionally, this scene dramatizes the limitations of photography in capturing the truth of the moment. Photography, like painting, is a two-dimensional art form that doesn’t benefit well from the cinematic treatment. Film is photography plus time and motion. There is a close up of a young girl working with minute parts, smaller than her finger nails, as she repeatedly puts them together and squirts water over them, all in the matter of a spilt second, which is simply breathtaking.

Much of the film is composed of close ups of his photographs and Burtynksy explaining himself on or off camera. Mixed in with Metter’s work, there is some footage of him on earlier trips to China and Bengladesh. In the filthy shipwreaking yards of Chittagong we get some pseudo-profound nonsense about ships and globalization, and how Western waste comes to be dumped in this dreadful, toxic place. It’s the sort of white man’s burden rubish you can get from certain leftish Canadians who travel the world to point out the faults of their own culture. Burtynsky seems blissfully unaware that ships and globalization go back as least as far as the Phoenicians, some 3,000 years ago.

It would seem the longer mankind lives on this earth, the more and nastier waste he is going to dump on others. Burtynsky travels the globe to show us how truly beautiful this can be made to appear. Manufactured Landscapes won the top Canadian award at this year’s TIFF and the top documentary award at the Atlantic Film Festival.

Also see: Jennifer Baichwal’s filmography.