The Edmonton International Film Festival is a staple of the fall film season, featuring an eclectic mix of innovative and challenging films from across the world. From Sept. 28 - Oct. 6, this year’s collection of 55 feature-length films and 110 short films combined into feature-length packages will be screened downtown at Empire Theatres in Edmonton City Centre. To help you decide which ones are worthy of your time, The Gateway sifts through this year’s batch of films in search of the duds and the delights.
A Band of Rogues
Directed by T Jara Morgan
Starring Leonardo Santaiti and Luke Williams
Friday, Sept. 28 at 9 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
A Band of Rogues chronicles an American band’s journey through Argentina while facing drug charges. Throughout their adventures, the folk trio encounters struggles with addiction, friendship and heartache, all while providing insight into the artistic process.
While the plot is unconventional, the film’s action barely raises above a low-hum of excitement. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the quiet nature of the film illustrates the “real” life of a travelling band — not every private moment embodies the typical guise of “Sex, Drugs and Rock n’ Roll.”
The true highlight of the film is the art direction surrounding the plot. Divided into 11 chapters, each is paralleled with a track performed by the band onscreen. These charming, catchy folk tracks are the perfect addition to the overall atmosphere of the movie, and seem to coordinate seamlessly with the beautiful Argentinean landscape. The lush mountainside screened under dreamy filters is a piece of art in itself, providing delicious eye-candy in between dialogue.
Although A Band of Rogues is not your typical representation of a young band, it leaves a lasting impression on its audience and invites a quiet interpretation about the masterful yet simple art of creating music.
— Kate Black
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
Directed by Jesse Vile
Starring Jason Becker, Ehren Becker and Gary Becker
Saturday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet presents the life of virtuoso guitarist Jason Becker and his struggle with ALS — a degenerative disease that affects motor cells in the brain. Becker reached the peak of his career at age 20 when in 1989 he replaced Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band Van Halen. He recorded the album A Little Ain’t Enough as the lead guitarist, but lost the control of his hands, body and ability to speak shortly after, leaving him incapable of playing again.
While this documentary is filled with good intentions, it ultimately needs more Becker. The first half focuses on his early years, and the intimate look at Becker’s rise to stardom is well done — complete with family pictures, videos and tales from friends and close relatives. The second half focuses on Becker’s experience with ALS, and since much of his journey is told by his relatives, the film misses a great opportunity to let Becker comment on his own story. While he wouldn’t be able to actually speak, it would’ve been much more interesting if they’d found a way to help Becker implement his own perspective.
— Erick Ochoa
Directed by Gabriele Salvatores
Starring Fabio De Luigi, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valerie Bilello and Margherita Buy
Friday, Sept. 28 at 5 p.m. and Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 5:30 p.m.
Sitting in his apartment in Milan, alone and sad in the wake of a breakup, Ezio (Fabio De Luigi) begins to write a film about the story of a teenage couple and their respective families. As he continues, the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur — his characters offer advice and criticism and Ezio himself becomes a character in the film.
While the premise of Happy Family isn’t particularly original, the sheer visual beauty of this film sets it apart. Many of the scenes take place in beautifully furnished rooms of one dominant colour and the characters are always dressed either to contrast or to complement their backdrop. The best example of this is when they sit down to dinner in a red room, wearing varying shades of red with white accents.
Despite its slightly unusual narrative structure, Happy Family isn’t a particularly deep film. Instead, it’s a charming, cheerful and esthetically lovely movie about the ways in which the stories we tell ourselves can shape our lives
— Charlotte Forss
Directed by Gil Kofman
Starring Feng Yuanzheng and
Monday, Oct. 1 at 9:30 p.m.
A thriller for the YouTube generation, Case Sensitive begins innocently enough, approaching the rise of internet fame with childish glee. The film concerns the exploits of Miss Tulips (An Yixuan), who vlogs her day away in front of a webcam while it captures her life unfolding in the background. But that life is soon revealed to be a false front entirely staged by iCapture, a company that hires kids and gives them a new scripted online persona. Things take a disastrous turn when the company decides to stage a kidnapping and suddenly finds an unsuspecting viewer attempting to save the day.
Essentially a cry wolf story, the film approaches the fragility of putting up a false front in the pursuit of fandom. Having acted so well, Miss Tulips now finds it difficult to convince her subscribers to care for her when she needs it most. Inherent in this is the film’s biting critique of online consumerism, reducing the internet generation from critical thinkers to simply another form of currency.
While its voyeuristic approach adds much to the suspense, the lifeless near-misses and one-sided villains cause the film to fall flat as a thriller. But it’s still worth seeing for its statement on how the deceptive veil of the internet can detach us from others rather than bring us closer together.
— Ryan Stephens
Directed by Tom Gustafson
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Martha Higareda and Lila Downs
Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Mariachi Gringo is a film that simultaneously suffers and shines — the movie nearly dies from the banality of its storyline, only to be saved by its electrifying soundtrack.
The movie has about as much depth as a shampoo commercial, but if certain scenes featuring gratuitous product placement are any indication, a shampoo commercial vibe might have been the aim of the filmmaker. Mariachi Gringo tells the story of Ed (Shawn Ashmore), a 30-year-old man fed up with his empty life in Kansas, who flees to Guadalajara to become a mariachi singer. After a run-in with corrupt local police officers, Ed meets local restaurateur Lilia (Martha Higareda), who helps Ed on a journey of self-discovery.
Aside from the abysmally trite storyline, one of the biggest disappointments of Mariachi Gringo is the lack of development with Lilia’s subplot. Struggling with her family life and sexuality, Lilia’s story feels more like an afterthought added to flesh out the movie. The film’s only saving grace is the addition of emotive and beautifully-performed musical numbers.
Fans of mariachi music may find something to enjoy in Mariachi Gringo, but otherwise, it’s better to pass on this one.
— Justin Andrade
Directed by Jesse James Miller
Starring Ryan Grantham, Jennifer Copping, Chad Willet, Derek Hamilton
Friday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m.
When Redwood Hanson’s (Ryan Grantham) mother left, he was too young to remember much other than hearing about professional golfer Jack Nicklaus on the radio. Now, more than anything, the imaginative 11-year-old wants to beat Nicklaus at the 1975 Masters, which he believes will reunite his parents. Things get complicated after Redwood is sent to live with his mother (Jennifer Copping) in California when his father (Chad Willet) is arrested.
To be clear, Redwood only plays golf against Jack Nicklaus in his imagination. As the film shifts into these sequences, colours become richer and more saturated, the lighting is soft and dreamy and you know Redwood has found his perfect escape. Even as his chaotic life could be breaking his spirit, the strong-willed boy simply translates hardships into flubbed shots in the game against Nicklaus.
Becoming Redwood is a sweet film at heart, and you can’t help but root for Redwood as he attempts to beat the golf legend, hoping it will “change everything” the way he wants. Charming, inspiring and beautifully filmed in Langley, British Columbia, Becoming Redwood is a coming-of-age story that will tug at your heartstrings.
— Peggy Jankovic
Directed by Stefan Wrenshall
Starring Tygh Runyan, Dylan Taylor and Zahf Paroo
Friday, Oct. 5 at 9 p.m.
Patrick (Tygh Runyan) is a screenwriter from Vancouver who has yet to write a successful story, facing rejection again and again. Separated from his girlfriend and facing eviction from his apartment, he submits a screenplay to Steven Spielberg on a whim. The famous director loves it, but there’s one problem — Patrick accidently shoots fellow screenwriter Gabe (Lawrence Haegert), killing him and causing more problems than he knows how to solve.
Indie Jonesing is a crazy, mixed up story full of improbable situations, often lacking any explanation or meaning. This lacklustre attitude is paralleled in Patrick’s character, which could be attributed to his drug habit — even the title of his film screenplay is called Dope. Far from impressive, Indie Jonesing is as boring as it is idiotic.
— Evan Mudryk
Waiting for Summer
Directed by Senthil Vinu
Starring Caleb Verzyden and Virginia Leigh
Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Waiting for Summer is a story about the search for personal identity and understanding of one’s past. Though the film has some dark themes, they reveal the emotional power love can have during difficult times.
The movie begins with two separate stories. The first revolves around filmmaker Zach (Caleb Verzyden) whose true dream is to backpack across India. We’re then introduced to marriage counselor Chantal (Virginia Leigh) who is trying to find her musician father. While she searches for him, the filmmaker is having troubles of his own with his alcoholic mother.
Though at times a sad portrayal of broken family life, the film transforms into a cute romance about halfway through. A love story between the marriage counselor and the filmmaker unfolds amongst all the madness and lightens the mood of the film. The acting is a little rough around the edges, but the strength of the camera work and the script makes up for it. In a straightforward and concise way, Waiting for Summer allows the audience to have a short and intriguing peek into the lives of two strangers as they fall in love.
— Katherine Speur
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