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VIFF: When Life Was Good – review

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Yesterday I mentioned I was going to attend When Life Was Good, a no budget Canadian feature film that has been getting a lot of buzz on the festival circuit this year. I’m proud to say that the screening more then lived up to expectations and the hype is justified. Although lacking big budget production values When Life Was Good manages to hook you in with an excellent story, laughter from natural dialog, and impressive performances from the two lead characters played by Kristine Cofsky & Casey Manderson.

That is not to say this movie is without its flaws. The supporting cast has both a mix of hilarious and well acted characters, as well as dismal group of people who seemed to be pulled off the street. Also the guided improv style of filmmaking has its pros and cons. On the plus side some of the funniest moments would have not developed if it were not for this direction. However at the same time it resulted in some sketchy editing techniques that reminded me a lot of a bad MTV special. Scenes were pieced together from multiple takes and then shuffled together like a deck of cards making for an arty, all be it annoying, flow.

For what its worth I consider When Life Was Good an excellent example of where the Canadian film industry is going. Its nice to see what someone can do when they ignore the rules of traditional filmmaking and delve into a project without a budget, big name actors, or high end equipment. There is still one more screening of When Life Was Good at VIFF this year, make sure to go get your tickets soon.

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VIFF: When Life Was Good

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Tonight I am attending When Life Was Good at VIFF. I mentioned this movie a few times so far, even as recently as yesterday. Needless to say I am quite excited about it. My reasoning has a lot to do with the fact it appears as if someone managed to pull off a great Canadian film (not an easy thing to do) with no budget, no lights, no high end camera, no actors (even harder to do). I am in the process of doing the same thing with my passion project Play With Fire, and its fantastic seeing a film like this get into festivals such as TIFF and VIFF. If you’re in the Vancouver area I suggest you go on over to the VIFF website and get yourself tickets to When Life Was Good. If not for tonight’s showing at the Ridge Theater, then at least for the second screening later in the week.

Make sure to check out the Super U exclusive When Life Was Good VIFF video blog!

Check out the tailer for When Life Was Good 

VIFF: Canadian must watch list

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Previously I gave my international choices for films to see at the Vancouver International Film Festival in VIFF: the must watch list. As good as those films could end up being I’d be hard pressed to ignore the great home grown Canadian talent at this years festival. Thus I am proud to give you version 2.0 of the VIFF must watch list, Canadian films edition.

Control ALT Delete – It’s 1999 and loveable computer geek Lewis Henderson is dumped by his longtime girlfriend Sarah. So he does what any young urban slacker would: work less and beat off more to internet porn. But with the added pressures of his buggy Y2K software and repeated romantic rejection, Lewis discovers that the website images no longer turn him on… and thus begins his strangely satisfying sexual relationship with the machine itself.

But all honeymoons must end and Lewis’ eye starts to wander from his dependable home desktop. His desire for newer, sexier models grows until he finds himself copulating with co-workers’ CPUs. When his boss, Angela, vows to identify the “computer rapist”, Lewis tries to throw off suspicion by dating the company’s mousey receptionist, Jane. But there’s more to Jane than meets the eye — with the new millennium fast approaching and a massive motherboard calling, it seems he has to choose between his freaky fetish and the challenge of real love. Or does he?

Crime – Tom Scholte’s gripping and powerful directorial debut is the story of four people trying to make some sense of their lives. Rick (Evan Frayne) is a university hockey player and dorm advisor. He’s doing his best to be a good guy, but he has some pretty serious blind spots. He befriends Crystal (Andrea Whitburn), an emotionally fragile young art student who is coping with the suicide of her older brother. Not far away, Tula (Frida Betrani) works at a deli to support her boyfriend, while she struggles to keep sober. The boyfriend, Brent (Tom Scholte) spends his days holed up in their apartment, smoking pot and playing his electric guitar. The two stories eventually intersect, setting off a chain of events that affects everyone in unexpected ways.

Compliant with the Dogme 95 manifesto and shot locally with a hand-held camera, Crime is an intimate look at flawed people trying to do what they believe is the right thing. More often than not, their actions result in further damage to themselves and to their loved ones. This is a heartbreakingly honest film about failed attempts at connection and healing, but there is also a sense of tenderness and hope at the heart of the film: a yearning for something better. Crime is gritty and intense, and hopefully the first of many in Scholte’s directorial career.

When Life Was Good – A sly comedic drama about quasi-bohemians struggling (emotionally, romantically and professionally) to find their way in the world, When Life Was Good is driven by a clear-eyed affection for its characters that is rare for any filmmaker, never mind one as young as Terry Miles. The film has a hazy, slightly stoned look, and is edited elliptically, as if the director, though obviously charmed by his principals’ numerous foibles, is aware that his characters talk a lot of crap, and thought eavesdropping a more appropriate, kinder introduction. It feels like a Cassavetes movie minus the rancour.

The film centres on Brooklyn (Kristine Cofsky), a would-be actress who has returned from studying abroad to celebrate her boyfriend Ben’s birthday; her long-time friend Faith (Keri Horton), an aspiring dancer who has put her career on hold to save her relationship; and budding screenwriter Casey (Casey Manderson), Faith’s boyfriend. Right from the start there are signs that something is amiss. Casey and Faith are goofy in love. Theirs is the kind of claustrophobic, exclusive relationship that is usually doomed when the outside world impinges. But it is Brooklyn who is the most divided and confused of the group. She slips into Ben’s apartment in an attempt to surprise him but, for reasons unknown even to her, becomes unhappy with what she sees and quickly slinks out, covering her tracks. She moves in with Faith and Casey, just as Faith’s mother, a truly determined stage mom, re-enters the picture.

As the characters struggle with conflicting emotions, unexpected intimacy and the demands of the real world, what emerges feels like an updated J.D. Salinger text. Miles adores his characters because of their naïveté, their confusion and their refusal to put on a front merely to make their way in the world. And by the end, we feel the same way about them. Though the film is constantly, surprisingly funny, there is a forlorn, elegiac feel to the proceedings. When Life Was Good is a paean to inevitably lost innocence – and signals the arrival of a distinctive new voice in Canadian cinema.

For the sake of full disclosure Super U is a sponsoring When Life Was Good at the Vancouver International Film Festival

VIFF: The must watch list

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Today at the Super U office we received our Vancouver International Film Festival sponsor package containing tickets, passed, and a little swag as well. The reason we received such a sweet package is because we are sponsoring the When Life Was Good screenings on October 2nd & 7th at the festival. When Life Was Good is a Canadian film that is generating a ton of buzz lately, so make sure to follow its VIFF experience through the exclusive vlog on Super U.

Obviously I consider When Life Was Good a must watch. It is extremely important to support Canadian films at every opporutiny and there is not a better candidate at this years festival than When Life Was Good. However VIFF is not just Canadian films, thus here are my top four foreign picks at VIFF:

JCVD (France): Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself in this crime comedy that opens with the aging action star on the low end of his career, fighting a drug habit, his daughter’s custody case and now a major P.R. problem — for he’s soon to find himself in the middle of a bank heist, with the world looking on and the Muscles From Brussels as the number one suspect

Let The Right One In (Sweden): Twelve-year-old Oskar lives with his mom in a particularly bleak section of Stockholm. Geeky, awkward and just plain weird, Oskar is one of those kids that bullies seem to sniff out. One night, while practicing stabbing a tree (in lieu of his tormentors), Oskar meets the new girl who just moved in next door. Eli, preternaturally pale and self-possessed, might smell a little odd, but like Oskar she’s dying of loneliness–as well as the need for human blood.

RocknRolla (Britain): When a Russian mobster sets up a real estate scam that generates millions of pounds, various members of London’s criminal underworld pursue their share of the fortune. Various shady characters, including Mr One-Two, Stella the accountant, and Johnny Quid, a druggie rock-star, try to claim their slice…

Flame and Citron (Denmark): Copenhagen, 1944. Denmark is occupied by Nazi Germany. Flame and Citron are two legendary resistance fighters charged with liquidating Danish informers. By order of their commander, they now consent to kill Germans as well. But when Flame is asked to execute his girlfriend Ketty, an enigmatic Stockholm courier, he questions his orders wondering who Ketty really is. In the struggle for freedom all zones appear grey and it becomes increasingly unclear who is friend and who is foe. Based on true events.

The one I want to see no matter what is JCVD, although that should be obvious from my pervious blog posts. After that I’d say Flame and Citron and then Let The Right One In are #2 and #3 respectively. RocknRolla will have a wide release so I feel less of a need to see it now, but I still would like to catch it in a festival atmosphere.

I’d be interested to see your must watch lists, so please comment and let me know what you’re attending. Make sure to get your tickets ASAP – they are selling out fast!