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Previewing the 2018 Canadian Film Fest

March 19, 2018

By John Corrado

The 12th edition of the Canadian Film Fest starts tomorrow night at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto, showcasing a selection of ten features and twenty shorts, all from homegrown filmmakers.

I had the chance to preview six of the features, including opening and closing night films Becoming Burlesque and The Go-Getters, and there is once again some good stuff this year.  The full lineup, including tickets and showtimes, can be found right here.

Becoming Burlesque: Fatima (Shiva Negar) is a young Muslim woman in Toronto, who is struggling to break free from some of the restrictions of her faith.  Her family expects her to dress modestly and cover her hair when going out, so when Fatima finds a surprising sense of purpose at a burlesque club, first just cleaning up the stage and then as a performer, she has to keep this part of herself a secret, knowing that her new career choice won’t sit well with her aging father (Hrant Alianak) and very religious uncle (Sam Kalilieh).  But when her brother Mahmood (Khalid Klein) finds out and gets involved, her double life is threatened to be exposed.

Although dealing with some more serious themes about how different cultures and religions restrict women from expressing their sexuality – the film has even more cultural relevance now with women in Iran protesting compulsory hijab laws by publicly ripping their veils off in the streets, despite facing jail time for doing so – the tone of Becoming Burlesque is mostly kept light and fun.  Jackie English does a decent job of directing the film, and because some of the supporting actors are actually professional dancers, there are some well choreographed numbers here.  This is ultimately a somewhat slight but crowd pleasing look at the struggle between balancing your faith with being yourself.

Becoming Burlesque plays on Tuesday, March 20th at 7:00 PM.

A Swingers Weekend: Lisa (Erin Karpluk) and Dan (Randal Edwards) are a seemingly happily married couple, who decide to take a swingers weekend at a house by the lake with Teejay (Michael Xavier) and Skai (Erin Agostino), a young and free-spirited couple who are more than willing to take part.  But when Dan’s co-worker Geoffrey (Jonas Chernick) shows up with his increasingly distant wife Fiona (Mia Kirshner), the fun flings that they had planned for the weekend start to go sideways, and they come to discover that Teejay and Skai might have more self-serving motives.  Directed by Jon E. Cohen, A Swingers Weekend is a pretty typical “friends at a cottage” comedy, albeit with a millennial twist.  The ensemble cast is fine, including another solid turn from Jonas Chernick as a likeable nebbish, but this is ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before.

A Swingers Weekend plays on Wednesday, March 21st at 7:00 PM.

Ordinary Days: Told in three distinct segments, each one from a different director, Ordinary Days charts the events following the disappearance of Cara Cook (Jacqueline Byers), a young woman who goes missing and was last seen on her university campus.  The first act is directed by Jordan Canning and focuses on Cara’s parents (Torri Higginson and Richard Clarkin) as they start to panic when their daughter doesn’t come home for dinner, Kris Booth’s second act follows the young detective Jonathan Brightbill (Michael Xavier) who is assigned to investigate the case, and Renuka Jeyapalan’s third act pulls back the curtain to focus on Cara and reveal what really happened during her disappearance.  It’s a cleverly handled narrative device, building a sense of intrigue as the stories start to overlap, showing the same little moments from a different perspective.  The performances are solid, and the three filmmakers are able to bring their own styles to the different segments in a way that still allows their work to compliment each other.  Parts of it are a little melodramatic, but the film keeps getting better as it goes along, and the payoff of the tense last act is worth it.

Ordinary Days plays on Wednesday, March 21st at 9:30 PM.

The Drawer Boy: Taking place in the 1970s, The Drawer Boy unfolds at the Huron County farm shared by old friends Morgan (Richard Clarkin) and Angus (Stuart Hughes), who have their lives changed and old tensions brought back to the surface when a young playwright named Miles (Jakob Ehman) arrives from Toronto, and asks to stay with them in order to write a play about farming.  Angus suffered a brain injury while serving in World War II, and relies on Morgan’s stories to help jog his memory, but Miles being there and prying into their lives threatens his comfortable narrative.  Based on a 1999 play by Michael Healey, this film adaption of The Drawer Boy retains an intimate, chamber piece feel, and is carried by a trio of excellent and nicely textured performances by Richard Clarkin, Stuart Hughes and Jakob Ehman.  The story unfolds with some elements of mystery, as the film comes to be a moving look at the fragility of memory, and how the stories we tell can take on a truth of their own and become what we remember.

The Drawer Boy plays on Thursday, March 22nd at 7:00 PM.

The Cannon: Colton “The Cannon” Clemens (Bob Frazer) is an aging porn star who discovers that he has ALS, and desperately wants to prove himself as a real thespian, to leave something behind that his teen daughter Isabel (Megan Charpetier) can be proud of.  With Isabel set to move out of the country with his ex-wife, Colton enlists her help to try and convince legendary casting director (Fiona Hogan) to give him the lead role in a film.  Directed by Marshall Axani, The Cannon took me somewhat by surprise, in a really good way.  I was expecting more of a raunchy comedy about a porn star, when in reality this is a largely dramatic story about someone who knows their time is limited, and is desperately trying to craft a legacy, while also attempting to escape the seedier aspects of the adult film industry.  There is a solid emotional core to the film that makes it work, and Bob Frazer and Megan Charpetier both deliver strong performances as this father-daughter tag team.

The Cannon plays on Friday, March 23rd at 7:00 PM.

The Go-Getters: The latest from director Jeremy LaLonde, The Go-Getters follows Owen (Aaron Abrams) and Lacie (Tommie-Amber Pirie), the former a drunkard living in the boiler room of his brother’s (Kristian Bruun) bar, and the latter a drug-addicted hooker whom he first encounters passed out on the bathroom floor.  Despite butting heads, Owen and Lacie are spurred on by their shared hatred of the city, and hatch a plan to go live at her grandma’s rundown home in Brockville, which they plan to fix up.  But they don’t have any money between them, so they start coming up with a variety of hair-brained schemes in order to get make some quick cash, desperately trying to track down the $98 that they need for bus tickets.

This is a wild, ribald, and often unpredictable mismatched buddy comedy, that I found quite entertaining to watch unfold.  The simplistic plot allows for plenty of hijinks throughout the brisk 80 minute running time, as the film plays with a mix of quirky character humour and cringe comedy, including a gross but shockingly hilarious scene involving a DIY glory hole.  It’s carried by a pair of go-for-broke performances from Aaron Abrams and Tommie-Amber Pirie, who throw themselves into the premise and completely run with it.  Also watch out for brief cameos from other Canadian indie stars, including Jonas Chernick and Ennis Esmer.

The Go-Getters plays on Saturday, March 24th at 8:00 PM.

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