Highlights from the Calgary International Film Festival
Some of the best flicks we saw at Calgary Film
For almost two weeks, film fans everywhere united at Eau Claire Market and the Globe to take part in the Calgary International Film Festival. It was almost as if the holiday season came early, with Calgary’s movie theatre maniacs being treated to countless exceptional films. Ranging from documentaries about rats and a feature length surrealist, satire on art installations. With so many movies to choose from, we obviously didn’t get around to seeing all 200, but here is a short selection of some of the flicks you should definitely check out if you get the chance.
Review by Colin Macgillivray
At first glance, sophomore director Jamie M. Dagg’s neo-noir, anti-western Sweet Virginia bares some striking resemblances to a classic Coen brothers film. The plot itself almost conducts itself like a reverse Fargo, with a disenfranchised wife hiring a hitman to take out her own husband. Christopher Abbott’s character, the aforementioned ruthless rage-filled hitman, definitely shares some qualities with No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. Hell, the screenplay was even written by Benjamin and Paul China, two brothers. Everything about Sweet Virginia screams “cheap Coen brothers ripoff.” Luckily, it’s not.
Set in a small town somewhere in Alaska, the film follows Sam (played by Jon Bernthal), an ex rodeo champion and manager of a dingy motel that seems to attract some suspect characters. One of those sorry individuals is Elwood, played exceptionally by the criminally underrated Christopher Abbott, who commits a triple murder in the first scene of the film. A surprisingly atmospheric and haunting vibe follows from there, as Sam and Elwood’s lives are slowly drawn together, culminating in an incredibly tense third act.
Sweet Virginia is exactly what you want an independent film to be. Stellar acting from all involved, some beautiful cinematography, and a premise that unfolds in a very unique way, albeit it being not the most original story. There are times where the film dives into cliché ridden territory, such as when it introduces that Sam had a daughter who died. The film then shoehorns in a character who acts as Sam’s “daughter”, something that felt forced and completely unnecessary. Nonetheless, Sweet Virginia is a haunting, witty, and enjoyable experience throughout.
My Friend Dahmer
Review by Alec Warkentin
There’s generally an urgency among filmmakers to pepper movies featuring serial killing with unfortunate and largely unnecessary tropes (ghastly and gruesome murders, a bloodthirsty psychopath running amok), but My Friend Dahmer gratefully forgoes the telltale Hollywood sheen, opting instead to focus on something truly fearful: an adolescence of dysfunction and loneliness.
Keeping true to its source material (a graphic novel penned first in 2002 by Dahmer-classmate John “Derf” Backderf), the film features the young murderer-to-be (played by Ross Lynch) in a stark light of sincerity. His family life is in utter disarray, he doesn’t fit in at his small-town Ohio school, and his affinity for picking up and dissolving roadkill in the shed in his backyard doesn’t quite win him any points with the locals.
Out of a sense of quasi-desperation, he begins “spazzing out” in classes and public settings, much to the enjoyment of the rest of the kids in his age-group. This results in him sinking even further into a toxic co-dependency between humiliation and acceptance. He begins drinking heavily to cope with his personal life crumbling with his homicidal urges towards the active Dr. York (played by a bearded Vincent Kartheiser) — whom Dahmer watches pass from behind bushes on his near-daily runs.
One of the more terrifying things about both the film and the novel is how easy it is to sympathize with the young man who would eventually go on to kill 17 people, and Meyers masterfully executes a sense of kinship with Dahmer through the interpersonal relationships he forms and his ever-prominent restraint. When the mostly-apathetic Dahmer finally breaks down falling to the floor and crying out after his mother and younger brother split, the viewers find themselves laying on the ground experiencing abandon, as well.
While the ending may be the lynchpin to some viewers, it is a fitting and necessary reminder that even serial killers once began without blood on their hands.
Call Me by Your Name
Review by Colin Macgillivray
Occasionally a film will come along that will be remembered for the breakout performances of its main players. A movie that allows its actors to, well, actually act. With no restrictions and a flawlessly written script by James Ivory, Call Me by Your Name is a beautiful film that will be entirely remembered for the beauty of the performances.
The coming-of-age drama follows a 17 year-old Italian-American boy named Elio and the passionate relationship that develops between him and Oliver, an academic who is interning at Elio’s parents gorgeous summer villa in Italy. The two bond over the beautiful landscape, their jewish heritage, and their sexuality. They develop an incredible bond over the films two-hour run time. Both Armie Hammer, who plays the charismatic and carefree Oliver, and newcomer Timothée Chalamet, who plays the introverted Elio, deserve incredible praise for their on-screen chemistry, their believability, and their performances as a whole. Chalamet in particular, is an incredible talent, so don’t be surprised if his name is all over this years award season.
Although Hammer and Chalamet do dominate most of the screen-time, the rest of the supporting cast shines as well. Michael Stuhlbarg’s portrayal of Elio’s father is a perfect mix of brilliant comedic timing and moral adjudicator, while Esther Garrel, another fairly unknown actress, proves to be an incredible talent as Marzia, Elio’s on-again, off-again girlfriend.
There was a considerable amount of hype surrounding Call Me by Your Name since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January, and sometimes that is a death sentence for a lot of films. They usually don’t live up to the initial high praise. Thankfully, it delivers with career defining performances from the two leads, some beautiful visuals, and an incredible score by Sufjan Stevens.