Hot Docs Preview: Phenomenal Organs, Fearless Teen Activists Propel Fab Festival

Pipe Dreams

Five young organists from around the world compete for a $100,000 prize at Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica at Canada’s International Organ Competition. Director Stacey Tenenbaum (Shiners) focuses on the personalities, including an African-American youth with a winner’s swagger, a Chinese woman who studies Tai Chi with her coach, a father and a young German teen prodigy. Some more history of this grandly complex instrument or explanation of the judging would have been welcome, but this works well enough as an entertainingly edited competition film. Screening: Tue, Apr 30, 9 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3; Fri, May 3, 10 am, Isabel Bader Theatre. – Liam Lacey


The Infiltrators

A heroic story to shame xenophobes, The Infiltrators portrays how, in 2012, a group of undocumented teenaged immigrants hatched a plan to get their members deliberately imprisoned in Florida’s for-profit Broward Transitional Centre. They used their people on the inside to help other detainees, some of whom had spent years without any legal help or charges against them. Mixing extensive re-enactments, news footage, phone recordings and live interviews with the participants, The Infiltrators tells a great story that should be better known. How this hasn’t been snapped up as a Hollywood script is a mystery. Screening Sun, May 5, 10:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. – LL

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Hot Docs Preview: Mystify Michael Hutchence a Powerful Glimpse at the Price of Fame


Mystify: Michael Hutchence

There is something profoundly melancholic about Mystify: Michael Hutchence and not just because the INXS frontman died at age 37. He seemed like such a nice guy, the antithesis of the peripatetic rock star. Filmmaker Richard Lowenstein — who knew Hutchence through directing INXS videos — never takes his subject off the screen, swapping typical sit-downs with friends and family for voice-overs while archival, home movie, and concert footage rolls. Viewers are pulled straight into Hutchence’s charismatic orbit, and his eventual decline feels raw. The recollections of ex-girlfriends Michele Bennett, Kylie Minogue and Helena Christensen drive the film’s key sections, notably Christensen’s revelation that Hutchence suffered a traumatic (and at the time, unreported) brain injury during an altercation with a cab driver in Copenhagen in summer 92. Though initially taken to hospital, the singer was released without proper treatment, suffering a complete loss of olfactory senses while morphing into an uncharacteristically hostile version of himself. His doomed romance with Paula Yates, who died of a heroin overdose three years after Hutchence’s death, comes off more sad than scandalous. Screening: Mon, Apr 29, 9:15 pm, Hart House Theatre; Wed, May 1 10:00 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; Sun, May 5, 1:15 pm TIFF Bell Lightbox 1. – Kim Hughes

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Hot Docs: What We've Seen (and What You Should See) At the Biggest Event in Documentaries

By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, Thom Ernst, Karen Gordon and Bonnie Laufer

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What to watch (and what to skip) In theatres this week

What to Watch (And What to Skip) In Theatres This Week

 If you’re convinced space movies are all about  boys and their toys, you really need to see the radical, uncanny  High Life (Rating: A), from French director Claire Denis

The film  stars Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche as the passengers of a space prison ship filled with human guinea pigs, on the edge of a black hole and, says reviewer Liam Lacey, on the boundary of body and spirit.

Robert Pattinson gets suited up in Claire Denis’ “radical and uncanny” space movie High Life.

Robert Pattinson gets suited up in Claire Denis’ “radical and uncanny” space movie High Life.

Jim Slotek looks at the inspirational reality-based Canadian film, The Grizzlies (B), about a Saskatchewan teacher, (Ben Schnetzer) who used lacrosse to give purpose to desperate Nunavut teens.  Co-written by Graham Yost (Speed, Justified) the film features Tantoo Cardinal and Will Sasso and “a landscape that is both crushing and awe-inspiring.” Jim also talks to Nunavut-born producer Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and director Miranda de Pencier, about flipping the “white savior” teacher trope.”

The music film, Teen Spirit( C-plus), the directorial debut of Max Minghella,  stars Elle Fanning as a Polish immigrant farm-girl on the Isle of Wight (not exactly type-casting) who enters an English singing competition TV show.  Jim Slotek found the film more a dream-like parable about stardom than anything coherent.

For baby-sitting the kids this Easter weekend, there’s Disney’s documentary feature,  Penguins  (C plus), which reviewer Thom Ernst reports mixes genuinely astounding footage with needless cutesy embellishments, including a penguin named Steve, whose internal monologue is voiced by Ed Helms.

The Curse of La Llorona  (D), says Liam Lacey, is a frighteningly dull horror flick based on a Mexican legend of a ghostly bogie-woman who snatches children. The film stars Linda Cardellini as a widowed social worker and Better Call Sauls Raymond Cruz as a slightly amusing “unorthodox” exorcist.

Have a great weekend.

What to Watch (and What to Skip) in Theatres This Weekend

April is the cruelest movie month, pure Darwinian box-office carnage as a dozen new films tumbling into the commercial dumping bin between the Oscars and summer blockbusters.

We’ll guide you through some of the gems, starting with a couple of documentaries.  Far: The Story of a Journey Around the World  (Rating: A) is a chronicle of a German couple in their thirties who hitchhike around the planet, have a baby on route and discover that most of the earth is a kind and generous place. 

Our other top pick is Amazing Grace (Rating: A), a soul-shaking Aretha Franklin gospel concert (Hallelujah, Cinners!) set in a Los Angeles church in 1972, recovered from unfinished footage by the late Sidney Pollack (Tootsie).

Aretha Franklin in the must-see Amazing Grace

Aretha Franklin in the must-see Amazing Grace

For a more serene spiritual experience, check out the Easter film, Mary Magdalene (B minus) with Rooney Mara as the girl who got religion, with co-stars Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, in a film reviewer Kim Hughes says is well-acted and beautifully shot. A more contemporary conversion story in The Best of Enemies (C) with Sam Rockwell as a Klu Klux Klan member who, through the friendship of a civil rights worker (Taraji P. Henson) is cured of his racism.

If you must stray from the righteous path, you could hardly go further than Hellboy (C), which reviewer Jim Slotek, says is generous in its use of F-bombs and entrails. Our Bonnie Laufer talks to actor, David Harbour (Stranger Things), about the hell of acting under red make-up and stubby horns. 

Or, while you’re plumbing the dark side, check out the disturbing, if unrevealing, The Brink (B minus), following former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s attempt to whip up European populism.

For this pre-Easter week, we have three family-friendly movies, Mia and the White Lion (B Plus), which doubles as an inspirational drama and family filmmaking experiment, featuring director Gilles de Maistre's real children and a pet lion, shot over several years.Missing Link (B) is a great-looking stop-action film from Portland’s Laika studio, in a story about a 19th-century gentleman adventurer (Hugh Jackman) who takes an articulate Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) to meet its Yeti cousinsLittle (B minus) is a body-switch comedy, starring Regina Hall, Issa Rae and Blackish kid star Marsai Martin (who pitched the idea at age 10), about a mean tech CEO who is magically sent back to middle-school so she can remember what bullying felt like.

Also in our Cin binm we have Stockholm (B minus), a dramedy, starring Ethan Hawke as the bank robber and Noomi Rapace as his hostage, based on the real-life event that gave us the phrase Stockholm Syndrome

The kung fu is strong in Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (B), thanks to the direction of master fight choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen (Kill Bill). 

Finally, we have the shot off-the-stage film of Stratford’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (B minus) starring Martha Henry as the magician, Prospero, who, from across the centuries, sends us this useful viewing advice: “No tongue. All eyes. Be silent!”

Have a great weekend.