Film review: Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)

Tom at the Farm by Xavier Dolan

Xavier Dolan is on a roll.

His latest, the thriller Tom à la ferme, set in rural Quebec, opens in Montreal just as he is wrapping up post-production on his next film, Mommy, slated for release sometime this year.

In Tom à la ferme, Dolan portrays the eponymous character, a young advertiser from Montreal venturing into Middle of Nowhere, Que., for the funeral of his co-worker/lover, the closeted Guillaume. Tom’s a city mouse: one of the first scenes of the film involves him pulling over to break and kick his GPS navigator, which has obviously led him in the wrong direction. His phone also has no bars and as much as he tries to point it towards the sky, he cannot will his BlackBerry into service.

Tom gets to Guillaume’s mother Agathe’s (Lise Roy) house but no one’s there. He gets inside with a key he finds under the cushion of a bench on the quaint house’s front porch. Country folk are so trusting. He falls asleep – and drools – on the dinette table until he’s woken up by Agathe. She’s happy to see him because none of his other friends have shown up. Not even Sara, the woman Guillaume evidently told his mom was his girlfriend. Awkward. Doubly so when Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) threatens Tom: don’t mess with Mom’s image of Guillaume, or else. Tom à la ferme becomes Tom’s dance, his charade. The threat from Francis is real and the instances in which it’s materialized in the film are among its strongest: a spooky shower scene and a chase through a wheat field are especially well done – and, yes, Hitchcockian, even if Dolan, who edited Tom, has said in interviews that he had only seen the master of suspense’s Vertigo before making the film. The cinematography by André Turpin (who worked on Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies) is very strong in its visualization of Tom’s isolation and the score by Oscar winner Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) keeps the tension up and bubbling throughout Tom à la ferme‘s 105 minutes.

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Best of 2013: Best movies of 2013 streaming on Netflix Canada

What’s open in Montreal on New Year’s Day? Not much other than movie theatres, video stores and restaurants.

If you’re brave enough to venture outside – forecasts are calling for a high of -18 in Montreal – you can spend your day at the movie theatre. The Wolf of Wall StreetAmerican Hustle12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis are all more than worthy of your time. There’s also a ton of great movies that came out this year that have been released on DVD, so you can rent them online or at a video store.


And if you just wanna stay home, there are some great 2013 releases streaming on Netflix Canada.

It’s a Disaster

It's a Disaster

The indie by Todd Berger clocks in at 88 minutes and follows a group of young couples having brunch when they get word that the world is ending. Stars David Cross, Julia Stiles and America Ferrera.

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Best of 2013: My favourite movie scenes of the year

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Movies (wholes) are made up of a bunch of scenes (parts), so I wanted to look back on the most memorable scenes from this year’s films. I’m very happy to be joined by my friends Sophia LoffredaRadina Papukchieva and Elizabeth Tomaras to reflect on our favourite movie scenes of 2013.


La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) – Party scene and final scene

In his latest film The Great Beauty, legendary Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, proves that no one can do sweeping, elegant, haunting visuals like he can. After watching the film, I could picture the face of the main character, famous writer and lost soul, Jep Gambardella (played by Tony Sevillo), as he turns around during his ridiculously extravagant birthday party, shimmying, with a cigarette in his mouth and an expression on his face that tells us he doesn’t have a care in the world. It’s hilarious, it’s grandiose, it’s outrageous, it’s incredibly well done. Sorrentino dedicates eight minutes to making this rooftop celebration come alive, zooming in on gems like the perverted facial expressions of guests or the shadows of strippers against a cloudy glass in the distance. Yes, eight minutes of screen time! At one point, the camera flips and Jep and his guests are upside down, dancing for their lives. Then, just as the party is winding down, the dancers go into slow motion and the camera follows a line of flailing arms until it gets to Jep – standing still at the far end, stoic, lighting another cigarette, he begins one of the film’s deeply profound, poetically beautiful monologues about existence, hypocrisy, truth, and happiness. The party scene sets us up for The Great Beauty’s ode to La Bella Vita and for its mockery of the Berlusconi era’s extreme indulgence and shallow living. With religiously rooted, awe-inspiring choral music like “The Lamb” by the Tenebrae Choir, Sorrentino hits us with a one-two punch. Keep an eye out for his final scene, a truly stunning exploration of an old nun climbing a set of stairs in pain, as her wrinkled hands grip the floor and Jep finally realizes the meaning of life’s “flashes of beauty.” Even if you have to watch The Great Beauty with subtitles, please do. It may be slightly self-indulgent on Sorrentino’s part, but his work is truly unique, not to mention incredibly breathtaking. His genius lies in his no holds barred approach to tiny details, and in his realization that there is nothing more powerful than Roman landscapes paired with silent contemplation.

Sophia Loffreda

The Place Beyond the Pines – Opening scene

When done well, the long tracking shot is proof of mastery of the art of film. To be able to follow a character move swiftly through locations builds anticipation and curiosity. The ability to create a mood with a single brush stroke is a rare pleasure that makes directing seem at once effortless and incredibly meticulous. The opening scene of The Place Beyond the Pines follows Luke (Ryan Gosling) as he moves from his caravan, through an amusement park, into a cage where he is about to do motorcycle stunts. We don’t see his face until he is sitting down on the bike, putting on his helmet and jacket. It’s a memorable opening to one of my personal favourite movies of the year.

Radina Papukchieva

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Best of 2013: Top 10 movies

What a great year for movies 2013 was. I don’t know that we ever went more than a few weeks without something great to see in theatres, unlike most years when the really great stuff only comes out in the fall. Throughout the year, there were consistently great releases. February, April, August. Didn’t matter.

Before getting to my top 10 movies of 2013, I wanted to write about some other films that didn’t make the cut but very well could have. More than any other year, I’d say every genre but animation – Disney’s Frozen stands out as the best animated movie in the genre’s weakest year in memory – had a hell of a year at the movies in 2013.

Honourable mentions

Documentaries: The great, eye-opening and heartbreaking Blackfish, about a temperamental killer whale at SeaWorld and the park’s spin machine that keeps families visiting it in the thousands (dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite); the astonishing The Act of Killing, which I still can’t wrap my head around. Filmmakers follow former executioners, now old men, who killed thousands in Indonesia as they make a movie about their exploits (dirs. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, and a director who remained anonymous); Sarah Polley‘s Stories We Tell: at first look, a documentary about the director’s search for truth about her family. Upon closer examination, a study of the human condition and the way our memory works. Polley is one of Canada’s best filmmakers.

Romantic comedies: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon had a lot to say about sex, porn and gender roles and featured Scarlett Johansson’s best work in years (note that Her, for which she does voice work, does not come out in Montreal until Jan. 10, 2014); Enough Said, directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and James Gandolfini in one of his last roles.

Vive la France: There is nothing like the movies to really highlight North American prudishness. L’Inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake) and La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour) are two French films heavy on sex and nudity, but those things never distracted from the films’ cinematic prowess and their deeply affecting stories. In L’inconnu du lac, Frank is drawn to Michel, a man he’s only just met and whose secrets make him even more desirable to Frank, rather than cautious and wary of him. Enough can’t be said about Adèle Exarchopoulos’ performance in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue. Much has been made about the long and graphic sex scenes, but there’s much more here: it’s a coming of age story that’s hopeful then devastating then heartbreaking.

Best of the rest: The beautifully photographed Mud with Matthew McConaughey delivering yet another great performance and Tye Sheridan, one of the most promising young actors; Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, an exciting, powerful and surprising drama about a motorcycle stuntman and his run-ins with the law and the legacy he leaves his family; Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, a far-fetched and twist-full Hitchcockian tale released in February; The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a great sci-fi movie on its own, but also a great adaptation of a so-so book; Pacific Rim: It’s much more than just Transformers with a brain and a heart (dir. Guillermo del Toro); Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, in which Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto surprise and delight. It’s Erin Brockovichesque in its treatment of a serious subject matter which is apt since its slick editing and occasional dark humour are so Soderberghesque; The World’s End another fun entry from the Wright-Frost-Pegg trio, The Way Way Back if only for the incredible work by Sam Rockwell, The Conjuring, which does old-horror tropes very well, and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

Tie for 11th place

It was a toss up, but if there could be a three-way tie for 11th place, it would include: Spring Breakers: it’s a hypnotic film that I admit took me about 20 minutes to get used to its visual and narrative style. I imagine this is one that will only get better with each viewing. By the end, you know that there is style and substance in Spring BreakersFrances Ha, the latest  by Noah Baumbach that stars Greta Gerwig, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Baumbach. It’s a black-and-white film that’s a cross between Woody Allen and Girls, if anyone on the HBO show was likeable. Frances Ha is breezy, fun, funny and the perfect vehicle for Gerwig.  Nebraska, which I wrote about earlier this month when I first saw it It’s emotionally sincere, often funny but also heartbreaking and heartwarming. A man takes his father on a road trip to claim prize money he thinks he won. Great performances by Bruce Dern and June Squibb.


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Best of 2013: Movies left to watch (+ Reviews)

I am planning on writing about my favourite films of the year, like I did with my favourite TV shows of the year, but there are still a few movies I haven’t seen that very well could end up among my favourites from 2013. I’m updating this post with reviews every time I watch a movie on this list. Come back often.

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Review: 12 Years a Slave

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen)

Often difficult to watch but always captivating, 12 Years a Slave is unrestrained in its depiction of the brutality of slavery in pre-Civil War United States.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is Solomon Northup, a free man living in Saratoga, N.Y., with his wife and two children. On a trip to Washington – Northup is a talented violinist who is promised a two-week engagement with a travelling show – he is tricked, drugged, kidnapped and eventually sold into slavery. He wakes up in shackles; he pleads with his captors, but it’s no use. Soon after, he’s on a boat heading south to Louisiana where he’s not so much given a new identity as one is imposed on him by his abductors. He resists, to no avail.

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Netflix recommendations: Thanksgiving weekend


Some lighter fare on this Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend.

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