We are back again for the 2017 edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival reviewing films, and keeping an ear to the ground to see what has audiences buzzing. Last year’s festival screened two of the nominees for the 2017 Best Documentary Feature Oscar including the eventual winner OJ: Made in America, so there’s no doubt that once again the year’s best docs will be on full display.
The Stairs by filmmaker Hugh Gibson has won one of Canada’s biggest film prizes after it was awarded the Toronto Film Critics Association Award. The bruising film about clients and staff at a harm reduction clinic in Toronto had premiered at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival to much acclaim and has gone on to be considered a film of great importance.
All I knew going in was the date. I’d been invited to something called The Secret Sessions. It promised a one of a kind combination of cult classic film, live theatre, audience participation, and food. They had me at cult film, so with a little trepidation about the participation aspect, I went ahead and booked it. Which led to one of the best evenings of my life.
The Western has enjoyed enduring popularity for decades. Its heyday was probably the 1960s but that hasn’t stopped many directors from continuing to try their hand at the genre. Ti West is the latest director to give it a go, departing from his usual suspense and horror fare that he’s known for. His new film In the Valley of Violence is a classic revenge story starring Ethan Hawke in his second Western of the year. It’s the kind of story that has been done many times so it’s bound to be difficult to find a fresh angle that breathes new life into it. Unfortunately for West, he is unable to find that spark that gives us something fresh and exciting, instead producing something that feels like it has been done before and better.
One of the best vampire films of the past decade was an indie film called Stake Land. It tied together a gritty, desperate post-apocalyptic world with a solid road trip story of survival and frightening vampires that carried zombie-like tendencies. The film was a great alternative to the more popular Hollywood vampire films such as the Twilight franchise. So when it was announced unexpectedly that a sequel to the hit film had been finished without anyone outside the production team even knowing it was happening, anticipation immediately skyrocketed. Dan Berk and Robert Olsen return us to this world in the follow-up titled The Stakelander. However, while they have put forth a noble effort, this one fails to live up to the incredibly strong original.