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Still from Blonde/Netflix.

Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas—September 15 to 30, 2022

By Barbara Popel on September 14, 2022





September must be biography month. There are two new biopics about cultural icons, a drama about the guy who stole a famous painting from the British Portrait Gallery, and an older biopic about one of history’s most famous queens (no, not Elizabeth II but a woman who was far less admirable than Her Royal Highness). We’ll start with those, then get to other new releases and a passel of classics.

Blonde is a fictionalized biography of the tragic mid-century superstar Marilyn Monroe. The film is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ book of the same name. The film and the book delve into Monroe’s inner demons and the conflict between her personal and very public lives. Ana de Armas looks and sounds uncannily like Monroe: a great casting job!

Leonard Cohen fans have a chance to see a new documentary, Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. It’s a loving portrait of Cohen and his most widely covered song. Cohen fans will love it (I know I did!).

The Mayfair has held over The Duke, a semi-fictionalized British dramedy based on an actual 1961 event. It stars the wonderful Jim Broadbent as an oft-unemployed labourer who stole a portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the British National Gallery and held it for ransom. The ransom? A charitable donation to support old-age pensioners. The always-excellent Helen Mirren plays his beloved wife, the only one in the family with a steady job as a cleaning lady. The two are charming as a squabbling long-married couple who are still very much in love. The Duke is just what we need these days: a true story of how one person can make a difference.

On Sept. 18, the ByTowne is starting its “High Tea Cinema” series with a showing of Sophia Coppola’s lavish biopic Marie Antoinette. The film begins with the innocent 14-year-old Austrian girl being shipped off to France to cement a political alliance by marrying the callow young prince Louis, soon to become Louis XVI. Coppola imagines how Marie was (willingly) corrupted by the decadent court. The “high tea” part? The ByTowne serves tea from Tea Store and a scone from Scone Witch! I don’t know about you, but I am definitely going! (No, I won’t be wearing a chapeau and white gloves.)

Besides Marie Antoinette, there are other films from the vault that deserve your attention:

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1972 hockey series between Canada and Soviet Russia, the ByTowne is showing the new documentary ICE-BREAKER – The ’72 Summit Series. For those of you who remember the series, this is a chance to revisit it. For those of you hockey fans who are too young to have seen the series, this is your chance! There will be special guests and a Q&A after the screening.

The Mayfair is holding over Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It’s an unlikely animated/live action adventure/comedy/sort-of-documentary for the whole family. Marcel, an adorable 1-inch tall shell with a single google eye and a pair of tiny shoes, lives with his grandmother Connie (voiced by Isabelle Rosselini) in an AirBnB. The rest of his family disappeared suddenly awhile ago; Marcel misses them terribly. One day, a documentary filmmaker rents the AirBnB and decides to shoot a documentary about Marcel. This unique film has been eliciting raves from film reviewers such as “Marcel might just be the most purely joyful, stealthily profound movie experience of the year.”

In honour of the recent death of Jean-Luc Godard, an icon of the French New Wave and general provocateur in the world of film, the ByTowne is screening his first – and probably most famous – film, À bout de souffle (Breathless). It’s a “must” for every cineaste.

With all the buzz about Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis (I hope to see it soon!), it’s time to check out films the real Elvis starred in: Jailhouse Rock and Viva Las Vegas at the Mayfair. Jailhouse Rock was Elvis’s third movie—a rockin’ musical about a punk incarcerated for manslaughter who, after he is released, becomes a big singing and movie star (yeah, the plot is a stretch). However, in 2004 Jailhouse Rock was added to the National (America) Film Registry. Viva Las Vegas has an equally improbable plot (but then it’s set in a city, which is quite improbable), and lots of true-to-life chemistry between Elvis and his co-star Ann-Margret.

The Mayfair began a four-film Charlie Chaplin retrospective earlier this month with The Kid. The next in the series is City Lights, the sentimental dramatic tale in which Chaplin’s Little Tramp falls for a blind flower girl and, with the help of a dipsomaniac wealthy gentleman, accumulates enough money to pay for a sight-restoring operation. But then, the flower girl doesn’t recognize her saviour. There was not a dry eye in the house when it first played in 1931. The third Chaplin film, Modern Times, is considered by many to be Chaplin’s greatest film. The wonderful Paulette Goddard is the Little Tramp’s spunky love interest. The film follows Chaplin’s unsuccessful attempts to survive in modern industrial society. The factory scene of him trapped in the giant cogwheels of a factory has been reproduced countless times. It’s still one of the best cinematic critiques of the effects of industrial mass production on the lower classes.

Over at the ByTowne in their Drunken Cinema series: The Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi film The Running Man. The film is set in 2019 in the dystopian USA, where a game is played in which none of the players ever survives. The ByTowne ad says, “Experience the madness, the nostalgia and the plethora of Arnie one-liners with a great crowd in a great theatre!”

NOTE: The ByTowne will be screening many films during the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) on Sept. 21-25. I’ve recommended OIAF films in a separate Apt613 article. Dates, times and tickets for the ByTowne are at Dates, times and tickets for the Mayfair are at