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Magic in the Dark: What’s playing at Ottawa’s independent cinemas—August 1 to 15, 2022

By Barbara Popel on July 29, 2022



What a selection to choose from! Both the ByTowne and the Mayfair are offering some dandy new films, including two genuinely unique flicks with lots of buzz, and a cornucopia of film classics.

Let’s start with recently released films…

Everything Everywhere All at Once—Extended Cut! is a wild and wonderful exploration of the multiverse. The brilliant actress Michelle Yeoh is lead Evelyn Wang. With her husband Waymond, she owns a laundromat, is frenetically busy with a million things, and her family life is a disaster. But suddenly Evelyn is in a different universe. Only she can save the universe from a terrible being intent on destroying everything. More universes and more identities for Evelyn come flying at her (and us). The film’s title is an apt description. Don’t try to make sense of the rapid-fire leaps between various very strange universes—just hang on and enjoy the ride! I’m going to see it again—this time with an introduction from the two directors (“the Daniels”) and eight minutes of outtakes! This treat is playing at both The ByTowne and The Mayfair.

Turning from sci-fi to reality, we have two lightly fictionalized films based on real events, an exciting National Geographic documentary about volcanologists, and a documentary about Leonard Cohen and his most covered song.

The British comedy, The Duke, stars Jim Broadbent as a 60-year old taxi driver 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. Helen Mirren plays his beloved wife. The Duke is just what we need these days—a true story of how one person can make a difference. It’s crafted like an early Ealing Studios comedy. At the ByTowne.

Peace by Chocolate is a Canadian film at the Mayfair. It’s a rather sweet drama about a real life Syrian refugee family who immigrated from the cosmopolitan city of Baghdad to Antigonish, Nova Scotia. There’s plenty of “fish out of water” gentle humour as the family adapts to small-town Canada—and to winter. Feeling too dependent on his son, the father begins making chocolates (he owned a successful chocolate factory in Syria). You probably know how this ends if you follow Canadian news—it’s an inspiring story of overcoming the many barriers that talented immigrants face in Canada.

The National Geographic documentary, Fire of Love, is about Katia and Maurice, who loved each other as much as they loved volcanos. These two volcanologists spent two decades witnessing volcanic eruptions and their aftermath, and taking amazing photographs and films of their beloved volcanos. Until in 1991, when a volcanic explosion in Japan killed them. It’s at the ByTowne.

The second documentary is a loving portrait of Leonard Cohen and his most widely covered song: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. If you love Cohen’s poetic music, this film’s for you. It’s at both cinemas.

And now for something completely different… Marcel the Shell with Shoes On! This unlikely animated/live action adventure/comedy/sort-of-documentary is for the whole family. It’s about Marcel, an adorable 1-inch tall shell with a single google eye and a pair of tiny shoes. He lives with his grandmother Connie (voices 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 paeans from film reviewers such as, “Marcel might just be the most purely joyful, stealthily profound movie experience of the year.” A Metacritic “must see” film. At the ByTowne.

The Mayfair is holding an Alfred Hitchcock versus Brian De Palma Film Fest this month: four classic De Palma films up against the Hitchcock films that inspired them. The first two are Hitchcock’s Rear Window (famous in part because the icy blonde role was played by Grace Kelly before she became Princess Grace of Monaco) paired with De Palma’s Sisters. The second pair are Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo, which topped Sight & Sound’s 2012 poll of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time. (Yes, it beat out Citizen Kane.) De Palma’s Obsession was inspired by Vertigo.

The Mayfair’s Western Mini-Film Fest ends with one of John Ford’s later films, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Roger Ebert said that it,”“created much of the mythology of the Old West we carry in our minds… a gripping story.” Great roles for John Wayne, James Stewart and a dastardly Lee Marvin.

In addition to Vertigo, the ByTowne is gifting Ottawa audiences with two other classics. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (the director’s final cut) has influenced so many dystopian sci-fi films that you owe it to yourself to see it (or see it again). Then there’s the 4K restoration of Luis Buñuel’s satiric masterpiece The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, another Metacritic “must see.” A surreal fantasy that takes six upper-middle-class folks into what Pauline Kael called “a cosmic vaudeville show” of dreams within dreams.

And the ByTowne is giving us all a European Vacation—an escape to Europe without facing the horrors of international flights. First up in the series: Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in Vincente Minnelli’s joyous An American in Paris. See it, and I defy you not to leave the cinema humming and dancing!

And a cute treat at the ByTowne: CatVideoFest 2022.

The complete program, showtimes and tickets for the ByTowne and the Mayfair are available online.