There's nothing in the movies this week as dramatic as what's going on in US courts and its politics. But there are good films just arrived that might divert your attention.

It's also Canadian Screen Awards time. They've been happening this week

[Insert caption here]

and culminate with a special on CBC-TV tonight. One movie stands out not only for its nominations, a record breaking 17, but, I would think, that most Canadians have actually heard of it. That's Blackberry, about the invention, rise and fall of the original smart phone.

I review three films with Canadian content or connections today, among these:

Backspot: 3 ½

Gasoline Rainbow: 4

Ezra: 3

Malartic: 4

In a Violent Nature:2

BACKSPOT: First of all: what this film does not do. Its story about cheerleaders is not a competition to get the hunkiest boyfriend in school. Two: there's a gay angle but it doesn't cause conflict. It appears as a matter-of-fact part of the lives of two teens (played by Devery Jacobs, who, incidentally, won a Canadian Screen Award this week, and Kudakwashe Rutendo). They act completely naturally about their love and are aided in that when they learn their coach (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is also gay. Makes sense that it's presented as a normal part of life. The film is produced by Elliott (formerly Ellen) Page's company.

Courtesy of Level Film

What it does do is show an intense drive by one of the two to move up in the cheerleading ranks, which the film says is a sport. Riley practices with a regular level squad but envies the top-level Thunderbirds training in the next gym. When three spots come open she, her friend and a perky blonde (Noa DiBerto) get taken on. Riley gets the most-demanding role: backspot. That's the key person lifting and holding up a teammate in a complex routine. Riley pushes herself. Insists on repeating her tryout in which she made mistakes. Works hard to impress the coach and is so intense that relations with her friends and family are endangered. The script by Joanne Sarazen and direction by D.W. Waterson bring out well the pressure many teens are under to find their place and make a mark. Recommend it to them. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5

GASOLINE RAINBOW: Here's a fine snapshot of a point of time in our youth. You may have done this, something like it, or maybe just thought about it. No matter, This film resonates. Five friends, three guys, two girls, go out on a road trip, about 500 miles from inland Oregon to the coast, hoping to get to an attraction they've heard of through the rumor mill: a fabled Party at the End of the World. The real purpose is stated by one like this: "We grew up together. Let's go on one more adventure before we have to get jobs."

Courtesy of MUBI

And it's a grand trip, with ups and downs, starting with finding their van vandalised, abandoning it and relying on strangers to help them travel. They hitchhike, spend a night at a heavy metal fan's house, ride a freight train with a couple of homeless dudes, and get a ride on a boat. It feels completely improvised, which is the style of the directors, the Ross brothers, Bill and Turner. They make it look so real you'd think it's a documentary. It can be shakey, look amateurish and unfocused in places. But evocative in others.The five actors, Tony Aburto, Micah Bunch, Nichole Dukes, Nathaly Garcia and Makai Garza, all playing themselves, are constantly talking about anything that comes to mind, music, aloof parents, dreading going to college, global warming. Just like in real life. It doesn't feel scripted but sure does do what one says: "We get to, like, be ourselves." (Streaming on MUBI) 4 out of 5

EZRA: I don't know much about autism in kids so I can't be sure this film depicts it properly. I can only rely on this: the writer, Tony Spiridakis, is the parent of an autistic child and he seems to have put a great deal of first-hand observation into the script. And a young actor, William A. Fitzgerald, the boy in this story, conveys it very well, shifting moods effortlessly, acting out, wailing complaints elsewhere and generally coming off as informed and intelligent. That's all good. The story around it though, seems somewhat trite and made up.

Courtesy of VVS Films

Ezra is being raised by his dad (Bobby Cannavale), who lives with his dad (Robert De Niro) and co-parents with his ex-wife (Rose Byrne). He jokes about it all as a comedy club comedian and is fiercely protective of his son. For instance, he's against giving him pills and sending him to a special school and punches out the man who suggested it. When his manager (Whoopi Goldberg) lines up a try out on the Jimmel Kimmel show he takes Ezra along on the cross country drive as a gesture of his love. But that triggers an amber alert. And a comic scene along the way to not be recognized from TV reports. Also debates about who is the child here and whether dangerous behavior is passed down grandfather to father to son. It's not deep; just a pleasant, at times touching, comedy-drama that's well-acted and easy to take. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

MALARTIC: It's free to watch on the National Film Board website ( and you should because it's a fine, well-focused and potent documentary. It's a detailed look at a Quebec situation but similar stories could exist across Canada.

Malartic is a small town in the western part of the province, for decades home of a productive gold mine. It closed and years later re-opened thanks to “new technology.” The underground mine became the largest open pit mine in Canada. It is gigantic as the film shows and it's startling to see the size of that excavation right beside and down the cliff from the town.

Courtesy of franC doc films (bis)/NFB

Originally people in town were hopeful that their economy would revive. But later, as one says, “we realized we got screwed.” There's frequent blasting down in that pit, even during the night. There are toxic fumes. Health problems have shown up. And worse: not much of the new money is getting to the town. People are leaving; stores are closing. There's a mountain of waste rock that one person calls “a deformity.” When violations were alleged, the Quebec government changed the regulations. Nicolas Paquet, the writer-director, details all this clearly, not completely but powerfully. He's persistant. He repeatedly calls government types for an interview but is turned down. The mining company CEO does talk (“create the wealth.” “We need metals.”) and an author, an environmental anthropologist and others outline the real situation. It's the usual, says one: “special treatment given to the dominant class.” (NFB) 4 out of 5

IN A VIOLENT NATURE: I don't expect that The Observer has many readers who are also fans of slasher films. But I'm amazed at the positive reviews this one is getting. “Minimalist purity,” says Variety. A fresh and artistic take on the genre, say others. A hit at Sundance. And, it's Canadian too. It was filmed at or near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Elevated or not it's still just a bloodfest with innovative kills that get more and more extreme as the film progresses.

A hand and then a grisly body rise up out of the ground after a group of teens rummage around a ruined forest cabin and walk off with a gold necklace that was hanging there. We later learn that it was special to the being that came back up from death. A story told at a late night bonfire tells of the White Pine Massacre in which lumberjacks caused the death of a “mentally hindered” man named Johnny. He now wants revenge. And the necklace.

[Insert caption here]
Courtesy of IFC Films

From then on, it's all from his point of view. He picks up some logging tools and sets out to kill all the teens. That's like many of these films, particularly Friday the 13th and particularly Texas Chainsaw Massacre which this one almost directly alludes to. Johnny is like an animal. He keeps killing, making particular effort to go after human heads. Pretty ugly, but Chris Nash who created it knows the tropes and the fans. In theaters) 2 out of 5