Indoors, Outdoors. Films reviewed: The Black Prince, Dunkirk, A Ghost Story

Posted in 1800s, 1940s, Clash of Cultures, Death, India, Movies, Punjab, Supernatural, War, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 21, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Summer is the perfect time to see movies outdoors. There are open air screenings in city parks, free Canadian films at Yonge Dundas square, and an Open Roof festival, complete with music at 99 Sudbury, that is showing the amazing documentary Brimstone and Glory next Tuesday.

But sometimes it’s nice just to sit inside. This week I’m looking at three movies opening today to watch inside a theatre. There’s a wartime thriller about an army’s retreat, an historical drama about a royal defeat, and an arthouse ghost story… about a white sheet?

The Black Prince

Wri/Dir: Kavi Raz

It’s the Victorian era. Maharaja Duleep Singh (Satinder Sartaaj) is a proper English gentleman. He lives a life of luxury in a country palace furnished with a retinue of servants, fine clothing and sumptuous meals. He spends his free time hunting on his estate. But something is missing. You see, he is the heir to the throne of the Punjab Empire that once stretched across northern India. But palace intrigue and assassinations left the Sikh kingdom in disarray, and the British swooped in and took control. The young prince was shipped off to England where he now lives under under the benevolent but watchful eyes of Queen Victoria (Amanda Root) and the prince’s surrogate father, Dr Login (Jason Flemyng). He’s a Sikh but wears no turban and carries no kirpan.

But back in Lahore the crowds are clamouring for his return. And when he is reunited with his mother (Shabana Azmi) he realizes he’s more than just Victoria’s “Black Prince” — he’s a Maharaja! He returns to his faith and starts a lifetime of plots and alliances to restore his kingdom with armed insurrections. But can a single man – and his followers – defeat the British Raj?

The Black Prince is a film filled with beautiful scenery and costumes, and a potentially interesting story. Unfortunatly, it moves at a glacial pace. The exciting parts of the movie — the battles and assassinations — are relegated to quick flashbacks, leaving us with endless scenes of talk, talk, talk. While Shabana Azmi adds fun to the scenes she appears in, the star, singer Satinder Sartaaj, is like a Punjabi Keanu Reeves – wooden and emotionless.

Dunkirk

Wri/Dir: Christopher Nolan

It’s 1944 on the northern tip of France near Belgium. The German Army has taken much of Europe, save for this one beach, called Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of British troops, along with French and Belgian allies, are completely surrounded. German bombers fill the skies and U-Boat submarines patrol underwater, shooting torpedoes and dropping bombs on the British ships. It’s time for a massive retreat back to England – but how? The film follows three stories.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is a young soldier on the run, after his unit is wiped out. Together with a mute fighter he meets on the beach, they attempt to board departing warships, but with limited success… the boats keep sinking. Meanwhile, back in England, the government has commandeered all private boats, from sailboats to mudskippers, to help rescue the soldiers. Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with two teenaged boys, George and Peter, attempt to cross the channel in a pleasure boat… but meet trouble when they rescue a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy). And above it all, an RAF pilot (Tom Hardy) flies his Spitfire to keep the skies clear of German bombers while the boats cross.

Dunkirk is an unusual war movie that celebrates not a triumphant battle but a potentially disastrous retreat. The enemy is invisible, faceless and nameless, and we never see a British soldier raise a gun against the Germans. No fighting, just survival. And though there’s lots of people dying, there is little blood or gore in this strangely clean war. Dunkirk is a non-stop action movie that rarely takes a breather. It’s tense, thrilling and kept my eyes riveted to the screen from beginning to end.

A Ghost Story

Wri/Dir: David Lowery

A nameless married couple (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara) live with their dog and a standup piano in an ordinary bungalow in the American Southwest. She wants to move to a better place but he feels strangely attached to the house. Perhaps it’s the creaks and bumps they hear late at night. Is it haunted? Then disaster strikes. He is killed in a car crash, and she has to identify his body in the hospital morgue. And after she leaves, the sheet covered corpse gets up and walks slowly back to the house. Is he a zombie? No, he’s just a ghost moving back into his home where no one can see him.

When I first heard about this movie – Casey Affleck playing ghost with a sheet over his head – I thought gimme a break. It sounds like a self-conscious bad joke. So I was completely surprised at how emotionally wrenching, how shocking, how wonderful this movie actually is. The silent ghost just stands in the background as time passes, observing all as his sheet tumbles majestically around his feet. It shows the passage of time, in a series of linked tableaux, fading one to the next – his wife’s mourning, new residents, a tear-it-down party. It’s like a dream.

Do you remember the Tree of Life, that extremely long movie about creation and the meaning of life? A Ghost Story does that, more simply, and in just 90 minutes. It’s a beautiful and haunting look at love, death, memory and the passage of time.

I like this one a lot.

The Black Prince, Dunkirk and A Ghost Story all open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

 

 

 

Hidden Histories. Films reviewed: The Gay the Negro and the Holy Mountain, The Journey, 13 Minutes

Posted in documentary, Drama, Germany, Nazi, Northern Ireland, Politics, UK by CulturalMining.com on July 7, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

Not all history is neatly recorded on paper; some of it lies hidden, far from public view. This week I’m looking at three films — two historical dramas and a personal-history documentary — that uncover hidden histories. There are two leaders in Northern Ireland who can’t come to terms; a young worker in 1930s Germany who can’t stand Hitler, and a plumber in a European village who can’t come out.

The Gay, the Negro and the Holy Mountain (Der Schwule, der Neger und der heilige Berg)

Dir: Dave D. Leins

Dave is a young man in Holy Mountain (Heilingenberg), a tiny village, who wants to make a documentary. His father, who is black, is a sailor but Dave grew up with his white mother. He faced bullying and racism growing up because of his skin colour. Dave wonders, is there anyone else in this town who feels “different”?

Markus is a town leader who runs a successful business that’s been in his family for generations. He’s divorced with two adult daughters. He’s a plumber, a fitter of gas pipes and is head of the annual town carnival. Like the rest of the villagers, he dresses up in funny costumes and performs in pantomimes on the town stage. But what some people in the town don’t know he’s also gay, and can only feel truly comfortable when he’s far from home.

This beautifully photographed documentary is a first-time filmmaker’s look at his own heimat. It is a neatly constructed film that uses visual images to frame the story (for example, curtains on a carnival stage open the film, a scene replayed in a resort hotel room).

Leins documents Markus’ daily life as he works, plays and interacts with friends, family and the filmmaker himself. And it exposes some of the stranger things that happen even in small towns. But despite the provocative title (der shwule and der neger are both pejorative terms in German) this is actually a low-key, quiet and personal film.

The Journey

Dir: Nick Hamm

The Troubles was the conflict in Norhern Ireland that began in the 1960s between the Catholic Republicans who wanted to join Ireland and the Protestant Unionists who wanted to stay in the UK. It was fueled by shootings, massacres and bombings by paramilitary groups on both sides. Thousands of people, mainly civilians, were killed in the violent years that followed in this simmering civil war. But now it’s a new millennium, and both sides agree it’s time to make peace.

The two political leaders, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness (Timothy Spall and Com Meaney) agree to meet for talks in neutral territory: Glasgow, Scotland. The problem is they refuse to talk and walk away. Protocol says the two must travel in the same plane to prevent any assassination attempt. So in a last-ditched effort, Tony Blair puts them together, with just the young driver for the long journey to the Edinborough airport.

Paisley is the fire-and-brimstone Calvinist preacher, a christian fundamentalist, given to Papist conspiracy theories. He is also the inspiration for rightwing vigilantes. McGuinness is the head of Sinn Féin, the public face of the provisional IRA, known for its bombs and guns. Can such sworn enemies every talk like human beings?

This is a fascinating movie based on a meeting that actually took place. The script, though, is an invention asto what might have happened. Parts of it are hard to swallow, like Paisley saying he was a supporter of Martin Luther King, when in fact he was an ally of white segregationists in the 1960s. And the scenes with Tony Blair, the head of MI5, Gerry Adams, and Paisley’s son all watching the talks through hidden cameras and secretly cheering them on are just ludicrous. Come on. But that’s secondary to the great acting. I think of Timothy Spall as a short roly-poly, but he completely transforms his body, face and voice into the tall, angry Paisley.

The Journey is a tense and exciting chronical of an imagined historical event.

13 Minutes

Dir: Oliver Hirschbiegel

It’s the late 1930s in Nazi Germany. A time bomb explodes in Munich Bierkeller where Hitler and other top Nazis had just given a speech but escaped unharmed. They leave unharmed, 13 minutes ahead of schedule.

Georg Elser (Christian Friedel) is arrested for the bombing and immediately given to the Gestapo and Kripo for interrogation. Who do you work for? Who built that bomb? Who gave you the orders? They tie him to a metal cot and inflict gruesome tortures on him, refusing to believe that a simple worker could have done all this on his own.

But as he lies there, passed out, his memories flood back. Elser is a craftsman from Königsbron, a small town in Swabia, who is good with his hands. He fixes clock works, builds furniture and plays the zither. Locally he’s known just as a loud mouthed musician. He’s also in love with Elsa (Katharina Schüttler) a woman married to an abusive husband. He rents a room in her basement.

But times are hard, even in a small town, especially if you refuse to join the party. As the year’s pass, things get worse, but no one will do anything. His best friend, a communist, is arrested, a local woman is pilloried for dating a jew, and all the town customs have been co-opted by the government and turned into Nazi propaganda. He also does nothing… until he realizes he must build a bomb.

The Gestapo refuse to believe him. But Elser is the one man who dares to say “Hitler ist schlecht für Deutschland” – Hitler is bad – not just for the rest of Europe – but even for Germany. There will be war, people will die, the bombs are going to fall, the country will be destroyed! he predicted.

13 minutes is a great historical drama about one ordinary man who attempts an extraordinary feat – he decides to fight back. Half of the film is the violent and brutal torture and interrogations, the other half is flashbacks to his personal life. I liked this movie a lot.

The Gay, the Negro and the Holy Mountain is playing at ReelHeART International Film Fest. Go to reelheart.com for info. The Journey and 13 Minutes both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

 

 

 

A More Perfect Union. Films reviewed: The Big Sick, The Beguiled, In the Name of All Canadians

Posted in 1800s, Canada, Disease, documentary, Indigenous, Romantic Comedy, Rural, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

With the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada and the 4th of July south of the border, this is a long weekend with lots of movies to watch. This week I’m looking at two comedy/dramas from the US and a documentary from Canada. There’s a comedian coping with blind dates, a girls’ school dealing with a wounded soldier, and a country coming to terms with a new constitution.

The Big Sick

Dir: Michael Showalter

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comic who wants to make it big. He’s a self-described numbers geek, who is into the X-Files and corny horror movies. He’s dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young woman he met at the comedy club, and their relationship is getting serious. But Kumail has a secret. His Pakistani-American parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) insist their son marry a Muslim-Pakistani woman, and constantly surprise him with blind dates. His parents don’t know about Emily and she doesn’t know about his arranged dates. Everything goes well until Emily uncovers Kumail’s “X File”, a cigar box filled with photos of all the women he secretly dates and rejects. She is livid and never wants to see him again. But the next time he hears from her she is in hospital on her deathbed with a mysterious ailment, the “big sick” of the title. He stays by her bedside as she falls into a coma. Things get complicated when her parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) arrive. They know all about his secrets and lies and don’t trust him. But their relationship grows as they cope with Emily’s troubles together. Will Emily recover? Can she forgive Kumail? And can he tell the truth to his family?

The Big Sick is a very sweet romantic comedy mainly about the relationship of a young man and his true love’s parents. Spoiler Alert: it’s based on Kumail and Emily’s real life story, so obviously she didn’t die. I liked that it doesn’t succumb to crass toilet humour but instead finds jokes in the normal life of a standup comic. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are especially good as the parents. A good date movie.

The Beguiled

Dir: Sofia Coppola

It’s rural Virginia during the US Civil War, where a school for young ladies remains untouched by the war raging all around them. There, beautifully dressed women study literature, French, music and the bible, seemingly oblivious to the mayhem outside the school’s wrought-iron gates. There’s the imperious Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman); dowdy Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst); the recently grown-up Alicia (Elle Fanning) and nature-loving little Amy, among many others. They live in harmony in an old plantation house with two-storey, ionic columns, but no slaves, mind you – they all ran away. No one has breached the gates so far. Until one day, young Amy is out picking mushrooms and she finds a wounded yankee soldier. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) says he joined the Union army straight off the boat from Dublin. Now he’s a deserter. Can the ladies help him?

Miss Martha sews up his wounds lets him stay, but only as a prisoner. That’s when the corporal turns the charm level to high and begins beguiling and seducing all the girls and women. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, he tells one. You’re the one I like the best, he tells another. We have a special bond he says to a third. Soon, the women are fighting one another to spend time alone with the handsome young soldier. This culminates at a dinner where all of the women are all gussied up, each hoping he will choose her. But something unexpected happens that turns the smiling charmer into a violent ogre. What will the women do with him now?

The Beguiled is a dark comedy, a remake of Don Seigel’s movie from the 1970s, told from the women’s point of view. It includes lots of twists and turns for a simple ninety minute movie. I thought the acting was good, and the looks of the movie itself is fantastic. I’d describe it as over-the-top subtlety, with oak trees groaning with Spanish moss and a constant mist covering everything. I liked this one.

In the Name of All Canadians

It’s Canada’s Sesquicentennial, 150 years since confederation, so Hot Docs commissioned a multipart documentary made any a number of filmmakers. I dreaded watching this because I was afraid this would be yet another treackly look at toques, poutine, multiculturalism, our health system and Tim Hortons. But I was way off the mark. It’s actually a reality check, a hard look at the all the egregious errors Canada’s governments have made over the past 70 years or so. Did you know Frenco-Manitoban school teachers were forbidden from teaching in French for 50 years? Then there’s the case of Mr Abdelrazik, a Sudanese- Canadian man tortured then forced to camp out inside the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum for three years before he was allowed to come home. There’s the mass arrests at the G20, the internment of Japanese Canadians, discrimination faced by black and Muslim Canadians. And the biggest issue of all, Truth and Reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians — First Nations, Inuit and Metis — for the countless crimes, including Residential Schools, inflicted on them.

In form, most of these docs use actors reading scripts, animated sequences, talking heads and reenactments, rather than fly-on-the-wall records of actual events. Some parts are very moving, while other parts veer into speechifying. The serious parts are tied together by cute short sequences asking various Canadians what they prefer in a huge range of topics. While not perfect, altogether it gives a good hard look at Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, its successes and failures. Worth seeing.

In the Name of all Canadians is playing now at the Hot Docs cinema; and The Big Sick and The Beguiled both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with Ana Serrano, Lisa Ellis and Priam Givord about the Pulse of VR

Posted in 3-D, Art, Cultural Mining, Games, Movies, VR by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Have you heard of VR but never experienced it? VR, or Virtual Reality, is a system that creates an artificial, interactive environment that makes you feel like you’re somewhere else. It gives you a startlingly realistic experience of sight and sound happening all around you. It’s already used by filmmakers, scientists, artists and gamers.  But is VR a flash in the pan or a quantam leap in technological change? How will it affect Canadian cinema? And how can you experience it yourself?

Pulse on VR is a new exhibit of Canadian VR works, sponsored by the CFC media lab. It’s running now through Sunday at the House of VR on 639 Queen St West.

Ana Serrano is the award- winning Founder of CFC Media Lab that specializes in interactive storytelling.

Lisa Ellis, the Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, AGO, created Small Wonders, a VR rendering of CT scan images of miniature, gothic wooden carvings.

Priam Givord is a freelance artist and designer who specializes in interactive media; he co-created  Small Wonders, the VR Experience.

I spoke with Ana, Lisa and Priam at CIUT about Pulse of VR and how VR may affect the future of Canadian cinema.

Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

 

Heads up! Films reviewed: Keepers of the Game, Mansfield 66/67, City of Tiny Lights

Posted in Canada, documentary, First Nations, Hollywood, Indigenous, Mystery, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 2, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto’s film festivals continue with Inside Out and Canada’s Sport Film Fest. This week, I’m looking at two documentaries and a noir drama. There’s a Mohawk lacrosse team keeping traditions relevant, a Hollywood star keeping her mystique afloat, and a private eye in London just trying to stay alive.

Keepers of the Game

Dir: Judd Ehrlich

The Akwesasne Mohawk territory straddles the US/Canadian border that runs between New York and Ontario. 20 years ago there was widespread discord among the longhouses. So to calm the waters, they started a boy’s lacrosse team to compete in the local high school division, off reserve. The idea was to bring back self-respect using a traditional custom. Lacrosse is a precolumbian warlike sport used by the Mohawk and other Iroquois long before Europeans came to North America. Hundreds, or even thousands of men would play the game together on open fields. It shows valour, strength and offers thanks to the creator.

Flash forward to the present. High school girls are facing the same problems – bullying, depression, suicide – as the boys did, but without the traditional sport outlet. They need a medicine to cure their ills. So they decide to start a girls team, using lacrosse as a traditional Mohawk medicine. But they face opposition from all sides. Awkesasne men say they are defying tradition by letting girls play a boys sport and want it stopped. The school board is facing cutbacks, so the are against funding a new team… especially one for girls. And the players themselves are afraid they lack the confidence and experience to win. Even so, they manage to raise the money and recruit the players to have a regionally competitive team. But can they beat their rivals  — a mainly white team who use a feathered native cartoon as their team mascot?

This documentary is a record of one season of a real-life team and the obstacles they face, on and off the field. It shows the role traditional customs can play in a modern sport. Players design their own war paint as they compete for the first time, even as mothers and grandmothers pass on language and rituals. It’s about young aboriginal women who gain self respect as they reclaim a sport their own ancestors created. It’s an inspiring story.

Mansfield 66/67

Dir: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes

Jayne Mansfield was a bleach blonde bombshell in the 1950s, who lived on publicity. She was known for her whispery voice, her highpitched squeals, and personality – that of a naïve, dumb blonde seemingly unaware of her sexiness, even as she posed for playboy and appeared naked on the big screen. In fact, her persona was self-created and nurtured by the Hollywood studios, and fed by the tabloids paparazzi and gossip rags who lived in her stories. She married Mickey Hargitay, a body-builder, to complement her own figure. And she lived in a pink mansion, legendary in Hollywood for its 45 rooms. But did you know she was a multilingual musician, and a student at a top university? Sadly, her movie career faltered in the 1960s, and  she began to follow another celebrity, a man named Anton LaVay. LaVay was known for his shaved head, his black goatee and his sinister but commanding looks. He founded a new religion — The Church of Satan. And not long after, her life was suddenly cut short in a terrible accident that totalled her car and chopped off the top of her head. Those are the bare facts. But what really happened to Jayne Mansfield?

You could call Mansfield 66/67 a documentary, but that might give you the wrong idea. It’s actually a highly stylized tribute to — and desconstruction of – a Hollywood legend. There are the usual talking heads  — from gender studies professors, to stars like Tippi Hedron and starlets like Mamie van Doren. But there are also underground icons, eighties pop stars, models, drag queens, and the chronicler of Hollywood himself, Kenneth Anger.

This is not your usual bio doc. What other documentary creates a cutesy cartoon of Mansfields son being mauled by a lion? Or intricately choreographed dancers of both sexes wearing matching blonde wigs as they worshipped  the devil in Busby Berkeley-like formations? This is a strange combination of film lore, academic analysis, hollywood gossip, and extremely campy performance art.

City of Tiny Lights

Dir: Pete Travis

Tommy (Riz Ahmed) is a private detective who lives and works in an ungentrified part of London. It’s a neighbourhood in flux, full of nervous shopkeepers and streetcorner drug dealers, radical imams, and sketchy real estate speculators. His dad (Roshan Seth) is a die-hard Briton whose life is guided by Charles Dickens and Cricket. As a South Asian Ugandan he was forced to flee under dictator Idi Amin. One day a sultry sex worker named Melody (Cush Jumbo) hires him to look for her friend Natasha. She hasn’t seen her since her last trick 8 hours earlier and doesn’t answer her cel. But when he searches her hotel room he finds a dead body, not Natasha. It’s a real estate broker involved in a major development. He also discovers the dead man gave money to an Islamic youth group known for driving drug dealers off their streets, led by a radical Muslim preacher. Lurking in the shadows is a sketchy security spook working for the US government. And it is all somehow related to his boyhood, a friend named Lovely, and woman named Shell. Who is behind the murders and disappearances? Organized crime, terrorists, corrupt developers or American spies?

City of Tiny Lights is a well-acted, low budget look at a private detective in contemporary London. Some of the camera work is annoying and gimmicky – like cheap 90s TV — that distracts from the story. I was also confused by frequent flashbacks — the young actors look nothing like their adult counterparts. But I liked the complex, multi-levelled mystery and the acting is terrific.

Mansfield 66/67 is one of many films at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival which continues through Sunday; Keepers of the Game is the opening night feature at the ninth annual Canada’s Sport Film Festival, beginning next Friday. Tickets and showtimes are at sportfilmfestival.ca. City of Tiny Lights opens today in Toronto, as does Ken Finkleman’s satiric comedy An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman (I talked about this film in March). Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with director Jac Gares about her new film Free CeCe! at Inside Out

Posted in African-Americans, documentary, LGBT, Prison, Protest, Trans, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In June, 2011 in St. Paul Minnesota, an African-American woman and her friends were taunted by a group of white supremacists they encountered on the street. A white woman assaulted her, cutting her face, followed by a violent attack by a white man. The situation escalated when the woman under attack pulled out a scissors to defend herself. The man ended up dead, the woman charged with murder. Her name is CeCe McDonald and she’s a transgendered black woman whose story has captured the interest of activists around the world.

Free CeCe! is a new documentary that tells her story. It’s about the violence, injustice and incarceration faced by transgender people of colour. It is directed by Jacqueline “Jac” Gares an award-winning TV director and filmmaker. Free CeCe! is her first documentary feature film, and it’s having its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival on Sunday, May 28th.

I spoke with Jac in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM via telephone to New York City.

Lifestyles? Films reviewed: My Wonderful West Berlin, The Lavender Scare, Baywatch

Posted in Berlin, Breasts, comedy, documentary, LGBT, Protest by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Inside Out is Toronto’s LGBT film festival showing dramas, comedies, documentaries and short films from around the world. There are events, free screenings and a chance to talk to the filmmakers and stars at most screenings.

This week I’m looking at two historical Inside Out documentaries about gay life and repression in two cities, Washington, D.C. and Berlin; and an action/comedy about straight life on a California beach.

My Wonderful West Berlin (Mein wunderbares West-Berlin)

Wri/Dir: Jochen Hick

After WWII, a defeated Germany was divided into East and West, its bombed-out former capital, Berlin, into Soviet and Western zones. But the pre-war laws still applied. Paragraph 175 — an anti-gay section of the German criminal code passed by the Nazis in 1935 — made many homosexual acts illegal. But gays and lesbians flocked there – Berlin represented freedom, counterculture and revolution.  And when the Berlin wall went up in the early 1969s Berlin served as a beacon located entirely within East Germany.

The districts of Shöneberg (and later Kreutzberg) became the centres of a queer counterculture. The movie follows the changing city from the 1950s to the 1990s. There’s the well-known drag shows and sex clubs, but also a vibrant theatre scene, and a city filled with gay artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers (including Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim). There were gay squatters who set up home inside abandoned buildings. In the 1960s groups of men formed “Male Communes”, living spaces where pairing-off into heterosexual-style marriages was considered bourgeois. Cooking, cleaning and sex were all shared. But could Marxist thought coexist with gay sex?

The movie covers the subculture of the 1950s, the leftist counterculture of the 60s, through the punk movement, the AIDS crisis, and the end of the cold war. Filmmakers played a crucial war in establishing gay culture. The Berlin Film Festival, (where this film recently premiered), is the first major film festival to have a gay film prize, the Teddy awards. My Wonderful West Berlin is a fantastic guide to Berlin’s history, illustrated with contemporary and historical interviews with the people who lived through it. It also includes eye-popping photos and footage of everything from safe-sex porn to Taxi Zum Klo. An excellent look at a complex city.

The Lavender Scare

Dir: Josh Howard

In the 1930s Washington, D.C. attracted educated people from across America to follow their ambitions and live openly gay or lesbian lives. WWII brought together men and women across the country with a new same-sex comradery. And the Kinsey Report (1948) estimated that close to a quarter of all men have had some same-sex experience. This all came to a sudden halt in the early 1950s. Politicians (like Senator Joe McCarthy) claimed communists were lurking in every dark alley. Party members, fellow travellers, socialists and liberals were purged en masse from government jobs and blacklisted for a decade. This Red Scares was followed by the lesser known “Lavender Scare”, an anti-gay purge that started in the 1950s but that lasted for 40 years. Civil servants were spied on by police and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Anyone seen in “suspect” bars, observed as having habits different from the mainstream or even “gay” patterns of speech, was interrogated and forced to name names. Each person accused of being gay, lesbian or bi had to name five other suspects, who were also arrested. The excuse was that LGBT people were vulnerable to blackmail — since homosexual acts were illegal, and therefore prone to act as spies for the Soviet Union. But in fact, there was not a single proven incident of LGBT government employees blackmailed into becoming traitors. Instead, thousands of people lost their jobs, had passports revoked, with many driven to suicide.

The movie follows mainly white, middle-class, educated, professionals in Washington — navy brass, diplomats, post office workers — both men and women, and how the Lavender Scare changed their lives. The film takes a mainstream, middle-of-the-road look at LGBT politics. It covers an early gay and lesbian advocacy group known as the Mattachine Society, and the founder of its DC branch Frank Kameny. At protests, he ordered men to wear suits and ties and women dresses, to demonstrate that they were just like “ordinary” people. (Trans not welcome here.) The Lavender Scare is a mainstream, suitable-for-television look at US government persecution of gays and lesbians and the effect it had on their lives. It’s lavishly illustrated with snapshots and period footage.

Baywatch

Dir: Seth Gordon

Mitch (played by wrestler-turned-actor The Rock) is a huge, egotistical lifeguard adored by everyone on the beach. Along with two women, CJ and Stephanie (Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera), the Baywatch team save lives on a daily basis. They also function as an unofficial police force, patrolling the waves for drug pushers and petty thieves. Today’s the day they choose three new rookies out of the hundreds who apply. This year’s choice? Summer (Alexandra Daddario), an athletic young woman, Ronnie (Jon Bass), an out-of-shape computer geek, and Brody. Brody (Zac Efron) is a former olympic swimmer with pop-idol good looks, who rides a vintage motorcycle. He’s also impulsive, brash and selfish, and prone to excess drinking.

Brody and Mitch do not get along.

Then bad things start happening. Dead bodies wash up on shore along with packets of a designer drug. And there’s a new dog in town, Victoria, a rich and ruthless villain (Priyanka Chopra). Is she somehow connected to these crimes? Can the lifeguards stop corruption at City Hall? And can the Baywatch team just learn to get along?

Baywatch is an action/comedy based on the hit 90s TV show. There are a few inside references to the original version, along with chase scenes, rescues and shootouts. But let’s be real; this movie is really about boobs and dicks on the beach. Virtually every scene involves close ups of unzipped one-piece swim suits. And the penis jokes never end. I’m not exaggerating. There’s one scene involving Ronnie’s erection stuck in a wooden lounge chair that lasted for 5-10 minutes.

Is Baywatch funny? Not very. Is it exciting? Not really. Is it surprising. Not at all. Men get all the punchlines, while women provide the scenery. But did I hate it? No. How could I? It’s just like sitting on a beach, watching all the people walk past.

Baywatch opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Lavender Scare and My Wonderful West Berlin are playing at the Inside Out Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for tickets and showtimes.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Life in Nature. Films reviewed: The Gardener, Certain Women

Posted in documentary, Drama, Movies, Quebec, Rural, Western, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 18, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto’s spring film festival season continues. LGBT films, shorts and documentaries from around the world are featured at Inside Out beginning next week. Get into shape in June with CSFF, a new festival featuring Canadian Sports docs and shorts. Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival brings the newest dramas, thrillers and samurai hits served up with sake tasting at the Japanese cultural centre. And contemporary Italian cinema is showcased at the ICFF.

April showers bring May flowers, so this week I’m looking at slow-paced movies set against natural beauty. There an arthouse drama in rural Montana, and a look at the gardens in Quebec.

The Gardener

Dir: Sébastien Chabot

The Cabots are a famous upperclass American family. You’ve probably heard the ditty about Boston:

…the home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

This documentary is about those Cabots, and what one man in particular created. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the family has owned a huge tract of land in the Charlevoix region near Quebec city for their summer estate. It’s an area of bucolic fields and breathtaking views overlooking the St Lawrence. But Francis Cabot (1925-2011) decided to do something more with it. He designed Les Quatre Vents, the four winds, an amazing private garden. It’s planted with perennials that bloom throughout the year, leading to waves of yellow, violets, greens and reds in sequential seasons. Cabot believed gardens should not be sterile units of symmetrical topiary, but a sensuous experience. The gardens are filled with smells of flowers, buzzing bees, trickling streams flowing past vast fields. It is divided into different sections, each one revealed as a surprise when you turn a corner or, cross a bridge. Gorgeous black and white horses, foliage from the Himalayas, a moonbridge reminiscent of Suzhou and a traditional Japanese garden complete with a hand-crafted teahouse.

If you’re expecting a hard-hitting documentary, look elsewhere. this is not an expose about the family’s history in Salem Massachusetts or its roots in the slave trade. Rather, it’s very much an homage or a tribute to the magnificent garden that one man created. If you love gardens and consider them symphonies, this one takes you on a guided tour through it all with commentary from its late creator. It’s less of a film than an experience. I had never heard of Les Quatre Vents before I saw this film,  but now I want to go there.

Certain Women

Dir: Kelly Reichardt (Based on stories by Maile Meloy)

Laura (Laura Dern) is an established lawyer in a tiny town in Montana. Much of her time is spent on a single case where the plaintiff, an older man named Fuller (Jared Harris) was screwed by his former boss. He was injured at work, affecting his vision, but because he accepted a token payment, leaving him high and dry and unemployable. She told him way back that his case is unsinkable, but he keeps coming back to her office… maybe for a different reason? Meanwhile, Gina (Michelle Williams) is dead set on buying a ranch, Her husband Ryan (James le Gros) and her teenaged daughter aren’t interested, but Gina refuses to give up. She will buy that house! But at what personal cost?

And nearby, a young law student named Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart) finds herself teaching a night class at a school four hours away from her home. The students are all teachers who want answers to their own petty legal disputes, but Elizabeth knows nothing about education… or teaching. The one bright spot is a boyish rancher (Lily Gladstone) who shows up out of boredom – she’s like a lonesome cowboy who never sees anyone except horses and dogs. After class, she offers to drive Elizabeth to the local diner so they can talk. And after a few meetings, the lonesome cowgirl shows up not in her pickup but on horseback. “hop on!” Could this be the start of a romantic relationship with the doe-eyed rancher?

Certain Women is another fine, modern-day take on the classic Western (from a female POV) by the great director Kelly Reichardt. It’s actually three separate stories whose characters briefly appear across the plots. For example, the movie opens in a cheap hotel room where Laura just had a noonday rendezvous with a bearded man (but you don’t find out whose husband he is until later.) Set against the breathtaking mountains and dusty roads of smalltown Montana, it feels like a C&W song come to life. It’s slow paced but never boring. It has that rural feel – things happen more slowly out west. This is a touching drama littered with unrequited love, and driven by the Certain Women of the title: people who make big decisions for selfish reasons, without realizing how much it hurts the people around them.

Certain Women and the Gardener both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with David Bull and Toru Tokikawa about Ukiyo-e Heroes at Hot Docs

Posted in Art, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Japan, Movies by CulturalMining.com on May 12, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro – these are the masters of Ukiyo-e or  Japanese block printing.

Their images of great waves, courtesans and journeys along the Tokaido highway are recognized around the world. Ukiyo-e flourished in Edo Japan, with the masters treated like superstars. But when the country modernized and westernized, the craft of woodblock printing began to fade. It lay moribund, until an unusual influence, a Canadian craftsman, is helping to reawaken interest. Who is this Ukiyo-e Hero?

Ukiyo-e Heroes is the name of a new feature which premiered at HotDocs, Toronto’s International Documentary Festival. It tells the story of two people helping to revive interest in ukiyo-e in Japan: Canadian David Bull who learned the traditional craft despite all the obstacles imposed on him. And Jed Henry, an American artist obsessed with Japanese pop culture. The film is directed by LA-based Toru Tokikawa, known for his award-winning music videos.

I spoke with Toru and David in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

%d bloggers like this: