Daniel Garber talks with director Alex Winter about his new documentary Deep Web at Hot Docs

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, drugs, Internet, US by CulturalMining.com on April 25, 2015

Winter_AlexHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most of us solve our online privacy worries by looking for an unbreakable password or a new encryption technique to protect our email and financial transactions. We don’t realize that a completely anonymous, hidden world coexists alongside the internet. It’s a vast area handling the digital code transmissions that keep our systems functioning.

It holds dark networks that allow communication without exposing IP addresses. What exactly goes on in Deep_Web_1the Deep Web?

A new documentary brings it all to the surface. It’s called Deep Web and it’s having its international premier at Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto. It delves into dark nets including the Silk Road, and the man accused of running it all, Ross Ulbricht.

Deep_Web_6It’s written, directed and produced by Alex Winter. Alex is an actor and pop culture icon known for his excellent adventures who now is also an accomplished director and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the history of the right now — the changes we’re all witnessing on and off line, more or less as they’re happening.

I speak to Alex Winter by telephone in Los Angeles. He covers the deep web, privacy, anonymity, crime, human rights, dissidents, controversies, BBS, Napster, online communities, technology, regulations, search and seizure, JP Barlow, openness… and more!

Terror! Films reviewed: Warriors from the North, Help us Find Sunil Tripathi, (T)error, A War of Lies, PLUS Ex Machina

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Terrorism by CulturalMining.com on April 24, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Some people are terrified of terrorists — and for good reason. In Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan or Iraq, lots of people are dying. Other people are terrified of being mistaken for a terrorist by the very people – police or intelligence officers – that should be protecting them.  So this week I’m looking at documentaries about the War on Terror and how it affects us. These films are all playing at Hot Docs – Toronto’s international documentary film festival – starting today. And on a lighter note, I’m reviewing a science fiction movie… about sexy robots.

Warriors_From_the_North_2Warriors from the North
Dir: Søren Steen Jespersen, Nasib Farah

Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based fundamentalist militant group, that sprung up in reaction to Ethiopia’s invasion of that country. Now its members claim responsibility for notorious events like the 148 people gunned down at Garissa University College a few weeks ago, and the massacre at a Nairobi shopping mall, both in Kenya. This movie is about the young ethnic Somalis from Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway – who join the group to act as suicide bombers. Why do they do it? In a series of interviews, a youngWarriors_From_the_North_5-1 Somali-Danish man explains. He says members come to recruit despondent young men who feel they have no future and don’t fit in. The local mosques are strongly opposed to Al-Shabab — killing is condemned, but the recruiters deride them as weak. The movie opens with a shocking scene: Somalis at their graduation in Djibouti – young doctors all – blown up by a Danish suicide bomber. The movie follows an older man, who works at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, whose son has disappeared with Al-Shabab and gone to Somalia. The father is desperate to find his son, talk to him by phone, and convince him to give it all and just come home again. But as becomes clear in recordings of Al-Shabab members, you couldn’t leave even if you want to. Very touching story.

Help_Us_Find_Sunil_Tripathi_1Help us Find Sunil Tripathi
Dir: Neal Broffman

Sunil is a straight A student, a saxophone player and an all around nice guy. But after a few years at Brown University, things start going bad. He’s depressed. And one day, he just walks away from it all and disappears. His family is devastated, so, along with sympathetic volunteers, they start a huge search for him on foot in Providence Rhode Island, and online using facebook. They post his face, and a plea to him – come home, Sunil, we love you. Soon after, a horrific attack stuns the world – the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The city is locked down for a massive manhunt. And somehow, on Reddit and Twitter, someone mistakenly decides that the blurry images of a man in a white hat… is Sunil. Sunil is a terrorist! It goes viral, and the family and friends searching for their wonderful lost brother are subject to what can only be described as an on-line lynching of the missing boy. The film chronicles this harrowing period when they’re flooded by venomous online attacks and, as always, a voracious mass news media desperately trying to catch up with social networks.

Cabral_Lyric(T)error
Dir: David Felix Sutcliffe

About 50% of the arrests the FBI makes in its War on Terror are actually targeted sting operations using paid informants. And some are more dubious than others. This doc looks at both sides of such an operation, the asset and the target.
Saeed, aka Shariff, is a bit of a character. He’s an older African American Muslim man, a former black panther, who is an informant for the FBI. And – without telling the Feds – he allows a filmmaker, Cabral Lyric, to follow him around. His job? To attract and entrap terror_3.135x135potential POIs – persons of interest – within urban, Muslim communities who might be ripe for terrorism in the eyes of the FBI. The target? Khalifa, a white convert to Islam in Pittsburgh terror_1who sports a long beard and a turban. The FBI says Khalifa sympathizes with Al-Shabab. How do they know? He writes his outspoken views publicly, on facebook. Cameras follow both Shariff and Khalifa, who tells the filmmakers he suspects an FBI informant is trying to entrap him! He doxes the informants and plans a press conference. This real-life dramatic thriller is part absurd comedy, part tragedy, as it goes behind the scenes to show the FBI excesses in their War on Terror.

The previous cases are all small scale stories. The next one is as big as they come.

War_of_Lies_2A War of Lies
Dir: Matthias Bittner

Rafid al-Janabi is a prospective refugee in the late 1990s. He flees Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s ruthless government, but in Germany he’s singled out as a Person Of Interest by their secret service. Despite the fact he had nothing much to tell them, he decides to play along – maybe it’ll speed up his refugee status. He tells them he’s a chemical engineer who worked War_of_Lies_1at the MIC – the military industrial complex. And that he had access to a secret unit in the desert at Al Hakam that makes biological weapons. The problem is the UN had already closed that unit down. But Rafid concocted an explanation that couldn’t be disproven.  Saddam, he says, War_of_Lies_3drives his weapons around in three trucks.  And he brushes up on chemical engineering and draws pictures to support his story. Who can it hurt? And if it overthrows a dictator like Saddam, all the better.

Known by the codename Curveball, Rafid doesn’t realize that his little WMD story will reach Washington and — after 9/11 — will be used to justify the entire US invasion of Iraq, followed by war, death and destruction. The film shows Farid himself, the trickster and storyteller, in a dark, echoey room recounting/confessing his side of the story, illustrated by spooky reenactments and period footage. This is a great, chilling doc.

19f5ba0b-e4a6-4594-a987-d6b34fe19f90Ex Machina
Dir: Alex Garland

Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a skinny, wimpish blond guy who works as a programmer. He wins a lottery to spend a week with Nathan, the secretive CEO of his company, a google-like search engine. Nathan (Aaron Isaac) is a burly guy with a buzzed scalp and a bushy black beard. He’s obnoxious, aggressive and lives in an isolated villa somewhere in a lush rainforest valley. He’s also a genius. He brought Caleb there to conduct a Turing Test. A Turing Test determines whether an Artificial Intelligence program – AI – can pass as a human.

Here’s the twist. This AI is Ava a beautiful, female robot (Alicia Vikander) who Calebf8a502ec-ad59-4c67-a035-43f8df86e390 speaks to through a glass wall. They form a sort of relationship – is it love? –  as she begins to feel more and more real to him. Aaron tells Caleb she’s anatomically correct. Each day, the electric generator in the place shuts down and the cameras turn off. And that’s when she confides in him – Aaron is evil and not to be trusted. Who b8c380eb-808a-4eac-840b-f93ac5d6ba3cwill Caleb side with: Aaron or Ava? Is she really alive… or just a robot? And what about Aaron? And Caleb…? Is anything real?

This is a cool, interesting science fiction movie. You have to admit though, it’s a total guy fantasy, where the woman are all machines created by men for their pleasure. And that’s basically what the movie is… but the acting is great, and there are enough twists, turns and tension to keep it very interesting. I like this movie a lot.

Ex Machina opens today in Toronto, and this week you can find (T)error, Warriors from the North, a War of Lies, and Help us find Sunil Tripathi all playing, starting right now, at hot docs. Go to hotdocs.ca for showtimes.

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

Creative Help. Movies Reviewed: Desert Dancer, True Story, Masters of Suspense

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Iran, Journalism, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on April 17, 2015

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

Do you have a story to tell but need help getting it down on paper? Or maybe you just want to express yourself, but you can’t do it alone – you need other people to work with. This week I’m looking at three movies. An accused murderer looking for a journalist to tell his story; an Iranian student seeking friends to dance with; and a successful Quebec novelist hiring a ghostwriter to write his book for him.

Desert DancerDesert Dancer
Dir: Richard Raymond

Afshin is a little boy in southern Iran who loves to dance. His teacher recognizes his creative nature but knew school wasn’t the place for it. o He signs him up for classes at the Saba Arts Academy. There he learns that in Iran there are two worlds: the outside world where you have to toe the line, and the inside world where you can do what you want… as long as nobody finds out.

Flash forward and Afshin (Reece Ritchie) goes to University in the big city – Teheran. A place where he can go wild, he thinks. But there, too, he learns he 69757-M-166_Still-Request-3834_rgbneeds to be careful. The Basaji – the morality police – keep their eyes out for anything too western or licentious. And thugs who work for President Ahmadinejad’s party – it’s an election year – are even worse, violently suppressing dissent and protest. He must be careful. He meets a circle of friends on campus and they decide to do something creative. With the help of Elaheh (Freida Pinto) the daughter of a modern dancer, they create a dance club on campus. So what? You may be thinking. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that the country is like that small town in Footloose – dancing is forbidden.

_SDM0097.jpgSo they continue dancing secretly, behind closed doors. But for Afshin that’s not enough. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there… So they plan a public performance far away from intruding eyes. They will dance in the desert, among the rocks and sand dunes. But, he doesn’t realize that one member of the club has an older brother who wants him to report on his friends, find out what their up to, and catch them in the act.. Can Afshin and his friends perform their dance? Or will they end up in prison… or worse?

Based on a true story, Desert Dancer is good look at life in present-day Iran. The two stars, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto are neither Persian nor dancers, but they are both good actors, so that’s not so important. The movie itself is the problem. It’s too earnest and plodding, and not moving enough. It’s hard to make the personal struggle of one amateur dancer… into a Gandhi.

image-165c3f6f-e645-47fb-8611-a97bc1a663ecTrue Story
Dir: Rupert Goold

Mike (Jonah Hill) is a celebrated reporter who jets around the world writing feature stories for the NY Times Magazine. But when they catch him fudging facts in an article, They fire him. Deeply embarrassed, he goes back home to Wyoming to be with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones). Then something strange happens: a story falls into his lap. An American is arrested in Mexico for fleeing after murdering his wife and three kids. And the name he gives is Michael Finkel – that’s Mike’s name. He’s intrigued so he visits the man in a high security prison. Christian Longo (James Franco) says he used Mike’s name when he was on the lam image-ecb2619b-6986-479a-9948-91d08c2d2f4bbecause he had read all his articles and respected him. So he gives Mike all his handwritten papers that he says show the real story of what happened to his wife and three children. It’s a chilling and scary story, told in scribbles and drawings. They make a deal – the disgraced reporter gets a potential bestseller and a reputation, while Chris gets a professional reporter to tell his image-9f77255b-a544-49bc-89ab-0e1544dc83bcside of the story. But it can’t be released until after the trial. Who’s fooling who? Are Chris’s stories true? Or are they made from whole cloth?

True Story is not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one, either. Hill and Franco have already made two movies together – both silly pothead comedies. This one is serious. So are they believable as accused killer and reporter? Yeah… I guess. It’s the director’s first feature, and you can tell. There are some painfully bad scenes, slow and awkward, especially Jonah Hill’s scenes at the start of the movie. And the film as a whole is a bit of a letdown. Luckily there’s enough meat in the middle to keep you watching and interested.

10662147_685552898180782_20430642239133877_oMasters of Suspense
Dir: Stéphane Lapointe

Hubert Wolfe (Michel Cote) is a rare thing — a rich, successful pulp novelist – out of Quebec. Books and movies about detective Scarlett Noe, has brought him fame and fortune. He might even get to date the actress who plays Scarlett (Maria de Medeiros). But nobody knows — except one man — that he doesn’t actually write the books. Dany Cabana (Robin Aubert) has been his ghostwriter for a dozen years, churning out the novels but getting none of the glory or respect.

Dany is married with a kid, and ready to ready to start on the latest book: “Paradise Zombie”. But his wife leaves him because she considers him a failure — she doesn’t realize he’s a successful ghostwriter – he has a non-disclosure contract). Dany stops writing and drowns his sorrows at the bar. Allyssa the bartender (Anne Hopkins) is a Louisiana expat who in the past kept him up-to-date with story ideas from the swamps back home. But now the ghostwriter has to hire a ghostwriter. He subcontracts to Quentin (Antoine Betrand) a daycare worker who also writes kids books. Quentin is a good storyteller but, 10712657_716892658380139_5127358223572381622_ovirginal and shy around grownups, he still lives with his mom. All three face an imminent deadline: the book must be finished immediately. Somehow they all end up in New Orleans, where the novel takes place. But, in a Romancing the Stone-type reversal, they land up in real trouble, involving criminals, voodoo zombies and redneck cops. They’re all in way over their heads. Will they ever finish the book and escape to the safety of Montreal?

This is a fun, cute, mainstream story out of Quebec. Like a lot of Quebec comedy, it goes for dubious ethnic stereotypes, like scenes involving African Americans as fanatical, half-naked voodoo worshippers. But they’re equal opportunity insulters – everyone in the film is seedy, rude and dubious.  I enjoyed it. See it just for the fun of it.

Desert Dancer and True Story both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.  Masters of Suspense plays tonight – its English Canada debut – as part of the Cinefranco film festival: go to cinefranco.com for details. And be sure to check out the imagesfestival, which continues through the weekend.

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

Spring Film Festival Season. Movies Reviewed: Next time I aim for the heart, Tomorrow is always too long, Clouds of Sils Maria

Posted in Acting, Art, Drama, France, Movies, Scotland by CulturalMining.com on April 10, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. It’s Spring Film Festival Season. Cinefranco is a festival of French language movies from countries like Canada, France, Tunisia, and Belgium. Images Festival shows art expressed in the form of moving images: films and videos, showing off-screen in galleries, and on screen at the AGO. So I’m combining the two this week, shaking the pot, and adding a bit extra. A French art film in English; an English art film in Scottish; and a French crime thriller… en Francais. 269b36e876e375e05083f78293992209_S

Next Time I Aim for the Heart / La prochaine fois je viserai le cœur

Dir: Cedric Anger

It’s the late 1970s in France. Out on lonely highways and suburban streets all is not well. Young women are being shot and some killed by an unknown man in a car. The serial killer sends hand-written notes to the police after each killing. Still, the cops are stymied, no one can describe the man or the car he drives, and he always gets away. Enter Franck (Guillaume Canet) He’s not a policeman, but a member of France’s gendarmerie — the national force (much like the RCMP) that operate in small towns and rural areas across the country. Gendarmes (the la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canetones who wear that distinctive round top hat) are controlled by the Ministry of Defence, and comes through in Franck’s formal, militaristic manner. He’s gaunt, thin-lipped, tense. Always polite, he follows the rules and catches the criminals. He’s seeing the Sophie (Ana Girardot) the gorgeous young woman who does his laundry. She is smitten by him – a true gentleman – not like the slovenly men she knows. He’s also a prized detective, praised by la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-ana-girardot-1his chief and respected by his squad. And they are all on the lookout for the crazed, vicious serial killer, whose crimes are escalating, but who always seems to escape. The gendarmes need to catch him before their rivals, the police force. Seems like a typical policier, right? The good cop searching for the deranged killer. But there’s a twist (and this is not a spoiler): Franck, the gendarme is also the serial killer! Whoa!

This is based on a true story and makes for a pretty good thriller. It has a dark and brooding tone to it, and leaves the viewer unsettled – who can you trust? And the whole story is told solely la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canet-1from Franck’s point of view – the rest of the characters, including Sophie, are opaque. So you’re forced to sympathize with Franck – and you do – but he’s a troubled soul, and a loner/ nutbar/killer too, so how sympathetic can you be? Also, the guy’s psychotic – you wonder why it isn’t obvious to his fellow cops. Visually, the movie is great, shot in rural fields and forests, or in offices and homes, always with blow up colour photos subtly placed on the walls. Neat effect. And Canet is excellent as Franck. tomorrow is always too long

Tomorrow is always too long

Dir: Phil Collins

It’s an ordinary day in Glasgow, Scotland. People go to school, to the pub or to jail. But on a normal day, do you suddenly break into complex dance steps, and start singing wonderful indie pop sings by Cate Le Bon, accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra? This is a very strange movie, filled with ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the complex mixed with the mundane. It’s like watching TV with someone else holding the remote control, and constantly changing channels. Now you see Mindy the bored psychic touting for calls; a tawdry male phone sex line; an infomercial selling products for women who enjoy being patted down by security guards at airports; three people in sparkling glam makeup answering trivia questions; or a grizzly guy in a garish tam o’shanter buttering bread.

Huh? Exactly.

These scenes alternate with silhouette animation (by Matthew Robins) giving a stylized look at Glasgow’s underground: with nightclubs, drugs, and furtive sex in the bushes. This is definitely art, but it’s also great fun. You can tell it’s art because the performers all keep blasé, chill expressions as they dance. No jazz hands or smiley faces here. But it’s also a thoroughly entertaining portrait of one day in the life of the city of Glasgow, and a lot of the people who live there. Art you can love. 52501167-6576-45cc-a057-e4f607bf0e35

Clouds of Sils Maria

Dir: Olivier Assayas

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a very famous French actress, who is heading by train for Switzerland. She’s going to a town near Zurich to honour a playwright who, twenty years earlier, wrote the first play she ever performed in. The play is about a young woman who works at a company, and her older boss – actually the head of the firm. The older woman becomes infatuated with her, leading to tragic end. When the play premiered, Maria was a brash, young woman – totally unknown. Now she’s a seasoned professional. She owes Melchior, the playwright, a lot. But when circumstances change she’s asked to be in the play again… but this time as 3cc6e467-ae1e-4c7c-9f22-8fb65ae63788the older woman. This jars her. She thinks of herself as a beautiful young actress, but, while still beautiful, she’s clearly middle aged now.

All her emotions and worries are confessed to her young PA (personal assistant) Valentine (Kristen Stewart). And once Maria takes the part, she decides to stay in the Swiss town to learn her role. So Val plays the other part when the two of them rehearse. But Val senses a weird change, where Maria seems to be losing her grip – is she the boss in the play in love with the younger woman? Or is she an actress boss, obsessed with her PA? Val’s patience is also running low. 52e4e874-5796-45ed-94e1-073d90b85524

And a third woman Joanne (Chloë Grace Moretz), enters the picture. She’s the tempestuous teenaged actress playing Maria’s former role. She’s a Lindsay Lohan-type, chased by paparazzi, in and out of rehab. And all three acting out their roles against foggy, stark Alpen scenery. This is an intimate portrait of Juliette Binoche. The three actors were all convincing and absorbing. And I can appreciate the film intellectually. But it’s a bit too “meta” – play within a play, actors playing actors playing characters – to be deeply moving.

The Clouds of Sils Maria opens today in Toronto; Tomorrow is Always Too Long opened the Images festival which continues all week: go to imagesfestival.com for times and galleries. Next Time I Aim for the Heart plays next weekend at the Bloor Cinema. Go to cinefranco.com for times and locations of these and many other French language films.

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

Daniel Garber talks to filmmaker Lena Macdonald and her mother Harriet Durham about her new documentary Mom and Me.

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, drugs, Family, Movies, Sex Trade by CulturalMining.com on April 3, 2015

Harriet Durham, Filmmaker Lena Macdonald Mom and me 1Hi, This is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Harriet lived a busy life in Nova Scotia and Ontario, raising her family and shooting documentaries. But something happened, and life became unbearable. She drifted away from her husband and kids.

Her daughter Lena had vague, fuzzy memories of happier days. So she set out to find her mother, and document it on film. But the happy days were long gone. She found her mom in and outHarriet Durham, Filmmaker Lena Macdonald Mom and me 2 of prison, addicted to drugs, detached, drifting, homeless, and living on the harsh streets of Toronto.

What happened? Lena wondered. What did the future hold for Mom and Me?

Mom and Me is also the name of a tough, tender and highly personal documentary that’s having its world premier at Toronto’s Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival. It Mom and Me Harriet Durhamwas directed by Lena Macdonald and is all about her mother, Harriet Durham. Mom and Me is Lena’s first feature, ten years in the making. Harriet and Lena talk about life on the street, addiction, rehab, recovery, family roles, forgiveness, and what to include in a film and what to leave out.  I spoke to Lena and Harriet at CIUT.

Middle. Movies Reviewed: Salt of the Earth, Last Knights, While We’re Young

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, photography by CulturalMining.com on April 3, 2015

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

While exciting things might happen at the fringe, people tend to aim for the centre. This week I’m looking at three movies about the middle. There’s a comedy about a middle-aged couple who try to regain their youth; an action drama set in the Middle Ages; and a documentary about a news photographer who always places himself in the middle.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 2Salt of the Earth
Dir: Wim Wenders, Julian Ribeiro Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado is a photojournalist from Brazil. Trained as an economist he moved to Paris in the 1960s with his young wife. He soon realized he was in the wrong profession and became a news photographer, taking pictures of people in dramatic or disastrous circumstances. The Ethiopian Famine; the Rwandan © Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowedgenocide; the subsequent refugee crisis in Goma, Congo; and the Balkan wars. The movie opens with his masterpieces: unbelievable shots of pit miners swarming like ants up and down vast dirt walls in a Brazilian gold rush.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 3His images are breathtaking, moving, informative and historically relevant, and they’re mimicked in the film’s cinematography. This guy is a great photographer. The movie gives you the photos, alongside the cameraman himself commenting on when he took them. It’s like looking through the world’s best photo album with the guy who took the snaps sitting beside you. Salt of the Earth is a documentary made by his son and Wim Wenders. With the stunning visuals, he comes across as earnest if a bit dry.

VVS_LstKnights_UltraVODPosterLast Knights
Dir: Kazuaki Kiriya

It’s the middle-ages. Raiden (Clive Owen) is the Commander of the 7th rank, widely known throughout the land for his fighting skills and discipline. He and the other knights are sworn to loyalty to their master. They’re well trained with the bow and arrow, and can cut down four enemies with a single sword. Their clan is headed by Milord, ruler of the Bartok lands (Morgan Freeman). Each year, the lords are summoned to the capital to pay tribute – as in bribe – to the emperor. But the gifts actually go TLKLH_D37-5869.CR2directly to a corrupt minister named Geeza Mott (Aksel Hennie: Max Manus). He’s effete, whiny, cruel and evil. You can tell because he spends more time with his black and white lapdog than with his wife. He pulls all the strings – the Emperor is just a figurehead.

TLKLH_D44-7495.CR2Bartok has had enough. He challenges Geeza but is executed for his insolence, his lands stolen and all his knights cut loose. Will Rainer and his men siege Geeza’s palace and avenge Bartok’s deat? Or will they all just give up?TLKLH_D18-725.CR2

This is an odd sort of movie. It has an amazingly diverse cast : African-American, British, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Persian… you name it. Problem is a lot of the cast doesn’t speak English… they’re basically unintelligible. Not that the lines they’re stumbling through are that important anyway. What’s interesting is that this is a Japanese Samurai movie, reset in a multi-ethnic Europe of the middle ages. Geeza Mott is the Shogun, Bartok the Daimyo, Rainer and his crew are Samurai. (Think 47 Ronin in tights and tunics.) Even the sword fights are Japanese, not European style. The fights and battle scenes – though loaded with CGI – are very well done. See it for the action, not for the dialogue.

11052541_1460114650915742_7017630456054098766_nWhile We’re Young
Dir: Noah Baumbach

Cornelia and Josh (Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller) are a childless — and decidedly unhip — couple in their 40s living in New York City in . They once had great hopes of artistic achievement, but it didn’t quite work out. Ben has been making a documentary for more than 8 years with no sign of progress. He’s a purist who wrangles daily over the essence of his subject, when he should just be finishing it. And even though Cornelia is the daughter of a famous documentary filmmaker herself, Josh is much too proud to accept advice from his father in law.

Then something changes: he meets a young couple of aspiring filmmakers seemingly by chance – they crash one of his university lectures just to talk to him. They tell him he’s their hero. Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seiyfried) are just what Josh needs to regain his confidence, rejuvenate his ailing career and recesitate his marriage. He can get back in touch with his creative side. Cornelia is11026357_1454347351492472_304194366553560543_n suspicious at first, but soon is just as entranced as Josh is. They volunteer to help him with his documentary. They’re so casual, they’re not out for fame or fortune, they do it just for the art. Josh is in love.

Soon enough, they’re listening to the same 80s vinyl songs they used to laugh at. They’re attending weird native purges that involve puking. They’re hanging in crowded nightclubs with obscure bands. It’s like they were told the secret hipster handshake and given the keys to the city… of Bushwick. They adjust their wardrobes and lifestyles accordingly.

But all is not what it seems. Does the younger couple have ulterior motives?

While We’re Young is a good, light social comedy and not much more. It portrays Cornelia and Josh — a couple living in New York and working in a creative industry — as if they’d just arrived from a farm and never seen a hipster in their lives. Noah Baumbach is a very good filmmaker who happens to be dating a much younger woman (Greta Gerwig); perhaps this movie is a self-deprecating apology. He’s trying to make Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors but ends up with Meet the Fokkers. This is a formulaic, generation gap comedy.

Last Knights and While We’re Young both open today in Toronto, while Salt of the Earth opens next week. 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

Skool Daze. Movies reviewed: Boychoir, It Follows, The Riot Club

Posted in Class, Cultural Mining, Drama, Horror, Kids, Movies, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Are school days the best days of our lives? Or a journey through the nine stages of hell? This week I’m looking at three movies: a drama about a choir school for boys, a horror movie about high school students, and a dark tale set at Oxford University.

Photography By Myles AronowitzBoychoir
Dir: Francois Girard (The Red Violin)

Stet (Garret Wareing) is a dirt-poor kid in Odessa, Texas. His mom’s an addict and the boy runs rampant at school, picking fights and acting out his frustrations. Mom ODs, Stet’s an orphan, so he’s taken under the wing of his school principal (Debra Winger). She recognizes his musical talent and angelic voice, and convinces his biological father to send him to American Boy Choir an elite music school on the east coast.

He may be talented, but he has no training – he’s musically 896a532c-bd1d-4e4d-870d-38b382f5e407 Dustin Hoffman in Boychoirilliterate. Other kids bully him, and he retreats farther and farther into himself. The teachers at the school react differently. Drake (Eddie Izzard) is a priggish snot – he thinks Stet’s challenging his own protégé, the prize soloist Devon,  so he offers no help; Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) is a egotistical tyrant, but he sees himself in young Stet. He gets more sympathy from Wooly, a young teacher (Kevin McHale) and the pragmatic schoolmistress (Kathy Bates). Stet’s father (Josh Lucas) supports him financially, but keeps his existence a secret – is he ashamed of his own son?

Photography By Myles AronowitzIt’s up to Stet himself to study and practice if he ever wants to sing solo in the travelling choir and reveal his amazing talent. He can reach and hold a high “D” – the holy grail for young singers. But time is ticking. He’s twelve years old, and his voice may change at any moment.

Boychoir is heavy-duty weeper, but I liked it. My eyes teared up at least 5 times over the course of the movie. I realize it’s intentionally pulling all the sentimental strings but it still works. Aside from a few acting missteps and bungled scenes, Stet and the rest of the kids play their roles naturally and sing very well. Boychoir shows how young kids can be both innocent and cruel.

629a894c-6ed1-4f8c-bbf4-e4664ebfb9a7It Follows
Dir: David Robert Mitchell

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager who lives a quiet and dull suburban life with her sister and her friends. She’s dating Hugh (Jake Weary) an older guy. He’s pretty nice, if a bit weird. One night they drive out to a deserted area and have sweet sex in the back seat of his car.

Next thing you know she’s tied to a chair in an abandoned 8ca0fd9e-e409-4f69-a7f2-d902e94d077aparking lot! It gets worse: Hugh says he infected her with an incurable STI. And not just that: this “infection” means someone or something will always be following her, and if it catches her she’s dead. And only she can see it but it’s real, and can change its appearance at will. An old lady in a hospital gown. A naked, middle-aged guy on a roof. A feral kid. You can outrun it, but it never stops coming.

deb8edab-19f9-43c4-bf02-b904ebdcb584Your only cure is to pass it on to the next person by having sex. As long as they’re still alive, you’re safe. When they’re gone, you’re next in line again.

So Jay and her friends (basically there are no adults in this movie) – her sister, a shy boy with a crush, a smart girl, the dude across the street – together they try to keep her, and themselves, safe from this thing.762937db-6c02-48be-85c4-1e0ce9523704

This movie is oddly calm, but terrifying. It’s filled with white suburban fear and angst… and lots of casual sex. This is not your regular Hollywood teen horror movie; it feels more like an indie pic with its unconventional characters and normcore aesthetic. But it’s the plainness, the ordinariness of the creature that will scare your pants off.

10154919_1001948323154626_384318691203502678_nThe Riot Club
Dir: Lalo Schiffrin

When Miles (Max Irons) starts at Oxford, he’s a hellofa nice guy. He’s smart, personable and good-looking. He’s also filthy rich, complete with stately mansion and Westminster education. He’s paired up with Alistair (Sam Claflin) for their two-person tutorials, and it’s a study in contrasts. Alistair is an insufferable snob, a stuck-up, disagreeable prick. The two of them are chosen to join a secret fraternal organization of ten young men; notably no women, since this club thinks of females as comodities, not 1926768_951500188199440_3355565866358656126_npeople. It’s known as the Riot Club. More than two centuries old, it’s devoted to the best eating, drinking and debauchery money can buy. Its members are all handsome, witty, self-confident and well connected. The ten of them will go on to rule the finances and government of the UK and the world.

While not a rebel, Miles doesn’t think much about class and status and is dating a pretty girl, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), from a decidedly non-posh background. But things take a sinister 10662061_944410158908443_3913457697926683186_oturn at a dinner initiation. Anything is permitted at the country pub, and any damages are paid off in cash. The ten of them arrive in white ties and tails, but their behavior is anything but formal. In this movie, the upper class is less Downton Abbey, more Clockwork Orange (with ordinary people as their victims). Will both Miles and Alistair take part these excesses? Or will Miles stay true to his girlfriend Lauren?

I can’t say I loved this movie – it’s quite disturbing. It’s the opposite of a feel-good movie. It’s a feel bad movie. Sadly, the story is modelled on an actual group, the Bullingdon Club. They say its cynical, aristocratic members still rule Britannia, including London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the article-2407406-1B8A4305000005DC-25_634x489Exchequer and even UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Excellent acting, great script (based on the play POSH) The Riot Club is a well-made, powerful film… but not a nice one.

Boychoir, It Follows and The Riot Club 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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Saul Pincus and actor Knickoy Robinson about their film Nocturne

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Movies, Romantic Comedy by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Cindy is a shy woman on meds who works at a cubical job at her aunt’s company. Her parents had high hopes for her when she published a kids’ book at age 8, but now she’s fallen on hard times and can barely take care of herself. At work she encounters Armen, a much younger man, with a strange condition. When he falls into a deep sleep he can walk, eat, use the bathroom — perhaps even drive a car. All with no memory of anything he does. Armen may be just the sort of boyfriend Cindy needs. Talk about a dysfunctional cast---Knickoy-RobinsonBackrelationship; he doesn’t even know who she is. And neither of them realizes theres a criminal conspiracy going on all around them. Will they ever meet for real? Or will they forever be separated by a nocturnal divide? Nocturne-Poster-Small-SizeNocturne is the name of an unusual, new Canadian movie showing in Toronto as part of the Canadian Film Fest. It was co-written and directed by Saul Pincus and stars Mary Krohnert as Cindy and Knickoy Robinson as the sleepwalking Armen. I spoke to Saul and Knickoy in Toronto. They talked about Australia,  introversion vs extroversion, film editing, acting, consciousness, souvlaki, sleepwalking, “blindness”, animation, dreaming, Niagara Falls, Toronto, co-writer Mitch Magonet, international appeal… and more! Nocturne premiers at the Canadian Film Fest on Saturday, March 28th at 6 pm.

Film noir. Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck. Films Reviewed: Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers PLUS Tracers

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Film Noir, Movies, Parkour, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 20, 2015

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) Directed by Anatole Litvak Shown: Barbara StanwyckHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Film Noir. Those dark, mysterious B&W thrillers from the 1940s, full of intrigue, lies, murder, and adultery. They abound with low-lifes, power-hungry toughs, private eyes and femmes fatales. And one of the key players was Barbara Stanwyck.  Strong, sexy and smart, she ruled the Hollywood screen. A retrospective, Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck is now playing at TIFF.  I’ll admit I’d heard her name but hadn’t seen her films until now. Wow! I get her now: She played powerful women in an era when that meant you’re either evil, immoral, or psychotic.

So this week I’m going to look at two of her film noir movies from the 1940s: there’s a seedy seductress testing the waters of insurance fraud, and a female industrialist with a secret past who might have an affair; and a new release, a noir-ish crime thriller about a young bike courier who jumps, feet first, into organized crime.

98LxN8_DoubleIndemnity_001_(FRL)_o3_8515542_1421266065Double Indemnity
Dir: Billy Wilder, Wri: Raymond Chandler

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance agent in L.A. He’s a bachelor, devoted to his job. The one man he looks up to is the firm’s investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson). Keyes is the one who uncovers the crooked scammers trying to push through dubious claims on their accounts. He says “the little man inside” him can always detect when something’s fishy.

One day, when Neff visits an oil man to renew his insurance policy, he instead encounters the man’s wife. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) is a vivacious blonde in a bathrobe who isn’t shy about her good looks. She flirts openly with him, but he smells a scam brewing so he brushes her off. But soon enough they’re together again, making love and plotting an insurance scheme. It would pay her “double indemnity” — a huge amount of money — if the husband dies accidentally in a particular way. He goes for it like a dumb dog, blinded by lust. But after the deed is done, he finds himself in a double bind as the result of his actions. Keyes is suspicious, so Neff can’t see the woman he wants to be with. And Neff begins to suspect there is more to Phyllis than meets the eye.

This is a fantastic, dark story told by a dying man.

98LxVZ_Strange_Love_Martha_1946_2_o3_8516142_1421266090The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Dir: Lewis Milestone

Martha Ivers is a teenaged orphan in Iverstown, a city that bears her family name. She lives with her rich and powerful aunt and an ineffectual boy named Walter, her tutor’s obedient son. Her only friend is a blustering ruffian itching for a fight. Sam is from the wrong side of town but Martha’s attraction transcends class. She tries to run away with him but is brought back by her cruel aunt. But on the very night that they plan to escape Iverstown forever, something happens. In a fit of anger Martha strikes and kills her aunt. Walter sees it happen, but helps her cover up the crime. And in return for his silence she later marries him.

Flash forward 20 years. Sam (Van Heflin) comes back to Iverstown, almost by accident. He discovers his old love Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) now rules the place. She’s a powerful woman who turned her aunt’s small fortune into a huge legacy. Her husband, Walter (Kirk Douglas – his first film), is the District Attorney. Walter is a depressed alcoholic, still madly in love with Martha, who merely puts up with him. They live in separate wings of her mansion. Sam, meanwhile, meets a pretty ex-con on parole named Toni (Lizabeth Scott) and vows to help her out. He asks Walter for a hand, for old times sake.

But when Martha and Sam meet again, an old love is rekindled. Walter attempts to nip it in the bud by having Sam roughed up and driven out of town. But nobody kicks Sam around without paying the consequences. This menage a quatre, involving the highest of the high and the lowest of the low, is played out in a rough urban setting. This is an amazing film, largely forgotten, from an era where the poor and downtrodden were more sympathetic than the rich and powerful. Barbara Stanwyck is amazing, as this self-made powerful woman… and potential psychopath.

Tracers
Keyart_TracersDir: Daniel Benmayor

Cam (Taylor Lautner, the wolf-boy in the Twilight series) is an orphan in New York City who works as a bike courier. One day on a ride, he notices some ninja-types bouncing on top of the buildings he zooms past. But when one of them, a woman named Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos) jumps down from a rooftop, he ends up in an accident. He flies through the air,_12A7632.CR2 landing right on top of her. It totals his bike, which puts his sole income in jeopardy: he holds a debt to a loan shark. He needs money … and he really likes Nikki.

After passing a complex test he ends up joining her secretive gang. Turns out they work freelance, pulling off carefully-planned jewel heists and drug deals. Their secret weapon? They’re all skilled in parkour, the French sport of running, climbing and jumping of buildings, which renders them unbeatable. _12A6381.cr2But they all have to answer to Miller (Adam Rayner), the self-proclaimed “alpha dog” of this pack. And he doesn’t want anybody messing with his plans… or his girlfriend Nikki. Can Cam pay off his debt, escape this criminal life, and get together with his new true love?

Tracers is a feeble action-thriller, with plot holes so big you could drive a convoy of trucks through them. Teen idol Taylor Lautner is as one- dimensional as always, though Rayner and Avgeropoulos and some of the side actors in smaller roles are somewhat better. A silly movie for sure but I really liked the jumping, climbing and the rest of the parkour chase scenes, They’re great! And I hear Lautner did his own stunts. Is Tracers worth seeing? If you like parkour, definitely. If not, don’t bother.

Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck is playing at TIFF through the month. And Tracers opens today in Toronto and on Pay on Demand. Check your local listings. Also opening today is the Water Docs Festival at Jackman Hall at the AGO – a documentary series… about water!

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

Daniel Garber talks to director Majdi El-Omari about his new film STANDSTILL

Majdi El-Omari STandstillHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Karhiio is a Mohawk science student in Toronto who steals some offensive nicknacks he sees in a souvenir shop and goes to jail. His Dad, John, a war photographer, drives out from Montreal to meet him there. He owes his son a debt for breaking up with his ex-wife, an artist. But he also has a responsibility to his neighbour in Montreal: Widad, a Palestinian woman who is hiding in plain sight after a crime. Until he addresses his obligations, his life is at a stand still.

Standstill is also the name of a new Canadian movie. It’s a film where English is rarely standstillspoken — not so unusual for a film from Montreal. What is unusual is that most of the characters speak Kanien’kehà:ka, the language of the Mohawk First Nations, and possibly the first such film ever made. Shot in beautiful black and white, it’s a pensive character study of three alienated and misplaced souls.

It’s directed by award-winning filmmaker Majdi El-Omari, and Standstill is his first feature. It opens in Toronto at the Royal Cinema on March 13th, 2015.

I spoke to Majdi by telephone from Montreal. The Palestinian-Canadian director talks about the Oka crisis, Quebec, indigenous people, the film’s genesis, existentialism, media stereotypes, resistance, the role of police, internal violence, cultural representations, the Mohawk language, and more!

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