Village People. Films reviewed: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Silence, 20th Century Women

Posted in 1970s, Art, Christianity, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Family, Feminism, Gay, Japan, Punk, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 13, 2017

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

Everyone lives in a neighbourhood, whether it’s a city or a small town. This week I’m looking at movies about village people. There’s a photographer in the East Village, a priest in a Japanese village, and a woman who believes it takes a village.

MapplethorpeMapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Dir: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Robert Mapplethorpe was a major 20th century artist who rose to fame just as four major changes were taking place: the gay liberation movement, the Aids crisis, the socially conservative backlash under Ronald Reagan, and the sudden rise in value of contemporary art and photography. Born in Queens NY he went to Pratt art college and moved in with 201605317_1_img_fix_700x700underground poet and musician Patti Smith. He smoked acid and boiled a dead monkey. Mapplethorpe fell in with the jet-set of the ultra-rich in Mustique, in the Caribbean, creating a demand for his black and white photos. And his second life was spent in a legendary S&M gay bar called the Mineshaft in the meatpacking district. Likewise, he divided his work docs_mapplethorpe02-296x300into three categories: X, Y and Z. Explicit gay S&M imagery (X); flowers (Y); and nude portraits of African-American men, focusing on their genitals (Z). He died of Aids in the late 80s at the height of his career, just as conservative Jesse Helms blocked his art from a Washington museum, plus a court case labelling his art as obscene.

This documentary covers his life and career, and most of all reveals his work. It’s a great introduction to his art and its history, but I was bothered by its stance: venerate the art – as significant and valuable; but denigrate the artist – as vain, selfish, ambitious and petty.

15137495_1333188413378658_1730090754012238611_oSilence

Dir: Martin Scorsese (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel)

Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfiield and Adam Driver) are Jesuit priests in 17th century Portugal. The Jesuit mission to convert the Japanese under Frances Xavier has failed: the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, and closed off the country to all outside contact. Japanese Christians have reverted back to Buddhists or else practice their religion underground. Worst of all, their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is missing. So they sneak into Japan with the help of a shady fisherman named Kichijiro (Kubozuka Yousuke). Once there to their surprise, they discover hidden Christians everywhere, who call them Padre and rush to confess. But behind the scenes lurks the grand inquisitor Inoue (Ogata Issei), a samurai whose sole job is to flush out hidden Christians, and convert them to Buddhism. When he finally meets 15168802_1341247705906062_2844253298776036664_oRodrigues the two embark on an extended religious debate. Who will triumph? The Christlike Rodrigues or the cunning Inoue?

Silence is a beautiful looking movie. For Rodrigues, Japan is witnessed mainly through cracks in wooden walls, either hiding from the authorities or imprisoned by them. The islands are lush and green shrouded in a mist that surrounds the padres and their followers. But 15235447_1344428582254641_1724759706567928024_oonce the action shifts to a battle of minds on government land, it becomes sharp and austere.

The original novel is by Shusaku Endo, a Catholic Japanese novelist (a rare thing). Andrew Garfield (who plays Rodrigues) is becoming a poster child for Christian philosophy in a Japanese setting – he’s also starring in Hacksaw Ridge about a conscientious objector fighting in Okinawa in WWII. Garfield is great, as is the entire Japanese cast, filled with top actors and a surprising number of directors. (You can tell they all want to appear in a Scorsese film). To name just two, Kubozuka is fascinating as the Judas character Kichijiro, and Ogata is amazing as Inoue (he starred in Aleksandr Sokurov’s masterpiece The Sun). Silence is a long and intense movie, filled with philosophical debate, and punctuated by disturbing death and torture. This is not an easy movie to take in but it’s well worth seeing.

_DSC1289.NEF20th Century Women

Wri/Dir: Mike Mills

It’s 1979. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom in small town California who works as a designer in a canning factory. She’s a 20th century woman who wears Birkenstocks and smokes menthol cigarettes. She was the first female pilot in the Air Force in WWII. Now she lives in a big house with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Jamie is 15, rides a skateboard and just hangs out. But when he nearly dies after a silly game, Dorothea realizes they aren’t connecting anymore. So she asks for help from the younger women in her life. Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s childhood crush. She likes riding her bike and _TND7063.NEFattending her mom’s psychotherapy encounters. She’s exploring sex and will sleep with any guy she likes…except Jamie. Well she’ll sleep with him and share his bed, just no sex. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) rents a room in their house, recovering from cervical cancer. She’s a punk _DSC4067.tifphotographer who dyes her hair red. She introduces Jamie to feminism with a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. He gets in his first fist fight at school in an argument about clitoral orgasm. And then there’s William (Billy Crudup) a hippy handyman drifter who repairs the house in lieu of rent. Mom is loving and giving and wants to share it all with Jamie and the rest, but fears the effects of feminism, and the sexual revolution on his development as a man. And Jamie? He just wants to live life and make sense of it all.

Twentieth Century Women is a funny and fascinating ensemble piece. It’s narrated by an omniscient version of Dorothea in some future incarnation. There are a few jarring anachronisms:  would a 15 year old in 1979 receiving a gift of recorded music exclaim “It’s a Mixtape!”? But that doesn’t detract from this excellent coming-of-age story within an impromptu family. Great movie.

Silence is now playing, 20th Century Women opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures opens on January 13th,  with a special screening at the AGO. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

O Canada. Films reviewed: Hello Destroyer, Maliglutit

Posted in 1910s, Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, violence by CulturalMining.com on January 7, 2017

the-true-north-the-story-of-capt-joseph-bernier-tc-fairley-charles-e-israel-illus-james-hill-1957Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Happy New Year! It’s the sesquicentennial. You’ll be hearing that word a lot. It means it’s been 150 years since Canada’s Confederation in 1867.

CRTC chief Jean Pierre Blais thinks Canadian TV should be designed to appeal on the world stage – we shouldn’t worry about Canadian culture. Writer Charles Foran, in the Guardian, calls Canada the world’s first post-national country. He’s quoting Justin Trudeau, but I think they’re missing the point. There is a strong the-rivers-end-by-james-oliver-curwood-triangle-press-circa-1946national identity. It’s just not an ethnic-based nationalism. It’s not a jingoistic nationalism. It’s not an exclusive identity, it’s an inclusive one that is welcoming and tolerant and multifaceted. But we do have a distinctive Canadian culture.

And part of our identity is Canadian literature, art, music and film. In this Sesquicentennial year look out for lots of chances to consume Canadian culture. The NFB has put thousands of films and documentaries online. And there’s Canada on Screen, a nationwide retrospective running all year with 150 of the best docs, animation, features and TV. All screenings are free!

This week I’m looking at Canadian movies playing as part of the annual Canada’s Top Ten series. We’ve got a hockey drama out of the far west, and a western from the extreme north.

hellodestroyer_still_05Hello Destroyer

Wri/Dir: Kevan Funk

Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson) is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job. He’s welcomed by a hazing where the players hold down the newbies while they forcibly shave their heads and pummel them. It helps them feel “part of the team”. Violence builds manhood and comradery. He’s known as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay – fighting on the ice is just another part of the game. Tyson is at his physical peak and on top of the world. But he admits to another rookie that he has doubts and fears of hishellodestroyer_still_09 own.

The coach (Kurt Max Runte) tells the team they should aim to be heroes. You’ve got to hammer your steel into excalibur! We are fighters, brawlers, men! That’s when they’re winning. But when they are losing he bawls them out and tells them to fight back – aggressively. Tyson does just that, and sends a player to hospital.

hellodestroyer_still_07The coach and team lawyers, rather than reaching out to him, throw Tyson beneath the proverbial bus. They make him read a prepared statement talking all the blame, all the responsibility. Suddenly he plummets from hero to pariah. He gets kicked out of his home, suspended – temporarily they say – from the team, and is forced to move back in with his parents.

He’s also plagued with guilt – he wants to apologize to the guy he hurt, to tellhellodestroyer_still_04 him he didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t fit with the league’s plans. From beating players on the ice, his new job at a slaughter house, hacking at bloody carcasses in the cold.

He seeks solace and solitude with another guy who has fallen on hard times, and doesn’t hold it against him as they salvage an old shack. Can Tyson face his hellodestroyer_04doubts and regain his self-respect, or will he continue in a downward spiral of loss and self-destruction?

Hello Destroyer is a moving look at violence and self doubt in the world of professional sports. But don’t expect to see a conventional, movie of the week type drama. This is an impressionistic, introspective art-house movie. No slow-mo punch fights or zooms at key moments. No reaction shots. The camera hellodestroyer_02always stands back, following Tyson from behind, or capturing a conversation through a half-open doorway. Dialogue might be muffled or turned off entirely. Jared Abrahamson carries the whole movie – the frustration, anger and self-loathing – on his shoulders, and pulls it off admirably. This is a good first film.

maliglutitsearchers_02Maliglutit (Searchers)

Dir: Zacharias Kunuk

It’s 1913, in Igloolik. There’s a party going on in a large igloo with singing, storytelling and all around good times. But there’s friction as well. A couple of foul mouthed men are openly groping The father’s wife and not sharing the food they caught. Those are both against Inuit law. The offenders are kicked out, and ride off on their dog sleds. But they haven’t seen the last of them.

Following a spiritual forecast, the hunters – father and son – head out to catch caribou, leaving the kids, women and elderly behind. And while the hunters are away they hear dogs barking and strange noises outside. Is it a bear attack? No it’s something worse. The bad men are back, breaking down the walls of their home, attacking and killing almost everyone. They rope up the mother and maliglutitsearchers_04daughter and tie them to their sleds, as bounty. But the women refuse to cooperate and “be nice”. They fight back.

Our heroes spot their home through a telescope and know something is terribly wrong. There’s a gaping wound in its side. In the igloo, dying grandfather passes him a bird talisman. He summons the bird’s call to help him track the attackers. Who will survive this life and death battle?

maliglutitsearchers_01Maliglutit is a great movie — part mystery, part western, part historical drama — with information you might only get in a documentary. It captures an era after western contact and technology – they use a telescopes and rifles, and drink tea – but before Christianity, snowmobiles, forced resettlement and the killing of dog teams. It loosely follows the classic John Wayne The Searchers, a so-called Cowboy and Indian movie, but this time from the indigenous point if view. Like all of Kunuk’s movies it is stunning to watch with its arctic vistas and intense whites, blacks and blues, punctuated with the occasional splash of red blood or the glow of fire.

See NFB movies at nfb.ca; Canada’s Top Ten starts on January 13th – go to tiff.net/seethenorth for details;  and for information about the year-long, sesquicentennial retrospective go to tiff.net/canadaonscreen.

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 Avi Nesher about Past Life at #TIFF16

Posted in 1970s, Berlin, Biopic, Drama, Feminism, Israel, Music, Mystery, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 6, 2017

avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-1-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sephi and Nana Milch are Israeli sisters in the late 1970s. Sephi is the beautiful one – she’s a student of music and wants to become a composer. Nana is the smart one, an intellectual who writes for a pastlife_06radical leftist newspaper. They were both raised by strict parents who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a Polish farmer’s house. But on a musical visit to Berlin, Sephi has a strange encounter: a woman shouting that her father is a murderer. A murderer? Her own father? This sends both sisters on a search across two continents to find out what really happened and to confront their avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-2-jeff-harrisown hidden past. But can they handle the truth of their parents’ past life?

Past Life is the name of a new movie, based on a bestselling memoir. It was written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. Nesher is a longtime favourite at TIFF, bringing us heady romances like The pastlife_04Secrets and brilliant period dramas like The Matchmaker (a personal favourite). Nesher is a consumate storyteller. His absorbing films combine intellectual rigour with vivid characters, all placed within stories reminiscent of classic Hollywood movies. This film premiered at the Toronto international film festival. I spoke with Avi Nesher on location at the TIFF Bell Lightbox during TIFF16.

Past Life screens in Toronto at 1:00pm and 4:00pm on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Go to TJFF for details.

Photos of Avi Nesher by Jeff Harris.

 

Daniel Garber talks with director Simon Stadler about Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Clash of Cultures, documentary, Germany, Travel by CulturalMining.com on December 25, 2016

14124088_1073052289410123_769607674_oHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

The Ju/’Hoansi are a people living in the Kalahari desert for millennia. They feed themselves as hunters and gatherers with minimal contact with outside groups. But not so long ago, hunting wild animals in the bush was banned in Namibia (in Southwest Africa.) Deprived of their livelihood, they were forced to turn to tourism to earn money selling handicrafts and posing for pictures. And the white tourists – known as ghostpeople – flocked in from all over. Later, some members of the village were shown other parts of Namibia, and four of them taken to Europe, a land filled with ghosts.

Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi is a new feature documentary that ghostland5follows the four as they discover Europe, teach people there how to live as they do, and carry some of the wealth and technology they encounter back home to their families in the Kalahari. It is directed by Simon Stadler, a prizewinning filmmaker and known for his background in anthropology. I spoke with Simon in Germany by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM studio.

The film opens on Christmas Day at Toronto’s Hot Docs cinema.

 

 

Christmas movies. Films reviewed: Julieta, Fences, La La Land

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 23, 2016

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

It’s Christmas weekend with lots of movies to choose from. This week I’m talking about three excellent movies to see. There’s a woman in Madrid haunted by her past, a married man in Pittsburgh fighting off his demons, and a young couple in LA looking for love in a city of lost souls.

207c9f5a-c8b2-4684-84b8-e2ca620e5350Julieta

Dir: Pedro Almadovar

Julieta (Emma Suarez) is a middle aged woman who lives in Madrid. She is making a big change, leaving her longtime lover Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) and moving to Portugal after countless years of waiting. What is she waiting for? Word from her daughter Antia, who disappeared without a trace many years earlier. She’s all ready to go when she runs into her daughter’s childhood friend Beatriz on a street corner, who says she saw Antia in Lac Como. And so begins the telling of a mysterious story divided into three chapters.

As a young woman, Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) is a brilliant and beautiful prof. Her c1bbda5d-7ad7-43d0-8743-6fd52f0acf0dstudents all love her. But when she meets Xoan — a handsome and rugged fisherman — on a train, her life is turned upside down. A man is killed, a deer runs past the train, and she falls heavily for Xoan. Is it love at first sight? She visits Xoan (Daniel Grao) at his home by the water. But he’s not at home, just a suspicious and protective housekeeper (Rossy de Palma) who won’t let Julieta wait for him inside. Eventually they live as a couple and raise their daughter Antia together. Julieta meets Xoan’s friends, including the sultry 47c1af05-dbf2-4911-b667-2e6504d2be42sculptress Ava (Inma Cuesta),

But after a tragic turn of events, Julieta is back in Madrid, raising her daughter alone. She falls into a deep depression, and young Antia spends more and more time with her best friend Beatriz. Still later, Julieta retraces her steps, trying to explain why she lost her daughter so many years ago.

Julieta is a great drama, the product of an unexpected combination. It pairs Almadovar – known for his lush, passionate melodramas and over-the-top comedies — with Canadian author Alice Munro’s quirky, understated stories about women in small town Ontario. Does it work? Yes, yes, yes. With its small fishing boat on a lake, classrooms, caribou running past a train, along with jealousy and infidelity, it’s an intrinsically Canadian story… and yet perfectly Spanish. I really liked this movie.

14707023_1121134524668241_6064690716005417326_oFences

Dir: Denzel Washington

It’s the 1950s. Troy Maxton (Denzel Washington) works as a garbage man for the city of Pittsburgh. Each Friday, he comes home from work with the same things: a sack of potatoes, a piece of lard, a mickey of gin, and his pay envelope. The money goes to his wife Rose (Viola Davis) but he shares the gin with his best friend Bono. Troy met Bono in jail as a young man. It’s also, where he learned to play baseball, and where he met Rose a kindly visitor. He has two sons: Lyons who is a jazz musician (Troy calls it Chinese music) and Cory (Jovan Adepo) a high school athlete. His brother Gabriel – with a metal plate in his head — carries a trumpet to play for St Peter at the pearly gates. Troy, though, is more worried about the Devil.

Troy and Rose are deeply in love, Cory’s doing great in school, everything seems perfect… but it isn’t.. Troy wants to show he’s the man of the house, and everyone’s afraid of him. He tries to stop Cory from going to college on a football scholarship. (He once was a pro baseball player once but now he’s hauling rubbish.) Gabe has moved out, and best friend Bono says Troy is looking too closely at other woman. Can this family stay together? Or is it teetering on the brink of total collapse?

Fences is a small movie that feels more like a filmed play. Great dialogue — adapted from his own script by August Wilson – and basically one setting, with little action other than crossing the floor or sawing a board.  Flashbacks are talked about, not shown. But the grandness of the characters and the stories they tell does come through. Director Denzel Washington doesn’t hog the screen; instead he lets all the other actors bloom before the camera. Davis and Adepo are outstanding, in fact all of them are great. But this film is more stage-worthy than cinematic. Fences is a moving and revealing look at an African-American family in the 1950s.

LLL d 29 _5194.NEFLa La Land

Dir: Damien Chazelle

Mia and Sebastian are strangers in LA. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She commutes to a major Hollywood studio each day, to work not as an actress but as a barista at a coffee chain. She lives with other actresses who enjoy the party scene but none of whom has made it big. Each audition Mia goes to is worse than the one before. But she’s hoping her one woman show wi’ll convince Hollywood she’s ready for stardom. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a serious musician who composes grand jazz opuses on his grand piano. He’s a jazz purist who would rather die than perform with a fusion band. He pines for the old jazz joints, now rapidly turning into tapas bars. Ironically he ends up working in a rundown piano bar where his hard-ass boss (JK Simmons) makes him play Jingle Bells, over and over again.

Mia and Sebastian first meet in an LA traffic jam, and it’s hate at first site. Later, when he rescues her from a bad date, they hit it off. This leads to more meetings where together they explore the classic sites of old Hollywood: like the planetarium from Rebel without a Cause.

Together, supporting one another, they think they can conquer the world. But will their success be what tears their relationship apart?

La La Land is a very good movie that’s also a musical. That means extras singing and dancing their hearts out on the LA freeway. Gosling and Stone use their real voices and legs, but they’re not Gene Kelly or Julie Andrews. They’re popular actors trying hard to sing and dance. It makes their performances real and touching, but not super fantastic. It combines fantasy, a complex plot, extended flashbacks, and touching moments of love, with beautifully shot images and catchy songs. It’s a tribute to a forgotten Hollywood by young people yearning for purer days. A very good movie.

Julieta starts today and Fences and Lala Land open on Christmas Day 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

Behind the Camera. Films reviewed: Cameraperson, Harry Benson: Shoot First

Posted in 1960s, Beauty, Class, Death, documentary, Politics, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 16, 2016

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

Every film is actually just a series of still images, sped up to appear to be moving. We don’t see the still shots only their motion. But did you ever wonder who is behind the camera, who is taking these pictures? This week I’m looking at two new documentaries about life behind the camera. There’s a celebrity photographer who always pulls out his camera in the right place at the right time; and a documentary cinematographer who captures war and death, but is affected by what she sees.

1476907888851Cameraperson
Dir: Kirsten Johnson

What would you do if…

A baby is delivered by a midwife in a hospital in Kenya. She leaves the room, but the filmmakers are still there… and the baby doesn’t seem to be moving.  Should they just observe? Or run after the midwife to save the baby’s life?

In the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, an elderly woman in Foča refuses to tell American reporters about the rapes and massacres: nothing happened, she says. But earlier another woman described what happened to four young women who talked to a reporter in the sports stadium where they were interred. They were taken away and never heard from again. Should all journalists bear responsibility for deaths caused by one reporter?

A boxer in blue shorts, storms out of the ring, furious after losing a match. He is followed down the halls by a camera that catches him punching at walls, storming past people, knocking over tables. Then he turns to face the cameraperson with fire in his eyes. Should the cameraperson keep shooting,  or should she run for her life?

These are just some of the dilemmas and dangers faced by a cinematographerbts1-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-majlinda-hoxha shooting real-life events, things that she caused or what shooting the documentaries did to her. This film follows seemingly random shots taken from films that cinematographer Kirsten Johnson – the cameraperson of the title — has worked on. These include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, Johanna Hamilton’s 1971, and Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War. But don’t expect a conventional “greatest hits” collection of scenes from famous docs. This is an arthouse flick and much subtler than that. It differs from the usual fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking by bringing the cameraperson into the story.

The clips you see are made of footage that usually ends up on the cutting room floor. The wobbly camera before it is fixed, the setting of the shots before they bts3-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-janus-filmsdecide on the framing. They don’t show Johnson herself, but you get to hear her voice and reactions before they get edited out. She gasps when there’s a sudden lightning bolt striking across a field. And she starts to cry when a young boy tells what happened when a bomb hit his brother… even though he she doesn’t speak his language or understand what he said (the subtitles are added much later.)

This is a beautiful and powerful film about how a photographer affects what she sees, and how it haunts her long after the film is made. It’s quirky and spontaneous, with lots of unexpected turns. (Like a filmmaker who loses it on camera, just as a tiny avalanche of snow off the roof falls outside the window behind her.)  Through clever editing, seemingly unrelated events are tied together, with athletes and abstract modern dancers followed by rows of gravestones in Bosnia or prison tents at Guantanamo Bay. It has striking scenes that seem to come out of nowhere, like the unexplained jerky movements and bizarre facial contortions of (what appears to be) dancers in Uganda. What does it mean? (Who knows?) But just like the rest of Cameraperson, the photography and its consequences stay with you long after it’s finished.

14691165_1155188961244083_8145693863171075297_oHarry Benson: Shoot First
Dir: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele

Harry Benson is a famous photographer born to a working class family in Glasgow, Scotland. He makes his way to Fleet Street in London – and the fiercely competitive world of gutter journalism – to work as a news photographer. But he catches his big break in 1964. He is sent to Paris to follow the Beatles just before they hit it big. He is with them, 14568083_1145147232248256_3937976388731490458_nshooting their famous hotel room pillow fight, the moment they receive word they are headed to America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. And he is going with them. He never looks back. He continues his winning streak 15002305_1183935851702727_2037230550259169653_oby always being right there in the nick of time. He chronicles youth culture and the baby boomers as they gradually age against the background of rapidly changing world events. Some examples: Harry goes camping with Bobby Kennedy’s family… and is right beside them when RFK is murdered in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan. He was the one with the camera even as Ethel Kennedy tries to shoo him away: shoot first (think later). He is there in Memphis the day Matin Luther King is shot, and is invited into Richard Nixon’s home when he resigns in shame.

After the early seventies, Benson is famous enough to concentrate on celebrity pics. For some reason, even thedonald-trump-harry-benson most reclusive and private figures seem to trust him. He is allowed to photograph football star Joe Namath’s in his secret bachelor pad, OJ Simpson naked in the shower, and Bobby Fisher with a white horse in Iceland. By the 1980s, he is part and parcel of the Reagan Era’s glitz and glamour, a time of Vanity Fair and Ralph Lauren. His photos are geared more toward People Magazine than LIFE. But his eye for beauty — even in tragic circumstances – is why the rich, famous and powerful let him into their inner sanctums: he always makes them look fantastic.

the-clintons-harry-bensonIs he to blame for the glamorization of politics — the film shows his photos of both First Lady Hillary snuggling up with Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump snuggling up with a million dollars in cash — and our obsession with celebrity culture? Probably.

I had never heard of Harry Benson before this film, but I sure knew his pictures – they’re everywhere, engrained in the collective unconscious. If you like glamour and celebrity caught in unusual ways at the cusp of history – this is a the film for you:  it’ss hocking, exciting and amazing.

The documentaries Cameraperson and Harry Benson: Shoot First 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

Warm your cockles, flex your mussels. Films reviewed: Tampopo, Sugar Mountain, Office Christmas Party

Posted in Chicago, Christmas songs, comedy, Food, Japan by CulturalMining.com on December 9, 2016

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

With short days, long nights and sub-zero temperatures, winter is clearly here. So this week I have three movies to warm your cockles (or flex your mussels). You can take a brisk walk in the snow with an Alaskan crime thriller, dive into a spiked punch bowl with an Christmas comedy, or try a hot bowl of ramen with a Japanese classic.

Tampopo posterTampopo

Dir: Itami Juzo

Goro (Yamazaki Tsutomu) is a Japanese trucker. He wears a cowboy hat and drives a tanker with bullhorns at the front, along with his junior partner Gun (a young Ken Watanabe). But Goro’s real passion is ramen, that Chinese soup-noodle so popular in Japan. Each glistening slice of pork, each slurp of noodle, each sip of fragrant broth, represents the culmination of years noodle 28880id_046_w1600evolution. They stop at a roadside ramen joint but are dismayed by what they see: A boy being bullied out front while a gang of drunken louts harass the ramen chef inside. Goro and Gun manage to rescue the boy and clear out the abusive customers but the ramen they finally eat is just not good.

The chef’s name is Tampopo (Miyamoto Nobuko) and she’s also the mother of the little boy they rescued. She thanks them 28880id_032_primary_w1600profusely, but admits she doesn’t know how to make ramen. She inherited the store from her late husband but not the recipe or technique. So Goro vows to train her to make the perfect bowl of ramen, in a one-woman bootcamp. On the way, he enlists more help: Sensei, a homeless man who lives with a gang of hobos; Shohei, the chef of a rich man whose life they save; and Piss-Ken one of the drunken hoods they met at their first visit to Tampopo’s ramen house. Will Tampopo – a woman — ever become a genuine master ramen chef? And who will she fall for: Goro or Piss-Ken?

Tampopo was originally released in 1985; this rerelease is a newly-28880id_002_w1600remastered 4K version. It’s a comedy/western and one of the first foodie movie ever made. The main humour comes from treating something simple and popular like fast food as if it were a vintage wine. It was made during the Japanese economic bubble when conspicuous consumption of elite, expensive imports was a national pastime. The movie consists of dozens of short tableaux with hundreds of characters — including a hedonistic couple dressed in white who mix food with sex —  separate, but somehow linked to the main story. The late Itami Juzo was a great satirical filmmaker, and Tampopo his first international hit, basically creating a new genre: the food movie. Definitely worth seeing.

Sugar Mountain posterSugar Mountain

Dir: Richard Gray

Miles and Liam West (Drew Roy, Shane Coffey) are brothers who work in the tourist trade in the scenic port Seward, Alaska. Liam is as honest and , trustworthy as Miles is shifty and undependable. Liam can fight a bear, while Miles is a newbie in the wilderness. Because of a recent accident – they Sugar Mountain, Drew Roycrushed the fingers of a famous concert pianist – the family business is in dire straits. So Miles – the sketchy one – comes up with a scheme to make tons of money. It’s flawless, he says, as long as they do it right. They pretend Miles is lost, without a phone, on the banks of the formidable Sugar Sugar Mountain, Haley WebbMountain. Only to reappear 10 days later to sell his exciting story to the media. Miles’s girlfriend Lauren (Haley Webb) is in on it too, and she helps manipulate press coverage, including a fake story that Liam fought with — and possibly murdered! — his own brother. The problem is, Miles really seems to be lost, or momoacoffeypossibly dead. And the town cop, who us also Lauren’s dad, (Carey Elwes) suspects Liam

To top it all off, Liam doesn’t realize his brother’s other motive – he needs the money to pay off other debts. And the guy he owes them to (Jason Momoa), is not a happy camper. If he doesn’t get the money, he’ll take it out in blood… most likely Liam’s.

Sugar Mountain is a solid, dramatic thriller, with lots of unexpected twists. And the fact it’s all played out against the breathtaking mountains, glaciers and forests of southern Alaska really adds to the pleasure.

14682206_1781862548770120_1903229054794222162_oOffice Christmas Party

Dir: Josh Gordon & Will Speck

Josh (Jason Bateman) is a recently divorced manager at a Chicago-based internet provider. They’re making good money, and, thanks to Josh’s good nature, the employees all seem to like it there. Tracy (Olivia Munn) is a tech genius who works on his team. She has a plan to revolutionize wifi. Josh’s boss is Clay (TJ Miller) the son of the company founder. Clay is an extreme sports devotee who majored in Canadian TV Studies. He may be irresponsible but he can throw a mean party.

Everyone is excited about their bonuses and the end of the year festivities, until… in walks the CEO. Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is 14681108_1782510598705315_346340364558759401_othe opposite of Clay. Where he is a partier she’s a wet blanket. Where Clay is fun and spontaneous, Carol is uptight with a sadistic streak. They’re also brother and sister, carrying all the emotional baggage that entails. She announces austerity plans — what a Grinch! what a Scrooge! — with no parties, no gifts, no bonuses and laying off 40% of the staff. Unless they can somehow land a major corporate client within 48 hours. But the client they want, a Mr Davies, thinks the corporate culture there – with all its layoffs 13895133_1744744402481935_8648184611797836688_nand uncertainties — is no good. So it’s up to Josh, Clay and Tracy – and the rest of the company — to hold the best party ever… and to convince Mr Davies to save the company and their jobs.

The rest of the movie is a just a wild office party, exactly what the title suggests. Picture live reindeer, cocaine, naked people sitting on 3-D printers, a Santa with cash taped to his body… and widespread mayhem and destruction. It’s like the movie Project X but for grownups. Is it funny? Yes it is. Constant gags and laughs, with truly funny ones every so often. And the small parts are even funnier than the main ones, including Jillian Bell as a deranged female pimp.

Office Christmas Party, Tampopo, and Sugar Mountain all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Sugar Mountain is also available today on Video on Demand.

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

Out of Sight. Movies reviewed: The Unseen, Castle in the Sky

Posted in Animation, Canada, Horror, Japan, Kids, Levitation, steampunk by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2016

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

Not everything you see is the plain truth. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to see what’s really there. This week I’m looking at movies about things kept out of sight. There’s a classic Japanese anime about a city that can’t be found, and a new Canadian thriller/horror about a man who’s not all there.

14088468_1656718961215506_4090497205890860405_nThe Unseen

Wri/Dir: Geoff Redknap

Bobby Langmore (Aden Young) was an NHL golden boy, a wizard on the ice. He was happily married to Darlene (Camille Sullivan) with a young daughter, Eva, when something happened. He still felt healthy and normal, but his skin and flesh 10984228_1493728920847845_3341519512764863931_nappeared to be rotting away. This was a secret he had to keep hidden. He climbed into a truck and never looked back. Now, eight years later, he still works in a saw mill in northern BC. His only family contact is the monthly cheques he sends them. His life up north is drab and desolate, his only friend the joint he smokes after a hard day.

Bob is equal parts gruff, tough, and scruff.

Meanwhile, in the lower mainland, his daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) is 16 now and barely remembers her dad. 11755062_1517963381757732_8659678087913732529_nShe’s a cute non-conformist with a chip on her shoulder. She lives a comfortable life with her mom and her mom’s wife. But she is increasingly troubled and alienated from family and friends, and threatens to just take off and never come back. Darlene sees something of 12002323_1535433453344058_8264690283193874598_nBob in her, so she gives him a call:” I think you need to talk to Eva.”

He walks off his job the next day… but needs help getting there. He makes a deal with Crisby (Ben Cotton), a sketchy local drug dealer, to pay for truck repairs. But soon after he reaches his former family, Eva disappears. You see, she has the same mysterious affliction, but no one has 10599521_1533738020180268_2559640461075319616_ntold her what it means. So she explores a boarded-up mental hospital with hopes of finding her grandfather’s files. He committed suicide their years before and Eva wonders if she’s headed down the same path. But then she disappears. Can Bob find his missing daughter and tells her what’s what? Or will history repeat itself for another generation?

The Unseen is a creepy look at a working class family with a strange condition in small town BC. It’s dark and misanthropic, with only family loyalty – and a few kind strangers – to counter its dark and grumpy view of humanity. The acting is angry but good, and the film has a raw realistic feel to it, from the scenic sawmill to the ramshackle houses everyone seems to live in. It’s a good strong dramatic horror film.

And the special effects that finally appear – or disappear! – toward the end of the film are fantastic.

castle_in_the_sky_movie_posterCastle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) 1986

Dir: Miyazaki Hayao

Pazu is an orphan who lives in a hillside mining town. He sleeps in a crumbling stone home with a dovecot on the roof, and starts each morning with a trumpet to rouse the all the people in the town below. All that he has from his parents are photos and drawings of a mythical place called Laputa. But one day while working at the complex machinery above the mineshaft, he sees something falling from the skies. It’s a little girl, 6087_1unconscious, drifting slowly down to earth. He catches her and brings her home. Who is she and where did she come from?

Her name is Sheeta, raised in an alpine town north of there. She’s an orphan like Pazu, her only possession a glowing crystal she wears around her neck. And it’s that jewel that keeps her on the run. She was kidnapped by miyazaki-castle_in_the_sky__1__shetapazuf_soldiers — and a haughty government agent named Muska – who flew her away in mechanical blimp. But hey were attacked by a gang of air pirates who attacked the ship. Both groups are after one thing – Sheeta’s crystal. It’s made from a rare stone with special properties – it can counteract gravity. But it can only be activated by the incantations Sheeta knows. But their real aim is to locate Laputa, the mythical island in the sky mentioned in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Dola and the pirates crave the treasure, the military its potential weapons, while Muska has far more sinister plans.

Sheeta and Pazu have only their wits, stamina and each other to depend on. So they embark on a series of highspeed train rides, car chases, and flying machines Dola, Castle in the Skybattles, making odd alliances on the way. There are even long armed metallic robots. But which of them will find that castle in the sky?

This film is 30 years old, and was the first made by Japan’s famed Ghibli studios. It’s filled with kid-pop references. Pazu’s moustachioed uncle looks like Super Mario, Sheeta was raised in Heidi country near the Alps, and Dola — the head pirate with her giant red pigtails — is a grown-up Anne of Green Gables gone to seed. It has vaguely subversive views, anti-military and anti-government, with strong female role models.. Replete with steampunk exploits and amazing views from the sky, I just had a chance to see this kids’ cartoon on the big screen for the first time and it really grabbed me. Great movie.

The Unseen played at last week’s Blood in the Snow Canadian film festival (Winner: Best Feature: The Unseen, Dir. Geoff Redknap, Katie Weekley, Producer; Best Actor: Aden Young, The Unseen) and The Castle in the Sky is opening as part of Spirited Away: the Films of Studio Ghibli at TIFF; go to tiff.net for showtimes. It’s playing on Christmas Eve.

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 Tiffany Hsiung about The Apology

Posted in Canada, China, documentary, Korea, Philippines, Slavery, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2016

img_1617Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Japan joined the European race for colonies late in the game. But they took to it with a vengeance, expanding ever southward. First Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria, and by the the-apology1930s they began to seize territory in Eastern China, Southeast Asia and Islands of the Pacific and South China seas. And at the vanguard of all this was the Japanese Imperial Army. To keep the soldiers free from disease they initiated a program of Comfort Women (従軍慰安婦). Over img_1619200,000 girls and young women from Japanese colonies across Asia were forced into sexual slavery to serve the troops. Because of the shame involved, the survivors remained silent for fifty years. What happened to them, what are their stories, and what apologies do they seek?img_1621

The Apology is a new NFB feature documentary that follows three elderly Comfort Women – from Korea, China and the Philippines — who survived that horrible ordeal. It is a highly personal film, seen through Hsiung’s eyes as she documents the three Grandmothers’ lives while they still have a chance to tell their stories.

The Apology opens in Toronto today. I spoke with Tiffany Hsiung in studio at CIUT.

Love lost. Films reviewed: Nocturnal Animals, Manchester by the Sea, Allied

Posted in 1940s, Art, Cultural Mining, Family, Meta, Sex, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2016

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

With U.S. Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas just a month away, this is when Hollywood pulls out the big guns – Oscar-bait films, serious topics and big-name actors. This week I’m looking at three of these grown-up dramas. There’s love and lies in London, lost love in LA, and family ties in New England.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALSNocturnal Animals

Dir: Tom Ford

Susan (Amy Adams) is a rich, LA art dealer who leads a rarefied but hollow life. She receives a package in the mail from Tony, a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). They were a passionate couple in their twenties but she dumped him when his career stalled in favour of the unfaithful Stepford husband she’s currently married to. But she’s intrigued by what he sent her: a novel called Nocturnal Animals in manuscript form. The story comes to life on the screen as she reads it.

It’s about a middle class family brutally carjacked on a desert highway by redneck killers. The husband survives the attack and vows revenge. He enlists a local sheriff NOCTURNAL ANIMALS(Michael Shannon) to help.

As Susan reads the book, she examines her current, pointless life, and remembers earlier days with her ex, Tony. The movie alternately follows all three strands — the novel, her flashbacks and the present day — as filtered through Susan’s mind.

Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating but flawed movie. It moves you emotionally, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALSwithout tears or love. The emotions it stirs are fear, revulsion and uncomfortableness. Director Tom Ford made the unusual leap from high fashion to Hollywood, so Nocturnal Animals is visually powerful. But it’s too “meta”. We see Tony’s book through the reader (Susan)’s eyes as envisioned by Tom Ford – three steps away from the plot. Which leads to weird images, like performance art we see in Susan’s gallery appearing again, but in distorted form, in Tony’s story. Get it?

Interestingly, Ford bucks the Hollywood trend of exploiting women’s bodies. The naked women you see here are either grossly obese… or dead. Instead, he undresses his men — Gyllenhall, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Johnson — at every possible opportunity. Lots of surface shocks and surprises in Nocturnal Animals, but nothing deep.

76e05278-81a6-4fc7-97b4-861c73eee46eManchester by the Sea

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman who lives alone in Quincy, just outside Boston. He’s called back to his hometown, a picturesque, fishing village, when his divorced brother John dies. It’s up to him to tell his nephew Patrick that his dad is dead. Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is 16 years old, on the school hockey team and in a band. Lee was close to him as a child, until something terrible happened, and Lee left town. Now, suddenly and against his wishes, he finds himself Patrick’s de facto dad. It’s written in his brother’s will. He doesn’t know what to do.

He had kids once, and Randi, his ex-alcoholic, ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still lives MBTS_2354.CR2there, but that was long ago.

At first he acts like Chris’s buddy – lets him drink, take girls home, say or do whatever he likes. But gradually reality sets in as Lee realizes he has to do the right thing: either raise him properly or find someone else who can. Trouble is Lee’s reputation in this town is dirt, and no one will hire him. Can he raise his stubborn nephew despite their geographic and emotional divide?

MBTS_3869.CR2Manchester by the Sea sounds like a typical movie, but it’s not.. It’s an emotional powerhouse that will leave you shaken. The movie is edited in a chop-up style, with flashbacks appearing unannounced right after a present-day scene. So you have to pay attention to understand it. It’s a devastating tearjerker, gradually revealed as his flashbacks come to life. The whole film is exquisitely structured, with certain scenes repeated but with new, subtle variations and revelations. And Casey Affleck might be Ben Affleck’s little brother but you can see who has all the talent. Casey is just fantastic in this understated drama.

I recommend this movie.

14708276_1786944501572397_9000336162931941931_nAllied

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s 1942, when Casablanca was a hot spot for foreign spies. Max (Brad Pitt) is a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who carries out daring flights behind enemy lines. He’s in French Morocco to meet up with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) a legendary spy with the French resistance. In ten days they plan to assassinate a top Nazi at a high-society party. He is pretending to be her husband, 14700787_1785050565095124_6988829959708533249_oa phosphate executive from Paris, madly in love with her. But they are actually meeting for the very first time. They play their parts well, laughing, kissing and staring in each other’s eyes. And, the night before the big day, not knowing if they will survive, they make passionate love in a car surrounded by a sand storm.

Later, Marion joins Max in London. This 14884429_1792693047664209_3520425651819957282_otime they really are in love. They marry, have a child, and settle into a normal life in Hampstead, even as German bombs fall all around them. But then Max receives distressing orders from HQ. He must carry out a blue dye test – planting a false message to see if it‘s picked up by enemy agents. And who is the potential Nazi spy? Marion! If she proves to be a double agent, Max has to kill her in cold blood. Can spies ever know if they’re really in love when they’re so good at telling lies?

I liked but didn’t love Allied. Marion Cotillard is as passionate as Brad Pitt is stiff and wooden. Most of the side characters are instantly forgettable, the plot has holes in it, pod2gand there seems to be cigarette product placement throughout the film. The movie is not slow, but it feels flat until the last quarter, when it finally gets exciting. Allied is an OK historical drama… but it ain’t no Casablanca.

Nocturnal Animals and Allied are now playing today, while Manchester by the Sea opens November 25th in Toronto, check your local listings. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, an animated reboot of Dr Who: The Powers of the The blood-in-the-snowDaleks, a 70s episode lost for 50 years, is showing next Wednesday; and an all-Canadian horror festival is on this weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.

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

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