America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country 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 Toronto filmmaker Pat Mills about his new comedy GUIDANCE

Posted in Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, High School, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

photo 1This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

David Gold (Pat Mills) was once a child star on a TV sitcom, but those days are gone. Now he’s reduced to voice work,  recording motivational slogans. And he could certainly use some motivation himself; he’s photo 2-2underemployed, an alcoholic, has penis issues, diagnosed with skin cancer, and has a cruel landlady threatening eviction. His cure? Denial, tanning salons and self-medication (with a mickey tucked in every pocket), and photo 3watching VHS tapes of his sitcom from back when he was still a star. But somehow, through a combination of luck and subterfuge he lands a job as guidance counsellor at Grusin High, a Degrassi from hell, helping troubled youth by offering them his very unusual photo 4-2form of “guidance”.

Guidance is also the name of a very funny new comedy now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and opening today in select cities across North America. Guidance was written and directed by and starring Toronto filmmaker Pat Mills. This dark comedy is his first feature. He told me about the lead character, the film’s origin, child actors, losing his virginity, being mistaken for a girl, Corey Haim, mimicry, Kids in the Hall, dyslexia, bullying,  Zahra Bentham, Ottawa, Degrassi, Centennial College, Disnification… and more.

I spoke to Pat at CIUT 89.5 FM.

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Women and their Discoveries. Movies reviewed: The Kindergarten Teacher, Diary of a Teenage Girl, She’s Funny That Way

Posted in Acting, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Israel, Movies, Screwball Comedy, Sex Trade, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 14, 2015

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

This week I’m looking at three movies about women and their discoveries. There’s a drama about an Israeli kindergarten teacher who discovers her 5-year-old student is a poetic genius; a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in San Francisco who discovers what sex is all about; and a screwball comedy about an escort who longs to be discovered as a Hollywood star.

Kindergarden_Teacher_TheThe Kindergarten Teacher

Wri/Dir: Nadav Lapid

Nira (Sarit Larry) is a kindergarten teacher in Israel who attends a poetry group. She leads a lackluster life: her kids have moved out and her husband is dull. But then she notices a kid in her class named Yoav (Avi Shnaidman). She sees him pace back and forth, almost in a trance, and recite an amazing poem he had composed in his head. Not a kid’s nonsense rhyme – a dramatic, spare masterpiece with biblical allusions, and profound observations.

His nanny Miri (Ester Rada) says it’s just something the kid does. His father – a rich, divorced restaurateur — is unimpressed. To him, poetry is a952 waste of time.

But Nira is blown away by his poems and feels she has to do something more. Mozart was composing symphonies in his head at the age of four. If no one records Yoav’s masterworks and shares them with the world, a poet of a generation could be lost. Yoav becomes the centre of all her attention, in and out of class. He gives her a new sense of purpose. She realizes her reaction doesn’t quite make sense – especially in an era where poetry has lost its importance — but she vows to “save” Yoav and his poems, whatever the consequences.

The Kindergarten Teacher is an excellent drama with an unexpected twist. It may have a simple premise, but it’s a subtle, disturbing and complex film. Nira’s character in particular touches on a wide range of troubling issues: racial discrimination, morality, sexuality, misrepresentation, and art.  The Kindergarten Teacher is a very good movie.

e8acff96-2532-4295-a01b-6f7b36599697Diary of a Teenage Girl
Wri/Dir: Marielle Heller

It’s the mid-1970s in San Francisco, and the city is rife with hippies, underground comix and free sex. And right in the middle of all this is Minnie (Bel Powley), the 15-year-old girl of the title. She lives with her mom (Kristen Wiig) and her little sister. Mom dresses to kill and thinks of Patty Hearst as her model. She drinks and parties till she passes out. Mom’s current boyfriend is Morgan (Alexander Skarsgård), a tall guy with a goofy blonde moustache. Mom likes to think of Minnie as her friend and confessor – no secrets between them.

But there is a secret: Minnie’s first sexual experience – and her 19976004-14bc-45a8-aefe-cca85b70056aongoing relationship – is with Morgan. She chronicles her story (and all her other newly-awakened sexual adventures) using a tape-recorder she keeps hidden in her closet. She also hones her comic book skills with explicit, black and white drawings, modeled on the work of underground comic artist Aline 7327ebd5-d2fa-4664-8c9e-ffc254758144Kominsky. Together with her best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) she explores the sex, drugs and counterculture of San Francisco. She’s quick to undress and loves teaching the guys she meets new tricks. But can her secrets stay secret?

Bel Powley is excellent as Minnie, a quirky, adventurous girl testing the waters between childhood and adulthood as she comes to terms with her family. Diary of a Teenage Girl is a nice, light story with an adult theme, made beautiful with animated sequences of her drawings.

SN_D1_075She’s Funny that Way
Dir: Peter Bogdanovich

Izzy (Imogen Potts) is a young sex worker and aspiring actor from Brooklyn. She has a devoted following as an escort, (including a judge who stalks her) but less so as an actress.  When she spends the night with Arnold (Owen Wilson) a successful director in town from L.A., her life changes. He says I’ll never see you again but here’s $30,000 (he hands her a suitcase of money) to pursue your goal as an artist and leave prostitution behind. She agrees. The next day her agent gets her an audition for a Broadway play – in the role of a prostitute. She’s a natural! Everyone loves her audition except the play’s director – it’s SN_D24_011_11Arnold from the night before!  The other lead actors in the play are Arnold’s wife (Kathryn Hahn) and her possible ex-lover (Rhys Ifans) – both of whom are staying in the same hotel. Add an angry psychiatrist (Jennifer Anniston) a stalker and a private detective to the mix, and you get lots of confusion, fake names and lovers hiding in bathrooms.

SN_D4_166She’s Funny that Way is funny that way, in the manner of an old-skool screwball comedy. Imogen Potts’s (with a hit-and-miss Brooklyn accent) is wonderful as Izzy, and the rest of the cast is loaded with dozens of stars in cameo roles.

Now screwball comedies are a neglected genre, and one I really like. But even more interesting is the backstory for this film. Peter Bogdanovich was a huge director in the 70s, with What’s up Doc, Paper Moon, and The Last Picture Show, all either set during the depression, or else – like this one — done in the style of old Hollywood movies.

Maybe you remember the name Dorothy Stratten. (Her story has been toldDorothy Stratten in films like Star 80.) She was a sex worker from Vancouver, a Playboy centrefold, very pretty, who wanted to become a Hollywood star. And Peter Bogdanovich gave her her big break, casting her in a movie called They All Laughed. But her ex-husband was still obsessed with her and stalked her… and murdered her before the movie was released. A tragic story. But there’s more:  Bogdanovich paid for the schooling of Dorothy’s younger sister, Louise, and after she graduated, he married her. She went on to write the script for this movie. This movie is a tribute to Dorothy Stratten told not as a tragedy but as a classical Hollywood comedy with a happy ending.

She’s Funny that Way, Diary of a Teenage Girl and The Kindergarten Teacher 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

Unexpected Gifts. Movies Reviewed – The Gift, Fantastic 4 PLUS Canadian Films coming to TIFF

Posted in Canada, Comics, Cultural Mining, Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2015

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

August is vacation time, and everyone likes bringing back something to remind them of their trip. Then there are the souvenirs – tape worm, STDs – that are best avoided. This week I’m looking at two movies about unwanted souvenirs. One’s a psychological thriller about a couple who return to his home town to find it loaded with baggage and unwanted gifts; the other is a superhero flic about young scientists who visit a foreign dimension and return home with unexpected gifts.

8qWV3l_1507-TIFF40-8484_o3_8663841_1436473920But first a look at Canadian Movies premiering at TIFF.

Canadian movies get short shriff at movie theatres, so TIFF is the place to see them. Here are some of the ones that look really good. I haven’t seen any of them yet – these are just my first impressions. Did you know there were riots in Montreal in the 1960s when student activists took over? Mina Shum (who directed Double Happiness), has made a documentary called 9th Floor about an uprising at Concordia University by students from Trinidad over incidents of racism at the school. Another documentary looks at a very explosive contemporary issue: it’s called Guantanamo’s Child, and it’s about Canadian Omar Khadr and what happened him there. He was accused of war aaa_maddin_4__photo_by_dualityphoto-comcrimes at age 15, and has spent most of his life at the notorious prison. The movie has Omar Khadr tell his own story, so this could be really interesting.

One of Canada’s best and totally uncategorizable director Guy Maddin is bringing The Forbidden director_igor_drljacaRoom, co-directed by Evan Johnson. Apparently, it’s something about cavedwellers, sailors and submarines, but whatever it is I know it’ll be dreamlike and mind-blowingly strange.

There are also films by Quebec’s Philippe Felardeau and Toronto’s own Bruce McDonald, as well as two great directors I interviewed in the past: the offbeat, hip Kazik Radwansky offers an awkward social drama called How Heavy this Hammer; and avante-garde and pensive Igor Drljaca gives us the Waiting Room about an actor with memories of the Yugoslav civil war.

314434K1k_TheGift_Josh_NoText_1d47ba47-d825-e511-a2f6-d4ae527c3b65_lgThe Gift
Dir: Joel Edgerton

Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple with no kids who just moved to California. He’s in security software sales, she does interior design. . He got transferred to his company’s HQ, that happens to be in his home town. They move into a glass-encased home, visible from four sides. It’s a fresh start — especially for Robyn, who is getting over a miscarriage. Simon is a sympathetic husband but more than a bit condescending.

They run into a guy named Gordo (director Joel Edgerton) who GIFT_SG_045_f65a4b15-f4ed-e411-8342-d4ae527c3b65_lgremembers Simon from his High School days. Back then, Simon was in the In Crowd — quarterback, cheerleaders. Like the Simon Says game — everything Simon wanted Simon got. But the socially awkward Gordo was a bit of an outcast. And something happened, way back, that greatly affected Gordo’s life. But he’s willing to let bygones be bygones — let’s be friends.

GIFT_SG_040_f55a4b15-f4ed-e411-8342-d4ae527c3b65_lgRobyn feels lonely and isolated in her new home — no friends, family or work: nothing to do. So she’s cheered up when Gordo starts stopping by their house — always during the day — to drop off elaborately wrapped gifts. How wonderful — you must come from dinner! But Simon is disturbed by the whole thing and tries to nip it in the bud. What does Gordo the Weirdo want with his wife?

The tension begins to escalate with strange, almost bizarre incidents happening almost daily. IsDF-06121RC_e6f5ca37-b508-e511-a207-d4ae527c3b65_lg there a stalker at large? Robyn feels vulnerable, under attack… But who is really to blame? She decides to investigate on her own, and uncovers some unexpected things. Who should she side with – Gordo or Simon?

The gift is an excellent psychological thriller. Its point of view shifts among the three characters. The acting is great. Bateman is a self-centred alpha dog with a smarmy undertone, Hall as the vulnerable but not helpless woman, with Edgerton as the wildcard — persecuted victim or scheming psychopath? This is a good, taut thriller.

11058662_884247218299276_93324967550151567_oFantastic Four
Dir: Josh Trank

Reed is a chubby kid with coke bottle glasses from small town NY. He’s a science nerd known for his late night garage explosions. He’s working on a machine — a teleporter that can move things between places, times and dimensions. Kids laugh and teachers scoff at his ballpoint pen scribbles. Only Ben, a poor kid who lives in a junkyard, believes in him. He lends him a hand finding the needed missing metal parts. A few 10841960_875785619145436_888880065447110432_oyears later, they build a prototype but are kicked out of a science fair for breaking glass. They are discovered by a scientist, and his daughter Sue Storm. They recognize his genius and whisk him off to a top secret lab in Manhattan run by the secretive Baxter Foundation. Ben says goodbye and goes back to his junkyard.

Now it’s Reed’s chance to build it on a grand scale. Together with pretty egghead sue. They are joined by her brother Johnny, a hot-tempered street racer, and Victor Von Doom, a cynical and pessimistic genius whose attempts at his own teleporter were unsuccessful. And behind the scenes, watching very closely, are arms dealers, the military, the government and oil companies all of whom see teleportation as the potential solution to all their problems. Before they can get their paws on 11175034_892562207467777_4643096208375631222_nthe invention, they decide to try it themselves. Reed invites Junkyard Ben, one of the original inventors, to join in their maiden voyage. But something goes wrong on the spiky, barren planet they visit. Victor is held back by a greenish energy, and the other three — plus Sue in the home base– are all weirdly affected by this strange energy source. Reed becomes stretchy guy, Ben a gigantic rock covered Thing, Johnnie a flamer, and Sue can disappear in an invisible bubble. Then they all wake up in a military prison What will happen to this strange11188216_892562220801109_6393569219790851588_n group? Can they handle their new powers And what about Victor?

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I love the smalltown, working class feel to it. It’s like Spielberg’s E.T or J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. The young cast — Reed (Miles Teller) Sue Storm (Kate Mara) Johnnie Storm (Michael B Jordan) Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) Victor (Toby Kebell) – are all great. It makes sense to eliminate Reed’s greying temples and youth-ify all the characters. And if you view it as a story of their origins –a comic book standard – it makes sense. But the problem is it leaves out the most interesting part; the period where they adjust to the changes and figure out how to use and what to do with their new superpowers. They literally spend two seconds on that and then it’s”one year later…”! What a waste.

Still, it’s a virtual masterpiece… when compared with past attempts at movie versions of the Fantastic Four.

The Gift and Fantastic Four both open today in Toronto, check your local listings; and for more information about Canadian movies coming to TIFF go to tiff.net. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Summer in Sicily. Films reviewed: The Fiances, Seduced and Abandoned, Mafioso, PLUS Irrational Man

Posted in Cultural Mining, Crime, Drama, comedy, College, Italy, Romance, Clash of Cultures, 1960s, Neorealism by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2015

BgOEWJ_195_image_1_o3_8634060_1432140720Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sicily is a part of Italy, but separate from it. It’s that huge island in the Mediterranean, influenced at times by Greece, Rome, Spain, or as an independent kingdom. This gives it a rich culture, dialect and customs that leaves most outsiders baffled. The island went through a slow economic downturn, but Italy’s postwar industrial boom eventually affected Sicily as well. Thousands of continentals were sent down to work there for the first time.

TIFF Cinematheque is running a series now called Summer in Italy, with many of the films set in Sicily. This week, I’m looking at three 1960s films about life on the island; and a contemporary American drama set on a campus in Rhode Island.

105d2bce69c2c4e128deaf78a84e82e5The Fiances (I Fidanzati, 1963)

Dir: Ermanno Olmi

A working class couple in northern Italy meet once a week at a formal dance hall. Giovanni and Liliana (Carlo Cabrini, Anna Canzi) are passionate lovers but their relationship is put on hold when he is sent by his factory to work in Sicily. Carlo feels lost and rootless in the very different world. But he’s also intrigued by their bizarre festivals, especially one where strangers can meet in the town square, their faces hidden by masks. Liliana El1Q5N_195_image_3_o3_8634118_1432140524meanwhile, feels abandoned and alone and wonders whether they are still together. Telephone calls are short and perfunctory, but can their love letters rekindle what they had?

The Fiances is a beautiful and deceptively simple black and white movie. It combines neorealism — documentary-style footage of Sicily with its beaches and dusty roads — with an experimental style. Past and present scenes are cut and pasted without explanation so it’s a bit hard at first to understand, but it looks amazingly contemporary in its form.

El1XNK_Seduced2_o3_8636418_1432140796Seduced and Abandoned (Sedotta e abbandonata, 1964)

Dir: Pietro Germi

Don Vincenzo (Saro Urzi) rules his family home with an iron fist. Honour is paramount, and a loss of face could ruin a family’s reputation. So he reads every letter sent to his many daughters, just in case there is something lusty in them. He even checks underneath the postage stamps! Life is communal: multiple-generations all live under the same roof, so there’s a total lack of privacy. But they all manage to communicate using hidden notes and listening to sounds through pipes and vents. Peppino, a student (Aldo Puglisi) is welcomed as almost a family member since he is engaged to the clueless Matilde. But one evening, everything changes when he RgkK20_Seduced3_LEAD_o3_8636472_1432140806sneaks a kiss behind a curtain with the younger and prettier Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli). Sex follows and Agnese is in love. But Peppino, realizing what he’s done, stops coming by – he says has to study for exams. Agnese is mortified. And Peppino hypocritically says he wants nothing to do with a “despoiled woman” – even though he’s the only one who’s slept with her!

Eventually Don Vincenzo puts two and two together. He banishes Agnese to her room and decides that Peppino must marry his daughter… or die! Soon enough the police, lawyers, judges, a toothless aristocrat, a priest and the unruly mob on the street are all a part of this dispute. Will Peppino marry Agnese? Will Agnese agree even to see him again? And can Don Vincenzo rescue his family’s reputation?

This is a very funny comedy looking at virginity, family, honour and hypocrisy played out in a traditional Sicilian style.

O7LX7R_hd_021bw_LEAD_o3_8634669_1432140667Mafioso (Mafiosi, 1962)

Dir: Alberto Lattuada

Nino (Alberto Sordi) is a manager at an ultra-modern car factory in Milan. He is known for his punctuality and exactness. With a nuclear family — his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and their two little girls — he seems to be a true northerner. But he’s a Sicilian at heart. After decades of work he finally gets a chance to visit his hometown so his wife and kids can meet his parents.Alberto Sordi (R.) in Mafioso. Photo courtesy Rialto Pictures

And as a favour to his boss – an Italian- American from New Jersey — he agrees to carry an important package to Don Vincenzo (another Don Vincenzo!) in his hometown. Once there, the family shares meals, goes to the beach and meets old friends. And while the in-laws are busy adjusting to the clash of cultures, the naïve Nino doesn’t realize he’s about to face a different problem. As a teenager, before he moved north, he worked as an errand boy for Don Vincenzo (the “mafioso” of the title). And now he’s calling in a favour. How much can a man’s life change in a 12 day visit back home? This is an excellent dark comedy exposing the sinister presence of organized crime in Sicilian life.

f9529958-a5d1-4b6a-be73-9e0bc77dc846Irrational Man

Dir: Woody Allen

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a new philosophy prof at a college in Rhode Island. He specializes in existentialism, frequently dropping quotes by Kierkegard, Nietsche and Heideggar. It’s his first term there, but his reputation precedes him. His tales of derring-do and personal loss – concerning his best friend who was killed by a land mine, and his wife – give him an almost mythical status. He’s an existential nihilist, always ready for an impromptu round of Russian roulette. He goes by what his guts tell him. And by “guts” he means his prominent potbelly that he frequently rubs when WASP_DAY_05-0137.CR2pondering questions of morality and ethics.

Women seem to find him romantic and attractive. Rita (Parker Posey) is a sexy and sultry chemistry prof. The fact that she’s married doesn’t even slow her down – she wants to bed him. Eventually she hopes to ditch her husband altogether and move somewhere romantic with Abe – like Spain. Then there’s Jill (Emma Stone). She’s an undergrad in a committed relationship. Her boyfriend is nice, but wasp_day_27-0147.CR2a bit dull. She wants to spend time with Abe, but she keeps their relationship platonic. They both know it’s against the rules for students and profs to sleep together.

Unfortunately, Abe is depressed and brooding, his life at a standstill. Despite his reputation as a ladies’ man, he’s useless in bed. This isn’t help by the fact he’s an alcoholic, constantly swigging bourbon from a pocket flask. But one day, at a local diner with Jill overhear a conversation. A divorced woman at the next booth is in tears because she is about to lose custody over her kid. Why? It’s all because of the machinations of a horrible judge.

Something clicks in Abe’s brain: he makes a decision. He will murder a stranger (the judge) for the sake of another stranger (the woman). This will lead to a betterWASP_DAY_13-176.CR2 world, he thinks. Now he has a reason for living, and his sexual drive and exuberance come back. But will he actually commit this “perfect crime”?

I have mixed feelings about this strange movie. On the one hand, its gripping story held my attention to the very (abrupt) end. But it also feels oddly hollow. It’s not a bad movie, just not as deep as it pretends to be.

Irrational Man opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Summer in Italy series is on now at TIFF Cinematheque through September 5. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Commitment. Movies reviewed: Jimmy’s Hall, The Tribe, PLUS It Comes in Waves

Posted in Canada, Catholicism, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Ireland, Politics, Sign Language, UK, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2015

Stephen O’Connell in It Comes in Waves. Photo by Jeremy MimnaghHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most forms of entertainment ask for little commitment from their viewers: just sit there and take it all in. But sometimes they demand a little bit more.

I just saw a production — a combination of theatrical drama, 11709591_1024415027582463_3885855130064308103_nmusic, modern dance and exercise — called It Comes in Waves (Jordan Tannahill, bluemouth inc., and Necessary Angel). The audience actually rows canoes to a remote part of Toronto Island, in a Heart of Darkness journey past wild egrets and tame swans. Once there, expect to catch a trumpet 11745530_1024414667582499_268456507655648282_nand snare drum drifting past in a rowboat, Naked Guy running across a field, voices singing in the woods, campfires, Celtic dances and a Waiting for Godot-style surprise party (where the audience — us — are the guests). You walk down the beach carrying lanterns as an ethereal angel dances half a mile away. It’s a play that completely eliminates the proscenium arch, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

But what about movies? This week I’m looking at two films that require if not participation, at least commitment. There’s a historical political drama from Ireland that stimulates intellectual rigour, and a crime drama from the Ukraine that activates creative vigour.

Jimmy’s Hall
Dir: Ken Loach

Jimmys HallJames Gralton (Barry Ward) witnessed the roaring twenties in NY. 10 years later, it’s the Great Depression and he’s back home in County Leitrim, Ireland. He’s there to take care of his aging mother (Aileen Henry). He’s keeping a low profile, having been kicked out after the Irish Civil War. He’s back to work digging up peat. But no sooner does he get there than he sees kids from the town dancing the jig on a country road. Is this a local custom? No. They just have nowhere else to go. A decade earlier he had built and opened a community centre on his land, where people would sing songs, write poetry, draw, study literature, dance to jazz music, practice boxing… but the hall was closed and he was kicked out.

Now that he’s back, he’s surrounded by locals imploring him toJimmys Hall reopen Jimmy’s Hall, a place where they can enjoy life. Is there anyone, anywhere who could oppose such a thing? You bet there is. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) the top local priest. If it isn’t run by the church, it is, by definition, no good. “He’s a communist and plays jungle music!” says the good Father.

And a high-ranked official also loathes Jimmy for his left-wing politics. His daughter, though, can’t wait to join the club. And Jimmys HallJimmy’s lost love Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is glad to see him back

But local incidents can lead to national repercussions. With Catholic and Protestant labourers striking together in Belfast the Powers That Be feared what James Gralton might inspire. As tensions escalate, who will triumph? Father Sheridan and his supporters? Or Jimmy?

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall is a typical Ken Loach movie. Its politics are decidedly left-wing, but the characters and the ideologies they espouse are never cut-and-dry. For every right-wing Father Sheridan, there’s a younger priest urging compromise. And like Loach’s other historical dramas (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom), it has scenes with long  — though never boring — political discussions. Not for everyone, but I liked this film a lot. Well-acted and nicely shot, it filled in a period of Irish history — leftist politics in the 1930s — that I knew nothing about.

THETRIBE_PressPhoto_04The Tribe (Plemya)
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

It’s present-day Ukraine. A nondescript kid named Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at his new home, a boarding school for deaf kids. It’s a typical school, the classrooms and dorms flavoured by drab Soviet austerity.

Sergey is honest, polite and naïve. And he suffers like any newbie: he’s at the bottom of every possible totem pole at the school. Even a boy with Down Syndrome nonchalantly steals his lunch. Almost immediately, he’s guided by a weasely fast-talker to meet his new boss, a no-nonsense older student. Higher-ranked bullies confiscate his money, and he’s put right THETRIBE_PressPhoto_03to work.

He’s thrown out of bed on his first night and sent out to a truck stop along with two young women from the school. Anna (Yana Novikova) is a flirty, pale blond, her dark haired coworker is bigger and bossier. They ply their trade by knocking on parked truck windows, and Sergey pimps them out and collects the money. This is just part of a complex criminal gang operating out of the school.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyThey sneak out at night to mug pensioners and steal their groceries. They also send young kids to ply ugly little plush toys on commuter trains, a front for unlawful behavior. They’re looking for charity donations but are just as willing to beat up reluctant donors.

His status begins to rise when he fends off four guys in a no-rules fight. He becomes a tough enforcer: he shakes down little kids for their pocket change. Literally! He holds them upside-down by their feet until their money falls out of their pockets.

Eventually he hooks up with Anna in a paid encounter, and they become a couple. But her main goal is to get the hell out of there with an exit visa to Western Europe. And as he becomes more experienced his personality is transformed.Will the moral Sergey ever come back to the surface?

The Tribe is a fantastic movie. And – get this — all dialogue is THETRIBE_PressPhoto_01in sign language – with not a word spoken in the entire movie… and no subtitles either. But it’s completely clear what they are saying. The actors are all hearing-impaired and express themselves beautifully. Each scene is shot in a single take, with one camera constantly moving down halls, around corners, and into rooms. Explicit sex scenes, violent fights… everything happens right in your face.

The Tribe and Jimmy’s Hall open today in Toronto; check your local listings. It Comes in Waves is now playing as part of Panamania, the cultural side of the Pan Am games. For more information go to toronto2015.org/panamania.

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

Finished. Movies Reviewed: Amy, Self/Less, Big Game

dd21159d-2ec4-4d3b-9897-8ee5302d052bHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

People talk about closure as if finishing is always a good thing. But is it? This week I’m looking three movies. There’s a documentary about a young singer whose life came to an untimely finish; an action/thriller about a rich man who wants to delay his ultimate finish; and an action/adventure about a President in trouble who seeks help from a boy… who is Finnish.

Amy

Dir: Asif Kapadia

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1 born in North London and dead by the age of 27. This was just four years ago. A new documentary fills in the missing years of her heartbreaking story. It concentrates on her music, her family, her friends and her lovers.

Amy was the daughter of a cabby and a pharmacist who divorced when she was still young. Extremely talented, she was sent to a prestigious music academy but was kicked out by age 16. She recorded her first album by age 20. Her voice was a throwback to some of the great American Jazz singers. Her look was also retro – dramatic and sensuous, with big hair, heavy black eyeliner. And she had an outspoken manner and working class accent, which set her apart from the carefully groomed and managed commercial bands.

33063f6d-9987-4fc2-806b-518679da09cbAccording to the film, she behaved sexually “like a man” – had lots of lovers and did it for the pleasure of it. She experimented with drugs while hanging in Camden nightclubs. At one of these clubs – prophetically called “Trash” — she first met Blake. He became her on-again, off-again lover and future husband, and many blame him for her growing dependence on drugs. . And while all this was going on her career was taking off. Her albums went multi-platinum in the UK and around the world.

Her instant stardom brought the bad side, too. The London press is notorious for its voracious appetite; it chews up the newly famous, and spits out their husks. The paparazzi follow their every move pasting lurid and intensely personal pics on the front pages of tabloids. She was in and out of ef490e32-30fb-44cc-b875-0b93ceca52d6rehab clinics, after collapsing onstage. And eventually it all proved too much and her body just gave out. (Doctors blame bulimia with excessive alcohol.)

This is a great, heartbreaking and extremely intimate documentary, shot with cel phones, voice mail recordings and tons of archival grainy photos and footage. And it features her music, along with the lyrics projected on the screen. It’s accessible both to die-hard fans and the merely curious. But is this film as exploitative as the tabloids it documents? No. Even though it shows Amy’s good and bad sides, it is sympathetic not accusatory..

Still10Self/Less

Dir: Tarsem Singh

Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a self-made real estate kingpin in New York City. He thinks money can buy anything, and he lives a life of luxury: a penthouse suite with elaborate, gold-inlaid doors and massive wooden furniture. When there’s a difficult situation, he just pulls out a wad of cash. But he has a problem that money can’t solve: he’s dying. And then he discovers a secret corporation where a Still7scientist, Dr Albright (Matthew Goode: “Finn” from The Good Wife) promises him immortality, in exchange for Big Bucks. The only catch? He has to pretend to die, leaving his old life behind. In exchange, they’ll give him a brand new – and much younger – body, freshly-made in a laboratory tank.

He agrees, and before you know it, Ben Kingskey’s soul passes into Ryan Reynolds’ body. And his past self — his heavy New York accent, his mannerisms, his personality — all disappear. Now he has a new home in

S_05989-2.cr2New Orleans, flashy clothes, a new best friend, and more beautiful women than he can shake a stick at. But there’s a problem.  Turns out, his body wasn’t made in a laboratory at all, it’s a real person! And the body’s memories keep coming back to life. So Damian investigates, and meets up with his body’s wife Marguerite  (Natalie Martinez) and a daughter.

But as soon as the lab folks find out he knows their secret — despite the millions Damian paid them — they all have to die. Luckily his body still remembers its special ops fight skills — it’s up to him to fight for strangers Still9who knew the body he’s living in. Who will win the ultimate  showdown – Damian? Or the laboratory?

This movie makes no sense at all. It starts out good, but soon loses its point, and reports to shootouts and showdowns to keep you interested.

I love the “body swap” genre – films like Freaky Friday, All of Me and  Face/Off. Even The Change Up, (Reynolds’ comedy from last year) wasn’t bad. Alas, in this one, Reynolds is bland, generic and unadventurous. He doesn’t even pretend to show the enormous gaps between Ben Kingsley’s Damian and himself.

He may be nice-looking and likeable, but he’s just a meat puppet.

Big Game_00200.NEFBig Game

Dir: Jalmari Helander

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old in Northern Finland. As part of the Sami coming-of-age ritual (the Sami are an indigenous people living in Europe’s Far North) he has 24 hours to prove his manhood as a hunter and bring back a reindeer. He’s a brave kid but he’s unskilled with his bow and arrow and doubts his own self-worth.

But in the woods after an explosion he comes across a metal space pod. And inside is the US president (Samuel L Jackson)! An evil billionaire terrorist, with the help of some White House insiders, has shot down Air Force 1. He did it as a lark, not for any ideological reason. And now he’s Big Game_00181.NEFout hunting “big game” — the President himself. So young Oskari has to prove his mettle by guiding him to safety and fending off all the bad guys in the process.

Believe it or not, this kids’ movie is really good. It’s quirky, surprising and funny. I had zero expectations coming in, but something clicked when I realized this is another film by Finnish Director Helander (Rare Exports about Santa Big Game - Onni Tommila (Oskari) and Samuel L. Jackson (the President) in Big GameClause as a primeval demon), which also starred Tommila). It’s not disneyish at all. Big Game has blood and guts, a gritty feel and a twisted sensibility, all of which make it delightful.

Self/Less, Big Game and Amy all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening tonight is Tangerine with a special screening with Trans Pride activist Christin Milloy and sex work activist Catherine Brockhurst to lead a discussion. Also  on now is the Buster Keaton festival, with a live piano player. Go to robertbrucemusic.com for more information.

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

Scoundrels, Nazis and Pimps — the world’s worst lovers. Movies reviewed: Tangerine, Madame Bovary, Suite Française

Posted in 1940s, African-Americans, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, L.A., Romance, Sex Trade, Trans, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 3, 2015

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

Some relationships just don’t work – you look back and wonder what possessed you. But then there are the ones that everyone knows should never have happened. This week I’m looking at new movies about women who make terrible choices in lovers. There’s a middle-class woman in 19th century France who falls for rich scoundrels; a woman in 1940s France who falls for a Nazi, and a woman in contemporary LA who falls for a pimp.

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.Tangerine
Dir: Sean Baker

It’s Christmas Eve in LA. Sin-Dee and Alexandra (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor)
are best friends who work in the sex trade on the streets of Hollywood. Alexandra wants to be a professional singer, while Sin-Dee (short for Cinderella) just wants her Prince Charming. But Chester (James Ransone) is hardly a prince. He’s a white pimp/ drug dealer in an electric blue hoody, as skeezy as theyMickey O’Hagan and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp. come. But he says he’ll marry her. So she is not a happy camper when she hears he’s been sleeping with another woman. And not just any woman –one who’s white and cis-female (both Sin-Dee and Alexandra are black and transgender). So she heads out to find Dinah, the strung-out blonde (Mickey O’Hagen) and set her straight.

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp.Meanwhile, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) is an Armenian cab driver who frequents the same hood. He’s married with a kid, but would rather spend Christmas with people like Sin-Dee and Alexandra. His wife doesn’t care, but his mother-in-law suspects something is up. So she heads out to catch Razmik  in the act. Things come to a head when all the characters converge on a Hollywood donut shop.Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, James Ransone and Mya Taylor in TANGERINE, a Video Services Corp. release. Photo courtesy of Video Services Corp. Will the cheaters come clean and the liars tell the truth?

Tangerine is a low-key, low-budget indie look at the streets of LA. It concentrates on the funnier aspects but doesn’t shirk on the grittiness and precariousness of people’s lives. The cast is uniformly good, especially stately, elegant Mya Taylor and wild-child Kitana Kiki Roidriguez. Does Tangerine perpetuate negative stereotypes of transwomen? Perhaps, but since the performances are so sympathetic and well-rounded it feels real, not exploitative. This is a good one.

X6qlRg_madamebovary_03_o3_8649075_1434144833Madame Bovary
Dir: Sophie Barthes

19th century Normandy, near Rouen. Beautiful but naïve Emma (Mia Wasikowska) is a woman raised in a convent who is married to a simple country doctor. He’s boring, unambitious and a bit of a prig. He says beds are for patients, not doctors. And Emma soon discovers that means beds are for sleeping, not for good sex. So she’s left alone all day with nothing to do.

Soon enough there is a parade of men at her door promising a better life. vgRvz5_madamebovary_02_o3_8649010_1434144830Monsieur Lhereux (Rhys Ifans) is an oleaginous salesman who tempts her with Parisian fashions and golden candlesticks. She has to look good if she wants her life to improve. And never mind the cost – she can buy whatever she wants on credit! Uh oh…Leon (Ezra Miller) is the last romantic, an aesthete with delicate features. Won’t she go for a walk with him? Cynical Homais (Paul Giamatti) says he will help them climb the ladder to success, if they just take some risks. Then there’s the Marquis 58V4EY_madamebovary_01_o3_8648982_1434144827(Logan Marshall Green), a local rake who takes her for hunting, with horn and hound. He sends her love letters and says she can run off and live in his castle. Will Madame Bovary find her true love? Or will she succumb to trickery… and inescapable debt?

Madame Bovary – based on the famous novel by Flaubert — is a cautionary tale about the dangers of upward mobility. This film is a straightforward retelling of the story. But it reveals the tragic ending in the very first scene. I guess the director assumes everyone knows the story already so it can’t be a spoiler… but at least she should pretend to be interested. As it is, this movie is devoid of suspense, humour and passion. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters – they aren’t even particularly likeable. Though visually stunning and rich in detail (it’s like a work of art to watch), this movie doesn’t have much else going for it.

(L-R) MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS and MICHELLE WILLIAMS star in SUITE FRANÇAISE

(L-R) MATTHIAS SCHOENAERTS and MICHELLE WILLIAMS star in SUITE FRANÇAISE

Suite Française
Dir: Saul Dibb

It’s France in the 1940s, right after the German invasion. Pretty, young Lucille (Michelle Williams) lives in Bussy, a suburban town just east of Paris. She barely knew her husband Gaston before he was sent off to fight in the war. Now she lives with her unfriendly mother-in-law (Kristin Scott Thomas), a prosperous landholder, on her country estate. And – despite the refugees pouring out of Paris, scared for their lives – Lucille’s mother-in-law is doing quite nicely, thank you. She has even raised the rent of her long-time tenant farmers, even pushing them out of their homes to make room for desperate refugees with more money. But when the Germans arrive, everything changes. They are forced to share their home with Lieutenant Bruno, a handsome aristocrat (Matthias Schoenarts). He seems like a nice man, fond of classical piano music. He plays one song – the Suite Française of the title – that she’s never heard before. (Lucille studied music before the war.) She is forbidden to speak with him… but sharing intimate quarters leads to an increasing familiarity between the two.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS stars in SUITE FRANÇAIS

MICHELLE WILLIAMS stars in SUITE FRANÇAISE

Meanwhile, farmers Madeleine and Benoit (Ruth Wilson, Sam Riley) are forced to accommodate their own lieutenant, the cruel and vindictive Kurt (Tom Schilling). Benoit wasn’t drafted because he walks with a limp, but he hates the Germans with a passion. And when he sees the officer making passes at his own wife, he’s furious. He locates a hidden rifle, and sets out to defend both his honour and his country.

And as the story develops, the true nature of the characters reveal themselves, and we begin to question our first impressions of who is good and who is bad.

The film is an adaptation of the novel by Irene Nemirovsky written while the war was still going on. She was killed in a Nazi concentration camp but the manuscript was hidden for 60 years. It was rediscovered and published as a bestseller just ten years ago. It makes an engrossing romantic historical drama. The acting is terrific, especially Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother-in-law, as well as the farm family.  It’s a rare look at the war seen while it was taking place. I liked this film a lot.

Madame Bovary and Suite Française starts today in Toronto, check your local listings; Tangerine opens next Friday. Also now playing is the documentary Deep Web, about the dark side, online. I interviewed director Alex Winter during Hot Docs.

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

Fish out of Water. Films Reviewed: What Happened Miss Simone?, The Overnight

Posted in 1960s, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, L.A., Movies, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on June 26, 2015

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

With the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games coming to Toronto (one field is a pebble’s throw from this station) the city is welcoming strangers from across this hemisphere. There’s a celebration of Panamerican culture in documentaries screening at the Bloor Cinema, as well as short documentaries about Everyday Ambassadors playing as part of PanAmMania and screening at Nathan Phillips Square on July 11th.

This week I’m looking at Fish Out of Water: a documentary about a would-be concert pianist tossed into the worlds of jazz and soul; and a comedy about a young couple from the Pacific Northwest floundering in LA culture.

1517459_321391588070445_9092701473599202779_nWhat Happened, Miss Simone?
Dir: Liz Garbus

Nina Simone, the “High Priestess of Soul” is revered today in Europe and North America as one of the great singers of the 20th century. Her rich low voice is saturated with emotion and musicality. But her life and fame had its ups and downs. How did she go from star to political activist to skid-row torch singer and back to legendary diva? This fantastic bio-documentary traces her uneven path.

Nina Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon into a family of poor black preachers in North Carolina in 1933. By the age of three, she is already playing piano at her mom’s church, and her musical talent catches the eye of many parishioners. One, a white woman, sets up a scholarship fund and10862637_311209889088615_3613607397890030736_o private lessons with a Miss Massinovitch, a strict piano teacher with a Russian-sounding name (she’s actually English). Her goal is to become the first black concert pianist, and her teacher instills in her a love of Bach. She goes on to study at Julliard in New York, but her dreams are crushed when she is refused entry into the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia – probably because she is black. (This is before integration.)

To earn money, she starts playing piano in Atlantic City bars. And, so her mother doesn’t find out, she plays under the stage name Nina Simone (Niña is Spanish for girl, Simone after French actress Simone Signoret). And when she becomes known for her voice, she is funneled into the slot of “jazz singer” – a popular genre but not something she is 10958820_322827554593515_6218808686065354153_ntrained in, nor particularly likes. But with so few career choices available, she can’t pick and choose.

In the 1960s, she starts to tour and marries Andrew Stroud, a former cop who doubles as her manager. He’s hardboiled and conservative, and wants her to stick to hits to bring in the bucks. But Simone is shaken by the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little girls. She gravitates toward the civil rights movement and performs at Martin Luther King’s historic march at Selma. Later she writes and performs the song Mississippi Goddamn to show her anger and frustration at the violence and discrimination faced by African Americans across the country..11008445_334102973465973_4393093998390268430_n

By the 70s, she is firmly established as a member of the black arts elite. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York state, and her daughter is best friends with their neighbours the Shabazz family, the kids of Malcolm X. But as her fame begins to fade, she divorces her violent husband and her money starts to run out. She flees, first to Liberia with her daughter, and later ends up performing alone in seedy French bars for a handful of francs.

There’s much, much more to her story, and this amazing movie covers it all. Director Liz Garbus takes you right into her life with interviews with her family and close friends. Like in her documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), she explores the fine lines between genius, fame and madness. Using period footage, photos, and most of all her music, you get a real taste of Nina Simone as a perfectionist diva and incredible singer and pianist, as well as a troubled, lonely woman losing her grip. I strongly recommend this documentary.

Jason-Still-#1The Overnight
Wri/Dir: Patrick Brice

Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) are a young couple with a little son, RJ. Alex is a stay-at-home dad, both optimistic and insecure, with a bad goatee and shlumpy clothes. Emily is a smartly-dressed careerist with little tolerance for her husband’s B.S. They recently moved down to LA from Seattle so Emily can pursue her career. She’s always busy, but Alex is bored. They don’t have any friends and it’s hard to meet new people. And while the two are deeply in love they don’t a great sex life: Alex has body issues. (He thinks his penis is too Adam-Still-#7small.)

One day Alex meets Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) at a picnic in the park when they catch their two sons playing together. Seeing a potential friend, they say eagerly yes to a pizza party at Kurt and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche)’s home. They are an older couple, rich successful and privy to the ways of LA. Kurt is a semi-hipster who indulges in odd paintings – he sees himself as the Georgia O’Keefe of anuses. And French Charlotte is an amateur actress, known on the web for a peculiar practice involving her breasts.

But the party takes on a strange turn when the kids are put to bed. Kurt and Charlotte initiate a series of games unknown to the naive out-of-towners. Like fish out of water, they’re unsure whether Group-Still-#5this is how normal people in L.A. behave or if they’re being seduced by a couple of swingers. Will they succumb to the older couple’s seedy charms? Or will they flee the house screaming?

The Overnight is a very funny comedy with a great small cast. It’s almost like a classic drawing room comedy, though bedroom comedy is more accurate. Its humour doesn’t rely on clever lines or pratfalls; it’s the characters and the uncomfortable sexual/social situations they find themselves in that makes it funny.

Though written and directed by Patrick Brice, The Overnight is produced by the Duplass Brothers and has their hallmarks — sexual situations, weirdness, social comedy — all over it. It also has the feel of improvisation within a structured plot. This is a great comedy with an indie feel.

The Overnight opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and What Happened, Miss Simone is now playing on Netflix.

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

Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

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

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com 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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