Vulnerable. Films reviewed: Songs my Brother Taught Me, The Lady in the Van

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, First Nations, Movies, Old Age, Poverty, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 7, 2016

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

8qzGkl_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_02_o3_8934485_1453302729You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at how it treats its most vulnerable members. This week I’m looking at two dramas, one from the US, another from the U.K. There’s a teenaged bootlegger in a pickup truck in the badlands; and an old lady in a van in Camden in a bad state of mind.

Songs My Brother Taught Me
Dir: Chloe Zhao

Johnny Winters (John Reddy) is a teenager living in a Sioux Nation reserve in the Badlands, Northwestern US. He helps care for his sister Jashaun (Jashaun St John) and their mom (Irene Bedard) who stays in bed all day. NxKlQm_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_05_o3_8934624_1453302723She’s depressed. And there’s an older brother in prison.

Johnny’s still in high school, but he plans to cut out as soon as he graduates. He’s saving money so he can buy a pickup truck and drive to LA with his girlfriend. She’s going to University in the fall, and he hopes to make it as a boxer. So he turns to a bootlegging as a source of income. The reserve he lives on is officially dry, but there’s still a black market for beer and alcohol. k5jYyY_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_03_o3_8934502_1453302704He meets with an older woman who brings in the bottles and he distributes them for cash. But he faces trouble and potential violence from rivals who think he’s poaching on their territory.

His little sister knows all and sees all. She likes to draw, paint and dance. She begins to follow a tattoo artist to study his crafts and learn about her culture.

Jashawn looks at her brother almost like a father. Then their real father, Carl, dies in a fire, and Jashawn and Johnny realize they don’t know who he was. They get to know their extended family. Carl was a champion bull riderGZX1PQ_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_04_o3_8934563_1453302713 who followed the rodeo circuit. They all share Carl’s last name, along with lots of others at the reserve, but Johnny and Jashawn barely knew him. So they are jealous of his “real” family. Will knowing his relatives help him get a job? Or will he move to the big city and leave his mom and sister behind?

Songs my Brother Taught Me is a realistic look at life on a Lakota reserve, and pulls no punches. It’s not a Hollywood feel-good movie. It has a low-key, almost documentary feel to it, and shows a lot of sad and depressing scenes about scraping by with not enough money or jobs. But the realistic acting — especially the appealing performances of John Reddy and Jashawn St. John — help mitigate its downer feel. And the scenery — the dramatic crumbling white cliffs of the badlands — give it a stark and timeless immediacy.

1cf24d8d-9a27-480a-a622-172fc82728a7The Lady in the Van
Dir: Nicholas Hytner

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) is a writer living on a quaint, middle-class street in Camdentown, north London. His life is a quiet one until an eccentric old woman enters the scene. Miss Sheppard (Maggie Smith) is a nearly homeless woman who lives in a VW van. She’s ornery and smells bad. And she doesn’t mince words: she needs a place to park her home so she can live in peace. And after some deliberation with nosy neighbours, Alan agrees it’s his turn to help Miss Sheppard. So she moves into his driveway takes up residence and lives there for the next THE LADY IN THE VAN15 years.

For Alan Bennett the character, Miss Sheppard is a pain in the ass: a disputatious, mentally ill old lady who gets in the way. She infringes on his private space, interferes with visiting sex partners, and interrupts his writing. And the smell! Plastic bags serve as her toilet. But for Alan Bennett the writer, she’s a fascinating character, dying to be explored and studied.

Turns out Miss Sheppard has a hidden past. The reason she lives in London is to escape a witness to a possible hit-and-run incident decades earlier. Alan also discovers she was once a concert pianist, and later joined a French convent. She’s a bullying, difficult woman with a “derelict nobility”.

THE LADY IN THE VANIronically, the more time he spends trying to learn about Miss Sheppard, the less he spends with the other old woman in his life – his own mother. She is neither glamorous nor mysterious not frightening, and he can’t bring himself to visit her. He’d rather think about the woman in the van in his driveway.

This is a great movie. Maggie Smith is just fantastic, not given to grandiose gestures. She plays it straight as a homeless woman with a strong personality. And Jennings plays Alan Bennett as two characters: the man and the narrator, who appear on the screen together to debate what to do about the woman in the driveway. It’s a theatrical conceit but it works reallyTHE LADY IN THE VAN well. Alan Bennett’s books and memoirs often have internal dialogue that doesn’t work in plays or on the big screen.

He’s a really witty and fun writer and playwright – he writes books like Smut and plays like History Boys – so it’s neat to see him as a character. The Lady in the Van is part memoir (it’s a true story) and part imagined drama. It’s a difficult comedy, one that makes you think and squirm while you laugh. Great movie.

12647247_223040471366833_8306883834731885620_nThe Lady in the Van opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Songs my Brother Taught Me is showing next weekend at Toronto’s Next Wave festival. Next Wave shows films by, for and about young adults, including many free screenings. Go to tiff.net for details. Also playing now is the sometimes hilarious parody 50 Shades of Black. If you like the Wayans’ style of comedy, this one’s for you.

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 writer/directors Christina Zeidler and John Mitchell about Portrait of a Serial Monogamist

Posted in Art, comedy, Cultural Mining, Interview, Lesbian, LGBT, Movies, Romance, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on February 5, 2016

Christina ZeidlinToronto is a city of small towns within small towns. Elsie lives in a tight-knit arts community in Toronto’s west end. She has good job at a TV station and a loving relationship with Robyn, an artist. But big changes are coming. Her show faces a corporate takeover, Robyn John Mitchellfaces her first gallery show, and Elsie decides on a change of her own: she’s dumping Robyn — nicely of course! — and repeating her pattern of being a “serial monogamist”.

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist is the name of a new feature film that looks at the lives of women in the close-knit LGBT arts community of Parkdale. It was written and directed by Christina Zeidler and John Mitchell and opens in Toronto next Friday (Feb 12, 2016).

I spoke to Christina (by phone from LAX) and to John in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

 

 

American Dream, French Nightmare. Films reviewed: The Big Short, Joy, French Blood

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Economics, France, Movies, Racism, Skinhead, US, violence, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2016

GDFF2016-655x250-ENG-V2Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s slow season for movies8-fest right now, but you can catch some unusual ways of seeing films, from the tiny to vast. The 9th Annual 8-Fest shows handmade super 8 films at the SPK Polish Combatants Hall. The Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival is showing classic digital Affiche MYFFF 40X60crowd-pleasers on the big screen across Canada, including David Bowie in Labyrinth. And online myfrenchfilmfestival.com is showing new French movies around the world until mid-February.

This week, I’m looking at two dramas about the American Dream, and one about the French Nightmare.

12238242_1696138537295341_6953460731039755401_oThe Big Short

Dir: Adam McKay (based on the book by Michael Lewis)

It’s the first decade of the 21st century and Wall Street is booming. Brokers are investing big in the security and stability of derivatives based on subprime mortgages. (Subprime mortgages were a new invention that let you buy a house with no money down.) Funds that cannot fall issued by merchant banks too big to fail. But a tiny collection of investors see it for what it is: a bubble about to burst.

There’s Michael (Christian Bale) a barefoot genius out west known for his investment acumen. Slimy Jared (Ryan Gosling) heads an unusual section of a big firm. He interests the exceptionally abrasive Mark (Steve Carrel) and his gang. And at the same time, two kids in their early twenties who can’t break through the glass walls of Wall Street, somehow manage to catch the eye of Ben (Brad Pitt) a reclusive former investor. We all know what happens. Wall Street crashed leaving millions of people jobless and locked out of their homes.

The movie follows these separate groups as they bet big against Wall Street, and shows us who comes out on top by selling short. And it explains, if you care to listen, some of the arcane economics behind the whole mess, propped up by fraud, deceit and corruption. The Big Short is a fast-moving entertainingly camp and educational Bro Movie.

More on this one in a minute…

12321495_808507162593872_4766624371283134661_nJoy

Dir: David O Russell

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a woman who lives with a lovable but misbegotten family. Her bedridden mom (Virginia Madsen) watches TV all day. Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) lives in her basement, and her loving grandma helps with the kids upstairs. And now her auto-repairman dad (Robert de Niro) is moving back home too. Joy once had high hopes for her future but her time is wasted in a 11952687_773777219400200_7695745313849455796_odead-end job and taking care of her dysfunctional family.

One day inspiration hits. She decides to create and sell a new mop with a removable mop-head, made from a single long loop of string. But how to make it, market it and sell it? She decides to make them in a makeshift factory her dad’s garage, with funding from his girlfriend (Isabella Rosselini) a rich widow. And through a series of lucky accidents she gets a chance to offer it on a TV shopping network. But there are still lots of bumps in the road that might ruin all her plans. Joy is a cute and watchable movie about a woman – and all her quirky friends and family’s — attempt to make it big.

Joy and The Big Short — both nominated for Best Picture Oscar, and neither of which will win — are two sides of the same coin. Both are true stories with similar themes: ordinary people, with a 12238251_801317663312822_1925779943944291784_obit of luck, and a lot of perseverance and hard work can make lots of money even in these tough economic times. Stay true to your ideas, no matter how unusual, no matter what other people say. … but you have to do it within the system.

Both movies are entertaining, fast-paced and fun, with huge casts and big stars. They take risks in their methods of storytelling. The Big Short breaks the third wall with characters turning directly to the camera to “tell the truth” that the movie leaves out. And Joy features a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at a live TV set. Joy is told from a “woman’s point of view” (the home life of a mom who sells mops on TV), while The Big Short is basically an all-guy movie (men with invisible families making money at work on Wall Street). I like them both, but don’t expect to be overly challenged.

xGLJP3_frenchblood_04_o3_8760256_1439474895French Blood (Un Français)

Dir: Diastème

Marco, Braguette and Grand-Guy (Alban Lenoir, Samuel Jouy, and Paul Hamy) are three best friends living in a banlieu, the high rise ghettos ringing Paris. They are French skinheads, complete with Doc Martens, "Un Franais"bomber jackets and neo-nazi tattoos. Hobbies include getting drunk, getting laid, and attacking strangers on the street, specifically gays, leftists and Arabs. They don’t seem to follow any strict ideology, but seem to really enjoy brawling, fighting and terrorizing immigrants. They soon join the National Front, France’s political party of the extreme right. But then their paths begin to diverge.

Braguette is shot and disabled by a leftwing activist. He quickly rises up in the ranks of the National Front. Grand-Guy is a loose cannon, given to excessive alcohol and drugs. His RgjE4K_frenchblood_05_o3_8760328_1439474896attacks on immigrants turn extreme, culminating in his horrifying torture of a random, middle-aged man. And Marco, after beating, almost to death, a rival skinhead, has a mental breakdown. An altruistic pharmacist takes him under his wing and helps him adjust to a life away from violence and racism. But these changes happen gradually, shown over decades, with the movie providing just a glimpse of their lives, once every five years. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the missing parts. And it culminates in an ultimate showdown between Marco and Braguette.

This is a very violent and disturbing — but fantastic — movie. It looks at the extreme vgLEP5_frenchblood_01_o3_8760110_1439474887right in contemporary France from the points of view of three white, working-class men. The acting is amazing, especially Lenoir, Hamy and Jouy. And it’s incredibly timely; after the terror attacks in Paris, the National Front came that close to winning the last election. I strongly recommend this movie.

The Big Short and Joy are both playing in Toronto, check your local listings; and you can watch French Blood online at myfrenchfilmfestival.com.

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 actors Kerwin Johnson, Jr and Curtiss Cook, Jr and director Jay Dockendorf about their new film Naz & Maalik

Posted in African-Americans, Brooklyn, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Gay, Islam, Morality, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 28, 2016

naz and maalik-4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Naz and Maalik are African-American teenagers living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. They sell lottery tickets and Catholic Saint cards on the street to earn extra cash. Normal kids, they chat about religion, morality and what it’s like to be young, gifted and black. They’re both Muslim, but Naz is more devout. And they have a secret they keep on the down low. They’re lovers. But when an FBI agent begins to follow them, thinking they’re radicalized, they don’t know which is the biggestJay Dockendorf threat: Arrested as a Muslim? Shot by the police as a black man? Or coming out as gay to their families?

Naz & Maalik is also the name of a new film, just released on DVD and VOD. It stars two charismatic young actors in their first feature roles: Kerwin Johnson Jr. as Naz, and Curtiss Cook Jr., as Maalik. It’s written and directed by filmmaker Jay Dockendorf. They’re winning prizes for this touching and realistic story of triply-marginalized youth. I spoke with Kerwin, Curtiss and Jay in Brooklyn by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daniel Garber talks with director Radu Muntean about his new film One Floor Below at #TIFF15

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Death, Movies, Mystery, Romania by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

Radu Muntean-5- Jeff Harris culturalminingPatrascu is a middle-aged, middle-class man, working as a middleman in contemporary Romania. He lives in a nice apartment with his wife Olga, his teenaged son Matei, and his dog Jerry. But one day he hears screaming from a woman’s apartment, and out walks Vali, a married man from upstairs. The next day the woman is found dead with her skull smashed in. But when the police come by to investigate, Patrascu clams up.

Can he live with a suspected murderer One Floor Below?Radu Muntean-4- Jeff Harris culturalmining

One Floor Below (Un etaj mai jos) is also the name of a dark drama that premiered at TIFF. It blurs the lines among feelings of guilt, responsibility, mistrust and fear in a country still emerging from generations under an authoritarian government. The film is made by award-winning Romanian director Radu Muntean.

I spoke with Radu about his intriguing, fifth feature in September, 2015, at the Toronto International Film Festival. One Floor Below opens today.

Past and Future. Movies reviewed: Svengali, 45 Years PLUS Oscars So White

Posted in Canadian Screen Awards, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Romance, UK, Wales by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

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

One of the big cultural stories this week was the whiteness of all the actors nominated for an Oscar. The reason isn’t the Academy’s voting patterns. It’s because Hollywood just doesn’t make “Oscar-type” movies starring non-white characters. It doesn’t cast black actors in those types of roles. TV movies, comedies, action-thrillers, yes, but “serious” Hollywood movies — historical dramas, movies adapted from books, or biopics? Almost never.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBut what about Canada? Do actors in movies here look like us? I’m surprised that the cultural pundits, even on CBC radio, failed to mention Canadian Screen Awards nominees when talking about the Oscars. Take a look: Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal (from Beeba Boys) and Irdens Exantus  (My Internship in 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_oCanada) are just a few of the many multicultural faces in this year’s movie nominees.

This week, I’m looking at two UK movies. A light drama about a young couple from Wales with a rock’n’roll future, and a heavy drama about an elderly couple in Norfolk with a message from the past.

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

Dixie (Jonny Owen) is a youngish guy from small town Wales. People say he has golden ears – he can tell great rock music the moment he hears it – and he aims to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Oasis. One day he hears a band on youtube and decides that’s the band I want to manage. He heads off to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) and his collection of 45s.

Convincing the band is easy – all it takes is a few cans of beer.SVENGALI_CAST_JONNY_AND_VICKY But connections prove more difficult. His childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) is now a record label exec. But he’s also a douchey hipster of the worst calibre who sneers at Dixie’s smalltown ways. Dixie dresses in chainstore mod revival outfits and carries his band’s demo songs – on cassette tapes, no less – in grocery bags.

Svengali_Stills_0651But things start to snowball when he books them at a pub. The show is a disaster – igniting a near riot — but that’s exactly what he needs. Almost instantly the band’s music is on the BBC, their pics appear in NME, and the band members get booked on a football talk show. All for a group that has yet to sign to a record label.

But at the same time, Dixie is bleeding money. On the brink MG_3095of success he’s also flat broke, nearly homeless, pursued by loan sharks, and worst of all, his girlfriend Shell – the love of his life – might leave him. Will he make it big in London, or return to his country ways?

Svengali is a cute, low-budget fish-out-of-water comedy. Jonny Owen and the gang are fun to watch and the sountrack is catchy. It’s also a self-consciously retro tribute to the good old days of rock and roll. It’s full of handbills, cassette tapes, vinyl 45s and record contracts written on paper. It feels like an aging millennial mimicking a rocker from the 80s who is imitating a mod from the 60s. But even with the stock characters and predictable plot, I enjoyed it anyway.

6a1cfe62-844f-4158-816c-b1800241235d45 Years

Dir: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)

Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) live in a small town in Norfolk, England. They have a happy, if uneventful, life, as they enjoy their retirement years. Sex is a chore. Conversation is routine. Their friends are annoying. They have dogs, not kids or grandkids. Geoff is forgetful, Kate a bit surly and depressed. And then there are the health issues. But they do have each other. They fit together like hands in old leather gloves. They know everything there is to know about each other. And they’re getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. 45 years of faithful marriage. Then a letter arrives from Switzerland.

They have recovered a body from a glacier in the Alps. A be5824c6-6d9d-48eb-b2bf-3fb9a9edf94bwoman who died 50 years earlier, but whose body is only revealed now, due to global warming. And Geoff is listed as next of kin. What?

Turns out, there was another woman. Did he cheat on her? No this was before he married Kate. But he still seemed to carry a torch for this young love. And up in the attic, packed away, are letters and slides, evidence of a relationship Kate never knew about. Has their half-century together been just an afterthought? And will the big event – the 45th anniversary party in a rented hall – even take place?

66dbabff-5c1c-449f-a8ad-aa66e1279d2745 Years is a well-acted film about love and relationships. I could call it introspective, thoughtful and subtly nuanced, and that would be true. Definitely no overacting in this movie. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for this role, and Tom Courtenay is another beloved actor known for his working class characters. Thing is – dare I say it? – I thought it was dull. Dull, drab and slow-moving. It was like the French movie Amour, but without death, dementia, intrigue or suspense. It’s not a bad movie (it’s infinitely more complex than the light Svengali) and it’s not that I disliked it, but I was underwhelmed.

45 Years open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Svengali is now available online and VOD. You can view the Canadian Screen Awards nominees here.

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

Art House or not? Films reviewed: Florence and the Uffizi Gallery, The Revenant, Mustang

Posted in Movies, Cultural Mining, Canada, Western, Clash of Cultures, Turkey, Art by CulturalMining.com on January 15, 2016

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

“Art house movies”. That traditionally meant low-budget indie movies that play at rep cinemas and film festivals. But times are changing and definitions are blurring. This week I’m looking at three movies. A violent, outdoor western with scenery as pretty as art; an art-house drama about five Turkish sisters confined to their house, and a 3-D look at an Italian house of art.

florence3d-580x326Florence and the Uffizi Gallery (in 3D and 4K)

The Republic of Florence was a city run by oligarchs, not kings, in the Italian Renaissance. And above all were the Medici family. This film – with the help of Italian art historians and an actor playing one of the Medicis — takes you on a tour of Florence. You see uffizi gallery-4its bridges, chapels, palaces and museums and get a very close look at – and explanation of – its paintings, sculptures and stained glass windows. Most of all it looks at the art of the Uffizi Gallery. Uffizi means office, as it was originally built for bureaucrats in the 16th Century. Now it has Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, david3d-580x386the very different Davids of Donatello and nearby Michaelengelo (in the Piazza di San Marco); Caravaggio’s head of Medusa, and the great battles of Paolo Ucello. I remember reading Janson’s History of Art when I was a teenager so a lot of these images are familiar to me, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to the art itself. The movie is a combination tourist ad and art recording. One criticism: 3D is great for sculpture and architecture – the camera all but caresses the naked statues it films – but two-dimensional paintings turned 3-D just look weird. But unless you’re heading to Italy soon, this is your best chance to see it all up close.

revenantThe Revenant

Dir: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

It’s the 1830s in the old West. Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a guide for a troupe of frontiersman carrying their furs to a trading post. He’s helped by his son Hawk of the Pawnee Nation (Forrest Goodluck) – they communicate in Pawnee. But they are attacked and many killed – seemingly for no reason – by Sioux warriors on horseback. Glass bravely gets them to safety. Then a second disaster strikes: he is attacked and nearly killed by a revenanthuge bear defending her cubs. He can’t go on, but the team’s captain leaves three volunteers to give him a proper burial when he dies: Hawk, Bridger a greenhorn on his first trip (Will Poulter) and Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) a very shifty character. Fitz does something terrible and then throws Glass’s body in a ditch. He convinces the naïve Bridger he’s dead and they’re under attack. They flee to the revenantfort. But Glass finds the strength to come back from the dead – that’s what revenant means – and seek revenge.

The Revenant is a simple story played out in the spectacular scenery of western Canada. It seems historically accurate, with indigenous groups speaking their own language, and it shows some of the atrocities whites committed against them. And there’s some cool background music and furry costumes and hats. But this is actually a mainstream action movie – fights, chase scenes, a damsel in distress, and a heavy dose of parental revenge – that’s all gussied-up in art-house garb to try to win a few Oscars.

Don’t get me wrong – I liked it, despite the excessive blood, graphic wounds, and DiCaprio’s non-stop grunting and staggering around. And there are some interesting mystical sidebars and dreamy detours to add a bit of spice to the very simple story. But basically it’s still just an action/Western.

f764866e-0e33-4ae7-8994-0c7bdef78e3fMustang

Dir: Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Lale, Nur, Ece, Selma, Sonay are five young sisters living in eastern Turkey on the Black Sea. They are five beautiful girls with rosy cheeks and raven hair,  brimming with girl power. Since their parents died, they’ve lived with their uncle and grandmother, and are more or less left to their own devices. They spend their days playing, reading, watching soccer, and flirting with guys. They are as free as wild horses, like Mustangs running across the prairie. But then something changes. When school gets out for summer, they’re spotted splashing in the water and playing chicken fights with some of the 8b1b96b0-c74a-43cf-8857-7647562711dfschoolboys. And later one sister is seen, unsupervised, with a boy in an orchard.

Suddenly their home becomes a prison, their entrances and exits tightly controlled. They’re like princesses locked in a castle tower. They’re told to cover their hair, act civilized, be polite, conservative, and submissive. It doesn’t work. Theyre d4283799-648b-49f5-80cf-92aae5a92f3ctough and independent girls, not so easily tamed. Even so, soon they’re being married off, one-by-one, to men they don’t love. Can any of the sisters resist this, and escape to freedom?

Mustang is a really nice, low- key movie. It’s a sweet, funny and touching coming-of-age drama. The five young actresses are all new and all wonderful. The cast and first-time director are Turkish, but the film has a very French feel to it (it’s France’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar), along with a healthy dose of Fiddler on the Roof.

The Revenant is now playing in Toronto and Mustang opens today. And Florence and the Uffizi Gallery is playing next Thursday, on January 21st; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with director Patrick Reed about his new documentary Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Prison, Suspicion, Taliban, Terrorism, Torture, US, War by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2016

 

Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar KhadrHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid born in Toronto into a controversial family. He was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan at a militant camp. A US soldier was killed and Omar, as the sole survivor, was blamed for his Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadrdeath. Labelled a terrorist, he was sent to a prison in Cuba at the American military base known as Guantanamo. He was the youngest inmate there and reached maturity as Guantanamo’s Child.

Guantanamo’s Child is also the name of a new KO79nx_GUANTANAMOSCHILD_01_o3_8887721_1449615152documentary about Omar Khadr’s stay in that notorious prison. Partly based on Michelle Shephard’s book, the film chronicles his and his family’s lives from his early years in Toronto, his stay in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the decade spent in Guantanamo, and his status today back in Canada. The film premiered at TIFF15 and is now playing in Toronto as part of the Canada Top Ten Film Festival.

I spoke with the film’s award-winning co-director, Patrick Reed, in studio.

A new year. Movies Reviewed: Anomalisa, Sleeping Giant, The Demons

Posted in Animation, Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Movies, Psychology, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on January 8, 2016

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

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival is now screening some of the best movies of 2015. This week I’m looking at two coming-of-age films, one set in Quebec the other in Ontario, that look at summer stories; and an unusual animated drama about celebrity and conformity.

qjLZ5G_anomalisa_02_o3_8703152_1438094874Anomalisa
Dir: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufmann

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a minor celebrity in the world of business self-help books. He’s much loved by office staffs all across America. His specialty? customer service. He’s staying at a hotel in Cincinnati for a day to prepare for an upcoming speech he’s giving there.

But something seems not right. Everyone else (Tom Noonan) just 12375066_931049030312493_458353283602098012_orepeats what they’ve been told: Cincinnati has a great zoo. Cincinnati makes great chile. And they all look the same too: same face, same voice. Old or young, male or female, they all talk just the same.

He begins to doubt his sanity… maybe he’s the robot, not them!.

Then, somewhere outside his hotel room door, he hears a voice, a distinctive voice, a woman’s voice. He pulls on his pants, runs out of his room, and races down the hall, knocking on every door. Until he 12247951_918554004895329_2691172879829888643_ofinds what he’s looking for. It’s a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), from Akron in town to hear Michael’s speech. She’s ordinary looking, not particularly bright, but he decides, she’s the only real person left in this world. Lisa is the anomaly amongst all the conformity. Anomalisa.

Could this be true love?

What I haven’t said yet is that this is an animated film using stop-motion photography. And in fact, Michael, Lisa, and everyone else are actually dolls. Anatomically correct dolls. They get in fights, sing songs, get drunk, have realistic sex – with all the bumps and faux pas – but they’re not human. So it’s a triple conundrum: is this an animated movie about a normal middle aged guy losing it? Or are we seeing the characters as animated dolls because that’s how the main character envisions the world? Or are we all actually identical automatons?

Anomalisa is a weird and funny, if troubling, drama.

vgRX90_SLEEPING_GIANT_02_o3_8685410_1438737298Sleeping Giant
Dir: Andrew Cividino

Adam (Jackson Martin) is a sheltered, middle-class kid who still goes to bed on time. He’s up in cottage country on Lake Superior for the summer. His parents just bought an expensive place, so everything seems to be going well. But parents don’t see everything.

Adam is 15, and still in touch with his old summer friends, mainly j25GLP_SLEEPING_GIANT_03_o3_8685445_1438737314girls like Taylor (Katelyn McKerracher). But now he has some guy friends to tell him what’s what. Nate and Riley (Nick Serino and Reece Moffet) are a pair of cool cousins he meets out there on the road. They are staying with their grandma, with no parents around Lg0XAr_SLEEPING_GIANT_01_o3_8685366_1438737282to supervise. Nate’s the aggressive fast talker, while older Riley is less volatile.

Together the two of them are slowly corrupting Adam, introducing him to the basics adult life: lying, stealing beer, getting drunk, smoking pot and badmouthing girls. They use a golf cart to rob a liquor store. But things start to go wrong when Taylor upsets the delicate “guy balance”. One of them falls in love with her, another feels stilted and a third sees her as a danger to their friendship. And looming in the background is a huge rocky cliff on a nearby A019_C001_0724VXuninhibited island. Legend has it, someone jumped and died there.

Based on a short film, Sleeping giant is another great coming of age story that looks at the scariness and discovery of adolescence played against the cottages and lakes of northwest Ontario.

2RqJ9W_demons_05_o3_8888535_1449615258The Demons
Wri/Dir: Philippe Lesage

Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier) is your average 10 year old boy in a Quebec suburb. Bigger kids pick on him so he bullies littler kids. He spends his days at school where he forgets his pencils, at home where he hears his parents fighting, or 0go30V_demons_03_o3_8888443_1449615229with his friends at the outdoor swimming pool. He’s at that age between childhood and adolescence where everything is new and strange and more than a little scary. Like ghosts that can sense your fear, kidnappers who might grab you off the street, and AIDS which will infect you if you act “too gay”.

qjp8QR_demons_02_o3_8888396_1449615258His fears are preyed on by his siblings and friends. They pile on the kind of urban myths that make you shiver. Like the girl who has cockroaches growing inside her tongue, or how chewing your hair leads to death from hair balls. But at the same time, something weird and sinister is happening all around g5DX2Z_demons_04_o3_8888488_1449615243him. Why did his Dad spend the night visiting his best friend’s mom? How come the girl he loves ignores him? And why are kids disappearing right around his neighbourhood?

Demons has a terrific ensemble cast with kids saying the stuff they won’t say in front of adults. It’s based on the director’s memories of his own childhood and it rings true. This is an unsparingly realistic look at dark shames and fears. Really good movie.

Anomalisa opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Sleeping Giant and The Demons are both part of Canada’s Top Ten Film Fest. 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.

Canada’s Top Ten. Closet Monster, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bullying, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Gay, Politics, Quebec, Satire by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2016

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

It’s New Year’s Day, a good time to look back over the past year. Canada’s Top Ten — running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 8th to 17th — offers a selection of ten movies over ten days for ten bucks a pop. So this week, I’m looking at two of those movies: a coming of age drama from Newfoundland about a gay teenager yearning to spread his wings and fly; and a comedy from Quebec about a newly-empowered politician who dreads leaving the ground. And afterwards, I’ll give you my favourite films of the 2015.

98Y9QD_closetmonster_03_o3_8698586_1438737352Closet Monster

Wri/Dir: Stephen Dunn

Oscar is a little boy in Newfoundland, whose head is filled with strange voices and nightmares during the day, and his bed is full of scary nightmares at night. He depends on his story-telling dad Peter (Aaron Abrams) to banish the bad thoughts. But two things happen. First, on the same day he discovers he’s gay, he witnesses a terrible incident in a cemetery near his school. A kid is beaten up, impaled,  and left to die. But Oscar’s obsession with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer leads him to internalize the violence and permanently tie it to his newly discovered sexuality. Now gay means dealing with X6pQL5_closetmonster_04_o3_8698631_1438737343supernatural monsters and death and vampires, so he banishes it all to a metaphoric; closet. Around the same time, his parents begin to fight. His mom moves out leaving the boy with his dad… who is losing it. Now Oscar only has his talking hamster Buffy (Isabella Rosselini) to turn to for advice.

Flash forward a few years. Oscar (Connor Jessup, Blackbird) is in high school now and getting ready for University. where he wants to study movie make-up design. He spends most of his time in his secret Buffy-verse, a world of monsters he has created inside his backyard treehouse. It’s a place where people grow horns, he practices his make-up, and a place where he hangs out with a sort-of girlfriend named Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). But he really has his eyes on Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) a guy he 8qK3q3_closetmonster_01_o3_8698541_1438737331works with at a big box store. But as things start to go wrong and his life begins to unravel he realizes now’s the time to make the big decisions in his life. This culminates in a big costume and makeup party.

Can Oscar escape his very real inner demons, embrace his sexuality, come out to his neglectful mother and homophobic father, find live at work and pursue his dreams of creating monsters for the movies?

I liked this movie. It’s wonderfully imaginative with leaps of faith and new things all around. Even so, the script and the acting is uneven, ranging from the superb to moments of dialogue so jaw-droppingly wooden you wish they had never made it to the screen.  Still, this first-time director’s look at sexuality shown through a supernatural lens — played out in a Newfoundland setting — offers an unusual take on an old story.

qjp892_myinternship_01_o3_8889108_1449615288Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (My Internship in Canada)

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Felardeau

Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus) is a highly-educated young man from Port au Prince, Haiti. He is well-versed in the writings of Rousseau and de Tocqueville, but wants to experience real democracy first hand. So he arrives in northern Quebec, at an office above a lingerie store, to start his internship. MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a former hockey player who cares little about politics science. He’s also an independent, free from party 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_opolitics. He divides his time cutting ribbons, listening to local complaints, and mediating disputes between Algonquin First Nations and the small town miners and lumberjacks who get in their way. And he drives everywhere he goes because of a pathological fear of flying.

He lives with his conservative wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) who owns a nursery. and his neglected lefty daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) who wants to move to Denmark. And Souverain fits right in, passing on sage political advice to the 12113292_1650759721828727_4678384698342888006_ohapless Steve.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, which holds a slight majority, decides it wants to go to war in the Middle East, while the opposition parties want to stay away. Everything is going smoothly until Steve suddenly finds himself at the centre of things when a Conservative backbencher is rushed to hospital, and 11825648_1629299423974757_2831573805500131430_nwon’t be well in time for the vote. Souverain, meanwhile is observing everything, and secretly skyping back to large crowds in Port au Prince. And through his his Machiebelian manoeuvres and machinations he steers Steve on the path of direct democracy. He sets up local meetings so the people can decide whether or not to go to war. His wife is adamantly in favour, and his daughter steadfastly opposed. But as his story gains national attention, the competing parties zoom in to try to win him over. Can Souverain help Steve solve this Cornellian dilemma without alienating either his wife or his daughter? And can democracy flourish in northern Quebec.

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a genuinely funny look at Canadian politics, one of the first movies I’ve ever seen on the topic. Acting is great all around, and the story has lots of surprises, including a quintessentially Canadian journey to Ottawa. Great fun.

And finally, here are some movies I really liked in 2015: (coming soon!)

Closet Monster and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (also known as My Internship in Canada) are playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten. 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

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