Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Ross Sutherland about his new documentary Stand By for Tape Back-Up at Hot Docs

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Poetry, Pop Culture, TV, UK by CulturalMining.com on May 22, 2015

Ross Sutherland interview with Daniek Garber 1 © Jeff Harris for culturalminingHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Alladin had his magic lamp, King Arthur his Excalibur. What do we have to define ourselves, what talismans can protect us against outside forces? Can our lives be summed up as a list of “likes” on Ross Sutherland interview with Daniek Garber 3 © Jeff Harris for culturalminingFacebook?

Well, one man in the UK discovered his lost history and the meaning of life in a most unusual place: a dusty, plastic VHS tape at his grandfather’s house. It was viewed, reviewed and pondered. It contained the fears, memories and nightmares of his childhood, as seen on broadcast TV.

Stand By for Tape Back-Up is the title of a new autobiographical documentary having its world premier at Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary film festival. But it’s not like any conventional documentary you’ve ever seen.

It consists entirely of VHS footage of movies and Ross Sutherland interview with Daniek Garber 2 © Jeff Harris for culturalminingtv shows — from Michael Jackson music videos to clips from Ghostbusters and Fresh Prince of Belair — played again and again with the unseen filmmaker’s voiceover. Rewinds, pauses and fast forwards guide the viewers to new heights of pschedelic rapture and and the depths of abject confusion. It’s hilarious, haunting, terrifying, profound, poetic… and extremely whack.

I spoke to Ross Sutherland in Toronto on location at the Hot Docs Media Lounge.

Photos © Jeff Harris for Cultural Mining.

LGBT Movies. Films Reviewed: Grandma, The New Girlfriend, Saint Laurent PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in comedy, Cross-dressing, Cultural Mining, Drama, Fashion, France, Gay, Lesbian, LGBT, Romantic Comedy, Trans by CulturalMining.com on May 22, 2015

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

inside out lgbtff 25 logoInside Out is Toronto’s LGBT international film festival, and it’s on now, for the next ten days, with comedies, dramas, experimental films and documentaries. Major stars and directors will be appearing at their films and there are even free screenings. This week I’m looking at LGBT dramas from the US and France. There’s a biopic about a man who draws dresses, a comedy about a man who is drawn to dresses, and a grandmother who fought hard for the right to wear pants.

10350354_816276301776400_9136838441934971649_nGrandma
Wri/Dir: Paul Weitz

Elle (Lily Tomlin) is a radical lesbian feminist poet in California. She’s retired from her position as writer-in-residence at a UC campus, and hasn’t written a word since Vi, her partner of 36 years, died. Once a celebrated activist and public intellectual, another Adrienne Rich, now she’s just a bitter old cuss. But just as she is unceremoniously giving her current lover the boot, there’s a knock on the door. It’s her granddaughter asking for help. Sage (Julia Garner) is a pretty, young high school student with a problem: an unwanted pregnancy. She needs 600 bucks for an abortion. But that’s easier said than done. Grandma’s broke! So the two of them climb into her ancient jalopy and drive off to find the cash.

They are generations apart:

Grandma: Oh for the days of Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique.
Granddaughter: Mystique? Like, the blue-skinned villain in X-Men?

Can they ever see eye to eye? Can Sage get her abortion? And will Elle come to terms with the ghosts from her past? Grandma is a delightful, road-trip comedy. It has a great script, cute story with a social conscience, and the acting is good all around. A lot of fun.

unenouvelleamie_aff_allThe New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie)
Dir: François Ozon (based on the novel by the late Ruth Rendell)

Rich Laura and middle-class Claire take a blood oath when they’re just girls: they swear to be fast friends forever. Young and beautiful, they stay close. Claire Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) marries clean-cut Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz: Quai d’Orsay), while Laura chooses the more sensitive David (Romain Duris). But after the birth of her first child, Laura breaks the pact… by dying! Claire is crushed. How can she live without her best friend? She begins to see her everywhere; across the street, just around a corner. David meanwhile has fallen into a deep funk. She goes unenouvelleamie05to visit him, but is shocked when she sees a woman at his home taking care of the baby. Is it Laura? No… It’s David, in a dress. I miss Claire, he explains, and it helps comfort the baby. Just don’t tell anyone, especially not his mother-in-law.

unenouvelleamie09Initially shocked, Claire gradually adjusts to David’s cross-dressing. But to allay potential suspicions, she tells her husband she has found a new girlfriend – “Virginia”. Their bonds begin to grow… as do the suspicions of her husband and his mother in law. But are they ready to meet Virginia?

This is an always-surprising social comedy about changes in identity, friendship and family, sexuality and gender.

6c9eb5e0-7200-4390-a3f3-9dc6cddbbc5cSaint Laurent
Dir: Bertrand Bonello

Yves St Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) is a successful fashion designer in Paris. He’s slim and impeccably dressed known for his trademark black-framed glasses. He launched the celebrated Mondrian dress in 1965, and turns out new haut couture collections twice a year. The operation is divided into three parts. He’s the creative side. He personally draws every garment design by hand. Behind the scenes, a dedicated army in white lab coats rush to cut the cloth, drape it, stitch it, and get it onto the backs of runway models’ in time. And in the 375ebac0-ff59-46de-9473-f3adf19f86f8boardroom, his lover Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier) handles all the business deals. YSL, the fashion house, is a profitable, well-oiled machine.

While the streets of Paris are seething with revolution, Yves is ensconced, oblivious, in his presentation rooms, dressing privileged women. 8f3454f8-da44-40ee-ab78-627d2dc05286Then there’s his personal life. He and Pierre collect priceless tchotchkes from around the world to display in their home. Yves also collects people; he has an entourage of models, and muses like Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux). He spends his time at Parisian discotheques, or at his retreat in Marrakesh.

But in the early ‘seventies, things start to collapse. He falls under the sway of an aristocratic socialite. Jacques (Louis Garrel) is handsome, rich and decadent, and never seems to work. His days are spent posing on modern furniture. His nights are filled with acid trips and gin-soaked gay orgies. Yves88520acb-a05b-4ff2-897b-4fdd82e388f1 is infatuated with him, but the constant pill-popping is dragging him down. Can Pierre rescue Yves and turn him back into a profitable name? Or will he succumb to Jacques’ lotus-eating lifestyle? And will Yves’s audacious new collection be the talk of Paris or booed off the stage?

Saint Laurent is a captivating, challenging, movie. It’s way too long – 2 ½ hours long! – and, at first glance, seems superficial and pointless. But it’s not. 4f8e78ec-73a0-46f1-ad8d-eea8ad0fc9a6It’s visually stunning. Every scene is perfectly composed like turning a page of Vogue magazine. The director tries some surprising techniques, some of which work, some don’t. A long business meeting is conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpreting. Is that necessary? But a Mondrian-like split screen with 9 separate panels, and an amazing sequence with a dozen miniature black-and-white dogs scampering down the hallway for a pet audition, more than make up for the jarring parts. And the acting — especially Ulliel as the fragile, opaque and zen-like Yves Saint Laurent — is fantastically perverse.

Grandma and The New Girlfriend are both playing at Inside Out LGBT film11259478_674551145983743_4305327555853919907_n fest this week: go to insideout.ca for details. And Saint Laurent opens commercially today in Toronto; check your local listings. I liked all three of these movies. But if violent, post-apocalyptic road movies are more to your taste, I strongly recommend Mad Max: Fury Road., now playing. Don’t miss it!

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

Bittersweet love. Films Reviewed: Spring, Wet Bum, Dancing Arabs

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Horror, Israel, Italy, Palestine, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 15, 2015

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

Love brings happiness but also complications. This week I’m looking at three dramas with bittersweet love stories. There’s love and identity in Jerusalem, coming of age in small-town Ontario, and sex with a tinge of horror on the Italian coast.

Spring afficheSpring
Dir: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead

For Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) life’s a bitch. Right after his Dad and Mom die, a bag of dirt picks a fight with him at the dive bar where he works as a cook. He pummels the guy. Now he’s jobless, the guy he punched says he’s gonna kill him, and the cops are after him. So he stuffs some clothes in a knapsack, jumps on a plane and ends up in Italy, in an ancient, picturesque town. He gets a job taking care of an old man’s olive trees in exchange for a bed.

And then one day he meets a beautiful, aggressive and sexually charged woman named Louise (Nadia Hilker). She’s not like the women he knows back home. She’s brilliant, is fluent in half a dozen languages. She has eyes of two different colours and smouldering good looks — flowers seem to bloom all around her. More to the point, she seems to like Evan. In fact, she wants to sleep with him, ASAP. He 10848793_1016148661747544_5693812469889098714_oholds back; he’s not looking for a one-night stand. She might be his one true love. But he doesn’t realize she’s more than she pretends to be. As in someone or something who eats flesh, drinks blood, and grows sharp fangs as hideous appendages shoot out of her body. But that’s only once in a while, when he’s not looking. Will he discover her true nature. What is she anyway? A werewolf? A vampire? A demon? …or something entirely different?

Spring is a strange genre mashup. It’s a combination supernatural romantic drama, mixed with a good dose of mystery/horror. Lou Taylor Pucci is good as a tough but naïve guy in his twenties, and Nadia Hilker, with an unidentifiable European accent, is credible as a cosmopolitan world-weary woman… with something extra. I thought the movie should have stuck closer to horror than romance, but it‘s a fun romp, nevertheless.

Z4p3w5_wetbum_01_o3_8596277_1425487944Wet Bum
Dir: Lindsay Mackay

Sam (Julia Sarah Stone) is a shy and skinny 14-year-old girl living in small-town Ontario. It’s some point in the past, before people have cellphones and back when everyone is white. Her life is very fixed. Afterschool, she takes lifeguard classes at the indoor pool with her best friend Molly. She loves swimming underwater.

Afterwards she has a part-time job cleaning rooms at an old-age home where her mean Mom (Leah Pinsent) is the manager. She is mystifiedNxpNWp_wetbum_04_o3_8596468_1425487970 by the elderly residents, especially two of them. Ed (Kenneth Welsh) is an angry and bitter old man who misses his wife. He can be found wandering the highway late at night, trying to hitch a ride. Judith (Diana Leblanc) is quiet and never speaks, just stares out the window… but she seems to like Sam. NxpN16_wetbum_05_o3_8596524_1425487976But this world is all new to her.

She’s at that point in her life where everything is changing really fast, and it disturbs her. So she tries to keep things just as they are. She avoids the locker room altogether going to her job with her swimsuit still under her clothes (hence the name of the movie: Wet Bum). But she’s mercilessly bullied by the other girls at the pool, including Molly (who has her eyes on pg7E7N_wetbum_03_o3_8596407_1425487964Sam’s big brother). The lifeguard Luke (Craig Arnold) is a nice guy, a few years older and goes to her highschool. She has a crush on him, and fantasizes about kissing him. He starts to give her rides to work… but can he be trusted?

Wet Bum is a funny and gentle coming-of-age story about a girl encountering sex and death, as she learns to look out for herself in a cruel and confusing world.  Julia Sarah Stone is especially noteworthy for her realistic performance as the awkward adolescent girl trying to fit in.

526d4379-3e57-403b-bbab-134065ecd76bDancing Arabs
Dir: Eran Riklis,Wri: Sayed Kashua

It’s Israel in the 1980s. Eyad (Tawfeek Barhom) is a child prodigy from a small village in the Galilee. He can calculate numbers in his head and answer impossible-to-solve riddles. His Dad was also a genius, but got kicked out of school in the 60s accused of being a terrorist because he was a communist and a member of the outlawed 74dba53b-c4fc-4a28-8d7c-1eacee5b8989PLO. Now he picks fruit. Eyad’s family wants a better world for him, so they do the unthinkable – he applies to an elite academic private school, the best in the country. And he gets in! But Eyad is a Palestinian Arab and the students there are all Jews. The only other Arab is the school janitor.

b8c16e54-db98-4d8b-a6ec-e247d3ee62c4At school, Eyad meets a nice girl named Naomi (Danielle Kitzis), and they hit it off immediately. She helps him navigate the baffling cultural differences. He loses his Arabic accent, the B’s and the P’s, and gradually blends in. The two of them fall in love. Eyad is also a volunteer tutor for a local highchool kid in a wheelchair named Yonathan (Michael Moshonov). He has an incurable, debilitating disease, which helps explain his ironic humour and musical tastes. At first Eyad is baffled and offended by his insults and jokes, but he gradually understands him and learns about Rock, punk and Joy Division. They form a close friendship as two outcastes, 5cf7281f-569d-4750-baee-4d4995c63736under the loving hand of Jonathan’s mom (Yael Abekassis).

Outside the school Eyad is constantly reminded he is the Other, bullied by rough teenagers, or asked for ID by border police if he is heard speaking Arabic. At the school he is accepted and lauded, but sometimes feels like a circus clown. He and Naomi are in love, but her mother forbids her crossing this cultural divide, so he begins to hide his identity to smooth things out. Eyad slowly assimilates, erasing his culture, religion, language and history, until he only has his name and his sense of self to keep him grounded. And even that may be at risk.

Dancing Arabs is a very good, funny and sad movie about love, friendship, identity and politics. It’s told from the point of view of a Palestinian-Israeli, a largely invisible group.

Spring, Wet Bum, and Dancing Arabs all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Adam Kossoff about his documentary The Anarchist Rabbi at TJFF

Posted in Anarchism, Art, Cultural Mining, documentary, Germany, Movies, Protest, TJFF, UK by CulturalMining.com on May 8, 2015

Adam Rossoff, Director, The Anarchist Rabbi, TJFF 2015Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

When we talk about protests against the police, we think Baltimore, Maryland or Ferguson, Missouri.

But how about London, England a hundred years ago? Probably not. We don’t realize London, and particularly it’s impoverished East End was a seething cauldron of protest, unrest, and even revolution. Much of it
centred on Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who fought internal battles, as religion and politics competed for dominance.

A new film documents this history with an impressionistic examination of London, then and now. Period photos and recordings share the screen with contemporary, sepia-toned shots of London’s East End. It’s having itsAnarchist_Rabbi Canadian debut today at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

Its called The Anarchist Rabbi, and is narrated by actor/writer Stephen Berkoff, and written and directed by Adam Kossoff. Adam is a writer, artist and filmmaker who explores historically separate but site-specific videos.

I reached Adam by telephone in London. He talks about anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolph Rocker (1873-1958), London’s East End, strikes, revolution, Russian immigrants, his grandfather, Arbeter Fraynd, history, politics, the use of colour in film,  memorials, Kropotkin, Emma Goldmann… and more!

Now and Then. Films reviewed: Going Clear, Bulgarian Rhapsody, Phoenix

Posted in 1940s, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on May 8, 2015

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

How often do you see movies? Frequently? Or just now and then? If your answer is “now and then” I have some good movies for you. This week: two dramas from “then”, and a documentary from “now”.  A coming-of-age set in wartime Bulgaria; a dark melodrama set in postwar Berlin; and a documentary set in present-day L.A.

10448682_358390541017859_2619780721967253367_oGoing Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Dir: Alex Gibney

L Ron Hubbard was an extremely prolific writer who churned out over a thousand fantasy and sci-fi stories for pulp fiction magazines. He spent time in the US Navy. But he’s best known now as the creator of a system of pseudo-scientific psychological analyses known as “Dianetics”.

Followers undergo “auditing” – a process where they confess their darkest experiences and mostlD7OEwJsT7FA2yjMP-bD2DsF1BMKHICltbxDqmLZKvA,2s733GbWWcOom-6ozJJm0EaWnse1BzW7hFFCJBRuWqY,-7gQeVG6TawiaV63nqPWpWEAjb1zg8j1bmfvzFUy57o painful feelings so their bodies can get rid of them. As they speak, they hold onto metal tubes which detect changes in their system – sort of an elaborate lie detector. They speak their confessions, one-on-one, to an “Auditor” – sort of an analyst – who records what they say and files it away. Followers then pass through a complex, multileveled system – including paid courses required at each level. Their goal? Someday freeing their mind and bodies from from anxiety and pain in an eternal, space-age nirvana. This process forms the basis of Scientology, a self-described religion with thousands of followers.

BnClGTKOBGff43YaaiYFAsFxyLHbICHSjiZb2tzTfkU,u_3H5tmI5Ny2ndxbBPIcH6eS_Riho-XS2KGaGIsJv68,nN-yzR5qRvecGYBbx5cuYVq0gDJukfN27nJ4brrGTYoThis documentary speaks to former members, advocates and high-level administrators of Scientology, and what they say is not pretty. Members are said to undergo brutal training sessions, deprived of food and sleep and kept separate from their friends; celebrity members – like Tom Cruise and John Travolta – are blackmailed or bribed to keep them within the group; and ex-members are stalked and attacked. 7FaG1tWQELw7w_dUWxTqXcRm_C2F64fSLrfsHNQlJVU,1VONv0GjC2_10sfAiym8ZLHNO8lgwkIGx1Swm4RgmZU,ki16HMWBBKUy5tLv-Gapi2X4NG7xqYYT3bWwNHis9T0Apparently, Scientology attained its tax-free status in the US by targeting hundreds of individual IRS agents and harassing them until the government just gave up.

But the strangest part of this movie is the bizarre, flashy Vegas style conventions they have. Members dress in fake Navy uniforms, complete with medals and ranks. And this is all led by its current leader, the handsome but diminutive David Miscavige, a member of the group since he was a child. He is portrayed as a paranoid, egotistical megalomaniac aiming for absolute power and wealth.

This is an amazing movie, alternating razzle-dazzle footage with shocking revelations. In a nutshell, it says Scientology is a for-profit corporation disguised as a religion based on science fiction… that’s run by nuts.

10689807_848941815140388_1632255586009719290_nBulgarian Rhapsody
Dir: Ivan Nichev

It’s the 1940s in Sofia, Bulgaria. WWII is in full swing but daily life continues, almost as if nothing is happening. Moni and Giogio are teenaged boys, best friends and neighbours. They both come from motherless homes, raised by their widowed fathers. Moni (Kristiyan Makarov) is thoughtful and introspective. He loves music, literature and drawing political cartoons. Giogio (Stefan Popov) is full of bravado and popular with the girls. He vows to find a pretty girlfriend for Moni. The problem? Bulgaria is an ally of Nazi Germany, and follows its harsh Nuremberg laws, placing severe restrictions on Jews. Moni is Jewish, while Giogio’s dad is a driver for the government department set up specifically to persecute the Jews. Can friendship prevail?

On a family trip to Kavala, a picturesque seaside town in Macedonian Bulgarian_RhapsodyGreece (granted to Bulgaria by Germany), he meets the beautiful and charming Shelli (Anjela Nedyalkova). He has life-changing experiences on the beach, falls in love and confesses it all to Giogio back in Sofia. But when the three of them get together at Moni’s sister’s wedding, Shelli becomes the object of both of their affections. Will this drive a wedge between the two friends? Is it all true love or just a summer beach fantasy?

Bulgarian Rhapsody is a tender, coming of age drama played out beneath the looming shadow of the Holocaust. And it was Bulgaria’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar.

1418412491534Phoenix
Dir: Christian Petzold

Nelly (Nina Hoss) is a German-Jewish woman who survives WWII in a Nazi concentration camp, but is left with a horribly disfigured face. With the help of her best friend Lene (Nina Kuntzendorf), she has plastic surgery. Now she looks similar to, but not exactly like she used to. Her only wish is to reconnect with her husband Johnnie (Ronald Zehrfeld) and let him know she’s still alive. She frequents the Berlin cabarets where they used to perform – he’s a piano player, and she

August .2013  Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold ( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz Mobil 01723917694

August .2013
Dreharbeiten zum CHRISTIAN PETOLD Film PHÖNIX
mit Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld und Nina Kunzendorf
Verwendung der Fotos nur in Zusammenhang mit dem Film PHÖNIX von Christian Petzold
( Model release No ) © Christian Schulz
Mobil 01723917694

used to sing with him.

But when they do meet – at a bar called Phoenix – it’s not like she expected. He approaches her, because he says, she looks a lot like a woman he knows: his wife who died in the war. If she helps him get his dead wife’s war reparations from the government, he says he’ll give her half. He has no idea who she really is. But he promises to train her until she can convincingly impersonate his late wife. Basically, she has to learn to imitate herself! Talk about “meta”…

96925500be23510ff2ecd24a542752d9She agrees to act in this bizarre charade, only because she wants to know whether Johnnie ever loved her, or if it was always just a ruse. And if so, was he was the one who turned her in to the Nazis?

This is the latest episode of star Nina Hoss and director Christian Petzold’s look at Germany, and it’s the best by far. I saw Phoenix at TIFF last fall and it was one of my absolute favourites last year. The plot sounds silly, melodramatic, simplistic, and it is all these things, but it’s so much more. It teeters on the tightrope between German Expressionistic absurd comedy and real, heartbreaking passion, but never trips or falls off that rope. And the final scene is so perfect, it had me tearing up, almost weeping 10 minutes after it was over.

Amazing movie.

Going Clear and Phoenix both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Bulgarian Rhapsody had its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival. The Festival continues showing fascinating movies through the weekend, in both downtown and North Toronto locations. Go to tjff.ca for details.

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 Caleb Behn about Fractured Land premiering at Hot Docs

Behn3Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Centuries of treaties — legal documents all — between First Nations and the Crown set aside land in perpetuity along with promises to protect and provide for its peoples. But what about the minerals, and the oil, gas and shale just beneath the surface? What about the forests that grow on their land, the rivers that run Caleb Behnthrough them, and the fish and animals that live there and that they eat? Can the government and corporations be trusted to look out for the best interests of indigenous groups? Or are they better off with one of their own making sure their rights aren’t abrogated, their water despoiled and their land sequestered? Pipelines, fracking, clear cutting, Behn2export terminals, climate change… is there still time to stop their water, land and people from being torn apart?

Fractured Land is the title of a new documentary, by first-time directors Fiona Rayher and Damien Gillis, that premiered at Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary film festival. It tells the story of a young, native man from Northern BC, who can throw a hatchet and skin a bear, but is Behn8also lawyer bound to uphold her majesty’s laws. His name is Caleb Behn from the Fort Nelson and West Moberley First Nations, lawyer, activist, and spokesman.

He told me about learning from his family, being an advocate for his people, the future impact of fracking, environmental and aboriginal law, protests, long-term strategies, his mother and father, post-colonial perspectives, language and ceremony; residential schools and the truth and reconciliation commission; respectful hunting;  how fracking affects aquifers… and more!

For more information, go to keepersofthewater.ca.

Love without Marriage. Movies reviewed: Auf das Leben! To Life!, Sailing a Sinking Sea, Far From the Madding Crowd

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Germany, Romance, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on May 1, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage … right? This week I’m looking at three movies about love and affection that may not lead to marriage. There’s a romance set in Victorian England about a strong-willed woman who doesn’t want to jump into marriage; a documentary – at Hot Docs — about a seafaring people in Southeast Asia who believe in mermaids, not wedding ceremonies; and a German drama – playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival – about an older woman who has lost her will to live. Ruth ( Hannelore Elsner ) und Jonas ( Max Riemelt ) schauen ihren alten Film

Auf das Leben! To Life! Dir: Uwe Janson

Ruth Weintraub (Hannelore Elsner) is a retired cabaret singer in Germany who now repairs musical instruments. Once a popular Yiddish singer in the 70s, something terrible happened, and now she’s a lonely woman with no friends or family. She reaches rock bottom when she’s forcibly relocated from her apartment of 30 years. So she’s shocked to see the young labourer packing up her stuff is a doppelganger for a lost love from her distant past. Johan (Max Riemelt) lives out of an old VW bus, picking up odd jobs. His only release is a daily run through the park. Clearly, he’s running away from something, but won’t say what. When he saves her from suicide and loses his bus in the process they are forced together. While Ruth harold-and-maude-movie-poster-1971-1020464060is locked up in a mental ward, Johan is watching old film reels he finds in her apartment, which gradually reveal her past. This is a nice, low-key German portrayal of an unusual pair of friends. While there’s a sweet, younger/older bond, don’t expect a new Harold and Maude. It’s simple, not quirky, and the characters are endearing, not complex. But I enjoyed it as a good TV drama, including the bouncy, passionate singing by Sharon Brauner as the young Ruth. Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_3

Sailing a Sinking Sea Dir: Olivia Wyatt

When the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in 2004, over 200,000 people in Southeast Asia were swept away in a just a few minutes. But one group, the Moken people, who live on the Andaman sea between Thailand and Burma managed to survive almost unharmed. The Moken say they have no last names, don’t keep track of age and don’t use numbers. They are born on boats, have sex with mermaids, and can sing to the fish. Ghosts don’t scare them but monkeys do. They won’t kill Sea Cows, because they are too close to humans, but aren’t past making them cry to collect their tears for love potions. Marriage means a woman can grow breasts and a man Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_1builds a boat; no wedding or special ceremony, they just move in together. This is an amazing, delightful documentary, its stories and songs told entirely in their language. Filled with gorgeous, Nemo-like underwater scenes of men hunting with spears deep in the water with women overhead on the boats. 7472830_max

Far From the Madding Crowd Dir: Thomas Vinterberg (based on Thomas Hardy’s novel)

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a free spirit. She rides horses lying on her back. She’s well-educated but penniless since her parents died and lives in a little farmhouse in 19th century Dorset, England. Her nearest neighbour, farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is plain-spoken but honest and loyal. He’s a young man with a flock of sheep and is heading for a prosperous future. Will you marry me? he asks her. She cannot. Soon after, there’s a reversal of fortune. He loses his farm while she inherits a manor and the huge country estate that surrounds it. She decides to manage it herself – unheard of for a woman. She meets resistance selling her crop – the men at the exchange won’t even acknowledge her. But the way she handles herself catches the eye of Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a very rich and 7472831_maxeligible bachelor. He has turned all the other women away, but this one intrigues him. Many years her senior, he can still carry a tune with the best of them. Their two farms put together would make a fine plot of land. And passing through town is the dashing, mustachioed Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a sergeant in Queen Victoria’s army. Brash and impulsive, he dresses like a Mountie, complete with redcoat, sword and riding crop. He was left waiting at the altar by the love of his life, so he’s on the lookout for someone new. And stalwart 7472829_maxGabriel Oak, her erstwhile suitor, is now her employee. He’d still marry her in a minute. What to do? What to do? This is a wonderful, classic romance about a woman controlling her own fate. The cast is amazing – especially Flemish actor Christian Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Bathsheba. Danish director Vinterberg (The Hunt) presents it all as a straightforward record of life in the lush English countryside (far from the city’s madding crowd.) It takes a leisurely pace, and is heavy on the cultural details… but is never boring. And now that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have been done to death (complete with zombies and sea monsters) are we looking at a Thomas Hardy boom?

Far from the Madding Crowd opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. You can find Sailing a Sinking Sea at hotdocs.ca; and Auf Das Leben! To Life! is at tjff.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 director Alex Winter about his new documentary Deep Web at Hot Docs

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

Winter_AlexHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. Most of us solve our online privacy worries by looking for an unbreakable password or a new encryption technique to protect our email and financial transactions. We don’t realize that a completely anonymous, hidden world coexists alongside the internet. It’s a vast area handling the digital code transmissions that keep our systems functioning. It holds dark networks Alex Winter at Hot Docs Deep Web  photo © Jeff Harris cultural miningthat allow communication without exposing IP addresses. What exactly goes on in the Deep Web? A new documentary brings it all to the surface. It’s called Deep Web and it’s having its international premier at Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto. It delves into dark nets including the Silk Road, and the man accused of running it all, Ross Ulbricht. Deep_Web_6It’s written, directed and produced by Alex Winter. Alex is an actor and pop culture icon known for his excellent adventures who now is also an accomplished director and documentary filmmaker. He focuses on the history of the right now — the changes we’re all witnessing on and off line, more or less as they’re happening. I speak to Alex Winter by telephone in Los Angeles. He covers the deep web, privacy, anonymity, crime, human rights, dissidents, controversies, BBS, Napster, online communities, technology, regulations, search and seizure, JP Barlow, openness… and more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Help_Us_Find_Sunil_Tripathi_1Help us Find Sunil Tripathi
Dir: Neal Broffman

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

Cabral_Lyric(T)error
Dir: David Felix Sutcliffe

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

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

War_of_Lies_2A War of Lies
Dir: Matthias Bittner

Rafid al-Janabi was a prospective refugee in the late 1990s. He fled Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s ruthless government, but in Germany he was singled out as a Person Of Interest by their secret service. Despite the fact he had nothing much to tell them, he decided to play along – maybe it would speed up his refugee status. He told them he’s a chemical engineer who worked War_of_Lies_1at the MIC – the military industrial complex. And that he had access to a secret unit in the desert at Al Hakam that makes biological weapons. The problem is the UN had already closed that unit down. But Rafid concocted an explanation that couldn’t be disproven.  Saddam, he said, War_of_Lies_3drove his weapons around in three trucks.  (He remembered there was a truck depot not too far from Al Hakam, so satellites would see trucks driving around the area.) And, after brushing up on chemical engineering, he drew pictures to support his story. Who can it hurt? And if it overthrows a dictator like Saddam, all the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desert DancerDesert Dancer
Dir: Richard Raymond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10662147_685552898180782_20430642239133877_oMasters of Suspense
Dir: Stéphane Lapointe

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

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

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

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

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

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