Daniel Garber talks with We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice director Alanis Obomsawin

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Canada, Protest, Indigenous, Interview by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

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

Should all children in Canada be treated the same and receive the same quality of social services? Of course they should. Then why are the services provided to aboriginal Canadians living on reserves underfunded, understaffed, or completely unavailable? A documentary film looks at the years-long struggle to get the government to address this problem. It took the form of a human rights complaint filed by the Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.

This challenge was led by Cindy Blackstock.

The film called We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice looks at this alanis-obomsawin2challenge, and the seemingly endless delays, tactics and subterfuge on the part of the federal government, including spying on Blackstock. The movie is the work of the doyenne of Canadian documentary filmmaking: Alanis Obomsawin. Working through the National Film Board, Alanis has pioneered exploring and explaining the ongoing history of First Nations in Canada.

We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I spoke with Alanis Obomsawin during TIFF in September, 2016, at NFB’s Toronto studios. Her documentary is playing at ImagineNative Film Festival.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Journeys. Movies reviewed: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping, Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq

Posted in Action, comedy, documentary, Drama, Environmentalism, Greenland, Indigenous, Inuit, Movies, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

1462999738736Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

ImagineNative, the world’s biggest indigenous film festival, is showing 96 fantastic movies including 27 world premiers right now through the weekend. Daytime screenings are free for students, seniors or underemployed. And native elders are available for counselling and smudging. Also on this weekend is Planet in Focus showingnew_pif_logo_gotham docs with an environmental theme.

This week I’m looking at three very different movies about journeys. There are container ships floating around the globe, a fighting hobo hitchhiking across America, and four teens in Greenland who begin their journey in a pile of dirt.

14712970_1102503856464872_860908545792174766_oJack Reacher: Never Go Back

Dir: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is an itinerant army vet, hitching around America carrying just a toothbrush, armed with just his fists. He’s heading to DC to take a woman to dinner. Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) sits at Jack’s old desk, MP in the same division where he once worked. They’ve never met but he likes her voice — she helped him solve a crime by telephone. But things change fast in the army. Today, Turner is in the brig charged with murder, a young woman named Sam claims she’s his daughter, and a professional hitman (Patrick Heusinger) is trying to kill him. He doesn’t knowjack-reacher-gallery-02 why any of this is happening.

He decides to tackle all his problems at once. First he helps Turner escape from prison. She’s a smart but stern woman with straight black hair pulled back. She wants to find out who is behind the case she’s investigating about the unexplained death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Clearly some sort of conspiracy at work. Sam (Danika Yarosh), his purported daughter, is a lot like Jack – she’s anti-authority and given to petty crime, yet analytic in nature. And she can think on her feet, solving problems on the fly. But Jack has no recollection of ever meeting her mother, never mind sleeping with her. The three of them form a make-shift family jack-reacher-gallery-01as they chase and are chased by armed killers. But who will survive the ultimate showdown?

This is a good action thriller, the latest in a series based on Lee Child’s novels. It has a complex plot, salted with lots of chases, explosions, and shootouts. And interesting characters, at least the good guys. The villains, though, are basically robotic, dull killers, dangerous but entirely unsympathetic. To enjoy a Jack Reacher novel you have to suspend your moral disbelief, and embrace his caveman-like brutality: Kill the bad guys, save the good guys and maim any neutrals who get in your way. The character depends on his intimidating looks. And there lies the problem: Tom Cruise can’t do intimidating. He’s too nice.

But despite all this — and the extreme violence — I still enjoyed the movie.

poster-91816Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping

Dir: Denis Delestrac

You know that cool H&M T-shirt you just bought on sale for three bucks? It may say Made in Bangladesh on the label, but it’s actually been around the world a few times, with buttons from Vietnam, plastic from Europe, American cotton, and Indian dye. And it travels in uniform containers aboard one of the 60,000 ships plying freightened4the seas. This documentary looks at the underside of the shipping industry and the hidden environmental damage it inflicts in exchange for the low, low prices we all enjoy.

For example, the stinky sodium oxide belched from a freightenedsingle ship is equivalent to that of fifty million cars. (There are no international emission standards at sea.) And the ballast — the water a ship might take on in one ocean and expel in another — is a leading cause of invasive species, the displaced plants and animals that are killing off native sea life. Flying flags of convenience, ship owners are rarely fined for their frequent accidents and spills, while international environmental organizations largely ignore shipping altogether.

Freightened is an information-packed documentary, with lots of stuff I didn’t know. It alternates between talking-head experts and beautiful, Burtynsky-like vistas of mammoth container ships in port and at sea.

tikeq1Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger)

Dir: Ujarneq Fleischer

Four teenaged boys live in Sisimiut, western Greenland. Their mission? To be the coolest crew in town. They excel at skating, biking, playing cards and goofing off to imported pop music. In the community centre they rule. But then a stranger shows up from Nuuk who says he’ll show them things they’ve never seen, and reveal secrets they’ve never heard. He leads them to a pile of dirt with a tiny wooden door. Inside is an enormous world almost exactly like the one they came from.

Next they go on a journey in the mountains searching for a white box with a tupilaq — a monster totem – lying on top. Inside is a message written in the old language telling them what to do. It’s up to them to find love, honesty, and politeness, in this coming-of-age drama.

Fingers is a comedy adventure about preserving traditional culture in modern Inuit tikeq-qiterleq-mikileraq-eqeqqoqGreenland. It’s also the first feature film ever coming out of Greenland. Made on a micro-budget with a DIY feel, it’s basically four guys with a video camera, with no costumes and just plastic bags as props. It’s also my first exposure to indigenous culture from Greenland… and it’s really good. It incorporates traditional storytelling with contemporary pop culture and all-around goofiness.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger) is playing today at 2:00 pm at ImagineNATIVE at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go to Imaginenative.org for details. And for Freightened showtimes, go to planetinfocus.org.

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

Old Flames. Movies reviewed: Blue Jay, Complete Unknown

Posted in Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Movies, Psychology, Romance, US by CulturalMining.com on October 14, 2016

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

Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you had stayed with your first true love — that summer love or high school sweetheart? What would you two be doing now? And would it have lasted?

This week I’m looking two indie movies about old flames. There’s a chance meeting in small town California, and a planned encounter in New York City.

14520498_1170812952980711_4802563027156445665_nBlue Jay

Dir: Alexandre Lehmann

Jim is blue. He’s sad because his mother died; that’s why he’s back in his hometown in northern California after many years in LA. He’s back at his childhood home, going through old boxes, deciding what to keep and what to give away. And reconsidering the house itself – he works in home reno.

Amanda (Sarah Paulson) is also back in town, helping out her pregnant sister. She’s beautiful, glamorous and dressed for success with perfect hair and clothes. Jim (Mark Duplass) is a scruffy, bearded guy, dressed for work, not for company. When they bump into each other in a grocery aisle, awkward doesn’t begin to describe their emotions. A second meeting in the parking lot screams karma. They take it over to the Blue Jay Café, to catch up on old times.bluejay_03

Turns out, they once had a serious relationship in high school, full of love and commitment. But when something happened it ended abruptly with no further contact. Jim is now depressed, jobless and single. Amanda is in a much better situation, but, she admits, her life just isn’t fun anymore. So they buy some beer and head on back to his family home, perhaps to recover the past.

Once there, they eat, drink and smoke some weed and sing along to corny tunes. Rummaging through old boxes, they dig up some bluejay_01items of special significance: a cassette tape and a sealed envelope. The tape is a game they used to play, pretending to be an old married couple, with kids, house, car, and job. (“Old” meaning their ages now.) Wouldn’t it be fun to play that game again, twenty years later? Then there’s the letter written by Jim to Amanda but never sent. What does it say? And would things have ended differently if she had read the letter back then?

Blue Jay is an engaging, low-budget look at a lost relationship. Beatifully shot in black and white with just two actors, it explores the “what ifs” of high school love and its consequences. The whole movie is done very simply, with just a few plot ideas and lots of dialogue and emotions. But the results are marvelous. Paulson and Duplass are great as bittersweet Amanda and weepy Jim. It feels like an improvised movie, but one that keeps only the best parts.

tumblr_static_dr6vjgh8d28g088oo0g8c8wcgComplete Unknown

Dir: Joshua Marston

Tom (Michael Shannon) is a committed contrarian who works at a methodical job for an environmental NGO. He’s preparing for a presentation before a committee about cattle. He lives with his wife, Ramina, who designs jewelry.

It’s his birthday, and some of his closest friends are coming for dinner. It’s also when Ramina brings up a life-changing decision.

Alice (Rachel Weisz) is an American scientist who made her fame in Tasmania studying frog calls. She shows up at the party as an impromptu date of Clyde, Tom’s lumpy coworker. At first she’s COMPLETE UNKNOWNthe hit of the party, with her erudite knowledge and socially engaging manner. But soon she lets out that this isn’t her first job. She has also worked as an ER nurse in Africa, a concert pianist, and a magician’s assistant in China (“He sawed me in half!”). She admits she enjoys reinventing herself from scratch every few years with a new name, place and specialty. Is she a genius… or a con artist?

The guests turn on her – she’s clearly a sociopath and a compulsive liar. They shame her out of the bar when they go dancing. But Tom wants to hear 1471969439688more. He follows her onto the street.

You see, he knew her, intimately, when they were both students. And then one day she just disappeared. Until now, Tom thought she was dead or missing. And her showing up that day wasn’t a coincidence;  she wanted to see Tom again,  someone she knew before she started her adventure. She invites him to join her at playing her game, even if only for one night. But is he willing to join her thrilling life of reinvention? And can he embrace sudden change?

Complete Unknown has an interesting story about a strange and exciting woman (well-played by Rachel Weisz). Michael Shannon is intense as Tom, a grumpy and suspiciuous office geek. Aside from flashbacks and few set-up scenes, it all takes place over one night. But we never really make it past the concept of Alice’s various, changing identities.  I enjoyed the film but it didn’t move me. It felt more like a hokusai_c0611TV pilot for Orphan Black than a drama or a love story.

Complete Unknown opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. Blue Jay is now playing on video on demand. Also opening today is Miss Hokusai, an animated adult drama about the floating world of an Ukiyo-e artist in Edo, Japan.

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 Shoot the Messenger’s creator Jennifer Holness, and star Lyriq Bent

Posted in Action, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Corruption, Crime, Journalism, Politics, Romance, Somali, Thriller, Toronto, TV by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

Jennifer Holness, Lyriq BentHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daisy is a cub reporter at the Toronto Gazette. She’s interrupted from a roll in the hay with her lover by a mysterious phone call – a source! She rushes to meet him only to see a young Somali man gunned down in cold blood. And which police detective Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the Messengeris investigating the case? It’s her lover, Kevin. Now the police, the news media, and the government are all trying to find out who shot the messenger?

Shoot the Messenger is also the name of a dramatic new series premiering on CBC TV next week (Oct. 10). Jennifer Holness, Lyriq Bent, Shoot the MessengerIt looks at how a city copes with street-level crime… and high-level corruption. Created by husband-and-wife team Jennifer Holness and Sudz Sutherland, it stars Lyriq Bent and Elise Levesque as Kevin and Daisy.

I spoke to Jennifer Holness and Lyriq Bent in studio at CIUT.

Daniel Garber talks about The Stairs with director Hugh Gibson, Roxanne and Marty at #TIFF16

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Depression, documentary, Poverty, Sex Trade, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on September 30, 2016


l to r: Marty, Hugh, Roxanne

l to r: Marty, Hugh, Roxanne

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

Regent Park is a well-known public housing development in Toronto’s east end. Built in the 1940s, it consisted of small houses arranged in quads as well as highrise apartments.the-stairs-roxanne-marty It mainly housed working-class and low-income immigrants. But the buildings started to crumble and conditions grew worse, until recently. Now the older buildings are being the-stairs-hugh-gibsonrazed and redeveloped. But what about the people who live there?

The Stairs is a new documentary that had it’s world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Shot over a five year period by director Hugh Gibson, it looks at the lives of people there, at home and at work. It focuses on the South Riverdale Community the-stairs-marty-roxanneHealth Centre and Street Health, a harm reduction clinic aimed at drug users, sex workers, the homeless and others in the neighbourhood. The film concentrates on three social workers there: Marty, Greg and Roxanne. And

I spoke with Marty, Roxanne and Hugh at CIUT. The Stairs opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 7th.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Return of the Western? Movies reviewed: The Magnificent Seven, Brimstone #TIFF16

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Feminism, Movies, Western by CulturalMining.com on September 30, 2016

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

Is the Hollywood Western dead? Or is it back from the dead? As a genre, I thought old-fashioned westerns faded away in the 1960s and 70s, despite a few last-gasp efforts to revive it.

So imagine my surprise when the first public screening I saw at TIFF — as well as the last one — were Westerns. They were superficially similar, but very different in substance. So this week I’m looking at those two westerns: a multi-ethnic reboot about a shoot’em-up posse, and a feminist rewrite about a fire-and-brimstone preacher.

magnificentseven_01_mustuseThe Magnificent Seven

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Rose Creek is a god-fearing mining town in the old west, complete with sheriff, church, and saloon. One day a church meeting is interrupted by frightening incident. A bad man – accompanied mean by gunmen – declares the town now belongs to a robber barren named Pogue. They have one week to hand it all over or leave town. And to drive his point home, he unceremoniously shoots anyone who objects.

The people are in despair until a lawman arrives on horseback. Chisolm (Denzel Washington) says he can put together a team that will defend the town for its rightful owners. He just needs to be paid. They agree, and he sets out to find his Denzel Washington;Chris Prattsoldiers. And what a colourful group they are. First is Faraday, a card shark (Chris Pratt) already in town. He’s a smooth-talking swindler but quick on the trigger. Vasquez is a criminal on the run. Goodnight Robichaud (Ethan Hawke) is a sharpshooter from the confederate army with PTSD. He works the rodeo circuit with Billy, a Korean knife thrower. They’re joined by Jack, a bearlike bounty hunter who lives in a log cabin, and Red Harvest, a warrior armed with bow, arrow and spear, but far from his people. Together they are the “Magnificent Seven”.

Denzel WashingtonTo counter them, robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard) recruits a hundred heavily armed men, complete with horses, rifles, and a Gatling gun. They line up on a hillside waiting for the attack. Can seven men defeat 100 bad guys and save the town? And which of them will survive this battle royale?

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake – the 1960 spaghetti western based on Kurusawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) – and it shows its age. There were very few surprises in this movie and it had a mechanical feel. Here’s the shoot out, Denzel Washington;Chris Prattthere’s the recruiting scenes, and here comes the big battle. I like the multiracial cast – diversity on the screen is always a good thing– but aside from their looks and their weapons their background never really enters the storyline.  (Apparently the director considers women an ethnic group, too, so there’s one token woman shooting alongside the rest.) The movie has an all-star cast, but you can tell they’re doing it for the fun of it (and the money) not to stretch their acting chops. Neither does director Antoine Fuqua – known for films like Training Day. This one does not measure up.

Even so, I can enjoy a movies for its good shootouts, explosions and mayhem. Take it for what it is – an entertaining, though instantly forgettable, western. It’s OK, but nothing special.


Wri/Dir: Martin Koolhoven

Elizabeth (Dakota Fanning) is a young woman who lives in a small California town in the old west, complete with sheriff, church and saloon.

She’s a respected midwife, but mute, so her 5-year-old daughter serves as her translator, her tiny voice conveying her mom’s very adult messages. But things go wrong when a fire-and-brimstone preacher enters town. The Reverend (Guy Pierce) says there are sinners among us, and they will be punished. Soon after, Elizabeth is forced to deliver a premature infant right in brimstonefront of the pulpit. To save the mother’s life she is forced to abort the male baby. This sparks a furor in the town: with an angry man carrying the torch, goaded on by the preacher’s words. How dare she save the life of a woman over that of a baby boy? That’s God’s decision, not hers.

But it soon becomes clear that this is a small battle in a mucg bigger fight. The preacher is out to get Elizabeth, and only the two of them know why. The preacher is willing to torture — or even murder — anyone who gets gets in his way. She refuses to give in and proves a powerful apponent. What is their connection, their history? Why is she mute? What brought her to this town? And what secrets do they hide?

brimstone_04Brimstone is told in an unusual way, in a series of biblical chapters, like Revelations and Exodus. Each successive chapter takes place before the previous one, so you only understand the meaning of the last scene until you see the next one. The story follows her homelife as a girl with a strict father and an abused mother (Carice van Houten). She learns the facts of life from two wounded gunslingers she keeps hidden in her barn. We also find about her life as a young woman in another town’s cathouse, and how and why she left there.

Dakota Fanning plays the lead as teenager, young woman and mother, and she’s completely brimstone_07believable in all three.  Guy Pearce is chilling as the horribly malevalent preacher. The movie is a scathing indictment of the treatment of women in America, by religion, by society, and by men in general.

Brimstone is troubling, disturbing and shocking, especially for a western. It doesn’t shy away from hard-to-handle issues. I had to turn my head from the screen, it was so horrific in a few scenes. It is violent in a way the Magnificent Seven isn’t, even though Seven has a huge amount of killing, while death is rarer in Brimstone. I don’t want to give the details away, since it depends on the revelations of the story, but let me just say it is not for the faint of heart. Brimstone is a fantastic, heart-wrenching drama with a lot to say.

The Magnificent Seven is playing now, check you local listings; and hopefully Brimstone will be released later this year. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

More movies by women. Films reviewed: Moments of Clarity, A Magical Substance Flows Into Me

Posted in Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Israel, Music, Palestine, Religion, Road Movie, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 23, 2016

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

TIFF is over but fall film festival season is just starting. Over the next year you’ll hear many of the interviews I recorded at TIFF, from Paul Verhoeven to Kore-eda Hirokazu and Alanis Obomsawin. There’s a multionational and multilingual selection of films. Still, by the end I realized that only one of the directors I interviewed was a woman. So to start to balance that out, this week I’m only looking at movies directed by women. There’s a home-schooled Christian in search of people to meet; and a Palestinian filmmaker in search of music to listen to.

mocstill6Moments of Clarity

Wri/Dir: Kristin Wallace

Claire (Kristin Wallace) is an eccentric woman in her twenties who lives with her obsessive-compulsive mom (Saxon Trainor). She has no fashion sense or social skills to speak of, but is always good natured and optimistic. She acts like a 12 year old girl. She was home-schooled by her mom and kept sheltered from the rest of the world. She only ventures out to distribute to her neighbours the muffins she bakes, and gets nervous when she enters unknown territory. On the mocstill5-2outside she’s a good Christian girl, but inside she’s a seething cauldron of unrealized sexual fantasies.

Danielle (Lyndsy Fonseca) is the local pastor’s daughter with just the opposite personality. She’s pretty and “normal”, cynical and jaded, but finds joy behind an old camera. Claire wants to be friends wth her. But when her camera is ruined she blames it on Claire. So Claire borrows her mothers wood-panelled station wagon and mocstill4they set out for a used camera store the next town over. But who will they meet on the way? On the run from their respective parents and the police, Claire is exposed to sex, drugs, and the outside world for the first time, and discovers a secret about her past. Can she and Danielle stay friends? And can they both reconcile with their out-of-touch parents?

This is low-budget, buddy/road movie. It’s also a coming of age drama but with a twist… The budding adolescent is actually a fully grown adult, whose life has been stunted by an over protective mother. It’s a fun and simple comedy. I found it hard to believe that a woman in her twenties living in a town surrounded by other people could be that naïve and isolated… but once you accept the premise, the rest falls into place. And Moments of Clarity is written, directed by and starring a Toronto filmmaker.

13923874_1050454381656875_4136600126401296685_oA Magical Substance Flows Into Me

Wri/Dir: Jumana Manna

Robert Lachmann was a German orientalist and ethnomusicologist who fled Nazi persecution to British Mandate Palestine in the 1930s. Once there, he set about collecting the so-called “Oriental” music of that area, while spurning any music with European or North American influences. He recorded traditional and liturgical music on metal disks, as performed by musicians from indigenous and migrant cultures, all carefully documented and recorded. And he broadcasted them on the Palestine Radio Service. This included Bedouins, Palestinian Arabs in the Galilee, Coptic Christians, 13975251_1050454704990176_2875683675079136567_oKurds, Jewish Yemenites, and others.

Eighty years later, using Lachmann’s original notes and recordings, Palestinian filmmaker Jumana Manna sets out to find modern performers of the same songs. She play the original recordings, talks with members of those communities, and invites them to replay the same songs today.

The film is shot in carefully composed tableaux, with an unmoving camera, often in the musician’s kitchen or garden. She talks about their life and background, and then records an actual performance. This is punctuated with the director reading aloud Lachmann’s handwritten notes.

13914070_1050455511656762_431118580071783850_oThis is a fascinating movie. There’s an elderly member of the Samaratins — an ancient religion with fewer than a thousand followers split between Israel and Palestine — today shows off his 600 year old prayer scrolls. Then he listens to his father-in-law’s recording and sings along. You can’t find a voice like that anymore, he laments. A Kurdish man discusses pickles and olives. A Coptic Christian who leads tourists around holy sites says business is bad. People are afraid to come out here anymore. They hear about Isis beheadings in Iraq and think it’s all the same. And a Moroccan-Israeli woman celebrates her grandmother’s Arab roots.

This is a quiet film but subtly political. Musical performances are juxtaposed with silent shots of 1470789934802Israeli government maps of the occupied territories; shots of graffiti on both sides of the wall separating Israel from Palestine; and the director’s own father, a scholar of Palestinian history. Lachmann’s notes range from priceless records to weirdly dated, orientalist views of “primitive cultures.” Fascinating documentary.

Moments of Clarity opens today at the Carlton in Toronto. A Magical Substance Flows Into Me is queen-of-katweplaying as part of the Toronto Palestine Film Festival this weekend. Go to tpff.ca for details. And there’s Queen of Katwe, (which I talked about last week) the heart-warming story of an impoverished and illiterate teenaged girl in Uganda who wants to become a chess champion. It’s directed by the great Indian filmmaker Mira Nair, and starts 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 to director Mahmoud Sabbagh and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi about Barakah meets Barakah at #TIFF16

Posted in Class, comedy, Cultural Mining, Islam, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Satire, Shakespeare, Social Networks by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016

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

Barakah is a municipal civil servant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He drives a tiny white truck and gives tickets to people defying city bylaws. He lives in a rundown flat with his shrieking aunt (a midwife), and his complaining uncle (a down-and-out former musician).

Bibi is a hugely popular culture critic and fashion plate with a unnamed-1million followers on Instagram. She shares her opinions and photos…but only from the lips down (to keep her identity a secret). She’s rich, famous and single.

After a series of chance meetings, Bibi and Barakah realize destiny is at play, and the two of them just might belong together. Problem is: how do you date in a country where unmarried men and women can’t kiss, hold hands… or even appear together in public without an escort? Will Bibi and Barakah ever get to know each other? And how can two people of different backgrounds bridge the gap between them?

Mahmoud Sabbagh at TIFF16, photo © Jeff Harris for Cultural MiningBarakah meets Barakah is a cute romantic comedy having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a humorous look at the troubles of dating inside restrictive Saudi Arabia. But it’s also a lament for the loss of the once vibrant Saudi culture. It’s directed by Mahmoud Sabbagh, and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi, as the star-crossed lovers.

Barakah meets Barakah is only the second contemporary Saudi film to screen in Canada. I spoke with Mahmoud, Hisham and Fatima on location at TIFF16.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Dark TIFF. Films reviewed: We Are Never Alone, Manchester by the Sea, The Fixer PLUS Pop VR at #TIFF16 and FIVARS

Posted in Czech Republic, Drama, Family, Journalism, Movies, Romania, Sex Trade, US by CulturalMining.com on September 9, 2016

kathebattle_still_02Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Take a trip down to King street between Spadina and University and you’ll see TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, in full swing, with celebrities everywhere and free concerts and events. Featured this year for the first time are movies not invasion_03-1from Hollywood, nor India’s Bollywood, but from Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving movie industry. Another new attraction at TIFF is POP VR, short films and documentaries shot in 3-d, and 360: movies you watch all around you. Using special headgear, kathebattle_still_05earphones and a smartphone attached to the front, you can see things like a cartoon about aliens, a doc about a feminist movement in India to enter sacred temples, and a Cirque de Soleil performance that puts you right in the middle of a Chinese sword fight! VR is still developing, but it’s a force to be reckoned with. This week I’m talking about three great dark movies playing now at TIFF. There’s a Czech village purple with paranoia, a man in New England with a dark history, and some yellow journalism in Romania.

miroslav-hanus-left-and-daniel-doubrava-right-in-we-are-never-alone-courtesy-of-wideWe Are Never Alone
Dir: Petr Vacla

Two families live in a remote small town in the Czech Republic built around a fortress-like prison. One is headed by a burly single dad (Miroslav Hanus), a prison guard, with a small son. He believes minorities and ex-cons are out to get him, and is writing a rightwing nationalist manifesto to rid the country of subversives and Roma. He longs to see those strong Czech bridges and dams being built again and the factories producing more widgets. In another family, a hypochondriac dad (Karl Roden) spends his time trying to photograph his back with a cellphone. He desperately seeks evidence of cancer. His wife (Lenka Vlasakova) stares lenka-vlasakova-left-and-zdenek-godla-right-in-we-are-never-alone-courtesy-of-widelongingly out the window all day of a roadside convenience store where she works.

Meanwhile a swarthy part-time pimp and his stand-offish junkie girlfriend drive around in a broken down red cart purchasing garish gifts. But things go really wrong when the two paranoid men meet, and begin to blend their strange theories and conspiracies. And daniel-doubrava-in-we-are-never-alone-courtesy-of-wideunbeknownst to them both, their young sons are gaslighting their dads, trying to drive them crazy, by secretly leaving increasingly large dead animals on their own doorsteps. Things start to spiral into increasingly awfulness as the three groups interact.

We are Never Alone is a dark story of nationalism, paranoia and apathy win modern-day Czech Republic. It has great acting, an unpredictable plot, and, thankfully, an underlying streak of absurdist comedy that lets usavoid the dread of the characters’ lives.

76e05278-81a6-4fc7-97b4-861c73eee46eManchester by the Sea
Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

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

MBTS_3869.CR2raise a teen. He did have kids once, but that was a long time ago.

At first he acts like Chris’s buddy – lets him drink, take girls home, say or do whatever he likes. But gradually reality sets in and Lee realizes he has to do the right thing: either raise him properly or find someone else who can. Trouble is Lee’s reputation is dirt in this town, and no one will hire him. Ghosts of his past keep popping up, like Randi, his ex-alcoholic, ex-wife (Michelle Williams).

Although this may sounds like a typical movie, it’s not. The form, emotions and acting set it apart. It’s edited in a chop-up style, with flashbacks coming unannounced right after a scene set in the present. So you have to pay attention. Emotionally, it’s a devastating tearjerker, as the hidden past is gradually revealed. The whole film is exquisitely structured, with certain scenes repeated but with new, subtle variations and revelations. And the acting – especially Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges – is just so good. Oscar good. Great movie.

fixer_01The Fixer (Fixeur)
Dir: Adrian Sitaru

Radu (Tudor Istodar) is a journalist living in Bucharest with his wife and small son, He comes across an exclusive news story – a real scoop. A young woman named Anca (Diana Spatarescu)
has escaped from her Parisian pimp and made her way back to a small town in northern Romania. If they can track her down, a first hand interview could expose the huge network of underage 14138013_1063443357080084_3733967339935546785_otrafficking across Europe. Agence France Press sends their trip TV reporters to capture her on film, telling her story. But that’s easier said than done. Radu has to call in favours, smoothe out troubles, and serve as 10256865_778397828917973_7636613034058641716_otranslator, guide and journalist for Axel (Mehdi Nebbou) the French reporter. He is stymied by local thugs, a recalcitrant mother superior sheltering the girl in a nunnery, and even Anca herself, who doesn’t trust the French reporters. And as the story develops he starts to wonder: do journalists want to expose stories for the public good… or merely to boost their ratings?

The Fixer is another shocking movie. Like many Romanian movies it is hyper-realistic and slow to develop, but when it does — wow! It slams you and makes you question what you thought was happening. Distinctive cinematography, and again, great acting, The Fixer is a potent indictment of com-samsung-vrvideo-20160726-232455-1024x920investigative journalism.

We are Never Alone, The Fixer, and Manchester by the Sea are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for more information. And for another view of augmented and virtual reality, check out fivars, another Toronto VR festival that takes beyond where Pokemon-go can go. Go to fivars.net for details.

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

Sand and snow. Films reviewed: A Tale of Love and Darkness, In Order of Disappearance

Posted in 1940s, Crime, Depression, Drama, drugs, Israel, Norway, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on August 26, 2016

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

ctff-logo-2016-500TIFF is just around the corner with big stars, public events and even some free screenings. And there are tickets still available, especially daytime screenings. But I’d hate to see other film festivals lost around its hugeness. Look out for Caribbean Tales for world premiers from Canada and the Caribean beginning before TIFF, and immediately after1461388895689 TIFF is the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) showing features and docs by and about Palestinians.

This week, I’m looking at two watchable foreign films. There’s a literary drama shrowded in darkness and shadow, and an action/thriller covered in bright, white snow.

1451880012615A Tale of Love and Darkness

Dir: Natalie Portman (based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz)

It’s 1945 in British Mandate Palestine. Noah is a little boy living in Jerusalem with his mother Fania and his father Arieh. Amos (Amir Tessler) likes books about Tarzan and cowboys and “Indians”. But the stories he likes the best are the ones his mother (Natalie Portman) tells him. Fania is a born storyteller but the tales she tells are fantastically 1468977255_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_ohadknoller_1-1194x797ghoulish and obsessed with death. She was born in Poland, and tells him about escaping into the woods, which probably saved her life. She talks about a self-immolating woman, a handsome polish soldier, and a pair of monks on a long journey. When Amos hears her stories he pictures himself and his mother as the main characters.

1468972783_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_ohadknoller_g3-1194x797Arieh (Gilad Kahana), Amos’ dad, is a published author himself. But his books are academic, not popular bestsellers. He was beat up as a kid in Lithuania and tells Amos he immigrated to Palestine so his son would never have to face bullying because of his background. (Amos ends up bullied anyway.) Fania had great expectations and still fantasizes about muscular, intellectual farmers replacing her scrawny but loving husband.1469144206_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_giladkahana_bio-398x266 But as her dreams and fantasies fade away, she slips into a deep depression.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is a fictional memoir by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, set in the post-Holocaust, pre-independence years of his childhood. The movie consists of a series of linked short stories, each ending with a silent dark screen. The film doesn’t bonk you on the head about the big issues; rather it subtly shows short scenes hinting at the bigger picture.

1469144113_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_bio-796x1149One crucial scene has Amos visiting an Arab family, where he meets a girl his age, a budding poet, like him. He shows off his Tarzan skills by climbing a tree and shaking the chains of a swing set. He pictures himself as Samson, escaping the chains that bind him. But with his thoughtless bravado he breaks the swing, sending the girl’s little brother to hospital. (Metaphor anyone?)

I was impressed that this is actress Natalie Portman’s first feature as a director. (She also wrote the screenplay and plays a central character.) A Tale of Love and Darkness is a beautifully-shot period piece, with wonderful music, camerawork and costumes. This is definitely worth seeing.

theatrical-one-sheet-for-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing-6In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

Dir: Hans Petter Moland 

It’s a snowy winter night in Tyos, Norway. And heavy snow means good business for Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård). He’s a professional snowplow driver who all the nearby country roads with his enormous metal machines. And he’s excellent at it. So good, he’s getting the award for good Citizenship. Pretty stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing4impressive for an “immigrant”. (He was born in Sweden.) But on the same night something terrible happens: his only son, who works at a nearby airport, is found dead. Police say he’s a drug addict who OD’ed, but Nils insists his son never does drugs. Nils is devastated, suicidal until he discovers the boy was murdered.

stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasingTurns out he was mistakenly held responsible for disrupting the local drug lord’s cocaine shipment, and killed in retribution. They faked an OD to stop the police from investigating. Now it’s up to Nils to find the killers and avenge his son’s death. He embarks on a series of attacks on the local cocaine dealers, gradually working his way up the chain. He wants to find the kingpin, a man from a very rich Norwegian family. Known as The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) he is a second-generation, right wing racist. He lives in a beautiful home and he and his lackeys dress in expensive suits with perfect hairstyles. He has the coke market tied up between his gang and a Serbian gangster known as Papa (Bruno Ganz).kristofer-hivju-and-stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing2-1

And when his dealers start disappearing, he assumes it’s other gangsters – he kills a rival in retaliation. This is Papa’s son, who aims to retaliate by kidnapping the Count’s little boy. This sparks a gang war, with Nils’s home ending up as the target for both gangs. Can Nils defeat two teams of professional killers using only his wits and his huge snow-blowing machines?

This is an extremely bloody, and sometimes funny, gangster thriller. It’s all shot against pristine snowdrifts, bespoiled only by blood. It’s called In Order of Disappearance as it briefly memorializes each character when he dies. It’s enjoyable, with lots of interesting side characters, though it’s hard to feel great sympathy for a serial killer, whatever his reasons. Warning: you have to have a high tolerance for violence to watch this movie.

In Order of Disappearance and Tales of Love and Darkness both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

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