Caught up. Movies Reviewed: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Leviathan

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Farsi, Movies, Russia, Uncategorized, Vampires, Yakuza, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2015

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

There aren’t many blockbusters released in January, so it’s a good time to catch up on less commercial films. So this week I’m looking at movies about people caught in a bad place: an art-house indie horror,  an over-the-top comedy/horror/musical, and a serious drama.  There’s an Iranian guy caught between a drug dealer and a vampire, a Japanese filmmaker caught between rival yakuza gangs, and a Russian caught by corrupt politicans.

A_Girl_6A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour

Bad City is a place for lost souls. It’s a desert town filled with oil rigs and refineries, separated from the rest of the world by a row of distant mountains. The streets are deserted except for a few people. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a Persian James Dean, who works as a gardener at a rich woman’s mansion. And at home he takes care of his dad, Hossain. Hossein (Marshall Mannesh) is depressed and slowly committing suicide by using drugs. Then there’s the track-suited, A_Girl_2tattooed drug dealer and all-around asshole; the sex worker who peddles her wares in dark alleys, and a little kid with a skateboard who observes it all. And finally there’s a girl who walks home alone at night (Sheila Vand).

A_Girl_1The girl – who is kept nameless – wears the conservative Iranian chador – an outfit that covers her head and body in an unbroken shroud. But hidden underneath the chador she’s like Marjane Satrapi in the graphic novel Persepolis, with black eye liner and a striped French jersey. She dances to Emo dirges at home, and only ventures outside at night to wander the dark streets… and look for human blood to drink. She’s a vampire.

Arash owns nothing but his treasured sports car and loses that to the thug. But due to a strange turn of events he suddenly finds himself A_Girl_4surrounded by money, power and drugs. He ends up at a costume party dressed in the cape and collar of Dracula. And in an ecstasy-induced haze he encounters the nameless girl who walks home alone at night. Is it true love? Or will she eat him?

This is a cool — though somewhat opaque — indie film, shot in beautiful black and white. It’s filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll – all in farsi. It takes place in a limbo world caught somewhere between the American Southwest and Iranian oil fields. It’s a slow moving mood piece, like Jim Jarmusch directing a Becket play, but from a feminine perspective. Interesting movie.

47_jigoku_sub3_5MBWhy Don’t You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い)
Dir: Sono Sion

A team of aspiring college film geeks called the “F*ck Bombers” vow to make a real movie, starring one of their own – a Bruce Lee lookalike. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with genuine Samurai swords.

Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is famous 49_jigoku_sub5_5MBfor a jingle she sang as a child on a TV toothpaste ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on her (they met in a bloodbath 10 years earlier). Her yakuza dad is bankrolling a film starring his reluctant daughter. But things start to unravel when the famous director quits in disgust. Who can make a movie produced by organized criminals? Especially when a gang war is about to erupt. Confusion, violence and mayhem ensues.

46_jigoku_sub2_5MBIn walks the Movie Club members to the rescue… maybe they could take over the movie? But would rival gangs ever agree to let film geeks record a bloody and violent showdown on 35 mm film… as it happens?

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical45_jigoku_sub1_3M comedy – including an unbelievably blood-drenched, 30-minute-long battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed, and the film is finally opening on the big screen in Toronto. Sono Sion is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

05ff2dc3-382c-446d-93f1-6646a6b29db8Leviathan
Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) is a mechanic who lives in northern Russia by the sea. His family has lived there for three generations and Kolya built his home with his own two hands. His son Roma is a bit spoiled but doing OK at school, and his beautiful second wife works at the fish cannery. Their marriage is going well.

But there’s trouble at City Hall. They want to seize his house and land6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3f to build something… municipal. Kolya is furious and he’s not going to take this lying down. He’s a real hothead. He’s sure the Mayor is up to no good – just wants to build himself a mansion. So Kolya calls his army buddy in Moscow to give him a hand. Dima (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) is a lawyer. He comes to town fully loaded with files on the very corrupt mayor Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileVadim. The man has “blood on his hands” he says, and he has the documents to prove it. This should stop the mayor in his tracks.

So things are looking up. The trial looks promising, and if not, he can always file an appeal. And there’s a picnic and shooting party to look forward to. A local cop has invited the whole gang, family and friends, to head out to the cliffs to shoot a few bottles with their rifles and AK47s. And boy do these guys have a lot of empty vodka bottles to 2e8da8fe-7cf4-40ce-a66f-5252e16ad79dshoot!

Meanwhile Vadim, the criminal mayor (Roman Madyanov) is plotting Kolya’s downfall. He’s an incredibly arrogant, abusive and greedy politician, a raging alcoholic, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has the judges, the police, even the local church on his side. This sets off a series of unforeseen events that turn Kolya’s life into a Jobean ordeal of despair.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileLeviathan is a fantastic movie, a slice-of-life look at modern Russia. Breathtaking, stark scenery, really great acting. But it’s also a devastating indictment of corruption and how it affects regular people there. The story starts slow, but gradually grows, driving toward an unexpectedly powerful finish. It’s also relevant: It’s nominated for an Oscar – best foreign film – but just last week Russia’s Culture Ministry threatened to censor this movie. That would be a real shame, because it’s a great film.

Leviathan, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and a Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening is Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a professor with early-onset Alzheimers – I’ll talk about this next week – and the 50 Year Argument, a documentary about the New York Review of Books.

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

Hard Choices. Movies Reviewed: Two Days, One Night, Escobar: Paradise Lost

Posted in Belgium, Clash of Cultures, Crime, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, drugs, Family, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 16, 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.

What do you do when faced with an impossible choice? We all face hard decisions, so this week I’m looking at two such dramas: a woman in Belgium whose co-workers’ choice could change her life, and a young man in Colombia whose choice could end someone else’s life.

6bd2ac3a-afd4-48f5-9461-2f221f64c7ebTwo Days, One Night
Dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is depressed. She lives in Belgium with her daughter and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). At night she bakes tasty tarts for her family in her beautiful house. And during the day she puts on her white uniform to start work at a solar panel factory.

But yesterday something terrible happened and today she is deeply depressed. She had just gone back to her job after recovering from a long illness. And almost immediately her boss asks her coworkers to make a fatal decision. They’re told either Sandra keeps her job or they each get a 90aa5301-67b8-456d-b524-d70e008bedff1000 Euro Christmas bonus. One or the other. Which one would you choose?

So she gets fired. But without her income her family might lose their home… and move into public housing.

After a short conversation, her boss agreed to have a second vote on Monday at work. So her husband and a conscientious workmate tell Sandra what she must do. That weekend, visit each of your workmates and plead with them, one by one, to change their vote, and let her keep her job. And she only has two days and one night to do it. It’s a simple ff5e49a1-586f-44a2-ae2f-5226388ad008story, and. to be honest, a dull one. Sandra attempts to connect with all of her diverse workmates over one weekend: recent immigrants, locals, old and young, single and married, kids / no kids.  The interesting part is the unexpected responses she gets when she talks to them – some sympathetic, others shockingly hostile. And it follows the lead actress, the great Marion Cotillard, as she reacts to them: one moment she’s elated, the next her hopes are crushed into the dirt, as she visits them one by one. Along with a few dramatic surprises.

I liked this heartfelt drama.  It’s shot in that European style of stark hyper-realism, and looks like the Dardennes’ other movies: I’m used to it. It’s the characters and acting that make it watchable. Especially Marion Cotillard, the main reason for seeing this movie: she gives a fantastic performance.

PL-D02-IMG_0732Escobar: Paradise Lost
Dir: Andrea Di Stefano

Nick (Josh Hutcherson) is a young Canadian who follows his brother down south to Colombia. He wants to camp with him on a beautiful beach near Medeillin. It’s a secret paradise with palm trees, sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Well, one day he meets a pretty woman with raven hair and beautiful smile. And smart too. Her name is Maria (Claudia Traisac) and they hit it off. Maria wants Rick to meet her uncle Pablo. He’s so nice, he’s like a father to her. What does he do? A local politician, and he brings schools and medical care to the poor people in this area. They love him.

So off they go to Uncle Pablo’s estate. He seems to be a nice, thoughtful PL-D09-IMG_4449and very religious guy.He says he’ll Nick like his own son. But most local politicians can’t afford massive swimming pools, enormous mansions, horse stables and pet elephants. Nick wonders how did he earn his fortune? Oh, says Maria, it’s cocaine. The locals have been cultivating coco leaves for centuries. Uncle Pablo just helps export an important national product. And his last name? He is Pablo Escobar, the world-famous drug lord.

After this, Nick, or Nico as Escobar like to call him, starts to notice PL-D17-IMG_9462strange things. Like when he tells Escobar they’re being harassed by local thugs on the beach the problem suddenly disappears… and so do the three thugs. And on Escobar’s estate, Nick sees people in clothes dripping with blood… human blood. But Nick is spared most of the violence until a big turning point. Escobar, who is at war with the central government, makes a deal to turn himself in. But first he calls in his most trusted family members – including Nick – and PL-D14-IMG_0732henchmen, to help him safely hide his vast riches while he’s out of the game. But, soon enough, Nick realizes there’s more to it than that. He might have to murder someone to keep Escobar safe. Is Escobar a father figure or a cold-blooded killer? Can Nick escape from this spiral of crime and death? And what about his fiancée? How do you PL-D44-IMG_4388solve a problem like Maria?

Escobar: Paradise Lost is a gangster pic with a twist. Nick is a peaceful, naïve outsider who finds himself embroiled in Escobar’s criminal enterprises. It’s part biopic drama, part thriller. The biopic part is just so-so. Luckily the thriller part is the final third of the movie, and by far the most interesting. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games, The Kids are Alright) is a good movie star to watch – -sympathetic and believable as Nick: mainly bland and chill, heating up near the end. But Benicio Del Toro gives a nuanced portarayal of that super-sketchy mountain of flesh known as Escobar. Not bad.

Ingrid Veninger The Animal ProjectTwo Days, One Night opens today in Toronto, and Escobar: Paradise Lost also opens today in theatres and on VOD: check your local listings. Also, tonight only, at the newly re-opened Innis Town Hall, at Innis College there’s a free screening of The Animal Project. And a talk and Q&A by Screenwriter-in-Residence Ingrid Veninger, and the cast as well, so don’t miss it. And if you’re curious to learn more about the situation Charlie Hebdo, long before the massacre, check out the 2008 documentary by Daniel Leconte, C’est dur d’etre aime par des cons or Its Hard Being Loved by Jerks. It’s free online: go to myfrenchfilmfestival.com .

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

 

 

Sleeping and Dreaming. Movies Reviewed: Selma, Winter Sleep

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Protest, Turkey, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 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.

Dark winter is a good time to catch up on your lying down. To sleep, perchance to dream. But if you’re sleeping you’ll miss all the good movies. Aye, there’s the rub. This week I’m looking at two dramas. One from Turkey is about a rich man in a sleepy town. The other is an American historical drama about a man who had a dream.

10351815_525480020927675_3324277747508183543_nSelma
Dir: Ava DuVernay

It’s 1964. The civil rights movement is in full swing. LBJ’s in the White House, Democrat and die-hard segregationist George Wallace is in the Alabama governor’s mansion and J Edgar Hoover is in the FBI, spying on everyone. But on the street, leading the protests is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo). He has led a series of successful, non-violent actions. The bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. The desegregation campaign in 10456099_511775325631478_5522343266601578699_nBirmingham. And then in Selma, Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempts the unthinkable. She applies to register to vote. But the Jim Crow laws are still in full force, making it virtually impossible to vote… unless you’re white.

King had just won the Nobel Peace Prize and is allowed to talk directly to 10882341_519526858189658_7896291437479059800_nLBJ (Tom Wilkinson). But his call for election reform is firmly rejected by the White House. So King and his confreres set off for Selma, Alabama to bring the protest home. As a preacher King is dedicated to non-violent resistance, modeled on Gandhi’s principals. But the local police have no such restrictions, clubbing, whipping, and even killing the unarmed protesters. But because the sheriff, mayor and governor are elected by a basically all-white electorate, the police can kill blacks with impunity. This makes the voters rights movement all the more important.10304498_516263568515987_3469586445239309478_n

So the protests evolve into a series of actions, culminating in a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. They are sure it will capture the nation’s attention if they are able to do it? But will the powers that be allow it to happen? King wonders why America can send soldiers to Vietnam, but not to Alabama where Americans are being attacked.

10425078_516816565127354_731155393230546598_nThe movie covers the months surrounding the protests in Selma, the contributions of the other protesters, including a competing student movement operating out of the same town. It also delves into the personal lives of Martin and his wife Coretta (Carmen Ejogo). And subtly woven into the story is the fact that the FBI was bugging and spying and harassing on the whole movement, punctuated with late-night phone calls and constant surveillance and intimidation.

This is an engrossing and exciting film. There was some odd miscasting, things like Tim Roth who I love as an actor, but doesn’t make it as George Wallace. He just doesn’t achieve that good-old-boy feeling. And some of the side characters are prone to speechifying everyday conversations. But that doesn’t matter. Oyelowo is fantastic as Martin Luther King, both in his speeches and as a believable character. And it gives an intimate look at the behind-the scenes organizing of the civil rights movement. Its an historical drama but educates and excites the viewers at the same time.

(As an aside, I recommend you stay through the closing credits as the music plays. You’ll hear a recording from Selma in the 1960s that will forever alter how you think of the song Kumbaya.)

874882c8-50e1-4819-a38a-eb9944263924Winter Sleep
Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Aydin (Haluk Bilginer) is a former actor and now a well-to-do landlord. He lives in Cappadocia in Turkey, known for its lunar landscape, where people live in homes carved straight out of volcanic ash. Wild horses roam the nearby fields. He owns a small hotel, and delights in chatting with tourists from Japan, and young adventurous travelers.

Aydin spends his time writing snooty columns about unimportant things for a local paper. And he earns money from the people who live in the nearby homes inherited from his father. But he doesn’t handle the “little”724aeafa-61b5-4bfd-973a-c8dcc5a1bcd1 things like rent collection. So he’s shocked when, going out for a drive, a schoolboy Ilyas throws a rock straight at his car breaking a window! What is the meaning if this?

Back at home, he shares the dinner table with his beautiful young wife Nihal (Melisa Sözen), and his recently divorced sister Necla (Demet Akbag). They keep their conversations civil and intellectual, but filled with hidden, barbed invectives and sly, hidden insults. Afterwards, they each retreat to their own wing of the house.

29efeb47-8756-4bbf-86ed-4bcd8e236852But gradually, as winter comes, the quiet easy life he lives begins to unravel. Nihal devotes her time to a fund-raising project that Aydin dismisses as a silly project. And his sister’s own anger also leads to friction among the three. Aydin is distracted by side ventures – such as taming wild horses after a chance comment by a motorcycle-riding adventurer. Meanwhile, despite the pleading of an imam, the poorer people, including one of his tenants, are ignored… with troubling results.

Winter Sleep is a long, subtle — but never-boring — look at its characters. The beauty of the scenery and photography and the impressiveness of the film comes from the way you follow the emotions, as the stories slowly revealing themselves over the course of conversations: feelings of love, guilt, envy and jealousy, gradually rise to the surface. Subtlety triumphs which makes the sudden surprises all the more shocking. I like this movie.

Winter’s Sleep and Selma both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. And the Canada’s Top Ten series continues at the TIFF Bell Light Box with great Canadian films like The Price We Pay, Corbo, Mommy, and In Her Place.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Canadian director Clement Virgo about his miniseries The Book of Negroes

Posted in Africa, Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, TV by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2015

The Book Of NegroesHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the late 18th century. Aminata Diallo, a young girl in West Africa, is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the American colonies. Later, during the Revolutionary war, the British crown promise freedom to all blacks who fight on their side. The British lose the war, but afterwards the loyalists are allowed to emigrate to Nova Scotia. But they face being re-enslaved unless they can prove their identity. So the multilingual Mina Diallo is enlisted to record the loyalists names in a crucial ledger so the men and woman can hold on to their hard-won freedom. The book where she writes the names is titled The Book Of Negroes.

The Book of Negroes is also the name of a new, epic drama now airing on CBC television. Based on the novel by Laurence Hill, it traces the story of Mina, tossed and turned by the vagaries of slavery and war across three continents, as she struggles to establish herself as a free woman and a woman in love. The miniseries is directed and co-written by award-winning Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo, known for his films on boxing, sex, and identity.

I spoke to Clement in Toronto by telephone. He talks about the series’ characters, Roots, The Pianist, slavery, the Holocaust, women, war, The Wizard of Oz, Black Loyalists, Nova Scotia, the “N” word, empowerment, South Africa, Someone Knows My Name, and more.

Old and New. Movie reviewed: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, PLUS Best movies of 2014

Posted in Best Picture, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 2, 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.

Happy New Year! It’s a time to look ahead at what’s coming and back at what we did. So this week I’m talking about something new a scary movie from the UK, and something old, my choices for best of 2014

WOMAN IN BLACK 2The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

Dir: Tom Harper

It’s London, during the Blitz. German bombs keep falling, reducing streets to rubble, but Miss Parkins, the indefatigable school teacher, (Phoebe Fox) vows to carry on, and keep the aspidistra flying. The strict headmistress (Helen McRory: Harry Potter) keeps things orderly and on time. The dozen or so boys and girls face new losses each day. Especially little Edward (Oaklee Pendergast) who stops speaking at all when both his parents are killed in an air raid. So they all breathe a sigh of

WOMAN IN BLACK 2relief when the school is relocated to the countryside out of harms way. (Or so they think…) And on the train ride out, pretty Miss Parkins meets handsome RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine: War Horse) who is from the very town they’re heading.

Everything seems fine until they arrive at their new home, a crumbling, decrepit mansion. The headmistress is aghast when she sees the peeling WOMAN IN BLACK 2paint, dusty floors, and broken furniture. This is unacceptable! she says, but there’s nowhere else to go. So they’re all stuck on the seacoast, on a spooky island. It’s separated from the nearby town (home to various creepy locals) by a causeway that is flooded each day during high tide. So Miss Parkins decides to make the best of it. It’s just an old house.

But things seem different at night. Strange shadows appear, creaky noises, and fleeting images of a woman dressed in a black veil. The children – especially little Edward — are terrified because their bedroom is located directly below a dusty old nursery. And at night, when they look up they can see straight up into it a hole in the ceiling. It seems to be where all the bad karma is concentrated. And when people start to die, WOMAN IN BLACK 2one by one, surely something evil this way comes. The headmistress says its just rubbish – there’s no such thing as ghosts. But Miss Parkins, with the pilot’s help, wants to save them all from the diabolical forces. What happened in this house? Is it haunted? Will they ever find out the truth? And will little Edward ever speak again?

The Woman in Black 2 is of course the sequel to another movie with the WOMAN IN BLACK 2same title a couple years back that starred Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe. Same location, same spooky mansion, same mysterious woman in black who’s always searching for her missing child. Other than that it’s a totally different movie. It has some spooky parts but a lot of cheese, too. And in case ghosts and horror aren’t enough, they throw in psychological dimensions – all the main characters have hidden secrets from their pasts. As for the Angel of Death, if you’re looking for a storyline involving angels, or the Grim Reaper holding a scythe you’ll be sorely disappointed. There isn’t any. It’s really just a haunted house / horror movie set during WWII. The historical aspects are done very well, and the cast is uniformly excellent, including all the kids, but the movie itself wavers between scariness and goofy, clichéd silliness. Not bad, but clearly a “B” movie.

Now for some really great movies.

Over the past year, I saw and reviewed some really amazing films. The list only includes movies I’ve seen, reviewed and loved. There are other ones with great reputations that I haven’t had a chance to see yet (Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy), others that I saw and loved but haven’t been released yet (The Tribe, Phoenix), and others that I thought were great but just couldn’t fit in the list (Corbo, Heartbeat, among many others). And I angelique-horizontaldon’t include documentaries or made-for-TV movies.

Here are my picks for the Best movies of 2014 (in alphabetical order).

Angelique is bodice-ripping potboiler from France set in the time of the Three Musketeers. A lot of fun, and the sort of movie rarely seen anymore.

522e0321-d51a-46bd-a141-3a695a35b29aBoyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, is a remarkable movie that follows a boy from age five to adulthood, played by the same non-actor over a 12-year period.

Force Majeure is a quirky but hilarious Swedish comedy about a married forcemajeure_03couple and their kids on a ski trip to the Alps whose relationship starts to fray when the father, facing a disaster, does something terribly wrong that calls his Michael Fassbender in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.masculinity into question.

Frank is a comedy about a man in a band whose charismatic lead singer never takes off his giant, bulbous papier-mache head.

Ida is a small but perfect film from Poland about an orphan girl raised in a ida-3convent who ventures outside for the first time to discover her real name, her real history and how she ended up there.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game is an amazing WWII thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, who broke German codes and invented the computer only to face persecution in England for his sexuality.

The Lunchbox is a movie from India about a long-distance relationship between two strangers who communicate via notes left in Bombay tiffin lunchbox_02boxes.

Mommy is Quebec’s Xavier Dolan’s look at the dysfunctional 62558-000060890018-mommy_aopilon1-creditphoto_shayne-laverdic3a8rerelationship between a highly sexualized mother and son, and the depressed teacher who lives next door. Shocking, funny and over-the-top.

The Notebook (Le Grande Cahier) is a stunning Hungarian film about identical-twin boys forced the-notebook-courtesy-sony-pictures-classics-a9b0f912-da11-4387-ac89-ef8ea0fde720to take care of themselves during WWII.

nymphomania-chapter_2_photo_by_christian_geisnaes_2Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is a an extremely long, satirical sex-comedy about a young woman (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the people she has sex with.

Under the Skin stars Scarlet Johansen as an enigmatic, not-quite-human scarlett-johansson-in-under-the-skin-courtesy-of-mongrel-mediabeing who pics up men in the Scottish highlands, has sex with them and then does something very strange to them.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Whiplash is an intense drama about a young drummer at a music academy who is asked to join their award winning jazz band. But doesn’t realize the band’s director is cruel and sadistic. A wonderful level of tension between the two characters played by JK Simmons and Miles Teller.bgndyy__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920

Wild Tales is a hilarious dark comedy from Argentina. It’s a series of short revenge stories about ordinary people who take it too far.

The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death opens today. And these movies are now playing: Force Majeure, Whiplash, The Imitation Game. And starting today, be sure to check out the Canada’s Top Ten series now playing at the TIFF Bell Light Box. 10 movies for 10 bucks each, including Mommy, Corbo, Felix and Meira, In her Place, and Harold Crooks’ The Price We Pay. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Christmas biopics. Movies reviewed: Unbroken, Mr Turner

Posted in 1940s, Art, Biopic, Cultural Mining, Movies, UK, Uncategorized, US, WWII by CulturalMining.com on December 26, 2014

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.

Happy Boxing Day! This week, I’m talking about two biopics, both historical dramas, both starring great actors from the UK. But they are as different as two movies could possibly be. One’s a young soldier captured and kept in the dark; one’s a painter trying to capture the light.

10403575_781275515276942_5431011275441931839_nUnbroken (based on a true story)
Dir: Angelina Jolie

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is the child of Italian immigrants in small-town pre-WWII America. He lives on the wrong side of the tracks and is bullied by neighbouring kids. He’s often knocked down, but always gets up for another fight. Running away 10372750_782974231773737_321939819595855320_nfrom bullies also makes him a good runner. With his older brother’s help, he trains as a sprinter, competing at the Berlin Olympics. It’s his endurance and surprising reserves of adrenaline that set him apart. Later, he joins the Air Force in WWII and is stationed in the Pacific. His plane crashes into the ocean which he manages to survive… only to find himself captured by the Japanese, and thrown into a POW camp.

So basically The Unbroken is three movies. One is about Louis and two other men: the laid-back Phil (Domhnall Gleeson: Frank) and the nervous Mac (Finn Witrock). When their plane crashes, they have to survive in an 10409502_786380204766473_4227359387414983355_ninflatable life raft in the middle of the Pacific. Slowly starving to death, they fight off sharks, and inclement weather as they test their ability to endure… against all odds. They hang on by listening to Louis describe his mother’s gnocchi. But as days turn to weeks, can they survive on just hope and a tale? (If you’ve seen the Norwegian drama Kon Tiki, this might seem familiar to you.) I liked this part of the movie.

Then there’s Louis’ stay in a POW camp in Japan. It is run by Corporal Watanabe aka “The Bird”. (played by musician/actor Miyavi). Watanabe comes from a rich family, but never makes it as an officer. Now he’s a cruel but effeminate NCO who struts around in his khakis, carrying a bamboo stick. He takes out his frustrations on the prisoners, especially poor Louis. 1450190_785235881547572_7880022996659246521_nIs he jealous of his fame as an Olympic champion? Or is he secretly in love with him? If you’ve ever seen Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, then, again, this may all be familiar to you.

Finally there’s Louis’ boyhood as a competitive teenaged runner, which appears as a series of flashbacks. This is the weakest part of the film, one of thousands of heartwarming stories about plucky immigrant kids who make good.

This movie isn’t terrible. I like Jack O’Connell a lot and he’s plays the role well. And great supporting cast – Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway, Domnhall Gleeson — are all really good.

1970439_620940031310492_633068160_nBut can you believe this was written by the Coen Brothers? But there’s no irony, no humour, just straightforward storytelling. And it’s filled with fake profundities, like If you can take it, you can make it. Sounds like a Tony Roberts motivational speech. I get it – Zamperini did great things but survived. But the pounds you over the head with it, with its unrelenting suffer, suffer, suffer theme. The rest of the prisoners look vaguely familiar after a while, but they’re basically just faces in the background. It’s all about Louis vs Watanabe. Not a terrible movie, but disappointing and unsatisfying with an abrupt ending.

7b7c3e5e-dbbb-4a5d-b69b-f8e6d4637e0eMr Turner
Dir: Mike Leigh

Mr Turner (Timothy Spall) is a successful businessman in Victorian London, who lives with his dad (Paul Jesson), a retired barber. He lives a good life, doesn’t worry about money. What does he do? He’s a painter. He visits the seashore to observe and take notes. He finds the right pigments in the market to match them. Later, he paints what he sees. On canvases, big ones, lots of them.

Breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, cloud and light, maybe a steamship, and here and there a ruined castle or a train. He daubs on oil paint, fa38e7e5-08c2-407b-86a0-49e8653ac8adsmooches it around, and spits on it, blows at it! The results are spectacular and impressionistic, like nothing anyone had ever seen. And ethereal watercolours. Turner becomes famous in his own time, and quite rich — aristocratic artists are forced to come by to ask him for money. But he’s not from titled gentry. He’s frequently snubbed by the snooty upper-class, and not allowed into the principal art salons, only the outside rooms. Queen Victoria is not amused by his paintings. And he had to suffer the comments of insufferable art critics like John Ruskin (wonderfully played by Joshua McGuire).

At the same time, he’s a selfish, loathesome boor, who chews on pigs’ heads and belches. He has abandoned his common-law wife and daughters. He has a shy maid, Mrs Danby (Dorothy Atkinson). When Mr Turner feels like it, fdff8789-10b2-466c-81ae-6ba2bcce7189he’ll sneak up behind her, raise her petticoats and grunt a few times. That’s “sex”. How, you wonder, can such a disgusting, depressed and ugly man create such beautiful art?

Whenever he has a chance, he revisits a seaside town from his youth. There he meets an older woman, a landlady, named Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey). Will she help him out of his perpetual blue funk?

Mr Turner is a very long, slow moving and subtle film, filled with skillfully-crafted characters. They’re not loveable people but not hateable ones either. They seem all completely real. The photography in this movie is just e671af49-baab-4efe-b119-952b2968e98famazing. If you’ve ever seen Turner’s paintings, now you get to see the skies, the clouds and the light that actually informed his art. Beautiful. Spall, Bailey and Atkinson play their parts with all their weird tics and eccentricities in place. It’s quite long, but I liked it a lot.

Mr Turner and Unbroken both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening today is Imitation Game, a fantastic biopic thriller about Alan Turing, the man who invented the computer an broke the German code known as Enigma. Definitely a must-see.

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 Harold Crooks about his new documentary The Price We Pay

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Economics, Politics, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 19, 2014

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

The post-WWII social safety net has collapsed — governments say we can’t afford it any more. And they raise sales tax, social security and other fees to try to make up for revenue losses.

Middle class wages remain stagnant, while personal debt has reached record highs. And the wage gap between the very rich and the rest of us has reached levels not seen since the gilded age.

But, at the same time, population, productivity, GDP and profit levels have continued to rise. How can we be producing more than ever before, with greater efficiency while both the government and the people are falling deeper into debt?The Price We Pay

Well, according to a new documentary, the problem is tax avoidance and the use of off-shore tax havens. Based on Le Crise Fiscale qui Vient (The Coming Fiscal Crisis) by Quebec author Brigitte Alepin, the film exposes offshore banking and The Price we Pay for it.

The documentary is called The Price we Pay, and is directed by filmmaker Harold Crooks, known for his work on films like The Corporation. It’s showing in Toronto for two days on January 10-11 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Canada Top Ten movie series, and is opening later this year. I spoke with Harold Crooks by telephone from New York City. Harold talks about the City of London, the illusion of off-shoring, Canadian banks’ role in creating Caribbean tax havens, Thomas Picketty, Asterix, the redistribution of wealth upwards, austerity measures, the “Robin Hood” tax, the “equality of sacrifice”, Antonio Gramsci, … and more!

 

New Rules. Films Reviewed: Wild, Félix and Meira, Regarding Susan Sontag

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Queer, Romance, TIFF, Wilderness, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 13, 2014

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.

Do rules restrict us? Or set us free? This week, I’m looking at three new films about women. A religious woman who longs to be free of the rules that restrict her; a woman in crisis who, to save her own life, follows strict rules to hike and cam; and an intellectual who applied academic strictures to new topics like high camp.

FOX_3558.psdWild

Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée (Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir)

It’s the mid-late 20th century. Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is a young college student in Minneapolis. Her single mom (Laura Dern) wants to educate herself, too, so they’re in the same lecture halls doing English lit and women’s studies. Her mom asks her help understanding concepts like Erica Jong’s “zipless F*cks” (F-words.) Aw, Ma! So Cheryl reads her Adriene Rich, falls in love with a nice guy named Paul, and marries him. But then something terrible happens. And before you know it, Cheryl is taking tons of serious drugs and having countless Zipless Fs with strangers. I want to live like a man, she tells herself. But is what she really wants?

Her daily life spirals toward oblivion, until she’s rescued and brought back to reality by her husband and her best friend. She decides to start her life anew by doing something dramatic. So she decides to head out on a walk up the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT from the Mexican border to Canada.

Aside from her over-packed backpack, and too-tight boots, she has to overcomek5oMn6__wild_02_o3__8207946__1406599560 the potential dangers of wild animals and skeezy men, rednecks and deadheads. She interacts with the hikers along the way, people who have read the quotations she leaves in the record books. Cheryl passes through dried out deserts and snow-filled valleys, hiking ever-northward in a quest to find herself, and to learn to live by her mother’s optimistic words: always look for the kinder way of doing things.

Wild is worth seeing. It’s full of beautiful scenery and assorted unexpected characters. The movie itself is fairly flat, with no real suspense, conflict or climax. Which is fine… but doesn’t move you to tears. It’s an on-foot road movie. I enjoy her chronicling of what happens along the way (as well as the flashbacks that explain why she’s there.) Most of all, it’s a chance for Reese Witherspoon to show off her acting skills. But does she? I can accept her as a woman recovering from drugs and emotional loss. But what I don’t feel is her soul. She seems opaque, superficial. I haven’t read the memoirs it’s based on, but Movie Cheryl just seems like a woman facing hard times. She’s not Book Cheryl: a poet  a writer, a feminist or a thinker; just a character that things happen to.

Actress: Hadas YaronFélix et Meira

Dir: Maxime Giroux

Young, pretty and quirky, Meira (Hadas Yaron) lives with her stern husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and their baby. She comes from an insular, Chassidic community in Montreal, where her first language isn’t French or English, it’s Yiddish. She likes drawing pictures and listening to reggae music…but only when her husband’s out of the house. He’s strict and conservative, and quick to tell her what she’s doing wrong. In response, she’s as likely to listen as to drop dead, on the spot. Well, at least pretend to. She’s depressed. When the men burst into joyous songs at the Sabbath dinner table, she just fiddles with her matzo balls. She doesn’t like the headband or the wig she has to wear; she doesn’t like the dullness and tedium; she doesn’t like any of it anymore.

A couple of blocks away, but in a separate solitude, lives Félix (Martin Dubreuil). Actor: Martin DubreuilHe’s single and carefree, likes painting and music. He tends to his dying father suffering from Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t care about money, and supports himself by selling the tapestries off the walls of his father‘s mansion. But when he dies, Felix is at a loss. Religion plays no part in his life, so he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, what he’s supposed to feel. On an impulse, he asks the woman he sees at the local pizza parlour. She studiously ignores him, and tells him to leave her alone. but eventually he wins her attention. Je m’appelle Meira she says.

Though reticent at first, she starts to appear at his doorstep, so she can listen to some music, she says. Something clicks. Meira longs to be a single woman, to wear blue jeans, to do as she wants. She looks with dread at the 14-kid families around her. One’s enough. Alienated Felix admires her calm, her grounded-ness, her Actor: Luzer Twerskytraditions. He finds her exotic, shy… different. She’s not like the women he usually meets. To her, Felix represents an unseen world. Shulem suspects something is up and sends her off to Brooklyn. But Felix and Meira vow to meet again someday, to experience each other’s lives. But are their cultures too distant to bridge their differences? And is what they’re doing morally right? Can she give up everything just to be with him? And…are they even compatible?

Felix and Meira is a sweet, gentle drama of tolerance and coexistence with the Other. It jumps neatly between the two sides, gradually revealing their hidden truths and desires. Most interesting is the unexpected shifts in its portrayals of the three characters, especially Shulem. Hadas Yaron (Fill the Void) is fantastic as Meira, again playing an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman, and Martin Dubreuil – who I’ve never seen before, is a sympathetic face to watch. I liked this understated drama.

85573_1416507737Regarding Susan Sontag

Dir: Nancy D. Kates

The late Susan Sontag was one of the most prominent American intellectuals, widely known for her essays On Camp, On Photography and Illness as a metaphor. But she kept her personal life under wraps. This new documentary reveals all. Did you know she was considered a pin-up girl for young lesbian women? Or that she read Kant and Proust at age 15, before she even know how to pronounce their names? Or that she appeared as an actress in an early French New Wave film. This doc chronicles her first visit to a San Francisco lesbian bar, her life in Paris, Oxford and Manhattan, her friends and lovers. And the controversies she faced — both in intellectual culture and in the mass media. Loaded with new interviews, and childhood photographs, film clips, TV footage, it’s informative and fascinating.

Wild is now playing in Toronto: check your local listings. Félix and Meira was selected for TIFF’s Canada Top Ten. It’s playing on Sunday, December 14th at 1 and 4 pm at the Empress Walk cinema as part of Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s Chai Tea and Movie series. Got to tjff.com for details. And you can see Regarding Susan Sontag on HBO Canada.

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

 

 

 

Off the Beaten Track. Movies Reviewed: Serena, Gemma Bovery, Corner Gas: the Movie

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Books, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Horses, Movies, Satire by CulturalMining.com on December 5, 2014

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.

Urban life getting you down? Here are three movies set in small towns. A gothic drama in the Smoky Mountains of Carolina; a comedy in a Saskatchewan town where there’s not a whole lot going on; and a comic drama in Normandy… with a literary twist.

67934-SERENA_D1-190_R_CROPSerena
Dir: Susanne Bier

George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is a lumber baron in the roaring 20s. He’s also a big-game hunter, searching for the elusive panther. He dreams of clear-cutting the smoky mountains of North Carolina, and, with the profits, expanding into the rain forests of Brazil. But he’s a good guy — you can tell because he chops his own wood and saves his workers’ lives. There would be no SERENA_D11-2819.CR2problems at all, if it weren’t for those meddling government types. They want to make it into a national park, just because of its breathtaking scenic beauty, and the rare flora and fauna living in those foggy, tree-covered mountains.

But everything changes when he spots a blonde woman at a horse show. Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) is a strong and independent woman from out west and born to the wood. Beautiful, glamorous and tough as nails, she’s as comfortable in an evening gown as she is on horseback. She can SERENA_D18-4906._R_CROPjpgkill a rattler with an axe from across a field and is handy with a rifle. He proposes on the spot and makes her a full partner in his business… to the chagrin of his male colleagues. But Wall Street crashes and tough times follow. Things start to fray at the edges. There’s Galloway (Rhys Ifans) a sketchy ex-con with “the sight”: Serena once appeared in a vision so he’ll protect her to the death. And there’s talk George might have an illegitimate son in the village. And his partners are losing faith in the business. Can Serena and George find happiness in a lumber camp? Or will it drag them into a spiral of jealousy, revenge and madness?

Susanne Bier is a well-known Danish director, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence scored in two big hits: Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle. Is this three for the win? Not a chance. It’s a clunky potboiler with a confusing and messy story, and extremely uneven acting. Lawrence plays it to the hilt as a deranged, screeching devil-woman, while Cooper sticks to the single-emotion style of acting. Whether it’s shock, lust, anger, or bewilderment, he just stares off into space with his mouth slightly open. Serena is not awful, it kept me watching and interested, but it’s just not very good.

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineGemma Bovery
Dir: Anne Fontaine

Martin (Fabrice Luchini) is an intellectual from Paris. He moves to small-town Normandy, near Rouen, to take over his dad’s bakery. He likes kneading dough and pondering great literature. His wife is a world-weary realist, and his teenaged son prefers Call of Duty to French culture. But dad’s thoughts are still filled with the 19th century novels of Flaubert. So imagine his surprise when a young English couple that moves into the dilapidated house next door, shares the names of the characters in Madame Bovery! Down-to-earth Charles repairs furniture, while his bored wife Gemma (Gemma Atherton) decorates homes with trompe d’oeil to make them appear older. And just like Madame Bovery, she craves a more exciting GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne Fontainelife.

Martin, though, knows the book well and feels he can predict every thought they will have and every word they will say. Soon enough, he sees her making eyes at the town rake, handsome Hervé (Niels Schneider: J’ai tué ma mère, Les amours imaginaires) a local squire living in a nearby castle. Don’t go with him, it can only lead to ruin! Martin thinks. In his mind he sees them in period costume, dancing in the ballroom. In reality, the quaint town, including the aristocracy, is crumbling all around him. Martin tries to manipulate the local characters – using secret methods – to save them from their novelistic fates. But will it work?

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineThe entire film is narrated, at times directly to the camera, by Martin himself. He takes us through the story, mainly to the various dinner parties, where people speak fractured English and French. He is especially incensed by a nouveau riche couple, an English/French marriage who see French culture as merely wine and Camembert.

Gemma Bovery is two movies in one. There’s Flaubert’s novel reenacted in Martin’s head, and there’s a satirical look at contemporary France. Because of the meta- aspects of the film, you don’t feel as deeply invested in the characters’ lives; you’re always a step away from what’s happening. But it more than makes up for that with its cleverness. And because it’s an Anne Fontaine movie, it carries that sensual, erotic tone she’s so good at.  And the actors, especially the beautiful Gemma Atherton, are a joy to watch. I like this movie.

CGTM_100_Brent Butt (as Brent Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieCorner Gas: The Movie
Dir: Brent Butt

If you’ve ever watched Canadian TV, you’re probably familiar with Dog River, Saskatchewan. It’s an uneventful prairie town known mainly for its gas station, its coffee shoCGTM_109_Fred Ewanuick (as Hank Yarbo). Photo by Steve Wilkiep, and its wise-cracking locals. There’s dry Brent at the gas station (Brent Butt), his dad and mum — cranky Oscar and rational Emma (Eric Peterson, Janet Wright), pretty Lacey at the coffee shop (Gabrielle Miller), and the local police. CGTM_113_Janet Wright (as Emma Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieThen there’s the incorrigible Hank (Fred Ewanuick) and the trickster Wanda (the very hilarious Nancy Robertson).

Nothing ever happens there, right? Wrong! To turn a sitcom into a feature film, you need an epic plot. In this film the town goes bankrupt, the people run amok, and Tim Horton’s starts sniffing at the real estate. Their only hope? A Toronto contest looking for the quaintest town in Canada. Can they pull it all together in time? Not bloody likely… it’s aCGTM_117_Nancy Robertson (as Wanda Dollard). Photo by Steve Wilkie comedy, folks.

Believe it or not, I only saw the TV show once. It felt too slow paced, so I couldn’t get into it. Clearly, I’m not one of its fans (who are legion). But the movie? It was surprisingly funny. There are corny parts and some gags fall flat of course, but on the whole the humour is clever, inventive, ironic… even subversive. And it does all this without any potty laughs, frat boy nudges, boobies, four-letter words, dumb blondes, racial and ethnic stereotypes or fat jokes. Not a small accomplishment.

So if you’re looking for Canadian humour, here it is, and then some.

spiceworld_imageGemma Bovery and Serena both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. And Corner Gas: the Movie is playing now through the weekend. Also in Toronto,  look out for the MUFF society — specializing in girl-tastic pics for women —  kicks off their monthly series with Spice World (yes, I do mean that Spice Girl movie) only at the Royal. And First to Fall – a documentary about two students in Canada who volunteered to fight with the rebels in Libya — is finally screening in Toronto, tonight at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  I interviewed the directors last summer.

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

The price of dreams. Movies reviewed: Foxcatcher, Heartbeat

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Mental Illness, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Sports by CulturalMining.com on November 28, 2014

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.

A movie can warm your heart or chill your spine. This week I’m looking at one of each. There’s a heavy American drama about a wrestler who learns fame and fortune comes with a price; and a light Canadian drama about a musician who learns that giving up her dreams may not be the best solution.

FOXCATCHERFoxcatcher (based on a true story)
Dir: Bennett Miller

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is a champion wrestler. He and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffallo) both won Olympic gold at the 1984 games in LA. But while his older brother has settled down to a nice family life, Mark is still just scraping by. He plays second-fiddle when his brother can’t make it to low-rent speeches. He lives in a depressing worldFOXCATCHER of peeling paint, empty gyms, fluorescent lights and crushing debt.

So when reclusive zillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites him to train at his vast country estate he is puzzled, but goes to check it out. Middle-class Mark is in awe of the money and power he’s exposed to. And he likes the chance of being his own man, not just under his older brother’s shadow. So he signs up. The estate is called Foxcatcher, because it’s where the aristocratic du Ponts still go fox hunting. And it’s controlled by the elderly, but formidable, matriarch Jean (Vanessa Redgrave in a fantastic performance). Civilized people shoot foxes; plebes wrestle. John, though, doesn’t like horses, or his mother. He sees himself as a coach, and FOXCATCHERwants to be known as a winner, not a sclerotic, talentless 10th generation chemical heir. So, to bolster his claim, Dupont hires a whole bevy of wrestler-type yes-men to train alongside Mark Schultz. But Mark’s life is changing, too. In a series of creepy but funny scenes he gradually morphs from ordinary wrestler to kept boy within a rich sultan’s harem.

So to ground himself, Mark decides he needs his brother Dave there to coach him, and live and train at Foxcatcher. This upsets the insecure and increasingly nutty John’s plans to be alpha male in his tiny world. Will this rivalry lead to an ultimate showdown?

Foxcatcher is getting a lot of attention, but for the life of me, I don’t know why. The director is heavy FOXCATCHERhanded, constantly drawing attention to his style – which is slow-moving, flat, and anodyne. It’s a bland, two-and-a-half-hour movie about a creepy but insecure rich guy and a wrestler. Followed by a very intense final three minutes.  It’s beautifully shot, with nice music. And Tatum is great as the wrestler, with Rufallo  good in his supporting role. But I’m baffled by all the attention given to comedian Carell, with his aging makeup and prostheses. All he does is speak s-l-o-w-l-y and without emotion. Creepy, yes, but great acting? I don’t think so.

But despite the fact that it’s way too long, weird, and not particularly interesting, I can’t say this is a dreadful movie, just one I didn’t like. And wouldn’t wish on you.

31f23bf8-ffc1-449f-a905-2a79e2ad7c02Heartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. She lives in her late grandmother’s house, and though still a young woman, dresses like a retired pensioner in old-school dresses, plastic glasses and a brutal haircut. She gave up her musical ambitions when she fainted on stage. Meanwhile, her social life is falling apart. She still sleeps with her ex-boyfriend Ben since he dumped her, but she has to keep it undercover. Ben’s an artist (Stewart Legere) and doesn’t want 47487869-9e61-491f-8ea9-57de7bc57d42anyone to know. Her best friend is married now and only wants to talk about their new baby. And the boss at work uses her as a sounding board for the minutiae of suburban life. But what about Justine?

Then one day she happens upon a woman named Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) jamming in the window of her favourite music store. There’s a musical attraction. And 0add1c3a-49d3-4e28-8867-b9e8402ff442maybe something more. In the dark of night, with no-one but the two of them around to hear, she picks up her guitar. She finds she can play her beautiful tunes for Ruby, and they jam. Ruby is pretty, sexy and street smart. Justine’s ex has relocated to some distant place, sending her clues he paints on paper postcards. So she is finally motivated to Esty-fy her wardrobe and Arts-and-Crafts her love life.

Exploring Ruby’s world, she finds shared houses, pop-up bands, and cool people. And some unexpected sex… But are they a thing now? Or just a moment’s fancy? Will she ever see Ben again? Is she a musician now? And can she embrace a new future?ba520a3e-8537-4d4d-9d3d-1d35f0b9787d

Heartbeat is a wonderful, low-budget Canadian film. When I say low-budget, I mean even bicycle crashes happen off camera – can’t afford the stuntmen! Instead the money is put into pretty camerawork, great music, and unexpectedly lovely animation that spring from Justine’s thoughts and daydreams. The acting is touching and real and the characters work well together. Director Andrea Dorfman is especially good at inserting assorted ethnicities, transgenders and sexualities without comment, without ever pointing it out to win extra points. They just are.

Heartbeats starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending up strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Foxcatcher and Heartbeat both played at TIFF this year and 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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