Daniel Garber talks with Our Little Sister director Kore-eda Hirokazu at #TIFF15

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Japan, Manga, Movies by CulturalMining.com on July 22, 2016

0A7A0280Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 fm.

Three adult sisters — Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika — live together in a spacious, old-fashioned house beside a shady plum tree. They last saw their father years before when he left to shack up with another woman. Their mother also moved on leaving the three girls to function as a family unit. But when they go to their fathers funeral in a far away town, they first meet Suzu their Kore-eda Hirokazu father’s youngest daughter, who is now an orphan. In a sudden decision, they invite her to come live with them, as their new little sister.

Our Little Sister is also the name of a new film premiering at TIFF. It’s directed by Japanese master filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu. Kore-eda is known for his subtle but deeply moving dramas looking at life, death, kinship and unusual families. I spoke to him in September, 2015 at the Intercontinental Hotel during #TIFF15.

Our Little Sister opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris

Anti-heroines. Films reviewed: The Bride Wore Black, Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, drugs, France, Satire, Sex, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 22, 2016

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

Anti-heroes aren’t hard to find. They’re in films, novels, and comic books: Hell Boy, Travis Bickle, or the characters in any private eye or crime novel.

But what about anti-heroes who are women? They’re a much rarer bird.  This week I’m looking at two movies about anti-heroines. There’s a British comedy about two women who like to add names to their lists; and a French mystery/thriller about a woman who wants to cross names off her list.

k5g3GX_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(1)_o3_9008002_1463581922The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Dir: François Truffaut

Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) is a pretty young woman dressed in black. She should be happy after her recent wedding, but she’s not. Something went wrong and she’s depressed. Jump-out-the-window depressed. When her repeated suicide attempts are thwarted, she sets of on a journey. She leaves with just a small suitcase and a list of five names: Bliss, Coral, Fergus, Morane and Delvaux. Who are these people, what do they have in common and and why does she want to meet them?

It turns out they are all men, all strangers – she’s never met them, nor they GZAlL0_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(2)_o3_9008019_1463581938her. They live in different places across France, and work at wildly different jobs. Nothing seems to connect them.

Julie sets out on her mysterious mission. Her first stop? The handsome young playboy named Bliss (Claude Rich). She leaves him flowers and messages. Bliss is intrigued – he wants to meet this mysterious woman, described as beautiful by the man at the front desk. He’s about to get married but figures there’s always a chance for another notch in his bedpost. But things don’t go exactly as planned. He’s in for a big shock.

3l3A4Q_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(3)_o3_9008036_1463581955She crosses his name off her secret list and heads off to meet Coral, a lonely, petty office worker (Michel Bouquet). He lives a solitary, depressing life, marking his liquor bottles in case his nosy landlady takes a nip while he’s away. Julie meets him at a concert and joins him in his bleak rented room. He thinks his success with women is finally changing. It is, but not in the way he expects.

There’s Delvaux, a shady gangster who works in a junkyard, heading out to commit a crime. And Morane, a successful, married man with a son. She sends his wife off on a fake emergency, then talks her way into his home by r0p3J6_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(5)_o3_9008053_1463581972-1convincing him she’s her boy’s schoolteacher, despite the kid’s denials.

Her most difficult case is Fergus, a successful artist (Charles Denner). She becomes the live model for a painting he’s working on, of a naked woman holding a bow and arrow. He’s sure he knows her, but he can’t put his finger on it.

Who are these men? What do they have in common? Why does Julie want to meet them? Is it love, revenge, or bloodlust?

The Bride Wore Black is a fantastic mystery from 1968, Truffaut’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock. He filmed this right after publishing his famous book of interviews (I spoke about last week) called Hitchcock/ Truffaut. The directing and editing were done in Hitchcock’s spare style. (He doesn’t explain the backstory — it;s up to the viewers to figure out). He even hired Hitchcock’s favourite composer Bernard Herrmann to write the soundtrack, and based the story on a book by crime writer Cornell Woolrich. (He wrote the story for Hitchcock’s Rear Window.) And it’s playing as part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective.

poster-5d6aba16-89fb-4c21-9522-c72b4400b08fAbsolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Dir: Mandie Fletcher

Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is a rich Londoner who lives an all-female life. She works in the woman-dominated world of publicity, specifically fashion PR. She lives with her widowed Mum (June Whitfield), her single daughter Saffie (Julia Sawalha), and her granddaughter, Lola. And works with her image-000db0be-cf0c-4353-8ea0-263ab056dc88eccentric Lancashire assistant Bubble (Jane Horrock) who handles the day-to-day. But she spends most of her time with her best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley).

Eddie and Patsy are different from most people. Self-centred hedonists, they don’t think about ordinary things like food or money. (they don’t even know image-23942a8e-0eb7-4983-b5c7-79cc20513621what that is) Life is one long party, followed by a perpetual hangover. They subsist on cigarettes, drugs, champagne and vodka straight out of the bottle. Self-conscious Eddie always worries about her weight, while Patsy remains rail thin. She’s always ready for a roll in the hay image-e6b11d90-7ced-46f1-be55-479cead8e497with any man between 15 and 90… she’s not picky.

At home, plain Saffy acts like the de facto mother, worrying about money and manners and responsibility, and disapproving of Eddie’s lifestyle. Eddie longs to be loved, but acts like an irresponsible whiney, spoiled teenager. Patsy is the bad friend who always leads Eddie into trouble. The two of them are the epitome of baby-bomer excess without any conscience.

image-89a42b4b-2109-492a-b83f-de88ca9bafc3But life is good. Money seems to appear magically in Eddie’s bank accounts (from her ex-husbands). Until now. Suddenly, the champagne supply goes dry, the bank accounts are empty, and Eddie has no new clients. They have to find someone to represent. But in a frenzy to sign a supermodel, Eddie accidentally pushes Kate Moss off a balcony into the river Thames. She’s a murderer!

Patsy and Eddie are on the lam. They flee to the French Riviera, to find a billionaire for Patsy to marry. If the police don’t find them first….image-af3828a6-2eaa-4752-9d61-53ea36968024

Absolutely Fabulous (aka AbFab) is based on the cult British sitcom from the mid 1990s. Created by the famous comedy team French and Saunders it portrayed women, for the first time, as aggressive, selfish, trend-obsessed, politically-incorrect characters. They are hilarious and shocking in their audacity.

image-09f72258-ef68-459c-b6e1-cd33570fc6e7The movie continues where the TV show left off, and the actors — especially Saunders and Lumley — are all flawless in their timing. The movie is packed with celebrity cameos so it could be compared to Zoolander 2, but that would be an injustice — this one is much, much better. Not every joke is funny, the TV laugh track is missing, and it’s a shock to see these TV faces 30-feet-high on a movie screen.

But it’s still as funny as it ever was.

For more anti-heroines, you can catch the classic Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! presented by the Retropath and Ladies of Burlesque at the Royal Cinema. Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Bride Wore Black is screening next Thursday as part of Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions series playing at TIFF Cinematheque. 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

Unexpected combinations. Films reviewed: Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite, Hitchcock/Truffaut

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Dreams, France, Hitchcock, Hollywood, Horror, Russia, Supernatural, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 15, 2016

cockneys-vs-zombiesHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

What do these movies have in common? Cockneys vs Zombies, Cowboys cowboysandaliens_1280x1024_3and Aliens, Bambi Meets Godzilla. Obviously, they’re all movies with unexpected combinations. So this week I’m looking at two new movies (though nothing like the ones I mentioned) that combine things in unexpected ways. There’s a documentary about the historic meeting of two very different directors, and a ghostly horror movie… set in Russia.

Queen-of-Spades-The-Dark-Rite_poster_goldposter_com_3Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite

Wri/Dir: Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy

It’s a snowy day in a Russian city. Four teenagers – Anya, Matya, Matvey and Seryozha – are playing a game. Matyev is a jock, Seryozha (Sergey Pokhodaev, Leviathin) is a nerd with glasses, Katya is an older redhead (Valeriya Dmitrieva), and Anya (Alina Babak) while tough is still just a 12-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mom.There’s an urban myth that says you can summon the Queen of Spades, a dead spirit, if you draw a door on a mirror in lipstick by candlelight, and repeat her name three times — Queen of Spades, Queen of Spades Queen of Spades. (Don’t try this at home, kids…) Naturally, nothing happens – well not right away.

After the game, the four friends go back to their respective apartments, as usual, but at night queen_of_spades_the_dark_rite-HD— that’s when the scary stuff begins. Turns out the Queen of Spades was a Russian aristocrat who murdered kids for their money. She was caught and the cut out her tongue and shaved he head, left to roam the streets in black rags – hence the Queen of Spades. But her spirit, if that’s what it maxresdefaultis, will come to you by night with a scissors to snip off your hair, and kill you.

When the kids start dying, one by one, Anya’s and her divorced parents (Igor Khripunov, Evgeniya Loza) flee the father’s apartment. Will the ghost follow them there? Eventually they track down a former doctor (Vladimir Seleznyov) in a dacha in the woods.He’s an expert at getting rid of 2QwUuFdP6P8wgoWmvWxoxdHzbAgghosts — and holds a grudge against this o ne in particular. But can anyone defeat the Queen of Spades?

This is a good scary horror movie. It feels like those creepy Japanese movies from the 90s like Ring and Dark Water (Hideo Nakata), with a good dose of the Exorcist thrown in. The plot is very conventional, but what I found so interesting was the look of the film. So that’s what a Russian funeral looks like. Or a hospital, or even a public toilet with curved tiled walls inside. And I never knew people upholster their front doors. Great austerity and cold creepiness.

The acting is generally good, and the suspense keeps you watching, but it’s the look I really like from this ghostly Russian pic.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Dir: Kent Jones

Francois Truffaut is today known as a great French Director and one of the founders of the nouvelle vague, the French New Wave. But before he was a director he was a film critic. As a young movie enthusiast, he was taken under the wing of andre Bazin, and brought into the fold of an extremely influential magazine, the Cahier du Cinema. It’s the Cahier du Cinema (and Truffaut himself) that changed the way we look at films as a body of work of a single artist. Directors became oYmq0j_hitchcocktruffaut_03_o3_9009094_1463581659“auteurs”, the authors of a series of films. Before that, they were employees of the huge factory mentality of Hollywood —   important and well paid, for sure, but a cog in the wheel.

In the 1960s, the fledgling French director wrote to the incredibly successful Alfred Hitchcock. He asked if they could meet for a week in Hollywood for a series of detailed interviews for a book. Now, Hitchcock was rich and successful and his qjov52_hitchcocktruffaut_01_o3_9009008_1463581640movies were often hits. But what he didn’t have was critical praise, He was dismissed as unimportant, popular entertainment. And he never received an Oscar.

So Hitchcock said yes.

The result was Hitchcock/ Truffaut an incredibly influential book that served as a bible for future directors. This film, with the same name, shows the original recordings and photos those interviews. It’s illustrated with crucial stills and clips from the two directors’ works. And many of the directors they influenced — Scorsese, Fincher, Linklater, Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and many others — appear to talk about these movies.pgn062_hitchcocktruffaut_02_o3_9009051_1463581649

You find out Hitchcock didn’t have a great relationship with his actors — he said they were cattle that had to be moved around.

It turns out Hitchcock was a total perv and so were most his characters! He calls Scottie (the Jimmie Stewart character in Vertigo) a necrophiliac.

If you’re into movies, film criticism, cinema studies, or if you’re a filmmaker yourself, this one is a must-see. Fascinating documentary.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite opens today in Toronto: check your local listings; Hitchcock/Truffaut is part of a TIFF Cinematheque retrospective Hitchcock/Truffaut: Maginificent Obsessions running all summer long, with films by those two great directors. (Stay tuned, I’ll be covering some of the films later on this summer.) Go to tiff.net for showtimes.  

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

Multiple stories. Films reviewed: The Debt, Wiener-Dog

Posted in Animals, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Morality, Peru, Resistance, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 8, 2016

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

Although every movie is different, most tell a single story. But there are exceptions. This week I’m looking at two new movies that tell a whole bunch of stories, stories that are somehow tied. There’s a dark comedy with a dog-related plot, and a drama related to a plot of land.

thedebtThe Debt

Dir: Barney Elliot

This movie is made up of three or four linked stories all set in Peru.

Oliver (Stephen Dorff) is a successful financier who works for a multinational bank. He specializes in vulture funds with debt bonds from distressed economies. His current goal? To corner the market in Peruvian real estate debt. He works with his idealistic Peruvian friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) to snap up debt at deep discount. But will Ricardo agree to business that might hurt his country?

Maria (Elsa Olivero) is a nurse at a Lima hospital. She’s trying to arrange an 13497864_592914470881753_5287121575246588419_ooperation for her mother who suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get surgery scheduled for her mom. Will she have to resort to illegal methods?

Meanwhile in a remote mountainous area, a slick real estate developer named Caravedo (Carlos Bardem) is promising the sky to gullible farmers. Health clinics, electricity, telephones… They are quick to sell, except one die-hard farmer named Florentino (Amiel Cayo). He is angry and will never give in.

13433132_592914790881721_5890480114800983280_oAnd on Florentino’s farm, his son, Diego (Marco Antonio Ramírez) is fascinated by the helicopters he sees. They carry wealthy investors from far away. But they also wreak havoc with his llamas, whom he depends on..

The Debt is a complex story, that brings the diverse plot together by the end. It’s done in the style of movies like Paul Haggis’s Crash – lots of interrelated characters who interact in unexpected ways. It deals with big issues – multinational economies, farmers driven from their land – but in a rather ponderous way. Lots of guilt, responsibility, betrayal, selfishness – things like that. Not my favourite type of movie, but it held my interest and I liked all the Peruvian actors.

88e6a62f-e132-4aed-af9b-694ce3559c7bWiener-Dog

Wri/Dir: Todd Solondz

This movie also has four stories, but told in a linea way, and only peripherally connected. They are all set present day New York City and the suburbs and towns around it.

Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is a young boy recovering from chemotherapy. He’s a survivor. His rich but uptight parents (Tracy Letts and Julie WD-7-20-15-125.CR2Delpy) They buy him a short haired dachshund at a puppy mill. But they don’t realize it will open a whole lot of hard-to answer questions. Like do dogs have feelings? What happens if they get sick? Why should she get spayed. — what if she wants to have kids? His mother is forced to concoct more and more outlandish stories to answer the boy’s questions.

In the second story the depressed and friendless Dawn WD-6-19-15-111.CR2Wiener (Greta Gerwig) meets her old teenage crush, the bully Brandon (Kieren Culkin). Brandon is passing through town and sees the girl he used to call Wiener Dog with her very own Wiener dog. On a whim, she agrees to join him on a mysterious road trip to Ohio. What’s in Ohio? She asks. Crystal meth. On the way they meet a band of mariachi hitchhikers and Brandon’s Down syndrome brother.

WD-7-6-15-88.CR2The third story is about Schmertz (Danny Devito) an over-the-hill scriptwriter with only a wiener dog to keep him company. He is forced to teach self-centred rich kids at a Manhattan film school. His students all write plotless scripts based on their gender-studies relevance not their stories. Where’s the What If? He always asks them. “You gotta have a what if.” But if he doesn’t come up with a what if for his life, he risks being fired.

In the final story, we see an angry depressed grandmother WD-7-8-15-144.CR2(Ellen Burstyne), cared for by another old woman. They never speak, except the occasional requests: Yvette — Kaopectate! Her new pet — wiener-dog of course – she names Cancer. It just seems appropriate. But she has to to come to terms with her own past and precarious future when a visiting granddaughter drops by.

I love Todd Solondz’s movies, even the ones that don’t quite work. They’re all fascinating, funny and deeply depressing. HeWD-6-19-15-589.CR2 creates complex, reflexive stories often with repeated plotlines. The Wiener Family has also appeared in his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse as well as Palindoromes, so if you follow his movies, it’s gratifying to see what happens to those characters. I love his painfully sad comedies, including this one. The acting is fantastic, especially Ellen Burstyn.

Wiener-dog is great.

The Debt and Wiener-dog 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

Boys will be boys. Films Reviewed: Weiner, Swiss Army Man

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, documentary, Manhattan, Meltdown, Mental Illness, Morality, Politics, Scandal, US by CulturalMining.com on July 1, 2016

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

Boys will be boys. By boys I mean men, and a lot of us behave like idiots, get caught, and then end up doing it all over again. Because boys will be boys. This week I’m looking at two American movies about guys being guys. There’s a documentary about a politician trying to revive his moribund career; and a comedy/drama about a guy trying to revive his expired buddy.

e45efdca-1789-4f65-a222-f879fac82d5eWeiner

Dir: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Anthony Weiner was a rising young politician representing part of Brooklyn in the US congress. He was a progressive Democrat, tried and true, and a popular politician – he even appeared as a guest on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. He was outgoing, friendly, smart and funny. But he was 248dd2e3-708d-4c8d-b3db-36534ed5d9a2forced to resign his seat following a so-called scandal. Basically, he did some sexting – sending sexual selfies by email – to a woman he met online, but never encountered in person. He flirted with a woman online, sent a picture, Weiner shows his wiener – there’s the entire scandal. But it was enough to bring him 1a1956f2-dd46-4d59-8781-b3a8098727b2down.

So, a few years later he thinks, maybe I should try again. Maybe, I don’t want to live my life as a guy with a funny name that the punchline of a joke. Maybe the people have forgiven me, and they like what I’m saying. So he decides to run for Mayor of New York City – his hometown.

He travels around the five boroughs, he shakes hands, kisses babies, tries local food. He marches in parades. And he gives speeches ff8d5107-d4eb-4cd9-aa44-72c98eacef26everywhere – in person, on TV, on the radio. And his popularity grows. But then, remember those selfies, those sexts he sent? Turns out he sent more than one. Scandal!!

Weiner is a fantastic fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows the spectacle of an American political campaign. The cameras are allowed into his home, behind 6cf67874-1a86-4e85-a24d-665a2fb32a7fthe scenes in his headquarters, his phone calls, everything. And you see his campaign crumble before your very eyes… it’s painful. Most of all for his wife, Huma Abedin. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a smart, beautiful, high-powered political staffer for the Democratic party. She’s also Hillary Clinton’s top aid. And in this movie, she’s the long suffering wife of Anthony Weiner who causes her so much trouble. Great documentary.

SWAST_89_M2.0V4.0Swiss Army Man

Dir: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Hank (Paul Dano) lives the life of a beachcomber on a remote island in the Pacific. He camps out there, living on the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on shore. But he’s no happy camper: No luck with girls, his dad doesn’t like him, no friends. It’s not clear how he washed up on this beach, but, however he got here he’s clearly lonely, misunderstood and depressed. In fact the movie begins with him hanging himself. That is until something new washes up on shore. A person!

Well, a dead body, actually. Hank tries to revive him but he’s clearly just a fully-dressed corpse. But this is no ordinary dead man – this one is full of gas – he loudly farts into the sand. Using this expelled gas, Hank manages to climb on top of him, like a skidoo, and ride him across the ocean.

And when they touch land again, Hank decides to keep him around as a new friend. He calls him Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Manny’s very useful. When it rains his body fills with water, and Hank can use him like a water fountain – punch him in the stomach and water shoots out his mouth.

But he’s not just a human “Swiss Army Knife”. After a few days, he begins to _02_9440 small jpegspeak. Manny is a tabula rasa, like a newborn babe who knows nothing. It’s up to Hank to educate him about the birds and the bees, truth and lies, and the meaning of life. Finally, Hank has found a real friend. Someone he can share his deepest secrets with. Someone he can share his stale Cheetos with! And as Manny slowly comes back to life, the two of them decide it’s time to look for civilization and move back into the real world.

But is the real world ready for a talking corpse and an oddball loner?

Swiss Army Man is a weird movie. It’s a fantasy seen through the eyes of someone not quite right in the head. It has big stars but with a low-budget indie feel. It’s funny, stupid, weird, cute, quirky and actually sort of touching. I kinda liked it. On the surface it seems like a reboot of Cast Away, where Tom Hanks makes friends with a volleyball. But it’s not. This one doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously – that’s it’s best point.

Weiner and Swiss Army Man 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

Blend in, fight back or run away? Movies reviewed: Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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

When faced with a monolithic system, do you fight back, try to blend in or run away? This week, I’m looking at movies about people trying to make the land their own. We’ve got soldiers and slaves heading into the swamp; a boy and his uncle heading into the bush; and a teenaged girl heading into the jungle… of modelling.

13502538_1122801797742983_2500767010940376674_oNeon Demon

Wri/Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives)

Jesse (Elle Fanning, Ginger and Rosa) is a small-town girl recently arrived in L.A. She’s there to make it big as a fashion model. But to do that you need connections. Right away, she meets Dean an earnest young photographer (Karl Glusman, Love). He takes some photos for her portfolio. Then, at a nightclub filled with neon she meets three women ready to lend a hand. Two blonde supermodels named Sara and Gigi (American Abby Lee and Aussie Bella Heathcote) and a makeup artist. Red-haired Ruby (Jena Malone) says she knows all the right people.

Almost immediately, Jesse starts her dizzying rise to the top. She signs with a major agency, lands a gig with a famous photographer, and is chosen as the lead 13115958_1092780254078471_5268238841686621476_omodel in a runway show. A star is born.

But beneath its shiny veneer this world is rotten to the core. She still sleeps in a super-seedy motel room. Hank, her skeezy landlord (Keanu Reeves) is a serial predator always on the lookout for victims. Jesse is startled to find wild animals animals climbing through her window. Other models she encounters are just bitter vipers waiting to strike. And her makeup artist friend, Ruby? She’s a makeup artist all right — for corpses. Only Dean seems genuine…but he’s not famous, so he doesn’t fit in her new world.

13445279_1117929004896929_5538370989361420723_nWhen her so-called friends witness Jesse’s triumph at an audition they are consumed by jealousy and rage. In despair, one model smashes a mirror in the washroom. At first Jesse tries to comfort her. When she cuts her hand on the broken glass, something horrible happens. The model literally tries to suck up Jesse’s blood to gain some of her beauty and youth!

Neon Demon is a surreal fable set in the world of modeling. Danish director Refn Wilding is known for his dark, stylized urban dramas like Drive (starring Ryan Gosling). Like his other films, it has great music, pretty people and arresting images, both beautiful and hideous. I liked it, but it’s not your usual narrative. It’s strictly art-house horror, so it’s never clear whether it’s a dream, a fantasy or real life – it’s left up to you to decide.

unnamedFree State of Jones

Dir: Gary Ross

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a Confederate soldier from Mississippi. He’s a medic, so he sees his fair share of death at the frontlines. But when he sees a young boy (Jacob Lofland, Mud), a draftee from his home town, killed on his first day, he’s FREE STATE OF JONEShad enough. Newt takes his body back for a proper funeral. Which makes him a deserter.

Back in Jones County he discovers the problems aren’t just at the front – they’re behind the lines too. All the men and boys are being sent to die defending slavery, but the actual slave owners – anyone with more than 20 slaves – is exempt from serving. This war is being fought for rich people, the cotton plantation owners, not for the poor farmers like him and all his neighbours. Not just that. The army is stealing all the food, FREE STATE OF JONESclothing, practically anything of value from the poor farmers in what they called taxation. They need it to feed the troops they say. But they leave the plantations untaxed and untouched. The raids are all led by the villanous Lt Barbour (Bill Tangradi) with his foppish blond curls.

Newt has had enough — he flees to the swamps, attacked by a vicious army dog on the way. Runaway slaves there nurse him back to health and become his new family. In particular, beautiful Rachel (the wonderful British/South African actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a house slave who serves as a secret go-FREE STATE OF JONESbetween for the runaways and slaves still on the plantation. And the self-named Moses (Mahershala Ali) a righteous leader who escaped with a hideous iron contraption still locked around his neck.

Word spreads and poor white farmers join Newt’s makeshift army. He declares a free state in Jones and FREE STATE OF JONESneighbouring counties. He deems them all free men, both black and white, says farmers can reap what they sow, and that no one will ever go to war again for the rich. They start like Robin Hood, taking back food the army is stealing. But end up going to battle against the Confederate government from deep within Mississippi.

This is a fascinating, true story. It’s timely too. with the rise of populism in American politics. Warning – it’s a very long movie (almost feels like a mini-series). It continues long after the civil war, covering things like lynching, post-war slavery and KKK terror, rarely mentioned in mainstream movies. It’s the first time I’ve heard about this slice of history — a genuine civil rights movement born deep in Mississippi, in the midst of civil wat.

HUNTTHD-01_KeyArt_FMtrimHunt for the Wilderpeople

Dir: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows)

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a chubby 12 year old city kid, into hip hop and gangsta movies. He’s a “bad egg” says Paula his tough-as-nails social worker (Rachel House). He’s surly, unresponsive and a frequent runaway. Given up for adoption as an infant he’s reached his final foster home – if he doesn’t fit in here, he’ll be sent to juvie. His new 12541048_771498859649965_4286703744334521458_nhome is out in the middle of nowhere at an isolated farmhouse in the green-covered hills of New Zealand. He’s immediately welcomed by the warm and giving Bella (Rima Te Wiata). She decorates his room, makes him special food, even gives him a hot water bottle to snuggle up with at night. Her husband HFTW 1 Julian Dennison (Ricky), Sam Neill (Hec) CreditHec (Sam Neill), on the other hand won’t even give him the time of day. He’s reclusive and anti-social, but he does know his way around the woods. Ricky runs away a few times but soon realizes this is his real home with a loving mom, a new dog, he calls Tupac, and a place to write haiku.

But then disaster strikes, and his new life is imperiled. He flees into the bush to live off the land. Like the South African wildebeest he plans to walk a thousand miles. Unfortunately, he V1-0071_150525HFTWP23_620hasn’t a clue what to do. Luckily, Hec comes to his rescue to help him out. But unbeknownst to them both they become famous – in a bad way: the object of a nationwide manhunt. Can they survive in the bush without driving each other crazy?

This world is full of strange people. Like Psycho Sam, a tin-foil hat devotees and idiot city hunters who want to turn them in and collect the reward.

V1-0046_150521HFTWP17_93474This movie is told from an indigenous point of view. The director and most of the actors – though not the characters they play – are of Maori descent. The story incorporates indigenous culture. Ironically, it’s Uncle Hec, the white character, who passes on the indigenous learning that Ricky was never taught. And Ricky who shares contemporary culture and basic literacy with the isolated Hec.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good, light, family comedy. I like this movie — it’s cute and a lot of fun.

Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Tickled director David Farrier at #HotDocs

David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural miningHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

David Farrier is a New Zealand TV journalist who specializes in odd and off-beat stories. So when he sees an ad online looking for athletic young men, aged 18-23, for Competitive Endurance Tickling, he sees a potential story. But when he contacts the company, run by a secretive woman named Jane O’Brien, he gets a surprising reaction: a series of abusive and David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural mining 2threatening email.

Followed by three men flown all the way to New Zealand from LA, threatening a lawsuit if he doesn’t drop the story. Just for investigating some guys being tickled.

Tickled is also the name of a fascinating and disturbing new documentary about hidden identities, vast conspiracies, and cyber bullying. All surrounding a phenomenon – professional tickling — largely unknown to the general public. It’s co-directed by actor, journalist and crypto-zoologist David Farrier who’s also the film’s narrator and subject.

I spoke to David at Dublin Calling in Toronto at Hot Docs earlier this spring. Tickled opens today in Toronto.

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma. Movies reviewed: De Palma, Sisters, Obsession, Carrie, Blowout

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Crime, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Horror, Mental Illness, Psychological Thriller, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on June 17, 2016

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

A new documentary is opening today called simply De Palma (directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow). And that’s what it is: an interview with director Brian De Palma (director of Carrie and Scarface.) He talks directly to the camera about his career and the films he made, complete with clips. De Palma was part of the small Brian De Palma and Al Pacino on set of SCARFACE as seen in DE PALMAgroup of New Hollywood directors who broke loose in the 1970s: I’m talking Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas. He was the first one to cast Robert De Niro, who he discovered straight out of acting school.

Brian De Palma started as an experimental art-house director in NY. Then he became a genre director, specializing in horror, suspense and crime movies. Eventually, by the early 1990s, he Brian De Palma and John Travolta on set of BLOW OUT as seen in DE PALMAmoved on to big budget hits, but his movies lost their original or interesting elements.

His movies are easy to spot. He pioneered the use of the split screen. He took parallel montage – meaning to alternate simultaneous scenes — and tossed it out the window. He replaced it with split screens, a remarkably successful technique that shows two points of view at the same time, side by side.

De Palma uses split screen like an exclamation point. He’s saying: pay attention and look at this — it’s important!

Another trademark are his soft-core scenes of naked women caressing themselves in the shower, surrounded by clouds of billowing steam. Immediately followed by lots of blood. This was very controversial at the time, for combining highly sexualized images of women with scenes of violence directed toward the same characters. It led to widespread protests and boycotts of his movies (especially Body Double and Dressed to Kill).

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma is a retrospective now playing at TIFF. This week, I’m looking at some of his lesser-known films from what I call his Golden Age: the 1970s and 1980s.

mwk4wA_106_006_o3_9000592_1463580929Sisters and Obsession are two of De Palma’s earliest – and not that well-known – Hitchcock-type movies. They both star Canadian actresses.

Sisters (1973) is about a pair of beautiful twins, Dominique and Danielle (Margot Kidder, with a solid Quebecoise accent). These sisters’ lives are closely bound,  to say the least. When one of them stabs a man to death in her own qjo47D_106_007_o3_9000652_1463580940apartment, her greasy ex-husband steps to in to cover-up the crime. The body and the blood all disappear, but not before Grace, a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who lives in an adjacent building, witnesses it all. But she is hampered by a corrupt and sexist police force (a common, subversive theme in many of his movies). This film is a combination of The Lady Vanishes and Rear sisters.003Window, where it’s up to a single person not just to catch the criminal but to prove the crime even took place. While far from a masterpiece, it has Margot Kidder in one of her first feature roles (she was strictly a TV actress before this). There’s also an incredible, drug-infused, surreal scene in black and white (using a camera’s iris) set in a mental ward. The film is worth seeing just for that.

OBSESSION-SPTI-08.tifObsession (1976) is more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Michael (Cliff Robertson) is a business tycoon in New Orleans. He works with his smarmy partner Bob (John Lithgow, De Palma’s go-to villain). But when his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and his two kids are kidnapped and murdered Mike falls into a deep depression. Decades later, on a business trip to Italy, he spots a beautiful woman restoring art in a cathedral – the same church where he had met his wife. Sandra looks just like OBSESSION-SPTI-07.tifher – like time stood still. He becomes obsessed with her. They travel back to New Orleans and plan to marry. Sandra explores the house including what she finds in a sealed room. And that’s when their lives starts to unravel and deep secrets are revealed in a shocking ending.

The Hitchcock feel of these two movies was not coincidental. The story, look and sound of these movies evokes him in many scenes. De Palma intentionally hired the same composer Bernard Herrmann, that Alfred Hitchcock used in movies like North by Northwest and Psycho. Prophetically, like Hitchcock, he’s never won an Oscar.

oYmo3N_Carrie_2_o3_8998306_1463581372Carrie (1976) is much more famous – it was a big hit based on a Stephen King novel. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, the daughter of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical mother (Piper Laurie) who thinks anything sexual is a sin. So Carrie panics when she has her first period at school, not knowing what was happening. Instead of being helped, she is horribly bullied in the girls’ locker room. They throw tampons at her. Sue (Amy Irving) feels guilty so she sets Carrie up with a date for the senior prom. But Chris (Nancy Allen) takes the opposite path and plans to inflict a humiliating practical joke on her. But no pgnpEr_Carrie_10_o3_8998395_1463580862one knows that Carrie is telekinetic: she can move things with her mind.

All of this leads to the iconic prom scene, the climax of the movie, which makes use of extensive split screen 58Mkjq_Carrie_43_o3_8998438_1463580881to great effect. And I should warn you here, if you haven’t seen Carrie, watch it first, before the documentary, which is filled with spoilers. Carrie is both a heartbreaking story of adolescence and (for when it was made) scary as hell.

vgwy65_5006903_o3_8997710_1463581179Blowout (1981) is about Jack Terry (John Travolta), a sound guy. He used to wire cops, hiding microphones on their bodies to help with corruption investigations. Now he works at a two-bit recording studio in Philadelphia, recording and mixing sound effects for schlocky slasher films. One night he heads out to record wind sounds in a park, but, coincidentally, he catches the sounds of a chappaquidick-style accident: a tire blows out, and a car goes off a bridge. He dives into the river and saves a young woman trapped inside… but not the driver. He’s dead.

Turns out the driver was the late State Governor groomed to be the next President. His political X6Pv9v_FRL-42992_Blow-Out_col-slide_002_tmb_o3_8997675_1463581167team wants the whole accident to disappear. But was it an accident? Jack wants Sally, the woman from the accident (Nancy Allen — married to De Palma at the time) to help him prove that this was an assassination. And that the sounds he recorded were of a gunshot followed by a blow out. But a mysterious, murderous political fixer (John Lithgow) is working behind the scenes to make it — and all the people involved — disappear. The police seem to be part of the cover up, and Sally has some secrets of her own (she was in the car as j2BjjP_IMG0087_o3_8997801_1463581207part of a honeypot blackmail scheme.) Can Jack and Sally expose this deep, dark conspiracy?

I saw Blowout as a kid when it first came out, and it blew my mind. It was a flop and largely faded away (until recently). But I’ve always considered Blow Out to be one of De Palma’s best movies.  It’s inspired by Antonioni’s famous Blow Up, but I like it better. John Travolta is fantastic in this. The sounds and pictures in this are amazing – every shot has spectacular depth of field (like a close up of an owl taking up the right side, and Jack on a bridge far off in the distance on the left side.) This movie is made to watch on a wide screen – it feels like split screen, even when it’s not.

If you want to see just one De Palma film, let it be this one.

De Palma (the documentary) and Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma are playing now in Toronto – go to tiff.net for showtimes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Schocken and Scribner’s. Films reviewed: Vita Activa — The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, Genius

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, Biopic, Books, Cultural Mining, Germany, Manhattan, Nazi, US, WWII by CulturalMining.com on June 10, 2016

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

Movies based on books are a dime a dozen: there’s a movie option for every bestseller. But what about movies about the books and writers themselves? This week I’m looking at movies set in the mid-20th century when books really were important. There’s a documentary about a philosopher who pulls her observations together; and a biopic about an editor who cuts lengthy manuscripts apart.

Vita Activa PosterVita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt

Dir: Ada Ushpiz

It’s 1963 in Jerusalem. Adolph Eichmann is on trial there as the primary architect of the mass murder perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Covering the trial for the New Yorker  is Hanna Arendt noted German-Jewish philosopher. She observes the ultimate bland bureaucrat in a glass box who claims he has no hatred of the Jews he slaughtered and says he is not an ideologue. Arendt observes it all, and coins the term the Banality of Evil to describe it. This sets off a huge controversy. Critics accuse her of minimizing the enormity of Nazi crimes, humanizing the criminal and even partially blaming the victims.

How did she go from a girl from Hanover to a philosopher/journalist inHannah Arendt 1 Jerusalem? The path was not direct. This documentary covers the history of her life, both academic and personal, and her philosophy and writings.

Arendt lived through what she wrote about. Born in Hanover, Arendt was raised by her mother. She studied at the University of Marburg under philospher Martin Heidegger (her sometime lover) just before the Nazis came to power in 1933. She was kicked out of  school and suddenly found herself — an ordinary German — as part of a group denounced and dehumanized by government propaganda: the refugees who had fled war and revolution across Europe.  What disheartened her Hannah Arendt 2most was to see German intellectuals (including Heidegger), the very people she revered and was devoting her life to study,  incorporating Nazi rhetoric into their own writing and speeches.

She fled to Paris and continued her work. There she witnessed the rise of extremism and totalitarianism across Europe. Imprisoned in a concentration camp by the French, she escaped and made it to New York, where she wrote about totalitarianism, guilt and responsibility.

This film is a historical document that uses recorded interviews – in English, French and German — to explain her ideas and the events in her Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa, Zeitgeist Filmslife. It’s illustrated by newsreel footage, government propaganda as well as film from the Eichmann trial. Her writing and letters are read by off-screen actors. And both her critics and supporters — including Karl Jaspers and Judith Butler — are given airtime.

This is a rich and beautiful look at the work and life of Hannah Arendt.  It also deals with the debate on her philosophy and the controversies around her coverage of the Eichmann trial. I think this films does a better job than the dramas made about her life.

Genius PosterGenius

Dir: Michael Grandage

Max Perkins (Colin Firth) is a top editor at Scribners and sons, a major New York publisher of fiction. He’s known for championing an unknown writer. He picks up a messy pile of paper, cuts out the unnecessary parts and rewrites it Boom – instant bestseller. Max – known for the fedora he never takes off his head — is the invisible force behind F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He’s the one who edited The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

When he’s not at work he’s commuting to the outer suburbs, a bastion of Anglo privilege and conservatism with his wife Louise (Laura Linney) and their five daughters.

But suddenly something upsets the apple cart. A manuscript 7X2A4831.cr2arrives, courtesy of Broadway costume designer Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman). She’s married with children but champion an unknown writer whose work has been rejected across the industry. He reads it it and is blown away. And who appears his door but Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), a youngish man with messy hair and a brown suit with a heavy southern drawl. He shouts and performs rather than converses. As soon as they meet, the older, bookish Max and the young undisciplined Tom become fast friends and devote all their time trying to convert 1000s of messy pages a pile into a coherent readable novel. Cut, cut, cut says Max. But this is my life! 7X2A3167.cr2protests Tom. The book is published to phenomenal success. And then on to the next manuscript to the chagrine of their famileis and livers But will their bromance outlast Tom’s brush with fame?

13416962_1731661510436823_7285708826814410368_oGenius is an interesting film about writing and editing. That’s what I liked about it.

(Full disclosure: when I’m not reviewing movies I’m editing books – that’s my other job.) I love editing… but is it ever exciting? The movie is filled with writers typing and scribbling, and scribbling away passages with a red pencil. But what the movie really needs is a good edit! It’s filled with tons of speechifying and grandstanding (and dare I say overacting?) Do real writers, even famous ones, talk like they write? Of course not. But in this movie they do.

It’s done as a period piece, complete with beautiful interwar cityscapes, 13418669_1732542140348760_2521662994238663257_operiod costumes and cars, and a great cast. But somehow this movie manages to be both bookish and overwrought.

Spring festival season continues with ICFF, the Italian Contemporary Film Festival and the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, and NIFF, the Niagara Integrated Film Festival. Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Genius starts next week in Toronto and Vancouver.

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

Daniel Garber speaks with Kristin Archibald about I Love You Both

Posted in Cultural Mining, Family, LGBT, Movies, Romantic Comedy, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

IMG_8094Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Krystal and Donny (Kristin and Doug Archibald) are twenty-something twins. They are closer than close: they live together, share secret codes, and text each other whenever they’re apart. Sometimes they even crawl into the other’s bedroom for comfort. And they need it — with their dead-end jobs and horrible relationships.

But at a mutual birthday party a new face enters the picture. Andy (Lucas Neff) is the ILoveYouBoth1nicest guy either of them have ever met. And both straight Krystal and gay Donny are head-over-heels in love. But who’s the third wheel here? And which one does he love? The answer may surprise you.

I Love You Both is the name of a new first film, having its international premier at Toronto’s Inside-Out Festival. The award-winning movie explores bisexuality, kinship and twinship. It was made by a real-life brother and sister: Kristin and Doug Archibald.

I spoke with Kristin at CIUT in Toronto.

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