Skool Daze. Movies reviewed: Boychoir, It Follows, The Riot Club

Posted in Class, Cultural Mining, Drama, Horror, Kids, Movies, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Are school days the best days of our lives? Or a journey through the nine stages of hell? This week I’m looking at three movies: a drama about a choir school for boys, a horror movie about high school students, and a dark tale set at Oxford University.

Photography By Myles AronowitzBoychoir
Dir: Francois Girard (The Red Violin)

Stet (Garret Wareing) is a dirt-poor kid in Odessa, Texas. His mom’s an addict and the boy runs rampant at school, picking fights and acting out his frustrations. Mom ODs, Stet’s an orphan, so he’s taken under the wing of his school principal (Debra Winger). She recognizes his musical talent and angelic voice, and convinces his biological father to send him to American Boy Choir an elite music school on the east coast.

He may be talented, but he has no training – he’s musically 896a532c-bd1d-4e4d-870d-38b382f5e407 Dustin Hoffman in Boychoirilliterate. Other kids bully him, and he retreats farther and farther into himself. The teachers at the school react differently. Drake (Eddie Izzard) is a priggish snot – he thinks Stet’s challenging his own protégé, the prize soloist Devon,  so he offers no help; Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) is a egotistical tyrant, but he sees himself in young Stet. He gets more sympathy from Wooly, a young teacher (Kevin McHale) and the pragmatic schoolmistress (Kathy Bates). Stet’s father (Josh Lucas) supports him financially, but keeps his existence a secret – is he ashamed of his own son?

Photography By Myles AronowitzIt’s up to Stet himself to study and practice if he ever wants to sing solo in the travelling choir and reveal his amazing talent. He can reach and hold a high “D” – the holy grail for young singers. But time is ticking. He’s twelve years old, and his voice may change at any moment.

Boychoir is heavy-duty weeper, but I liked it. My eyes teared up at least 5 times over the course of the movie. I realize it’s intentionally pulling all the sentimental strings but it still works. Aside from a few acting missteps and bungled scenes, Stet and the rest of the kids play their roles naturally and sing very well. Boychoir shows how young kids can be both innocent and cruel.

629a894c-6ed1-4f8c-bbf4-e4664ebfb9a7It Follows
Dir: David Robert Mitchell

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager who lives a quiet and dull suburban life with her sister and her friends. She’s dating Hugh (Jake Weary) an older guy. He’s pretty nice, if a bit weird. One night they drive out to a deserted area and have sweet sex in the back seat of his car.

Next thing you know she’s tied to a chair in an abandoned 8ca0fd9e-e409-4f69-a7f2-d902e94d077aparking lot! It gets worse: Hugh says he infected her with an incurable STI. And not just that: this “infection” means someone or something will always be following her, and if it catches her she’s dead. And only she can see it but it’s real, and can change its appearance at will. An old lady in a hospital gown. A naked, middle-aged guy on a roof. A feral kid. You can outrun it, but it never stops coming.

deb8edab-19f9-43c4-bf02-b904ebdcb584Your only cure is to pass it on to the next person by having sex. As long as they’re still alive, you’re safe. When they’re gone, you’re next in line again.

So Jay and her friends (basically there are no adults in this movie) – her sister, a shy boy with a crush, a smart girl, the dude across the street – together they try to keep her, and themselves, safe from this thing.762937db-6c02-48be-85c4-1e0ce9523704

This movie is oddly calm, but terrifying. It’s filled with white suburban fear and angst… and lots of casual sex. This is not your regular Hollywood teen horror movie; it feels more like an indie pic with its unconventional characters and normcore aesthetic. But it’s the plainness, the ordinariness of the creature that will scare your pants off.

10154919_1001948323154626_384318691203502678_nThe Riot Club
Dir: Lalo Schiffrin

When Miles (Max Irons) starts at Oxford, he’s a hellofa nice guy. He’s smart, personable and good-looking. He’s also filthy rich, complete with stately mansion and Westminster education. He’s paired up with Alistair (Sam Claflin) for their two-person tutorials, and it’s a study in contrasts. Alistair is an insufferable snob, a stuck-up, disagreeable prick. The two of them are chosen to join a secret fraternal organization of ten young men; notably no women, since this club thinks of females as comodities, not 1926768_951500188199440_3355565866358656126_npeople. It’s known as the Riot Club. More than two centuries old, it’s devoted to the best eating, drinking and debauchery money can buy. Its members are all handsome, witty, self-confident and well connected. The ten of them will go on to rule the finances and government of the UK and the world.

While not a rebel, Miles doesn’t think much about class and status and is dating a pretty girl, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), from a decidedly non-posh background. But things take a sinister 10662061_944410158908443_3913457697926683186_oturn at a dinner initiation. Anything is permitted at the country pub, and any damages are paid off in cash. The ten of them arrive in white ties and tails, but their behavior is anything but formal. In this movie, the upper class is less Downton Abbey, more Clockwork Orange (with ordinary people as their victims). Will both Miles and Alistair take part these excesses? Or will Miles stay true to his girlfriend Lauren?

I can’t say I loved this movie – it’s quite disturbing. It’s the opposite of a feel-good movie. It’s a feel bad movie. Sadly, the story is modelled on an actual group, the Bullingdon Club. They say its cynical, aristocratic members still rule Britannia, including London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the article-2407406-1B8A4305000005DC-25_634x489Exchequer and even UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Excellent acting, great script (based on the play POSH) The Riot Club is a well-made, powerful film… but not a nice one.

Boychoir, It Follows and The Riot Club all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Saul Pincus and actor Knickoy Robinson about their film Nocturne

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Movies, Romantic Comedy by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Cindy is a shy woman on meds who works at a cubical job at her aunt’s company. Her parents had high hopes for her when she published a kids’ book at age 8, but now she’s fallen on hard times and can barely take care of herself. At work she encounters Armen, a much younger man, with a strange condition. When he falls into a deep sleep he can walk, eat, use the bathroom — perhaps even drive a car. All with no memory of anything he does. Armen may be just the sort of boyfriend Cindy needs. Talk about a dysfunctional cast---Knickoy-RobinsonBackrelationship; he doesn’t even know who she is. And neither of them realizes theres a criminal conspiracy going on all around them. Will they ever meet for real? Or will they forever be separated by a nocturnal divide? Nocturne-Poster-Small-SizeNocturne is the name of an unusual, new Canadian movie showing in Toronto as part of the Canadian Film Fest. It was co-written and directed by Saul Pincus and stars Mary Krohnert as Cindy and Knickoy Robinson as the sleepwalking Armen. I spoke to Saul and Knickoy in Toronto. They talked about Australia,  introversion vs extroversion, film editing, acting, consciousness, souvlaki, sleepwalking, “blindness”, animation, dreaming, Niagara Falls, Toronto, co-writer Mitch Magonet, international appeal… and more! Nocturne premiers at the Canadian Film Fest on Saturday, March 28th at 6 pm.

Film noir. Films reviewed: Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck, Double Indemnity, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers PLUS Tracers

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Film Noir, Movies, Parkour, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 20, 2015

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) Directed by Anatole Litvak Shown: Barbara StanwyckHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Film Noir. Those dark, mysterious B&W thrillers from the 1940s, full of intrigue, lies, murder, and adultery. They abound with low-lifes, power-hungry toughs, private eyes and femmes fatales. And one of the key players was Barbara Stanwyck.  Strong, sexy and smart, she ruled the Hollywood screen. A retrospective, Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck is now playing at TIFF.  I’ll admit I’d heard her name but hadn’t seen her films until now. Wow! I get her now: She played powerful women in an era when that meant you’re either evil, immoral, or psychotic.

So this week I’m going to look at two of her film noir movies from the 1940s: there’s a seedy seductress testing the waters of insurance fraud, and a female industrialist with a secret past who might have an affair; and a new release, a noir-ish crime thriller about a young bike courier who jumps, feet first, into organized crime.

98LxN8_DoubleIndemnity_001_(FRL)_o3_8515542_1421266065Double Indemnity
Dir: Billy Wilder, Wri: Raymond Chandler

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) is an insurance agent in L.A. He’s a bachelor, devoted to his job. The one man he looks up to is the firm’s investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G Robinson). Keyes is the one who uncovers the crooked scammers trying to push through dubious claims on their accounts. He says “the little man inside” him can always detect when something’s fishy.

One day, when Neff visits an oil man to renew his insurance policy, he instead encounters the man’s wife. Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) is a vivacious blonde in a bathrobe who isn’t shy about her good looks. She flirts openly with him, but he smells a scam brewing so he brushes her off. But soon enough they’re together again, making love and plotting an insurance scheme. It would pay her “double indemnity” — a huge amount of money — if the husband dies accidentally in a particular way. He goes for it like a dumb dog, blinded by lust. But after the deed is done, he finds himself in a double bind as the result of his actions. Keyes is suspicious, so Neff can’t see the woman he wants to be with. And Neff begins to suspect there is more to Phyllis than meets the eye.

This is a fantastic, dark story told by a dying man.

98LxVZ_Strange_Love_Martha_1946_2_o3_8516142_1421266090The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Dir: Lewis Milestone

Martha Ivers is a teenaged orphan in Iverstown a city that bears her family name. She lives with her rich and powerful aunt and an ineffectual boy named Walter, her tutor’s obedient son. Her only friend is a blustering ruffian itching for a fight. Sam is from the wrong side of town but Martha’s attraction transcends class. She tries to run away with him but is brought back by her cruel aunt. But on the very night that they plan to escape Iverstown forever, something happens. In a fit of anger Martha strikes and kills her aunt. Walter sees it happen, but helps her cover up the crime. And in return for his silence she later marries him.

Flash forward 20 years. Sam (Van Heflin) comes back to Iverstown, almost by accident. He discovers his old love Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) now rules the place. She’s a powerful woman who turned her aunt’s small fortune into a huge legacy. Her husband, Walter (Kirk Douglas – his first film), is the District Attorney. Walter is a depressed alcoholic, still madly in love with Martha, who merely puts up with him. They live in separate wings of her mansion. Sam, meanwhile, meets a pretty ex-con on parole named Toni (Lizabeth Scott) and vows to help her out. He asks Walter for a hand, for old times sake.

But when Martha and Sam meet again, an old love is rekindled. Walter attempts to nip it in the bud by having Sam roughed up and driven out of town. But nobody kicks Sam around without paying the consequences. This menage a quatre, involving the highest of the high and the lowest of the low, is played out in a rough urban setting. This is an amazing film, largely forgotten, from an era where the poor and downtrodden were more sympathetic than the rich and powerful. Barbara Stanwyck is amazing, as this self-made powerful woman… and potential psychopath.

Tracers
Keyart_TracersDir: Daniel Benmayor

Cam (Taylor Lautner, the wolf-boy in the Twilight series) is an orphan in New York City who works as a bike courier. One day on a ride, he notices some ninja-types bouncing on top of the buildings he zooms past. But when one of them, a woman named Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos) jumps down from a rooftop, he ends up in an accident. He flies through the air,_12A7632.CR2 landing right on top of her. It totals his bike, which puts his sole income in jeopardy: he holds a debt to a loan shark. He needs money … and he really likes Nikki.

After passing a complex test he ends up joining her secretive gang. Turns out they work freelance, pulling off carefully-planned jewel heists and drug deals. Their secret weapon? They’re all skilled in parkour, the French sport of running, climbing and jumping of buildings, which renders them unbeatable. _12A6381.cr2But they all have to answer to Miller (Adam Rayner), the self-proclaimed “alpha dog” of this pack. And he doesn’t want anybody messing with his plans… or his girlfriend Nikki. Can Cam pay off his debt, escape this criminal life, and get together with his new true love?

Tracers is a feeble action-thriller, with plot holes so big you could drive a convoy of trucks through them. Teen idol Taylor Lautner is as one- dimensional as always, though Rayner and Avgeropoulos and some of the side actors in smaller roles are somewhat better. A silly movie for sure but I really liked the jumping, climbing and the rest of the parkour chase scenes, They’re great! And I hear Lautner did his own stunts. Is Tracers worth seeing? If you like parkour, definitely. If not, don’t bother.

Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck is playing at TIFF through the month. And Tracers opens today in Toronto and on Pay on Demand. Check your local listings. Also opening today is the Water Docs Festival at Jackman Hall at the AGO – a documentary series… about water!

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

Daniel Garber talks to director Majdi El-Omari about his new film STANDSTILL

Majdi El-Omari STandstillHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Karhiio is a Mohawk science student in Toronto who steals some offensive nicknacks he sees in a souvenir shop and goes to jail. His Dad, John, a war photographer, drives out from Montreal to meet him there. He owes his son a debt for breaking up with his ex-wife, an artist. But he also has a responsibility to his neighbour in Montreal: Widad, a Palestinian woman who is hiding in plain sight after a crime. Until he addresses his obligations, his life is at a stand still.

Standstill is also the name of a new Canadian movie. It’s a film where English is rarely standstillspoken — not so unusual for a film from Montreal. What is unusual is that most of the characters speak Kanien’kehà:ka, the language of the Mohawk First Nations, and possibly the first such film ever made. Shot in beautiful black and white, it’s a pensive character study of three alienated and misplaced souls.

It’s directed by award-winning filmmaker Majdi El-Omari, and Standstill is his first feature. It opens in Toronto at the Royal Cinema on March 13th, 2015.

I spoke to Majdi by telephone from Montreal. The Palestinian-Canadian director talks about the Oka crisis, Quebec, indigenous people, the film’s genesis, existentialism, media stereotypes, resistance, the role of police, internal violence, cultural representations, the Mohawk language, and more!

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil. Dying of Laughter, A Ferpect Crime, Witching and Bitching PLUS ’71

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Spain, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 13, 2015

Q153nG_lastcircus_o3_8514727_1421789020Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Alex de la Iglesia is a Spanish director known for his dark, violent comedies, many with a hint of horror and the supernatural. The battles of the sexes is his bread and butter, his stories filled with arrogant, strutting men cut down to size by cruel women. Rivalry, lust, fear and vengeance are the emotions, all seen against the setting of contemporary Spain. And the scary parts? Witches, ghosts, killer… and clowns. Hideous, scary clowns!

Álex de la Iglesia: Dancing with the Devil, a retrospective of his films is showing now at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. This week I’m talking about some of his films, looking at the rise of themes like sexual conflict and the supernatural over the course of his career. Plus a new action-thriller about The Troubles in Belfast.

Q15VQq_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_3_o3_8514371_1421789008Dying of Laughter
(Muertos de Risa)

… is an early film of his where the war between the sexes is played out, by proxy, by an odd couple.

Nino and Bruno (Santiago Segura, El Gran Wyoming) are Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – a two-man comedy team. Their act is simple: Fast-talking Bruno provides the chatter, until it comes time for chubby Nino to respond. Struck with perpetual stage-fright he just stares straight ahead, unable to speak. And then comes the punchline: Bruno slaps Nino’s face. That’s their shtick and it never fails to have the audience rolling in the aisles. They vg9OWg_Dying_of_Laughter_col_slide_1_o3_8514310_1421789002don’t change the act, just the silly costumes they wear. (Nino insists on always wearing the same pair of socks – never washed – for good luck.) They become stars, rich and famous, and build their homes right beside each other.

The problem? They hate each other’s guts! They are consumed with rage and jealousy, each thinking the other is more talented and more attracted to women. They concoct elaborate schemes to ruin their partners and the source of their fame and fortune. And they just might die of laughter…

A bit more supernatural, and heavier on the man vs woman theme is

Vm08Po_Ferpectcrime07_o3_8514673_1421789014A Ferpect Crime
(El Crimen Ferpecto)

Raf (Guillermo Toledo) is the best salesman at the Yeyo department store. He was actually born there, and knows every nook and cranny. He treats it like his personal fiefdom – the silk bathrobes, the lobster and champagne, and kingsize beds. Loaded with self-confidence, he can charm the pants off any woman he meets – and he’s met a lot of them. He’s always surrounded by beautiful saleswomen who want to sleep him, and men who want to be him. Raf’s life is dedicated to high aesthetic values: beauty, quality and prestige. He is opposed on principle to marriage, families and suburban living. But his job and his future are in danger when, in a scuffle after closing, GZQPZ5_Ferpectcrime05_o3_8514619_1421789007his rival, Don Antonio, ends up dead.

The death is witnessed by Lourdes (Mónica Cervera) an unattractive and shy saleswoman. She’s also the only woman he refuses to sleep with on aesthetic grounds. But she’s not as dumb as she looks. After she helps him dispose of the body (she is a former butcher) he is forced to give in to her desire… maybe even marry her. The greenish ghost of Don Antonio warns Raf of her treachery. He will need a perfect crime to get rid of her once and for all… but who will win?

These themes, plus a mammoth dose of the supernatural come to a head in one of his most recent films

2R1nrJ_witchingbitching_09_o3_8515335_1421789031Witching and Bitching
Las brujas de Zugarramurdi

Jose and Antonio – a divorced misogynist and a dumb jock — have a perfect plan. Dressed as a silver Jesus and a green plastic soldier, they knock over a pawn shop. They grab a taxi and escape with a bag of loot – thousands of abandoned wedding rings – and the divorced man’s 10 year old son. But he is hotly pursued by his fuming ex-wife and the police tracking her. After an exciting chase the motley crew – the gangsters and the people in the cab — land up a small Basque town lOMK66_witchingbitching_01_o3_8515203_1421789033country named Zugarramurdi. A town run by witches, who view men as fodder for their evil spells.

It ends up as a face off between the whole panoply of male vs women: On the men’s side are the selfish boy, the sex-crazed guy, the bitter divorced man, the wary cab driver, and the clueless, detached older guy. But they are no match for three generations of witches, plus a furious ex-wife. Only the rebel biker granddaughter witch, who’d rather sleep with men than torture and eat them, provides a chink in the armour. But can they escape the world’s largest coven and the Great Satan himself?

The films of Alex de la Iglesia provide just the right balance between sex, violence and gross-outs —  and giddy laughs. They’re not for everyone, but I really like his horror-comedy combinations.

10960424_308995695976723_8427525493433940388_o‘71
Dir: Yann Demange

It’s 1971, and Gary (Jack O’Connell: Skins, Starred Up, Unbreakable) wants to learn a skill and see the world. He hugs his little brother goodbye and sets off with the British Army for his first foreign posting. But he doesn’t get further than Belfast, Northern Ireland.

The city is in the midst of The Troubles and is divided on religious and political grounds. The IRA unionists are Catholic – they want to join the Republic to the south. The protestant loyalists want to stay within the UK. And within these groups, on both sides, 10868016_293166914226268_8893011712378773515_nthere are militants (like the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteers) who seem to relish the idea of killing some people on the way. So the streets of that city are divided by walls and twisting allies, punctuated by Molotov cocktails and ticking time bombs. And fresh out of boot camp is Jack’s squad, plunked down onto the mean streets on his very first day. As luck would have it – bad luck – his army buddy gets shot in the head and he sees the shooters’ faces. But he gets separated from his unit. So he’s all alone in this hellhole. He meets a guide – a tough, wee lad — who 10352272_288200604722899_1580563761024035270_ntakes him in an out of windows and down deserted allies – and a father and daughter who help him hide. But both sides, and perhaps even elements of the army, want him dead. He’s seen too much.

This is a great, exciting action-thriller about a sympathetic young man who catches the brunt of horrific violence… and realizes he’s part of the forces causing all the trouble. ’71 is a war movie, but not a pro-war movie.

’71 opens today in Toronto, check your local listings, and the Álex de la Iglesia retrospective continues through March. Go to tiff.net for details. Also opening today is Harold Crook’s great documentary The Price We Pay, about off-shore banking and what it does to our economy. I interviewed him last December.

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

Movies Reviewed: Kidnapping Mr Heineken, Serial (Bad) Weddings, Wild Tales

Posted in 1980s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Netherlands, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 5, 2015

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

I’m happy to say that Xavier Dolan’s brilliant Mommy swept up the prizes at the Canadian Screen Awards last weekend. And they’re releasing new indies, such as the Valley Below, set in the Alberta badlands. Good to know Canada is still making great movies. But what are people watching in other countries? This week I’m looking at three mainstream movies : a dark comedy from Argentina, a light comedy from France, and a crime drama from the Netherlands.

KFH__02707_rgbKidnapping Mr. Heineken
Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Based on the true crime book by Pieter de Vries

It’s Amsterdam in 1983, and the economy’s in a downturn. And a business run by five guys (with names like Spike, Cat, Cor and Willem) goes bottom up. Their assets won’t get you a cup of coffee during a recession. They vow never to be a wage slave to someone else – they want to be their own bosses. But you need money to make money. What to do?

Brothers-in-law tough-guy Willem (Sam Worthington) and idea-man Cor (Jim Sturgess) comeFH-1990_rgb up with a fool proof plan – the perfect crime. They’re not exactly strangers to the rougher side of life, but this will take it a whole new level. They’re going to kidnap that beer brewery billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins)! And the prize? More guilders than any crime in Netherlands history. First, in a KFH__01204_rgbdaring move, they knock over some Brinks trucks and escape with the cash in a uniquely Dutch way: they race through the canals of Amsterdam in a powerboat, pursued by cop cars. Next, they find an out-of-the-way location and build undetectable, soundproof rooms. Finally, in a carefully planned adventure, they grab the beer magnate and KFH__00951_rgbhis driver, and truck them off to their hideaway. They speak in German and never show their faces. But as the weeks pass with still no payoff, their confidence starts to fray.

Will they get the money and keep it? Can the five men trust each other or is there a snitch? And will there be blood spilled on the way? This is an OK crime movie, shot in English in Amsterdam with a British and Dutch cast. Hopkins is barely in it, he’s locked up in a cell, so the film depends on Worthington and Sturgess. They’re not bad but not terrific. The movie itself is enjoyable – with thrills, chases, shootouts – but it didn’t really grab me. The regular-guy criminals just weren’t that compelling, even in a true crime story.

Serial_Bad_Weddings_-_parentsSerial (Bad) Weddings
(Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?)
Dir: Philippe de Chauveron

The upper-class Verneuil Family consists of Claude and Marie (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) and their four lovely daughters. They live on a palatial estate in Chinon, France. They are devout Catholics who still pine for old France, and the days of Charles De Gaulle. They duly send their lovely daughters off to Paris to be educated. But imagine the parents’ surprise when three of them get married: to Rachid, an Arab Muslim (Ooh la la), David, a Jew (mon dieu) and Chau Ling, a Chinese man (aaaarghh!). But they aren’t even French, the parents say – they are the sons of immigrants. Things come to a head when the parents show up for their grandson’s circumcision. Claude shows his bigotry and the family is torn apart. But time heals all wounds, and a few years later things have smoothed out. Claude and Marie joyously await the arrival of their fourth son-in-law-to-be: Charles! He’s French and he’s Catholic…at last.

But guess who’s coming to dinner? Charles is actually Ivorian, from West Africa. And his dad, an serial_bad_weddings_-_churchold school military man (Pascal N’Zonzi) is as conservative and bigoted as Claude. He arrives in France looking for a fight, and Clause is ready and willing. Can the fourth wedding ever take place? Or is this the straw that will break the camel’s back, and will the wedding ruin the Verneuil clan forever? And can different ethnic groups ever get along in a new France?

For some reason – perhaps because all the ethnic tension – this comedy is a smash hit in France and Quebec. And it’s a cute and gentle crowd-pleaser. Unlike most Hollywood comedies there’s no nudity, puking or potty humour. But doesn’t take any risks either. The ethnic stereotypes are tired, and the characters are mainly bland. The daughters have barely sketched characters, and the sons, while slightly more developed, their insults to one another stick to groaner stereotypes: muslims are angry, Chinese eat dogs, Jews are good with money. Luckily, the parents, especially the dads are funny enough to save the movie. And who doesn’t hope for racial harmony? A cute, but safe movie from France.

4fd6c30e-cf73-4008-acfb-8417987be0ab Bombita Ricardo Darin as Simón Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

Strangers on a plane ride discover they have something in common. An heir to a fortune is caught in a hit-and-run. A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douchebf3deb47-7815-4eeb-9bd4-3c6c11fc68d2 Leonardo Sbaraglia as Diego, Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap in an act of road rage on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot in a Hollywood 0bf45366-79ef-4e25-a7d7-4aaae624b551 Rita Cortese as Cocinera and Julieta Zylberberg as Moza, Photo by Javier Juliá, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsstyle. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of unexpected climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

This is an amazing, exciting and hilarious movie, a dark comedy out of Argentina. The production values – including full-scale disasters — are top-notch. And so is the acting, with some of the top stars, including Ricardo Darin are first class.

Wild Tales, Serial Bad Wedings and Kidnapping Mr Heineken all open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

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

Oscar Redux. Movies reviewed: Girlhood, Duke of Burgundy, Elephant Song

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Elephants, Experimental Film, France, Gangs, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 27, 2015

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

Do you have the post-Oscar blues? Tired of the same-old, same-old? We’ve got Boyhood, but what about Girlhood? There’s Birdman, but how about an Elephant Song? And how about 50 Shades of Gray… with an all-female cast? This week I’m looking at three new movies, that provide a twist to some you’re more familiar with. I have a coming of age movie from France, an erotic art-house flick from the UK and a psychological drama from Canada.

a8b59ceb4619ab826971f3dcde96647bElephant Song
Dir: Charles Binamé

It’s a Canadian mental hospital in the 1960s. Michael (Xavier Dolan) a patient there is summoned to a therapy session. but his regular doctor isn’t there — he’s missing. In his place is a new face, a certain Dr Green (Bruce Greenwood). He’s read the files and listened to the reel to reel tapes. Now he’s there to set things straight, and has no time for Elephant Song/Melennypsychological games. But games are exactly what Michael loves.

Dr Green is a greenhorn in that office, but Michael knows every nook and cranny. He decides to take the doctor (and the movie’s audience) on a grand tour of his own life, but on his own Elephant Song/Melennyterms. And just outside the office door, always listening, is Miss Peterson, a nurse (Catherine Keener). He reveals his hidden past – he says he’s the son of a famous opera singer who toured the world as a child. Even as he uncovers hidden treasures around the office, which fit together like the missing pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. These include a stuffed animal, a box of treats, and some hidden photographs – that may be related to the doctor’s disappearance.Elephant Song/Melenny

Dr Green is convinced everything Michael says is a lie. He thinks Michael has alterior motives — possibly an escape plan to escape the high security facility. But what about the doctor’s real reason for this question/answer session? And how does Nurse Peterson fit into this puzzle?

Elephant Song is not bad at all. It’s a genuine psychological drama, a chess game between two equal players — sort of like the movie Sleuth, but shot with a soft focus lens. The acting is credible. But the whole film has a slightly clunky, wooden feel to it. It’s like a stage play still in previews that hasn’t yet found its rhythm.

WnmKlv_girlhood_03_o3_8550274_1424455177Girlhood (Bande de Filles)
Wri/Dir: Céline Sciamma

Marieme, (Karidja Touré) is a 15 year old Parisian schoolgirl. She’s shy, neat and conscientious, making sure her younger sisters are fed and put to bed… careful not to antagonize her abusive older brother. She likes school, and is on the girls’ tackle football team. She keeps her long braids tied back and wears American Apparel jeans and hoodies. She just wants to live a normal life. But everything changes when her guidance counsellor says she’s being channeled to the vocational stream. But why? She wants her bac, she wants a chance at a better life, not cleaning RgwKrK_girlhood_02_MAIN_o3_8550228_1424455174offices like her mom.

It’s like her life is over. Mortified, she runs out of the building, but is called over by some tough girls cutting class outside the school. Lady, Adiatou and Fily (Assa Sylla, Lindsey Karamoh, Marietou Touré) are not like her. They use lots of makeup, have their hair ironed straight, dress in leather jackets, and carry switch blades. They’re a gang of three and want a fourth member to complete their crew. But she’s not like them… is she?

662xyV_girlhood_01_o3_8550183_1424455173Soon enough she’s shaking down girls for cash, going on trips into the city, away from the desolate banlieus. She goes by the name Vic now, short for Victoire. And they get into fist fights with rival girl gangs. The losers are publicly shamed by getting their clothes pulled off in from of a crowd holding up their cameras. The four friends’ rules? Stand up for yourself, don’t let boys push you around, and only do what you want to do, not what others expect of you. But how much of a future does this gang have? Will she fall into organized crime? Drugs or the sex trade?

This is a great coming-of-age story, told from the viewpoint of a young black Parisian woman living in the suburban public highrises. It’s a slice of life drama, not one with easily solved problems. But the cast – all first time actors — is incredible, and the story touching and realistic.

5309faf2-5d03-4414-981b-7e53495d63acThe Duke of Burgundy
Wri/Dir: Peter Strickland

Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a single woman who lives on an estate somewhere in Europe, surrounded by fields and trees. She has auburn hair, long eyelashes and a severe demeanor. She’s a lepidopterist, and her mansion is filled with items from her collection: thousands of butterflies and moths – including the Duke of Burgundy – all carefully pinned and mounted 81446793-1628-423e-b85d-9d11a95dfbacin glass-covered wooden cases. She’s a perfectionist. Each day she spends her time drawing precise diagrams on white charts and typing her observations using a manual Underwood typewriter. And every so often she ventures outside on her bicycle to give lectures to row after row of smart looking women in smart dresses.

f05dea49-f6b6-4dab-b557-6ff715419284Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) works for her as a maid. She’s late for work and a bit confused about her duties, but Cynthia doesn’t cut her any slack. She scolds her, and warns her to do what she’s told… or suffer the consequences!

But she’s given strange tasks for a cleaning woman, made to crawl around on her hands and knees, while scrubbing the floor. When she asks for a toilet break, Cynthia cruely says no, not until I say you can. Meanwhile she’s polishing Cynthia’s knee-high black leather boots, kneeling on the floor massaging her feet or washing her 5c01d1ab-d84c-4354-ab08-77064e39e976boss’s undergarments… by hand. Though Evelyn always wears a meek and baffled look on her face, she doesn’t seem bothered by her boss’s eccentricities. She almost seems to want to be punished.

What’s going on? And why is Cynthia guzzling glass after glass of water for some unkown future punishment? Soon we discover its all a fantasy — complete with wigs and costumes — a role-playing exercise between two lovers: dominant Cynthia and submissive Evelyn.

And these scenes, down to the tiniest detail are repeated day after day, as almost an exercise in absurdity. These episodes are alternated with love-making in the bedroom at night, discretely shot reflected in convex mirrors, faded triple exposures or shot through tiny peepholes in closed doors.

Is this a parody of 70s soft core porn? Or an homage to it? I’m not sure which, but a director like Peter Strickland would never include footage just for titillation. He’s somewhere between Quentin Tarantino and Peter Greenaway, with a distinctive 70s style. Duke of Burgundy is beautiful to watch and listen to… but it’s clearly not for everyone.

Elephant Song, the Duke of Burgandy, and Girlhood all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. And this weekend lookout for  the Canadian Screen Awards, our own Oscars.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Michele Josue about her new documentary Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, LGBT, Movies, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on February 20, 2015

Michele Josue, Matt Shepard is my Friend, Daniel Garber at the movies, culturalmining.com, CIUT 89.5 FM15 years ago, in the fall of 1998, in Wyoming, early one morning, a 21 year old man was found tied to a wooden fence. His name was Matt Shepard — he was badly beaten and died soon after in hospital.

Matt was gay, and he was murdered out on the prairie in Laramie, Wyoming by two men in a notorious case of gay bashing. After his death, his case became emblematic of violence against LGBT youth.

Afterwards, his parents fought to expose and expunge homophobic e1430ce2a8ac9f60aef2fb20345463e1violence, and his name is forever associated with this movement. His death is now well known, but his life is not. What about his family, his friends, his likes and dislikes?

A new documentary, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, aims to fill in those gaps. It tells about his life before he died. It’s a tender personal story, told by a woman who knew him well. Her name is Michele Josue, and she made this film which opens tonight in Toronto. I talked to Michele at CIUT 89.5 FM about friendship, Matt’s life, how she met him, his family, a cardboard box, hate crime legislation, Switzerland, University life, Wyoming, The Laramie Project…and more!

Daniel Garber talks with anthropologist/filmmaker Niobe Thompson about his three-part documentary The Great Human Odyssey on CBC TV

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, Disease, documentary, Evolution, Migrants, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 13, 2015

bJGwTDZvDCA_KinMwSXkYoC-SnM1haVkpAaaO7sttjoHuman’s are a strange species. We stand up, we cook our food, we talk and we remember.

Our bodies aren’t covered in thick fur, and we don’t have sharp teeth or claws. And yet we aren’t extinct. We live on every continent.

How come we’re alive when stronger hominids aren’t? How did a tropical species come to dominate cold climates? What kept us alive for 200,000 years in this Great Human Odyssey?

The Great Human Odyssey is also the name of a spectacular new three- part series from clearwater documentary that explores our species Homo sapiens and what sets us apart.

The series was written, directed and narrated by Canadian anthropologist-turned-filmmaker WQeSkYDsF4FI3LoSoY3UYx-VH3oS32OD601_3yEyfskNiobe Thompson. Thompson grew up in Wabasca, Northern Alberta, where he worked fighting forest fires. Later, he travelled the world, getting his PhD in social anthropology at Cambridge. He went on to make Gemini Award-wining documentaries, and The Great Human Odyssey is the most recent. It premiered on CBC’s the Nature of Things. I spoke to Niobe by telephone from Edmonton, Alberta about hominids, disease, reindeer, Neanderthal sex, evolution, coexistence, Papua New Guinea, Siberia, the Kalahari desert, genetic legacies… and more!

Sons of Women. Films reviewed: Good Men, Good Women: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien, The Boys from Fengkuei, Flowers of Shanghai, PLUS Seventh Son

Posted in Cultural Mining, Fantasy, Movies, Realism, Taiwan, Uncategorized, Witches, 中国电影 by CulturalMining.com on February 6, 2015

JZlDk2_cafe_lumiere_dir_CJ_29_cmyk_o3_8519520_1421267395Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien was born in Canton, China in 1947. His family fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists when he was just an infant. Since then he has emerged as one of postwar Taiwan’s most famous directors (along with Ang Lee and Tsai Mingliang).

His movies tell a fragmented history of his country, one story at a time. He deals with ordinary, working-class people, often dislocated and trying to make their way. His characters struggle with differences of 0gOqw3_City_of_sadness-1_o3_8520087_1421267398language, status, age, class and money. But his films also includes love, sex, jealousy, conformity and insecurity.

Most of his films take place in Taiwan, though there are some exceptions, such as Flight of the Red Balloon (France) or Café Lumière (Japan). The times range from the 19th Century (Flowers of Shanghai), to the 1940s (City of Sadness), to the present day, or even in three eras simultaneously (Three Times).

Some critics call him one of the most important and influential wjZpZJ_GoodMenGoodWomen_(CMIA)_o3_8520899_1421267449directors, anywhere, comparing the style he helped pioneer – the Taiwanese New Wave — to movements like the French New Wave and Italian Neorealism. He’s known for his minimalism, slow pace, long takes and an avoidance of quick editing and obvious special effects.

More often than not, he sets up a nicely-arranged tableau and lets the action take place within that frame. Sort of like a stage play but within a shifting proscenium arch.

Well, there’s a retrospective playing this month in Toronto called Good Men, Good Women: The Films of Hou Hsiao-hsien. It was put together by Richard I. Suchenski, Amber Wu and Teresa Huang and is on a world tour. The series projects pristine prints, rarely seen.

This week I’m looking at two of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s movies. One’s an early film about good men, the other a later film about good women. And, in keeping with my commitment to highbrow/ lowbrow films, I’m also reviewing a fantasy-drama about a medieval guy who hunts for witches… but ends up falling in love with one.

k5DQ0E_BoysfromFengkuei_o3_8519490_1421267388The Boys from Fengkuei (1983)

Three small-town boys — Ah Ching and his two friends — live in a tiny windswept island off the coast of Taiwan. They should be doing their homework but they’d rather be outside gambling and carousing. But after a big fight goes wrong they flee to an abandoned seaside shack. They make their way to Kaohsiung, a big city on the main island. But they soon find life in the big city is not what they expected. They get poorly paid jobs, and their money making ventures – like selling tapes on the street – don’t earn them much money. Their parents expect them to return home to work at an easy factory job. And they soon find themselves victims of conmen, gangsters and sophisticated city folk. But can they find true love in the big city?

I found this movie fascinating, not just because of its realistic coming-of-age portrait of life in Taiwan. It also goes against what I thought was Hou Hsiao-hsien’s directing style: slow, stationary, and dominated by long takes of seated conversations. This movie has fights and chase scenes, crowds and a lot of movement. As programmer Richard I. Suchenski pointed out in his introductory lecture on Hou (Jan 29, 2015), The Boys of Fengkuei fits closely within his oeuvre. It shares the long takes, carefully composed scenes and the stationary, framed shots of his later films.

1jQw4R_FlowersofShanghai_(CMIA)_o3_8520678_1421267414Flowers of Shanghai (1998)

It’s late 19th century Shanghai. Rich men hang out in the entertainment parlours, gambling, drinking, smoking opium and courting the courtesans there. These entertainers the so-called flowers of Shanghai. are known for their beauty and poise. They are carefully trained from an early age, brought up inside the houses. They have their own servants, and answer to the middle aged “auntie” the Madams who rule the business. They cultivate relationships with the rich men who visit them gradually saving up the money they earn. Eventually, they either marry their favourite boyfriend or purchase their independence outright and set up their own businesses. This line of work was one of the few allowing girls to advance from penniless orphan to rich, powerful and socially advanced woman.

The scenes alternate from the men all drinking and dining at a common table to the interiors of the individual houses and the women behind closed doors. The stories are simple: women in rival houses competing for the lovesick but fickle male patrons; discussions of their worth and wealth — both the businessmen and the women; and anger over arranged marriages and love.

In this movie the camera slowly pans back and forth but almost never cuts away from the scene in each brothel. The lighting has a golden glow, generated from the oil lamps on set (portraying scenes without electric lighting). What I found most fascinating was the language – you rarely get to hear dialogue spoken in Shanghainese – another example of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s commitment to realism. This is a beautiful film but like many if his movies, one that requires concentration and commitment to appreciate.

And on a entirely different note…

Seventh Son Ben BarnesThe Seventh Son
Dir: Sergei Bodrov

It’s the dark ages in Europe, a time of dragons, knights and witches. Tom (Ben Barnes) is a young man who slops the pigs at his remote family farm. There’s gotta be something better than this, he thinks. So when Gregory – an odd man with a pointy yellow beard – comes by seeking an apprentice, Tom jumps at the chance. Gregory (Jeff Bridges) is a knight and (like Tom) is the seventh son of a seventh son which gives him special powers and a sense of commitment. He’s an arrogant, foul-mouthed alcoholic. He’s also a Spook, a man who fights the creatures of darkness. He promises to teach Tom how to fight these demons and witches. Tom can’t wait. But before he leaves, his mother places a special charm around his neckIMG_0924.dng that she says will protect him from evil.

The first witch he encounters is Alice (Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) – a beautiful young woman. And when they first hold hands sparks fly… literally! A blue flame shoots out from their hands. Hmmm… But what he doesn’t know is she works as a spy for Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore). Mother Malkin is the evil queen a witch who can turn herself into a dragon. And when the red moon rises, something that happens only once a century, she and her evil cronies plan to take over the world. Will the knights beat the witches and slay the dragons? Or will Tom be slain like all the other apprentices that proceeded him? And what about Alice… is she a good witch or a bad witch?

Julianne Moore Seventh SonThe Seventh Son is an OK fantasy with a very predictable plot too much CGIs, very long battle scenes, and bad Twilight-style romantic element. There are at least four cliffhangers in this movie – and I mean people literally hanging onto or falling off of cliffs. I guess that’s what you get with 3D and IMAX as the main attractions. Jeff Bridges emotes wildly,  Julianne Moore is wonderful as the evil queen, while Ben Barnes is a dull leading man. Most interesting thing is the sets. The women (a.k.a. the evil Seventh Son Jeff Bridgeswitches) live in a celebration of Orientalism, replete with Persian rugs, lapis lazuli tiling, and geometric screens. They recline on pillows beside incense burners. The men all dress in rough-hewn burlap and carry rusty swords. The battle of the sexes told in 100 minutes in 3-D.

Seventh Son opens today in Toronto—check your local listings; and the films of Hou Hsiao-hsien: Good Men, Good Women continue all this month at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go to tiff.net for times.

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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