June 24, 2011. Women at Centre Stage, Men at the Fringe. Movies Reviewed: J.X. Williams Cabinet of Curiosities, William S Burroughs A Man Within, Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher

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

Last week was NXNE Toronto’s huge indie music and movies festival. And while there were a lot of music videos and films about bands going on tour, (bands practicing their instruments, bands getting drunk, bands feeling sad…), there were also a few good ones about people in the underground, on the fringe, at the far reaches.

At the same time as the festival, there are also loads of mainstream movies at the local googleplex. I’ve talked about this before, but women are disappearing from movies. There are lots of movies with only one female character, for every ten or twenty male characters. “The woman” is now a token character, along with the black guy, the fat guy, the grandpa, the guy next door…

So, today I’m going to deal with both those themes: two movies about men on the fringe, and two movies with women, front and centre.

William S Burroughs: A Man Within
Dir: Yony Leyser

William S Burroughs was the prep-school and Harvard heir to the Burroughs adding-machine fortune in St Louis. He drifted to New York and fell in with the so-called beatniks, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. After he accidentally killed his wife, Joan, in Mexico when he tried to shoot a tumbler of gin off her head and missed, he fell into a depression and began to write it all down.

His style really took off when he fell in with artist and visionary Brion Gysin, the inventor of the Dream Machine (a psychedelic light tube that spins on a turntable and is viewed with the eyes closed). Burroughs began using Gysin’s cut-up technique, snipping up his manuscripts and realigning strips to a give a broken feel to his mind-bending novels.

At the same time, his personal life consisted of cold, unemotional sexual relationships with much younger men – who were poets, writers, artists. His books were banned, but Burroughs was eventually embraced, in succession by the beat movement of the 50’s, the 60’s counterculture, 70’s punk, and gay liberation movements in the 80’s – none of which he was actually a part of. So his influence was huge and deep for more than half a century.

This excellent biography is made up of interviews with some of the people he knew or influenced — his ex-lovers, academics, musicians like Patti Smith and Genesis P. Orridge, poets like Amiri Baraka and John Giorno, artists – Andy Warhol, and directors like David Cronenberg and Gus Van Sant. And also, people who knew him like his arms dealer – he had a lifetime obsession with guns and slept with one under his pillow, even during sex, a reptile trainer, his fellow druggies, and his next door neighbours. The new interviews and old footage are combined in sections with cool wire animation. This documentary is well worth seeing.

JX WIliams’ Cabinet of Curiosities

Archivist and Curator: Noel Lawrence

Another underground artist from the same era deserves attention too, even though he is so underground and obscure that virtually no one in the world has ever actually heard of him.

But his name is J.X. Williams, and his Cabinet of Curiosities – clips from the films he made in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s – have been collected and curated by L.A. devotee Noel Lawrence, who brought some of his collection to NXNE.

Williams was no ordinary underground figure, and his films are not ordinary movies. Lawrence, both in the film clips and in the unusual extended panel discussion at NXNE, explained part of this man’s career. He was the son of a communist, and managed to get blacklisted by the House un-American Activities Committee at the age of 17. Somehow, he became involved with not just the communists, but also the mob, the FBI and the Kennedy assassination. He earned his living as a base pornographer – some of his movies showed only in Copehagen, and even there, only once — and was forced to flee to Switzerland to avoid arrest (perhaps for copyright infringement)?

The movies themselves are, at times, baffling and annoying, but also a pleasure to behold. Basically they consist of parodies of classic and film noir titles, with Mad Magazine-style names: for example, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows with Williams becomes the 400 Blowjobs. Other films in his porn/occult matrix include Hollywood Playgirls, Hades Highway, and ESP Orgy. So split-screen film clips of Steve McQueen meets Clint Eastwood in an alternate universe, combined with unexplained stock footage of flashing coloured traffic lights, wicked stop-motion animation, crackly peepshow credits, and hardcore B&W silent porn.

What can I say? Keep an eye out for Noel Lawrence’s amazingly detailed lectures (photog: Brad Clarke)  about this hitherto unknown, underground figure J.X Williams. www.jxarchive.org

From the obscurest of the obscure, to the mainstreamest of the mainstream are two movies which attempt the unthinkable – comedies starring women – and pull it off. Both of the movies have women in atypical roles (as underdogs, underachievers, and anti-heroes), with the successful, beautiful, rich and hard-working women as the “villains”. And the female stars both manage to do non-topless sex scenes.

Bridesmaids
Dir: Paul Feig

Annie and Lillian (played by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph) are best friends who share everything including laughs. But when Lillian makes Annie her maid of honour or her upcoming wedding, she finds herself pitted against a new enemy – Whitney, a rich, preppy trophy-wife who is trying to steal away her best friend. Annie’s life unravels – she feels used by her douche-y sex partner, hates the jewelry store job she was forced to take once her cake business went bottoms-up, and lives with the roommates from hell. Meanwhile, her crazy fellow bridesmaids take up her time with a series of fiascos, with only a kind-hearted, Irish cop (Officer Rhodes, played by Chris O’ Dowd) shows some sympathy for her. Will she completely give up and be defeated by Whitney? Will she ever get back together with her best friend? And will she find true love?

This is a pretty funny comedy, with humour coming more from unusual characters than from cheap site-gags. A competitive speech-making scene was especially funny, as was Wiig feeling queazy. While the pace seemed slower than most comedies, and the gags – save for a puke and diarrhea scene – more mature, it works. I laughed a lot and it kept my interest. Some of the writing was weird, with dialogue not matching the rest of some characters’ lines – but in general it was a lot of fun, especially Mellissa McCarthy, the woman from the TV show Mike and Molly.

This is a comedy, not a chick flick, but it also avoids most of the gratuitous nudity, dick jokes and gross-outs, and allows the very funny cast of seven funny women to shine.

Bad Teacher
Dir: Jake Kasdan

Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) is forced to work as a teacher at John Adams Jr High (“we call it JAMS!”) when her rich fiancé dumps her before the wedding. She’s a gold digging pothead, and a misanthropic teacher who hates kids. She soon finds herself in a competition with the hardworking and perky teacher Amy Squirrel (hilariously played by Lucy Punch) over the rich, airhead teacher Scott (Justin Timbelake).
She decides to get a breast-implant operation to win him over and marry into his fortune – but this will be expensive. Can she get her previously neglected class to score high on the state tests and get her the bonus she needs? And will she ever date the gym teacher (Jason Segel) who likes her?

Well, I thought it was pretty funny. Not great, mind you, but funny enough, and much funnier than the gags they show in the trailer. Filthy language, but no serious violence, disgustingness, or dick, puke or bowel jokes. Both Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher are directed by people from that great TV show Freaks and Geeks, maybe that’s why it’s a bit better than most. This is not a clever movie by any stretch, but it has its larfs, and Cameron Diaz is great as the anti-heroine.

William S Burroughs: The Man Within, and J.X. Williams’ Cabinet of Curiosities screened at NXNE last week, Bridesmaids is now playing, and Bad Teacher opens today: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining .com.

June 17, 2011. Indie Enough for You? Movies reviewed: Hip Hop Mom, Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard, 6 Ft Hick , You Can’t Sing it for Them, Below New York, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hawaii, Movies, Music, NXNE, Pop Art, Spirituality, tattoos, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2011

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

You may have noticed the sudden influx of caterpillar mustaches and black T-shirts on guys, women with pig tails, or Betty Page hairdos and half-sleeve tattoos; a net increase in the per capita level of skinny jeans and Raybans; or the preponderance of Mohawks, no-hawks, and even a few faux-hocks…

You may have felt a change in the air and wondered what was exactly going on – is it a detox convention? A hairstyle and denim expo? The answer is, no, none of the above. It’s NXNE, the huge indie music and film festival that’s going on all over downtown Toronto right now.

That’s right, music and film – aside from the huge number of great groups, there are movies – mainly documentaries about music, musicians, subcultures, genres, and peripheral topics – that are playing alongside a lot of the musical sets, and they are worth checking out. If you buy a bracelet that lets you wander in and out of clubs for a day, I suggest you try a detour to some of the movies. So here are a few of the movies playing at NXNE.

Hip Hop Mom

Dir: Mina Shum

In this short, funny film, a mother who’s trying to calm her baby over her cel while she’s driving her car gets in a bit of a parking tussle with another mom. She jumps out of her car, her posse in brightly coloured sweatsuits appears out of nowhere, and they start a parking lot soccer mom showdown.

In another short movie,

Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard

Dir by David Eng and Katarina Soukup

the composer plays a concerto on both an old Underwood manual typewriter and on a piano, where music and words combine to make visible pithy comments on the notes the piano produces.

6 Ft Hick

Dir:Marty Moynihan

…is a feature length documentary that follows this Aussie garage punk band on a tour of Europe. What’s remarkable about the group are the two main musicians — Geoff and Ben, brothers who were brought up on a rural chicken farm — who violently break glass, pull their underwear elastics up to their shoulders, throw themselves at spectators, and often end up making out with each other on stage. And to think it used to be enough just to smash a few guitars into a speaker…

You Can’t Sing it for Them

Dir: Jacqueline Richard & Margot Fassler

…is a fascinating, almost academic, documentary both about the history of traditional African-American music — including spirituals, gospel, and other contemporary forms as sung by choirs in black churches — and a new choir director Jonathon Berryman who arrives at the venerable Messiah Baptist Church in Connecticut to save its choir.

The movie discusses the fading away of the traditional black church choir and how he attempts to pull it back together. While churches traditionally would follow their own liturgy and the songs associated with their particular denomination, Berryman, a trained musicilogist, tries to gather a whole variety of songs and styles, before they all, like many traditional cultures, just disappear. He does all this while a famous, elderly church member doles out her criticism. Although mainly about music and the people at this particular church, the movie also touches upon crucial historical aspects from slavery, to the civil rights movement and beyond. A few of the scenes with interviews and footage of rehearsals are a bit to languorous for my taste, but these are alternated with amazing short clips like a line of red robed children doing this unbelievable jumping and turning entrance to the church – like nothing Ive ever seen before. In general, the performances plus the story, make this is a fascinating and excellently researched story.

Below New York

Dir: Matt Finlin

Below New York is a neat, B&W short documentary showing the buskers and performers who operate in the stations and inside the subway cars of NY City. Do wop a capella singers, a blues guitarists and harmonica player, and a team of busker acrobatic dancers show how they do their short performances in the amount of time it takes a car to pull into a station and end it.

There are few other movies which I haven’t seen but which look good. I spoke with director Noel Lawrence about his new film JX Williams’ Cabinet of Curiosities about a seminal director who turned to the LA punk movement in the 70’s. He compared his work to Kenneth Anger’s satanic topics, and that alone should make it worth seeing. I’m looking forward to this one.

And Ivory Tower, Directed by Adam Traynor – not sure what it is, exactly, but it’s got the Toronto/Berlin axis of Peaches, Feist, Chillie Gonzales and German Hiphop group the Puppetmasters, so it could be really surprising – and I love surprises.

Finally, I caught a movie called:

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Dir: Erich Weiss

This is a movie about the current explosion of tattoo art, and where it came from. It does this by focusing on one guy, Norman Collins, a strange, irreverent, right-wing tattoo master who incorporated Japanese motifs and techniques (traditionally worn only by members of the Yakuza in Japan) into the more standard America styles.

Tattoos have the image of being louche, skid, skeezy, underground, transient, rebellious, and vaguely illegal. Parlours were located on the wrong side of the tracks, in ports like San Francisco, Shanghai, Yokohama, Bora-bora. Often they shared their quarters with brothels, VD clinics, fortune tellers, or abortionists. Far from the mainstream, part of what gives them their current appeal.

In WWII, a million sailors and marines passed through Hawaii, and it became a rite of passage to visit Hotel Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown where men got drunk gambled, lost their virginity and inscribed the event it on the arms. This was and is a red-light district, and where Sailor Jerry set up shop. He drilled countless anchors, Hula dancers, geisha girls, sad sack sailors, broken hearts, grinning chimps, Chinese characters, palm trees, bald eagles, and mermaids onn men’s bodies.

Although it slips occasionally into what looks like a promotion for Ed Hardy, this is a fun movie, where most of the tattooers they interviewed look like retired Hells Angels, especially one old salt from Phillie. Everytime this foul mouthed codger comes on the screen with this woman in a strange black wig seated beside him, the whole audience cracks up even before he talks.

The guy is Popeye incarnate.

I really liked this movie, but unfortunately, I saw it under the influence, so my judgement could be flawed. There was a pre-screening party promotion for a spiced rum named after the tattoo artist, so the cola-rum-and-stout mixtures were flowing fast and furious. I guzzled a few of those, and there must have been something special about them, because I woke up the next morning in a dark alley with a splitting headache and the words dude and sweet tattooed across my back.

The films I reviewed are all playing at NXNE, which runs through the weekend. Pick up a free program, buy a bracelet, or just catch some of the free shows at Dundas square and free movies at the Hyatt Regency screening room. Look on line at NXNE.com .

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

June 10, 2011. Guy Pictures: Movies Reviewed: Cell 213, X Men: First Class, Super 8.

Posted in 1970s, Action, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Mystery, NXNE, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 20, 2011

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

Well after an intense two months of constant film festivals, I’m beginning to feel overloaded – too many good movies! Seriously, I’m overwhelmed by all these meaningful, artistic, serious, earnest movies. Movies with subtitles. Movies with experimental formats. Movies with subtle metaphors.

You know what? I just wanna see some crap! Some pointless, shallow entertainment, just 90 enjoyable minutes in the dark, with friends or lovers on one side, strangers on the other side.

They say Hollywood – as opposed to the fine cinema I’ve mainly been watching recently – is mainly aimed at 14 year old boys. That’s where the big bucks are. Even if audiences are older, they don’t want to alienate the snot-nosed 14-year-olds, so they always aim for that happy medium.

So, with that in mind, I’m unleashing my 14 year old brain to take a look at three new movies – guy movies.

X Men: First Class
Dir: Matthew Vaughan

I had high hopes for this one – an amazing cast, with great British movie actors like Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy; Canadian TV stars like January Jones; with a director who made one of my favourite movies last year – Kick-ass. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise – ever since X Men started devolving into those awful Michael Bey movies with 40 minute long endless battle scenes, basically just rockets flying back and forth in awful plasticky CGI, I’ve given up on the whole series. But this one is directed by Matthew Vaughan! So I was really getting into it. Also because it was a prequel (or Squeakquel, as the chipmunks have it), so they can bring in new blood.

OK here’s the story. Eric, aka Magneto, is the concentration camp survivor who can move metal things around if he concentrates his mind and twists his hands just right; and his future colleague and frienemy, Prof. X, an upper-class British college student, are shown first as small children and then as grown ups, but not as the sage patriarchs in later movies. Eric wants to find the Kevin Bacon character, the cruel and evil Nazi commandant, who is now selling deals to the Soviets using his secret powers for his own selfish purposes.

As mutants, Eric and Prof. X eventually team up, playing their skills and knowledge against one another. The professor becomes an expert of Mutant Studies since he can pass for “normal”. They all end up at the CIA in a newly-minted, special unit – hence the title: First Class. And as this is a prequel, it’s set against the Cuban missile crisis. But this being a weirdly revisionist rework of history, it’s not really the Soviets vs the Americans, it’s the good mutants vs the evil mutants. The nuclear bombs, etc are just a sidebar.

Anyway, there are a couple of cool characters but the whole moviue was over CGI’d, annoying, fake looking, and with a very bad aestheitic where the women all look like strippers, and the men like nerds. (14 year old audience – remember?). And it all devolbved into the endless battle scene like in all the other X men movies.

So, yeah, it kinda sucked.

Much more enjoyable was

Cell 213
Dir: Stephen Kay

Michael (Eric Balfour) is a young hotshot defense lawyer, known for stopping at nothing to get his clients off – even when they are serial killers. He’s so self-confident, he ducks into a washroom to have sex with a woman even on the way to the courtroom. He’s due for a big promotion at his law firm if he wins his case. But when he visits his client at the crumbly prison to tell him god news, something goes wrong. The prisoner tells him “he’s next!” – and soon he is locked up in the same prison — the notorious South River Penn – a hellish place with no chance for escape, run by a cruel southern guard (Michael Rooker)

Something strange is going on there. He’s put in solitary, in the same room as his crazy serial killer client –a room that might be haunted, perhaps by hell itself. In any case, it makes you go gradually whacky. To make matters worse, the smug oleaginous warden (Bruce Greenwood) cruelly forces Michael – who has a deep phobia of dead bodies (can that be called a phobia? Sounds pretty normal to me) — in the hospital embalming wing. He constantly finds himself handling the dead, or even getting locked in the vaults with rotting dead bodies.

His only hope is that Audrey, the hardboiled but beautiful government inspector who is investigating strange deaths at South River, will get him out of that hell hole before he does something awful or something terrible happens to him. Will he become a mean inmate’s bitch? Or will he be consumed by horrible demons? Will he ever understand the strange writings on the wall? And will Audrey discover the secret of the deaths in Cell # 213?

OK – I have a thing about seeing movies with numbers in their titles – my theory is, they always suck. And what was this – a devil movie? A prison movie? A craziness movie? A haunting movie? Things is, it doesn’t matter. I ate up this one. It didn’t matter that it’s total cheese, that the story doesn’t quite make sense or that the plot was messy. It was fun to watch, a bit scary, a bit gory, a bit funny, and it just pulls you along. It’s not boring at all. And none of those dreadful Saw-like ultra-extended torture porn scenes: gorno. And I really like all five of the main actors – they all rose above the very corny script. It’s nothing deep or crucial, but it’s a good popcorn movie for a Saturday night.

Finally and best of all. is

Super 8
Dir: J.J. Abrams

In this movie, the director and the producer, Steven Spielberg, seem to say, we know it’s aimed at 14 year old boys, so let’s make it about 14 year old boys…!

John Lamb (Joel Courtney, in his first role) lives in a rust belt city in Ohio in the late 70’s. His mother died in a steel mill accident just as the movie starts, and his dad, a cop, is giving him grief for making a super 8 zombie movie for a contest with a bunch of his friends and a tough but pretty girl Alice (Elle Fanning). But they carry on under director Charles (Riley Griffiths), a chubby neighbourhood kid.

But when they go to shoot a scene down by the railway tracks, they witness a horrible disaster, and run away just as the US Air Force comes swarming in. But they are warned by a school teacher never to tell anyone what happened – especially not he military – or they would all disappear.

Spooked by the whole thing, the kids go back to their normal lives, and continue to shoot their super 8 movie in the aftermath of the disaster. But gradually, following a series of strange happenings – dogs are running away, microwave ovens are disappearing, and cars are being crushed – John, his friends, and his dad sense that something big, and potentially terrible is happening. They have to think of a way to fight the growing disorder and panic, the secretive and dangerous military unit, and the mysterious third factor that seems to be behind it all but may have been recorded on their super 8 film stock.

This is a great movie, which tries and succeeds in capturing the feel of early Spielberg movies from the 70s and 80s, like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Goonies.

It’s scary, funny and interesting, and totally watchable by adults. I had a great time. The special effects are amazing, the story is exciting, the characters and the acting are all dead-on, and, surprisingly, the photography is amazing, as good as movies made in the 70’s. (Super 8 is not just a movie that takes place in the 70’s; it’s a movie that’s supposed to look like it was made in the 70’s. There’s a difference.) Although it was directed by JJ Abrams, who did things like the TV show Lost, it feels like it’s 75% Spielberg, 25% Abrams. The pacing, cliff hangers, cute kid jokes, and the innocent, lamb-like main character, John Lamb, are all totally Spielberg. And the cool special effects, the complicated character-relationships, the compelling story, and the way the scary characters look and behave are Abrams all over.

So, if you want to see a good old- fashioned movie, with both that late 70’s movie feel and the anti-nostalgia nostalgia it captures, Super 8 is the one you shouldn’t miss.

X Men: First Class is now playing, Super 8 and Cell 213 open today: check your local listings.

And be sure to check out NXNE, the indie extravaganza coming to Toronto next week, because it’s not just a music festival it’s also a music-movie festival. Go to nxne.com .

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

June 2, 2011. Inside-Out Festival: The “L” Word. Films Reviewed: Circumstance, The Evening Dress, PLUS L’Amour Fou

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival, which just finished last weekend, is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about Lesbians Gays, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals. Like every year, it attracted large, enthusiastic crowds, but with the added glamour this year of the films being shown at the epicentre of Toronto film festivals, the Light Box on King St W. This week, I’m going to look at a couple great movies that touch upon the L-Word in LGBT; and a documentary about Yves St Laurent. Two of the movies are directed, written by, and about women. The third is about a man who made things for women.

Also on right now and through the weekend, is the CFC Short Film Festival which is showing a whopping 275 short films this week, at places like the National Film Board on Richmond Street, and at the CN Tower. – to find out more, go to worldwideshortfilmfest.com .

Circumstance

Dir: Maryam Keshavarz

Audience Award Winner, Sundance 2011

This is a movie about two best friends in Teheran, the beautiful Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who lives with her traditional, conservative relatives after her parents were killed; and sophisticated Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), who comes from a very rich, western-style, permissive family. As expected, they fall in love, in and out of bed – they’re friends, adventurers in the big city, and lovers. Iran has an ultra- conservative, religious government that forbids certain types of music, flashy clothes, and western films.

So they meet behind closed doors to wear shiny sequined dresses, do classical dancing, or just to watch TV.

Their dream? To go on American Idol and sing Total Eclipse of the Heart. When things get bad, they fantasize about a lesbian paradise with bars where women can dance on tables wearing flashy clothes, or sit in a beach house and gaze in one anothers’ eyes. If things get bad, they say, they can always go to Dubai.

They spend their days at school, but nights in a vibrant, underground Iran, filled with secret discos, drug parties, and clandestine studios hidden behind innocuous barber shops.

But their way of life is threatened when Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh’s musician brother, returns from detox, and finds God. He gradually becomes a more and more devout Musilim, and falls in with the thuggish morality cops, who harass and arrest people, especially women, for crimes like playing loud music in their car, smoking, or not wearing hijab. Will the two young women find happiness together? Or will Mehran, and the conservativism he represents, ruin their lives and loves, and crush their creativity?

Circumstance is an excellent drama that gives a view of the parallel lives of contemporary Iran — sort of a live-action version of cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s great animated film Persepolis (2007), only newer… and darker.

The Evening Dress (La Robe du Soir)

Dir: Myriam Aziza

Juliette, is a smart and confident tiny French 12 year old girl who lives with her mom. Her older brother picks on her, but she gets to wear his old clothes. She, like the rest of her class, idolize their very beautiful and free-thinking teacher Madame Solenska.

Madame Solenska (Lio) doesn’t shy away from adult words, and sends them right back to the bratty kids who are trying to shock her. She wears beautiful dresses and distinctive perfume. She plays special attention to kids in the class who need it, especially Juliette (Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi) and

When the teacher gives her a paperback book to read that she says was very important to her, Juliette starts to think she has a special connection to the teacher. She saves a hair between to pages, and inhales the teachers scent. She decides to remake herself into something like her teacher – she starts to wear women’s hairstyles, clothes, makeup, and follows her around secretly at night. But she’s shocked to see that some of her teacher’s attention is being “stolen” by Antoine (Leo Legrand), a smart, but rebellious boy who is failing his courses. Is Juliette’s life over? Can she be loved by, or be, like her teacher?

The Evening Dress is more than just a coming-of-age story about a pre-pubsecent school girl – it’s a really moving adult drama about obsession, bullying, conformity, and ostracism. And the acting – especially by the little girl and the teacher – is fantastic.

L’Amour Fou

Dir: Pierre Thoroton

A documentary about an auction that’s selling off all the possessions — paintings, sculptures, and objects d’arts — of a designer after he dies? Isn’t that cruel and incredibly commercial amd superficial?

Oscar Wilde once said it’s only superficial people don’t judge by appearances. So to say that this is a movie about surfaces is not meant to be a negative review. Actually, it’s about both the outward appearances and some of the things that happened behind the scenes in the lives and careers of French Haut Couture fashion designer Yves St Laurent, and his lover and business partner Pierre Berge.

Yves St Laurent when still a very young man, was fired by Christian Dior partly because of a conservative journalist’s criticism of his sexuality. With the help of his new lover Berge, he established his own fashion house where he hand drew every one of the hundreds of the new designs, twice a year. His intense life — filled with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery — shares the screen with his contributions to mode, design and popular culture.

The movie uses photos, fashion show clips — including the wedding march which he used to end all his collections — and perfectly composed new looks at his homes and villas in Morocco and rural France. Every shot In this movie is planned, framed and mounted like a painting on the wall.  And all of the interviews and narration — by Berge, their entourage, and YSL himself — is unusually eloquent — no airheads here. This is not fashion TV chatter; it’s a testament to innovation and a life spent only on the here and now, removed from guilt and worries about the hereafter.

The eloquent documentary about Yves St Laurent, L’Amour Fou, is playing now: check your local listings. Circumstance and The Evening Gown are two great movies that also played at Inside Out — keep an eye out for these movies. To become a member of Inside Out contact here.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.

May 25, 2011. Inside Out Festival. Renee, Lost in the Crowd, Gun Hill Road, Black Field, Harvest, We Were Here

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Or queers for short. The festival is continuing through this weekend, mainly at Toronto’s Light Box, and I hear there are still some tickets available, so now’s your chance to catch some of these very varied and interesting movies.

So this week I’m going to look at a cross-section of movies and docs at this festival with a special emphasis on some good movies about the too often neglected “T” in LGBT. Next week: more on the “L” word.

Renee

Dir: Eric Drath

“I’m getting the message across that you can be a transsexual… and yet be a nice, normal, socially acceptable and productive member of society.” – Renee Richards.

Renee Richards was born as Richard Raskin, who grew up as an aggressive alpha male, served in the navy, became a tennis champ, a young man with dating prowess, a surgeon, a husband and a father.

But in the early seventies, after years of agonizing, and (after first chickening out on her first attempt, when she went to Morocco for sex-reassignment surgery) she took the plunge and became a woman. She named herself Renee (French for reborn) and started a new life. She became a sensation on the women’s tennis circuit until the past came out. She was ostracized, alienated by many tennis players, and splashed across the mass media.

They attempted to force Renee Richards to take a DNA test to prove her sex – this despite surgery, hormones, her day-to-day identity, clothes, body, voice and name. So she took them to court.

This is a very good, sympathetic documentary, that uses TV sports footage, home movies, newspaper articles and present- day interviews with family members, and famous tennis players (like Billie Jean King and Martina Navritolova). The most emotionally trying part of the documentary is about her difficult relationship with her son Rick.

Lost in The Crowd

Dir: Susi Graf

…is another documentary, also touching on problems faced by transsexuals and others. But if Renee is about rich and famous celebrities, Lost in the Crowd is about the other side of things. It’s about Queer youth who migrate to new York City to escape homophobia and other dangers in their hometowns, only to find themselves penniless, homeless and alone on the streets of Manhattan. It shows a few of these kids and young adults, many latina, and gay or trans, who seek shelter but end up in prison, on the streets, or dead.

While a very important issue, I was a bit disappointed by the movie, since it mainly just showed the victimization of the runaways by drugs, prostitution, and crime. It didn’t really offer any new viewpoint on the standard risks that face all runaways. One exception were the scenes shot in a prison, where one person (who had been arrested for low-level drug dealing) said he felt more free in the jail than he had in his midwestern small town.

Much more moving was a fictionalized drama about many of the same issues, a movie called

Gun Hill Road

Dir: Rasheed Ernesto Green

This tells about Enrique, and ex-con out on parole going back home. He’s an ultra-macho Puerto Rican-American who was known for attacking any “maricon” in prison who might have looked at him the wrong way. What’s a few months of solitary if he’s defending his own masculinity? He arrives back with his street corner pals to see his much missed son Michael (Harmony Santana). But something about Michael has changed.

He’s living his life as a girl in school, but like a boy at home. He hangs out with his friends at school but faces widespread bullying in the hallways. As pretty and strong Vanessa, she meets a boyfriend at a poetry slam, but he’s less friendly once he discovers Vanessa is a pre-op transsexual. He doesn’t want to see her as a boy – she has to cover up anything that might turn him off. But Michaels’s father doesn’t want to see his son as in any way feminine. He attacks him with a scissors and hacks off his long hair.

Gun Hill Road is a good, moving drama of the trials and tribulations of being trans in a public school, and how both a father and a son have to learn how to understand each other. The actor playing Vanessa/Michael is excellent, and you feel for all the characters. And it has a great latino hiphop soundtrack.

Black Field

Dir: Vardis Marinakis

In the middle ages, at its height,  the Ottoman empire used a special unit in their military known as the Janissaries. This was a division consisting entirely of paid, trained soldiers who were also slaves. They had no outside friends or families because they were kidnapped as small boys from outlying villages in the Balkans. Eventually, they converted to Islam and enlisted in this all-male, elite part of the army — the Janissaries.  In this movie, a wounded janissary (Hristos Passalis) is found outside a Christian convent in a remote, mountainous region of Greece. The black-hooded nuns take him in, chain him up, while they tend to his wounds. A young nun, Anthi  is sent to heal him, but there she makes a surprising discovery  — his genitals are like hers. She is actually a boy, who had been taken in as an infant and raised there, so that the Mother Superior could save him from being kidnapped and made into… a janissary!

The movie follows – literally follows, the camera holds back behind the two as they walk through the lush forest, a green-covered swamp, and a dark rocky area –  the tough, mean, AWOL soldier and the timid, whispering nun, as he forces the newly discovered boy to reclaim his male identity, and eventually become his partner. To make matters even more ambiguous, the boy who was raised as a girl is played by a very good actress (Sofia Georgovassili). It’s a slow-paced, challenging, sometimes violent, and at other times sensuous and exquisitely beautiful,  first film. Very interesting to watch and should be seen on the big screen.

Harvest

Dir: Benjamin Cantu

Marco is a young man who lives and works at an internship program on what used to be an East German communal farm. He wears overalls and a T-Shirt as he sorts carrots, bales hay, and clips the ears off cattle, along with the other interns. But he’s resisting committing himself to a lifetime of farm work. He doesn’t want to write the exam he has to take, mainly because he can’t write well. And he’s a bit of a loner – he won’t go out drinking with the other trainees, and they tease him for it.

But he enters into a silent friendship with a newby, Jacob. Things start to heat up in an abandoned old car (a Trabant?) and they realize they have something in common when Jacob finds the keys and drives them both into Berlin for an evening.

Harvest is another one of these hyper-realistic films –  made on real locations, usually with non-actors, without a complicated plots, and often without a written script. There aren’t that many lines in this movie, and the budding relationship between Marco and Jacob is never really talked about – it just happens. But you totally understand and identify with all the characters, and the farm footage is fantastic – I’d never actually seen an enormous carrot-sorting mill. Harvetst is a very good, understated, realistic drama.

We Were Here

Dir: David Weissman

This is a documentary about San Francisco from the late 70’s until the early nineties. That was the period when the city was transformed from a gay mecca into the epicentre of a worldwide epidemic. I’m speaking about AIDS and HIV, then called the gay plague for the sudden, massive death toll of that community.

This movie is heart-wrenchingly moving because of the way it was made. They found a handful of people who lived there at that time and were somehow involved in that disaster, to tell the story of themselves and their friends directly to the camera.

The movie shows the face of one speaker’s friend and then close-ups, ten days later. So happily galavanting at a Castro street party one day, and then, suddenly, the same man infected with Karposi Sarcoma (cancerous, but painless black spots on the skin) and then, a few days after that, just dropping dead.

No one knew what was going on or what to do about it. Panic set in. The movie shows the quick progression of events — the protests, the medical advances, the set-backs — all told through the eyes of real, sympathetic men and women.

This is a very important, living oral history, illustrated by ample newspaper clips, snapshots and still photos.

These movies and more are part of Inside-Out, continuing on this weekend: you can check times atinsideout.ca . Also opening is the terrific documentary Bobby Fischer against the World, and the Canadian low-budget spooky, post-apocalyptic horror thriller The Collapsed, both of which I reviewed last week, and Little White Lies, a very funny, if long, French social comedy about the secrets and conflicts of a group of friends who vacation together; I reviewed that last year.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

May 17: All the Lonely People. Movies Reviewed: The Collapsed, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles PLUS Inside Out Festival

Posted in Canada, Disabilities, Disaster, documentary, Ham Radio, Hotdocs, Mental Illness, post-apocalypse, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 8, 2011

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

It’s been raining and foggy and overcast for almost a week now – it’s hard to get up in the morning when there’s no sun coming in through your window. I thought this was supposed to happen in April — April showers? On the other hand, it’s a good time to go to the movies.

You won’t be missing much by shutting yourself into a dark room with some friends and a tub of greasy popcorn. And odd characters – the ones who won’t show themselves outside are nest viewed in the dark. So this week I’m going to talk about some new movies — two documentaries and two feature films — about reclusive, eccentric, lost, or just plain strange or unusual people.

The Collapsed

Dir: Justin McConnell

In this Canadian horror film, a family – Mom, Dad (John Fantasia), and their kids, Jennifer and Aaron (Steve Vieira) — is riding around after the world has ended. The skyscrapers are on fire, the streets are deserted and there are bodies lying around here and there.

Something or someone scary is out there – you can tell because the music goes plink plink plink, and because of all the flies stuck to fly strips hanging from the ceiling.

So Dad tells them to pile into their car and drive away from populated areas. They’re sure the bad guys must be after them because there are some man in camo with gas masks on shooting people. (Note to self: the good guys do wear plaid, bad guys wear camouflage…)

Then they do a bunch of horror movie-like things like explore abandoned houses, and running through the woods pointing their long guns at threatening noises. “Lets run wildly thorough this corn field!” or “let’s split up in the middle of the woods and explore!” You know, the usual. More bzzzz sound effects, more meaningless dialogue, more scary plink plink plink music… and then comes the weird sounds: Grouuouououwwwhhh… someone’s in the woods!

Is it a zombie? Is it a ghost? is it an alien? Who knows…? Who cares.

The thing is, there’s almost nothing scary about this movie. I can see that it’s ultra low-budget, so they can’t afford pricey special effects, but there’s no real horror in it at all. Finally, after a whole hour – a whole hour! – has passed, it starts to get a bit interesting. What or who is killing everyone? And why? Will they be able to catch it? And what’s the cause of it all?

The movie gets better right toward the end. There are some twists revealed and plots explained in the last 10 minutes, so you might want to stay till then, as it’s the most exciting part of the movie… but that means watching pointless wandering through the woods for the whole first hour.

This movie is just not scary enough.

Also opening next weekend is a really good documentary, about a historical icon and controversial figure:

Bobby Fischer Against The World

Dir: Liz Garbus

Bobby Fischer was to chess what Muhammed Ali was to boxing — a superstar, a huge international sensation in the early 70’s, a face known around the world. He rose to prominence in the midst of the cold war, and his historic tournament, Fischer against Boris Spassky in Reijkavik was touted in the media as a huge factor in International diplomacy and the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) talks. He personified America and the west, in his games against Spassky for the Soviet Bloc.(much like in the Hockey games between Canada and the Soviet Union.)

This movie follows Fischer from his childhood (he was raised by a single mother — a communist with a PhD) through his teen years, to his amazing fame in the next few decades, until his tragic spiral into infamy as he was engulfed by paranoia and mental illness.

It also concentrates on the big tournament Itself, where the world was transfixed by Fischer’s astounding gambits and seemingly incomprehensible chess moves, his lateness, and other mindgames, that so unnerved Spassky, that he, too, started to suspect spy cameras and strange noises coming out of the walls and the lights.

.

After the tournament, he gradually, and intentionally faded Into solitude after being overly exposed to paparazzi and intrusive media.

Then, following 9/11, Fischer re-emerged from obscurity with some outrageous statements to the press — but, unexpectedly, he was arrested for this and held at Narita Airport, until a third country offered him asylum.

The director has put together an amazing assortment of photos, obscure TV and film clips, dating back to his childhood, including B&W TV appearances as a young boy, and footage of his hilarious Olympic-style physical training captured by a photographer.

His triumphant and tragic life are told in this really fascinating and vivid historical documentary — I strongly recommend this movie.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Dir: Jon Foy

Speaking of secretive, elusive, and eccentric figures, here’s a movie about those weird messages that have been appearing in the surface of streets in the US east coast for a couple decades. These coloured tiles, imbedded into the tarmac, all say the same thing:

Toynbee Idea

In Kubrik’s 2001

Resurrect Dead

On Planet Jupiter

Just that –a haiku-like remnant of someone’s thoughts duplicated thousands of time by an unknown person, with occasional bizarre rants on tiny sidebars vowing vengeance on evil journalists and newspapers.

This extremely low-budget but compelling documentary looks at a group of friends in Philadelphia who attempt to track the writer down. A self-taught artist who lives in a squat, and some friends he gathers on the way (including the filmmaker) become a roving Scooby Gang, out to uncover the secret behind the Toynbee Tiles. Who made them? Where does he live? What’s his name? Why is he saying these things? And… what Is the David Mamet connection?

Delving into the fringes of society (in places like shortwave conventions) and knocking doors in Fishtown they explore the influence of an obscure but widely known prophet. The movie is as much about the characters involved in the search as it is about the one they’re searching before. I liked this unusual documentary, which was shown at Sundance and Hotdocs.

The Canadian horror movie The Collapsed, and the documentary Bobby Fischer against the World open next week, Check your local listings, and Resurrect Dead played Hot Docs and will open at a later date.

Also starting today is Toronto’s Inside-Out film festival, a celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Queer features, videos, TV shows, documentaries and short films, including Canadian and world premiers of films with a queer theme. In addition to Toronto and Canadian-made movies, this year they are featuring films and TV shows from the UK, as well as many from the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. Look out for the film and discussion “Dykes Planning Tykes: Queering the Family Tree”; the new UK film The Night Watch, based on Sarah Waters’ amazing novel; and Gun Hill Road a drama about family relations for an ex-con in the Bronx. For details, go to insideout.ca.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

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