September 23, 2011. TIFF aftermath. Films reviewed: Where Do We Go Now?, Drive, Limelight

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.

With the closing of this year’s TIFF — with all of its orgiastic
excess of filmic stimulation, eye candy, and brain prods — you may be
suffering from withdrawal. But have no fear — there’s no need to go
cold turkey, because Toronto’s Fall festival season is positively
brimming with good smaller film festival to keep your addiction alive.

Coming soon are: Toronto After Dark, the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, Planet in Focus, the Real Asian Film Festival, and the
European Union Film Festival, among others. And TIFF itself continues
on all year, showing their programmed films at the Lightbox. So if you
missed a good movie at TIFF, even if it doesn’t get a wide release,
you may be able to catch it later on in the year.

But first, the awards. Phillipe Felardeau won the Toronto Best
Canadian feature prize for Monsieur Falardeau — and it’s already gone
on to become Canada’s entry for a Best Foreign language Film Oscar.

The People’s Choice Award at TIFF is often used as an indicator of
who’s going to win a Golden Globe and later get nominated for an
Oscar. Past years’ winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s
Speech, and Precious. It’s voted on not by a panel of judges, but by
the moviegoers at the festival themselves. What this also means is
that sometimes a completely unknown movie — one with no “buzz” at all– can come out of left field, and take this award.

This year’s surprise is a film out of Lebanon, called:

Where Do Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va où?)
Dir: Nadine Labaki

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally
between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all
too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the
graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury
the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids
weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV
night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry
movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men
will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the
village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the
village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the
cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and
their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious
miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers –
anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an
incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon?
And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away
from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie had an extremely slow beginning, with a handmade
feel to it – sort of like an even-lower-budget Big Fat Greek Wedding
meets Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s a comedy, but a lot of the
jokes fell flat. And it’s a musical, but some of the songs just don’t
translate well. The ensemble plot, with dozens of characters, leaves
you confused until you can figure out who everyone is.

That said, in the second half, when the pace picks up and the story
gets interesting, it becomes good. And the ending is just great –
clever and imaginative, and leaves you with a much better feeling
than you came with. Nadine Labaki – who is also a member of the cast – is
the first female director to win the TIFF People’s Choice award, and
it’s nice to see her touching story about an important topic given a
boost. I’m curious as to where the movie will go now.

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling plays this guy in a satin jacket who drives cars around,
plain-looking cars but with souped-up engines that can outgun any
police car. He can tumble a car, flip it over on a highway, and
still remain absolutely calm, a Japanese toothpick still in his mouth. He’s the
strong silent type, good at heart. By day, he works in a garage, and
is sent out by his shady boss Shannon (Brian Cranston) to do movie
stunts. (This is LA, so, of course,  it’s always about the movies.) And by night, he
serves as the driver for bank heists and robberies.

He falls into almost a family relationship with pretty waitress Irene
(Carey Mulligan), and her son, little Benicio, and takes them for
drives around the city. But when her husband, Standard, is released
from prison, his good life starts to fall apart and the violence
builds. He becomes embroiled in a scheme involving sinister gangsters
Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and the great, neanderthalic Ron
Perlman). He ends up holding a dufflebag with a million dollars in
stolen money. What should he do with it? Will he settle down as a
champion stock car racer? Or will violence rule the day?

This is a fantastic — though sometimes horrifically violent, and
weird – movie. (Every once in a while you think – what is this? Is
this for real? Who are they trying to kid? You lose the connection for a moment, but then you slip right back into it.) It looks like a rejig of an 80’s movie like Thief,
with the driving bass (bubbadubba dubbadubba bubbadubba…) background music, and the
night scenes with glowing lights all around. The movie titles are
scribbled, Andy Warhol-style, in hot pink, and strange Eurodisco
dominates the soundtrack. The violence is almost comical, though
bloody. This is NOT your usual action thriller, but a clever, Danish
take on LA film noir. Great movie.

Next, another look at the louche underculture, this time in Manhattan
in the 90’s. A documentary

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

Peter Gatien, a Canadian nightclub promoter who lost an eye in a
hockey game as a kid, was known for his black eye patch, his canny
business practices, and how he had his hand on the pulse of all of New
York clublife in the 80’s and 90’s. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,
but he brought in demimonde celebs – the club kids – to bring in the
cool crowd. He opened famous places like Tunnel, the Palladium and
Limelight (not so affectionately known as slimelight by clubgoers) a
club opened inside of a church.

So everything’s going good, until Giuliani, the law and order supreme,
was elected mayor of New York. But when the drug of choice changed

from coke to MDMA to crack cocaine, so did the mood in the clubs, from

selfish and driven, to touchy-feelie, to insane. Giuliani vowed to
“clean up” the city. And he despised nightclubs, sex and dancing as
musch as drugs. Used to be the people in the burrows and New Jersey
would travel into the city on weekends for fun. By the end of his
reign, the term bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to be a better
description of the people in Manhattan who were so desperate they’d
migrate out of the city just to dance all night.

Well, Giuliani chose Peter Gatien, as his nemesis, and launched a
full-scale attack, an elaborate scheme to paint him as a drug dealer
and criminal. This movie traces, in minute detail, all the players
involved in his trial – the rats, the dealers, the feds, the femme
fatale, and the legendary club kids like murderer Michael Alig.

It’s an interesting movie, about a fascinating topic, with a great
segment giving a history of the evolution of music, nightclubs, and
drugs, worth seeing, but it’s just too long. It gets bogged down with way too many
talking heads against acid-green lighting.

Drive is playing now, Limelife opens today, and  Where Do We Go Now?
won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

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


16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

Sept 9, 2011. TIFF it! I Am a Good Person, I Am a Bad Person, Melancholia PLUS TIFF

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.

If this is your first listen to my show from U of T, or maybe you just arrived in Toronto for the first time, or if you’re an alien that just landed from another planet, and if you saw me a couple days ago standing on a streetcar with my back stiff, one hand posed dramatically in the air, the other supporting the back of a nineteen year old women, you might wonder… what’s going on and what’s he doing on a streetcar. And that’s a good question, and one that could only be asked in a place like Toronto.

You see, each year, right about now, a strange confluence of people meet and interact in the city’s downtown for about a week, making for some very strange and wonderful combinations. Because, right now, TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, is opening its curtains and lighting up its screens and walls right across the city. So what that means is some three hundred movies from around the world – including countries like France, Japan, China, India, Russia, South Africa, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, Latin America, and The US, Australia, Canada and The UK – in a dozen different genres are being shown, both to people working in the film industry, who want to buy sell or publicize their pictures, and the general public, who want to see the films and take in some of the glamour and excitement of seeing World and North American premiers of this and next year’s best movies.

There are red carpet entrances to many of the screenings, and usually a director — and often actors, writers and production staff – stay after the fill to answer questions from the audience. What started as a place where Torontonians could watch films that had already played in Berlin, Cannes, Venice, gradually turned into a festival that eclipses most of the others as the most important one in North America, and vying for the title internationally. It also has a spanking new building where many of the films are being shown called the Tiff Bell Lightbox, (on King St between Peter and John) which is really an exciting place to be. Strangers talk to each other – something that’s not usually done in straightlaced Toronto – about movies, about what they’re seeing, about what’s good and what sucks. A couple years ago I was chatting candidly with the woman beside me, and then she got up and sat on the stage to interview filmmaker of the movie we had just seen. I won’t reveal any names, but lets just say she’s had a bit of trouble with a Broadway musical involving a superhero. Yeah, her.

Anyway, while all the people converging on the downtown around the Lightbox and the Hyatt on King St West, I was on my way there, when I saw the other group involving huge numbers arriving from around the globe – the “freshers”. First year Unoversity students at one of the city’s many universities and colleges. They’ve taken to wearing ugly coloured T-shirts with strange electro-designs and unreadable slogans (I guess they’re all in-jokes) as they shout unrecognizable chants as the rush around in huge groups following the orders of some tuff girl with a megaphone.

Then they offer to sine your shoes, or play the tuba, or just stand, dazedly staring off into space as they are surrounded by others in the Wrong Coloured T-shirt! So, there I was making my way to the TIFF press office when I was swarmed by a bunch of freshers who implored I pose pretending to be a ballet teacher (Me? Not bloody likely!) giving a lesson on a streetcar, pose for a snap, and then all of them rushing away for the next task on their scavenger hunt.

So, freshers, I implore you all – task number 379 is to stand in a rush line at one of the TIFF screenings and then tell your friends about the movie you saw. And TIFF goers? Skip one reception and attend a beer pong party instead, just for one night. See what happens…

OK, here are some of the movies I’ve seen so far, and what better way to begin TIFF than with a meta-movie about an avant-garde filmmaker taking her film on the film festival circuit.

I Am a Good Person, I Am a Bad Person

Dir: Ingrid Veninger

Ruby (Ingrid Veninger) is a Yoko Ono-style experimental artist who has made a movie called Headshots, which is basically a series of close-ups of men’s penises. She’s about to leave Toronto with her disaffected daughter Sara (played by her real daughter Hallie Switzer) to show the film at a series of European film festivals. But before she leaves, she gives her husband what is probably the most un-erotic depiction of a blowjob ever on film. Headshots indeed.

Sara ends up acting like the disapproving mother while Ruby, (with her cinched-back hair and fake glasses) is desperately trying to get laid, be cool, and find satisfaction amongst the cold, bored audiences at the festivals. Finally, it’s too much. Sara heads off to Paris to stay with her aunt, leaving her nervous mom to face Berlin alone. Both of them carry secrets burning inside, and they have to work up the courage to face them before they meet up again.

While lacking the sweetness of young love present in her last  film, Modra, I Am a Good Person… makes up for it in this meta-film satire that skewers both art films and film festivals without straying too far from Veninger’s great, hyper-realistic style. This movie’s a fine way to start up that festival feeling.

Melancholia

Dir: Lars Von Trier

Justine and Claire are Yin&Yang sisters. Blonde, beautiful and talented Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is an advertising copywriter who just got married, but managed to show up late for her own wedding party. The dark, shy, anglo-french-sounding Claire (Charloote Gainsbourg) sometimes really hates her sister, but feels a need to nurture her, heal her, to bring her back to life.

Because Justine is depressed, and feels her life Is a sham. Despite the grand wedding banquet — beside an 18 hole golf course, complete with sandtraps and, strangely, a telescope — her divorced parents are embarrassing, her boss is relentlessly bugging her for a tag line, even at the wedding, and her husband’s a naïve hick who thinks he can cure her by showing pictures of apple trees. But Justine’s life is much grander than all of this.

You see, she can feel that the errant planet Melancholia is heading for earth and may destroy everything in just a few days. Even riding horses won’t cure her. Claire’s optimism is also slipping away as the planet moves closer and closer. Will the world end? Or will Melancholia swerve away?

I dunno. After last years shocking movie Antichrist, Von Trier’s depiction of the meaningless of modern lives feels funny, but that isn’t enough. What should have been a pre-apocalyptic psycho-drama felt slow, repetative and drawn out. It’s hard to carry a 2 hour movie using a one-trick-pony.

TIFF runs for the next ten days: Tickets are still available — for more information, go to tiff.net .

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

Sept 2, 2011. Families. Movies Reviewed: Blue Collar Boys, Colombiana, Our Idiot Brother, and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark PLUS TIFF and Toronto Indie Film Fest

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Fighting, Horror, Movies, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on September 9, 2011

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.

Well it’s the end of the summer, but there are still lots of new movies out there to see before TIFF ushers in the new seasons films. But with vacation ending, kids going back to school, families seem to go to the forefront. So here are some late summer movies about family troubles: one’s about a family business in trouble, one’s about a girl who vows to avenge a death in her family, one’s about a three sisters who don’t know what to do about their brother, and one’s about a disfunctional family that lives in sort of a haunted house.

Blue Collar Boys

Dir: Mark Nistico

Red (Gabe Fazio) and Nazo (Kevin Interdonato) work as contractors in central New Jersey, building and finishing new suburban homes. Red’s dad has run his business for years with no real problems. They build, paint, finish. At work, they have to suck it up with their employers, the homeowners. And their anger builds up inside. So when they’re not yelling at each other, they’re labeling everyone else they see as “Spics”, “Wops”, “Faggots” or “bagel-cutting Jews”. When they’re finished putting up drywall, Red, Nazo and their buddies like to go to local bars to pick fights. Actually, Nazo goes to fight — Red goes to make peace and stop Nazo from getting carried away and ending up in jail. Everything seems normal, right? Like Sopranos, but without organized crime…

But things start to fall apart when Dad’s business is unraveling. The developers that hired them refuse to pay them, their credit dries up, and then they can’t pay off any of the suppliers they owe money to, so they can’t finish their work. And a sketchy local politician and their longtime outside business partner seem to be planning something that’s no good.

Blue Collar Boys is a good, low budget, realistic movie about angry builders in Jersey who are mad as hell and aren’t gonna take it any more. Definitely realistic.

I just wish there could be a few more happy or funny or interesting scenes, just a moment of relief from every character in the movie ending up venting their frustrations by fighting, shouting, and punching holes in the plaster using other people’s heads…

UPDATE: Blue Collar Boys is having its U.S. premiere at a Jersey-appropriate location:  the Hoboken International Film Fest on June 2, 2012. Check it out!

Colombiana

Dir: Olivier Megaton

Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) is an Afro-latina schoolgirl in Colombia whose parents are murdered by local mobsters. Her father gives her a lily necklace to remember her family and the meaning of her name. She escapes the bad guys in a great chase scene, jumping off balconies and down allies in her shantytown, until she ends up in America, and movces in with her thuggish uncle. He asks her what she wants to be when she grows up. “I want to be a killer!” So he trains her in the arts of the assassins.

Fifteen years later, she’s grown up to be the ultimate killing machine, able to break into any building, and kill anyone. And she always leaves the sign of a lily on all her victims. She has an artist boyfriend but keeps all her life a secret – but when he snaps a photo of her sleeping, the police get a hold of her image.

Will she gets to the head gangsters before the FBI finds her? It’s a simultaneous chase and escape story, an action thriller. Great chase scenes, fights, break-ins, shoot-outs and explosions. Zoe Saldana – she was the blue woman in Avatar – is the lithe cat burglar-assassin, and plays it well. The serious dialogue, though, usually falls flat, and a few scenes, like the tearful fight with her uncle in a library, almost ruined the whole movie.

This is an international movie, written by French director Luc Besson, shot mainly in Mexico, and with a European feel. The plot’s simple and predictable, but I liked it – a good B movie.

Our Idiot Brother

Dir: Jesse Peretz

Ned (Paul Rudd) is a happy hippy farmer’s market guy with a dog named Willie Nelson. He is unusually sympathetic to others’ problems and absolutely trusts whatever they say. There’s not a suspicious bone in his body. But when he’s released from prison after selling pot to a uniformed cop (who said he needed it to calm down), his girlfriend dumps him, kicks him off the commune, and takes his dog.

So he’s taken in by his kindly mother and then passed around among his three nice, but self-centred, sisters, who take turns taking care of him. But when he naively tells them the unvarnished truth, he just messes everything up, by revealing uncomfortable hidden secrets in their marriages, jobs and relationships. He’s really only good with small kids and dogs, who are just as trusting as he is.

This is a cute, gentle comedy which gets its laughs mainly from characters and social situations rather than potty humour, dick jokes and fat gags. It pokes fun at the hidden cruelty and passive-aggressiveness in a middle-class educated liberal family.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Dir: Troy Nixey

Sally (Bailee Madison) , an introspective and surly little girl with an Anne Frank haircut, has been palmed off by her navel-gazing California Mom to her ambitious Rhode Island Dad (Guy Pearce), an architect with a new, young girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes). Dad wants them all to move into an abandoned Victorian mansion and live like a family so he can renovate the place, get the house picture into Architecture Digest, and then sell it off for big bucks. But the place seems to be haunted – Sally is sure she hears voices calling to her from somewhere in the basement. She goes down the steps, unscrews the metal cover on an air vent, and…?

Sally is convinced there are creatures out to get her whenever she turns off the light at night. They take away teeth and leave old coins under her pillow. And now they want Sally. She draws pictures of small, scary beings that attack with sharp tools in the dark. Dad, is more concerned about his career, and doesn’t want his daughter to mess things up. He calls a grey-bearded psychiatrist who says she’s crazy and ups her medication, so she’ll stop hearing voices. But step-mom Kim sympathizes with her – and gives her a Polaroid flash camera to protect herself, just in case these creatures really are there.

Are they real and should they get out of that house now? Or is it all just Sally’s overactive imagination? This is a scary movie about a child’s worst fears, set against a nostalgic garden and a spooky Victorian home. It was based on a script co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, so there are some echoes of the look and story of his Spanish-language movies, like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone. But this one isn’t quite as good, with the scary bad guys not as nuanced as in most of his movies.

Colombiana, Our Idiot Brother, and Don’t be Afraid of the Dark are all playing now; check your local listings. Blue Collar Boys will have its world premier on September 14th, as part of the Toronto Indie Film Fest. Go to www.film-fest.ca . TIFF opens next Thursday, September 8, and runs for the following ten days: Tickets are still available — for more information, go to www.tiff.net .

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

August 26, 2011 End of Summer. One Day, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D, We Were Here PLUS TIFF

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 9, 2011

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.

If you’re listening to this on the radio, that means you’ll have sat through that spectacular lightning and thunderstorm a couple days ago. My hair was standing on end with all the electrical buzz that was in the air.

But, right about now, Toronto is also experiencing a different kind of buzz – the annual excitement, celebrity-spotting, movie gossip, and non-stop chatter that arrives with TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival.

One Day

Dir: Lone Sherfig

Emma and Dexter are making out by a fountain right after their graduation party. Dex (Jim Sturgess) is drunk, awkward, cute and preppy, while Emma (Anne Hathaway) is too-tall gawky, with frizzy straight hair and glasses. They wind up in bed together, but after a few missteps and misunderstandings they cancel the sex and end up just snuggling: sleeping together, but not sleeping together.

But there’s something there. Emma has a crush on him, and he loves her. They end up meeting together every July 15th, St Swithin’s day, as their lives take different paths. He becomes an unbelievably unlikeable TV host in flashy clothes, interviewing celebrities he’s ever heard of, and rushing off to the back to snort coke between shoots.

She winds up as a waitress in a basement tex-mex restaurant, seemingly with no future. But things change.

The movie shows the changes in their status, looks and attitudes as they meet on their yearly tryst. Emma ends up with a terrible stand-up comic, while Dex marries a very rich women from a detestable family. When will Dex stop drinking, taking drugs and being a shallow asshole? When will the beautiful, model-like Emma buy contacts, start combing her hair, and realize her true self-worth? And when, if ever, will these two non-lovers come together at last in their pre-determined destiny and perfect lovers?

You wonder what Emma finds appealing in Dex, who’s just a pitiful self-centred drunk for most of the movie, but Jim Sturgess played the part well. Anne Hathaway’s Yorkshire accent was annoying at first but I stopped worrying about it once the plot kicked in. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker, with a story designed to make us happy or sad on cue, but, I dunno… I kinda liked it. It was made by the Danish director Lone Sherfig, so I was expecting something as good as her film An Education, which it wasn’t, but it wasn’t bad.

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D

Dir: Robert Rodrigues

Pregnant stepmom (Jessica Alba) has to stop some nefarious criminals even in her third trimester. Her two stepkids, Rebecca and Cecil, are pesky pranksters who resent her intruding into their lives. “You’re not my mom!” And clueless Dad, a Spy Hunter on a reality show, doesn’t know his own wife is a spy.

Eventually, the kids discover her secret, get taken to spy headquarters, and end up as Spy Kids on their own. Someone’s stealing time and slowing everything down or speeding everything up. It’s up to them, their step-mom, their robot dog Elmo, and the two original spy kids, (who are all grown up now, but still quarreling) to find out his true identity, and stop time from stopping.

Unfortunately it was bit too corny and boring for adults, or even anyone over the age of five. Even the strange smells on the scratch card didn’t add much. Just watch out for #6!

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 their own story and that of their friends directly to the camera.

There was no identified virus, and the invisible infection period was unknown. The movie documents, (in the form of snapshots of a close friend of one of the storytellers) the lightning speed from apparent health to visible infection to death over the course of just a few weeks.

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.

Day One and Spy Kids 4 are now playing, We Were Here opens next week, check your local listings. For more information on

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

%d bloggers like this: