Odd Jobs. Movies reviewed: Pieta, C.O.G., Now You See Me PLUS Inside-Out
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
We’ve all had some pretty strange if short-lived jobs. I’ve worked as a newly-hatched chick crate stacker (horrifying… they kept on dying) and handing out government information pamphlets dressed as the letter “i”, with an enormous round, foam ball over my head (as the dot).
Well today I’m talking about three movies where the main characters have very unusual jobs. There’s a violent sort of insurance adjuster in Korea; a stuck-up Ivy League grad student who decides to be a migrant fruit-picker; and a group of magicians who try to rob banks.
Dir: Kim Kiduk
Kang-do is a tall, baby-faced man in his thirties who lives in a rusty, dusty industrial district of Seoul. Most of the factories there are tiny shops with zero employees outside the owners. Maybe there’s one machine punching out metal parts. So it’s a constant scramble for cash. It’s a poor area, and only Kang-do (Lee Jeong-jin) seems to be doing well. He sells the one thing everyone needs: money.
He’s just an ordinary a loan shark. But he collects his payments in an extraordinary way. He makes them sign up for insurance, and then pay back their debt according to what the insurance form pays: a broken leg, an injured hand, the loss of a finger. He casually pushes people off abandoned buildings, but only from the second floor. He’s selfish, cruel and emotionless, without even a shred of conscience – the devil incarnate. He has no one to answer to except his boss – no pesky extended family to hold him back: his mother abandoned him when he was a child.
But who shows up at his door one day, offering to cook and clean, but a stranger (Jo Min-soo) — an older woman – who says she’s his mother! She sings him his childhood lullaby. She wants to make up for abandoning him. He is still bitter and untrusting but she won’t give up. She even helps him in his cruel debt collection – since it’s all her fault for not teaching him right from wrong. It’s up to Kang-do to learn to trust, change his ways and open his heart to the only one who cares for him. Is the strange woman really his mother? Why did she choose to come back after all these years? And will the introduction of love – and a conscience? — upset his equilibrium and his job?
Pieta, like most of Kim Kiduk’s movies, has a neatly symmetrical storyline with a twist, coupled with extreme violence, and largely unsympathetic, over-the-top people. The ending is very good, the quirky, extreme characters are played well, and I love the gorgeous industrial look of the film, but it’s so grim, so relentless, so nnngggrrhhh that it’s just not a lot of fun to watch, except perhaps for its schadenfreude. It’s disturbing. I appreciate the way the story plays out, but I can’t say I loved this movie.
Dir: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Sam (Jonathon Groff) has just finished his MA at Yale but doesn’t want to live with his estranged mother. So he decides to earn some money communing with The People – apple pickers on a farm out west. Unfortunately, he studied Japanese in University, not Spanish. He expects to meet up with a classmate but he soon finds himself abandoned without friends. He’s soon brought down to size. The entitled, intelligent and successful rich kid soon learns the reality of real work, alienation, low wages, and unfair bosses. Next he’s working in the factory sorting fancy apples. A sympathetic employee, Curly (Corey Stall) offers him a promotion, but the benefits come with unstated duties, chez Curly. Finally he is driven to stay with an evangelical jade carver Jon (Dennis O’Hare) who is preparing for the county fair. Can a gay, cynical intellectual accept Jesus into his heart?
This is a really funny – not laugh out loud, but a grim humour – movie about the calamities hapless Samuel lands in, and the hard-to-take people he encounters. He’s made fun of as much as the people he meets. It’s based on a story by David Sedaris, and is just as funny but the movie exists, perfectly, outside of his book, as its own entity. Groff is great as an understated Sam, and Corey Stall (as Curly) has perfected the affable but skeezy guy – similar to his role as Russo on the TV show House of Cards. This is a very good movie.
Dir: Louis Leterrier
Four people, entertainers all, receive tarot-card invitations from a mysterious source. There’s a conjurer (Jesse Eisenberg), a hypnotist / conman (Woody Harrelson) an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a spoon-bender and pickpocket (Dave Franco). They meet up in New York City where they are dubbed the Four Horseman (not “of the apocalypse” – it’s just a name) and trained as a new act. Their gimmick? They can rob banks halfway around the world and give the loot to a screaming audience.
Their act is a huge media success.
As good magicians, they understand the point of a long-range trick, or a years-long setup, so they follow their directions perfectly. Soon they are being financed by a millionaire (Michael Caine), chased by an FBI detective who swears he’ll catch them (Mark Ruffalo), and also pursued by a man who earns his living debunking magicians as frauds (Morgan Freeman). And everyone wants to find out who is the fifth horseman? Is he one of the magicicians themselves? An unknown rival? A member of an illuminati-style cult? And what will the magicians’ final revelation bring?
OK. Some of the lines in this movie are pure cornball, the CGIs are often distracting, the actors are much better than the roles they’re playing, and there are a few too many twists to the plot. But never mind all that… I thought Now You See Me was a completely enjoyable, big-budget popcorn movie. A lot of fun.
Now You See Me opens today, and Pieta will be at the TIFF Bell Lightbox starting today. C.O.G played at Inside-Out Film Fest which continues through Sunday. Ghost in the Machine – a documentary about another strange job also opens today. Directed by Liz Marshall and beautifully shot, it follows an animal rights activist who, instead of freeing caged animals, takes their photos and shows their suffering to the world. And Lore, the amazing Australian movie about young German woman, a displaced person trying to find her way home right after WWII, also opens today, at the TIFF Bell Light Box.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .