Blood Bros. Movies Reviewed: Only God Forgives, Rufus PLUS TIFF13

Posted in Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Dreams, Movies, Thailand, Torture, Uncategorized, Vampires, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 25, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

TIFF13 Press ConferenceTIFF is coming! At the big press launch they released the names of some of the movies playing this year. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. The opening movie is the Julian Assange and Wikileaks story, and it’s called The Fifth Estate. Very interested in seeing which side Hollywood takes in this – but it’s cool just seeing it on the screen while Assange is still holed up in the Ecuador embassy. And then there’s Bradley Manning… Another movie that looks good is wikileaks_2459774bBurning Bush, by the great Polish director Agnieszka Holland. It’s about the self-immolation of a Prague Spring protester in the 60s. And I really want to see Prisoners, a thriller about a missing girl’s father, who kidnaps a man he thinks is the criminal. Denis Villeneuve is the Quebec director of Incendie.

Lots of crime and violence… so keeping in the same vein, this week I’m looking at two movies about brooding young men embroiled in circumstances beyond their control. There’s a violent drama about a man caught between a rock and a hard place — his mom and the Angel of Death — in Bangkok; and a Canadian drama about a boy with strange attributes who just wants to fit in.

Ryan Gosling Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives

Dir: Nicolas Wilding-Refn

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a hardworking, honest American who lives in Bangkok. He runs a kickboxing gym paid for by family money. But this money is tainted. One day, something sets his older brother off on a rampage that leaves a young girl dead.

A local police detective named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) hears about the brutal rape and murder, and brings the dead girl’s father to the blood-drenched scene of the crime – a seedy hotel room.  Julian’s brother is still there. Chang hands the dad a baseball bat and locks the door. An eye for an eye.

Kristin Scott Thomas Only God ForgivesJulian feels judgement has been done, and doesn’t retaliate against the man who killed his brother. But his mother is a different story. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), it turns out, is the family kingpin (or queen pin?) in the drug trade. She’s a cruel, bleached-blond harridan with dramatic eye-makeup. She kills with impunity, and gets off by watching bodybuilders pose on a stage. She flies into Bangkok specifically to kill whoever killed her son.

Chang, the cop, appears to be a soft-spoken, unassuming, middle-aged guy who likes to sing Karaoke. But in fact he is a dark avenger, an angel of death. He acts as judge, jury and executioner, carrying a square-tipped sword strapped to his back. He decides, on the spot, whether a crime deserves just the loss of a limb or two… or a death sentence. And – chop-chop-chop – case closed.

So the two sides, Chang and Crystal, are headed for an inexorable showdown, with Julian caught between them.

Vithaya Pansringarn Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives has a strange dream-like quality that feels like something by David Lynch. It’s hard to tell if you’re watching what is actually happening, or what Julian thinks will happen. It’s also highly stylized, with the characters posing in mannered tableaux. Most of the scenes are gushing with red and black: gaudy, flocked wallpaper, red glass beads, glowing paper lanterns. And blood… everywhere. I knew this movie was going to be violent, but it’s gruesome, gory.

The movie is fun, in a way. There’s this incredible, over-the-top monologue that Kristin Scott-Thomas has in a Meet the Fokkers scene. Amazing. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, has almost no lines in the entire movie even though he’s on-screen most of the time. The thing is, he’s not a hero, he’s not an anti-hero — he’s just there. And that’s the problem with this movie: too much gore, too simplistic a plot, and Ryan Gosling is too blah.

Rufus

Dir: Dave Schultz

Rory Saper RUFUSRufus (Rory J Saper) is a shy, misunderstood teenager with lank hair, pale features and an English accent. He arrives in a small town with a very old woman who makes him promise to make friends and blend in. Soon enough, she’s dead, and he’s taken in by the chief of police and his wife, who see him as a replacement for their own son who died a few years earlier. But Rufus is different.

He doesn’t really eat at all, except for really, really fresh meat. Bloody meat. He can lie under water for long periods of time without breathing. His body temperature is 20 – 30 degrees below normal. And did I mention he likes to drink blood? I’m not saying he’s a vampire or anything, but… he is different.

Rufus 2So he naively makes friends with Tracy (Merritt Patterson), a neighbouring girl who says she’s slept with half the town. And there’s Clay (Richard Harmon), the high school jock and bully who first attacks him, but later attempts to befriend him. He falls into a sort of normal life – a home at last. He plays catch-ball with his new dad, makes angels in the snow, sleeps in a real bedroom, eats with a real family.

But then a mysterious man who works for Big Pharma comes to town. He says Rufus can’t live in the outside world and wants to take him away. He seems to know something about Rufus’s past, and that of the old woman he came with.

Rufus can kill if crossed, but he also powers to heal. Who or what is he? A vampire, a werewolf or an immortal soul? And can a boy who is different, especially one with special powers, live a normal life in a small town?

Rufus 1Rufus is interesting as an idea. I liked the concept, but it feels more like a pilot for a TV show than a movie. The acting is good, and I like the feel of the whole thing, but the story just meanders along… there’s just not enough clear plot to satisfy you.

Only God Forgives is playing now, and Rufus opens today (check your local listings.) And to find out about what’s playing at TIFF and how to score tickets – check out the daytime passes — go to tiff.net

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

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Daniel Garber interviews Guy Maddin about his project Seances

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Lost Movies, Montreal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 18, 2013

aaa_Maddin_4__photo_by_dualityphoto.comThis is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Winnipeg filmmaker GUY MADDIN is known for his tales of twisted nostalgia, his eerie retakes of Canadian history, and comical melodramas done in new interpretations of archaic styles.

His amazing movies include Tales from the Gimli Hospital, The Saddest Music in the World, and the semi-documentary My Winnipeg.

He’s one of the few directors that can make an arty film using experimental techniques that is totally enjoyable and funny.

But now he’s doing something different: bringing together live performance, interactive video and bilingual filmmaking in acostumes very unusual way. He’s currently shooting 12 movies in 13 days at the Phi Centre in a project known as SEANCES.  Guy Maddin speaks by telephone from Montreal to help guide us through the smoke and mirrors.

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Mid-July Popcorn Movies. Films Reviewed: Pacific Rim, Red 2, The Conjuring

Posted in 1970s, CGI, Cold War, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Horror, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 18, 2013

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.

It’s hot. It’s so hot the city sucked up the most energy ever recorded recorded in one day. There are rolling blackout across the town. How to beat the heat? You guessed it. Movies. I was in an IMAX theatre on Monday in flip-flops and shorts and I had to keep moving my fingers and toes to avoid freezer burn. So this week I’m talking about popcorn movies, the kind that keep you interested as you decompress in your seat. One’s a violent action/comedy that’s spy vs spy; one’s an action/fantasy of robots vs sea monsters; and there’s a chiller/horror that’s ghost busters vs evil spirits.

RED 2Red 2

Dir: Dean Parisot

Frank and Sarah (Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker) live a quiet suburban life. He’s retired from his days as a CIA killer. But he finds himself pulled back into it – and Sarah, a civilian, insists on coming too. Soon enough, they’re flying off to Paris, London and Moscow in a private jet, searching for a forgotten relic of the cold war. It’s unclear if it’s a person, an item or a sleeper cell. Whatever it is, there could be a major world disaster if it’s not neutralized. But even while he’s searching, he’s also being sought by two assassins who are hired to kill him. Han (Lee Byung-hun) a Korean killer, and Victoria (Helen Mirren) an MI6 assassin, are both his former friends and colleagues.

Frank puts together a team. He joins forces with various cold war colleagues and former Red 2 Zeta-Jones Parker Willisenemies. Sarah is just along for the ride… but she soon becomes an amateur spy, herself. The group must avoid a ruthless American operative (who is trying to cover-up the whole operation), locate a missing British scientist, and save the world… without being killed themselves.

This movie’s not bad – it’s actually quite entertaining. Cute, even. There’s a huge cast of very skilled actors playing simple, cookie-cutter roles, but they do it well, and seem to be having fun. There’s Anthony Red 2 MirrenHopkins, John Malkovich, David Thewlis and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Lots of really good chase scenes, shoot outs, loads of gratuitous death and violence, and cool, improvised hand-to-hand combat – like in Die Hard. There are also lots of split-second visual gags, (like an elderly woman playing a double bass.)

On the other hand, there’s nothing particularly original or surprising about the story – the plot’s completely predictable. One of the catch phrases the characters keep repeating is “I didn’t see that one coming”.

Really? ‘Cause I sure did.

Charlie Hunnam Pacific RimPacific Rim

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s the near future, and giant sea monsters from outer space are terrorizing port cities all around the Pacific Ocean. So the various governments build giant robots (known as Jaegers) to go up against the Godzilla-like creatures. But since they’re so big, they need two people to control one robot. They merge their minds and memories in a “neural handshake” and together battle the bad guys. Teams usually consist of siblings, lovers or best friends. But when the robot teams fail to stop the monsters (known as Kaiju) from attacking, the governments decide to scrap the robot plan and build giant walls instead. Big mistake!Pacific Rim Kikuchi

Only a few of the Jaegers are still around. It’s up to their trained drivers – the Jaegermeisters, if you will — and their commander, to try to defeat the monsters, once and for all.

This was another entertaining movie. Excellent special-effect CGIs – better than Transformers 3 Pacific Rim Jaeger(and that says a lot) — and a fun story. It has a very complicated plot, with a huge cast. Mako and Raleigh (Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Hunnam) are good as the dedicated robot riders, as is Idris Elba as their commander Pentecost. And a comic sub-plot (involving the non-combatant scientists who are trying to defeat the sea monsters through research, not war) helps to counter the relentless fighting. To tell the truth, I was a little bit disappointed in the script, since I like the director, del Toro, a lot, and was hoping for something more like Pan’s Labyrinth than Hellboy. But it was still a hell a lot of fun for an action movie.

The Conjuring Lili TaylorThe Conjuring (based on a true story)

Dir: James Wan

It’s 1971. Demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) give lectures on how to detect or debunk reports of haunted houses and possessed dolls. Lorraine is particularly sensitive to otherworldly beings. Most of their investigations turn out to be just scaredpeople hearing the wind. But when they are contacted by a family from Rhode Island, they sense this is the real deal.

Carolyn (Lili Taylor), her trucker-husband Roger, and their five daughters, have recently moved PATRICK WILSON, VERA FARMIGA, LILI TAYLOR, RON LIVINGSTON, photo Michael Tackett THE CONJURING Warner Brosinto a beautiful old house set in a bucolic garden with a big tree and a still pond. But the family soon begins to notice strange things, every night at 3:07 AM. One daughter feels a hand pulling her leg when she’s fast asleep. The youngest has an imaginary friend, Rory, who appears whenever she plays a music box with a spinning spiral on a round mirror. A sleep-walker is drawn to an old wardrobe that came with the house. And mom wakes up each morning with strange bruises on her body.

So the Warrens set up shop inside the house, with cameras and microphones, to record paranormal activity. And, soon enough, real, scary things start to happen, culminating in a battle to exorcise evil from their immortal souls.

The Conjuring Vera FarmigaThis is a very scary ghost movie. I’ve gotten used to cheap, found-footage movies, like the Paranormal Activity series (which I liked), so it was nice to see a classic-style, well-made-movie movie that scares your socks off. Sure, a lot of the scenes were snatched from films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist. You also have to wonder: who buys their kids hideously ugly dolls, or music boxes with hypnotic powers? Come on.

But it also had some totally new kinds of scary scenes involving cubby-holes, dusty basements, tunnels and crawl spaces. They provided some new claustrophobic images to be terrified by late at night. The hide and clap game, the dusty basement, the scene in the wardrobe: these are all super chilling scenes. And while the male actors were both milquetoasts, it’s the women — stoic Vera Farmiga and especially Lili Taylor as the mom in a cosmic meltdown mode — who steal the show.

Pacific Rim is playing now, and Red 2 and The Conjuring both open today (check your local listings.)

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

Not-So-Mellow Melodramas. Films Reviewed: Une Chambre en Ville, Byzantium

Posted in Cultural Mining, Goth, Horror, melodrama, Movies, Protest, Secrets, UK, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 12, 2013

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.

Melodrama has a bad rep: corny, overacted, fake-y, too emotional… People think of swooning and fainting women batting their eyelashes. These stories are not hip enough, and cynical viewers feel obliged to roll their eyes in disgust. But they’re wrong. A good melodrama, done right, can be moving, exciting and memorable. So this week I’m looking at two women-centred melodramatic movies. One’s a classic look back to love and loss in postwar France in the 1950’s; the other’s a contemporary look at some women holed up in a ramshackle hotel who may have been alive in the 18th century.

Chambreenville_frl_01_mediumUne Chambre en Ville

Dir: Jacques Demy

It’s 1955, in the French industrial city of Nantes. Francois (Richard Berry) is a tool-and-die maker who rents a room – the chamber en ville mentioned in the title. It’s in the home of a stuck-up, but faded, bourgeois widow (Danielle Darieux). Francois calls her the Baroness. Her husband, a Colonel, died in Indochina – France’s Vietnam war — so she needs a tenant to help pay her bills.

Francois has a beautiful, working-class girlfriend. The fresh-faced Violette adores him, but une-chambre-en-ville-poster2.jpdark-and-brooding Francois finds her too ordinary.

Meanwhile, the Baroness’s daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) is married to a much older man Edmond (Michel Picolli). He’s pulling in the francs, hand over fist, selling these new things called TV sets to eager buyers. She likes the mink coats he buys her but he’s a dud in bed. Edith’s a sexual animal who turns for sex outside their marriage. Edmond is intensely jealous and prone to threatening her with a straight razor.

Well, somehow, Edith and Francois meet and sparks fly. They end up sleeping together, une chambre en villeanonymously, with neither knowing their connection: that he actually lives with her mother in Edith’s old room! But what are the consequences of their newfiound connection?

But wait — there’s more! I should mention that, while it’s not exactly a musical, the entire movie is sung… sort of like the libretto in an opera. Listen. (on MP3: Francois and Violette having an argument)

This is all set against a background of a city strike, with the strikers and protesters standing on one side of the main street, and the riot police facing them, shouting orders just outside Eugene DelacroixFrancois’s window. In scenes that look uncannily like a Delacroix painting  (or anything from Les Miserables) you have strikers waving red flags as they march by the barricades for the ultimate confrontation.

This is a really good movie, with shocking plot turns, secrets and retribution. It’s seldom seen – it’s been a few decades since last shown in Toronto – and this is a new colour print. Jacques Demy (he was married to director Agnes Varda, and died in 1990) is a director who deserves to be seen by more people. Although he’s better known for his song-and-dance musicals in the 60s, in films like Les demoiselles de Rochefort, Une Chambre en Ville shows a lesser-known side of his work.

Gemma Arterton, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel, Thure Lindhardt Photo Patrick RedmondByzantium

Dir: Neil Jordan

Eleanor and Clara (Saorise Ronan and Gemma Arterton) are two young women who share a council flat. Porcelain-featured Eleanor is an innocent-seeming teenaged schoolgirl. She likes sitting in a garret dropping her scribbled writing out the window. Clara wears scarlet lipstick and is tough as nails, and works as a prostitute to support them. It’s the classic dual stereotypes of women: the virgin and the whore. They’re forced to flee the city, leaving dead bodies in their wake, when they’re discovered by some mysterious detectives. They end up in a remote coastal town, bunking down in a seedy, rundown hotel called the Byzantium. (MoreByzantium Saoirse Ronan Photo Christopher Raphael flocked wallpaper and fringed lampshades than you can shake a stick at.) Clara smells cash to be made and immediately sets up a brothel while Eleanor wistfully plays the piano. But all is not what it appears to be.

Eleanor is convinced she’s immortal, over 200 years old. She’ll tell you her story if you want to listen. And she’ll suck your blood afterwards — consensually, of course, and only if you’re ready to die. She has no fangs, just a sharp fingernail, but she’s still pretty vampiric.

Then Eleanor meets an anaemic, ginger-haired boy named Frank (played by the leonine Caleb Landry Jones). He loves her music and wants to hear her life story. Through a series of flashbacks she tells her story: her time in an orphanage, her rescue, a horrific incident that changed her life… and the part Clara played in all of this. Will Frank believe her stories? Will the Byzantium_ Caleb Landry Jones Photo Patrick Redmondtwo women outrun their dark stalkers? And what is the real story of Clara and Eleanor’s relationship?

Byzantium is a beautifully-shot, dark gothic drama. It alternates between historical drama, roiling romance, and contemporary sexual noir. It looks like that, too, with scenes of Spartan orphanages and horses on the beach sharing screentime with heavy industrial hallways and endless tunnels to nowhere. I was expecting a sequel to Neil Jordan’s painfully awful Interview with a Vampire (starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise) from a few years ago, but this one is much, much better.

Byzantium opens today, and Une Chambre en Ville is playing on July 15th at 6:30 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of Bitter/Sweet, the amazing Jacques Demy retrospective. Also opening today is the absolutely fantastic Danish drama The Hunt, directed by Thomas Vinterberg. It’s about a divorced small town teacher (Mads Mikkelson) who wants to take his son for his ritual coming-of-age hunting trip, but finds himself the object of a different kind of hunt when he is accused of an unspeakable crime.  I reviewed this during TIFF last fall, and it’s finally being released – fantastic movie!

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

Daniel Garber speaks with Aram Rappaport about his new film Syrup

Posted in Advertising, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Suspicion, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 12, 2013

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

Next time you take a sip of pop or juice or an energy drink, think for a second:
Are you drinking something you like? Or is it something you’ve been told you like?

Well, there’s a new movie, a comedy/drama called SYRUP, that says marketing and brand names  are all that matter. The main character is a young guy who calls himself “Scat” (Shiloh Fernandez), who comes up with an idea for a new drink. He thinks it will make him millions of dollars… if he can convince a company to buy it.

But all he has is the name.

Aram Rappaport speaks to me by telephone from Chicago to tell us about his brash, funny, fast-moving film SYRUP that opens today in Toronto. (July 12, 2013)

Shiloh Fernandez and Amber Heard in SYRUP, a Magnolia Pictures release

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Offbeat Mainstream Movies. Films Reviewed: The Frankenstein Theory, I’m So Excited, Thermae Romae

Posted in comedy, Horror, Japan, Manga, Rome, Spain, Uncategorized, Yukon by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.comand 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.

Is it an oxymoron to be both mainstream and offbeat? This week I’m looking at movies conventional in their genres, but unusual in their subject matter, style or location. There’s a horror movie that takes place in the arctic; a campy comedy that flies through the skies; and a manga rom-com that takes place… in a bathtub!

Frankenstein theory posterThe Frankenstein Theory

Dir: Andrew Weiner

John (Kris Lemche) is a young university professor in LA whose pet theory has landed him in hot water. He is convinced – based on some old manuscripts and letters he found – that Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was not a story. It’s all true. And not only is it true, but Frankenstein’s monster – the man himself — is still alive, hundreds of years later.

And where does he live? All the maps he has point to the far north. So he sets off with a camera crew to Whitehorse, Yukon. From there, with the help of Karl (Timothy Murphy), a chiseled-featured guide with an unplaceable accent, they head up to the sub-zero temperatures of the tundra.

Soon enough they are camped out in a wooden yurt in the middle of nowhere. John is convinced that this where they’ll find frankenstein’s monster. They spend dark nights listening to howling wolves and Karl’s stories of fighting polar bears.

But when they wake to find human footsteps in the snow, they realize that someone with very big feet is watching them. Is it the monster? What will they do if they actually meet him? And is it safe to fool around with modern nature? Soon enough, they realize they may have bit off more than they can chew… and that they might be chewed up themselves.

This Blair Witch-style found-footage horror movie is a bit eerie with some breathtaking arctic scenery (for once, the US is masquerading as Canada, not vice-versa). I like the premise, and there are some neat parts involving a meth-head, huskies, and snow drifts; and the acting is generally pretty good. But the plot is unbelievably predictable.  Most important, for a thriller/horror movie this just not scary enough.

I'm so excited 1 Raúl Arévalo as Ulloa, Carlos Areces as Fajas & Javier Cámara as Joserra. Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsI’m So Excited

Dir: Pedro Almodovar

A plane flying from Spain to Mexico runs into trouble with its landing gear. After putting the economy class to sleep using muscle relaxants the staff has to deal with the eccentric business class passengers: A bald CEO; a mysterious, moustachioed Mexican; a much-feared female celebrity; a shy psychic who wants to lose her virginity; a young couple on their honeymoon; and a middle-aged actor with marital difficulties. Each one has a secret to be revealed.

Meanwhile the flamboyantly gay flight attendants and their macho pilots trade sexual barbs, innuendos and hidden rendezvous in the cockpit and washrooms, even as the plane endlessly circles airports, still unable to land.

We discover the passengers’ stories via two odd features of the plane. All i'm so excited 6 José María Yazpik as Infante and Cecilia Roth as Norma Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicstelephone conversations are broadcast on the PA system; and one flight attendant Joserra (Javier Camara) always tells the complete truth whenever asked a question.

Like Woody Allen, Almadovar started as a comedy director, only later turning to serious dramas. I’m So Excited is a screwball-style comedy harkening back to his early days. This is comedy at its most camp. The flamboyant flight attendants feel compelled to ogle every man, gossip with every woman, and perform lip-synch dances up and down the aisle.

i'm so excited 2 Hugo Silva as Benito Morón, Lola Duenas as Bruna, Javier Cámara as Joserra and Antonio De La Torre as Alex Acero Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsI really like movies with twisted plots, strange characters and unexpected revelations – there are lots of lots of those. And the plot turns (things like a telephone call followed from the sky to the ground and back again, involving multiple coincidences) were great. And it’s fun to see lots of the old Almodovar stalwarts, like Cecelia Roth.

But at times the humour felt strangely dated, and most of the gags fell flat. (Were they lost in translation? Who knows?) I just wasn’t laughing as much as I expected. So if you plan to see this movie, go for the story, not for the laughs.

Thermae_Romae_posterThermae Romae

Dir: Hideki Takeuchi (Based on the popular manga by Mari Yamazaki)

Lucius (Hiroshi Abe) is an architect in ancient Rome under the reign of Hadrian. He always enjoys a dip in a thermae romae – that is, a roman bath. Mami (Aya Ueto) is an office worker (and budding comic book artist) in present day Japan. She also frequents the local sento or public bath.

But one day, strange circumstances suck the naked Roman down a whirlpool20130312beam and spit him out again into a pool of doddering, elderly Japanese men. Who are these “flat-faced” people who speak no Latin? Pretty but bumbling Mami falls for him, of course, but keeps her passions in check. Handsome Lucius, on the other hand, is fascinated mainly by the advanced technology he finds: the mundane accoutrements taken for granted in modern times. And when he is transported back to ancient Rome he revitalizes his career with his new inventions. They meet up again in a hot springs, in a client’s plumbing display, and other strange places. Can Mami and Lucius find true love in a relationship spanning time and space? And can the relentlessly hardworking nature of the Japanese people rescue Lucius’s Rome in its time of trouble?

Hiroshi-Abe-and-Aya-Ueto-in-Thermae-Romae3This is one of the strangest mainstream movies around, combining the mundane minutiae of  Japanese daily life with outrageous fantasy. This, combined with toilet humour and bathhouse lore, make a very weird but totally fascinating movie. Based on a manga, it has a serial comic book’s plotting, that makes it feel more like a TV sitcom ( a series of episodes with recurring characters who solve problems and then move on) than a traditional movie:. But I thought it was hilarious, and uniquely Japanese in its odd and eccentric ordinariness.

The Frankenstein Theory starts today at the Big Picture Cinema; I’m So Excited also opens today at the Varsity in Toronto – check your local listings; and Thermae Romae is another great movie playing at Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival which is on right now – go to icff.ca for more information.

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

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