Older Women. Movies Reviewed: Philomena and If I Were You

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Adoption, Catholicism, comedy, Cultural Mining, Feminism, Toronto, UK, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 27, 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.

412715_402768383177285_547971069_oThis week the Toronto Film Critics Association awarded the 2013 Scotiabank Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist to Matt Johnson, who made the fantastic movie The Dirties. Congratulations – great choice, great new filmmaker. Matt Johnson directed, produced and starred in that comedy/horror meta-movie I reviewed earlier this fall. This is could be the beginning of something big.

They say male movie stars can keep working until they die, but women stop being stars at age 35. It’s hard for older women to find lead roles in movies. Even Oscar winners. But they do exist. This week I’m looking at two movies starring award-winning, older actresses. There’s a British drama about a woman who wants to fill in a gap from her past; and an American comedy/drama about a woman who wants to undo a romantic triangle.

1384175_582752558454827_6105907_nPhilomena

Dir: Stephen Frears

Martin (Steve Coogan) is a former high-power party politico who suffers a fall from grace. He finds himself back in his previous profession: journalism. Reluctantly at first, he ends up pursuing a story about a retired, working-class woman named Philomena. Philomena (Judy Dench) was young, unmarried and pregnant when she was sent to live in a nunnery. She loved her infant son. So, one day, she was shocked and horrified to see her little boy driven away, before her very eyes, by a rich couple! She wanted to keep him, but she never saw him again. He was gone, adopted.

Now, many years later, Philomena wants a chance to see him before she dies. The nuns claim to have lost all her records in a fire. So Martin decides to write about Philomena’s story and to help 1379271_586138671449549_348510874_nher find her long lost son. So off they fly to America. Philomena is suspicious. Maybe he’s just using her to sell his story. Martin, on the other hand, is maddened by her quirky opinions and constantly-changing decisions: I want to go home… Let’s stay for another week… Gradually, Martin’s heart softens as he and Philomena get to know and trust each other better.

Will they locate the adult son? And if they do, will he want to meet his biological mother? Will he even remember her? And, finally, will the convent ever explain why they did what they did?

1376398_598313250232091_1715824787_nThis movie is a real tear-jerker. Based on a true story, it’s a very touching mother and son drama, with a few unexpected shocks and surprises. And there are at least two scenes that make the audience bawl. On the other hand, it’s quite sexless and sterile – not just the nuns. There’s no romance and no passion. Just anger at injustice, a sad longing for the past, righting wrongs, and a mother’s love for her child. Even though I could feel the movie deliberately tugging at my heart strings, it didn’t matter, since they did it so well.

Judy Dench’s character is rich and expertly played, while the always- funny Steve Coogan is a perfect foil. Well-directed by Steven Frears (My Beautiful Launderette, The Queen) with an excellent script, co-written by Coogan.

If I Were YouIf I Were You

Wri/Dir: Joan Carr-Wiggin

Madelyn (Marcia Gay-Harden) is happily married and a successful professional. But when she accidentally spies her husband, Paul, eating a romantic dinner with a beautiful young woman — when he said he was working late — everything falls apart. Is he cheating on her? Is their whole relationship based on a lie?

Flustered and confused, she finds herself following the young woman home. But rather than confronting her, she ends up saving her life. And so they meet. The Spanish beauty Lucy (Leonor Watling) admits that her lover Paul is still married and 411587_301446369896869_1132661752_ohasn’t left his boring old wife, and Madelyn, in turn, confesses that she caught her husband – she calls him “Fred” – cheating on her with some “bimbo”. They decide to follow each other’s advice on how to rescue their respective relationships. But only Madelyn knows that Fred and Paul are the same man. Can she fool Lucy into leaving her husband?

To distract her, Madelyn encourages the aspiring actress to pursue other goals. She takes Lucy to an audition for a play, King Lear, but somehow ends up cast alongside her. Will Madelyn succeed in her scheme? Or will her web of secrecy come unraveled? And are and her husband still in love?

413963_301441686564004_281730971_oIf I Were You is a cute comedy/ drama. It has some very funny sequences full of unexpected twists — it’s sort of a screwball comedy, with the main character juggling  hidden identities and secrets. And the opening scenes – from one to the next to the next — are brilliant. But later on, the movie seems loaded down with clichés and groaners. You have to wonder why so much screentime is devoted to the theatrical sub-plot. That’s not what the movie’s about. Most of all, this movie is a vehicle for the lead actress, Marcia Gay Harden. She’s at the centre of every single scene, and all other characters exist only to react to her (they love, hate, fear or admire her). To like the movie, you have to like Marcia Gay Harden. I do like her, so I enjoyed this film. It’s clever, cute and worth seeing.

Philomena and If I Were You both open today in Toronto (check your local listings).

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

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Daniel Garber talks with Swedish director Gabriela Pichler about her new film EAT SLEEP DIE (Äta Sova Dö)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Migrants, Movies, Sweden, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2013

Gabriela Pichler. Foto: Claudio Bresciani

Sverigesradio foto Gabriela PichlerHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Raša (Nermina Lukač) is a young Swedish woman, a Muslim born in Montenegro. She lives with her Dad in a small town near Gothenburg and works in a produce-packing factory. She’s a damned good employee — they type who can tell the exact weight of a handful of lettuce.

But when she and some others are laid off by the company, she finds herself suddenly rudderless, adrift. And, when her ailing father is forced to look for work in Norway, she has nothing to do and no one to do it with. All her friends were at the factory — her life was there, too. Is she “Swedish” enough to find a new job in her home town?
A new movie, a realistic drama, looks at small-town life in Sweden through the eyes of an assimilated, working class immigrant. It deals with questions of identity, community and exclusion.
This award-winning film is called EAT SLEEP DIE and played at the the Venice, Busan and Toronto film festivals. It is screening at the EU Film Festival in Toronto.Eat Sleep Die 06
I speak — by telephone from Gothenburg, Sweden — with the film’s writer/director, Gabriela Pichler. She talks about immigrants in Sweden, making her film and the personal connection she has with the story.

Bette Davis, The Hard Way. Movies reviewed: Jezebel, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, All About Eve

Posted in 1930s, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Movies, New Orleans, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on November 22, 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.

jezebell_01I see hundreds of movies a year, and I think I have a pretty good grasp of current cinema. But what do I know about old Hollywood? Next to nothing. So when I heard that TIFF was running a retrospective of a famous star through December, I thought I’d finally take a look at what all the fuss is about. I had always avoided these movies, so this really is the first time I’m watching her movies.

That actress is Bette Davis, and they’re playing a selection of her films in a series called The Hard Way. She’s unusual looking — huge round eyes, a narrow nose, not conventionally beautiful but quite distinctive, especially her voice. I’m starting to understand her fame. She plays strong – often tyrannical – women, but ones who don’t necessarily end up getting what they want. She conveys her meaning with a grand gesture, a cruel slap or a dismissive flick of her fingers.

This week I’m looking at three of her movies, one from each stage of her long career. First, from her days as a huge star in the late 1930s, a romantic drama set in the Old South;  in her comeback in the early 1950s, in an amazing drama set amidst Broadway theatre; and, with her second comeback, a dramatic horror movie set in Hollywood in the early 1960s.

jezebell_03Jezebel (1938)

Dir: William Wyler

It’s antebellum New Orleans, a land of strange customs. Chivalry prevails: a gentleman can be challenged to a duel at dawn merely for besmirching a woman’s name. But, at the same time, half the people there are enslaved to the other half. In the middle of this world is Julie (Bette Davis), a strong-willed southern belle living on a halcyon plantation. She loves one man only, a businessman named Pres Dillard (Henry Fonda). But she also loves her freedom: riding horses and asserting her own opinions, damn the rest. But she commits a social faux pas at the ball by appearing in a red dress, not the requisite white one. What a Jezebel! The audacity! The horror! Pres heads up north without asking her hand in marriage.

He returns a few years later a changed man. Julie – struck by melancholy — is sure he’s jezebell_02come back for her. But has he? When the plot turns, she sets in motion a series of intricate revenge plots among her friends, schemes that could lead to death. This is all done in the midst of a plague of yellow fever among the swamps, a symbol of the putrefaction of the entire pre-war south. Will Julie change her ways and feel regret? And will Pres ever love her again, or at least respect her?

This movie is an interesting look at another era, but it was so removed from now that it was hard for me to sympathize. A red dress? Honour? Chivalry? Jezebel is not a pro-slavery movie; it shows the pre-Civil-War south as a decadent, outdated culture on the verge of collapse. But how can you take a movie like this seriously after seeing Twelve Years a Slave, one that takes place during the same time period, but about the people who were really oppressed? Still (not a spoiler), the closing scenes in Jezebel do provide a suitably dramatic conclusion to this epic drama.

babyjane_01What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)

Dir: Robert Aldrich

Baby Jane Hudson is a tap-dancing child star of vaudeville, known for her blonde bologna curls and frilly white dresses. Her father flogs life-sized Baby Jane dolls at every performance. Her plain sister Blanche depends on her income. But with the dawn of the talkies, Blanche’s Hollywood star rises even while Jane’s falls. But when Blanche is crippled after a deliberate car crash, Jane becomes her nursemaid out of guilt.

Now, it’s the early 1960s, and they still live in the same rat-infested old Hollywood mansion. The adult Jane (Bette Davis) still has her blonde curls, but she’s an old woman now with inches of white pancake makeup slapped on her cheeks, and grotesque black eyeliner and misshapen lipstick. Blanche (Joan Crawford), in a wheelchair, is isolated in a room upstairs and can’t come down. They exist in a sort of a truce. But when Blanche’s old movies are revived on TV, Jane is overcome by jealousy and anger. She should be famous. She should have a comeback, not her sister. She becomes increasingly unhinged, flashing from 10-year-old girl to her hideous and cruel self. Can Blanche escape this hell-hole of Hollywood torture and decay? Two aging cinematic icons playing themselves, battle it out to the end.

And the final scene is just amazing.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, though a schlocky, much-imitated horror movie, did work as a comeback for Bette Davis, who carved out a new career as the queen of fear.

allabouteve_01All About Eve (1950)

Dir: Joseph L Mankiewicz.

Margo (Bette Davis) is a great broadway actress at the peak of her career. Eve (Ann Baxter) is a superfan. She shows up at every single performance in a trenchcoat and a crumpled Tilley hat. When they actually meet, Eve’s earnest story of love and loss entrances Margo and all her friends with her freshness, innocence and sincerity. Margo gives her a room in her home and Eve becomes a combination maid, confidant and personal assistant. But Margo gradually becomes suspicious when she sees Eve studiously imitating her every move. She’s not worshipping her… she’s trying to become her! Margo’s friends dismiss her fears as an aging actress’s egotitistic paranoia.

Soon Eve becomes Margo’s actual understudy and, due to some manipulation by Margo’s friends, Eve wows the critics, especially the all-powerful and all-knowing theatre critic Addison Dewitt (George Sanders).

Is Eve the ingénue she pretends to be — or an ambitious psychopath? All About Eve won a slew of Academy Awards, and, far from feeling dated, it really is a masterpiece, showing the pettiness, deception, artifice and manipulation in the dog-eat-dog world of theatre, and by extension, Hollywood. Perfect script, fantastic acting, flawless direction.

All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Jezebel are part of TIFF’s program The Hard Way: the Films of Bette Davis, curated by James Quandt. Go to tiff.net for listings. Also opening today is Empire of Dirt a Canadian drama about three generations of stubborn, first nations women, who are thrown together for the first time.

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

 

Daniel Garber talks to Destin Cretton about his new film Short Term 12

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Family, Mental Illness by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 2013

Destin

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

What’s it like to live in a group home for troubled youth? Is it a refuge for people facing violence, abuse and addiction in the outside world? Or is it a place where people are exposed to these harsh realities? And are the staff as troubled as their charges?
 
A new movie called SHORT TERM 12 looks at just these questions. It follows two staff members, Grace and Mason, as well as two patients: Jayden — a troubled girl who just arrived and doesn’t want to be there — and  Marcus, a depressed kid on the verge of 18 who doesn’t want to leave. It’s a drama that’s short term 12 films we likemoving, informative and surprising. And one that seems very real.
 
Writer/ director DESTIN  DANIEL CRETTON, tells more about this film, his inspiration and more, by telephone from Los Angeles.
 
Short Term 12 played at Rendezvous With Madness and opens today in Toronto.

 

Tough Times. Films reviewed: Alien Boy, The Book Thief, When Jews Were Funny

Posted in 1940s, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Death, Depression, documentary, Drama, Movies, Uncategorized, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 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.

Life isn’t always rainbows and lollipops. There are tough times out there: violence, war, death. But tough times can make for good movies, better drama and funnier jokes… if done right. This week I’m looking at a documentary about a police assault on a man with schizophrenia; a literary, historical drama about a little girl living in Nazi Germany, and — to end on a lighter note — a documentary about Jewish comedians.

Alien Boy James Chasse Oregon_OrganizmAlien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

Dir: Brian Lindstrom

James Chasse grew up in Portland Oregon along with the early punk scene. Jim-Jim was into groups like the Wipers and in his own band. He loved comics, drew one-copy zines, believed in ghosts and werewolves. He even had a song recorded about him.

Flash forward: he’s an adult living with schizophrenia and he isn’t doing that well. He becomes increasingly isolated, grows a scraggly beard and wears ragged clothes. He’s also had a bad run-in with the police, making him wary of future encounters. And he finds being physically touched abhorrent. So, one day, when a policeman calls him over, he runs away instead. What happens next is just horrifying.Alien Boy James Chasse Group_home

He is chased, and brutally thrown to the sidewalk under the full weight of police twice his size. They tell passersby — concerned at James’s calls for help — that he is carrying a bag of drugs (which is actually bread crumbs). And that he is a transient – though his home is only a few blocks away – and that he has a long arrest record: also not true. They tase him. Repeatedly. And while he’s lying there, unconscious on the sidewalk, they stand beside him, unconcerned, sipping Starbucks. Despite his calls for help, they take him not to the hospital but to the police station.

They put this horrible clear plastic thing called a spit mask (I’ve never seen anything like it before this film) over his head. He’s treated like a dog… or worse. And then he’s dead at the hands of the police.

Alien Boy Marquez_PhotoIt makes my blood boil.

Alien Boy is a collective, oral history of James Chasse. His mother, friends, lovers, acquaintances and strangers all tell about his life and what happened. The second half follows the court case in Portland, about whether or not the police who killed him will be held responsible.

Very sad, very moving story about an interesting man, his tragic fate, and what happens afterwards.

This is an important topic, that deserves to be seen, especially now, especially in Toronto. In fact, an inquest started just this week into the deaths of Michael Eligon, Sylvia Klibingaitis and Reyal Jardine-Douglas. All three killed by police, all three mentally ill.

the-book-thief-poster1-401x600The Book Thief

Dir: Brian Percival

From the novel by Markus Zusak

Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) is a young girl in Nazi Germany, before WWII. When things are getting treacherous, she’s sent to live with a foster Mother and Father. Loving Papa and mean Mama (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are her new parents. He calls her “Your Highness” because of her regal bearing. Liesel is illiterate, but her toughness and independent spirit stops any bullying in its tracks. She quickly learns to read, and makes friends with Rudy, the boy next door.

But her life changes when a young man, Max, who is Jewish, moves into the house with Book Thief1 gofobothem. They hide him in the basement to keep him out of sight. Liesel and Max become very close. Meanwhile, newly literate, Liesel is shocked when she sees her beloved books being burned in a public square. She makes friends with the Burgermeister’s wife who invites her to read in her library. But when she is discovered and barred from the house, she becomes the “book thief” of the title, borrowing other people’s books to keep Max’s spirit up.

They all face not just the cruelty of the Nazi war machine, but also the Allies, who are frequently bombing their homes.

Book Thief 2 gofoboWho will live through the war? And who will die? The movie is narrated by a passionless angel of death, who takes away both the good and the bad.

I like the story, its tender drama and fairytale-like tone. Quebecoise Sophie Nelisse is terrific as Leisel, as are many of the supporting cast. But it didn’t quite work for me. Certain things are really annoying. Why does everyone speak English with a fake German accent? It’s an American movie about Germans in Germany speaking German. We just “hear” them in English. They should sound like native speakers.

And the omniscient, impassive narrator keeps pulling you back from the characters. It makes it harder to care about them if it’s just a fable.

When Jews Were Funny

Dir: Allan Zweig

*Winner TIFF13 Best Canadian Feature prize

Berman_BW

Is there a specific type of humour, that can be called Jewish humour? And if so, is it – or was it – a central part of stand-up comedy? And are the new comics as funny as ones from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s? In this great and funny documentary, Director Allan Zweig asks Jewish stand-up comics these questions. Zweig thinks the dry wit of the old guys eating soup in the delis of his childhood were much funnier than today’s stand-up comics. Is he right?

Listen to this very old joke about a man asking a grocer if he has any salt: (audio clip from film: Shelley Berman)

When Jews Were Funny and The Book Thief both open today (check your local listings), and Alien Boy plays at Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival tonight. Also on right now is Toronto’s Polish Film Festival: go to ekran.ca for more info.

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

Group Efforts. Movies Reviewed: Bombay Talkies, The Great Passage, Broken Circle Breakdown PLUS Reel Asian

Posted in Belgium, Cultural Mining, Drama, India, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 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.

I was speaking with a movie producer recently who wonders why do I interview directors. Why are they called the filmmakers, not producers? he wanted to know. They’re the ones who really make the film happen. I said, well, it’s the director who puts his personal stamp on a movie. But he’s right.  It’s never just a one-person show. Ensemble pieces need great actors who work well together. The screenwriter is the one who makes the story: crucial. Never mind the necessities of music, wardrobe, hair and makeup, lighting and sound mixing. – it takes a veritable movie village.

This week I’m talking about group efforts to get things done… and the troubles they face. There’s a film from India about Bollywood that has four directors; a gentle drama from Japan about a man at a publisher who wants to collect every single word; and a passionate romance from Belgium about a man and a woman in a band who are trying to raise a child.

Bombay_Talkies3Bombay Talkies

Dir: Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap

What’s the biggest centre in the world for film production? That’s Bombay not Hollywood. And it’s 100 years old, so they created this tribute to Bollywood which also opened Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

Thisis actually four complete short films, all of which touch on the same theme. One follows a gay man who discovers his female boss’s handsome husband shares his passion for old Bollywood singers. But do they share something else too? The second one is about a little boy who wants to dance. Then there’s a dad who fails at all his ventures, whether it’s a get-rich-quick involving emu’s to years of effort to make it as an actor. But fortune smiles on him when he’s pulled onto a set to INDIA-ENTERTAINMENT-BOLLYWOODplay a part in a film. And finally there’s a man sent on a holy pilgrimage from a small town to Bombay. His mission? To get a movie god to take a bite of his mother’s famous sweet. Just a bite.

All four were very different but all cute. They’re followed by a song-and-dance starring the biggest names and faces in Bollywood. I knew they were big because the audience was gasping, laughing and cheering as they appeared one by one, but I only recognized one or two faces.

What’s most interesting is this tribute to Bollywood chooses to use a western-style movie structure. You can see the actors dying to jump up and sing and dance and emote whenever there was a dramatic pause… but they can’t, because of the nature of this film. But it kept the melodrama, the humour, and the acting (and occasional overacting – to my western eyes) distinctive to this genre. A good intro to Bollywood for those – like me – not in the know.

The_Great_PassageThe Great Passage

Dir: Ishii Yuuya

It’s the 1990s. The editor at a major Japanese publishing house wants to produce a new kind of Japanese dictionary, one that includes all words – including ones they hear on the street: slang, contractions, new terms just catching on. It’s a huge, all encompassing project they think will take more than 20 years to complete. And it may not make money in these troubled economic times. And then the editor quits, so the search is on for a new editor, someone young enough to follow it through but with a true love of words. Their ultimate choice is shy, non-communicative young nerd from the sales department. He’s a dreadful salesman… but a traditionalist when it comes to words, definitions and precision. Even his name — Majime — means serious and hard-working. But his personal and home life is dismal. Majime (Matsuda Ryuhei) never talks to women – actually he never talks to anyone except his elderly landlady and his cat named Tora (Japanese for tiger).

But then he meets his pretty neighbor Kaguya (Miyazaki Aoi), a young woman in training as a sushi chef, who is as expressive in speaking as she is with a knife. Will a painful courtship lead to true love?

The film watches him bloom even as the dictionary (called Daidoukai) passes through its great passage. It comes to life from index cards to piles of manuscripts — proofread five times. But will it ever be published in a country turning digital?

The Great Passage is an odd little movie about a huge, multigenerational project and the ordinary but quirky people who make it happen. I love its attention to words, sounds and details. Although the structure is like any movie about a group trying to accomplish something great despite the odds against them, it’s nice to see it not about a baseball game for a change.

Broken Circle Breakdown 6 -topshotonbedBroken Circle Breakdown

Dir: Felix van Groeningen

It’s Bush-era Belgium. Didier and Elise are lovers (Johann Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens). She’s a tattoo artist, petite with blonde hair and symbolic images of all over her body. They used to be pictures of ex-lovers, but when breaks up she redraws the images into something new. He’s a burly bearded fellow with crooked teeth and a huge beard. He sings and plays the banjo in a bluegrass band filled with other bearded Flemish cowboys… and Elise. Their country life centres on music, their friends, and the great sex. Passionate sex, angry sex, comfort sex, make-up sex.

This also brings them adorable little Maybelle. She likes TV girl superheroes dancing and running around. Maybelle sees a bird die when it crashes into their glass veranda. She’s upset by the unfairness of it all. The parents reveal their fundamentally different philosophies. Didier thinks it’s all part of the long process of evolution: birds as a species must learn about clear glass and adapt. Elise thinks problems should be changedpragmatically, by fixing or covering up past mistakes. Redraw a tattoo. Put a picture of a hawk on the glass. She sees the bird’s sudden appearance as a sign or an omen.

Maybelle develops leukaemia and has to undergo radical chemo with a low chance of survival.the broken circle breakdown _still_03_band

While this sounds like a mainstream sick girl / concerned parents movie, it’s not told that way at all. The plot is cut up style – flashbacks and flashforwards all pasted back together, jumping back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life and trauma, the happy and the sad. The story is subtly narrated by songs sung by the bearded Greek chorus (the band at the bluegrass club). The film touches on death, religion, music, God and politics, punctuated by extended musical and a capella sequences.

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a passionate and moving drama – I really liked this one.

The Great Passage and Bombay Talkies are both playing at the Reel Asian Film Festival (reelasian.com ): and Broken Circle Breakdown opens today at the TIFF Bell Light Box in Toronto (tiff.net) . Rendezvous with Madness starts Monday: go to rwmff.com for details. Also opening soon is Ekran, Toronto’s Polish film festival, and Monsters and Martians festival. And check out another passionate – and highly explicit — three-hour-long sexual romance called Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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 Sameer Farooq about his new documentary The Silk Road of Pop

Posted in China, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Islam, Music, Uncategorized, Xinjiang by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2013

Sameer Farooq The Silk Road of Pop

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

Most Chinese live in the eastern half of the country. Western China — places like Tibet, Gansu, Xinjiang — are sparsely populated, and traditionally the home of minority populations, people who are different from the Han Chinese.
One of these groups, the Uyghur — a central Asian, Muslim Turkic people — were once a dominant culture in vast Xinjiang.
But very recently, an influx of Han Chinese migrants have shifted the population balance away from this indigenous group. A fascinating new documentary called The Silk Road of Pop, premiering at Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival looks at how the Uyghur people and their music have fared in contemporary China.
The director is Nova Scotia native Sameer Farooq from Smoke Signal Projects. Sameer has a background in Cultural Anthropology and a deep familiarity with China and its peoples. He’s currently completing his MFA at RISD in Rhode Island.
In this interview Sameer explains more about the origins of Uyghur music, his own identification with that group, outside influences, hip hop, their future as a minority within China, the role of women in Uyghur music… and more!
silk road of pop

Survivors. Movies Reviewed: Ender’s Game, Dallas Buyers Club, The Disappeared PLUS Last Vegas

Posted in Biopic, Cultural Mining, Drama, Gay, H.I.V., Movies, Nova Scotia, Psychology, School, Science Fiction, Texas, violence, War by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 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 Movember… time to grow those mustaches, ladies! And keep your eyes open to all the film festivals opening in Toronto this month. Look for: Reel Asian, Rendezvous with Madness, Ekran, Planet in Focus, and the EU Film Festival and Regent Park Film Fest – the last two of which are completely free!

This week I’m looking at three movies about people facing impossible odds. There’s a space drama about small children trying to save the universe; a biopic about a Texan trying to survive the HIV virus; and a Canadian drama about a lifeboat full of fisherman trying to find their way back home.

Enders Game Ford ButterfieldEnder’s Game

Dir: Gavin Hood

It’s the future. Ant-like aliens have attacked the planet. Little Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a smart but bullied school kid. Like his classmates, he has a metal knob attached to his head so the military can read his mind. But when he fights back against a much bigger kid, he’s suddenly pulled from school. Is he in trouble? No, he’s been chosen to join an elite military academy in outer space.

Ender is a smart kid. They choose him both for his analytical thoughts and assertive nature, but also for his compassion. Two military brass (Harrison Ford as hawkish warmonger Colonel Graff and Viola Davis as a compassionate psychologist Major Anderson) are closely studying him. They use Ender as a test case for the perfect soldier, possibly the one who can beat the ant-people in their endless war. Only children, they believe, can absorb and apply complicated digital info fast enough to beat the bad guys. Ender is the perfect leader. He follows orders but also questions authority if things aren’t going right.

He makes friends – Bean, Alai and Petra () –  with his fellow child-soldiers at the academy as they train for various battle simulations. These games are like 3-D computer simulations, except they fight physically, in immense arenas without gravity. They learn new strategies, play new games, fight new battles and form enders game 3 eonenew teams. And Ender is always there, taking it all in and devising new battle plans.

But he also pines for his family back on earth: his genius parents, his sadistic older brother Peter, and his loving sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Just like the two military officers, the brother and sister are fighting to influence Ender toward cruelty or compassion. Which one influenced him the most?

Enders Game 2 eoneCan the earthlings ever defeat the ant people? Will ender provide the solution? And in the process, will he turn into a baby Hitler? Or a mini-Gandhi?

This movie is based on the popular cold-war science fiction novel. It’s pretty close to the original. I’ve read the book, so it was really fun to actually see it on the big screen. And it handles the good vs bad and all its permutations well – Peter vs Valentine, Col Graff vs Maj Anderson, Earthlings vs Formic beings. Asa Butterfield is good, though a bit wooden or robot like, but that suits the role. It’s a enjoyable sci-fi pic, with an unexpected ending. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still smarter than most. It’s also darker than a Star Wars or a Star Trek, and it’s not a straightforward, “feel-good” superhero movie.

dallasbuyersclub_01Dallas Buyers Club

Dir Jean-Marc Vallee

It’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas. Ron’s a rootin’-tootin’ redneck in a cowboy hat. He’s an electrician at the oil fields, and in his spare time he picks up girls, snorts coke, guzzles alcohol straight from the mickey, and goes to strip bars. His hobby? The rodeo: he likes to ride bulls (not bareback, I hope.)

Anyway, Ron (Matthew McConaughey) also prone to fainting and hallucinating, and he’s looking rather thin these days. He’s clearly illing. While dallasbuyersclub_02he’s in hospital, he meets Rayon (Jared Leto) a trans woman in the next bed. It’s hate at first sight. Homophobic Ron calls her pansy, buttercup, tinkerbell – and that’s when he’s being nice. And she wants nothing to do with him.

When they test Ron’s blood, turns out he’s HIV-positive, his T-cell count is down to eight, and he has 30 days left to live. The FDA refuses to release experimental drugs, even though AIDS patients are dropping like flies. They’re testing AZT at that very hospital, but only as double blind tests, with placebos for half the patients, and lethally high AZT doses for the rest.

Basically, Ron’s dead.

dallasbuyersclub_03Then an orderly tells him about a doc, down Mexico way, who can get him what he needs. Sure ‘nuff. He doesn’t die. So he starts smuggling the meds, the vitamins and dietary supplements across the border. And Rayon becomes his business partner. The two of them setting up a quasi-legal centre – that’s the Dallas Buyers Club of the title —  where members can get access to treatment the mainstream medical profession is denying them. With the help of a sympathetic doctor (Jennifer Garner channelling Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich) they just might beat the system ( the FDA, the hospitals, Big Pharma) that’s trying to shut them down. But can they fight their own illnesses, too?

This biopic works well as a drama. It’s moving, good story, good acting. This is Quebec director Jean Marc Vallee’s first English language film, and he totally pulls it off.  (C.R.A.Z.Y. was a huge hit in Canada a few years ago.) Matt McConaughey lost tons of weight for his role, and Jared Leto dressed as a woman (although it’s unclear whether he’s playing an extremely effeminate, cross-dressing gay man, or a transsexual)  Maybe I’m totally cynical, but I just get the nagging suspicion that they’re out there performing “big” mainly so they can win some Oscars. In any case, they are good and convincing in their roles, as is Steve Zahn as Ron’s buddy a local cop.  All in all, a moving and interesting biopic.

the disappeared stillThe Disappeared

Dir: Shandi Mitchell

Ever been to sea, Billy? 

No, Captain Highliner…

Well, these guys sure have. There are six of them drifting around in a lifeboat in the Atlantic, somewhere off Nova Scotia. There’s the Skipper (Brian Downie) a god-fearing type, and then there are the various sailors, played by Billy Campbell, Ryan Doucette, and others. The mean sailor, the young sailor, the experienced sailor, the bearded sailor,  the other bearded sailor… And you can tell their names because they do a role call every morning to see if they’re all still there. (Mannie here, Pete here, Merv here…)

When they’re not rowing the boats (Heave! Ho!) to somewhere, they’re singing 559878_589502101108342_1960101735_nribald sea shanties, eating their rations, whittling wood, drinking rum… you know, behaving like fishermen do. Will they spot land? Or will they get rescued? Or will they be like the Flying Dutchman, forever floating on the seven seas?

Have you noticed there are a lot of movies about Men in Boats recently? Book of Pi, Kon Tiki, All is Lost, Captain Phillips, La Pirogue… Well, this is another one. Some of these are great adventures; this one’s more of a character study. I get the impression that the sailors in The Disappeared are all waiting for some ship called the SS Godot to arrive, but in the meantime they’ll sing a few more sea shanties and call it a day.

Last Vegas Kline De Niro Douglas FreemanThe Disappeared, Ender’s Game and Dallas Buyers Club all open today in Toronto (check your local listings). Also opening is the so-called comedy Last Vegas, a real groaner about four retired guys (starring great actors like Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline) meeting up in Las Vegas for a final, wild bachelor party before Michael Douglas marries a beautiful young woman. She’s not that young… she’s 35! Douglas says. I have a hemorrhoid older than 35, says the Kevin Kline character. Ugh. Nuff said about this tired, unfunny geriatric version of The Hangover.

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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