Bro Movies. Films reviewed: Bigger, First Man, Free Solo

Posted in 1930s, 1960s, Biopic, Bodybuilders, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Space, Sports by CulturalMining.com on October 12, 2018

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

It’s Fall Film Festival season in Toronto now, meaning more movies than you can shake a stick at. Toronto After Dark will thrill and chill you with horror, cult and fantasy pics. Cinefranco brings brand new French language comedies, dramas and policiers from Quebec and Europe. And Rendezvous with Madness plays fascinating films accompanied by panel discussions on addiction and mental health.

But this week I’m talking about bro films, two biopics and a doc about men with lofty goals. One wants to climb a sheer cliff, another wants to build the perfect body, and a third one who just wants to fly to the moon.

Bigger

Dir: George Gallo

Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) is a poor jewish kid in depression-era Montreal. On the streets tough kids beat him up and steal his paper route money, and at home his cruel mom beats him for not keeping clean. At least his little brother Ben (Aneurin Barnard) looks up to him. Joe finds inspiration in unusual places: a strongman at the circus and photos of weight lifters he see at newsstands. He begins to obsessively draw pictures of perfect male bodies, copying from textbooks at the McGill library. He wants to promote beautiful physiques, bodies that are muscular, symmetrical and healthy. But fitness for health and looks is still a new concept. In those days people guzzled booze, smoked like chimneys, and thought exercise was a dangerous thing best left to olympic athletes.

Weider challenges all that with self-published magazines, promoting new exercises, diets and weight training, illustrated with glamour shots of barely-dressed muscle men. It’s a smash hit, he gets a US contract and Joe and Ben’s empire expands to bodybuilder contests, weights, and a wide range of magazines. And when business takes him to Hollywood, he spots a bleached blonde pin up model working out at Jack LaLanne’s gym.  Betty (Julianne Hough) is everything he desires: beautiful, fit and smart (he is separated from his first wife). Is this true love? Later he discovers Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger – the personification of his childhood drawings – and brings him to America.

Bigger is a fun, if idealized, look at the life and career of Canadian fitness mogul Joe Weider. It’s a bit corny, with Montreal-born Joe talking in an unplaceable, choppy accent. And it steers clear of his lawsuits and scandals. But Hoechlin and Hough are enjoyable as Joe and Betty, and there’s even a super villain, a racist, anti-semitic homophobe named Hauk (wonderfully played by Kevin Durand) who is his business rival and real-life enemy. Not a great movie, but an enjoyable one.

First Man

Dir: Damien Chazelle

It’s the 1960s in America, the space race is on, and the Soviets are winning. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a test pilot exploring the skies. He can land any plane, even one about to explode. He’s married to Janet (Claire Foy), a pixie-ish woman with a fierce temper. They have a young daughter they both love. But when the girl dies of an incurable illness, and Neil loses his job despite his skills they know things have to change. So Neil makes a big decision: NASA needs astronauts, and he’s going to be one. They move down to Houston and settle in to suburban life.

First Man follows the career and home life of the renowned astronaut, from Gemini missions, to Apollo’s first landing. Armstrong is portrayed as a strong silent type, a no-nonsense guy who drives off alone to handle anger and depression. It also deals with astronauts and their uncertain lives (lots of them died). And director Chazelle makes you feel like you’re there with them in the planes and rockets. He even inserts showtunes into his astronaut movie. (Wait — showtunes?)  So why didn’t I Iike it? First Man is too heavy, too long, too ponderous. It’s one of those overly stern and patriotic American movies about national heroes. And where’s the suspense? We already know he was the first man on the moon. What’s the point? Ok, there are a few powerful scenes, but First Man consists mainly of rattling cockpits, brooding astronauts and suburban housewives yelling about their husbands.

Ryan Gosling is wasted in this boring example of Oscar Bait.

Free Solo

Dir: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

It’s 2016 and Alex Honnold has one obsession: to scale a sheer cliff in Yosemite. Mountain climbers have done it before in teams rapelling with ropes, pitons and caribiners. But Alex wants to do it “free solo”, that is, by himself and without safety ropes. One slip, one miscalculated reach, will send him plunging to his death. But he really wants to climb El Cap, and if it’s not free solo, what’s the point?

Alex is a boyish, wiry vegetarian who cares little for material things. He’s a loner who lives out of a trailer. He’s also in perfect shape, lithe, bendy and incredibly strong. He has to be to hold onto a crack in a rock with just a few fingers while stretching his body sideways to the next outcropping. He intensely studies the cliff, practicing each stage in separate small climbs using ropes. And he is accompanied by the filmmakers, who are accomplished climbers themselves. Alex proves to be a bit camera shy, hesitant to “let go” before the cameras. Is it performance anxiety? And will Alex make it to the top of El Capitan… or plunge to his death?

Free Solo is an amazing and spectacular look at one climber attempting the nearly impossible. I have no deep-seated passion for rock climbing – I even have a fear of falling – but this movie kept me riveted the whole time. Scenes that show Alex’s quirky nature and the people around him —  including other climbers, his family and his girlfriend – help give him a more rounded portrayal. But it’s the climb itself, and the truly amazing photography, that really keeps your attention.

Bigger, First Man, and Free Solo and 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.

Daniel Garber talks with Ann Shin about her new documentary The Superfood Chain

Posted in Africa, documentary, Eating, Economics, Environmentalism, Family, Fishing, Food, Globalization, Indigenous by CulturalMining.com on October 5, 2018

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

What do walnuts, goji berries and garlic have in common? How about quinoa, teff, virgin coconut oil and wild salmon? They’re all “superfoods” full of vitamins and minerals, and great traits like anti-oxidents Omega-3, high protein, gluten-free, or high fibre. As soon as a newly-marketed food is dubbed a superfood, it flies off the shelves of our grocery stores. But what happens to the people who grow these superfoods and who consider them a staple when the demand for a superfood skyrockets? What happens – good ot bad – to the people at the other end of the superfood foodchain?

The Superfood Chain is the title of a fascinating new documentary that follows four families whose local food has become an international commodity: teff growers in Ethiopia, coconut processors in the Philippines, quinoa farmers in Bolivia and salmon fishers in Haida Gwai. The film is directed and narrated by noted Toronto filmmaker Ann Shin, whose powerful documentaries like Escape from North Korea and My Enemy, My Brother use personal stories to tackle major issues.

I spoke with Ann Shin in Toronto by telephone at CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Superfood Chain premiers on TVO Docs on Monday, Oct 8 at 10 pm and is also playing at the upcoming Planet in Focus Film Festival.

Golden. Films reviewed: The Old Man & the Gun, Let the Corpses Tan, The Sisters Brothers

Posted in 1800s, 1980s, Belgium, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Horror, San Francisco, Sex, Texas, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 5, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at three genre movies -– a heist, a western and a retro horror/thriller — about the search for gold. There’s an old bank robber lookin’ for love while stealing krugerrands, two brothers in the old west working as hitmen while searching for gold nuggets, and criminals in Corsica killing for gold bars.

The Old Man & the Gun

Dir: David Lowery

It’s the 1980s in Texas. Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is the consummate gentleman, always kind and charming, especially with the ladies. He meets one such woman named Jewel (Cissie Spacek) by the side of the road where her car overheated. She’s a widow with a ranch but no family or friends nearby. He gives her a ride and they share lunch at a roadside diner. But when he jokingly tells her what he does for a living she doesn’t believe him. Who would think such a kindly old man is a bank robber?

But a bank robber he is, and a damned good one. Working with his partners Teddy and Waller (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) they pull off a stream of successful bank heists from Dallas to St Louis, without ever firing a shot or leaving a single fingerprint behind. That is until detective Hunt (a moustachioed Casey Affleck) connects the dots between these seemingly unrelated crimes. (This is long before google.) Can Tucker quit bankrobbing and settle down with Jewel before Hunt tracks him down?

The movie is based on a true story about a career criminal and escape artist but it’s so much more than that. It’s a tender love story (between Tucker and Jewel), and a buddy drama (between him and his respectful rival, the cop). It’s well-acted, wonderfully directed and with a classic script of the kind I thought Hollywood had forgotten how to write. It even has some filmmaking tricks – like a clever history of his escape attempts – inserted in an unexpected place.

What a feel-good movie this one is.

Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres)

Dir: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

It’s a sundrenched day at a cliffside bed and breakfast in Corsica. Madame Luce (Elina Löwensohn) – a sultry, middle aged woman with a pageboy haircut – is your hostess, but don’t expect a five star rating. It’s a BnB… from hell. The rooms are made of crumbling rock shelters and breakfast means fried eggs served with live ammo. The guests include a scheming criminal, a crooked lawyer, a young tough, and a smash-faced thug. The only paying guest, Max Bernier, is an over-the-hill novelist from Paris in a perpetual drunken stupor. What are they all there for?

A heist, of course, in the form of a Brinks truck carrying a case of solid gold bars. They carry it off — killing two cops and the driver in the process — but then things start to go wrong. Bernier’s beautiful young wife and kid show up unexpectedly, and a pair of motorcycle cops, dressed in black leather, stop by to take a look around. At this point, gunshots start and rarely stop till the end of the movie. Some of the bad guys realize they’ve been stabbed in the back. Soon everyone on the mountainside is either a hostage or hostage taker, a shooter or a victim (or a potential sex partner) in a final shootout for the gold.

But this plot description doesn’t do justice to what this film really is. It’s an over-the-top horror/thriller/heist movie, flawlessly done in the style of 1960s spaghetti westerns. It’s intense, from the saturated colour to the Morricone score.  Every gun shot — and there are thousands – is followed by a mammoth splash of blood; every cigarette is lit with a whoosh of flame that fills the screen; every stabbing has a disgustingly loud squishing sound. There are extreme close ups, with a single eye or curled lip filling the entire screen. And lots of gratuitous nudity and violence, especially when the drunken novelist imagines stylized sex scenes from his own books.

See this one on a big screen.

The Sisters Brothers

Dir: Jacques Audiard

It’s the 1850s in the Oregon territory, and the country has gone gold crazy. Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix) are brothers who earn their living shooting to kill. Eli is smart and kind at heart, while Charlie takes after their dad, a drunk, mean bastard. They work for a shady robber baron known as the Commodore. Their latest job? Meet up with another man

who will provide them with their victim.

Meanwhile, in a town nearby, is the idealistic Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) a brilliant scientist who is flat broke. He has an invention that could make him a millionaire. It’s a chemical he claims will make panning for gold easy as pie. On his travels he meets an upper-class adventurer named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhall). Warm likes Morris’s polite relaxed manner and sees him as a genuinely nice guy. As they travel he share his secret, though not the details, with him. What he doesn’t know is Morris – like the Sisters Brothers – works for the evil Commodore, and that he plans to hand over his erstwhile friend to those killers. But things aren’t necessarily what they seem. The hunters become the hunted with posses tracking the Sisters brothers for their past crimes. The four find themselves on the same side, at least temporarily, but who can be trusted?

The Sisters Brothers is French director Audiard’s first English language film, and he totally pulls it off. This is an excellent western that captures the frantic expansion of the gold rush towns in the old west with entire settler towns appearing, on-screen. We watch characters discover new technology like toothbrushes and hot-water plumbing. It captures the utopian politics of the time (though completely ignoring the plight of indigenous people). Reilly and Phoenix make great shootists, but it’s Riz Ahmed who really steals the show. The Sisters Brothers (based on Canadian writer Patrick deWitt’s novel), is a wonderful, new take on the classic western.

The Old Man & the Gun, Let the Corpses Tan and The Sisters Brothers — all great movies, though for different reasons — all 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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