Caught up. Movies Reviewed: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Leviathan

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Farsi, Movies, Russia, Uncategorized, Vampires, Yakuza, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2015

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

There aren’t many blockbusters released in January, so it’s a good time to catch up on less commercial films. So this week I’m looking at movies about people caught in a bad place: an art-house indie horror,  an over-the-top comedy/horror/musical, and a serious drama.  There’s an Iranian guy caught between a drug dealer and a vampire, a Japanese filmmaker caught between rival yakuza gangs, and a Russian caught by corrupt politicans.

A_Girl_6A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour

Bad City is a place for lost souls. It’s a desert town filled with oil rigs and refineries, separated from the rest of the world by a row of distant mountains. The streets are deserted except for a few people. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a Persian James Dean, who works as a gardener at a rich woman’s mansion. And at home he takes care of his dad, Hossain. Hossein (Marshall Mannesh) is depressed and slowly committing suicide by using drugs. Then there’s the track-suited, A_Girl_2tattooed drug dealer and all-around asshole; the sex worker who peddles her wares in dark alleys, and a little kid with a skateboard who observes it all. And finally there’s a girl who walks home alone at night (Sheila Vand).

A_Girl_1The girl – who is kept nameless – wears the conservative Iranian chador – an outfit that covers her head and body in an unbroken shroud. But hidden underneath the chador she’s like Marjane Satrapi in the graphic novel Persepolis, with black eye liner and a striped French jersey. She dances to Emo dirges at home, and only ventures outside at night to wander the dark streets… and look for human blood to drink. She’s a vampire.

Arash owns nothing but his treasured sports car and loses that to the thug. But due to a strange turn of events he suddenly finds himself A_Girl_4surrounded by money, power and drugs. He ends up at a costume party dressed in the cape and collar of Dracula. And in an ecstasy-induced haze he encounters the nameless girl who walks home alone at night. Is it true love? Or will she eat him?

This is a cool — though somewhat opaque — indie film, shot in beautiful black and white. It’s filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll – all in farsi. It takes place in a limbo world caught somewhere between the American Southwest and Iranian oil fields. It’s a slow moving mood piece, like Jim Jarmusch directing a Becket play, but from a feminine perspective. Interesting movie.

47_jigoku_sub3_5MBWhy Don’t You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い)
Dir: Sono Sion

A team of aspiring college film geeks called the “F*ck Bombers” vow to make a real movie, starring one of their own – a Bruce Lee lookalike. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with genuine Samurai swords.

Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is famous 49_jigoku_sub5_5MBfor a jingle she sang as a child on a TV toothpaste ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on her (they met in a bloodbath 10 years earlier). Her yakuza dad is bankrolling a film starring his reluctant daughter. But things start to unravel when the famous director quits in disgust. Who can make a movie produced by organized criminals? Especially when a gang war is about to erupt. Confusion, violence and mayhem ensues.

46_jigoku_sub2_5MBIn walks the Movie Club members to the rescue… maybe they could take over the movie? But would rival gangs ever agree to let film geeks record a bloody and violent showdown on 35 mm film… as it happens?

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical45_jigoku_sub1_3M comedy – including an unbelievably blood-drenched, 30-minute-long battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed, and the film is finally opening on the big screen in Toronto. Sono Sion is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

05ff2dc3-382c-446d-93f1-6646a6b29db8Leviathan
Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) is a mechanic who lives in northern Russia by the sea. His family has lived there for three generations and Kolya built his home with his own two hands. His son Roma is a bit spoiled but doing OK at school, and his beautiful second wife works at the fish cannery. Their marriage is going well.

But there’s trouble at City Hall. They want to seize his house and land6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3f to build something… municipal. Kolya is furious and he’s not going to take this lying down. He’s a real hothead. He’s sure the Mayor is up to no good – just wants to build himself a mansion. So Kolya calls his army buddy in Moscow to give him a hand. Dima (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) is a lawyer. He comes to town fully loaded with files on the very corrupt mayor Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileVadim. The man has “blood on his hands” he says, and he has the documents to prove it. This should stop the mayor in his tracks.

So things are looking up. The trial looks promising, and if not, he can always file an appeal. And there’s a picnic and shooting party to look forward to. A local cop has invited the whole gang, family and friends, to head out to the cliffs to shoot a few bottles with their rifles and AK47s. And boy do these guys have a lot of empty vodka bottles to 2e8da8fe-7cf4-40ce-a66f-5252e16ad79dshoot!

Meanwhile Vadim, the criminal mayor (Roman Madyanov) is plotting Kolya’s downfall. He’s an incredibly arrogant, abusive and greedy politician, a raging alcoholic, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has the judges, the police, even the local church on his side. This sets off a series of unforeseen events that turn Kolya’s life into a Jobean ordeal of despair.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileLeviathan is a fantastic movie, a slice-of-life look at modern Russia. Breathtaking, stark scenery, really great acting. But it’s also a devastating indictment of corruption and how it affects regular people there. The story starts slow, but gradually grows, driving toward an unexpectedly powerful finish. It’s also relevant: It’s nominated for an Oscar – best foreign film – but just last week Russia’s Culture Ministry threatened to censor this movie. That would be a real shame, because it’s a great film.

Leviathan, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and a Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening is Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a professor with early-onset Alzheimers – I’ll talk about this next week – and the 50 Year Argument, a documentary about the New York Review of Books.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Sono Sion and Young Dais about Tokyo Tribe at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gangs, Hiphop, Japan, Manga, Movies, Musical, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 2014

_MG_9585 Sono Sion Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Imagine a dystopian future, where Tokyo is divided up into neighbourhoods ruled by rival gangs, that jealously guard their borders. Follow the  train up the east side of the city and you’ll hit places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, and further out Musashino and Nerima.lOpKoJ__tokyotribe_01_o3__8260247__1406658260

Musashino is peace and love; the character Kai just wants to hang with his bros at the local Denny’s (aka Penny’s). But ‘Bukuro is a land of brothels, gangsters, kidnappers and cannibals. Nera, a ‘Bukuro blonde muscleman has it in for Kai. Will this lead to all out war between the Tokyo Tribes?

Z4Wl12__tokyotribe_04_o3__8260377__1406658263Tokyo Tribe is the name of a new movie based on the manga by Inoue Santa. It’s a fantastical epic shot as a hip-hop musical, full of crowds, choreographed fights, a constant beat and more flashing lights than a pachinko parlour. It’s directed by Sono Sion, known for Guilty of Romance, Cold Fish, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. He’s always testing the limits of what can be shown in a film… and then _MG_9603 Sono sion and Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff Harrisgoing beyond that limitation. The movie stars Young Dais, well-known Japanese rapper, doing double-duty as a movie star. It opened at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF14), as part of Midnight Madness. I spoke with director Sono Sion and rapper Young Dais at the Royal York Hotel.

Intensity. Films reviewed: River of Fundament, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, All Cheerleaders Die

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.

What makes a movie “intense”? Do you squirm in your seat, look away from the screen, maybe shout cries of indignation. Or is it the depth and breadth, the intensity of the images, sounds and story? This week I’m looking at intense movies. There’s an epic art film about rival Egyptian gods in modern day America; a crime action/ comedy/musical about rival Yakuza gangs; and a comedy/horror about football players vs bloodsucking cheerleaders.

Luminato2014_River of Fundament_Photo by Hugo Glendinning_001River of Fundament
Dir: Matthew Barney; Music: Jonathan Bepler

In a house, floating down the Hudson river near Manhattan is a wake for the late author Norman Mailer, attended by various literati. Also attending are a series of people – seemingly invisible to the crowd – dripping with human feces. They are the reincarnation of various ancient Egyptian gods – like Osiris, Hathferiti, Horus, and Set – who come back to life after swimming across the river of excrement. Mailer, who wrote the potboiler set in Ancient Egypt the movie is based on, also shows up as a ghost (played by his son, John Buffalo Mailer). Simultaneously, a marching band in LA is sanctifying a holy Chrysler car dealership. And in Detroit, a golden Trans-Am (with a phoenix tattooed across its hood) is being destroyed with a man in a golden straitjacket inside. And a CSI-team riding motorboats examines the wreckage. And an army of spectators descends into an empty reservoir for the showdown between two Egyptian deities as two women caress their pregnant bellies. Death, destruction, reincarnation and rebirth; gold leaf and brown feces; opulent banquets crawling with worms and maggots, all existing together as the rivers flow slowly downstream.

OK, that’s the condensed version. The actual movie is six bloody hours long (including two River of Fundament Photo Chris Wingetintermissions.) Six hours! And a lot of it seems to involve vomit, feces, urine, diarrhea, and bodily organs being pulled out of animal carcasses. Perhaps I exaggerate – maybe only, say, two of the six hours was disgusting, and four hours were astonishingly beautiful. It is an overwhelming experience, a movie done in English in the style of a classic opera, including libretto. And it’s filmed in enormous and spectacular locations, with aerial views of flames shooting from industrial towers; musicians playing and choirs singing simultaneously on motorboats speeding down rivers. Or shirtless trumpet players marching among parked cars; or a nude, Amazonian pornstar, her arms stretched overhead, holding her sex partner (a tiny bearded man) lying horizontally above her.

I hated and loved this movie swearing I’d walk out a dozen times, but always drawn back to see what happens next. Unbelievable.

地獄でなぜ悪い2Why Don’t You Play in Hell?
Dir: Shion Sono

A team of aspiring college film geeks form a club inside a decaying old movie theatre. They call themselves the “F*ck Bombers”. And when they find a potential star – a brawling Bruce Lee lookalike high school student – they are consumed by a desire to make a real movie. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with Samurai swords. Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is still famous for the jingle she sang as a child on a toothpaste TV ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on the girl whom he met a decade earlier in a brief, blood-drenched encounter. Now, her gangster dad is turning to the movie business and bankrolls a film, that, he says, must star his reluctant daughter. But when a famous director quits, he pulls a random guy off the street to direct it instead. This while a gang war is about to erupt with many innocents caught in the 地獄でなぜ悪い 1middle.

Confusion, violence mayhem… But what about that amateur movie club – could they somehow take over the movie? To do so they’d have to convince the rival gangs to let them record – on 35 mm film – a bloody and violent showdown involving the two sides.

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical comedy – including an unbelievably bloody, 30-minute-long climactic battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed. Shion Sono is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

Reanin Johannink in All Cheerleaders DieAll Cheerleaders Die
Wri/Dir: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson

Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is suspicious of the cock-of-the-walk football captain at Blackfoot High. For Terry (Tom Williamson) his boys are dogs and the cheerleaders are bitches who he uses and abuses. So to get back at him – for what he’s done – she joins the cheerleaders squad. But she leaves her shy and goth-y BFF Leena behind. Leena (Aussie actress Sianoa Smit-McPhee) is an active wiccan, who practices necromancy using glowing crystals she Brooke Butler in All Cheerleaders Diecarries in a leather pouch. Well, at a beach party things go wrong. A mighty rift develops between the football players and the cheerleaders, which ends up with the girls’ car spinning off the highway into a ravine, killing all on board. Luckily, it’s Leena to the rescue. She mixes their blood with the crystals, and they all come back to life. They’re just like they used to be – Caitlin Stasey in All Cheerleaders Diewell sort of. Now they’re the living dead, functioning like an interconnected hive of bees. And, periodically, they have to suck blood to survive. When they’re not cutting class, making out in the handicapped washroom, or smoking up in the pot van.

Who will survive the longest? The vampiric cheerleaders or the abusive football jocks? This movie is not so intense, though quite bloody and violent. It’s your typical comedy horror with a good dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style supernatural fun thrown in. I thought it was lots of fun – and a good date movie.

All Cheerleaders Die opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, The River Fundament played at Toronto’s Luminato – go to Luminato.com for more of Matthew Barney’s films; and Why Don’t You Play in Hell is showing next week at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival: go to jccc.on.ca for tickets. And look out for the Niagara Integrated & Italian Contemporary Film Festivals: coming soon!

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

Daniel Garber interviews Kore-eda Hirokazu about his new film Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Family, Interview, Japan, Kids, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on March 7, 2014

Kore-eda Hirokazu, Toronto TIFF13 photo © 2013 by Daniel GarberHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

What would you do if your discovered you’re not the father of your child? Not adopted father, not step-father, not foster-father… What if you discovered the actual child your wife gave birth to isn’t the one you’re raising?

A new movie called Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる) looks at a married couple in Tokyo who discover their six-year-old son, Keita, was switched at birth in a rural hospital with another Masaharu Fukuyama in Like Father, Like Son. © 2013 FUJI TELEVISION NETWORK, INC.:AMUSE INC.:GAGA CORPORATION. All rights reserved.baby named Ryusei.

Noted director and festival favourite Kore-eda Hirokazu has won countless awards for his poignant, realistic social dramas. His subtle new drama deals with issues of blood, patrimony, family, children, class, names and identity. Like Father, Like Son opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with him at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2013.

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

 

HIgh School Confidential. Movies Reviewed: Geography Club, Schoolgirl Complex, Animals PLUS Epic and Inside Out

Posted in Bullying, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, High School, Japan, LGBT, Spain, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on May 24, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and ZulmaCIUT 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.

High school often plays a central role in coming-of-age dramas, (since that’s where teenagers spend most of their time). It’s the place where people become aware of their sexual identities, their desires, their genders. And often, it’s not a lot of fun. Throw in some bullying, suicide, peer pressure, sex, university applications and young love, and you’ve got a boiling cauldron of teenage trouble waiting to overflow (at least in the movies).

So this week I’m looking at three such movies, all playing at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival a place to see mainstream and experimental films by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people from around the world. It’s the third biggest such festival, and it’s also a great place to meet people and experience a different aspect of movies — one that is often swept under the carpet.

So… back to these troubled teens. This week I’m looking at a US movie about a club hidden in plain sight, one from Japan about a club on a roof, and one from Spain about people who would never join a club.

lg_geographyclubGeography Club

Dir: Gary Entin (based on the popular young adult novel by Brent Hartinger)

Russell and Kevin (Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley) are both in their senior year, but may as well live in separate universes. Russell’s the brain – his parents have already decided he’s going to Yale, and he’s wearing a sweatshirt to prove it. Kevin’s the jock, the quarterback of the football team, the cock of the walk. He’s going for a football scholarship. They’re both gay, and they end up meeting — anonymously, online — even though they see each other in the hallway at school. Secret passion ensues… until a girl sees them kissing on a school trip. They both find a hand-written note in their lockers the next day: go to room 327. What is it? Blackmail? Will their reputations be ruined?

Turns out, this is the site of an unofficial club where closeted LGBT kids can talkZPxLTD9g2pDGh32T_9MdWYmS-MxIJD-o1sAUnyvupCI,Q9GgDboopGMH38UWb-WfQiffwoBjAX8T4DhlBqLknxA openly with one another. But to keep their sexuality secret they call it the Geography Club, a club so boring, they think, that no one would accidentally wander into it. Russell joins up, but Kevin is too afraid he’ll lose his jock status (and potential scholarship). He wants Russell as his boyfriend but kept on a Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell basis. And when the club threatens to go official, as a Gay/Straight Alliance, Russell and Kevin have to make a decision: come out together or stop seeing each other. Which will they choose?

The Geography Club is a very mainstream, easy to follow, after-school-special-type movie. Still, it deals with very real topics, like bullying, sexual identity, and the lives of closeted kids who are forced (by peer pressure) to conform. It’s told as a light drama, but with GSAs a hot issue in Ontario Catholic schools right now, it may just open some eyes and change some minds.

27xZGiNQa8vEEubHIuVthvQLa9WbHf8qTB00Cadk9Zc,UInHtw6sjnrewhzSuGJv0pRS562nDD1H8raPHQWTf8ESchoolgirl Complex (スクールガール・コンプレックス~放送部篇)

Dir: Yuichi Onuma

It’s an all-girl high school in Japan. They dress in crisp white shirts and plaid skirts with floppy red bows around their necks. (No sailor suits here.) Everyone joins clubs. Even more than classes, clubs are the source of their identity and friendships. One such group is the Broadcast Club, for people who like the sound of their own voices. They meet each day on the roof of the school to practice elocution, random syllables, and nonsensical rhymes to perfect their radio Japanese, and lose any trace of a regional accent.

nv1IMtM_XvPUV1JGpsp7ZsGv7-QbyXl5wkXcRT1rFPsYou can hear them taking turns at making announcements over the school PA system, waxing lyrical on subjects like The Importance of Japanese Curry. It’s the end of the year and the broadcast club will do a reading for the whole school of Schoolgirl, a story by 20th century novelist Osamu Dazai (太宰 治). But whose voice will they use?

Group leader Manami (Aoi Morikawa) is naïve and kind, with a high forehead and pale skin. Until now, she spends most of her time hanging with her best friend Ai, eating red bean pies with mayonnaise. But when the older and wiser Mitsuzaka (Mugi Kadowaki) visits her at the school sick bed and gives her some caramels, Manami’s world is shaken. Who is this worldy woman with tousled hair and sensuous features? Is it love, lust or just a crush?

Manami puts all her faith in Mitsuzaka (an absentee member of the club), and gives her the lead role. But will Mitsuzaka even show up for the reading?

Schoolgirl Complex looks at hidden loves and crushes, at passionate obsessions and tearful confessions. This is a gentle, bittersweet story of the power dynamics of teenaged girls.

Animals 7Animals

Dir: Marçal Forés

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a student at a British-style school in Catalonia. He’s always up for sharing a smoke with his beautiful, sort-of girlfriend Laia (Roser Tapias), or his bitterly funny gay chum, the curly-haired Mark (Dimitri Leonidas). But his real best friend, the one he can always count on in times of trouble, is the cute Deerhoof. He gives Pol advice, accompanies his punk guitar-playing on the drums, and is generally just there for a hug whenever he needs him. That means a lot: Pol is lonely with his parents gone, and only his brother Lorenc, a cop, to look after him. Thing is, Deerhoof is actually a teddy bear! (Pol’s a bit whacko.)

Then a new kid, Ikari (Augustus Prew), comes to the school, and he brings Animals 1trouble. He’s into bigger things, mature things, sexual adult things. And things like cutting your wrists, watching it bleed. Pol doesn’t like the cutting but he really likes the sex and love part. He decides to let go of his childhood crutches and enter the real world. He buries the past, metaphorically… and literally (but will it stay buried?)

Does Ikari (like Icarus) fly too close to the sun, and will Pol fall to the ground in a tailspin? And will the whole school explode in chaos? Animals is a really great, nihilistic high school movie with a punk sensibility. I’d rank it up there with Heathers, River’s Edge, and Donnie Darko for its dark humour, great acting, music and story.

June 3,  2013:  ANIMALS, directed by Marçal Forés (Spain) has won the Bill Sherwood Award for Best First Feature at Toronto’s Inside-Out Film Festival. ANIMALS is awarded this prize for its accomplished and assured filmmaking and the promise the jury sees in Forés future work.

Animals, Geography Club and Schoolgirl Complex are all playing at the Inside Out festival in Toronto: go to insideout.ca for showtimes. Also opening today is another story, Epic, about a high school girl who discovers a whole other Epickingdom in the woods behind her father’s house when she is shrunk down to a tiny size. She has to help the leaf men — soldiers who fight the evil, rotten types on the backs of hummingbirds — to save the pod (a single lotus seed) on this special day, to allow a new Beyonce-voiced queen to be born. It’s animated, 3-D and it’s not Disney, not Dreamworks, but 20th Century Fox’s try at animation. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it’s basically Arriety meets Camelot.

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

November 9th, 2012. Blind Dates? Movies Reviewed: Unconditional, Wolf Children PLUS ReelAsian, Rendezvous with Madness

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.

Have you ever been on a date that doesn’t turn out quite the way you expected? What if you’re in a relationship that requires accommodation… but only on one side? This week I’m looking at two movies – both dramas — about people asked to completely change their lifestyles due to an unexpected aspect of their relationship.

Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪)

Wri/Dir: Hosoda Mamoru

Hana is a university student who sees a guy hanging around campus. There’s a definite attraction. But there’s something…. unusual about the guy. Not his looks, not his attitude, nothing like that…Turns out he’s descended from the now-extinct Japanese timber wolf! And every so often he slips back into wolfdom and goes out hunting.

But Hana says, OK, he’s a wolf, but, hey, I can handle that. They move in together and have two kids – Yuki and Ame, named after the snow and the rain. But then Hana is left alone to take care of them with no husband. And then… she discovers that both her kids regularly turn into baby wolves and back again! Yuki is wild, runs around, chases cats and howls to the moon. Her little brother Ame is more withdrawn. Hana doesn’t know what to do, and her neighbours accuse her of secretly having a dog in her pet-free apartment building. So she flees off to the countryside with her kids, where she thinks she can raise them on a farm without any interference from nosey neighbours.

This animated Japanese feature – playing at the ReelAsian Film Festival – is a cool story about the domestic life and coming of age of two werewolf kids, Yuki and Ame, and their devoted mother. What it’s not is a horror movie about werewolves. And that’s OK with me.

It’s also about urbanites moving back to the land, adjusting to life in an area where there are no young families, only elderly farmers still holding on to their patch of land.

Can poor Hana take care of two wolfish kids and try to run a farm with no experience? Can the kids learn to interact with other people without revealing their other lives? (Yuki demands to let her go to school – she promises not to turn into a wolf at school.) And as Yuki and Ame grow older, will they choose to live as humans, as wolves, or somewhere in between?

Wolf Children is a neat look at family life, non-conformity, and the socialization of wild girls and boys within the strict Japanese social system.

Unconditional

Dir: Bryn Higgins

Kristen and Owen are twin teenagers in England who take care of their poor, bedridden mum. Lonely, blond bro Owen (Harry McIntire) says he doesn’t really care what he wears – jeans, trainers and toques with earflaps are good enough for him. He just wants friends – there’s no one to go to the pub with him. But raven-haired sis Kristen is furious she doesn’t have enough money to buy new clothes, so she borrows some cash from a local loan shark, Liam (Christian Cooke). She likes Liam, and he seems to like her, too.

But one day, when Kristen’s not around, Liam takes him for a spin in his car and then to a pub to play snooker. Owen is thrilled to have someone pay attention to him for once. And after more drinks at Liam’s swank flat, he asks Owen if he wants to see something funny, something good for a laugh. The “laugh” turns out to be dressing in women’s clothing, complete with makeup and a dark wig. Liam has all the stuff put away in his closet. Hmmm… OK, I get it. Liam is transsexual, right?

Nope – that’s not it at all.

So Owen puts on the stuff and… whoa, he makes a very pretty woman! And Liam – who is straight – says he wants to be lovers, but with Kristen, not with Owen.

Liam is a guy who is only turned on by cross-dressers. So you have this strange situation. Shy Owen wants to be the centre of attention. He loves being the object of affection from a good-looking older, rich and successful guy – but Owen has no gender issues. He’s just a bloke. Meanwhile Liam wants Owen to disappear so he can date “Kristen” – not the sister, but the neo-sister. That’s the one he’s attracted to. And if Owen so much as shows his real face or takes off his wig Liam flies into a rage. He has “anger issues” you see. He says he adores his girlfriend but wants nothing to do with this Owen character who keeps popping up at all the wrong times. He demands “unconditional love” – but the accommodations are all on Owen’s side, not his. Then there’s sister Kristen (Madeleine Clark) who started the whole thing – she thought Liam was into her. And who’s taking care of poor Mum?

Unconditional (playing at the Rendezvous with Madness film festival) is an interesting, quirky movie. I just want to point out it’s not a psychological thriller — though there are some scary moments – and certainly not a rom-com. It’s a psychological drama about a troubled guy with unusual ideas, and his lover who is forced, against his better judgement, into a difficult situation. I enjoyed the movie, with its good, convincing acting (especially Henry McIntire) and unusual plot.

But you can’t stop thinking — aren’t there enough willing cross-dressers out there so that Liam could have a happy life? Why does he have to force it on an impressionable 17 year old? Or does Owen actually like it, he just doesn’t want it all the time? Hmmm… In any case, it’s a strange but interesting movie.

The animated feature Wolf Children is playing downtown this weekend at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival; the festival continues next week in Richmond Hill. Go to reelasian.com for times and details. And you can see Unconditional at Rendezvous with Madness a festival about movies about addiction and mental health issues. It’s opening tonight at the TIFF Bell Lighbox and continues all week through next weekend.

And don’t miss the excellent, award-winning documentary The World Before Her about the contrasting lives of two young women in India – a westernized model and a Hindu fundamentalist militant! – which opens at the Bloor next week. (I interviewed the Canadian director, Nisha Pahuja at HotDocs last spring.)

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

June 8, 2012. Bodies. Movies Reviewed: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Harakiri: Death of a Samurai, Guilty of Romance

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, Japan, Movies, Mystery, Sex Trade, Suicide, Toronto, Uncategorized, US, violence, Zatoichi, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on June 8, 2012

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Does art bore you? Do foreign movies with subtitles seem dull? Well, you’re in for a shock. Three shocks actually, that should rid you of that notion. This week I’m looking at three movies about people who use and abuse their bodies. One’s a Japanese drama about men who stick sharp objects into their stomachs in the name of honour; another is a Japanese dramatic thriller about two women who sell their bodies, but only for the thrill of it; and one is an American documentary about a woman who throws her naked body, full-force, at immobile naked men – but purely for artistic reasons.

To start with, here’s an art movie — well, a movie about art — that definitely won’t put you to sleep.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Dir: Matthew Akers

Marina Abramovic is a beautiful artist in her 60’s, born in Belgrade to parents who were hardcore Communists who fought in the resistance in WWII. They were cold, militaristic and authoritarian, so she chooses to go in the opposite direction with her art. She becomes a pioneer in radical performance art, beginning in the 1970’s. She’s famous for using her own body — usually naked — as the medium of her art.

She cuts herself, burns herself, starves herself, hurts herself, throws herself against immutable objects, and whips herself. But she brings the military discipline with which she was raised to sustain these extended and painful performances.

Then she meets another artist in the Netherlands who does similar things, and they fall madly in love. Now she has a performance partner — Ulay — and a life partner. They slap each others faces, over and over, throw themselves body first into one another… things like that. And always naked, of course.

But all things end, and when they break up, she is devastated, both emotionally and artistically. She had always handled the artistic side but not the “business” side of art…

Flash-forward to the present. She has transformed herself into a hugely successful art superstar – mow as much a theatrical performer as an ideological artist — and the Museum of Modern Art decides to do a retrospective. But she’s in her sixties, so she gathers a whole gang of young artists with nice bodies in a performance art bootcamp and meditation lodge! They’re going to re-perform her old pieces using their new bodies.

And Marina herself sets up a (now famous) performance at MoMA that consists of her sitting in a chair in a huge, empty white hall for long periods of time in a chair, facing another chair. The viewers sit across from her, one by one, and look deeply into her eyes — no speaking, no moving, no eating… just staring, completely still. It becomes more and more popular, until it reaches the point where people are camped out on the sidewalk overnight, coming into New York City from distant places. Marina as superstar.  The movie follows her past (using period footage and photos), her ascent to celebrity-hood, her amazing performance, and her behind-the- scenes look at constructing this work. It’s equal parts art, fame, emotion and philosophy… with just a bit of hucksterism.

If you’ve never seen a movie about art (or if fine art intimidates you), this is a good one to start with — it’s exciting, sexy, entertaining, funny, shocking and totally accessible. Great movie!

Harakiri: Death of a Samurai
Dir: Takashi Miike

Did you know that Samurai were basically bureaucrats and tax collectors not fighters? Around 1600 after the Battle of Sekigahara unified the country under the Tokugawa military government, the samurai who had fought on the losing sides often found themselves as Ronin – samurai without a master. That left them penniless, aimless, and with a great loss in status.

So this movie’s about a poor ronin named Hanshiro who shows up at the House of Yii saying he wants to commit harakiri (ritual suicide). That’s where a samurai takes his smaller sword and slices up his belly until he dies… at which point, another samurai chops off his head… nice.

But what does the Daimyo’s rep say? “Oh no, not again…!” You see, a younger ronin named Motome had tried the same thing not long before. He was a scammer who just wanted a few coins as a payoff for not bloodying up their nice courtyard. But they called his bluff – go ahead and kill yourself. But he didn’t have the short sword – he pawned it and replaced it with a bamboo replica. But the cruel samurai says, doesn’t matter – and there’s a long painful scene where they force this young ronin to go through with this, to pierce his belly with a piece of broken wood! …ouch!

Anyway, back to the present, they tell this story and tell the older ronin he can go home, no problem. But here the plot turns…. Turns out he’s that younger ronin’s father in law, and he came to prove a point: that the samurai code, the vaunted code of warriors, that bastion of dignity and honour, is just a load of crap.

The movie culminates in a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Zatoichi (the blind swordsman) pic!

My description can’t do justice to this movie (and I don’t want to give it all away), but it’s a dark, tense drama and a damning challenge to authority and corruption, showing how false and hollow the whole thing is. It’s directed by Takashi Miike, who is known for his violence and excess, but is amazingly restrained here, with an almost Shakespearean take on a 17th century Japanese samurai drama.

Guilty of Romance
Dir: Sion Sono
(Restricted to age 18+)

Tokyo police detectives find a bloody scene in a love hotel, and want to uncover this mystery. But what a mystery it is!

It starts with a new bride who has a dictatorial husband. She’s a sexually naïve, traditional Japanese housewife who wears a kimono, with her hair pulled back, bows to her lover, and when he leaves for work in the morning (he’s a novelist) she dutifully turns his slippers around so they’ll be ready for him when he comes home.

Then one day she decides to take a job in a grocery store dressed in a little hat and a uniform offering sausage samples on toothpicks to passing shoppers. Soon, a woman claiming to be a modelling agent convinces her to pose for photos. This soon turns to nude photos, then to hardcore porn on video.

She is shaken by the experience, but also sexually awakened. She starts picking up guys she meets in central Shibuya, and gradually drifts into the nearby love hotel district (Maruyama). There she meets a crazed streetwalker who takes her under her wing, and tells her about a mythical, Kafkaesque “castle” where all things will be made clear to her.

So she becomes almost a disciple to this mysterious fiery-eyed and raven haired woman who tells her never, ever to have sex for free… unless she is with the one who loves her. But she soon finds out, this scary streetwalker is, like her, living a double life! She’s actually a well-known university professor who lectures to packed halls by day, but trolls the alleys in disguise by night.

But there’s still further deceit in their secret lives. Guilty of Romance is a violent, sexually explicit exploitation drama, based on a true story.

The director, Sion Sono, is amazing in that he takes very recent pulp news stories, and turns them into way-over-the-top funny, gory, emotionally fraught, and semi-pornographic sexual movies. I’ve seen three of his recent movies, and they’re all amazing. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like female-centred shock movies, with terrific pot-boiler stories and super creepy characters (like the grandmother who speaks ultra politely but drips venom with every phrase), this is the movie for you.

Guilty of Romance plays tonight, and Harakiri on Sunday – with a live Taiko performance — both as part of the Toronto Japanese Film Festival (which runs until the 20th at the JCCC); and Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present opens next week – check your local listings. The CFC World Short Film Festival is on right now through Sunday, and NXNE, Toronto’s enormous music, film, and digital festival, begins on the 13th, next Thursday.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

February 25, 2012. Hidden in Plain Sight. Movies Reviewed: In Darkness, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Prodigies

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

What does it mean to be hidden in plain sight? Is it right below our feet — families living their lives just beneath a manhole? or maybe a judiciously placed leaf to disguise someone hiding in a garden. Or maybe people with special powers living among us, that no one recognizes.

This week I’m looking at three very different foreign movies, from France, Poland and Japan, about people hidden in plain sight as they face an earth-shattering crisis that threatens their homes, lives, friends or families.

The Secret World of Arrietty

Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Arrietty is a teeny tiny teenaged girl, a “borrower” who lives with her parents hidden inside a normal home. One day, she is allowed to go out with her father to secretly borrow things that the “human beans” would never miss: a stamp, a pin, a sugar cube, a fish hook, maybe a piece of thread. But she has to obey the rules: never let the human beans see them or notice them – for that always seemed to end up in death. If they’re noticed, it’s time to leave.

But Arriety is fourteen and has never met anyone aside from her parents. Are there other borrowers? And could the big people really be that bad?

Soon she encounters Shawn, a sickly boy sent by his mother to his grandmother’s country house to rest before an operation. He’s very ill, and maybe that’s why he can see Arrietty. But they both have to watch out for Haru, the old housekeeper who believes in the little people — and wants to catch them, and maybe even call an exterminator to wipe them out!

Shawn thinks he can help make Arrietty’s life better. But when he lifts up a floorboard and tears open Arrietty’s home to replace it with part of an old dollhouse, chaos ensues. Haru thinks this proves the borrowers are back, Arrietty’s mum panics when she is placed in a precarious position, and her dad decides it’s time to pack up and move on.

This is a delightful kids’ movie from Japan, based on the English children’s book. It’s made in old-style animation, with painted backgrounds, and hand-drawn cels for each frame. It’s from the Ghibli studios, known for Miyazaki Hayao’s work, but lacks some of Miyazaki’s extreme fantasy and bizarre imagery. Still, it’s a very sweet movie with a great story, a good lesson for kids, and smooth, exciting and dynamic animation.

It shares a theme, strangely enough, with a Polish Holocaust drama that also has people hidden just below ground.

In Darkness

Dir: Agnieszka Holland

It’s the 1940s, WWII, under the German occupation in the Polish city of Lvov (now in Ukraine and called Lviv). It was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious city, with Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, protestants and Jews, speaking Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish and German.

The Jews are locked in a ghetto that’s about to be liquidated and sent to the Jadowska labour camp. So a few families, led by a man Mundek (Benno Fürmann) come up with a plan to hide in the sewers through a hole they cut in their floor. But they quickly encounter Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz in a great performance), the sewer inspector and a petty thief who knows his way through every inch of the dark, rat-infested tunnels.

They reach an agreement to live underground and pay him money each week. they don’t trust one another  but they soon fall into an uneasy coexistence right beneath the Nazi’s soldiers’ feet. Mundek and Socha even manages to escape to the surface to try to find out if a woman is still alive.

The movie follows the two groups – Socha’s family above ground, and Mundek’s extended family and friends below — both of which face the constant risk of exposure. 

This is a different type of holocaust movie: it’s chaotic, passionate and bloody, filled with normal everyday life in an exceptional situation: with people eating, having sex, loving, hating, giving birth and dying, all hidden in near darkness in underground tunnels filled with human waste.

A lot of the movie is an almost black screen, with people running towards the camera down a sludge filled passageway lit only by a candle or a flashlight. In Darkness is a long movie, with a gradual, slow build, but it’s well worth watching. Terrific acting, directing and production values. This Polish / German / Canadian co-production is nominated for an Oscar, best film in a foreign language, and many Genies as well.

The Prodigies

Dir: Antoine Charreyron

Jim is a boy genius who is brought up by the millionaire Killian when his parents die in a violent episode. He knows he has special kinetic powers, can utilize all parts of his brain simultaneously, and can force people to do things against their will. As a grown-up he knows how to keep things in control at the Killian Institute, and use his skills for good, not evil.

But when his benefactor dies, the selfish heiress Melanie threatens to close down the institute since it doesn’t make money. But Jimbo has been using his research and gaming design to find others like him – who share his powers. They are bullied in school by cruel people who don’t know — or care — about their special powers. He wants to give to them what Killian gave him – a chance to meet their own in a safe educated environment.

Thinking quickly, Jimbo proposes a reality game show called American Genius, whose five winners (the five prodigies he has already located) will get to meet with the President in the White House.

But tragedy strikes: instead of going to meet the five teenagers – who he’s sworn to protect — in a park, he lingers with his newly pregnant wife. And before he gets there they are attacked by violent thugs who beat them up and brutally attack Lisa putting her into a coma. The tone darkens as the remaining four – led by the angry Gil – decide to seize power and seek revenge.

Now it’s up to Jimbo to regain the trust of the five prodigies, before they execute their cruel, apocalyptic plan.

The Prodigies is a motion-capture style animated movie – scenes are acted out live, then changed to animated form. Parts are beautifully done, with sleek stylized images – I like the look — but there are also long, irritating sections made in crappy, low-contrast tones which just don’t look good on a screen. (Why do they do that…?) I enjoyed this French/Belgian movie (I saw the American dubbed version) – its fun to watch, exciting (if predictable), though extremely violent. It’s not suitable for children.

Arrietty and In Darkness are now playing, and The Prodigies opens today in Toronto.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

November 11, 2011. The Real ReelAsian Film Festival. Movies Reviewed: Bleak Night, Full Metal Alchemist, Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Amphetamine

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference

As Rome burns and Europe crumbles, and Wall St is pre-Occupied, and the planet is teetering on the brink… all eyes are on Asia. So now’s your chance to get a feel of what’s going on across the Pacific. The Reelasian Film Festival (“reel” as in reel to reel, Asia as in East and SE Asia) is on now in Toronto, and it’s showing great, new, popular, festival and experimental movies from that region as well as some Canadian films. That means dramas, comedies, documentaries, anime, and shorts. There are also lectures, workshops and master classes for actors, scriptwriters, and producers — even events where you can pitch your own movie proposals. So this week I’m talking about films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Bleak Night

Dir: Yoon Sung-hyun

This is a movie about a group of three friends at a private boys’ high school in Korea. Only they’re not exactly all that friendly. One is the undisputed leader of the group, and lords it over the rest of them. He’s more of a bully than a friend, and pressures and intimidates the others, who go along with it. The encounters turn into physical abuse and name calling – “you’re my bitch” he says – but no one questions him.

It’s not until one boy stands up to him – and even tries to sever the friendship – that the power-dynamic changes and the pressure builds.

I like Bleak Night, but it gets bogged down with a slow-moving plot, and too many repetitive scenes with ten-minute-long two-man conversations about what happened off-screen and what they really mean to one another.

Full Metal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師)

Dir: Murata Kazuya (based on the comics by Arakawa Hiromu)

If you’ve never seen Japanese anime before this is a good place to start. But keep in mind, anime are based on manga and so have very long and complex plots with tons of past references and ongoing twisted story lines.

This movie (one chapter of a long saga) takes place in a fantasy setting that looks like the American southwest in the 1930’s, except the country is under martial law. Ed Elric, the full metal alchemist, is a master scientist-cum-magician with bionic limbs of steel. He teams up with his rival Crichton, his sister Julia, and her robot and companion to try to discover the secrets of Milos, find the stars of fresh blood, and gather any clues that might bring them closer to the Philosopher’s Stone. Watch and learn, grasshopper.

Saigon Electric

Dir: Stephane Gauger

Mai, an innocent girl from the sticks, comes into Ho Chi Minh city to make it as a dancer. But she’s strictly old-school: she doesn’t wear make-up, and doesn’t have a fashionable haircut or city clothes. And her dancing style is traditional too – using a ribbon, no less. But then she falls in with tuff-girl Kim whom she meets working in a restaurant. She’s a break dancer who’s being wooed by a rich guy whose family owns an expensive French restaurant. Kim hangs with her crew – Saigon Fresh — painting graffiti art on city walls, bustin’ moves to American hip-hop, and challenging the Northern Killaz to win the city championship so they can compete in the International contest In Korea. They become close friends, and when Kim finds herself homeless she moves into the room Mai rents from the scarecrow, a grumpy old musician. Mai starts teaching ribbon dancing at the same community centre where Kim is break dancing with her crew – a place where orphans and homeless street kids find shelter.

But trouble awaits: Kim and her boyfriend go off to a seaside hotel, where he promises her the world. But back in the city, some rich developers are threatening to close down the community centre where they all hang out and turn it into a hotel. What’s going to happen? Will all the characters find true happiness or will all their dreams be lost? Will the club be closed down?

This Saigon really is electric, shot in supersaturated colours, of people zooming around the city on motorbikes and skateboards. Even though it’s a age-old story, I like this very modern but distinctly Vietnamese style combined with a good dramatic plot and lots of that excellent 80’s street dancing with head spinning, sometimes even combined with classic Vietnamese drumming. (in Vietnamese).

Buddha Mountain (觀音山)

Dir: Li Yu

Mrs Chang (Sylvia Chang) a former Peking Opera star living in the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan China, is angry, hostile, bitter and depressed, since a tragic death in her family around the time of the earthquake. But she rents out a room in her home to three street-smart kids. Nanfeng (Fan Bingbing) is a pretty girl from a small town who can smash a bottle of beer on her forehead or kiss another girl on the lips – just for the hell of it. She’s trying to earn a living as a bar singer; Fatso (Fei Long) is a chubby, round-cheeked guy who didn’t get into University, but likes practicing Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as he looks for love; and Ding Bo (Chen Po Lin) is a self-centred but free-spirited youth with family troubles and too much time on his hands. They are adventurers – riding the rails, driving around town, rescuing each other from local gangs. Madame Chang orders them around like they’re her servants, and they steal from her and feel no guilt. A real generational divide. She looks down on them for their lack of culture, but for the kids she’s just a screeching fossil from a lost era.

But when one of the characters almost dies the others all rally round to help. They travel up to a Buddhist shrine on a mountain to repair damages from the earthquake and perhaps to fix the damaged parts of their own lives.

Buddha Mountain is a beautiful, touching, interesting and mainly realistic film about rootless youth in urban China.

Amphetamine / 安非他命 (Hong Kong)

Dir: Scud

Kafka (Byron Pang) — named after the Murakami novel, not the Czech writer — is a swim coach, a nude model, and a dyed-blond kung fu expert. His parents are dead, his brother is disabled, and he’s nearly penniless, but he can still do a complete split and support himself with his feet on opposite walls. Then he meets Daniel (Thomas Price), a young and ambitious Cantonese-speaking financier working for an Australian multinational. It is love? Kafka dumps his girlfriend when they seem to be falling for each other, even though it’s a first gay romance for both of them, and Kafka isn’t sure he can handle it.

They go bungee jumping, travelling, living the high life. But things get bad for poor Kafka when he starts doing too much crystal meth, and he begins to lose his grip with reality, falling into strange dreams and scary flashbacks, and beginning to think the white feathered wings he sometimes wears on his back mean he can actually fly. Is their love true? Can a poor but tough man accept the loving gestures of a Chinese-Aussie millionaire?

Definitely don’t see this movie if you’re at all uncomfortable with male nudity, since in practically every scene – I don’t care if it’s a street brawl, a love scene, a hospital, a mental ward, a police interrogation  — they find some excuse to strip down. OK maybe not the bungee jumping scene, but other than that, it’s Naked! Naked! Naked!

Amphetamine is unusual for a Hong Kong movie: a stylized and partly dreamlike gay, erotic melodrama about drugs. In Cantonese and English.

Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Bleak Night, and Full Metal Alchemist, are all playing tonight through Sunday at the Reelasian festival. Check the times at reelasian.com. Amphetamine is also playing this weekend at anotherr toronto festival dealing with mental health and addiction: check times at rendezvouswithmadness.com Also opening today is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. This is a two part movie, about a wedding with the bride (Kirsten Dunst) heading toward disaster and a post wedding depression with whole planet possibly colliding with a planet called Melancholia. First opart good, second part just so-so. And Charlotte Gainsbourg as the bride’s uptight, beleaguered sister is such a let down after her tour de force in Lars von Trier’s last movie, Antichrist.

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

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