Flashback. Films Reviewed: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Rings, Shepherds and Butchers

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Coming of Age, Horror, Montreal, Movies, Prison, Seattle, South Africa, Trial by CulturalMining.com on February 3, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUTflashback-film-fest 89.5 FM.

If the 1970s was Hollywood’s golden age then the 80s and 90s were its tin foil age —when a series of corporate takeovers placed short-term profits over creativity, and the Oscars celebrated forgettable, middle-brow pap. Even so, there were some fun and popular movies from 80s and 90s. Films like Alien, Shallow Grave, and Starship Troupers are playing at Cineplex’s Flashback Film Festival (FBFF) across Canada starting today, giving you a chance to revisit favourites on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at flashbacks. There’s a rerelease of a Canadian coming-of-age classic from the 70s, a flashback to a courtroom drama set in apartheid South Africa in the 80s; and a new sequel to a Japanese horror movie from the 90s.

duddy_kravitz_4colThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)

Dir: Ted Kotcheff Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

It’s the 1940s in a poor, Jewish section of Montreal. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a teenager recently graduated from Fletcher’s Field (a.k.a. Baron Byng) High School. MBDAPOF EC001He lives with his widowed father Max (Jack Warden) who works as a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his big brother Lennie. Lennie is a smart and sophisticated med student at McGill. But Duddy has neither the brains nor the inclination to study.

He’s a boorish and loud, nervous and uncouth, always sweating and scratching, jumping MBDAPOF EC008and cussing. He has a filthy mouth and an intrusive manner. With no friends or admirers he just wants to get rich quick. His idol is a gangster known as The Boy Wonder (Henry Ramer), and his favourite retort is kiss my Royal Canadian Ass.

He gets a summer job at a holiday resort in the Laurentiens, but is relentlessly put down by rich kids from Westmount and Outrement. He makes friend with a pretty waitress named Yvette (Micheline Lanctot). They fall for each other and she takes him to a secret spot beside a pristine lake. He’s struck by its beauty and vows to buy it, but is blocked by Québécois farmers who never sell property to jewish people. And Yvette is turned off by his constant drive for profits and MBDAPOF EC006wealth.

Duddy sets off on a series of impossible ventures he thinks will make enough money to buy the land: Importing Pinball machines with his friend Virgil, an American he meets on a train (Randy Quaid); and producing films with an alcoholic British communist (Denholm Elliot). But in his quest for success, he risks alienates his friends, his lover and his family. What will he learn from his apprenticeship with the real world?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a hilarious and audacious drama from the 70s which deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a dark slice of Canadian life, a world full of bigotry, snobbery, selfishness and deceit, tempered with the glorious freedom of a young man pursuing his dreams.

15871828_1198279710249685_2066179248684362877_nRings

Dir: F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia (Matilda Lutz ) is a high school grad in small town USA. She’s sad because her pretty, but dumb-as-a-post boyfriend (Alex Roe) is heading off to university in Seattle. Don’t worry, Holt says, I’ll skype you every night. But when the calls stop coming and he doesn’t answer her texts, brave Julia heads off to Seattle to investigate. And she finds something strange: there’s an old black-and-white video everyone tells her to watch. What she doesn’t know is that anyone who watches this video will be dead in seven days. But if you trick someone else into15844158_1196804380397218_3255840937653140664_o watching it, you get another seven days added to your life.

Like Orpheus in the Underworld, Julia decides to forge ahead, rescuing her boyfriend from Hell. She intentionally watches the dreaded video, and using her powers of second sight – she’s clairvoyant — she decides to follow a ghost to its point of origin. But first she has to deal with a secretive professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) and a blind graveyard custodian (Vincent d’Onofrio).

Can Julia rescue Holt, defeat a ghost with long black hair, and figure out the meaning behind the cursed video tape?

Rings is a reboot of the scary Japanese movie Ring and its sequels. Last week I interviewed two ghosts from that era, Sadako vs Kayako. In the American films, Sadako is called Samara, and urban Japan becomes a village somewhere in Washington State. More than that, Rings trades the chill feel of video static for a more conventional American ghost story.

Is it scary? A little, especially towards the end as Julie’s visions start to pay off. But the story is so ridiculously disjointed it’s laughable. It treats the original Ring as just a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made that film so scary.

29_img_8235Shepherds and Butchers

Dir: Oliver Schmitz

It’s 1987 in Apartheid-era South Africa. Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) a white Afrikaner, is arrested for murdering seven black African members of a soccer club in a quarry. The seven bodies were found neatly lined up in a row. The accused refuses to defend himself or even to say anything about what he did; he says he can’t remember. It’s an open 08_img_6438and shut case. Or is it?

In walks the famed jurist Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), a staunch opponent to the death penalty. While not contesting the actual crime, instead he says it is the brutal South African justice system that led to the crime. A shy, church-going kid turned into a mass murderer in just a few years? Preposterous!

It turns out Leon, since age 17, has been forced to work on death row in a maximum security prison. His work is like a shepherd, tending to the needs — food, showers, and prayers — of  men  “on the rope” (waiting to be hanged). But he’s also a butcher, forced to 32_img_6718kill — en masse, often seven at a time — the same men he takes care of.

His story is told at his trial in a series of gruesome and realistic flashbacks. Johan goads him into recounting what he – and the prisoners — has been through. This film shows the horrors of capital punishment, and particularly 47_img_9027the mass executions held in South Africa, in graphic detail. It is horrifying and extremely hard to watch, because it brings you, the viewer, right into the gallows itself. Shepherds and Butchers is a touching story about an important topic, but believe me, it is not for the faint of heart.

Rings and Shepherds and Butchers both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is playing for free this Sunday as part of the Canada on Screen series. Go to tiff.net for details.

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 director Jamie Kastner about A Skyjacker’s Tale

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, African-Americans, Crime, Cuba, documentary, FBI, Interview, Politics, Torture, Trial, US by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-taleHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the 1980s. Ishmael Ali is on a commercial flight to the US. Virgin Islands. But not to lie on the beaches of St Croix. He’s being transferred to another maximum security prison. He’s serving time for the Fountain Valley Massacre – the infamous killing at a golf course owned by the theskyjackerstale_01Rockefellers… a crime, he says, he did not commit. And on this flight he manages to hijack the plane to Cuba. But there’s much, much more to this skyjacker’s tale.

A Skyjacker’s Tale is a new feature documentary that interviews the skyjacker himself in Cuba. It tells his story, and that of all the jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-talepeople he affected: at the skyjacking, and at the trial. These interviews shed new light on a controversial case – with a dramatic finish — that left the public polarized. A Skyjackers Tale is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamie Kastner, who brought us films like Kike Like Me, and The Secret Disco Revolution. (Here’s the interview from 2012).

A Skyjacker’s Tale opens today at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

I spoke to Jamie in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM..

 

Fassbinder’s Women. Films reviewed: The Marriage of Maria Braun, Lola, Veronika Voss

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, Drama, Germany, Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 18, 2016

explore_152id_002_originalHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The postwar renaissance of Germany’s once great cinema almost didn’t happen. It wasn’t until the 1970s that German movies came into their own. And Rainer Werner Fassbinder — along with Herzog, Wenders, Schlöndorf and von Trotta — was key to this Neue Kino. Born near Munich at the end of WWII, Fassbinder lived his entire life in Bavaria. Between 1966 and 1982, he created a phenomenal 42 feature films, along with countless stage plays and the epic TV miniseries Berlin Alexanderplatz. Between these projects he led a wild personal life filled with sex, drugs and political controversy. Married twice, he also had at least two long-term male lovers, while consuming huge quantities of cocaine.

Throughout, he attempted to document Germany’s fass_24colcultural history, as the country arose from devastating defeat to become the economic juggernaut it is today. And in many of these films Germany is a woman. His female character try to survive economically, even though outsiders — men – control all the power and money. These women must weave their way through the psychologically damaging malaise underlying Germany’s economic boom. Fassbinder filters these portrayals through his view of Hollywood, especially the so-called women’s pictures of the 1940s and 50s. He idolizes directors like Douglas Sirk and Joseph L Mankiewicz and wants to be their modern, German equivalent, giving his films melodramatic titles like The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and [The Longing of] Veronika Voss.

A retrospective of his work, Imitations of Life: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, presented by the Goethe Institute and TIFF Cinematheque, is on now through the end of the year. I’m looking at three of his “women’s pictures”, great movies from the end of his career, known as his BRD (Bundesrepublik) Trilogy. Though made in the late 1970s – early 80s, they all take place in the 1940s-50s.

There’s a woman married to money, another to the silver screen, and a third to a man she never sees.

204_image-1The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978) (Die Ehe der Maria Braun)

It’s Germany just after WWII. Maria Braun (Hanna Schygulla) is in a fix. She was married beneath a portrait of Adolph Hitler, as American bombs fell all around her. Three weeks of love, and one night of marital bliss… then husband Hermann was sent back to the Russian front. Now with her husband presumed dead she has to feed herself. But she refuses to call herself a widow. She parades the streets each day with a cardboard sign asking “Where is my husband Hermann Braun?”

Her city is a mess of rubble, rubbish and holes in walls. Well-fed GIs are the only ones with money, while locals subsist on turnips and porridge. Maria is forced to take a job at the Moonlight Bar, a beer hall for US soldiers.

There she meets an African-American GI and falls in love. Their relationship progresses from dancing, to picnics, to English lessons, to sex. But they are interrupted in flagrante delecto by Hermann, back from the war. He beats her up and she, in turn, slams a glass bottle… not at her husband’s head, but at her lover’s, killing him instantly. Hermann takes the fall and goes to jail, while Maria vows to achieve financial success for both of them. The film chronicles her quick rise to power at a French nylon stocking conglomerate. She sleeps with the CEO — just like with the GI — but her heart remains true to her husband. But can he be trusted?

This is a great, though cynical, look at postwar Germany, as seen by the ambitious, but manipulated, Maria Braun. (Not a spoiler, but it does have an explosive ending!) This fantastic and surprising film was Fassbinders first international hit — it played in NY City for over a year.

206_image-1Lola (1981) 

It’s 1957. The leading citizens of small-town Bavaria are planning a new development: Lindenhof. It will make them all filthy rich. Protesters picket daily on the street and their plans are clearly fraudulent, but, with the government, business and police all on the take, nothing can go wrong.

In walks the new building inspector, Mr von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He says he wants to usher in a new city in tune with the German Economic Miracle. He’s both modern and old-fashioned – modern at work, old fashioned at home. He owns a Ming vase and loves children, East Prussians and Frisian tea. And he is a stickler who carefully reads every blueprint, invoice and form. He is “incorruptible”.

When he falls under the influence of a leftist poseur, he vows to confront the “birds of prey” behind this venture. Head vulture? The nouveau riche developer Schukert (Mario Adorf). He’s the local Donald Trump. He’s married to an older woman, but spends most of his time with his mistress Lola (Barbara Sukowa). Lola is a fiery film_203w_brd_originalcabaret performer and sex worker at the town brothel. She decides to seduce von Bohm in order to guarantee economic success for herself and her daughter. But who will triumph – the hero von Bohm, or all of the corrupt conspirators?

Lola is a deeply cynical film… but with an oddly happy ending. It decries the corruption, on both the left and the right, and the ordinary people crushed by the wheels of progress. But then the film shrugs its shoulders at the unavoidable results of modernity.

Lola is another great film, a dark satire, lit with phenomenally intense day-glo colours whose pink, aqua and acid green will sear your eyeballs.

veronikavossVeronica Voss (1981) (Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss)

It’s the 1950s in Munich. Veronika Voss (Rosel Zech) is a faded movie actress who once starred in films at UFA, the mammoth German movie studio. She still sits in theatres, staring at herself on the screen. One rainy evening, she runs into a man named Robert Krohl (Hilmar Thate). He gallantly offers her his umbrella, and walks her to the streetcar. Robert is a sports writer, gruff and burly, who knows nothing about movie stars. He happily lives with his lover, Henriette, and secretly writes poetry in his spare time.

But when she asks him for a drink, he is captivated by her larger-than-life personality. She poses and preens, acts impulsively, switching in seconds from elation, depression to agony. Movies, she says, are all about shadow and light, and she demands the waiter adjust the light to make her look better. Robert is smitten. He traces her steps to a neurological clinic, a spotless white office run by a Frau Doktor Katz (Annemarie Düringer). She’s a pretty but severe doctor who offers Veronika friendship (and morphine!) in exchange for complete domination of her life. Can Robert rescue Veronika from the lesbian doctor’s clutches before she is forever lost? Or is she already lost to drugs, and just a flickering image of the star she once was?

Veronika Voss is fantastic melodrama in the style of 30s films and 40s noir with an incredibly shiny, shadowy, black-and-white look.

Fassbinder died of a drug overdose at age 36, not long after this film’s release.

Imitations of Life: The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder is playing at TIFF until late December. Go to tiff.net for details. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Retro+Active. Movies reviewed: Here Come the Videofreex, Everybody Wants Some!!

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Movies, Protest, Sports, Underground by CulturalMining.com on April 1, 2016

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

Retro doesn’t mean boring. This week I’m looking at two retro movies, a drama and a documentary. There’s sexually active college jocks in the early 1980s and politically active filmmakers from the late 1960s.

1455288759488Here Come the Videofreex

Dir: Jon Nealon, Jenny Raskin

The late 1960s is a time of huge changes in the US. People are out on the streets, holding demonstrations, civil disobedience, and sit-ins. Against the war in Vietnam and the powers that be, and for black power and women’s rights. At the same time a strange new medium is making its first appearance. It’s recording events as they happen. Its images are black and white, fuzzy, and a bit distorted around the edges. It wobbles when you watch it. It’s a medium that lets you see what you’re filming as it’s goingHere Come The Videofreex on. The concept is unheard of in a time where film takes days or even weeks to develop. It’s revolutionary!

And what is this new medium? Video. People are carrying their own mics and Sony cameras to rock concerts (like Woodstock) and recording everything they see – not what’s on stage but who’s in the audience.

CBS News takes notice. A producer puts up the money and the equipment for a group of young men and women to go where journalists aren’t Here Come The Videofreexwelcome. They call themselves the Videofreex. They go to California to take in the mood. They travel east again, to record Yippie Abbie Hoffman before he’s arrested and Fred Hampton from the Black Panther Party only weeks before he’s killed by the Chicago police. The Videofreex are not dispassionately observing things like a TV journalist. Video lets them be a part of what they’re filming. And with women and men both starting from videofreex2 scratch in a new medium, there are no glass ceilings to break.

In the end, though, CBS News rejects their work as too radical and different. CBS wants to use it their footage on their news shows but under network control. The Videofreex say no way. The venture is short lived. But the members keep recording things for decades to come. And they start their own community TV station in a small, rural town in upstate NY.

This movie is an amazing look at the old videos from the dawn of public-access video. They’ve been lovingly restored and are explained by the former members of the collective still around today. It’s a great documentary on public journalism decades before youtube,

1599200_575053482643669_2109293068277867655_oEverybody Wants Some!!

Wri/Dir: Richard Linklater

It’s late August, 1980. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at a university town in Southeast Texas with a milk crate full of record albums and the glow of small town success. it’s just a few days before classes start. He’s a baseball pitcher on an athletic scholarship. But he’s not impressed by s new home. Two ramshackle, clapboard 12440810_610999309049086_3445379746760922808_ohouses donated by the city, holding 25 guys – more than two baseball teams worth. In high school he pitched the team all the way to the state championships — but here he’s less than nothing. Everyone’s a former best in town. Now he’s just a freshman, subject to hazing, sneers and brutal competition. And he’s in a house filled with highly competitive, intimidating guys, all baseball jocks with awful moustaches. Guys brimming with machismo, including one who can hit a baseball with an axe in midair — and chop it in half. They hate pitchers, they say. And freshmen. It’s up to Jake to fit in to the house without 12900965_621225614693122_3811120829406141613_ogiving up his true character.

But there are entitlements, even for freshmen. These include Lone Star Beer, and free entry to the local mirror ball disco. The boys go there to strut and try to pick up girls. And despite the constant homoerotic fog over their locker room practices, they never stray from conventional gender roles.

Jake is better than that. He likes poetry, listens to Devo, and doesn’t treat women as goals to be conquered and bragged about to his buddies afterwards. And he really likes Beverly (Zooey Deutch), a woman studying performing arts. She’s from a 12901135_620296168119400_4966195848044237027_oseparate universe,  with its own teams, hierarchy and competitiveness.

I really like Everybody Wants Some!! It’s a lot of fun, with great acting and a terrific soundtrack. But don’t be misled by the trailer; this is not a reboot of Porkies or Animal House. It’s not a formulaic, slapstick comedy. What it is is a typical Richard Linklater film, like Dazed and Confused. If you saw Boyhood two years ago, think of this as Manhood. Boyhood gives you 12 years, while this one is condensed to three days. There’s a great ensemble cast that you get to spend a bit of time with.

Everybody Wants Some!! opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And you can see Here Come the Videofreex beginning on Wednesday. And be sure to check out the Canadian Film Fest this weekend for the latest in new Canadian movies. Go to canfilmfest.ca for more information.

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

 

Eurasia. Movies reviewed: Mountains May Depart, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Sing Street

Posted in 1980s, Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Journalism, Musical, Romance, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

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

Europe and Asia, despite what some people think, are part of the same continent: Eurasia. This week I’m looking at movies set on the Eurasian landmass, from the far east to the extreme west. There’s a love triangle set in a rapidly westernizing China, a true story about expat journalists in Afghanistan, and a coming-of-age musical set in Ireland.

48V7xJ_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_03_o3_8667537_1438094807Mountains May Depart

Wri/Dir: Jia Zhangke

It’s 1999 and a mining town China prepares for the new millennium. Especially Tao (Zhao Tao) who is a pretty, young performer. She’s being courted by two men. Liangzi (Liang Jingdong) is a brash but nice guy, brimming with confidence. He works in the mine store. Equally confident, but self-centred and vengeful, is Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi). He’s rich and Liangzi isn’t. She wants to be friends with both of them. But she has to choose, and she chooses the one with money over vgRA2n_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_04_o3_8667554_1438094737the one she loves.

They have one son they name Daole or “Dollar”, named after the US dollar, what Zhang desires most. Tao stays in the mining town, while her husband moves to the city to rule his burgeoning financial empire and satisfy his perverse obsession with guns. And their son, Dollar, is sent off to a private English-language boarding school in far-off Shanghai.

GZzj65_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_01_o3_8667519_1438094794The second part of the movie jumps to the near future. Dollar lives in Australia now and only speaks English. He has distant memories of his country and his mother and transfers his feelings onto a rootless, Chinese-Canadian teacher named Mia (Sylvia Chang).

The movie then reveals what has become of Liangzi, Jinsheng and Tao – the original three characters.

Jia Zhangke is one of the best filmmakers in China, and a personal favourite. He has a unique style and feel that exposes the flaws and idiosycracies of modern China. But always in a funny satirical or shocking way. What other Chinese director would start his movie with people dancing on a stage to the Village People? It looks like one of his first movies Platform (2000). That said, this isn’t his best work. The first half is a good classic Chinese melodrama, but the second half, with its prediction of China’s future, feels empty in comparison.

12803308_192044051164344_2982674369886159417_nWhiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

Dir: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa (based on Kim Barker’s memoirs)

It’s the early 2000s. Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a network TV newswriter whose career is going nowhere fast. So she jumps at the chance to relocate to a place grabbing all the headlines: Kabul, Afghanistan. She says goodbye to her boyfriend and takes off. But as soon as she arrives she sees it’s not what she expected. She’s shocked by the unvarnished crudity of the other expats. But she also exalts in her new status. She has, at her disposal, a buff kiwi bodyguard, a smart Afghan translator, and a local fixer, to name just a few. A blonde Aussie reporter named Tanya (Margot Robbie) takes her under her wing.  She says, “In New York City you’re a 6 or a 7, but here you’re a borderline ten.” Tanya also tells her who to get to know, and who to avoid. And above all, to watch out for12362989_139342373101179_5125622253715911362_o the womanizing lush Iain (Martin Freeman: The Hobbit) a Scottish journalist.

Aside from drinkin’, dancin’, cussin’, and screwing around, she also has to file stories. She’s embedded with a Marine battalion, under the misogynistic General Hollanek (Billy-Bob Thornton.) But she manages to find some real news, even venturing out of the insular, foreign enclave in Kabul (or “Ka-bubble” as Tanya calls it). Will her new digs bring her fame and fortune? Or is it a bottomless pit that swallows journalists whole?

This movie is a fictionalized account of print journalist Kim Barker’s stint as an expat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s an enjoyable movie and Tina Fey and company give a good sense of what it’s like to live there as a foreigner. What it doesn’t give is what it’s like to be an Afghan. There are some good scenes of an Afghan wedding, and she has a bit of professional contact with locals like Sadiq (Alfred Molina) a sleazy government minister, but nothing that challenges existing stereotypes.

And the Afghan women in burqas? Completely silent.

12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian Brothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. They make it their goal to crush every hint of non-conformity. Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. But all is not lost. Because across the street he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model who just stepped out of a Duran Duran video. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly, he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it all happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing songs. Soon, they turn into new wave rock stars complete with appropriate make-up and frosted hair. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom and before Raphena leaves for London?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s, but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new featuring young actors and musicians who are all amazing.

Sing Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Mountains May Depart 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

Latin America at #TIFF15. Movies reviewed: Colonia, Desde Allá, The Clan

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Argentina, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Thriller, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 2015

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

TIFF featured a number of notable South American films this year, so this week, I’m going to look at three of them. Two – an escape drama and a true crime drama — are set in the south, Argentina and Chile, under their rightwing, military dictators in the 70s. And one in the north, a drama set in modern-day Venezuela.

58KWyB_colonia_02_o3_8704338_1441928352Colonia

Dir: Florian Gallenberger

It’s 1973 in Santiago Chile. Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a German photographer who was drawn there by the excitement around the newly-elected socialist premier Salvador Allende. He is deeply in love with his girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson: Hermione in the Harry Potter series), a flight attendant for Lufthansa, who touches down regularly in Santiago. But when the government collapses with a CIA-backed military coup, the streets become dangerous.  Thousands of people – including Daniel and Lena — are herded into the Santiago Football Stadium. Some are shot on the spot, others taken away in vans.

Lena is safe, but Daniel is horribly tortured, nearly to death, by Pinochet’s forces. Afterwards, he is comforted by a strange man with long gray hair who says Daniel will be safe under his protection.

Lena takes a week off work and tracks him down to an isolated farm in central Chile known as colonia-1-first-look-will-emma-watson-be-able-to-escape-colonia-dignidadColonia Dignidad, run by a German, fundamentalist Christian cult. Her plan? To pretend to join the sect, unite with Daniel, and quickly escape Chile forever.

But she soon finds herself trapped there. It’s a strange farm surrounded by electrified barbed wire filled with people who have never seen the world outside. Men, women and children are all kept completely separated. Little boys with Hitler-youth haircuts are forced to sing angelic choir songs before the nefarious Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) – known as “Pius” —  who controls everything. The women are supervised by a stern female commandant named Gisele. By day, they pick potatoes like slaves; by night they are locked into their communal barracks. Any woman caught speaking of or even thinking about love or sex is punished at a “men’s council”, a ceremony where men are free to kick and punch accused girls or women. Lena searches for Daniel but he is nowhere to be seen. When she finally spots him, he appears to be feeble-minded from all the torture he endured. Can Lena ever contact him? Will he even recognize her? And can the two of them escape from the hell-hole known as Colonia?

Colonia Dignidad and Paul Schäfer were real. This film is actually a German movie, in English, not a South American one. If you’re looking for a political drama about Chile under Pinochet, you won’t find it here. This is more of an exciting escape drama, a prison break movie, with the politics kept low-key. Chile is the setting, with Pinochet a super villain, but it’s mainly about the notorious German settlement there. Bruhl and Watson are good as the heroes, but best of all is the realistic, slimy cult leader. I watched the whole movie without realizing he was played by Nykvist, the same actor who was the hero of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series!

JZWRXv_Desde_Alla_03_o3_8730120_1440509884Desde allá (From Afar)

Dir: Lorenzo Vigas

Armando (Alfredo Castro) is an odd, middle-aged man with a good income who lives alone in downtown Caracas. He has an creepy-looking job: his business is constructing and repairing dentures, inserting false teeth into intricate moulds. Occasionally, he visits his sister to talk about the horrible things their father did to them when they were growing up. What exactly happened is never said.

In his free time Armando has an unusual hobby. He approaches young, working class men on r0V6pW_Desde_Alla_04_o3_8730197_1440464747the street and offers them money in exchange for sexual favours. But the favours consist merely of Armando asking the guy to face away from him while partially undressed. That’s it.

But things start to change when he picks up an angry young man named Elder (Luis Silva). Elder is a violent, selfish thug whose father is in prison for murder. He’s the kind of guy who would lead his gang to attack his own girlfriend’s brother LgWRlv_Desde_Alla_05_o3_8730266_1440509909with steel pipes in a pool hall for no apparent reason. Despite this – and the vicious sneer permanently etched on Elder’s face – Armando approaches him on the street and hires him. But in his apartment Elder turns on him, beats him up and steals his wallet and some of his things.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this?) Armando approaches him again, not asking for his things back, but instead offering him even more money. And later — when a rival gang fights back and Elder needs a safe haven – Armando welcomes him back into his apartment. Far from being a sexual predator, Armando shies away from anynZ6P6Y_Desde_Alla_01_o3_8730049_1440509869 and all physical contact with Elder. Instead he behaves like a father-figure, teaching him moral lessons, feeding and clothing him. And the situation changes: now Elder starts feeling attached – perhaps even sexually – to Armando, who coldly turns him away. What is going on? And where will it lead?

Desde Allá is a strange and disturbing film, even more so at the end. Its shocking conclusion will make you rethink the entire movie. The acting of both the main characters is fantastic – and the film won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

pgLNE6_clan_05_o3_8766051_1439583560The Clan

Dir: Pablo Trapero

It’s Buenos Aeries in the late 1970s. Alejandro Pucci (Peter Lanzani) is a handsome young rugby player on the Argentinian Pumas. His father (Guillermo Francella) is a successful businessman with ties to the military regime .Alex has it all. He’s a popular student, a national sports hero and owns a surfing store in downtown Buenos Aries. And he is in love with his girlfriend. But when the military government falls they are forced to lie low. His dad is a member of the Argentinian CIA, and partly responsible for the notorious Disappeared, the countless people missing or murdered by the military junta.8qKpGm_clan_04_o3_8765985_1439583555

But the Puccis depend on these kidnappings to keep up their lifestyle and have turned it into a very profitable business. Most of the family is either involved in or aware of the kidnappings, since the victims are kept inside their home. But can any of them resist their dad’s orders?

This Argentinian drama is based on a true crime story out of Argentina that shocked the nation when it was uncovered. It’s also the most popular Argentinian movie ever.  It’s a scary, dark and gruesome story. The movie reveals the downfall of the family in the very first scenes, but for me – never having heard of this case before – I would have preferred if those scenes were left till later. Still, there is such a dramatic scene at the end of the movie that it retains its ability to shock.

Colonia, Desde allá and The Clan all played at TIFF15; keep your eye out for these films. Opening today is Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival — go to tpff.ca for details; also opening is the delightful Grandma, a comedy-drama starring Lily Tomlin as a feminist grandmother on a quest.

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

Disses. Movies reviewed: (Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies, Hungry Hearts, Love & Mercy

Posted in 1960s, 1980s, Biopic, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Italy, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on June 5, 2015

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

We’re all tired of being dissed, but there are a lot of disses that just can’t be avoided. This week I’m looking three “dis” movies. A biopic about a renowned musician diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an Italian drama about a dysfunctional couple, and a documentary about dishonesty. dishonesty_the_truth_about_lies_3

(Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies

Dir: Yael Melamede

We are all liars. And we all lie about the same things in the same way. Or so says a new documentary about lying. It focuses on the work of Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioural economics and psychology at Duke University and MIT. In an experiment repeated thousands of times all around the world, Ariely tested students in groups asked to self-mark their tests, drop them into a shredder and report todishonesty_the_truth_about_lies_1 an official. And they were paid $1 for each correct answer. What they didn’t know was that the tests weren’t actually shredded.

Afterwards, Ariely compared the actual answers on the pages with the fake scores the people had told them. And he found that most people do lie, to the same extent, about the same things all around the world. The movie says a lot more, and also interviews real people, like politicians who cheat on their wives or insider traders on Wall Street, to look at their rationales for dishonesty. This is a very slick, fascinating and easy-to-understand documentary. Excellent film! 2a1cc45e-d506-4916-b019-fe5c6fb5442f

Hungry Hearts

Dir: Saverio Costanzo

Jude (Adam Driver) is an engineer, a tall, well-dressed young man in New York City. Mina (Alba Rohrwacher) is a beautiful, petite Italian woman with pale skin and fiery red hair who works at the Embassy. Somehow the two strangers find themselves locked inside a tiny, grungy basement toilet in Chinatown. Jude is to blame for the horrible stench, and Mina for the constant complaining. The two of them are trapped in a claustrophobic and unhealthy situation.

So what do they do next? They have sex, fall in love, get married and have a baby. If 27ffe0a5-affc-4432-a421-b62d9947e9c9only they had followed their first impressions and never met. They soon discovered they are different in every way. Jude likes science, doctors and hospitals. Mina is into fortune tellers, vegetarianism, naturopathy, and instincts. Not a big problem until the baby (known only as “Baby”) comes into the picture. Jude, (the big American) prone to anger and violence, thinks the kid is sick and starving and is not growing big enough or fast enough. Frequently depressed Mina (the cultivated European) thinks the problems are all on Jude’s side. Add Jude’s mother Anne, a real buttinsky, to the picture (played by the venerable Roberta Maxwell) and things quickly escalate. Will they survive the stink, decay and claustrophobia of their dysfunctional life?

While Hungry Hearts has its good points, this is a real drudge of a movie filled with endless bickering, crying, hitting and altogether awfulness. The honeymoon lasts about 90 seconds and the rest of the movie is less torrid sex, more horrid fights. 71520-LM_04144_CROP

Love & Mercy

Dir: Bill Pohlad

It’s the mid 1960s. The Beach Boys is a cheesy pop band known for its catchy tunes, tight harmonies, and its formulaic California sound: all about LM_00531FD.psdgirls, surfing, and roadsters. Most of the members are brothers or cousins, and they’re getting ready for their triumphal tour of Japan, when something happens. Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) has a panic attack on a plane and decides to stay home in L.A. LM_00610.CR2While they’re touring, he’s composing, arranging and producing an incredible album.

LA’s famous studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew provide the music and Brian goes wild. He tosses paper clips onto piano strings to make a plinkier sound. He brings dogs into the studio to bark. He even has them play in two separate keys… at the same time. The result is Pet Sounds, one of the most highly-praised pop albums ever recorded – and rightly so. It even inspired the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper” album.

This is Brian Wilson in the sixties. The movie’s also about 71214-2Brian Wilson in the 80s (John Cusack). We see him enter a Cadillac showroom where he meets the saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), a blue-eyed blonde. It’s the 80s so she has big hair and enormous aquamarine shoulder pads. Brian talks to her slowly and hesitantly, as if he’s never seen a woman before and isn’t used to speaking out loud. They gradually become close, but face a formidable obstacle in the form a man.

Dr. Gene (Paul Giamatti) is a psychiatric Svengali who has taken complete control over LM_05276.CR2Brian’s life. What he eats, where he goes, even whom he’s allowed to talk to. He diagnosed Brian as paranoid schizophrenic and has him pumped full of toxic amounts of meds. (That’s why he walks around with his mouth half-open staring off into space.) Can the 1960s Brian bring all his musical dreams to fruition? And can the 1980s Brian ever re-emerge from his medically induced haze?

Love & Mercy is long, detailed and sometimes slow. Its two parts are told chronologically, but the story jumps back and forth between the 60s and the 80s, so you follow both the of them throughout the film. I was left only half-satisfied by the story, but the music…! The music seduced me into listening to Beach Boys music – which I had never taken seriously before — obsessively for about a week afterwards. See it for the music.

Hungry Hearts and Love & Mercy, and (Dis)honesty (at the Bloor Cinema) 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.

International Mainstream Movies. Films Reviewed: Kidnapping Mr Heineken, Serial (Bad) Weddings, Wild Tales

Posted in 1980s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Netherlands, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 5, 2015

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

I’m happy to say that Xavier Dolan’s brilliant Mommy swept up the prizes at the Canadian Screen Awards last weekend. And they’re releasing new indies, such as the Valley Below, set in the Alberta badlands. Good to know Canada is still making great movies. But what are people watching in other countries? This week I’m looking at three mainstream movies : a dark comedy from Argentina, a light comedy from France, and a crime drama from the Netherlands.

KFH__02707_rgbKidnapping Mr. Heineken
Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Based on the true crime book by Pieter de Vries

It’s Amsterdam in 1983, and the economy’s in a downturn. And a business run by five guys (with names like Spike, Cat, Cor and Willem) goes bottom up. Their assets won’t get you a cup of coffee during a recession. They vow never to be a wage slave to someone else – they want to be their own bosses. But you need money to make money. What to do?

Brothers-in-law tough-guy Willem (Sam Worthington) and idea-man Cor (Jim Sturgess) comeFH-1990_rgb up with a fool proof plan – the perfect crime. They’re not exactly strangers to the rougher side of life, but this will take it a whole new level. They’re going to kidnap that beer brewery billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins)! And the prize? More guilders than any crime in Netherlands history. First, in a KFH__01204_rgbdaring move, they knock over some Brinks trucks and escape with the cash in a uniquely Dutch way: they race through the canals of Amsterdam in a powerboat, pursued by cop cars. Next, they find an out-of-the-way location and build undetectable, soundproof rooms. Finally, in a carefully planned adventure, they grab the beer magnate and KFH__00951_rgbhis driver, and truck them off to their hideaway. They speak in German and never show their faces. But as the weeks pass with still no payoff, their confidence starts to fray.

Will they get the money and keep it? Can the five men trust each other or is there a snitch? And will there be blood spilled on the way? This is an OK crime movie, shot in English in Amsterdam with a British and Dutch cast. Hopkins is barely in it, he’s locked up in a cell, so the film depends on Worthington and Sturgess. They’re not bad but not terrific. The movie itself is enjoyable – with thrills, chases, shootouts – but it didn’t really grab me. The regular-guy criminals just weren’t that compelling, even in a true crime story.

Serial_Bad_Weddings_-_parentsSerial (Bad) Weddings
(Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?)
Dir: Philippe de Chauveron

The upper-class Verneuil Family consists of Claude and Marie (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) and their four lovely daughters. They live on a palatial estate in Chinon, France. They are devout Catholics who still pine for old France, and the days of Charles De Gaulle. They duly send their lovely daughters off to Paris to be educated. But imagine the parents’ surprise when three of them get married: to Rachid, an Arab Muslim (Ooh la la), David, a Jew (mon dieu) and Chau Ling, a Chinese man (aaaarghh!). But they aren’t even French, the parents say – they are the sons of immigrants. Things come to a head when the parents show up for their grandson’s circumcision. Claude shows his bigotry and the family is torn apart. But time heals all wounds, and a few years later things have smoothed out. Claude and Marie joyously await the arrival of their fourth son-in-law-to-be: Charles! He’s French and he’s Catholic…at last.

But guess who’s coming to dinner? Charles is actually Ivorian, from West Africa. And his dad, an serial_bad_weddings_-_churchold school military man (Pascal N’Zonzi) is as conservative and bigoted as Claude. He arrives in France looking for a fight, and Clause is ready and willing. Can the fourth wedding ever take place? Or is this the straw that will break the camel’s back, and will the wedding ruin the Verneuil clan forever? And can different ethnic groups ever get along in a new France?

For some reason – perhaps because all the ethnic tension – this comedy is a smash hit in France and Quebec. And it’s a cute and gentle crowd-pleaser. Unlike most Hollywood comedies there’s no nudity, puking or potty humour. But doesn’t take any risks either. The ethnic stereotypes are tired, and the characters are mainly bland. The daughters have barely sketched characters, and the sons, while slightly more developed, their insults to one another stick to groaner stereotypes: muslims are angry, Chinese eat dogs, Jews are good with money. Luckily, the parents, especially the dads are funny enough to save the movie. And who doesn’t hope for racial harmony? A cute, but safe movie from France.

4fd6c30e-cf73-4008-acfb-8417987be0ab Bombita Ricardo Darin as Simón Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

Strangers on a plane ride discover they have something in common. An heir to a fortune is caught in a hit-and-run. A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douchebf3deb47-7815-4eeb-9bd4-3c6c11fc68d2 Leonardo Sbaraglia as Diego, Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap in an act of road rage on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot in a Hollywood 0bf45366-79ef-4e25-a7d7-4aaae624b551 Rita Cortese as Cocinera and Julieta Zylberberg as Moza, Photo by Javier Juliá, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsstyle. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of unexpected climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

This is an amazing, exciting and hilarious movie, a dark comedy out of Argentina. The production values – including full-scale disasters — are top-notch. And so is the acting, with some of the top stars, including Ricardo Darin are first class.

Wild Tales, Serial Bad Wedings and Kidnapping Mr Heineken all open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks to actor Barrett Crake and writer/producer Eric Staley about their new film Eternity: The Movie

Posted in 1980s, Breasts, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, L.A., Music, Musical, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2014

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

It’s the 1980s. Naive and starry-eyed, blond Todd Lucas arrives in LA with just the shirt on his back and the song in his heart. His dream? Make it big as a musician. But to pay his rent he takes a day job at a discount clothing store. There he meets dark, moustachioed BJ Fairchild, who’s into sex, Eternity_Postersaxes, and girls, girls, girls!

Together the two of them form an R&B duo. The band’s called Eternity. But will it last? Will their friendship persevere? And is  something in their relationship that will make it last… an Eternity?

So asks a new musical comedy called Eternity: The Movie that opens today in Toronto. Eric Staley, Barret Crake 1 Eternity the Movie © Daniel Garber CIUT 89.5 FM culturalmining.comEternity is a high-camp look at bad sweaters, big hair, music videos, and the whole hardboiled LA music scene of the 1980s.

I spoke to Eric Staley and Barrett Crake here in Toronto. They shared their thoughts on singing, Hall & Oates, R&B, auditions, moving to LA from Texas, San Diego, quadruple threats, sucking breasts, the 80s, Myko Olivier, Care Bears and Rainbow Brite, Madonna, Eric Roberts, playing the guitar, a possible tour with Eternity, karaoke and Eternity: the Movie.

 

Art House Dramas. Films Reviewed: We are the Best, Things the Way They Are, Eastern Boys

Posted in 1980s, Chile, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Gay, Movies, Protest, Punk, Sex Trade, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 2014

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.

With spring comes blockbusters, superheroes and giant atomic lizards. But it’s also spring festival season. Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT festival runs through the weekend, and coming soon are NXNE, with some great movies, spectacular Luminato, the Italian Contemporary Film Fest, and NIFF, a new, integrated festival in Niagara Falls combining movies, food and wine. This week, I’m looking at great festival-type movies: realistic, low-budget, art-house dramas. There are punk girls in Stockholm, a culture clash in Santiago; and, from Paris, a gang of eastern European boys.

Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST! a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
Dir: Lukas Moodysson (Based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson)

It’s Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) are two young girls who are mad at the world. Grown-ups are idiots without a clue. Other kids are into aerobics and spandex, or long hair, metal, and prog-rock. So they chop off their hair, make it into spikes or a Mohawk and declare themselves punk. Punk not dead! They embrace punk ideology, clothes and politics, not just the music – everything from questioning authority to garbage picking. They are firmly against nukes, organized religion, and consumerism.

Conformist kids pick on them, and they miss out on school sports and clubs. Jonathan Salomonsson, Mira Grosin and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST!So they start off on their own, spontaneously, with a band. Without any music skill. Soon, it’s Bobo on drums and Klara on bass. They’re awful. At the fall talent show, they see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), the school pariah and a fundamentalist Christian. Because she plays classical guitar and dresses conservatively she gets booed off the stage. But Bobo and Klara can see she really knows music. So they make her a deal: she teaches them how to play and they’ll be her friend and let her join their band. Though labeled a “girl band” these punks set out to prove they are the best.

This is great movie that captures the early 80s dead-on. The best part? These girls are 10-13 year olds, yet they play the punks flawlessly and carry-off the movie.

poster las cosas como sonThings the Way They Are (Los Cosas Como Son)
Dir: Fernando Lavanderos

Jeronimo (Cristobal Palma) is an ordinary guy who quietly lives in a huge crumbling house in Santiago, Chile. He makes his money renting rooms to foreigners, and spends all day painting, plastering, and trying to bring the place into livable condition. Jeronimo has a helluva black beard, looking like a cross between an urban hipster and a 19th century anarchist. But his politics are anything but. He wants things to stay exactly the way they are.

Into his life comes the beautiful, young Sanna, a blonde woman from Norway. She’s there to teach drama classes to kids in a poor part of town. But Jeronimo can’t understand why. What does she get out of it? What’s in it for her? And he’s baffled by Scandinavian attitudes toward sex. Women have sex with whomever they want? In Chile, we call them prostitutes.

Sanna’s for openness, trust, change, being free. Jeronimo is suspicious, THINGS-Website-Photoclass-conscious, homebound. Still, there’s something happening between them. Will love follow? But when Jeronimo, who likes snooping around his tenants rooms, discovers a surprise under Sanna’s bed, that totally changes their situation.

I liked this movie. It’s attractive to watch, though not exciting. It’s more about contrasting characters, cultures and personal philosophies, giving an intimate slice of life in contemporary Santiago.

easternboysEastern Boys
Wri/Dir: Robin Campillo

Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a blank- faced businessman who regularly passes through the Gare du Nord in Paris. He meets a handsome young prostitute there named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and gives him his address for an upcoming tryst. What he doesn’t realize is that Marek is part of a closely-knit gang of guys from Eastern Europe who practically live at the station. They’re hustlers, thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and prostitutes. And the next day, to his horror, they show up, en masse, at his condo door for a “party”. Their leader, known only as “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov), is the sinister but seductive alpha dog. He puts on music, pulls off his shirt and starts dancing in front of the businessman. Daniel’s non-plussed, but eventually just says to hell with it. easternboys_01_mediumHe dances with thieves wearing a paper crown, while they strip his apartment bare. His art, his computer, his TV… everything is loaded onto a white van.

C’est la vie, right? No. Who shows up the next day at his empty apartment but Marek, the sex worker who started it all. He says it wasn’t his fault, and he’s still willing to do what he was hired for. Sex is cold and perfunctory, but he begins to show up regularly, on the sly. He’s emphatic that Boss can’t know. Marek spends his weekends at a remote suburban refugee hotel with the gang, where they hold his passport. Daniel’s life is opaque. But we slowly find out more about Marek. He’s from a war zone and still hears the bombers, gunshots and explosions in the distance. Cold Daniel starts to show some backbone and compassion. Gradually they change from buyer/seller, to lovers, to roommates, to friends… to something very different and unexpected. Can Marek escape Boss’s control and leave the gang for a future in France?

This is a disconcerting and disturbing film, but quite good. What’s remarkable though is the ensemble of Eastern European actors, working perfectly together like Oliver Twist performed by Cirque de Soleil. Though moralistic at times, it works both as a crime thriller (with minimal violence), and as a social drama.

Eastern Boys played at Inside-Out, We Are the Best and Things the Way They Are 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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