Art and deception. Films reviewed: Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies, The Art of Self Defense, Push

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

The things you see online – or on TV for that matter – aren’t always true (suprised?). This week I’m looking at three movies, two docs and one dark comedy, about lies and deceptions. There’s a man who trains in the art of karate, a look at the art of selling lies, and a look at the lies of selling real estate.

Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies

Dir: Larry Weinstein

What is Propaganda? Is it art and literature? Or brainwashing and fake news? The word comes from a benign Catholic term meaning the propagation of faith, the planting the seeds. The Vatican opened a department of propaganda to counter Martin Luther’s austere reforms. It combined the opulance of baroque cathedrals, the lure of incense and all the lush frescos, paintings and marble statues you’ve seen. But art and magic and religion were around long before that, and so, says this documentary, was propaganda. Some historians trace it as far back as Neandrathal cave paintings.

Propaganda is easy to spot in other cultures but very hard to see in your own.  Many people were entanced by dictators like Hitler and Stalin thanks to their skillful use of films (like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will) radio broadcasts and posters. But with the shift to digital culture, it has taken on new forms; like patently false news stories online, repeated ad infinitum, until people start to believe it.

Propaganda: The Art of Selling Lies is a fun, light documentary that talks to a lot of artists and writers – Astra Taylor, Ai Weiwei and Kent Monkman – but also musicians, analysts and others. It shoots a constant barrage of propaganda at you, images from the past 100 years, shown in harsh black and white periodically blanketed in fields of red. A lot of it is familiar but there are also some bizarre juxtapositions you’ve never heard of: like the racing cars that now drive around the former Nazi Nuremberg Stadium. Or Laibach, a Slovenian band known for its fascistic costumes and images, who performed in North Korea before a concert hall of nonplussed party apparatchiks and university students. Very funny.

The Art of Self Defense

Wri/Dir: Riley Stearns

It’s the 1990s in small-town America. Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a shy accountant who lives with his dachshund. He’s a 98-pound weakling who works in an office full of alpha males. But when he’s violently attacked by strangers on motorbikes he decides something has got to change. No more sand will be kicked in his face! He joins a local karate dojo with its own set of hierarchical rules. Everyone is ranked by their belt colour. There’s Anna (Imogen Poots) who teaches the kids class; get on her wrong side and she’ll beat you to a pulp. And at the top of the heap is Sensei (Alessandro Nivola).

He says karate is not just a martial art, it’s a way of life. You must punch with your feet and kick with your hands. Casey is starry-eyed, and ready to do whatever Sensei tells him. You must become more masculine, he says.  Stop learning French, start learning German. And throw out those adult contemporary CDs; only listen to metal! Casey takes the blue pill. He leaves his job and devotes his life to karate. He worships Sensei, has a secret crush on Anna, and proudly displays his low-ranked yellow belt for all to see.

But something is not right. When he joins the mysterious night classes he is exposed to a violent world of hyper-masculinity he doesn’t subscribe to. He is asked to perform dubious tasks outside of the dojo. Is this place only about karate? Or is it a cult? And what is hidden behind Sensei’s secret door?

The Art of Self Defense is a low-budget, uncategorizable, odd sort of a movie, part dark comedy, part mystery, with a bit of violence and horror mixed in. It’s slow to develop, but picks up nicely about halfway through. It’s filled with wood paneling, old computers and ugly clothes from the 90s, which adds a humorous tinge. But It’s hard to tell whether it’s being satirical or straightforward, comic or scary. Jesse Eisenberg is totally believable as the wimpy accountant trying to become more manly, and Allessandro Nivola is good as the mysterious sensei.

Take it as a cautionary tale about the search for masculinity, self-confidence and the cult of martial arts and you’ll enjoy this dark comedy.

Push

Dir: Fredrik Gertten

There’s a housing crisis in the world’s cities and no one knows seems to know what’s going on. In Toronto there’s a shortage of affordable apartments, with stagnant wages, soaring rents and home prices quadrupling. Speculators are buying up land as a bankable commodity, something bought and sold, with little thought given to the people who live there. And in many cities entire blocks of housing sit empty, because rent income is dwarfed by what they can earn from the constant increase in value of the buildings themselves. What’s going on?

Enter Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. She’s a mom from Ottawa who travels around the world collecting data and advocating on behalf of tenants everywhere. She views housing not as an investment but as a right.

This documentary looks at the dire situation in the world’s cities – from Milan to Berlin, Seoul to Valpariaso – where people are facing the same situations: gentrification, renoviction, and the displacing of average- and low-income earners from the world’s cities.

It explores the role of organized crime in the housing crisis. They use property investment as a way of laundering money by over investing in legit properties, driving up demand and prices and hiding their illicit profits.

It looks at how the financial sector is turning housing into an investment commodity, with the people who live in them entirely erased from the equation. One particularly notorious player is Blackstone – founded by former Lehman Brothers execs – a voracious American property investment company that swooped into the real estate market after the stockmarket crash of 2008. Now they’re making money by buying up public housing for profit, while neglecting the people they were actually built for.

And it looks at the role of pensions, both government and private, which invest in housing to grow their capital, but, unintentionally, lead to skyrocketing prices and increasing homelessness.

Push is an incredibly important and informative documentary that explains in simple terms the economics, politics and effects of this crisis. It uses experts – like Joseph Stiglitz, Saskia Sassen and Roberto Saviano – to explain the reasons behind the crisis. But it also talks with ordinary people around the world. It shows the multiple, small-scale problems people face as well as the large-scale disasters, like the Grenfell Tower Fire in London. They are all related. And it’s the great Leilani Farha who is trying to confront these problems in a new way.

I recommend this doc.

Propaganda: The Art of Lies, Push, and The Art of Self Defense 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.

Daniel Garber talks with fimmaker Laurie Lynd about Killing Patient Zero

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Death, Disease, documentary, H.I.V., LGBT, Movies, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on May 3, 2019

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

It’s the early 1980s, with gay liberation, culture and sexual freedom at its peak, when an unknown disease infects gay men. It’s called gay cancer, GRID or AIDS. And people start to die in large numbers. Scientists trace its spread across North America by a single, promiscuous Canadian flight attendant, known as Patient Zero. This selfish, sexual predator is to blame for the epidemic. Or is he…?

Killing Patient Zero is a new documentary that traces the origins of the AIDS epidemic while debunking its myths. Through vintage footage and new interviews with scientists and researchers, this film takes a new look at widely-held ideas about the spread of the HIV virus. It also talks with friends and colleagues of Gaetan Dugas – the so-called patient zero – and rescues his undeserved reputation.

It’s written and directed by Toronto’s Laurie Lynd, based on Richard McKay’s book Patient Zero and the Making of the Aids Epidemic. Laurie is an award-wining TV and film director whose work ranges from Degrassi, to Queer as Folk, to Breakfast with Scot.

I spoke with Laurie Lynd in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Killing Patient Zero had its world premier at Hot Docs 19. It’s opening soon in Toronto.

NAFTA movies? Films reviewed: Giant Little Ones, Sólo con Tu Pareja PLUS Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema

Posted in 1990s, Bullying, Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Depression, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Sex by CulturalMining.com on March 29, 2019

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

If you’ve been watching movies over the past few years, you may have noticed a big change. Some of the biggest Oscars are going to directors like Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzales Iñaritu.

When did Mexico start making movies? The answer is: Mexico has been making great movies for a very long time… we just never knew about it. But there is one way to fill in that gap in our collective memories.

Sui Generis refers to unique species or bodies of work. Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema is a suprising series of films at TIFF Cinematheque. It’s programmed by Diana Sanchez and Guillermo del Toro and includes some really famous movies – like Buñuel’s Avenging Angel – and an equal number I’ve never heard of. Surprises include anti-church satires, political protests, bizarre fantasies and fantastical films that transcend the genres we know. There’s also a sexual frankness largely missing in Hollywood movies under the Hays Code (1930-1968), but legal in Mexico.

Aside from Buñuel’s films and a few others, I had never heard of most of these movies, but Mexican cinephiles weep over the importance and uniqueness of these selections; a staple on late-night Mexican TV  but rarely seen on the big screen. This series features directors like Ripstein, Buñuel, Cuaron, del Toro and many others, from the 1930s up to recent times.

It’s quirky, eclectic and grand. I recommend this series.

This week I’m looking at movies from Canada and Mexico. There’s a Mexican sex farce about a man who bites off more than he can chew; and a Canadian coming-of-age drama about a boy forced to choke back his tears.

Giant Little Ones

Wri/Dir: Keith Behrman

It’s a middle class suburb somewhere in North America Franky (Josh Wiggins) is about to turn 17 at a big party. All his teammates from the swim team will be there, his divorced mom (Maria Bello) will be away that night, lots of alcohol and music, and his beautiful but vapid girlfriend says she’s ready to spend the night with him. And his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) will be there to cheer him on. They’ve been inseparable since childhood and the two are popular and respected at school. This will be a life changing night for Franky… but not in the way he expects it.

The party ends early when his mom comes home, and his girlfriend decides not to stay. So the two drunk best friends end up crashing in Franky’s bed, and something happens in the dark. Ballis rushes home, and the next day everything’s different. Rumours about Franky start spreading, he’s blanked in the hallways and ghosted on instagram. People say he’s gay and did something to Ballas, who does nothing to defend his former best friend.

Only a few people stick by him. Mouse (Niamh Wilson) his out lesbian lab partner who packs a fake appendage in her jeans teaches him how to live with bullying (but I’m not gay! says Franky. Doesn’t matter says Mouse); and Natasha, Ballas’s sister (Taylor Hickson). She was once popular too, until she was “slut shamed” after something terrible happened to her. They turn to each other, first as pariahs and friends, but it gradually turns into something more.

Adding to the complications is Franky’s divorced gay Dad (Kyle MacLachlan). Franky hasn’t spoken to him since he moved away to live with his lover. He’s ready to offer advice but first Franky has to conquer his own homophobia. What really happened that night with Ballas? Will they ever be friends again? Is he in love with Natasha, or is it something else? And will things ever get better at school?

Giant Little Ones is an excellent coming-of-age drama, well acted, and based on an elegantly symmetrical script. It’s tender, funny and surprising, without leaving you depressed. I’ve seen this Canadian movie twice now, and it was just as moving the second time through.

Sólo con tu pareja (1991) (a.k.a. Love in the Time of Hysteria)

Wri/Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is known for his sexual prowess and enormous ego. He sleeps with a different beautiful woman every night. He’s also fond of challenges and pranks like running naked down the stairwell to the lobby each morning to pick up the morning paper before anyone sees him. He’s handsome and fit, with a successful career as an advertising creative and lives in a swank apartment building in a good Mexico city neighbourhood. He lives two doors away from Dr Mateo Mateos (Luis de Icaza) and his wife, both good friends, who give him the keys to their apartment while they are away for the weekend.

But Tomas’s limits are challenged one night when he is faced with more than even he can handle. Mateo’s statuesque nurse Sylvia (Dobrina Cristeva) is arriving for a date, while his boss Gloria is also dropping by

LOVE IN THE TIME OF HYSTERIA, (aka SOLO CON TU PAREJA), Daniel Gimenez Cacho, 1991. ©IFC Films

to hear his advertising pitch for a brand of canned Jalapeños (and maybe a bit of spicy fun). Soon enough he’s bedding his boss in Mateo’s flat, Sylvia in his own, and is forced to inch his way naked back and forth between the bedroom windows and satisfy both women without letting either one know about the other. To make matters worse, he finds himself infatuated by a new tenant in the flat between

the two rooms. Clarisa is a flight attendant (Claudia Ramírez) and when he sees her robotic miming of seat belts and oxygen masks he sees through her window heid smitten. But can one man keep three women satisfied at one time? Alas, no.

He is fired from his job, and the vengeful nurse falsifies his medical tests telling him he is HIV positive, plunging him into a deep depression. Will Tomas discover the truth and change his ways? Or will he succumb to despair and throw himself off the tallest tower in Mexico City?

Sólo con Tu Pareja is a seldom seen, silly screwball comedy from the early 90s. It’s also Cuaron’s first feature film, long before his big hits like Gravity, Roma and Y Tu Mama Tambien. This is no masterpiece, but it is a fun and interesting look at a totally different era. It reminds me of the 1960s comedy Boeing, Boeing, starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, also about a promiscuous man who juggles three flight attendant gilfriends in one Paris apartment. This one is also dated, but better than Boeing Boeing — the women in this movie have personalities, and Daniel Giménez Cacho is on fire as Tomas. And it adds a pair of Japanese businessmen, some mariachi musicians and a Montezuma lookalike to give it a more Mexican feel.

Giant Little Ones opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and you can see Sólo con Tu Pareja just tonight at the Tiff Bell Lightbox as part of the fantastic TIFF Cinematheque Mexican film series called Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema, on now.

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 Jia Zhang-ke about his new film Ash is Purest White

Posted in 1990s, 2000s, China, Crime, Migrants, Movies, Romance, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 22, 2019

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

Photo of Jia Zhang-ke (left) by Jeff Harris.

Qiao is the girlfriend of a smalltime hood in a dingy mining city in northern China. She is confident, pretty and fiercely loyal. But after a violent showdown on a downtown street, she ends up taking the fall for him. She serves five years in prison. When she is released she discovers her one-time lover has abandoned her.

Will her journey across China — to find her ex-lover and reestablish her reputation — bring her what she wants?

Ash is Purest White is a new Chinese feature that played at Cannes and TIFF. It’s a passionate melodrama that chronicles China’s changes as it modernizes, as seen by a gangster and his moll. It is written and directed by one of China’s best and most famous filmmakers, Jia Zhang-ke.

I spoke to Jia Zhang-ke in New York City via telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto.

Ash is Purest White opens today in Toronto.

Teens. Films reviewed: Bernadette, Minding the Gap, Carmen & Lola

Posted in 1990s, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, LGBT, Roma, Romantic Comedy, Skateboards, Slackers, Spain, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 15, 2019

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

In your teenaged years, as you span the time between child and adulthood, it’s hard to separate true love from first crush. This week I’m looking at three such comic of age stories. There’s a 15 year old boy with a crush on a French woman; three skateboarders trapped in a rust belt town, and two young women in Spain touched by chance.

Bernadette

Wri/Dir: John Psathis

It’s the summer of 1994 in Forest Lake, a suburb near Chicago. Archie (Sam Straley) is a 15 year old freshman who lives with his single mom (Sarah Shirkey). He plays in a garage band with two other nerds, his best friends Ken and Martin (Johnnie Lim, James Guytin) .  Archie has just one goal: to meet a beautiful, but unapproachable exchange student named Bernadette before she moves back to France in the Fall. Problem is she’s a senior, a lifeguard at the local pool, and is beautiful beyond belief. She also has an older boyfriend, a French prof at the local community college. And she’s surrounded by a gang of bullies, led by by the cruel and vindictive Richtor (Tommy Philbin).

Luckily he gets a job at the park where Bernadette (Marilyn Bass) works. And his boss, Dixon (James Psathis) shows him the ropes. Dixon is a legend at his school — tall, charismatic and known for his sexual prowess. He keeps polaroids of all the women he’s slept with on the wall of the tool shed he’s living in. Anyone else would kill for such a mentor. But not Archie. He can’t stand Dixon, because of his latest conquest. No, it’s not Bernadette he’s sleeping with, it’s Archie’s 33-year-old mom! Will Archie come to terms with Dixon, overcome the bully Richtor, and convince Bernadette that he’s her one true love?

Bernadette is a typical boy-meets-girl coming of age story, but, despite the title is barely about Bernadette at all. It’s about a fatal summer in the life of the hero. This is a cute, indie movie, with a fun cast and an enjoyable story. The plot is not especially original – you can predict most of the plot turns a mile away – but it is nicely done and neatly constructed. And does every new film need to be super-special?

An enjoyable teenage romcom is good enough for me.

Minding the Gap

Dir: Bing Liu

Rockford is a small city in Northern Illinois. It’s filled with vacant warehouses and empty factories, cracking sidewalks and vacant lots. All the empty space makes it a paradise for skateboards and the guys who skate them. This documentary follows the lives of three of them, Kiere, Zack and Bing. Aside from their love of skating, they also share dark pasts. All three of them endured violence and abuse at the hands of their parents. Kiere’s dad beat him as corproaral punishment to discipline him when he did something wrong. He resented it at the time, but now desperately misses his father who died when he was teen. Zack also comes from a family with a history of violence and alcoholism… which he seems to be carrying forward in his own relationship with his girlfriend. A relationship mainly based on their baby boy, not any love they once had for each other. Bing’s story is the most hidden of the three. He coaxes it out of his mother who admits her second husband, Bing’s stepdad, abused both of them…though the nature of his abuse remains unclear.

Minding the Gap follows the three boys as they grow into men in their 20s, all captured by Bing’s video camera. It starts as just shots of the three of them gliding down the streets, but gradually reveals, in a series of interviews, traumatic moments in their lives. And life in a rust belt town, gradually being emptied of its people. I liked this doc, though confessional, reality-show-type docs aren’t my favourite format. It’s a first film, but surprisingly has already been nominated as Best Feature Documentary in this year’s Oscars.

Check it out.

Carmen & Lola

Wri/Dir: Arantxa Echevarría

It’s a housing project outside present day Madrid. Lola (Zaira Romero) is a prickly 16 year old graffiti artist who wants to get out of this place. Her illiterate parents, Paco and Flor, and her little brother Miguel are happy with their life here. They run a stall at an outdoor market, attend an evangelical church and celebrate birthdays and weddings in the traditional Roma style. Lots of singing and dancing with their friends relatives. But Lola wants more. With the help of Paqui (Carolina Yuste) who works at the local community centre she’s trying to pull herself out of traditional roles. At the market she meets the beautiful and glamorous Carmen (Rosy Rodríguez) who also works there. She’s engaged to Lola’s first cousin, and dreams of becoming a hairdresser, one of the few professions open to Roma women.

For Lola, it’s love at first site. She’s enchanted by everything about Carmen, from her little bird-shaped earings to her lithe body and beautiful face. Carmen is everything she desires and she paints grafitti art tributes her on local walls. She teaches her how to swim, so someday they might go to the beach in Malaga together. But Carmen is shocked when Lola expresses her love to her. I’m normal, Lola, not disgusting like you, she says. Kiss a boy, and you’ll see what you’re missing. Lola counters, kiss me, or you’ll never know for sure. Will Carmen and Lola become lovers? Or will her strong community ties make that impossible?

Carmen & Lola is a wonderful romantic drama about an unlikely couple. It’s shot in a realistic style, celebrating Roma culture in Spain, the church services, the music and traditional costumes. She uses non-actors for many of the roles, and never shies away from the racism and poverty they face on a daily basis.

This is a very good love story.

Carmen & Lola and Minding the Gap are both playing at the TIFF Next Wave festival. All tickets are free if you’re 25 or under. Go to tiff.net for details. And Bernadette is premiering at Vancouver’s Just for Laughs and will open later this year.

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

Women, Desire. Films Reviewed: The Misandrists, The Feelings are Facts: the Films of Nazlı Dinçel

Posted in 1990s, Berlin, Feminism, Germany, Lesbian, LGBT, Satire, Sex, Sex Trade, Terrorism, Turkey, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 1, 2019

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

This week I’m looking at avant-garde, sexual films. There are lesbian terrorists in Germany disrupting the patriarchy, and a filmmaker in Wisconsin disrupting the traditional documentary.

The Misandrists

Wri/Dir: Bruce LaBruce

It’s 1999 in a forest near Berlin.

In a stately manor, uniformed schoolgirls study biology, philosophy, and politics, taught by stern nuns with severe habits. The school’s symbol? A cross on an orb. The girls share their meals with the nuns at a candle-lit table. But this is no ordinary girls’ school. The students are all adults, former petty thieves, runaways and sex workers. Their teachers are radical feminist separatists. The habits they wear are just costumes they put on to fool outsiders. Their prayers celebrate the fact they were born as women not men, and they worship the vagina, ova, reproduction, and lesbian sex. (And the cross and the orb is actually an inverted women’s symbol!)

Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse) sleeps beneath giant mugshots of Emma Goldman. She tells the students to practice sex with each other – but avoid monogamy. Some of them watch explicit gay porn for helpful tips. Their ultimate goal is to destroy the patriarchy and create a world without men… by any means necessary. Their first terrorist action as the FLA (The Female Liberation Army) will be to force Berliners to watch the all-women porn film they plan to create. All the students are happily engaged in sex, except one: Isolde (Kita Updike). For some reason she feels excluded. But this isolated world is disrupted by an unexpected arrival: a wounded revolutionary named Volker (Til Schindler) fleeing the police. Isolde hides him in the basement. What will happen if the man is discovered? Will the FLA’s action be a success? And is there a traitor in their midsts?

The Misandrists is Toronto’s homocore punk pioneer Bruce LaBruce’s latest film And his first with a nearly all-female cast. (It’s a follow up to The Raspberry Reich, also about German radical activists, and is strongly influenced by The Beguiling.) It stays true to Blab’s earliest super8 films, combining satire, humour, queer topics with explicit sex, radical politics, and a distinctly non-Hollywood feel. The cinematography (James Carman), costumes and makeup go way beyond his early films, but the intentionally shocking and disruptive style is true to form.

Does it all make sense? Kind of. Does a slow-motion pillow fight with scantily-clad young women make fun of 1970s softcore porn… or is it just gratuitous titillation? I’m not sure why there are extended scenes of women necking with a hard boiled egg, and some of the extended political screeds recited in flat monotones test any viewer’s patience… but again deliberately, revisiting German expressionism.

Agitprop as lesbian porn.

But it really hits home with its sex-positive attitude combined with clever challenges to preconceptions about gender, sex and genitalia (ie “what makes a woman a woman?”).

It’s funny, surprising and ultimately satisfying. Just don’t expect a traditional, mainstream movie.

The Feelings are Facts: the Films of Nazlı Dinçel

Nazlı Dinçel is an American filmmaker in Wisconsin, who immigrated from Ankara, Turkey as a teenager. Her work documents her sex life on 16 mm film, in an often abstract and disjointed manner. Her embrace of the tactile nature of her topics translates into a handmade, hands-on style of filmmaking. A typical short film will alternate between over-exposed film stock or a black screen and explicit footage. A large part of her films is the text, recited dispasionately by the narrator and accompanied by the same words scratched or burned into the film stock itself… often one word (or part of a word) at a time.

Her images vary from disjointed body parts – vaginas, penises, buttocks, mouths – and the omnipresent hands and feet, painted with glittery nailpolish. Her forms include shots of nature and ancient ruins, as well as more intimate bedroom shots. Images are framed by lens irises, reflected in mirrors, bookended between black, silent screens. Sound consists of voices, pop music, and a constant ticking and scratching sound (is that the sound of the 16mm camera itself?)

Her stories come from her own sexual experiences, retold. Her early days of solitary experimentation as a teenager hidden in a washroom where she lost her virginity, she tells us, to a carrot. And her later relationships and sexual encounters. It also deals with her own cross-cultural alienation, with Turkish folklore and Islamic prayer clashing and combining with her changes in adolescence and as a woman.

In Her Silent Seaming (2014), she shares the bedside murmurs of some of the men she has slept with. As the narration progresses it gets more and more repetitious with the words scratched into film eventually reaching a disturbingly frantic peak. Images vary from blurred footage of sex organs to the artist herself in a Marilyn Monroe wig kissing a mirror with her lipsticked mouth.

Solitary Acts (4,5,6) (2015) consists of three films of thoughts and memories of sexual experimentation, culminiatng in explicit, extreme close up footage of a woman, presumably the filmmaker, pleasuring herself, andlater doing the same to an unidentified man.

Shape of a Surface (2017)

…takes us to ancient Roman ruins in Turkey, with a call to prayer in the background as she observes headless Roman statues, and later orally worships a living man.

Between Relating and Use (2018)

…is the most cerebral of all the films, a semiotic examination of fetishes, in both the anthropolical and sexual sense of the word. But of course it also includes her trademark sparkle-nailed foot paired with a man’s genitals.

Instructions on How to Make a Film (2018) introduces beginner filmmakers to the joys of film, a medium she admits is nearly obsolete.

These are beautiful, thoughtful, deliberately disjointed, and highly personal films. As they progress so do the images, with written words becoming less and less reliable, until in some of her later films they cease to match their meaning.

I have only seen a digital version of these films on my computer, but you can see the original short films in all their 16mm glory at the AGO Jackman Hall on February 12 as part of the monthly Vertical Documentary series.

Nazlı Dinçel will be present at the screening. And you can see The Misandrists at the TIFF Bell Lightbox tonight with Bruce LaBruce in person for the Q&A.

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

Deep. Films reviewed: Destroyer, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, Ratcatcher

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, African-Americans, Coming of Age, Crime, documentary, Kids, L.A., Scotland, Thriller, Uncategorized, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 18, 2019

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

Tired of fantasy? How about some gritty realism? This week I’m looking at three deep, realistic movies — a documentary, a drama and a thriller — about working class characters living their lives. There are African Americans in the deep south, an LA detective in deep cover, and a young man in Glasgow knee-deep in trash.

Destroyer

Dir: Karyn Kusama

Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) used to be a young, pretty and ambitious uniformed cop in LA. Pulled from her division for an undercover operation, she was meant to infiltrate a notorious and deadly ring of bank robbers. She posed as a couple with Chris (Sebastian Stan) another cop which led to a relationship. And she made friends with the robbery team, including the sinister Silas (Toby Kebell) a long-haired man with a cruel streak a mile wide; and the friendly Petra (Tatiana Maslany).

But things didn’t go as planned. People died, and the thieves got away with bags of loot. Look at her now. She’s a burnt-out husk of her former self. Bell doesn’t walk, she staggers. Her lips are wrinkled, her hair looks like it was cut with garden shears and she talks like Jeff Bridges on a bad day. But when she finds evidence the robbers are at it again, she takes the law into her own hands. Will she stop the killers? Or will they destroy her first?

Destroyer is a fantastic crime thriller about an angry worn out cop on her quest for retribution. It keeps you glued to the screen, heart racing, as you try to figure out what’s going on. It’s told during three time periods, jumping back and forth between them, and as you watch it you constantly have to change your assumptions. No spoilers but there are some big shocks along the way. It’s very violent, though from a female point of view: men punching women, women strangling women, women attacking men. Not for the faint of heart. Nicole Kidman totally transforms herself – physically and emotionally – from the naive young woman into the hardboiled cop she ends up as.

Destroyer is a great LA crime thriller.

Hale County, This Morning, This Evening

Dir: RaMell Ross

Hale County, Alabama is in the deep, deep south. You can still find white-pillared mansions built on the backs of slave labour on cotton plantations. It’s named after a Confederate officer whose statue still stands. It’s also where the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr once sought refuge from the KKK. It’s a rural, mainly black area where people stay on with their daily lives: sports tournaments, childbirth, funerals. There’s a catfish factory, a school, a hospital and churches.

This fascinating documentary is a series of beautifully composed, very short – from five seconds to three minutes – and highly personal scenes. A woman tapping her thigh with a flyswatter, a man playing blues on an electric guitar. A baby learning to walk, fritters frying in a pan, kids drinking coca cola. We see teenaged boys talking in the basketball locker room, families baptized at a church, people hanging at a beauty salon or a bowling alley. Rolling clouds with electrical storms, the first drops of rain on the pavement, a deer caught in the headlights, and a solar eclipse. The filmmaker RaMell Ross who started photographing there when he moved to the town, records what’s going on all around him in an impressionistic collage of portraits, time lapse, and tableaux: a joyous celebration of African American life in rural Alabama.

This beautiful film is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature.

Ratcatcher (1999)

Wri/Dir Lynne Ramsay

It’s 1973 in Glasgow, Scotland. James (William Eadie) is a gawky lad with ears that stick out who lives with his working- class family in a crumbling flat.   His father (Tommy Flanagan) has a scar on his cheek from a fight, his mother (Mandy Matthews) has holes in her nylons. The yard outside is piled high with trash – the garbagemen are on strike – so the mice and rats are having a ball. James lives his life carefully, avoiding dangerous gangs of teenaged bullies who dominate the streets.

He sometimes visits a stagnant canal nearby, badly in need of a dredging. There he meets a much older and sexually active teenaged girl. The bullies have thrown her glasses in the water, but James doesn’t fish them out – perhaps he thinks he has a better chance if she can’t see him clearly? She seduces him, inviting him to spend the night. But the canal also brings him horrible feelings of guilt: a friend of his drowned there when they were fighting in the water.

One day, James jumps onto a bus and takes it to the end of the line where a new housing development is being built. It’s on the edge of the city, right where oatfields meet the streets. He explores the empty construction site – will this be his new home?

Ratcatcher is a slice-of-life, coming-of-age drama about life in an urban slum as seen through the eyes of a young man. The characters are mainly played by local residents, non-professional actors who bring a gritty realism to their roles. This is Lynne Ramsay’s first film (from 1999) and one I’ve always wanted to see, but never had a chance until now. You should, too. It’s a realistic and touching movie about hard times… but with an uplifting finish.

Destroyer is now playing in Toronto, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening opens tomorrow, and Rat Catcher plays next Thursday as part of the 1999 Millenial Movies program playing this month (until Feb 12) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Controversial European Directors. Films reviewed: The Favourite, The House that Jack Built

Posted in 1700s, 1980s, 1990s, Art, Horror, Lesbian, Movies, Psychopaths, Royalty, Satire, Thriller, UK, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 7, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at two movies in English by controversial European directors from Denmark and Greece. There’s a satirical horror movie about a Jack in his house; and a historical dramedy about a Queen in her palace.

The Favourite

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

It’s England in the early 1700s, a time of heavy makeup, high heels and elaborate wigs. (I’m talking about the men here). Women, on the other hand, rule the country. At the top of the heap is Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) a long-suffering widow. And always by her side is her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Malborough (Rachel Weisz). Her husband is leading a battle in France, leaving Sarah free to her own devices. She advises the Queen about when to go to war and whose taxes should pay for it. Together, they – not the male politicians – decide where the country should head.

Until one day, when a new woman appears on the scene, upsetting the delicate balance. Abigail (Emma Stone), Sarah’s naïve cousin, shows up at the palace gates asking for a job. She is pretty and speaks with an upper class accent but she hasn’t been rich since her father, a compulsive gambler, lost her in a card game when she was still a teen. Now she’s single again and penniless. They put her to work as a scullery maid where the other servants treat her cruely. But gradually Abigail learns how to play the game.

She seduces a young aristocrat she meets in the woods with the aim of marrying up. And she manoeuvres her status in the palace by “accidentally” running into the Queen as often as she can. She expresses sympathy for the sad Queen and the rabbits she keeps as pets to replace all her lost children. While Sarah can be cruel and domineering – she dresses in dominant, tight black bodices, and sends withering looks at Anne when she gets too sentimental – Abigail presents herself as a dainty ingénue, devoted to the Queen’s happiness.

Is it all just an act? And can she replace Sarah as the Queen’s favourite?

The Favourite is a brilliant comedy – based on historical facts – about two women fighting for the Queen’s favour. It’s also a love triangle, about what happens in the royal bedchambers behind closed doors. It’s by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose unique style I’ve loved since his first film Dogtooth almost a decade ago. All his movies (Alps, The LobsterThe Killing of a Sacred Deer) have a strange stilted, faux-naïve style to them that puts some people off. His characters always seem slightly out of place in their suburban homes. But by setting it in an 18th century royal palace, suddenly the dialogue (Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara) seems witty, not stilted, and everything makes perfect sense.

With its exquisite costumes, beautiful musical score and great acting, especially Coleman and Weisz, this is a great movie.

The House that Jack Built

Wri/Dir: Lars von Trier

Jack (Matt Dillon, in a despicably good performance) is an independently wealthy engineer who would rather be an architect. He is building himself a house. But he is also a perfectionist with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) which makes him a captive of his own fear of failure. Each version he tries to complete ends in frustration. So he turns to other ways to express himself artistically.

But he’s also a psychopath with no moral sense so first he has to teach himself to fake normal emotions so people will trust him. He uses these new skills to meet women, often at random, and murders them. He takes the bodies to a huge walk-in freezer, poses them, and then send his photographs to the tabloids as Mister Sophistication. These are his “works of art”.

And despite how obvious and blatant his killings are – he even brags to the police that he’s a serial killer – nobody ever tries to stop him.

The film is narrated by Jack’s voice, off camera, confessing all to a man named Virgil (Bruno Ganz) in a reference to Dante’s Inferno. Jack tells Verge about a few of his more than 60 murders, which are shown in explicit detail on the screen. The unnamed victims – strange characters all – are played by Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sophie Gråbøl, and Riley Keough (Elvis’s granddaughter).

Is Jack the epitome of evil? Or just an amoral idiot? And will he ever be punished for what he did?

The House that Jack Built is Lars von Trier’s latest work, and like many before – Antichrist, MelancholiaNymphomaniac – it’s a tough movie to watch. Excruciating, actually, because you know there’s going to be more horrible violence coming up. I was in a constant state of cringe through most of the movie.

But in retrospective it seems very elegant and funny, a self-referential exercise in comedy/ horror/satire. Like most of von Trier’s movies, it’s told in chapters and sub-chapters, bookended by Jack and Virgil’s conversation. It’s also filled with repeated cultural references, visual and audio, including Glenn Gould Plays Bach, Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video, David Bowie’s Fame, William Blake’s drawings and Delacroix’ The Barque of Dante… even clips from von Trier’s own movies.  Jack compares his “art” — the murders themselves and the arranged bodies — to the works of these great artists.

This film is Lars von Trier’s reply to past accusations of being a nazi, a misogynist, a bigot and a narcissist. Here he invents a character that combines the worst elements of all of these, and spews it back at the viewers in triumphant, hideous glory.

One thing: the screening I went to was a total sausage fest. The audience was maybe 99% male — rockers, hipsters, film geeks, von Trier fans and Incels — so when parts of the audience burst into laughter and applause when Jack violently attacks and mutilates yet another nameless female victim, it just added to the general creepiness of the experience.

The Favourite opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and The House that Jack Built opens next Friday in theatres and on VOD.

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

Young and Old, New and Old. Films reviewed: mid90s, What They Had, Summer with Monika

Posted in 1950s, 1990s, Chicago, Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Family, L.A., Romance, Skateboards, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on October 26, 2018

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

Mark your calendars folks, as Toronto’s Fall Film Festival season continues in November. ReelAsian has great anime, dramas, docs and comedies from South, East, and Southeast Asia. Ekran Polish film festival opens with Pawel Pawlikowski’s fantastic Cold War — about two lovers seperated by the Iron Curtain — and Toronto’s own 22 Chaser. And the EU film festival has one film from each country in the European Union, with some real treasures waiting to be discovered… and all screenings are free!

This week I’m looking at movies new and old, about people young and old. There’s a love story about young adults in Stockholm made in the 1950s, a coming-of-age story about a young LA teenager set in the 1990s, and a family drama about an elderly Chicago couple set in the right now.

mid90s

Wri/Dir: Jonah Hill

It’s LA in the mid 1990s. 13-year-old Stevie (Sunny Suljic) lives with his single mom and frustrated big brother Ian (Lucas Hedges). Ian uses him as his personal punching bag so Stevie stays away from him. Out in the city he discovers a skate shop and cautiously approaches the older kids who hang there. There’s Ruben (Gio Galicia) is a brooding kid, a bit older than Stevie, who tells him what’s what. Ray (Na-Kell Smith) is the group’s rudder who tries to keep them out of trouble. Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin), is a skinny nerd who records everything with his video camera. And then there’s the daring and reckless one with blonde dreads (Olan Prenatt) whose name is made up of two words I can’t say on radio (but rhyme with Truck Spit).

At first, they think of Charlie as just a kid, but he proves his mettle by doing the most dangerous rides and jumps… and ends up in hospital for it! Soon he’s a real member of their nameless club. Together they own the streets with their boards. But can a 13-year-old have a good time without ending on drugs, in jail, or dead?

Mid90s is a fun and light coming-of-age story, seen through the eyes of a kid with much older friends. He encounters sex, drugs, and Jackass-style extreme exploits, for the first time, all projected against a non-stop blanket of 90s music.  I’m always dubious whenever a Hollywood moviestar decides to make a film, but Jonah Hill does a great job on this one. It’s low budget, an enjoyable story, simple but effective. It’s moving, funny and believable. without trying too hard or trying change the world. Sunny Suljic is great as Stevie, as are the rest of the gang, mainly played by non-actors who skate.

I like this one.

What They Had

Wri/Dir: Elizabeth Chomko

It’s a snowy Christmastime in Chicago. and Bridget (Hillary Swank), is flying there from sunny California to spend the holiday with her family. She’s travelling with her daughter Emma on college vacation, and is met at the airport by her grumpy brother Nick (Michael Shannon). He owns a bar and lives in the back room with his on-again off-again girlfriend. But they’re mainly there to see their parents, a retired couple in their 70s. They’re devout catholics. Burt (Robert Forster) reads the obits each day yo make sure he’s not in them, while Ruth (Blythe Danner) has simpler pursuits. They’re a happily married couple, in sickness and in health, till death do they part.

And that’s why the family is really there.

Ruth is prone to wandering, walking off aimlessly into the snow, and showing up in a hospital or at the railway tracks. And she mistakes a stapler for the telephone. She has Alzheimer’s and Nick wants to ship her off for “memory care” and Burt to assisted living, alone somewhere. Burt says no way. Life’s not bells and whistles, it’s hard work and we’re still very much in love. But Bridget has her Mom’s power of attorney. Whose side will she take — her father’s or her brother’s? And will the secrets uncovered by this family reunion lead to a permanent rupture in all of their lives?

What They Had is a low-key family drama with a powerhouse cast. Any movie

Away From Her

with Michael Shannon, Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner and Robert Forster in it is worth seeing just for that. But I can’t help comparing Blythe Danner to Julie Christie in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, that great drama, also about Alzheimer’s. (They even look the same!)

This one is much easier to watch, though, trading heavy drama for family nostalgia.

Summer with Monika (1953)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman

It’s the 1950s in working class Stockholm. Harry (Lars Ekborg) is a 19 year old at his first job, delivering boxes of glass by bicycle cart. (He looks like Tintin.) Harry lives with his ailing dad in the family home. At work, he is constantly yelled at for being late or filling in the wrong forms. Not fun. Monika (Harriet Andersson) is even younger, and from a poor part of town. At home she’s bugged by her drunken dad, or teased by the little brats. And her workplace could be used as a textbook for sexual harassment laws 50 years later. She’s assaulted, groped and insulted all day long.

So when Monika sees Harry, a total stranger, in a bar, she takes the plunge. I hate this job, I hate this city, and I hate my life, let’s just get the hell out of here! Harry, though shocked by her forwardness, realizes he doesn’t like his life much, either. And he does like Monika. So soon, they’re off in a motorboat to a distant place. They set up camp on a rocky shore, and spend their time picking wild mushrooms and frolicking naked on the rocks. Is this love? But reality rears its ugly head. Lelle (John Harryson), Monika’s ex-boyfriend, is stalking them. There’s no clean clothes and their food is running out. And Monika discovers she’s pregnant.

Summer with Monika is 65 years old, but Ingmar Bergman’s timeless love story still feels fresh and vibrant. It’s shot in beautiful black and white in a realistic style. There are a few seconds of discreet nudity but apparently was very shocking when it was released in the US. (Didn’t help that the distributor marketed it as “The story of a bad girl” who was “Naughty and 19“!) But in Europe it proved highly influential for generation of filmmakers. Try to catch this movie while it’s still playing.

What They Had and mid90s both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Summer with Monika is now playing as part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective Bergman 100, showing virtually all of his movies, in a beautifully programmed series.

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

Point of collapse. Films reviewed: Rojo, The Good Girls, Climax

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Argentina, Dance, Economics, France, Mexico, psychedelia, Queer, Secrets, Sex, violence by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 2018

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

At a festival the size of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival which continues through the weekend) I try to carefully select which movies to see, based on reputation, subject and word of mouth. But even occasionally wandering into a movie at random can be a pleasant surprise.

This week I’m looking at three movies at TIFF set right before — and during — the point of collapse or disaster.

There’s a noir drama set in Argentina before the 1976 military coup, a social drama set in an upper class Mexico neighbourhood before the Peso crash of 82; and a dance, sex and drug fuelled  horror movie set in France in the 90s..

Rojo

Dir: Benjamín Naishtat

It’s the mid 1970s in a small provincial town in Argentina. The military has divided the country into war zones to fight guerrillas in the jungle. All is quiet but something is not right. Whole families are suddenly disappearing from their homes – are they kidnapped? Or just on vacation? Whatever, locals are enriching themselves by plundering whites left behind.

Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) a mild-mannered lawyer with bald head and a trim moustache, is not bothered by the tension — he is solidly middle class.. He joins a close family friend in a real estate scam to take over one of these empty homes. Claudio’s daughter and his scam partner’s son are dating though she seems less than eager – she’s more interested in the school’s dance club. But Claudio’s own life is disrupted by a disturbing incident at a restaurant: a man, a stranger in this town,  starts a loud argument over a reservation. Later, the argument turns violent, and Claudio secretly dumps the man’s body in the desert. And a famous private detective arrives from Santiago, Chile to investigate a missing person. Could this somehow be related to Claudio? Will this tension – and Claudio’s secret – ever go away? Or is Claudio – and Argentina — entering a terrible new phase of violent oppression?

Rojo is a dark mystery-drama about life in small-town Argentina before the US-backed military coup. It shows the stress uncertainty and violence affecting everyone in the town – from high school kids to the town’s leaders. Rojo nicely mixes politics, history, and noir-ish drama with a stylized, almost surreal 70s look — like an episode of Colombo.

I like this movie.

The Good Girls (Las Niñas Bien)

Dir: Alejandra Márquez Abella

It’s the summer of 1982 in a posh neighbourhood in Mexico City. Sofia (Ilse Salas) is riding high. She’s an elegant and beautiful woman from an upper-middle-class family, married to an investor. And she belongs to an exclusive country club where she and her friends meet daily to play tennis and gossip. Sofia is more interested in bags, shoes and facial creams than local politics. Her birthday party went flawlessly, ending with a wonderful present – a new cream-coloured car from her devoted husband Fernando (Flavio Medina). And with the kids at camp in the US– don’t talk to Mexicans! she tells them — she can devote herself to tennis, shopping and spending times with her friends.

But all is not well. Tell-tale signs are turning up – the taps run dry as the water utility runs into trouble. Oil prices are crashing and so is the Mexican economy. One of her best friends stops coming to the club, and a nouveau riche woman – named Ana Paula –  has taken her place on the ladder. Sofia continues to spend lavishly, but her cheques are starting to bounce. The creditors are moving in. And the servants are leaving, one by one. Is this a momentary lapse? Or – as one of her kids ask – are we poor now, mommy?

The Good Girls is a subtle and nuanced movie about the turning point, the exact moment when a woman realizes her carefully crafted life might crumble in an instant once the money goes away. When dignity disappears – and pettiness takes over – she realizes it could all be finished.

This is a spectacular movie – from the costumes, to the acting – and one I would have missed if I didn’t wander into the theatre at random when the movie I planned to go to was full.

Climax

Dir: Gaspar Noé 

It’s 1996 in an isolated building in rural France. A dance troupe — multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-sexual  — is perfecting their dance routine. There’s It’s the dress rehearsal before heading off to New York and they do it without a single problem. The celebratory afterparty is just starting, with the Daddy is playing tunes, David scouting a sexual partner, and psyche is pouting. as the choreographer sends her son up to bed. But something is wrong. Somebody has spiked the sangria with halucinegenic drugs! And the dancers are reacting in very strange ways. Dance turns to uncontrolled sex, and unchecked violence, as the dancers run through the red-lit halls in panic  escape. Others form impromptu gangs attacking skapegoats. Will anyone survive?

Gaspar Noé is one of my favourite directors and Climax does not disappoint. This is an amazing and unusual combination of contemporary dance, sex, drugs and extremely disturbing violence. The film starts with interviews of the dancers on old videotape, introducing themselves directly to the audience. Then theres a non-stop dance performance filmed from above, shot in what looks like a single take. Then comes the spiked punch and the horror begins, turning the world upside down. Its erotic, disturbing entertaining and extremely creepy and troublesome.

You also get Gaspar Noes amazing camerawork and design with upside down shots, titles appearing midway through the movie, non-stop music and some very funny lines before everything goes terrible.

Climax is amazing and disturbing.

Rojo, The Good Girls, and Climax are all playing at TIFF right now. Go to tiff.net for details. And don’t forget to show up at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday around 3 or 4 pm for free tickets to all the winning movies at TIFF selected by the audiences. There are four free screenings around 5-6 pm on Sunday.

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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