Daniel Garber talks with Ana Serrano, Lisa Ellis and Priam Givord about the Pulse of VR

Posted in 3-D, Art, Cultural Mining, Games, Movies, VR by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2017

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

Have you heard of VR but never experienced it? VR, or Virtual Reality, is a system that creates an artificial, interactive environment that makes you feel like you’re somewhere else. It gives you a startlingly realistic experience of sight and sound happening all around you. It’s already used by filmmakers, scientists, artists and gamers.  But is VR a flash in the pan or a quantam leap in technological change? How will it affect Canadian cinema? And how can you experience it yourself?

Pulse on VR is a new exhibit of Canadian VR works, sponsored by the CFC media lab. It’s running now through Sunday at the House of VR on 639 Queen St West.

Ana Serrano is the award- winning Founder of CFC Media Lab that specializes in interactive storytelling.

Lisa Ellis, the Conservator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, AGO, created Small Wonders, a VR rendering of CT scan images of miniature, gothic wooden carvings.

Priam Givord is a freelance artist and designer who specializes in interactive media; he co-created  Small Wonders, the VR Experience.

I spoke with Ana, Lisa and Priam at CIUT about Pulse of VR and how VR may affect the future of Canadian cinema.

Human commodities. Films reviewed: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I Promise you Anarchy, Burn Burn Burn

Posted in 3-D, Action, Animals, comedy, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Punk, Road Movie, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

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

Do you ever feel like your body is just a list of things to be bought, sold or traded? This week I’m looking at movies about people forced to treat bodies as commodities. There are skate punks in Mexico trying to sell human blood, two women in the UK trying to scatter human ashes… and mutant turtles in Manhattan trying to live like human beings.

10150582_236914753098962_7581709544636208661_nTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dir: Dave Green

Donatello, Micheleangelo, Raphael and Leonardo – Donny, Mike, Raf and Leo for short – are giant CGI turtles who speak like California surfers from the 1980s. They live in Manhattan in a hidden laboratory with their friend April (Megan Fox) and their sensei, a giant rat. Their lair serves as home base in their relentless battle against crime and evil. And in their free time they jump around the city’s rooftops, catching basketball games and eating pizza. But always hidden from view: humans might 13329513_358477130942723_2973235416009902388_omistake them for monsters or freaks. Now they are fighting an evil villain named Shredder who escaped from prison along with sidekicks Be Bop and Rock Steady. The bad guys plan to assemble an Arc Capacitor made from three parts hidden around the world. If they succeed they will enslave civilization. But not if the turtles can stop them.

10547968_271120509678386_8705934401065890056_oI heard this movie was awful, worse than terrible, so I saw it with zero expectations. And you know what? I kinda liked it – simple story, good 3-D special effects, lots of explosions and chase scenes with people falling out of planes without parachutes. Cowabunga! On the negative side, the lines aren’t very clever and it’s hard to reconcile the fuzzy CGI models with the real live people standing beside them. The strangest thing: for a movie aimed at kids, it doesn’t have any young characters — not a single (non-turtle) actor younger than thirty in the entire film.

VmnrVO_teprometoanarquia_03_o3_8724673_1440102244I Promise you Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía)

Wri/Dir: Julio Hernández Cordón

Miguel and Johnny (Diego Calva Hernández and Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) have been friends, almost brothers, since they were kids. Miguel is solidly middle class from the suburbs, while Johnny is downtown and not as rich. They travel around Mexico City on long boards with a group of pals. They skate free style, do tricks, read Thrasher, smoke a bit of grass, maybe slam some poetry. Johnny likes skating naked around deserted Jai Alai 58Kx4A_teprometoanarquia_02_o3_8724638_1440102239courts. And once everyone has gone home Miguel and Johnny retreat to a giant steel vat, for some afterhours groping. Johnny might have a girlfriend named Adri, but he’s chill with sexing it up with Miguel.

Their biggest wish is to build a huge skate park downtown, but that takes money. Miguel has found a way to earn quick cash: selling their blood to clinics. It’s organized by Gabriel, an actor at the Churubusco Studios, who pimps their blood to unknown destinations. With the promise of a huge peso payout, they’re asked to bring 50 donors to their favourite hangout. They round up everyone they know — all their friends, acquaintances, even casual strangers. nZ6XjP_teprometoanarquia_01_o3_8724605_1440102239But things go terribly wrong when sleazy criminals enter the picture. Can Miguel and Johnny stay together despite the chaos and mayhem?

I enjoyed this low-budget look at skaters in Mexico City. Good soundtrack, unusual locations. At times it feels almost like a documentary about life on the street – are they all actoirs or just people playing themselves?. The story doesn’t seem completely real, but that doesn’t matter. There are some amazing long takes of skaters just gliding through central plazas, in V formation… like migrating birds.

10665747_557978830998084_4416378503890536433_nBurn Burn Burn

Dir: Chanya Button 

Seph, Alex and Dan are the fast friends in London. Seph (Laura Carmichael) has flouncy blond hair and a clever mind, but is forced to work as nanny and personal assistant. She’s dating James, a well-meaning but douchey guy who is a financial trader in central London. Alex (Chloe Pirrie) has a stark haircut and a tightly-lipped mouth. She doesn’t like talking about herself. She’s in a long-term relationship with a woman. Dan, the third friend, (Jack Farthing) is the life of the party, given to practical jokes and staying up all night.

The three friends are back together again, at yet another party. 11923199_728527537276545_7075186293857167413_nThis time it’s Dan’s wake. He died suddenly, age 29, struck down by cancer. He’s gone but not forgotten. And he leaves Alex and Seph with a final task: to scatter his ashes at four crucial places around the British Isles. At first, they brush off Dan’s wish. Then Seph loses her job and Alex — after OD-ing on scotch eggs, a uniquely British malady — catches her lover with another woman in flagrente delecto. They decide to pack it in and head for the road.

11221394_728527390609893_6299213542631975827_nThey drive through ancient ruins and natural landmarks in England, Wales and Scotland, carefully following Dan’s painstaking directions and explanations. He accompanies them with a video he made before he died. On the way they encounter a pagan wicker man festival, nightclubs from Dan’s childhood and a number of unexpected sites. And the two of them are forced to reveal hidden secrets and confront buried truths

I liked this one — it’s and quirky and funny road movie. The Burn-Burn-Burnmain characters are acerbic not smarmy. While the story may be formulaic, the odd people they meet on the way are fun and original: a bearded hippy, a neurotic tour guide, a runaway housewife, even Al’s own mum. With humour, nice scenery, food for thought, and even a few tears, Burn Burn Burn is a well-made grand tour.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Burn Burn Burn and I Promise You Anarchy are both playing at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for showtimes.

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 Gaspar Noé about his new film Love (in 3-D) at #TIFF15

Posted in 3-D, Breasts, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, France, Mental Illness, Movies, Penis, psychedelia, Romance, Sex, Suspicion, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 14, 2015

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

Murphy is an American in Paris. On New Year’s Day he awakens from a sexual dream to find himself miserable and hungover. He is married to a woman, Omi, he barely knows and father of Gaspar Noe 2an accidental baby named Gaspar. He retreats to his one private space, an old VHS box. Inside are the only items that still connect him to his one true love, raven-haired Electra: a stack of stereoscopic photos and a piece of opium. And Karl Glusman, Gaspar Noe photo © Jeff Harris cultural mining 2after a desperate, panicky call from Electra’s mother, he lies back, takes the opium, and retraces what happened to their Love.

LOVE is also the name of a new movie about sexual romance, passion and loss, as seen through the eyes of Murphy, a young American filmmaker and two European women, Electra and Omi. The film was made by the legendary GasparLOVE - Still 2 Noé, known for his mind-blowing movies Enter the Void, Irreversible and I Stand Alone. It had its Canadian premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is opening in Toronto today. I spoke with Gaspar on location (some background noise) at TIFF15 in September. He talked about actors Aomi Muyock’s hair colour, Klara Kristin’s electricity, Karl Glusman’s looks, Dustin Hoffman,  Douglas Sirk, Winston Churchill, himself, intimacy, sperm, “Gaspar Julio Noe Murphy”, Wild Bunch, Irreversible,  tunnels, circles, the colour red, psychedelic images, Enter the Void, a fourth dimension, humidity, old movies… and more!

Photos by Jeff Harris

Strange Sons. Movies Reviewed: The Boxtrolls, The Guest, The Notebook

Posted in 1940s, 3-D, Animation, Coming of Age, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Drama, Fairytales, Family, Morality, Movies, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 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.

This week I’m looking at movies about strange sons. There’s an action-thriller about an American soldier-son replaced by a stranger; an animated film about a son raised by strange creatures; and a wartime drama about twin brothers sent to a strange place.

Boxtrolls Eggs  (Isaac Hempstead Wright) surrounded by Boxtroll friends. Courtesy of eOne Films 64811-1400.0900.fin.001._L.0184_CCThe Box Trolls (in 3D)
Dir: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi

What are boxtrolls? They’re trolls who live in cardboard boxes. Well, they don’t actually live in them; they wear them. And, like box turtles, whenever there’s danger, they retract their heads, arms and legs until they look like an ordinary cardboard box. Trolls have pointy ears and crooked teeth, and, oh yeah – they kill babies and eat them!

Or at least that’s what the people in the faraway town of Cheesebridge believe. Because it’s what the boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) tells them. But Archibald – who bears an uncanny resemblance to the child snatcher in Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang – has an ulterior motive. Though poor and uncouth, he longs to wearchildcatcher-300x138 the white hats of the ruling class, an effete coterie of millionaires – led by Lord Portly Rind – who meet in closed chambers to sample exotic cheeses. The boxtroll killer will do or say anything to become a white hat.

Winnie (Elle Fanning) and Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) Courtesy eOne Films 64814-1750.0360.fin.001.L.0106In fact, not only do the boxtrolls not eat babies, but they actually have one hidden away in their underground headquarters, a steam-punk paradise of spinning wheels, gears, pumps and pulleys. The boy, named Eggs (the boxtrolls’ names correspond with the words on their cardboard box) grows up among the boxtrolls, never realizing he’s human. He depends on them, especially the long-headed Fish. But when the trolls begin to disappear, he realizes its time to act. Only Winnie, Lord Portly Rind’s privileged daughter, can help Eggs pass as a normal boy and expose Archibald’s nefarious scheme. Can they save the boxtrolls? Or are their efforts for naught?

Though clearly aimed at small children, I found Boxtrolls totally enjoyable, and was especially impressed by the art and wonderful stop-motion photography.

THE GUESTThe Guest
Dir: Adam Wingard

David, a soldier (Dan Stevens) shows up, uninvited to spend the night at the family home of another member his unit who was killed in combat. While initially surprised and a bit uncomfortable, the Peterson family – Mom, Dad, and kids Anna and Lucas – agree to let him stay. Soon enough he integrates himself into the family, literally taking the dead son’s place, sleeping in his bedroom, sharing meals with the family. When young Luke (Brendan Meyer) gets bullied, David teaches him to stand up for himself. And he goes to parties with older sister Anna (Maika Monroe) and greatly impresses the locals. David has a military bearing but seems somehow quicker, more precise, than the average grunt. Mom and Dad start to notice unusual changes in their lives since David moved in with them. Things are working out well, it’s better for all of them.

But when Anna follows her suspicions and calls veteran affairs, everything changes. There’s a red flag attached to David’s name and events snowball as government agents zoom in on the small town. Is David a good guy or a bad guy? A defender or a terrible danger to the Peterson Family? Why is he there and why does he act the way he does? And who is he, really?

The Guest (which premiered TIFF’s Midnight Madness) is a good, tight action thriller, sprinkled with dark humour and some unexpected plot turns. This includes camp references to classical slasher/horror movies, complete with dry ice. The action takes place in a small town around Halloween. So if you’re looking for a gripping violent story, with unusual characters, told with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility, this one’s a good choice.

The Notebook courtesy Sony Pictures Classics a9b0f912-da11-4387-ac89-ef8ea0fde720The Notebook
Dir: János Szász (Based on the novel Le Grand Cahier by Agota Kristof)

A soldier and his wife live in 1944 Budapest with their twin boys (András and László Gyémánt). Life is beautiful. Then, suddenly, the Germans are moving into Hungary. So they send the twins off to stay with the wife’s estranged mother in a remote farm, to keep them safe. It’s wartime, their dad says, everything’s different. He gives them a big black ledger – the notebook of the title – and they promise to record everything that happens.

Grandmother – fat, gruff, unmannered – is known by the locals as the Witch. She has no friends, and takes care of the farm all by herself. She puts the boys to work – nobody eats for free. The twins – dressed in navy peacoats and clean white shirts — are terrified by the evil witch. They turn to their one book – the The Notebook. László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker, Piroska Molnár as Nagyanya and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 51ca02d5-4dc1-49df-bfcd-96a40b8ee3f2bible – for help, but only to improve their memorization skills.

They decide to make themselves impervious to pain, hunger, and remorse – the only way to survive the war. They refuse food from Grandmother, and take turns punching and hitting each other to see who can endure the most pain.

They start to meet people and learn things. There’s a destitute girl they call harelip (Orsolya Tóth) — who László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker, András Gyémánt as Masik Iker and Gyöngyver Bognar as Anya. Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 44324922-c4cc-4461-9051-b6d529202f57teaches them how to steal. A kindly Jewish shoemaker gives them boots. And the corrupt deacon at the church and his lascivious secretary – she introduces them to the adult world… but they recoil from her black heart. And a gay Nazi officer, fascinated when he sees the twins punching each other. The twins record it all, good and bad.

They witness wartime atrocities and gradually start to kill: first insects, then bigger, working their way up the food chain. Will they become killers, just like the people around them? Or will they retain a sense of Ulrich Thomsen as Tiszt, László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker. Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics b1979b52-735e-44f5-9963-8854e4b69eb5morality?

The Notebook is an amazing, rich, and disturbing coming-of-age story, told through the unnamed twins’ eyes. The boys lend a mythical, novelistic view of life under Nazi occupation. I saw this movie over a year ago at TIFF, but I still remember it, vividly. This is a great movie, don’t miss it.

moebius_01The Guest, Box Trolls, and the Notebook all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also playing is a fourth movie about strange sons: Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius. It’s a bizarre movie with no dialogue about  a crazed mother who chops off her son’s dick and runs away with it! Not for the faint of heart.

And the Palestine International Film Festival opens tomorrow, showing exciting movies like the hit Omar. Go to tpff.ca for 41details.

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

Movie Movies. Films Reviewed: Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill PLUS AKP Job 27

Posted in 3-D, CGI, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Gladiator, Rome, Serbian, Silent Movie, Toronto, Uncategorized, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 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.

Do you ever get tired of movies with deep meanings and avant-garde styles? Do you ever just want to see a “movie” movie? Well this week I’m looking at some movie movies, each with a bit of a twist. There’s a sword- and-sandal romance that’s also a disaster movie, an action-thriller that’s a family comedy, and a Yakuza movie… that has no lines!

Pompeii HarringtonPompeii (in 3D)

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Roman empire is reaching its apex, planting the golden eagle on Brittainia.  A particularly cruel general named Corvus battles the Celts. When it’s over he says to his henchman: Kill them all! But one little boy survives.

Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones) grows up to be a champion fighter, with stringy hair, a wispy beard and killer abs. He’s sent to Rome to compete as a fighter-slave. But on the way he comes to the aid of a beautiful, upper-class woman with porcelain features named Cassia (Emily Browning) Her horse has an accident, and Milo has a way with horses. He was “born on horseback”, he says. But will they ever meet again? You can count on it.

Pompeii Kit Harrington, Emily Browning

Now, Milo is sent to Pompeii (a holiday spot outside of Rome) to fight to the death in the arena there (Cassia’s dad controls Pompeii’s stadium). The ultimate fight will be between Milo and his rival Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Pompeii, Kit Harrington, Atticus Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeAgbaje) an African gladiator about to win his freedom.

Who comes to town, but a suitor, a senator from Rome. He says he’ll approve the new stadium, if — and only if — Cassia marries him. But she hates him (they had an earlier run-in in Rome) and she has a thing for Milo. And who is this Pompeii Sutherlandsenator? Why it’s Corvus (Keiffer Sutherland) who, along with his henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz) massacred Milo’s family as a child!

So all of these plots are going on right at the base of Mt Vesuvius. And as we all know now, the volcano is about to blow, pouring lava and volcanic ash over Pompeii, Sasha Roizeveryone, rich and poor, who doesn’t get out of there soon.

This movie has three things going on. There’s the frequent action scenes – lots of fights, great gladiator matches, chase scenes; then there are the romantic parts: Cassia and Milo are constantly risking their own lives to rescue each other from death and danger; and there’s the inevitable disaster part: ground rumbling, buildings crumbling, spectacular collapses… The movie uses way, way, way too many CGIs. It makes everything look dark. You long for some blue skies. Nevertheless, I totally enjoyed this movie. Excitement, interesting plot, fights, romance, tears… it’s got everything.

And believe it or not, this movie about ancient Rome was shot in Toronto’s west end, all in enormous  soundstages and backlots.

Costner, 3 Days to KillThree Days to Kill

Dir: McG (The O.C.)

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is just a regular guy who wears Dockers and roots for the Pittsburg steelers. He’s been away from his wife and daughter for five years. Why? Because he’s also a CIA assassin. He is in Belgrade to kill a sadistic criminal named the Albino (played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis as a James Bond-type super-villain). He’s known for chopping off the heads of his enemies. A young CIA agent named Vivi (Amber Heard) is there at the same time to kill another criminal known only as the Wolf. But something goes wrong.

Ethan collapses to the ground just when he should have shot the Albino.

Turns out he has inoperable brain cancer. He decides to spend his last days with his estranged wife and resentful teenaged daughter Zooey (Haillee Steinfeld, True Grit) in Paris.  This is where the action is supposed to turn to laughs.

Back in Paris, his apartment has squatters: an extended family from Mali. (He’s white, they’re black… Get it?) And his teenaged daughter Zooey is angry because he neglected her. (She’s young, he’s old… Get it?) Well, somehow, he convinces his wife he can be trusted to take care of their daughter for three days while she’s away on a business trip. But then Vivi reappears to say: I’ll cure your cancer with some secret drugs if you murder the Wolf (Ethan’s the only one who saw his face in Belgrade.) So now he has to juggle bonding with Zooey, with dying of cancer, and torturing suspects and killing alleged criminals.3 Days to Kill Amber Heard

This is such a craptastically messed-up movie. Believe it or not, the script was originally co-written by Luc Besson, the notorious French action movie director. So it does have some good chase scenes and shootouts.

But the humour? So lame, it’s absolutely devoid of laughs. Costner is a terrible comic actor, and Amber Heard is embarrassingly bad as the multi-wigged Vivi. The script feels like it was written in French, rewritten in Serbo-Croation with the English version courtesy of Google Translate, alpha edition. Just dreadful.

A016_C094_11139EAKP Job 27

Dir: Michael Suan

And in a tribute to the old Luc Besson comes a silent gangster pic from Toronto. A Yakuza hit man travels to on assignment in Canada and falls for a beautiful woman in the sex trade… who reminds him of a long lost love. This is a purely visual movie with a smorgasbord of images: gunshots in a field of air A007_C076_1102PN3turbines, sex scenes in red and blue. There is too much slo-mo and choppy jump cuts for my taste —  at times it feels like an extended 1980s music video. But it’s commendable as a first film, with Suan re-imagining a noir-ish Toronto as a city full of dark allies, rainy streets, neon lights, and strip bars.

Pompeii, Three Days to Kill and AKP Job 27 all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The glorious Chilean film Gloria continues, and also opening this week is Tim’s Vermeer.

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

 

March 9, 2012. If You Love This Planet. Movies reviewed: The Lorax, John Carter

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

With globalization, things affect the whole planet all at once even if they only happen in one place. The Earth is all shook up! Like last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan – I remember seeing those horrific scenes of towns being swept away, and the ongoing tension about the nuclear leak at Fukushima.

In gratitude for the support of the international community, the Japan Foundation in Toronto is offering a series of free films next week at Innis College called Light Up Japan. The documentaries are all about what has happened since the disaster in that area and how the people are coping with it. Check out the Japan Foundation ( jftor.org ) for more information.

So in keeping with the theme of global events, this week I’m looking at two movies with whole-planet-sized topics. One is about a kid trying to save the earth from total destruction; the other is a man who finds himself a part of the potential ruin of Mars.

The Lorax

Dir: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

Ted lives in Thneedville, a plastic suburban shopping mall town where life controlled by a Mr O’Hare, a nasty rich guy who made his fortune bottling air, and who spies on everyone in town. Ted has a crush on his neighbour Audrey who is into trees – which don’t exist anymore (people use plastic trees instead). Audrey says she wishes she could see one.

So taking his grandmother’s advice, Ted climbs into his vehicle – a sort of a unicycle/ segway/ scooter – and sneaks out of the city to find the Once-lear – the only person who still knows the truth. He discovers that the vast wasteland outside of Thneedville once was a land of rainbows, happy fish, droopy birds, and teddy bears who ate the berries from the puffball trees, and lived happily and peacefully. An industrialist uses the puffballs to make a knitted stringy thing, the thneed, that consumers buy by the millions. He decides it’s cheaper and easer to cut them all down rather than using their puffballs as a renewable resource. Only the Lorax, (a tiny mustachioed environmentalist who descends from the heavens in a thunderstorm) can save the day, if only people will listen. He speaks for the trees…

I thought this movie was OK, but it really seemed to stretch the short Dr Seuss book into a 90 minute song-and-dance musical. It soft-pedals the problems of industrial pollution and consumerism, and reduces the motivation from ardent environmentalism to a boy wanting to kiss a girl. It relegates the Lorax story to flashback status, and kept the wonderful Seuss-like scenes of the valley to a minimum, while over-emphasizing the non-Seuss humdrum suburban scenes, filled with your usual 3-d sitcom characters.

It’s not a bad movie, and of course it’s great to tell kids about environmentalism and privacy, but the songs were dull, the characters not-so-interesting, the story not very original, and the animation and character style not up to what I expect from a Dr Seuss story.

Interesting fact — The Lorax earned more money in its opening weekend than Hugo did in its entire run.

John Carter

Dir: Andrew Stanton

John Carter is a mean and strong fighter, a cavalry man from the civil war. He can escape from jails, scrapple with anyone – weapon or not – is good on horseback and keen with a sword and a rifle. And he doesn’t take sides – Apache or US Army – they’re all the same. He doesn’t want any part of it. He just wants to find his cave of gold in the Arizona desert. But when he encounters a stranger in the cave, and repeats the word Barsoom while touching a glowing amulet, he is magically transported to Mars a land of great civilizations, far beyond earth’s imagination.

Strong John Carter, though smaller than the four-armed tusked Tarks – some of the creatures who live there – soon discovers he can leap high in the air and jump long distances, because of the different gravity there. He soon finds himself in the middle of a huge war between the city of Helium and the bad Zodanga. And he meets Dejah, (a beautiful princess-warrior, as well as a physicist, inventor and a great swordswoman) who is being forceed into marrying a bad guy from the other kingdom. Meanwhile, the shape-shifting super-gods who are manipulating everyone on that planet, are messing things up. It’s up to John Carter to save civilization – but he’s not sure he wants to – he just wants to find the amulet and go back to earth. But with the help of his speedy and faithful dog-monster Woolla, and the noble and honest Thark-guide Sola, he and Dejah must find mutual trust, truth and possibly true love in their search for the secrets of this planet.

As you can tell, this is a very long, plot-heavy story about an adventure on Mars. Like comics, manga and pulp fiction, the story takes precedent over feelings, emotions or characters – it’s more the action, the twists, the background, the secrets, the fights, the betrayals and the fantastical, sex-tinged images. But it carries it through amazingly well in this 2½ hour epic. (People call everything epics now, but this is an actual epic). I thought it was amazing.

It’s done in the style of Frank Frazetta’s illustrations: fiery-eyed women in exotic garb with pendulous breasts and black tresses; snarling men with steely gaze and bared chests, brandishing their swords toward the red skies…..  but through a Disney filter, making it sexy, but not sexual.

It feels more like Roman sword-and-sandal story than science fiction. (It’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.) It has a mainly British cast, plus Canadian Taylor Kitsch — just great in the title role. I liked Lynn Collins (never heard of her) as Dejah, and Dominic West (The Wire) as one of many assorted bad guys in this cast-of-thousands picture. Want to be overwhelmed by an elaborate, exciting movie getaway, with a complicated fantasy plot that never lets up, even for a second? Then this is the one to see.

The Lorax is playing now, and John Carter opens today in Toronto, and the Japanese documentaries are playing all week at Innis College.

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

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November 25, 2011. Movies Reviewed: Hugo, The Muppets, Ma Part du Gateau

Posted in 1930s, 1970s, 3-D, Academy Awards, Cultural Mining, Drama, Dreams, France, L.A., Movies, Musical, Mystery, Orphans, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I usually look for a common theme in the movies I review each week. With festivals it’s easy: all Asian, all Aboriginal… Likewise If they’re all kids movies, or romantic comedies, or political documentaries, or coming-of-age stories… but this week is a toughie. I had to find something to tie them all together.

Two of three are kids movies – but one is not. Two out of three are 99 percenter stories. One’s definitely not. Two are in English, but one’s not. But I finally figured it out… (See if you can guess what famous object appears in all three movies. I reveal the answer at the end of this week’s podcast.)

Hugo (in 3D)

Dir: Martin Scorsese

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a painfully shy boy who almost never speaks. He lives like a mouse inside the giant hanging clocks of a Paris train station in the 1930’s. He winds them up, resets them, and fixes them if they’re running late. He likes to fix machines. He also likes silent movies – especially Harold Lloyd, who, like Hugo, hangs from the arms of a clock. But he always has to remain hidden or else the station inspector with the stiff wooden leg (Sacha Baron-Cohen) will catch him and send him off to an orphanage.

One day, a bitter, old man with a hidden past (Ben Kingsley) who runs a toy shop in the station takes away Hugo’s little notebook, saying it was stolen. Hugo is horrified. Without the book he can’t rebuild a metal automaton – a wind-up robot — that Hugo believes (once it’s working again) will give him a secret message from his watchmaker dad. So a girl named Isabelle who loves mysteries (Chloe Moretz), says she’ll help him get the book back.

Hugo is a really nice, really well crafted kids’ historical adventure. It has a bunch of different and complicated plot lines, but, like clockwork, they all seem to join together. There are a few loose gears. Parts of the movie are a little school-marmish, lecturing the viewer about fascinating historical facts; and parts of the story drift away from Hugo. There’s one strange, academy-awards-like scene that you can just feel is about Scorsese waiting all his life to win his deserved Oscar. Still, Hugo is an amazing, rich, well-made movie that will stay in your mind long after you see it.

The Muppets

Dir: James Bobin

Muppets are a combination of cloth hand puppets and marionettes. They have big mouths that open and close, and arms that move with sticks. They’ve been on Sesame Street since the 60s, and had their own TV show in the 70’s, The Muppet Show, a vaudevillian variety show with Muppets plus celebrity guests. Well, they’re back.

This is a movie about two grown-up brothers, a boy and a Muppet, who live like Ernie and Bert in small town USA. They decide to travel to L.A. where Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Jason Segel, Amy Adams) can celebrate their anniversary, and Walter can see the Muppet studio he remembers from TV re-uns. But once there, they discover a ruthless and greedy oil baron wants to tear down the old Muppet Theatre and dig for oil instead. So the muppets have to get back together, put on a show, and raise enough money to save their poor, neglected theatre. Kermit the Frog is retired. Miss Piggy is a Parisian fashion designer. Fozzie is a lounge singer in Reno.

Will the many poor and lonely people — and muppets! — triumph over that one mean, rich guy?

This is an enjoyable musical comedy, done completely in studio. It combines the style of Peewee Herman’s Big Adventure, with elaborate song-and-dance scenes, hoary old gags, and nostalgic reenactments of the old TV puppet show. It doesn’t modernize anything, but keeps true to the tattered velvet curtains and footlights of the original. There are a few changes. Some of the voices – especially Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy – don’t sound like their old selves — no Frank Oz or Jim Henson. And they’ve CGI’d away the sticks that move their arms and given them legs to walk on – the old muppets were only shown waste-up – but these are minor quibbles.

Amy Adams is wonderful as Mary, reprising her fairytale-like character in Enchanted; Jason Segel who co-wrote the script is also adorable as Gary. But they’re both sidekicks to the main stars, the Muppets. I thought there were a few too many slow songs that dragged the story down, but all in all, The Muppets gives a fun look back for grown-ups, and an entirely new concept for kids.

Ma Part du Gateau

Dir: Cedric Klapisch

France (Karin Viard) — a middle-aged divorced woman with three kids — is laid off after 20 years when the company she works for in the port of Dunkirk suddenly closes down. So she’s forced to leave her kids behind, retrain in a new profession and look for paid work in Paris. But the only work she can find is as a maid. She’s even asked to put on a fake foreign accent while in training, so she doesn’t stand out.

Meanwhile, Steve (Gilles Lellouche), a French financier and hedge-fund operator living in London, is sent back to Paris to open a new branch. He’s incredibly rich, flying super-models to Venice for a weekend in his private jet. But he’s also a prick, who neglects his son, and treats women like dirt.

France ends up working for him first as a cleaner, then maid, then as a housekeeper, then as a nanny, basically taking on all the work functions of the wife he doesn’t have. They begin to get more comfortable with each other, and things seem to be heading in a “rom-com” direction. Clearly a 99%-er meeting a one percenter.

What will happen? And who will get their slice of the pie? Well, I don’t want to give anything away, except to say, this movie takes the old stereotypes and turns them on their head, with some very surprising and unexpected plot turns. This is a great movie – a realistic family drama charged with contemporary political ramifications of an economically troubled Europe.

Hugo and The Muppets are both playing now, and Ma Part Du Gateau is the closing film at the EU Film Festival next Wednesday. Check out this one, and many others – all free! — like the excellent Spanish movie darkbluealmostblack at eutorontofilmfest.ca .

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

Aug 19, 2011. History Rewrites Itself. Movies Reviewed: Sarah’s Key, United Red Army, Caterpillar, The Whistleblower

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

Lot’s of people say: if you don’t watch out, history will repeat itself. Maybe so. But I’m more interested in the way history rewrites itself.

What once was glorious is later seen as shameful. What once was righteous is later cruel and unfair. What once was dubbed a “Mission Accomplished” is now seen as the start of an illegal war. And then there are all the people and events that seem to disappear entirely only to be brought back decades later. Faces of purged politicians used to appear or disappear in official photos in the days long before photoshop.

So today I’m looking at four movies set in the past where the filmmakers or characters present history in a new way.

Sarah’s Key

Dir: Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Julia (Kirsten Scott-Thomas) is a magazine journalist in Paris who is moving into her husband’s apartment in Le Marais, even while she’s researching the notorious Vel d’Hiv incident. This was when the French police rounded up most of the Jewish immigrants in Paris and locked them into a bicycle racing stadium for a few days before shipping them off to their death in German concentration camps.

So, after a bit of research, Julia is disturbed to discover that her husband’s family had first moved into the apartment she’s about to live in on that very day in the 1940’s. And then she finds out that two kids, a little girl Sarah and her brother, who used to live in that house are nowhere in any historical records. What happened to them? The movie jumps back and forth between Julia’s quest, nowadays, to discover the truth; and little blonde Sarah (Mélusine Mayance)’s attempt to escape back home to rescue her little brother whom she had locked in a hidden closet during the roundup.

The kids’ story — and what became of them — provides the suspense in this movie, as Julia gradually pieces the puzzle back together and reveals the hidden truth of Sarah’s extraordinary wartime adventure.

Are Sarah and her brother still alive? If they are, where are they now? And what was Julia’s in-laws’ actual role in all this?

This is a French movie, so the English dialogue sounds a bit stilted. The dramatic, historical flashbacks are more interesting than the present-day parts, but the sum-total still leaves you with a generally good, exciting drama.

Caterpillar

Dir: Kôji Wakamatsu

Lieutenant Kurokawa (Keigo Kasuya), a brutal husband and a vicious soldier in the Japanese Imperial Army in WWII, is badly burned while sexually assaulting a woman in her home on the Chinese battlefront. He barely survives the fire, and his armless, legless torso with just a badly burned head is sent home to his village. He’s declared a hero and a War God, and sits silently in his military uniform like like an evil anti-Buddha. He can barely speak, and his wife Shigeko (Shinobu Terajima) is horrified. She almost tries to murder him, but stops when he begins to speak.

At first Shigeko stays subservient and dutiful toward her cruel husband. She is shamed by her neighbours into keeping up appearances.

He sleeps, he eats, he sleeps, he eats, and glories in the medals he won, and the framed newspaper clipping extolling his exploits for the sake of the Japanese Empire. And by grunting, and pulling at her skirt with his teeth he tells her whenever he wants sex. She grudgingly, patriotically goes along with him.

But gradually power shifts: without hands he can no longer beat her to keep her compliant. without a voice, he can’t shut out her opinions. And given his newly submissive position in sex he begins to identify with the women he had raped in China.

This is a brilliantly acted, absurdist black comedy about the collapse of Imperial Japan. It contrasts the tragedy and cruelty of war with the inane barrage of recorded martial marches, brass bands and morality lessons, and slogans repeated by everyone on the homefront. Radio propaganda broadcasts predict imminent victory even as the Americans are firebombing Tokyo. An extremely strange but fascinating movie, Caterpillar shows the disconnect between the official history of the period and the lives of ordinary Japanese people.

In another movie…

United Red Army

Dir: Kôji Wakamatsu

Iooks at an almost forgotten period of radical upheaval from the far left in a more recent period of Japanese history – the 60’s and 70’s. Supposedly peaceful Japan was turned on its head with authority challenged by protests, sit-ins and violent occupations at hundreds of universities.

This long and devastating docudrama, looks at two breakaway radical revolutionary groups in Eastern and Western Japan that temporary joined together into the United Red Army under its two charismatic leaders, a man and a woman. In an isolated cabin in the Japan alps they rethink their policies and insist that all members take part in self-criticism.

(These are the same groups that, along with the German Red Army Faction, were hijacking planes around the world in the 1970’s.)

This movie is divided into three sections. Part one is a cold, documentary-style look at the upheavals at that time. Part two, is an epic, human drama of what becomes of the idealistic revolutionaries when they are hidden in their mountain cabin, and how their grandiose ideas of Cultural Revolution gradually degenerate into an agonizing, Lord of the Flies-style struggle, leading to violence, bullying, torture and death. The third part follows some of these members who later take over a country inn in an extended showdown with the Japanese police.

United Red Army is a devastating, relentless look at the members of the radical Japan Red Army and their ideological implosion behind the scenes.

In another rewriting of history,

The Whistleblower

Dir: Larysa Kondracki

…is a dramatic thriller set during the UN peacekeeping period following the Yugoslavian civil war in the 90’s. Kathryn (Rachel Weiss) a divorced, small-town American cop, takes a position in Sarajevo so she can earn some money and pay for shared custody of her daughter. She is quickly promoted (by a kindly Vanessa Redgrave) to a special unit that advocates and investigates crimes against women.

Meanwhile, Raya (Roxanne Condurache) is a young Ukrainian from Kiev who also takes on a foreign job in Bulgaria for a few months. She ends up in Sarajevo as well. But Kathryn is shocked to learn that Raya (and many women like her) are trafficked across borders, and are living in horrific conditions in a brothel, as virtual sex slaves. And the plot thickens when she discovers that some of the peace-keeping soldiers, corrupt local police, “Fancy diplomats” and UN bureaucrats are also involved, not only as johns, but possibly as pimps and organized criminals. So it’s up to Kathryn and her few allies to try to blow the whistle on this scandal. But who can she trust?

I wanted to like this movie – which seemed like an extended version of Law and Order SVU – but it was a pretty bad, no, an awful movie. I am not giving away any spoilers here – the whole movie basically tells you what’s going to happen in the first couple minutes. It’s called The Whistleblower, so no surprises here. It’s mainly about helpless weeping women saying “save us”, evil Bosnian Serbs saying “No!”, and smarmy UN personel who just don’t care. Kathryn has to do it all herself. It’s much too simple and predictable a plot:

United Nations = Bad

Yugoslavians = Bad

Peacekeepers = Bad

Women = Victims

US small-town cop = Good

The Whistleblower is now playing, check your local listings, Sarah’s Key opens today in Toronto; and United Red Army and Caterpillar also open today, exclusively at the Projection Booth, a new theatre in Eastern Toronto. Also opening is Spy Kids in 4-D with smell-o-vision: warning: most of the spots on the card smell like SweetTarts, just don’t sniff odour number 6!

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

August 12, 2011. Temperatures Rising. Movies reviewed: Devil’s Double, The Help, Rise of the Planet Of The Apes, Final Destination, Gun to the Head

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

It’s getting into high August, and there are tons of movies playing now, so let me just dive right in and tell you about a few of them. I’m talking about two stories about servants who have good reason not to like their bosses, one where an employee is forced to challenge his boss or die, one where a whole class could challenge the people in power, and one where a group of people attempt to challenge… fate itself.

Devil’s Double

Dir: Lee Tamahori

It’s the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war, when Latif, a scruffy, young soldier from a good family in Bagdad, is brought into a palatial mansion. He’s asked whether he wants to work for Uday, Saddam Hussein’s son. Well, not exactly asked: He’s told. If he says no, he, his family and friends will all be tortured and killed. If he says yes, though, he will move into this luxurious palace, wear tailored suits and Rolex watches, drink champagne, drive sportscars, have his pick of the most beautiful women, and hang out at the most exclusive nightclubs in Iraq.

What’s the catch? He’s a near exact double of Uday in height, weight, body-type, and facial features. So he’ll be taking his place at public appearances with the constant risk of being shot at by assassins. So, the movie, (partially based on Latif’s memoir) shows his bizarre double life… as a professional double. This is a violent, scarface-y story with shootouts, coke sniffing, disco dancing, and backstage intrigue.

It’s also a chance for an actor to be or the screen about 140% of the time in the dual roles – when Dominic Cooper isn’t playing the humble, honest Yatif, he’s acting as the profligate, decadent and cruel Uday, and often both at the same time. He does it well enough that the audience immediately knows whether it’s the conceited, aggressive, strutting, whiny-voiced Uday, or Yatif imitating him. They walk differently, think differently and have a different look in their eyes.

Can Yatif find a way out of this crazy life? And can he and his secret love – one of Uday’s mistresses – escape the country?

This is quite a violent movie. And while it paints a generally negative view of a whole country, and gives an inaccurate view of women’s status in Baathist Iraq,  it can be enjoyed as an apolitical drama and as an actor’s tour de force.

Next, another movie about badly treated servants.

The Help

Dir: Tate Taylor

Smart but frowsy Skeeter (Emma Stone) comes home from University to the high-society of heavily segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. She wants to get herself a job as a writer, see her old debutante friends, and take care of her mother who’s dying of cancer. But she soon sees the world is changing, and is disgusted by how black servants are treated by their rich white employers: demeaned, disrespected, badly paid. They essentially raise the white kids from birth, but rarely get to spend time with their own children.

When Skeeter’s friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), the reigning top woman in her set, attempts to pass a bylaw making it illegal for blacks even to use a bathroom inside the homes where they work all day, Skeeter decides something must be done.

She befriends Aibilene (Viola Davis) and asks her to tell her own inside story about life in the south. When another maid, Minnie (a comical Octavia Spencer) — known for her cooking skills — joins her project, it looks like their stories might be published as a book.

This is a richly plotted, multi-charactered, story about life in the deep south, and the subtle and overt racism in every aspect of the lives of the people who lived in this era. This isn’t a movie about KKK lynchings or good ol’ boys with rifles. It gives a calmer view of the segregated, Jim Crow days, right when the civil rights movement was taking off. It’s also a richly moving women’s story – not a chick flick — with terrific acting all around, especially Viola Davis, and Jessica Chastain as Celia, a suddenly rich blonde bombshell from dirt poor origins who seeks help from Minnie. It also has great actresses like Cicily Tyson, Cissie Spacek and Alison Janney in the side roles.

Only quibble? Though some of the black characters slip in and out of dialect, the younger white women’s accents don’t sound much like they would have in Mississippi in the 1960s. But The Help is definitely worth seeing if you like complicated dramas, family secrets, frequent plot turns and funny surprises.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dir: Rupert Wyatt

Will (James Franco) is a scientist who works for a multinational pharmaceutical corporation who is developing a new medicine that can repair brain functions. They test it on chimpanzees, and he takes home a newborn one when his mother dies in the lab. But he soon discover his ape, Caesar, is special: he’s somehow inherited the new brain skills his mother had gained from the drug testing, and he’s quickly getting better and better. He learns art, sign language, and better motor skills than any human. Will and Caroline (Frieda Pinto) treat him almost like a son… except for the collar and leash they force him to wear outside. But when Caesar tries to rescue Will’s senile father (John Lithgow) from a mean neighbour, he is taken away by the authorities and thrown into an animal shelter that looks more like a federal prison run by cruel guards.

There he interacts with his own kind and discovers he’s not a human but an ape. Caesar has to decide who he can trust and whether he should wait for his former human father to rescue him or strike out on his own.

This is a really enjoyable movie, with fantastic camera work, a great story, and — though largely animated – believable characters with sympathetic faces. (I’m talking the apes here.) Which is why I was surprised at how awful the CGI’s were in some scenes – jerky toy monkey’s bounding up trees like a bad outtake from a third-rate videogame intro – and how excellent in others. In any case, if you want a fun exciting story, this is the one to see. A thousand times better than the awful Planet of the Apes remake.

Final Destination 5

Dir: Steven Quale

A group of eight coworkers on their way to a retreat, manage to escape from an enormous collapsing bridge when one of them, Sam, has a premonition and gets them away in time. But they soon discover they were destined to perish, so are being killed off, one by one, in a series of gruesome Rube Goldberg-esque accidents. Who will live and who will die? And will they succeed in cheating death a second time?

What can I say – this is one of my favourite genres of horror movies: bloody gore but without an identifiable villain. Instead, the danger is everywhere — in a leaky pipe, a dropped match, a speck of dust or a misplaced screw. A restaurant kitchen is filled with potentially dangerous flames, knives, and shish kebab skewers. Ordinary life is fraught with danger!

The lines stink, the characters are predictable, the music is corny, and the acting ranges from humorous to forgettable, to excruciatingly awful. But the special effects are flawless, and the pace is just right. It pulls you forward with stress, fear and tension, then lets you back down again, never knowing for sure whether the next shot is a real danger or just a red herring. And the 3D, especially in the multi-leveled scenes on the bridge and on a factory floor, is amazing. This is a great, super-cheezy “B” or “C” summer movie.

It also has the best non-trailer trailer ever, that shows what Final Destination would look like if it were a pop music video recorded on the set of Saved by the Bell — complete with laugh track.

Gun to the Head

Dir: Blaine Thurier

Trevor (Tygh Runyan) gets away from his own dinner party (complete with creepy, Japanophile swinger guests wearing sleazy kimonos) to pick up a bottle of white wine and talk to his drug dealer cousin, Darren (Paul Anthony). He just wants to give him a bit of help, but he’s soon dragged into this underworld of strip bars, guns and lines of coke. He has to deal with a fickle small-town drug potentate, his deranged guard, and his sexually adventurous, skeezy girlfriend. Can Trevor outsmart the gangsters, rescue his sleazy cousin, and ever get back home to his wife? Or will everything fall apart?

This is a funny very low-budget Canadian thriller. Though not perfect, it has great characters, and some manic — but not hammy — performances, especially Paul Anthony channelling the spirit of Don Knotts, dressed as a Vancouver hood.

Devil’s Double and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes are now playing, check your local listings, The Help just opened in Toronto, and Final Destination and Gun to the Head open tonight in Toronto (Friday, Aug 12, 2011). Also look out for You Are Here, opening today at the TIFF Lightbox.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining

August 4, 2011. Things Inside Other Things. Movies Reviewed: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Change-Up, Cowboys and Aliens

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

Have you ever wondered whether what you’re looking at is something with something inside of it? Or if it’s something that’s inside something (or someone) else? Let me give you an example.

I went to Toronto’s annual Night Market – a huge outdoor street fair full of Asian food stalls, held on Cherry Street near the lakefront – and amidst all the deep-friend stinky tofu, the Xinjiang lamb kebobs, and the bacon ice cream – something caught my eye.

What was it? Was it garlicky Korean bulgogi served on a crusty baguette? Or was it a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich with grilled beef filling? Was its essence the container or the content? Well, in any case, it tasted great, and the makers described it as a Vietnamese sandwich (with something in it.)

A big part of reviewing movies is determining the categories — the taxonomy — of a given film and its characters, trying to find an easy-to-understand label that encapsulates its true essence.  So, to make a long story short, this week I’m talking about three movies, all about things with other things inside them: a documentary about a cave with paintings in it, a traditional western with some space ships in it, and two men who end up trapped inside one another’s bodies.

Cowboys and Aliens

Dir: Jon Favreau

A stranger (Daniel Craig) rides into an old, run-down mining town wearing a strange metallic bracelet. He doesn’t know who he is, what he’s doing there, where he came from, or even his own name. he may have lost his memory, but he’s still a crackshot straight shooter with his six gun, and a good puncher in a dust-up. He knows right from wrong and good from bad, and is liked by dogs and small children. He just wants to remember what happened to his wife. But when the spoiled son of the town boss — an ornery cattle baron (Harrison Ford) — starts shaking down the locals for cash, the stranger steps in on behalf of the town folk.

All just an ordinary western, until, out of left field, comes a bunch of flashing alien spacecraft, plucking up all the people in some alien abductions, and taking them off somewhere (probably for some microchip implants, anal probes or brainwashing!)

So now it’s not the white hats vs the black hats, the people vs the bosses, or the cowboys vs the indians. Now it’s the humans vs the aliens, scary identical-looking monsters who are up to no good and probably want to take over the world. So they all band together, along with a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde) who wears a flowered dress and knows something she’s not telling us.

It’s good there’s some native actors (Adam Beach and Raoul Trujillo) and fun to see a twist on old themes, but the movie, even with some scary 3-D effects, is fun enough to watch, but pretty hollow and predictable in its plot.

Much nicer is another summer 3-D pic:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Dir: Werner Herzog

Some tens of thousands of years ago a cliff collapsed in a French river valley, hiding the entrance to a series of caverns. The great German director and documentary maker Herzog is allowed into the restricted areas and shows us the amazing animal paintings on the walls: lions, rhinos, horses, and bulls; leopards, cave bears, and strange fertility totems. He leads us in three-d through the stalactites and stalgmites, and the glossy, drippy calcium deposits covering everything, from jawbones, to the charcoal they may have used to paint on their walls.

It shows shadows and firelight and the echoey music they might have played on tiny bone flutes.

And, because it’s a Herzog movie, he populates the documentary with all the eccentric types who end up showing their quirks before the camera. An archaeologist admits he used to be a unicycle-riding juggler in the circus. A master French perfumer sniffs his way around the caves to try to find any primeval odours that might still be there. And an eccentric scientist demonstrates spear-hurling techniques in a vineyard.

Though I thought the movie drags a bit in the long lingering shots of the wall paintings, it does give you both the forgotten dreams inside the narrow caves, and the people and world all around, emanating down rivers and through valleys across Europe, ending with some fantastic albino crocodiles.

The Change-up

Dir: David Dobkin

Dave and Mitch (Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds) have been best buddies since grade six. Dave’s married with three kids, a diligent, conservative careerist on the verge of a promotion if he can pull off a big corporate merger with a Japanese conglomerate. Mitch is a handsome hedonist, a foul-mouthed, struggling actor who lives the Life of Reilly: sleeping-in, smoking pot, hanging out, and having more casual sex than you can shake a stick at. Mitch envies the stability and symbols of success that Dave has, while Dave wishes he could go back to the freedom and fun of his college years.

Through some magical wishing they accidentally end up in each other’s bodies, having to live their buddies’ lives.

The rest of the movie is funny scenes of them trying to cope with the nightmarish situations they find themselves in, wearing the wrong clothes, saying the wrong things, and wracked by guilt once they see how others view them. Dave in Mitch’s body goes to shoot a movie without realizing he’ll be asked to perform sexually in a soft-core porn movie with a 70-year old women made entirely of botox, collagen, and silicon. Mitch has to take up all the responsibilities of an intense, stressful workplace, and an equally hard home life, with a neglected wife, and twin ADHD toddlers from hell. Will they get their old lives back? And do they really want to go back?

The movie’s funniness ranges from extremely funny (especially with the babies and kids, and the misbegotten sex scenes) to gross funny (with the explicit potty jokes and dick jokes) to cute funny, to… barely funny at all. Reynolds and Bateman get to play out of character which is fun. I think it all balances out with enough shocking and hilarious scenes to make it a worthwhile, if generally predictable, “guy” comedy.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams is playing at the TIFF Bell Light Box, Cowboys and Aliens is also now playing, and the Change-up opens today: check your local listings.

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

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