Mommies and Dollies. Films Reviewed: Mommy, Annabelle

Posted in 1960s, Academy Awards, Acting, Canada, Cultural Mining, Family, Horror, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

ncr_not_criminally_responsible_1Hi, 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 is Mental Health Awareness week – John Kastner’s NFB documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (listen to my interview with John here) is playing at the Bloor Cinema, and Rendezvous the-maze-poster-courtesy-of-nick-youngwith Madness and the Psychiatry Department at U of T is showing William Kurelek’s: the Maze by filmmakers Nick and Zack Young (listen to my interview with Zack Young here), at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This week, though, I’m talking about innocent-sounding movies about mommies and pretty dollies. But they’re not as innocent as you might think. One’s a Quebec drama about a mother trying to control her ADHD son; the other’s an American chiller about a mother trying to save her baby from an evil doll.

64634-MOMMY_Poster_27x39_EnglishMommy
Dir: Xavier Dolan

Diane (Anne Dorval) is enjoying her life as a single woman in suburban Montreal. Her son’s away at boarding school, she has a steady job, and she’s flirting with that rich lawyer who lives around the corner. She dresses for flash-effect, with lots of shiny and pink. But calamity strikes. Her son Steve is kicked out of school after a violent incident and she loses her job.

Steve-o (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He wears his blond hair in a retro style, with a neck chain, T-shirt and jeans. He’s hyper-sexualized with pale skin and rubbery features. The kind of guy who looks as likely to punch you in the face as to kiss you. He’s a foul-mouthed, socially misfit, sexually charged and violent. But you can see where he 62558-000060890018 MOMMY_AOPilon1-CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièregets it from – Diane is as gutter-friendly as he is. It’s up to her to get him to settle down and pass his tests. Trouble is he’s virtually uncontrollable, and she’s not big on parenting skills, so their lessons end up in violent fights.

In walks the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher who lives next door. Kyla (Suzanne Clement) is shy, withdrawn and speaks with a severe stammer due to something bad in her past. Her husband’s a dull computer programmer, her daughter equally reserved. But she soon finds her place as the 65106-ADorval1 MOMMY_ADorval1_CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièrethird element in Diane and Steve’s dysfunctional family. She becomes his teacher and dog trainer. But can the fragile bonds holding them together last?

Mommy is a reworking of Xavier Dolan’s simple, perfect, and highly personal first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, made when he was still a teenager. Four films later, Mommy is far more sophisticated and complex in plot, script and character. Dorval replays the mother, but in a performance that is more three-dimensional, less camp. Dolan was sympathetic playing a bullied gay teen, but, with Pillon as the teenager, we get a kid who is as much misunderstood victim as bully. I get the feeling Dolan the director (necessarily) restrains Dolan the actor, but when he’s just behind the camera, he can let his characters loose. Steve is free to forge forth, like a river bursting a dam. This movie has dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors. It’s a great film.

Mommy is Canada’s choice for Best Foreign Language movie at the Oscars, and I hope it wins — it really deserves it.

Annabelle-movie-posterAnnabelle
Dir: John R. Leonetti

It’s the late 1960s in central California. Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton) are a perfect-looking, church-going blond couple. New home, new car, he’s finishing medical school, she’s expecting their baby really soon. Mia collects antique dolls, so John buys her one to complete her set. And everything is just perfect, until…

…their lives are shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visit by Annabelle, their next door neighbours’ daughter. Anabelle ran away from home and joined a Charles Manson-style satanic cult. After that horrific incident, Mia says she tumblr_naxuq2kn0J1tgg8wlo1_500no longer feels safe there with the new baby. And the huge doll she used to like so much is creeping her out. Strange things start to happen around it, involving a sewing machine, a rocking chair, and a package of jiffy pop. So they move out of the suburbs and into a downtown apartment.

Hubby is away most of the time, so he’s oblivious but accommodating. He thinks his wife’s gone whack from post-partum depression, but Mia knows there’s evil tumblr_nckmr45Wtb1tgg8wlo1_1280around her. And it wants her baby. She sees scary things everywhere: strange noises… the sign of the bull… a girl in a white nightgown… a rocking chair… an old-fashioned elevator… and that damned doll that keeps coming back! It seems to turn everything bad, somehow. So she turns for advice to kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and Evelyn, a mysterious bookstore owner, with a penchant for the occult (Alfre Woodard). But are they all too late? And is Mia strong enough to overcome the evil forces that have invaded her once-happy life?tumblr_ncs2p2jlcH1tgg8wlo1_1280

I saw this movie because it’s a prequel to The Conjuring, a movie that scared my pants off last year. So how does it copmpare? Not as scary, the acting not as compelling, the plot has lots of holes in it, and the script is weak with some unintentionally awful lines. It has few visual effects (though the sound effects are fantastic, one of the scariest things about the movie). And the story is a bit too Jesus-y for my taste. But is Annabelle scary? You bet it is.

Annabel Wallis is good as Mia — picture Madmen, but from Betty Draper’s point-of-view – beautiful but suspicious, lonely, paranoid and petulant. Annabelle is not perfect, but it works as a good and scary chiller-thriller — perfect for a late-night date.

sam-coleman-and-jennifer-grausman-1-art-and-craft-interview-daniel-garber-c2a9-jeff-harrisMommy and Annabelle both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the wonderful documentary Art and Craft about an eccentric art forger who gives his paintings away. (You can listen to my interview with filmmakers Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman here).

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

People’s Choice. Movies Reviewed: The Imitation Game, Honeymoon

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Biopic, Computers, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, UK, WWII by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 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.

_MG_1251TIFF – the Toronto Interntional Film Festival – is over for the year. The klieg lights are dimmed, the red carpets rolled up.  It’s like a carnival sideshow leaving town, with celebrities and their droves of fans replacing the bearded ladies and tattooed men of yore. And the hundreds of members of the media, myself included, are forced to look elsewhere for the Next Big Movie.

On the last day of the festival, this past Sunday, they announced the winning films in Cumberbatch signs autographs at TIFF Jeff Harriscompetition. Unlike most major film festivals which use panels of critics and filmmakers as judges, TIFF relies on moviegoers to vote for the most important prize, the People’s Choice award. They say Torontonians are a good barometer of what kind of movies appeal to the public these days. The proof is in the pudding; People’s Choice winners, more often than not, become next year’s Oscar winners: the wonderful Slumdog Millionaire, the moving Twelve Years a Slave, the pandering King’s Speech, and the so-so Silver Linings Playbook.

So this week, I’m going to tell you about the TIFF Grolsch People’s Choice award winner, and a low-budget horror movie opening in Toronto.

THE IMITATION GAMEThe Imitation Game
Dir: Morten Tyldum

It’s the dawn of WWII. The British have captured Enigma, one of Nazi Germany’s secret devices. All their military messages use that encryption machine. Cracking it could mean an early end to the war and countless millions saved. Alan Turing — a shy, super-intelligent mathematician and Cambridge – is asked to visit the Bletchley Radio works – actually a branch of MI6. They need him to join the team and solve the puzzle.

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) probably got an “F” as a child  in the “plays well with others” category. Instead of working with the other recruits, notably his supervisor Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) he decides that cracking codes, one by one, is a waste of time. Instead he sets about creating one of the world’s first computers. He names the giant wall of wires and THE IMITATION GAMEspinning discs “Christopher”, after his first gay crush.

He quickly alienates Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), his boss, who decides to get rid of him. Will he succeed? In a compromise, Turing decides to recruit ordinary people with extraordinary minds to work on his project, using a hard-to-solve cryptic newspaper crossword puzzle to locate his geniuses. Smartest of all is a woman, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Together they try to crack the code and win the war. But will they succeed? Will Joan and Alan fall in love? And what will happen after the war?

_MG_0467The story jumps back and forth from his time as a wistful schoolboy, to the thrill and excitement of wartime, to the dark period afterwards, where he is persecuted by the police as a gay man. The Imitation Game tells a fantastic, true story of unrequited love, action and adventure, and the dark politics of postwar Britain. While it’s skimpy on the sex – as in, none at all – it is still a wonderful story, miles above most biopics. Benedict Cumberbatch plays another irritating and emotionally-stunted Sherlock, but he does it so well, conveying his thoughts through a twitch of an eye. Many critics deride Keira Knightley as a one-dimensional movie star, but I found her great in this one. In fact all the cast, including supporting characters, are wonderful. Though patently Oscar-bait (wartime, British costume drama, no yuck factor) it’s wonderful Oscar-bait. I strongly recommend this movie.

Honeymoon
Dir: Leigh Janiak

Leslie Rose as Bea in the HoneymoonPaul and Bea are up in cottage country to celebrate their marriage. Bea (Rose Leslie: Game of Thones) is big-boned and robust with a winning smile. Paul (Harry Treadaway: Fishtank, Cockneys vs Zombies) is naïve, boyish and fragile. Rose’s childhood summer home is filled with wooden ducks and a giant bearskin covering one wall. They intend to skinny dip in the lake, make pancakes at noon, and spend the rest of the day in bed, screwing like rabbits.

All goes well, until they encounter Will – Bea’s  ex – and his disturbed wife Annie. Something is wrong with those two. And they seem to have affected Bea. Is she cheating on him? Paul finds her sleepwalking in the woods at night. Light beams shine through the window. Strange Harry Treadaway as Paul in Honeymoonmarks appear on her thighs – just mosquito bites, she tells him. And strangest of all, he catches her memorizing basic phrases like “My name is Bea… my husband is Paul… we’re married”. Is she really Bea? Or an eerie imposter? Or has she gone completely mad?

Honeymoon – a horror movie with a female director: quite rare! – has great acting and an interesting premise. It starts out like a dull love story, but starts to pick up after the first 20 minutes. It has me going for a while, but eventually falls prey to some awful, endlessly repeated lines that take the zing away. Honeymoon is a good try, but doesn’t quite do it for me.

The Imitation Game is coming this fall, and Honeymoon starts 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

Older Women. Movies Reviewed: Philomena and If I Were You

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Adoption, Catholicism, comedy, Cultural Mining, Feminism, Toronto, UK, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 27, 2013

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.

412715_402768383177285_547971069_oThis week the Toronto Film Critics Association awarded the 2013 Scotiabank Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist to Matt Johnson, who made the fantastic movie The Dirties. Congratulations – great choice, great new filmmaker. Matt Johnson directed, produced and starred in that comedy/horror meta-movie I reviewed earlier this fall. This is could be the beginning of something big.

They say male movie stars can keep working until they die, but women stop being stars at age 35. It’s hard for older women to find lead roles in movies. Even Oscar winners. But they do exist. This week I’m looking at two movies starring award-winning, older actresses. There’s a British drama about a woman who wants to fill in a gap from her past; and an American comedy/drama about a woman who wants to undo a romantic triangle.

1384175_582752558454827_6105907_nPhilomena

Dir: Stephen Frears

Martin (Steve Coogan) is a former high-power party politico who suffers a fall from grace. He finds himself back in his previous profession: journalism. Reluctantly at first, he ends up pursuing a story about a retired, working-class woman named Philomena. Philomena (Judy Dench) was young, unmarried and pregnant when she was sent to live in a nunnery. She loved her infant son. So, one day, she was shocked and horrified to see her little boy driven away, before her very eyes, by a rich couple! She wanted to keep him, but she never saw him again. He was gone, adopted.

Now, many years later, Philomena wants a chance to see him before she dies. The nuns claim to have lost all her records in a fire. So Martin decides to write about Philomena’s story and to help 1379271_586138671449549_348510874_nher find her long lost son. So off they fly to America. Philomena is suspicious. Maybe he’s just using her to sell his story. Martin, on the other hand, is maddened by her quirky opinions and constantly-changing decisions: I want to go home… Let’s stay for another week… Gradually, Martin’s heart softens as he and Philomena get to know and trust each other better.

Will they locate the adult son? And if they do, will he want to meet his biological mother? Will he even remember her? And, finally, will the convent ever explain why they did what they did?

1376398_598313250232091_1715824787_nThis movie is a real tear-jerker. Based on a true story, it’s a very touching mother and son drama, with a few unexpected shocks and surprises. And there are at least two scenes that make the audience bawl. On the other hand, it’s quite sexless and sterile – not just the nuns. There’s no romance and no passion. Just anger at injustice, a sad longing for the past, righting wrongs, and a mother’s love for her child. Even though I could feel the movie deliberately tugging at my heart strings, it didn’t matter, since they did it so well.

Judy Dench’s character is rich and expertly played, while the always- funny Steve Coogan is a perfect foil. Well-directed by Steven Frears (My Beautiful Launderette, The Queen) with an excellent script, co-written by Coogan.

If I Were YouIf I Were You

Wri/Dir: Joan Carr-Wiggin

Madelyn (Marcia Gay-Harden) is happily married and a successful professional. But when she accidentally spies her husband, Paul, eating a romantic dinner with a beautiful young woman — when he said he was working late — everything falls apart. Is he cheating on her? Is their whole relationship based on a lie?

Flustered and confused, she finds herself following the young woman home. But rather than confronting her, she ends up saving her life. And so they meet. The Spanish beauty Lucy (Leonor Watling) admits that her lover Paul is still married and 411587_301446369896869_1132661752_ohasn’t left his boring old wife, and Madelyn, in turn, confesses that she caught her husband – she calls him “Fred” – cheating on her with some “bimbo”. They decide to follow each other’s advice on how to rescue their respective relationships. But only Madelyn knows that Fred and Paul are the same man. Can she fool Lucy into leaving her husband?

To distract her, Madelyn encourages the aspiring actress to pursue other goals. She takes Lucy to an audition for a play, King Lear, but somehow ends up cast alongside her. Will Madelyn succeed in her scheme? Or will her web of secrecy come unraveled? And are and her husband still in love?

413963_301441686564004_281730971_oIf I Were You is a cute comedy/ drama. It has some very funny sequences full of unexpected twists — it’s sort of a screwball comedy, with the main character juggling  hidden identities and secrets. And the opening scenes – from one to the next to the next — are brilliant. But later on, the movie seems loaded down with clichés and groaners. You have to wonder why so much screentime is devoted to the theatrical sub-plot. That’s not what the movie’s about. Most of all, this movie is a vehicle for the lead actress, Marcia Gay Harden. She’s at the centre of every single scene, and all other characters exist only to react to her (they love, hate, fear or admire her). To like the movie, you have to like Marcia Gay Harden. I do like her, so I enjoyed this film. It’s clever, cute and worth seeing.

Philomena and If I Were You both open today in Toronto (check your local listings).

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

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Scary and Scarier. Movies Reviewed: Dark Skies, Act of Killing PLUS Oscar predictions

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow oscarmovies, 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.

Oscar is back – and I’m not talking about Pistorius the Paralympics star’s trial. This weekend, the good and the bad compete for the most important prizes in the industry.

So, once again I will make my Oscar predictions – but a warning: I’m almost always completely wrong.

I have a feeling Amour, Haneke’s devastating film about the final years of an elderly couple, will come out on top. Zero Dark Thirty – the CIA torture-fest about the hunt for Bin Laden – will be largely shut out. And Silver Linings Playbook, the bi-polar rom-com, and Argo, a light, revisionist history about the Iranian hostage crisis, will divide the rest if the spoils.

Best Movie: Amour should win, but Argo will win. Best Actor: I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, so I can’t judge Daniel Day Lewis, but of the other four, Joaquin Phoenix did the best performance. He should win. Best Actress: Emmanuel Riva should and will win. Supporting actor? Robert De Niro in Silver Linings should win, but Christopher Waltz will win. Supporting actress: I liked Amy Adams in The Master, but I think Anne Hathaway will win. I think Michael Haneke will win best director and he deserves it.

The documentaries are all fantastic. I have a feeling Looking for Sugarman will win. And the foreign language films this year – Rebelle, No, Amour, Kon Tiki (plus Royal affair, which I haven’t seen) – are all outstanding. Three of them are on my 2012 best ten list, and No would be as well, if it had been released in time. You should see them all. And finally best original and adapted screenplays: I think Amour and Silver Linings will win that.

Some of the Oscar choices are scary, and so are their song and dance numbers. Even scarier are two movies: a Spielberg-style family thriller-chiller, and an unbelievably strange documentary out of Indonesia.

DARK_SKIES_POSTERDark Skies

Dir: Scott Stewart

It’s a hot summer, and the fourth of July is a couple days away. In the best of times, the Barrets are not a perfect family. Mom and Dad (Keri Russel and Jeff Hammond) are in trouble: their mortgage payments are three months overdue. Daniel’s out of work, and Lacey’s real estate sales aren’t doing well. Then there’s their two kids, Jesse and Sam (Toronto-native Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett). Jesse is hanging out with an older, “bad” friend, Ratface, who introduces him to long guns, bong-smoking and vintage porn videos (Jesse’s 14.) They hang out in one of the fixer-upper houses Lacey’s trying to sell. And little Sam is having nightmares – the sandman keeps coming to him at night. Still, the family likes their nice suburban neighbourhood, with its swimming pools, American dark skiesflags and backyard barbecues and don’t want to move. Jesse calms the waters by staying up late, talking to Sam by walkey-talkey.

But things go from bad to worse. Birds smash into the windows. The family starts having absence seizures, wetting their pants, and walking into walls. Strange bruises and marks are appearing on the kids’ bodies – is someone calling Children’s Aid? They open their mouths wide and start screaming, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They wake up in the middle of the night to find strange, little tricks left behind by a Poletrgeist-like being. And humming sounds and bright white lights appear under doors, just like in ET and Close Encounters. (Get the picture?)

dark skies 2Dad is perturbed, so he puts video camera in all the rooms to see of there is any Paranormal Activity at night. And sure enough, he finds something… but what are they? Can they fight off the enemy and keep together as a family unit? Or will they disappear, one by one?

I love the pseudo-retro quality of the movie as they plunder all the scary movies from 70s and 80s. The kid actors are all great, and the adults are usually good. And there are some wicked semi-psychedelic dream sequences popping up all through the movie. They almost make the whole film worthwhile. Almost.

But the story is a mess, some of the characters are lame, and the dialogue waivers between good to chokingly awful. So even though I felt like I should like this kind of film – it was really disappointing, especially the ending. It almost feels like they ran out of money before they could rewrite flubbed dialogue, and re-shoot missing scenes, and just decided to release it half edited. Too bad.

Act of Killingactofkilling_02_medium

Dir: Joshua Oppenhemier (and another director remains anonymous)

This is one of the weirdest documentaries I’ve ever seen, and has to be seen to be believed. Apparently, a group of former militants from Sumatra, Indonesia, decide to produce a fun, action film portraying the torture and murders it carried out in the 1960s. And they want to play themselves and their victims on the original sites where they murdered them. But they want to make it enjoyable, so they add musical numbers, dancing girls, a man in drag (one of the killers) for comic relief, and all sorts of additions to make it “entertaining”.

Historical context: In 1965-66, there were riots and mass-killings of about half a million ethnic Chinese Indonesians and Communist Party members in the mid-sixties around the fall of President Sukarno.

Those killers are still associated with a paramilitary security force and right-wing political group there which proudly actofkilling_04_mediumrecalls their deeds to the locals.

This is simultaneously the western filmmaker’s a first-hand record of the mass murderers unapologetically admitting their war crimes, and a film-diary of a bizarre low-budget Indonesian pop production. Jaw-dropping film.

Dark Skies opens today, check your local listings; Act of Killing is playing at the Human Rights Watch film festival in Toronto – go to tiff.net for details; and the Academy Awards are on TV this Sunday. Also opening tonight in Toronto is the very cool, experimental film Tower, directed by local Kazik Radwanski, who I interviewed last week. Check that one out.

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

August 3, 2012. Movies Reviewed: 360, Blue Like Jazz. PLUS Queen of Versailles, The Invisible War

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 movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Countless fairytales about travellers include a scene where a character comes to a fork in the road, and has to decide which way to go. One direction could bring happiness and good fortune; the other way – danger. This week I’m looking at two movies about people making life decisions and where that path takes them. One’s a low-budget American movie about a young, conservative Texan who ends up in liberal Portand, Oregan; the other’s a multi-lingual drama with an international cast about people facing life-changing decisions that end up affecting dozens of strangers they’ll never meet.

360
Dir: Fernando Meirelles

In a series of apparently unrelated stories in Vienna, Paris and London, we see men and women falling in love, and falling out of it, having illicit affairs, purchasing sexual acts, stalking strange women, resisting temptation, breaking up and starting all over again.

(This is a difficult movie to describe without giving away the stories and relationships which provide the main reason for watching this movie… but I’ll try) In just one of the linked stories, a
middle-class, somewhat selfish London couple, (Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) have a fragile relationship but, depending on which direction they each decide to take it, they will affect lots of people – a sex trade worker in Eastern Europe, a Brazilian woman stranded in a US airport (alongside an old man seeking his daughter’s dead body, and a sex offender recently released from prison) as she heads home to Rio.

These and many other stories come looping back in a 360 degree turn, just like the ring roads in the grand European capitals – Vienna, London and Paris. Since these are all strangers who meet at random, we see the characters in hotel bars, airport lobbies, cafes, internet sites, and AA meetings, the sorts of places strangers meet. We get a glimpse of their problems and decisions, then — zoom! — it’s on to the next city.

All the individual stories are loosely woven together, but not in the neat circle the title suggests. It’s not even like the hub in a wheel with lots of spokes heading out. It’s more like throwing a bunch of shoes into a bag, shaking them up, and then wondering how all the laces got so tangled and knotted. It’s definitely interesting, and neat, and the plot is never predictable (lots of the characters don’t take the paths you expect them to)… but I was left wondering if I was duped by complicated junk or had just witnessed a masterpiece. Or more simply: is it a good movie?

A movie doesn’t have to be great and perfect, but this one seems to be a smaller film than the grandiose themes it’s tackling. On the positive side, it’s not encumbered with a weepy, Hollywood violin soundtrack; instead it skips from city to city with old local pop songs. And it does have a great international cast (Jamel Debbouze, etc), a well-known Brazilian director who did City of God, and the UK writer Peter Morgan.

Hmm… is it just pandering, “Oscar Bait”? No, that’s not quite fair, although it does have that grave, sombre tone of too many film festival movies. But it’s also fascinating, a bit thrilling and tense, with a bit if ironic humour. Even if the movie as a whole left me feeling cold and devoid of satisfaction (that 1960’s, angsty European feel) it’s still a unique piece of work.

OK, I give in. I liked it. It wasn’t bad. Go see it.

Blue Like Jazz
Dir: Steve Taylor

Donny (Marshall Allman) is a good Texan. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t cuss. He tucks in his short-sleeved shirt, and goes to Baptist church every Sunday, and does whatever his divorced mother tells him to. But right when he’s about to go off to Baptist College he discovers two things: his layabout Dad who lives in a trailer park is ready to bankroll his tuition at a liberal arts school in Portland(ia); and his bible-ready Mom isn’t quite the goody-goody church lady he thought she was. He decides the church has betrayed him, so he heads off to open his mind to new ideas.

So the movie follows his experiences as a Fresher at college, as he gradually adjusts to student life. He falls in with Lauren (Tania Raymonde), a genuine lesbian who looks like Amy Winehouse; The Pope, an older college rabble-rouser given to dressing in a robe and mitre; and Penny, an earnest politically active blonde woman
who is fighting plastic water bottles. His shirts get untucked, then he switches to T-shirts, stops shaving and soon enough he’s throwing beer bottles out of windows and popping MDMA at outdoor raves. Portland is not without its rules. Umbrellas are considered “uncool” and Penny warns him that, in these parts, Christians are expected to stay in their religious closets – they don’t “come out” as born again.

It’s up to Donny to decide if he should permanently ditch the church in favour of new ideas, or to fall back on his childhood upbringing.

Blue like Jazz is an extremely low-budget drama, paid for through crowd-sourcing. It’s actually a fun, coming-of-age college movie, with interesting characters, a nice story and good acting. Worth watching.

Also opening this weekend are the two documentaries The Invisible War, and The Queen of Versailles.

The Invisible War (Dir: Kirby Dick) tells about the estimated one million rapes or sexual assaults that have happened within the US armed forces over the past half century, how the perpetrators are let off even as the victims face punishment. It’s an important look at a shocking subject. (Listen to my interview with director Kirby Dick)

And on a much lighter note, is the Queen of Versailles, a hilarious documentary by Lauren Greenfield about a pneumatically equipped compulsive shopper with many children and little yappy dogs; and her husband, an elderly time-share mogul, who, together, attempt to build themselves a replica of the Palace of Versailles in the Florida everglades — the biggest home in the world — but are caught in a lurch by the sudden bursting of the real estate bubble. (Read my Hotdocs review here.)

The dramas 360 and Blue Like Jazz, and the documentaries The Invisible War and the Queen of Versailles 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 .

February 17, 2012. Movies Reviewed: Monsieur Lazhar, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Posted in Academy Awards, Canada, Cultural Mining, Death, documentary, Drama, Movies, Musical, Quebec, Suicide, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 20, 2012

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

I’m back again…

This week I’m looking at two movies about men trying to preserve a culture. One is a drama about an Algerian refugee working as a schoolteacher in Quebec who turns toward his French childhood education for solace; and the other is a documentary about a sophisticated Yiddish writer who turned toward memories of his childhood in a small village as the inspiration for many of his stories.

Monsieur Lazhar
Dir: Philippe Falardeau
Two public school kids, Simon and Alice (Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron) make a shocking discovery one morning. Their teacher hanged herself the night before in their classroom. So now there’s a class without a teacher, a whole bunch of kids recovering from the trauma, and no one willing to take her place. So in walks Bachir Lazhar (Fellag) to the principle’s office and offers his services. He says he taught for 19 years in Algeria and would be honoured to take over the class. And for lack of an alternative, he’s the new teacher.

But he’s a recent newcomer to Canada, trying to qualify for refugee status after a horrific event back in Algeria. He’s recovering from one trauma while the kids in the class are getting over another one. He was raised in an Algeria that had been annexed by France, so he’s steeped in a lost culture, in a country on the brink of violent collapse. The kids don’t get him.

He regiments the desks in neat rows – no circles for him; and he does old-school stuff — like reading Balzac for dictee – and making the kids memorize conjugations and recite them in class.

He doesn’t understand all the new rules. No hitting students – in fact no touching students at all, anywhere, ever. Never talk about the teacher’s death – leave that to the psychologist. But the kids are clearly ridden with guilt, and Bachir wants to get through to them. Maybe by letting them lose their baggage he can release some of his own.

But can he get through to them with his old-fashioned, rigid and formal ways? Will he purge his own loss and let them – especially Simon And Alice – recover from theirs?

Monsieur Lazhar is a really good, complex, and subtle movie (nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.) The French actor Fellag manages to convey Bachir’s grief and compassion while remaining reserved, formal and secretive. It’s also quite funny – its not a drag-you-down movie. It was directed by Philippe Falardeau, who also made another great movie just a few years ago, also about a troubled kid in Quebec: C’est pas moi, je te jure! You should try to catch that one, too. Falardeau is amazing at capturing kids on film, with complete characters. Monsieur Lazhar is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film in a Foreign Language, and for Genie Awards for Best Picture, Director (Falardeau) , Actor (Fellag), Supporting Actress (Sophie Nélisse), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Music,  and Sound.

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness
Dir: Joseph Dorman

Sholem Aleichem was the penname of a Yiddish writer who lived in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia. This is the long but narrow area stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea where Jews were permitted to live. Sholem Aleichem – a pen name meaning Mr how-do-you-do — wrote the classic tales of Tevye the milkman and the others in the village of Kasrilevka. He’s best known today because his stories were adapted into the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof. But he was also one of the pioneers who attempted to turned a looked-down-upon vernacular language, Yiddish, into a font of literature and high culture.

What I had never heard before, and which the movie shows, is that he was a really interesting character, that goes against the homey, nostalgic stereotype of his writing. He was a dandy, a dilettante, and a stock market gambler in Kiev, discussing poetry in cafes and squandering a small fortune.

This excellent documentary tears away the mythos of the renowned writer and exposes both his dark and embarrassing moments as well as his unknown triumphs. It uses black and white photos, playbills, posters, and even an actual audio recording of the writer voice, along with found footage and snapshots from the era to set the mood. Most interesting to me is the way the documentary situates the author, not just as some independent hero, but as one character in a broader political, historical and sociological context.

Monsieur Lazhar is playing now, and Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Dark opens next week in Toronto. And of course the documentary, Puppet opens on the 17th. Also coming soon in Toronto and Vancouver is a series of Kabuki performances captured on film, featuring the legendary onnagata actor, Tamasaburo, who plays only female roles, in the Heron Maiden. Check out the Japan Foundation for more information.

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

January 27, 2012. Airplanes and Wheelchairs. Films Reviewed: Red Tails, Moon Point PLUS Oscar nominations

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Acting, Action, African-Americans, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Movies, Slackers, US, video games, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2012

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

They announced the Oscar nominees this week, some expected and others not so. I’ll be talking more about the nominations closer to the awards ceremony. They nominated some enjoyable movies – like The Help, War Horse, some good but not special ones like the Descendents, some good but flawed movies like the Tree of Life, and some mediocre ones like The Artist. And then there are the shockers. They nominated one of the worst movies of the year for best picture — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; one of the worst acting performances — Rooney Mara for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and Nick Nolte’s overwrought “Drunk Dad” in the mixed martial arts flick The Warrior.

I think Hugo is a good movie, but isn’t it sad that Scorsese could win for his so-so movies like this or The Departed but not for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas or King of Comedy? Ok, just wanted to let off a bit of steam, as I plod along my way…

This week I’m looking at two movies in motion. One’s an American film about soldiers who want to fly in the air, and a Canadian one about friends who want to roll up a hill.

Red Tails (Based on a true story)

Dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s nearing the end of WWII. The Americans have taken Italy and are pushing the Germans northward across Europe. And at one of the Italian bases is a team of ace flyers who have yet to see battle. Why? Because they’re all African Americans from a special Air Force project in Tuskegee, Alabama. And in the 1940’s America was still a segregated country, with the “colour bar” strictly enforced. Black officers aren’t even allowed to drink in the officers’ club. The want to kill some Germans. Instead they’re stuck puttering around in glued together old junk-heaps, aiming their guns at covered jeeps and enemy trains.

Their officers, meanwhile, are in DC, trying to give them a chance to do some real fighting as they train in northern Italy. The whites in the military characterize this group of bright-eyed University-educated, ambitious, would-be-heroes as lazy and incompetent.

But they are actually champ flyers and fighters, especially Lightning (David Oyelowo) the best of them all. He swoops and spins, ducks, turns and flies upside down They all have nicknames, like “Easy” (Nate Parker) the drinker, or “Junior” (Elijah Kelley) the kid – with their names and logos painted on the sides of their planes. But they all want “kills” o their planes, too.

One day on a flight, Lightning sees a beautiful woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah) looking out her window as he flies overhead – they catch each others’ eyes, and it’s love at first sight. (But will it be happily ever after?)

Finally the men are given new planes to fly, and they paint the tails bright red to make it clear who they are. Will they win their battles? Will Lightning shoot down his personal enemy a Red Baron Nazi flyer they call Pretty boy for his scarred face? And will they get to go with the other planes to drop bombs on Berlin?

What can I say about this movie?

It has a lot going for it. I liked the acting – an all-around good cast (although the scenes in Washington, with Terrence Howard pleading his soldiers’ case, were painfully wooden). David Oyelowo, especially, owns the screen.. And I have to say I enjoy the spectacular plane fights up in the air – it felt like a cool video game. And it’s a good idea to tell little-known history, to give kids role models, and to celebrate forgotten accomplishments by African Americans.

The problem is in the movie’s tone. Seriously — is it possible to show such a gung-ho, “war is great” type of movie in this day and age with a straight face? Even a hint of disgust for the excesses of war would have made this more understandable for contemporary audiences. Instead it ends up feeling more like a 1940’s recruitment ad then a modern-day movie.

Moon Point

Dir: Sean Cisterna

Darryl (Nick McKinley) is a slacker, a loser, and a compulsive liar who lives at home and is picked on by his snobby cousin Lars. He does little aside from hanging out with his good friend Femur (Kyle Mac), a disabled orphan who lives with his grandma. But when his cousin sarcastically asks if Darryl will be bringing a date to Lars’s upcoming wedding, he vows he’ll be bringing a movie star. You see, he had a crush on Sarah Cherry when he was a kid, and now she’s back shooting a movie.

Things have got to change. So Darryl convinces Femur to drive him up north to Moon Point, a town where where the movie’s being shot. By drive, he’s referring to Femur’s motorized scooter he uses when not in a wheelchair. So Darryl climbs into the little metal cart pulled by the scooter and begin their extremely slow trip to the North. On the way they meet a young woman, Kristin (Paula Brancati) who hitches a ride after her car broke down.

Will Darryl ever find his Hollywood crush? Will Kristin find her true love? And will Femur tackle his personal crisis? And can they all get to Moon Point and back in time for a wedding… at 5 miles an hour?

Moon Point is a very low-budget, locally-made Canadian comedy. It’s cute and fairly original with likeable characters. It’s a comedy, but some of the jokes fall as flat as a pancake. The humour comes less from the one-liners than from the unusual and uncomfortable situations characters find themselves in. Like sitting in on an A.A. meeting after catching a lift from a drunk driver (played by Art Hindle… dressed in a banana suit!) Or an impromptu karaoke contest in a highway roadhouse. The tone swings back and forth, from hokey to charming — but I ended up liking it.

Moon Point reminds me of Bruce MacDonald’s earliest movies, like Roadkill, only not rock and roll… calmer, gentler.

Red Tails is playing now, and Moon Point opens in Toronto next week – check your local listings.

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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December 30, 2011, More Xmas Movies. Movies Reviewed: The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close PLUS My Choice of 2011 Best Eleven Movies

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Cultural Mining, Dance, Death, Denial, Disabilities, Drama, Hollywood, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Terrorism, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 31, 2011

Hi, this 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.

Well, here it is, a day away from New Year’s eve, so I guess I’d better tell you my choice for the best movies of 2011.

But first, let me tell you about two more Christmas-y movies that opened this week, one about a kid with a key after the fall of the World Trade Centre, the other about an actor and an actress after the fall of the silent movie.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Dir: Stephen Daldry

Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a little kid in Manhattan who’s a bit neurotic, a bit bratty, pretty smart, a little autistic-y, and prone to temper tantrums. Not that different from a lot of kids. Then his dad (Tom Hanks) just happens to be visiting the twin towers on September 11th. So… the kid is left without his dad, and Oskar becomes more and more sketchy. He communicates with his grandmother by walkie-talkie (she’s in the apartment across the courtyard), and ignores his mom. All that’s left of his dad are the voicemail messages he recorded on an answering machine before the towers collapsed. Oskar sets up a secret shrine to his dead father, and, when going through his father’s things, he discovers a key in an envelope with the name “Black” written on it.

Oskar divides the whole city into small quadrants on a paper map and decides to knock on the door of every family named Black in the city to see if they have the lock that his father’s key will open. One day he meets his grandmother’s reclusive tenant (Max von Sydow) for the first time, even though he’s shared her apartment since after WWII. The tenant is an old German man who will not (or cannot) speak, but communicates by writing little notes in his moleskine with a sharpie and tearing out the pages. Oskar sets out with him on a search for his father’s hidden secrets. With the old man‘s help, maybe he can face his worst fears and reach closure with his dad’s death.

Unfortunately, this is a dreadful movie. It rests on the shoulders of a first-time child actor, who is just not very good. (Apparently, they cast him after he enchanted audiences on Kids’ Jeopardy). We’re supposed to find his Asberger-like behaviour fascinating – it’s not – and his precociousness awe-inspiring – also not. Then there’s Sandra Bullock’s awfulness as the weepy, suffering mother. (Go away, Sandra Bullock — I don’t want to watch your movies anymore.) Only the always-dependable Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis (in a small part as one of the hundereds of people named “Black”) partly redeem the scenes they’re in. Other than that, it’s a non-stop yuck-fest of forced-sentimental pseudo-patriotism with the aim of bestowing sainthood on an entire city because of 9-11. Give it a rest… I would avoid this movie at all costs.

The Artist

Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

George Valentin, (Jean Dujardin) is a movie star of the Silent Screen, the darling of his fans, rich, successful. He can do anything, even question the decisions of the Sam Goldwyn–type movie moghul at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman). It’s just him, his stodgy wife, and his cute little doggy. One night at a reception he runs into a pretty young flapper who catches his eye, and gets her face on the cover of Variety: Who’s That Girl? it asks. Why, it’s an unknown, new starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)! And just like that, a star is born… but as she rises, he falls. And when talkies are introduced, he soon finds himself poor, jobless, homeless, and single again. Will Peppy Miller make it big? Will Valentin ever have his comeback? And will his cute and faithful dog (Uggie) and his chauffeur (James Cromwell) stay by his side?

What’s the twist? Well, the whole movie is filmed in the style of a silent movie, with no spoken dialogue. So what? you may be thinking. And my answer would be: indeed.

Doing a silent movie that’s also about silent movies shows an incredible lack of imagination. There’s nothing especially new or interesting in this film. I mean, it’s visually pleasing, a fun re-enactment of old movies, a nice diversion… but nothing more. The score – which is so important in silent films — was underwhelming; and the story held almost no surprises, except an especially lame ending. The costumes and the camera work, though, were both incredible; and I thought the acting was great – for what it’s worth (it seemed more like a pantomime to me.)

I mean, people like Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati made great silent movies long after talkies were well established, but they were good because they were original, funny and surprising. This one isn’t – there’s not an original moment in the entire film, just the re-hashing of things that were once original moments in silent movies. (There are a few hahaha parts, but no real gut busters.) They seem to forget that silent movies were actual movies. This one is more concerned with replicating the surface of silent movies – or how people today look back at them — than making a good movie, period. The Artist is a film for movie collectors not for moviegoers.

Here’s my top eleven movies of 2011. I only included movies that played commercially during that year, so I had to leave out terrific ones that only played in festivals – like Hysteria and Himizu at TIFF, and The Evening Dress at Inside-out. And I don’t include the many amazing documentaries, like Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles that played at HotDocs; or Page One: Inside the New York Times. I also try to include both mainstream and independent or avant-garde movies. And I haven’t seen every movie from this past year, so I may have missed some gems. OK, here goes, in alphabetical order:

Quadraplegic amputee “war god” returns to his Japanese village:

Caterpillar

Lesbian romance in Tehran:

Circumstance

Danish L.A. film noir thriller:

Drive

Bizarre Polish art film about CIA black sites in Europe:

Essential Killing

Poor, black maids and rich white housewives in 1960’s Mississippi:

The Help

Women leading a wagon train through Oregon

Meek’s Cutoff

The apes are revolting:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Kids shooting a super 8 film uncover a dangerous mystery:

Super 8

A mentally ill husband dreams of coming disaster:

Take Shelter

Cold War thriller about a possible mole within the high-ranks of MI6:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A horse seeks his boy in the trenches of WWI:

War Horse

Runners-up:

Names of Love (le Nom des gens)

Submarine

Incendie

Attack the Block

The Artist and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are now playing in Toronto (check your local listings). War Horse, Tinker Tailor…, Take Shelter and Drive are also playing in some theatres.

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

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.

September 23, 2011. TIFF aftermath. Films reviewed: Where Do We Go Now?, Drive, Limelight

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.

With the closing of this year’s TIFF — with all of its orgiastic
excess of filmic stimulation, eye candy, and brain prods — you may be
suffering from withdrawal. But have no fear — there’s no need to go
cold turkey, because Toronto’s Fall festival season is positively
brimming with good smaller film festival to keep your addiction alive.

Coming soon are: Toronto After Dark, the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, Planet in Focus, the Real Asian Film Festival, and the
European Union Film Festival, among others. And TIFF itself continues
on all year, showing their programmed films at the Lightbox. So if you
missed a good movie at TIFF, even if it doesn’t get a wide release,
you may be able to catch it later on in the year.

But first, the awards. Phillipe Felardeau won the Toronto Best
Canadian feature prize for Monsieur Falardeau — and it’s already gone
on to become Canada’s entry for a Best Foreign language Film Oscar.

The People’s Choice Award at TIFF is often used as an indicator of
who’s going to win a Golden Globe and later get nominated for an
Oscar. Past years’ winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s
Speech, and Precious. It’s voted on not by a panel of judges, but by
the moviegoers at the festival themselves. What this also means is
that sometimes a completely unknown movie — one with no “buzz” at all– can come out of left field, and take this award.

This year’s surprise is a film out of Lebanon, called:

Where Do Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va où?)
Dir: Nadine Labaki

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally
between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all
too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the
graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury
the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids
weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV
night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry
movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men
will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the
village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the
village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the
cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and
their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious
miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers –
anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an
incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon?
And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away
from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie had an extremely slow beginning, with a handmade
feel to it – sort of like an even-lower-budget Big Fat Greek Wedding
meets Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s a comedy, but a lot of the
jokes fell flat. And it’s a musical, but some of the songs just don’t
translate well. The ensemble plot, with dozens of characters, leaves
you confused until you can figure out who everyone is.

That said, in the second half, when the pace picks up and the story
gets interesting, it becomes good. And the ending is just great –
clever and imaginative, and leaves you with a much better feeling
than you came with. Nadine Labaki – who is also a member of the cast – is
the first female director to win the TIFF People’s Choice award, and
it’s nice to see her touching story about an important topic given a
boost. I’m curious as to where the movie will go now.

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling plays this guy in a satin jacket who drives cars around,
plain-looking cars but with souped-up engines that can outgun any
police car. He can tumble a car, flip it over on a highway, and
still remain absolutely calm, a Japanese toothpick still in his mouth. He’s the
strong silent type, good at heart. By day, he works in a garage, and
is sent out by his shady boss Shannon (Brian Cranston) to do movie
stunts. (This is LA, so, of course,  it’s always about the movies.) And by night, he
serves as the driver for bank heists and robberies.

He falls into almost a family relationship with pretty waitress Irene
(Carey Mulligan), and her son, little Benicio, and takes them for
drives around the city. But when her husband, Standard, is released
from prison, his good life starts to fall apart and the violence
builds. He becomes embroiled in a scheme involving sinister gangsters
Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and the great, neanderthalic Ron
Perlman). He ends up holding a dufflebag with a million dollars in
stolen money. What should he do with it? Will he settle down as a
champion stock car racer? Or will violence rule the day?

This is a fantastic — though sometimes horrifically violent, and
weird – movie. (Every once in a while you think – what is this? Is
this for real? Who are they trying to kid? You lose the connection for a moment, but then you slip right back into it.) It looks like a rejig of an 80’s movie like Thief,
with the driving bass (bubbadubba dubbadubba bubbadubba…) background music, and the
night scenes with glowing lights all around. The movie titles are
scribbled, Andy Warhol-style, in hot pink, and strange Eurodisco
dominates the soundtrack. The violence is almost comical, though
bloody. This is NOT your usual action thriller, but a clever, Danish
take on LA film noir. Great movie.

Next, another look at the louche underculture, this time in Manhattan
in the 90’s. A documentary

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

Peter Gatien, a Canadian nightclub promoter who lost an eye in a
hockey game as a kid, was known for his black eye patch, his canny
business practices, and how he had his hand on the pulse of all of New
York clublife in the 80’s and 90’s. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,
but he brought in demimonde celebs – the club kids – to bring in the
cool crowd. He opened famous places like Tunnel, the Palladium and
Limelight (not so affectionately known as slimelight by clubgoers) a
club opened inside of a church.

So everything’s going good, until Giuliani, the law and order supreme,
was elected mayor of New York. But when the drug of choice changed

from coke to MDMA to crack cocaine, so did the mood in the clubs, from

selfish and driven, to touchy-feelie, to insane. Giuliani vowed to
“clean up” the city. And he despised nightclubs, sex and dancing as
musch as drugs. Used to be the people in the burrows and New Jersey
would travel into the city on weekends for fun. By the end of his
reign, the term bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to be a better
description of the people in Manhattan who were so desperate they’d
migrate out of the city just to dance all night.

Well, Giuliani chose Peter Gatien, as his nemesis, and launched a
full-scale attack, an elaborate scheme to paint him as a drug dealer
and criminal. This movie traces, in minute detail, all the players
involved in his trial – the rats, the dealers, the feds, the femme
fatale, and the legendary club kids like murderer Michael Alig.

It’s an interesting movie, about a fascinating topic, with a great
segment giving a history of the evolution of music, nightclubs, and
drugs, worth seeing, but it’s just too long. It gets bogged down with way too many
talking heads against acid-green lighting.

Drive is playing now, Limelife opens today, and  Where Do We Go Now?
won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

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


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