Finished. Movies Reviewed: Amy, Self/Less, Big Game

dd21159d-2ec4-4d3b-9897-8ee5302d052bHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

People talk about closure as if finishing is always a good thing. But is it? This week I’m looking three movies. There’s a documentary about a young singer whose life came to an untimely finish; an action/thriller about a rich man who wants to delay his ultimate finish; and an action/adventure about a President in trouble who seeks help from a boy… who is Finnish.

Amy

Dir: Asif Kapadia

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1 born in North London and dead by the age of 27. This was just four years ago. A new documentary fills in the missing years of her heartbreaking story. It concentrates on her music, her family, her friends and her lovers.

Amy was the daughter of a cabby and a pharmacist who divorced when she was still young. Extremely talented, she was sent to a prestigious music academy but was kicked out by age 16. She recorded her first album by age 20. Her voice was a throwback to some of the great American Jazz singers. Her look was also retro – dramatic and sensuous, with big hair, heavy black eyeliner. And she had an outspoken manner and working class accent, which set her apart from the carefully groomed and managed commercial bands.

33063f6d-9987-4fc2-806b-518679da09cbAccording to the film, she behaved sexually “like a man” – had lots of lovers and did it for the pleasure of it. She experimented with drugs while hanging in Camden nightclubs. At one of these clubs – prophetically called “Trash” — she first met Blake. He became her on-again, off-again lover and future husband, and many blame him for her growing dependence on drugs. . And while all this was going on her career was taking off. Her albums went multi-platinum in the UK and around the world.

Her instant stardom brought the bad side, too. The London press is notorious for its voracious appetite; it chews up the newly famous, and spits out their husks. The paparazzi follow their every move pasting lurid and intensely personal pics on the front pages of tabloids. She was in and out of ef490e32-30fb-44cc-b875-0b93ceca52d6rehab clinics, after collapsing onstage. And eventually it all proved too much and her body just gave out. (Doctors blame bulimia with excessive alcohol.)

This is a great, heartbreaking and extremely intimate documentary, shot with cel phones, voice mail recordings and tons of archival grainy photos and footage. And it features her music, along with the lyrics projected on the screen. It’s accessible both to die-hard fans and the merely curious. But is this film as exploitative as the tabloids it documents? No. Even though it shows Amy’s good and bad sides, it is sympathetic not accusatory..

Still10Self/Less

Dir: Tarsem Singh

Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a self-made real estate kingpin in New York City. He thinks money can buy anything, and he lives a life of luxury: a penthouse suite with elaborate, gold-inlaid doors and massive wooden furniture. When there’s a difficult situation, he just pulls out a wad of cash. But he has a problem that money can’t solve: he’s dying. And then he discovers a secret corporation where a Still7scientist, Dr Albright (Matthew Goode: “Finn” from The Good Wife) promises him immortality, in exchange for Big Bucks. The only catch? He has to pretend to die, leaving his old life behind. In exchange, they’ll give him a brand new – and much younger – body, freshly-made in a laboratory tank.

He agrees, and before you know it, Ben Kingskey’s soul passes into Ryan Reynolds’ body. And his past self — his heavy New York accent, his mannerisms, his personality — all disappear. Now he has a new home in

S_05989-2.cr2New Orleans, flashy clothes, a new best friend, and more beautiful women than he can shake a stick at. But there’s a problem.  Turns out, his body wasn’t made in a laboratory at all, it’s a real person! And the body’s memories keep coming back to life. So Damian investigates, and meets up with his body’s wife Marguerite  (Natalie Martinez) and a daughter.

But as soon as the lab folks find out he knows their secret — despite the millions Damian paid them — they all have to die. Luckily his body still remembers its special ops fight skills — it’s up to him to fight for strangers Still9who knew the body he’s living in. Who will win the ultimate  showdown – Damian? Or the laboratory?

This movie makes no sense at all. It starts out good, but soon loses its point, and reports to shootouts and showdowns to keep you interested.

I love the “body swap” genre – films like Freaky Friday, All of Me and  Face/Off. Even The Change Up, (Reynolds’ comedy from last year) wasn’t bad. Alas, in this one, Reynolds is bland, generic and unadventurous. He doesn’t even pretend to show the enormous gaps between Ben Kingsley’s Damian and himself.

He may be nice-looking and likeable, but he’s just a meat puppet.

Big Game_00200.NEFBig Game

Dir: Jalmari Helander

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old in Northern Finland. As part of the Sami coming-of-age ritual (the Sami are an indigenous people living in Europe’s Far North) he has 24 hours to prove his manhood as a hunter and bring back a reindeer. He’s a brave kid but he’s unskilled with his bow and arrow and doubts his own self-worth.

But in the woods after an explosion he comes across a metal space pod. And inside is the US president (Samuel L Jackson)! An evil billionaire terrorist, with the help of some White House insiders, has shot down Air Force 1. He did it as a lark, not for any ideological reason. And now he’s Big Game_00181.NEFout hunting “big game” — the President himself. So young Oskari has to prove his mettle by guiding him to safety and fending off all the bad guys in the process.

Believe it or not, this kids’ movie is really good. It’s quirky, surprising and funny. I had zero expectations coming in, but something clicked when I realized this is another film by Finnish Director Helander (Rare Exports about Santa Big Game - Onni Tommila (Oskari) and Samuel L. Jackson (the President) in Big GameClause as a primeval demon), which also starred Tommila). It’s not disneyish at all. Big Game has blood and guts, a gritty feel and a twisted sensibility, all of which make it delightful.

Self/Less, Big Game and Amy all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening tonight is Tangerine with a special screening with Trans Pride activist Christin Milloy and sex work activist Catherine Brockhurst to lead a discussion. Also  on now is the Buster Keaton festival, with a live piano player. Go to robertbrucemusic.com for more information.

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

Ordinary People. Movies Reviewed: Survivor, Big Muddy, Fourth Man Out

Posted in Action, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Gay, Saskatchewan, Terrorism, UK, US, Western by CulturalMining.com on May 29, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.CGBlzj6WoAAwm_l-1

Where is cinema going? I went to the Parkdale Film Festival — it features short documentaries, dramas and animation. So what’s special about it? The films were all made by high school students. This means independent, ordinary people — with access to the technology — can make real movies.

This week, I’m looking at ordinary people and where they’re going. There’s a small town mechanic coming out, a single mom in Saskatchewan hiding out, and a passport clerk in London heading out… to catch the bad guys.

10509527_841186499227517_3517642369132729401_nSurvivor

Dir: James McTeigue

The smart and beautiful Kate Abbot (Milla Jovovich) likes her job at the US embassy in London where she handles passport and visas. She a rising star who speaks a half dozen languages and has extensive training in intelligence. So when her boss Sam (Dylan McDermott) says they should be on the lookout for potential terrorists, she takes it very seriously. She and her coworkers start scrutinizing passports, and she flags a suspicious-looking Romanian scientist. Maybe he has access to Weapons of Mass Destruction! Good work says the Ambassador (Angela Bassett). But Kate is dressed down by a high-ranked UK agent Paul (James D’Arcy). He tells her to stop all her meddling – the man she flagged is associated with higher-ups. Those snooty Englishmen – why are they always stopping freedom-loving Americans from doing what they have to do?

Kate is sure there’s a secret cabal of terrorists dying to set foot in America so they can kill everybody. Only she – and her coworkers — can stop them from getting those coveted visas.

But when disaster strikes London, she’s left alone. Worse than that, she’s caught holding a smoking gun beside a dying man! Now everyone thinks she’s the terrorist not the hero. Says the ambassador, shoot her now before more people die. Only a few people still believe in her. And when she sees an expert hitman known only as The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan) setting off a bomb, he makes it his personal goal to see her dead, since she’s the only one who knows what he looks like. But can she stop the terrorists before they blow up America?

Survivor is a fun, fast-moving action/thriller with a great star. It’s also ridiculous, ludicrous, unbelievable and politically out to lunch view of terrorism. It’s full of plot holes: when she’s caught on celphones at the scene of a crime by a dozen onlookers, her image goes viral. But when the real killer shows up mere seconds later and steals an ID from the victim – the cameras have all been turned off, and his identity is kept secret. And when Kate is on the run, she doesn’t even bother wearing dark glasses or a baseball cap, she just forges on ahead, . One part of my brain says Nooo… I can’t take any more of this deeply stupid movie! But the other part says duh… I like stupid movies.

y87o1V_bigmuddy_01_LEAD_o3_8613213_1431025964-1Big Muddy

Wri/Dir: Jefferson Moneo

Martha (Nadia Litz) is a single mother in modern-day, rural Saskatchewan. She’s had a few men in her past and, boy, she sure knows how to pick ’em. One’s a very sketchy horse trader Buford (James Le

Gros) who’s made it big, the other a sweetheart (David La Haye) who ran afoul with the law. Now she’s going three for the win, a real lowlife named Tommy (Rossif Sutherland). The two of them make a living as a hold-up team. Her innocent teenaged son Andy (Justin Kelly) VmovO9_bigmuddy_04_o3_8613329_1431025972is the only good things she’s managed to hold on to.

Then some things happen. A man escapes from a Qu’Appelle Valley prison, and shoots a cop. Then Buford shows up at the racetrack, Andy gets hold of a gun, and Boom! everything falls apart. Mom and boy hightail it out to Big Muddy in the 8qW3q5_bigmuddy_05_o3_8613385_1431025973-1badlands, the desolate home she thought she was finally through with. But outsiders and former locals are all converging on the same spot. Can Martha survive this mess and will Andy discover his unknown past and who is his real father?

This movie has a good cast and an interesting plot. My only problem is with the pacing. Is it a crime drama or a family story? Whenever the tension is building, the danger spiraling, the movie is heading for a big showdown… it weirdly segues back into a slow-moving family drama, destroying the excitement. Even so, Big Muddy is a rare thing: a genuine Canadian western, complete with outlaws, horses, sheriffs, blackhats, shootouts and hideaways.

FourthManOutFourth Man Out

Dir: Andrew Nackman

Adam (Evan Todd) is a small-town auto mechanic in his twenties. He likes beer, steak and sports, and can take an engine apart (and put it back together again) with his own two hands. He’s a man’s man. After work he spends time with his three best buds, handsome Chris, goofy Ortu and hipster-ish Nick (Parker Young, Jon Gabrus, Chord Overstreet). They usually sit in a basement watching TV, smoking pot or going out for a drink. But when they go to pick-up bars, why is it that Adam always ends up the wingman for Chris’s attempts to meet women? The answer is simple but unexpected. He’s gay and his life-long best friends don’t know it.

So he decides enough is enough, it’s time to spill the beans. They can’t believe him at first (…but he 1140_fourthmaneats steak!), but then a strange tone creeps into their friendship. It’s up to the four of them to smooth out the tension and restore the feeling they used to have. Can the four friends find a suitable boyfriend for the inexperienced Adam? Easier said than done. And can they help Chris get together with Tracy (Jennifer Damiano) a real girlfriend, instead of the casual pickups he usually ends with? And will they get it all done in time for the annual 4th of July barbecue?

Fourth Man Out is a cute, gentle buddy-comedy / male rom-com. Nothing too challenging or shocking in this mainstream movie, no gross-outs, no “weird” stuff, just likeable, white, working class guys adjusting to one of them coming out.

Survivor and Muddy Bottom open today, check your local listings; Fourth Man Out premiered at Inside-Out LGBT film fest. The festival continues through Sunday. Go to insideout.ca for times.

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

Middle. Movies Reviewed: Salt of the Earth, Last Knights, While We’re Young

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, photography by CulturalMining.com on April 3, 2015

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

While exciting things might happen at the fringe, people tend to aim for the centre. This week I’m looking at three movies about the middle. There’s a comedy about a middle-aged couple who try to regain their youth; an action drama set in the Middle Ages; and a documentary about a news photographer who always places himself in the middle.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 2Salt of the Earth
Dir: Wim Wenders, Julian Ribeiro Salgado

Sebastiao Salgado is a photojournalist from Brazil. Trained as an economist he moved to Paris in the 1960s with his young wife. He soon realized he was in the wrong profession and became a news photographer, taking pictures of people in dramatic or disastrous circumstances. The Ethiopian Famine; the Rwandan © Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowedgenocide; the subsequent refugee crisis in Goma, Congo; and the Balkan wars. The movie opens with his masterpieces: unbelievable shots of pit miners swarming like ants up and down vast dirt walls in a Brazilian gold rush.

© Sebastião SALGADO : Amazonas images This photo cannot be reproduced out of this context. The image must be reproduced in its entirety, no cropping, no modifications are allowed 3His images are breathtaking, moving, informative and historically relevant, and they’re mimicked in the film’s cinematography. This guy is a great photographer. The movie gives you the photos, alongside the cameraman himself commenting on when he took them. It’s like looking through the world’s best photo album with the guy who took the snaps sitting beside you. Salt of the Earth is a documentary made by his son and Wim Wenders. With the stunning visuals, he comes across as earnest if a bit dry.

VVS_LstKnights_UltraVODPosterLast Knights
Dir: Kazuaki Kiriya

It’s the middle-ages. Raiden (Clive Owen) is the Commander of the 7th rank, widely known throughout the land for his fighting skills and discipline. He and the other knights are sworn to loyalty to their master. They’re well trained with the bow and arrow, and can cut down four enemies with a single sword. Their clan is headed by Milord, ruler of the Bartok lands (Morgan Freeman). Each year, the lords are summoned to the capital to pay tribute – as in bribe – to the emperor. But the gifts actually go TLKLH_D37-5869.CR2directly to a corrupt minister named Geeza Mott (Aksel Hennie: Max Manus). He’s effete, whiny, cruel and evil. You can tell because he spends more time with his black and white lapdog than with his wife. He pulls all the strings – the Emperor is just a figurehead.

TLKLH_D44-7495.CR2Bartok has had enough. He challenges Geeza but is executed for his insolence, his lands stolen and all his knights cut loose. Will Rainer and his men siege Geeza’s palace and avenge Bartok’s deat? Or will they all just give up?TLKLH_D18-725.CR2

This is an odd sort of movie. It has an amazingly diverse cast : African-American, British, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Persian… you name it. Problem is a lot of the cast doesn’t speak English… they’re basically unintelligible. Not that the lines they’re stumbling through are that important anyway. What’s interesting is that this is a Japanese Samurai movie, reset in a multi-ethnic Europe of the middle ages. Geeza Mott is the Shogun, Bartok the Daimyo, Rainer and his crew are Samurai. (Think 47 Ronin in tights and tunics.) Even the sword fights are Japanese, not European style. The fights and battle scenes – though loaded with CGI – are very well done. See it for the action, not for the dialogue.

11052541_1460114650915742_7017630456054098766_nWhile We’re Young
Dir: Noah Baumbach

Cornelia and Josh (Naomi Watts, Ben Stiller) are a childless — and decidedly unhip — couple in their 40s living in New York City in . They once had great hopes of artistic achievement, but it didn’t quite work out. Ben has been making a documentary for more than 8 years with no sign of progress. He’s a purist who wrangles daily over the essence of his subject, when he should just be finishing it. And even though Cornelia is the daughter of a famous documentary filmmaker herself, Josh is much too proud to accept advice from his father in law.

Then something changes: he meets a young couple of aspiring filmmakers seemingly by chance – they crash one of his university lectures just to talk to him. They tell him he’s their hero. Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver, Amanda Seiyfried) are just what Josh needs to regain his confidence, rejuvenate his ailing career and recesitate his marriage. He can get back in touch with his creative side. Cornelia is11026357_1454347351492472_304194366553560543_n suspicious at first, but soon is just as entranced as Josh is. They volunteer to help him with his documentary. They’re so casual, they’re not out for fame or fortune, they do it just for the art. Josh is in love.

Soon enough, they’re listening to the same 80s vinyl songs they used to laugh at. They’re attending weird native purges that involve puking. They’re hanging in crowded nightclubs with obscure bands. It’s like they were told the secret hipster handshake and given the keys to the city… of Bushwick. They adjust their wardrobes and lifestyles accordingly.

But all is not what it seems. Does the younger couple have ulterior motives?

While We’re Young is a good, light social comedy and not much more. It portrays Cornelia and Josh — a couple living in New York and working in a creative industry — as if they’d just arrived from a farm and never seen a hipster in their lives. Noah Baumbach is a very good filmmaker who happens to be dating a much younger woman (Greta Gerwig); perhaps this movie is a self-deprecating apology. He’s trying to make Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors but ends up with Meet the Fokkers. This is a formulaic, generation gap comedy.

Last Knights and While We’re Young both open today in Toronto, while Salt of the Earth opens next week. 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

Bromance vs Romance. Movies Reviewed: The November Man, Are You Here, Señoritas

Posted in Action, Colombia, comedy, Drama, Thriller, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 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.

Can bromance ever trump romance? Do BFFs really last forever? Can friendship follow courtship or loveship? This week I’m looking at three movies that explore these themes. A thriller set in Belgrade has a former spyteam turned into enemies, an art house flick about a young woman in Bogota and her friends and lovers; and an American dramedy about best buds facing big changes.

VVS_TheNovemberMan_Poster.inddThe November Man
Dir: Roger Donaldson

Devereaux and Mason (Pierce Brosnan and Australian actor Luke Bracey) are a kill team team – mentor and mentee – working at the CIA. Devereaux chooses the spots, Mason takes the shots. But something goes wrong, they have a falling out, and Devereaux retires to Switzerland. Years later, he is brought back to rescue a female operative who works for a top Moscow politician. She carries crucial information: a name. Devereaux is known for his cold and calculated mentality. He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way. But this woman is somehow different. In a tense car chase, the woman is shot, and Devereaux escapes. Turns out, she was his longtime lover. Also turns out the shooter is Mason! Now the former allies are arch-enemies, both based in Belgrade, with Mason out to kill Devereaux for the US Government. But that’s not all.

The name refers to a woman who holds secret information that could bring the Russian politician down. Only she knows all about his shady past. But the only one who knows how to find her is the secretive but beautiful Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko). She’s a French NGO worker, based in Serbia, who rescues victims of human trafficking. Devereaux has to find and hide her before a Russian assassin gets to her. He also has to deal with US congressmen and intelligence bosses, some of whom may be corrupt. And avoid Mason, the killer he once personally trained and who knows all his tricks.

Generally, The November Man is a good (if shallow) spy action/thriller. Pierce Brosnan is another cool-as-a- cucumber James Bond-type, but without the special gadgets. But there were some odd parts: for a movie supposedly dealing with female trafficking it sure shows a lot of stripper scenes, purely for audience tittilation. And I gotta say, Russia vs America spy movies just don’t have the same punch anymore. They just feel old.

VVS_AYH_theatricalPoster1Are You Here
Dir: Matthew Weiner

Steve and Ben (Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis) are best buds from schooldays. Lovers may come and go, but these two faithful friends stick with it. Steve works as a TV weatherman by day, and as a singles bar Lothario by night. In between, he’s usually with Ben in a rundown shack, smoking pot.

Ben is in a rut, still not progressing in his academic writing, and supported financially by Steve. He’s also unpredictable and unstable, prone to showing up at Steve’s TV studio looking like crazy, homeless person (which he basically is.)

But then the two of them return to their hometown in Lancaster County — Pennsylvania Dutch country — for Ben’s father’s funeral. There they have to deal with Terri, Ben’s bitter older sister (Amy Poehler.) She hates them both. Then there’s Angela (Laura Ramsey) the widow, a beautiful, young hippy in her early twenties, who lived happily with the octogenarian for five years before he kicked off. And he has a house, a store, and hundreds of acres of farmland to pass on to the next generation. Who will inherit what?

Steve has the hots for Angela… can this be love? Ben decides to move into the house and straighten himself up. He plans to confront his inner demons. But who will take care of him if Steve‘s not around? Can their bromance survive? And sister Terri thinks everyone’s plotting against her. She wants her slice of the pie – or the whole pie if she can get it.

The movie is directed by the creator of the TV show Madmen, but if you’re expecting slickness and high fashion, you’re looking at the wrong movie. It’s a bit of a mess. It’s not terrible, but it plods along as more of a social drama than the comedy it seems to be at first. Because it’s not actually funny. I think it tries to be deep and profound: Should we trade away our dreams for stability? Get rid of creativity to fit in to society? It’s trying to solve these big dilemmas… but it’s actually just a mush of meandering, unfinished storylines.

UK0yMhyfKC3Ix9n282zlvFMDR9m7t8gf2qSLBlO6o8wSenoritas
Wri/Dir: Lina Rodriguez

Alejandra (María Serrano) is a Senorita, a single woman in her twenties. She lives with her mom in Bogota, Colombia. (She’s an Amy Millam lookalike) seems to spend most of her time just hanging with friends, going to nightclubs, listening to music, and making out with guys she likes. She calls them all dudes. Sometimes she goes out shopping, or makes out in the front seat of a parked car. She floats in swimming pools, walks down long, long country lanes, and chats with her friends in a particular local dialect. And at a game of truth or dare, her friends and erstwhile lovers reveal some true feelings.

So, you might ask, where’s the plot? Well it ain’t in this movie. It’s more of an introspective look at one woman’s life. For example, one ten-minute scene has her walking down a deserted path. The camera follows her from behind. But when we hear a wolf-whistle off camera, her pace increases. We learn that despite her seemingly casual ways, she sometimes is insecure. And as a woman is never completely safe.

Take it as an introspective art house film and you won’t find it boring. It keeps my attention. There are a lot of sex scenes, dance scenes, party scenes, music scenes. But the scenes are very long, almost always in extreme close-ups. It takes place in Colombia, but it’s not full of panoramic city views, or natural vistas, that’s for sure. Just lots of close-ups… often with their backs to the camera.

November Man and I Am Here are now opening on the big screen or play-on-demand, and Senoritas starts today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 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

Acts of God. Movies reviewed: Into the Storm, Calvary PLUS TIFF Canadian Films

Posted in Action, Adventure, Catholicism, Christianity, Cultural Mining, Death, Disaster, Drama, Ireland, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2014

TIFF14 Rising Stars © Jeff Harris Sophie Desmarais, Alexandre LandryHi, 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.

The names of the Canadian films opening this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival were announced this week, and they look really good. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. From Quebec, there’s a drama about a young man in Montreal who joins the nascent FLQ in the 1960s. It’s called Corbo, directed by TIFF14 CorboMatthieu Denis. Xavier Dolan’s movies are always worth seeing. His fifth one, called, simply, Mommy, revisits the themes of his first film (J’ai tue ma mere) about a mother/son relationship and all its perils. With Anne Dorval back as the mom. And Master filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin is bringing another NFB TIFF14  Alanis Obomsawin, NFB director of Trick or Treatydoc on First Nations issues. This one, Trick or Treaty, covers the battle for treaty rights. There are many other too, including a new one from Cronenberg, a remastered film by Atom Egoyan, and movies from Jean Marc Valee, and Phillipe Felardeau, both starring Reese Witherspoon for some reason. Go to tiff.net for more info.

This week, I’m looking at two movies about The Imp and the Angels Sally de Frehn 1946brave people facing “acts of God”. One’s an American disaster-adventure about the danger brought to a family by unstoppable winds; the other’s an Irish drama about the dangers brought to a priest by an emotional loose cannon.

INTO THE STORM afficheInto the Storm
Dir: Steven Quale

On graduation day in Silverton, a single dad (Richard Armitage) and his two sons, Donnie and Trey (Max Deacon, Nathan Kress), are making a time capsule on video. 25 years from now they’ll look back in wonder — or so they think. Instead, a series of unusually powerful, super – tornadoes strike their town during the graduation ceremony, wreaking havoc in its path. Donnie is trapped with a classmate in an abandoned paper mill on the outskirts of town. (He skipped graduation to help a girl he has a crush on get some footage for her Into the Storm 1environmental film.)

Dad and Trey set out to find them but encounter another group on the way. It’s a team of storm chasers — people who make their living by pursuing tornadoes and capturing it all on video. Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a scientist, while Pete (Matt Walsh) is her boss. It’s Pete’s dream to pass through the eye of a tornado and live to tell the tale — and this is the biggest twister he’s ever seen. With the help of his tank-like car (called Titus) he treats the storm as his great white whale.

But when Dad rescues Allison from blowing away – literally! A manly man relying on the brute strength of his handgrip to overcome the tornado and save her from blowing away like a leaf — she decides to help him. They drive off to save his son; she chooses people’s lives over fame and fortune.

Into the Storm 2But can anyone beat this Grandmother of a superstorm? While there are some nice shots of huge objects bring blown away, and some wicked “flame-nadoes”, it wasn’t enough. Where are the sharks?

Terrific special effects don’t excuse the mediocre plot and script, and ho-hum acting. And it’s dripping with Tea Party subtexts: The school principal is an Obama surrogate. A good speech-maker but it’s the Paul Ryan-type Dad who can save the day. It’s also a movie about irregular weather systems that never talks about climate change. But the biggest problem is you can’t have a disaster movie that’s also an adventure flick; the two types are diametrically opposed. Disaster movies are all about sadness and braveness in the face of terrible disaster. Adventure movies are all about fun and excitement. This movie doesn’t know which way to turn. Into The Storm, while diverting, will disappear as fast as a tornado.

62996-Calvary_001Calvary
Wri/Dir: John Michael McDonagh

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a priest in a small, isolated village in Ireland. A husky bearded man in his 60s, he still wears the traditional black cassock. He’s attended by a novice priest and a Machievellian altar boy who steals bottles of sacramental wine. The movie begins in confession where a disembodied man’s voice says he was savagely raped as a child – repeatedly, over many years – by a priest. That priest is now dead, but the man declares he will kill this good priest, Father James, in his stead. And he tells him he has one week to make peace with the world, and to show up next Sunday on the beach outside town to die. Quelle Calvaire!

From there the movie follows Father James as he visits his parishioners to make amends, offer forgiveness, and maybe discover who plans to kill him. But the people’s problems are not what might be expected in small-town Ireland. There’s a woman who cheats on her husband (Chris O’Dowd) with a Senegalese mechanic. The local policeman is gay, the priest’s novice is a toady, a local lad says he wants to join the army so he can murder people, and the arrogant local millionaire tosses his money around like toilet paper.62997-Calvary_013

Father James also has a beautiful grown daughter. (Not what you think – he joined the priesthood after his wife died.) They were estranged can they get along again? Everyone knows he’s a good man, but not many of them still carries the faith like he does. He’s a combination social worker, therapist, enforcer and drinking buddy, and, well, priest. Surrounded by such unrelenting cynicism, he’s beginning to question it all, too. Does he have the strength to face his upcoming Calvary?

This is a very good movie from Ireland. It has a large cast, but each character, each part seems perfectly played. Visually, it’s fantastic, with huge, aerial shots of mammoth, grass-covered rocky plateaus and beaches. And jarring images, like a discussion inside the grocer’s freezer played against an oddly beautiful background of cow carcasses. Father James is a tough, Jesus-y character facing a troubling fate even as he tries to do good and forgive the worst sins of others. Calvary challenges our perceptions of traditional Irish life and the role of the Catholic Church there — warts and all.

Into the Storm and Calvary 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

Tricksters. Movies Reviewed: Let’s Be Cops, Magic in the Moonlight

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on August 1, 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.

Is a simple change of clothes enough to convince a casual observer you are someone you’re not? Can a thump on a table at a seance make people think you can talk with the dead?

This week I’m looking at two movies about fraudsters, tricksters, and those who want to expose them.

There’s an action/comedy about two ordinary guys in LA who disguise themselves as cops; and a comedy about a magician in the Cote d’Azur who wants to unveil a false psychic.

lets be cops affiche 1545916_864025440291520_7986492045948420855_nLet’s Be Cops
Dir: Luke Greenfield

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson (from New Girl with Zooey Deschanel) play best buds and roommates living in LA. They like karaoke and nightclubs but they get snubbed by women, disrespected by tough gangster types, and made to stand in long line-ups. They went to the same college, joined the same frat, and left Ohio with big ambitions. But O’Malley’s (Johnson) pro football career tanked before it started. Now he’s a kids’ football coach.

Damon’s character is doing a bit better – he’s following his passion: video game design. He puts together an elaborate pitch to his work team about his latest project, a police-action-type game. But they trash it before they even play with it. “You need zombies” they tell him. He goes home with his tail between his legs, lets be cops, wayans, johnson 10275539_890798457614218_681345999746128683_ocarrying the pair of police uniforms he had planned to use in his pitch.

But he finds a good use for them after all. The two of them wear the uniforms to a costume party that night. And, to their amazement, on their way home, they are mistaken for the real thing. This being LA, immediately a parade of beautiful women ogle them and then smother them with hugs and kisses, because, well, they’re cops.

They also get the respect they miss in their real lives. Strangers listen to them and do what they say. They can walk to the front of the line of any nightclub. And, at the diner they frequent, the cute waitress (Nina Dobrev) suddenly says she likes “Chang” (that’s the name on Damon’s police uniform, and the one he goes by for most of the movie). Their scam starts to escalate. Damon wants to call it quits – it’s totally against the law to impersonate a cop. But O’Malley doesn’t see it that way – he takes it all very seriously. He gets hold of a police car, and starts studying official codes and techniques on-line. Soon enough, they’re behaving like real cops.

Lets be Cops 10543517_886078598086204_5874267812085220254_oThey go doubly undercover – now they’re civilians disguised as police disguised as civilians. They become in involved with real police work, alongside local police (Rob Riggle) who take their outfits at face value. Will their plans fall apart when they face real danger, and organized crime? And will Chang’s budding love affair fall apart if his girlfriend ever finds out he’s not a cop?

I thought this movie was a lot of fun. It started as a one-joke comedy – Let’s be Cops, but it gets carried through quite nicely, turning into a good action flick along the way. Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are really funny (except for the offensive Chinese accent) keeping their characters believable without overly mugging to the camera. I liked this movie.

Magic in the Moonlight
Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 99d6670f-43c4-439a-8115-c5f4401e534cIt’s the late 1920’s (before the Great Depression). Stanley (Colin Firth) is a professional magician, touring continental Europe. He performs in a riot of chinoiserie under the stage name Wei-ling Soo. He makes elephants disappear and saws women in half. He’s also a rude and snobby egotist. So sure is he of his expertise, that he will gladly debunk any mystic he encounters. So he gladly takes up on a friend’s offer of a vacation in the south of France. Once there, he promises to expose a young psychic operating out of a villa owned by millionaire American industrialists.

But he is surprised to meet the adorable Sophie (Emma Stone), a plain-spoken and pretty young woman from Wisconsin. She doesn’t seem like a charlatan; just a simple girl who falls into momentary fogs… and comes back with uncanny visions. Even Stanley is surprised by how much she knows about him.

He still vows to expose her. But during a séance he is shocked to see what appears to be _DSF0054.RAFreal magic: a floating candle with no strings attached. How does she do it? he wonders. His beliefs are further called into question when they visit his maiden aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) at her villa in Provence.

Meanwhile, Sophie is being wooed, relentlessly, by the heir to a fortune. Brice (Hamish Linklater) plays the ukulele and croons off key to Sophie, telling her if she marries him she’ll live in luxury. He is young, handsome and loaded. The much older Stanley is already engaged to a upper-class, educated Englishwoman. And yet, despite their adversarial stance – of a psychic and a magician sworn to expose her tricks — there seems to be an attraction growing between Stanley and Sophie. And when they are caught in a rainstorm on a country road, they share an intimate DSCF9804.RAFconversation by moonlight. But can it last? And will it stand up to scrutiny?

Magic in Moonlight is just delightful. It’s the first of a long stream of annoying movies Woody Allen made in Europe that actually works. Well-written, perfectly executed, great acting, beautiful scenery and period costumes, nice music… And Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry. It’s not a deep movie with any subtle subtext, but it is a very cute romantic comedy, in the best sense of the word.

Magic in the Moonlight starts today, and Let’s Be Cops opens in Toronto on August 13th. Check your local listings. Also look out for An Honest Liar, a wonderful documentary about another magician who exposes fake psychics. It’s playing at the HotDocs theatre in a week. And Toronto’s Palestinian Film Festival has an outdoor screening and party in Christie Pits on August 8th. Go to TPFF.ca for details.

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

It Takes a Thief. Movies Reviewed: Mona Lisa is Missing, The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne, The Rover

Posted in Action, African-Americans, Art, Australia, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Italy, Movies, Thriller, Trial, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 20, 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.

Pickpockets, muggers, robbers and burglars… are people, too. Or so say these movies. This week, I’m looking at films with sympathetic portraits of thieves. There’s a car thief in Australia, a jewel thief from the US, and an art thief from Italy.

Mona Lisa is Missing Poster 2ff8bf_9878fe15b22b4418aabce26c8607bcd4.jpg_srz_244_215_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMona Lisa is Missing
Dir: Joe Medeiros

Vincenzo Perruggia is a name that lives on in infamy as the man who stole the Mona Lisa in 1912. This documentary looks at the theft with a new eye.

Peruggia is an Italian migrant in France in the early 20th century. He works as a house painter – a very dangerous job, because of the constant exposure to lead paint. Some people say it made him addle-brained. Later, he takes a job as a security guard at the Louvre in Paris. But Parisians look down on Italian labourers, calling him “macaroni” and treating him like a fool.

But he shows them. He single-handedly walks out of the museum carrying Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Giaconda – now known as the Mona Lisa – under one arm. He keeps it hidden for two years, evading the most famous detective in Paris. He is only caught when he tries to repatriate it back to Italy.

Is he an idiot? Or a genius? An Italian patriot or just in it for the money?Mona Lisa is Missing Celestina Peruggia

This documentary has a light, humorous tone, but is meticulously researched. The filmmaker goes back to the original sources – letters, police files, period photos – and even tracks down his 80-year-old daughter, Celestina. What I found most interesting is that the Mona Lisa’s current fame is, in a large part, due to the publicity generated when it was stolen. Before Peruggia, it was just one painting among many. Now, it’s The Mona Lisa.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne Red021611The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne
Dir: Kirk Marcolina, Matthew Pond

Doris Payne was born to an African-American father and a Cherokee mother in a poor, coal-mining town in West Virginia. She’s a beautiful child – too beautiful. Her dad tries to beat the prettiness right out of her. So she vows to get out of there, erase her past and create a new one.

She establishes herself as a gentle, elegant, upper-class woman. And how does she support herself? As an international jewel thief, jet-setting to London, Paris and Monte Carlo. She’s a lover, not a fighter. No one is harmed, no weapons, no hold-ups. She steals from famous stores, never individuals. She’s actually a con-artist, and when things go right, the jewellers the life and times of Doris_Payne_3don’t even know something is missing until after she’s long gone.

Her techniques are fascinating. She’s like a magician, moving the jewelry around, palming but never pocketing her prey. As long as the jewel is in her hand she can always dispose of it. She tells stories about her past adventures, like a clever escape involving a nun, a pair of scissors and a needle and thread. She’s a master of disguises.Using merely a scarf or a wig she can turn herself from a haughty aristocrat into a humble nurse in seconds.

If her life sounds like a Hollywood caper, that’s because it is – or will be. They’re developing a film about her (starring Halle Berry). The screenwriter tells part of her story. But this is a documentary about — and starring — the wanted poster Doris and Babe The Life and Crimes of Doris_Payne_2real Doris Payne. And her current life is far from glamorous.

She’s still stealing jewels, at age 80! The movie follows her – and her defense lawyer — during a trial about her latest alleged theft (she denies everything, of course.)

Will Doris ever come clean? Has she really given up that life? And what can she do without the thrill of the Steal? This is a fascinating documentary, about a strong-willed and unrepentant black woman, and her rise and fall as the world’s best jewelry thief.

_ROW8158.tifThe Rover
Dir: David Michôd

A grizzled, angry man (Guy Pearce) sits in his dusty car by the side of the road. It’s the Australian outback – mining country: vast deserts punctuated by ramshackle aluminum huts. (Not a kangaroo in sight, just menacing birds of prey.) He goes into a roadside shop to wash up. At the same time, a jeep is powering down the highway, with three men inside having it out. They’re fighting. One of them, Henry, wants to turn back to save his brother. They left him dying on the road after a shootout. The others say no. And in the scuffle, the jeep plows through a pile of roadside junk. It’s stuck. So they steal a nearby car – the one left by grizzled, angry man – and off they go.

Out comes the first guy — he wants his car back. He climbs into the stalled jeep and gets it moving again. And so begins a violent, 90-minute road movie/chase scene/shoot out. On the way, he passes your typical outback The Roverattractions: gambling dens, gun runners, an all-male brothel, a crucified man… Wait. What?!

That’s where you realize: this isn’t normal Australia. It’s some futuristic, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max Australia. Only US dollars taken here. Chinese is the language of commerce. And if you kill someone there is no police, no army there to arrest you. It’s like the old west, but without any White Hats.

On the way he meets Rey (an uglified Robert Pattinson) the brother left dying on the road. Grizzled guy would just as soon shoot him as save him, but he needs information. So he brings him to a doctor and nurses him back to life. The two of them form an unwitting pair of road buddies – the angry and bitter older man, and the younger, idealistic slow-talker. (Rey’s a hapless oakie looking for a new father figure.) Will they find the three men – and the missing car?

_ROW3868-Edit.tifThis is a chilling, eerie and extremely violent movie. It feel like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. Pearce is excellent as the nameless, hollow-hearted drifter. Pattinson (the Twilight heartthrob) is unrecognizable as Rey — and I mean that in a good sense. Even though the story makes you want to curl up and die — is that all there is? — it’s still worth seeing.

The Rover and The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. The Mona Lisa is Missing played at the Italian Contemporary Film Festival. Go to icff.ca for details.

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

Motown Movies. Films reviewed: Brick Mansions, Super Duper Alice Cooper, Only Lovers Left Alive PLUS Hot Docs

Posted in Action, Art, Cultural Mining, Detroit, documentary, Drama, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on April 25, 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.

VVS_BrickMansionsPosterThis week, I’m looking at three interesting movies with a connection to Motor City (Detroit). There’s a Hot Docs documentary about a stadium rocker; an art-house drama about a faded rocker; and an action flic about two guys caught between a rock and a hard place.

Brick Mansions

Dir: Camille Delamarre (Based on Luc Besson’s Banlieu 13)

Brick Mansions is the name of a derelict housing project in a future Detroit. The city has built a huge guarded wall around it. Why? High crime rates. The wall also blocks all the city services like schools, fire department or police. But thousands of people still live there. It’s ruled by a drug lord named Tremaine (RZA of Wu Tang fame) along with his odious henchmen, including a giant white bodyguard, Brick Mansions RZA, Bellea chubby lieutenant, and a sexy hit-woman in garters and fishnet stockings who carries a cat o’ nine tails.

The corrupt police are all paid off, so what happens in Brick Mansions stays in Brick Mansions. And just one man, Milo (David Belle), fights back. He steals Tremaine’s drugs and flushes them down the drain, to keep the block drug-free. So Tremaine kidnaps his girlfriend in retaliation. In his crusade to free her and bring Tremaine to justice, Milo kills a crooked cop.

Brick Mansions Belle Walker Courtesy VVS Still 21Then a neutron bomb is detected inside Brick Mansions, all hell breaks loose. The Mayor calls Damien, their best undercover cop (the late, Fast and Furious’ Paul Walker’s last film) and teams him up with cop-killer Milo. Can the two of them work together, stop Tremaine, rescue his girlfriend, and save the city from nuclear annihilation? And can Detroit’s corruption-ridden government be trusted?Brick Mansions Belle VVS Still27

Forget the story for a minute – the plot is not important. This movie is really about parkour. Parkour is a sport involving jumping on and off buildings, platforms, swinging and sliding on wires, spinning around poles. Sort of an acrobatic martial art, where life is one big obstacle Brick Mansions, Belle VVS, cropped photocourse. The star, David Belle, is one of that sport’s French founders, and he gets to show off his military cirque de soleil-ish prowess in scene after scene.

Brick Mansions is not meant as a great movie. It’s a “B movie”, a stoooopid movie, riddled with inconsistencies, with an ignorant take on issues like race. But I enjoyed it anyway, for the great action and fast-moving, choreographed fighting.

Super-Duper Alice Cooper: a Doc Opera

Dir: Reg Harkema

Alice Cooper was originally, the name of a group, not a man. Vince Furnier is born in Detroit, the son of a preacher man, whose family moves to Phoenix, Arizona for health reasons. By high school, he’s heavily into Salvador Dali and Beatlemania. He starts an insect-named band with his high school buddies (first the Earwigs, then the Spiders) and they start getting radio play while still teenagers. The thing is, they aren’t very good or special. Better at the spectacle than the music. They soon discover that, in LA, image is everything. They meet a girl group in Frank Zappa’s basement who help them with their makeup, cultivating a glam look. Soon enough, they’re wearing sequinned Ice-Capades Super Duper Alice Cooper Affichejumpsuits, and appearing on stage with lots of props and animals. And using a Ouija board they channel a Victorian witch named Alice Cooper (or so they claim). And that becomes the name of the group.

Next, at a rock festival in Toronto, comes the infamous chicken incident (He says didn’t actually bite off the head; it was the audience’s fault). The rest is fame and super-stardom. Furnier gradually morphs into the ever-more-outrageous and self-destructive character, Alice. Their shows become more elaborate, even as Alice Cooper’s fame grows. Eventually the group collapses, Alice goes solo, and he crashes and burns in a bubbling cauldron of eye make-up, skeletons, groupies, drugs and alcohol. This movie is a lot of fun. It manages without a single talking head. Instead, the voices of rock stars, agents and producers narrate an oral history, illustrated by countless animated still photos, period film clips and concert tapes. Very creative, ingenious, fast-moving. And it’s all tied together with silent film footage of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, the two Alice Coopers. Vince, the straight-laced preacher’s son, and Alice, the outrageous performer, both in the same body. All of this punctuated with hits like Eighteen, Schools Out, and No More Mr Guy. It’s a intensely edited documentary. I’ve never been an Alice Cooper fan, but found it super-duper to watch.

RZ6A6685.CR2Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock musician who lives in a crumbling, bombed-out mansion in downtown Detroit. He lives a languorous existence, playing the lute, listening to vinyl, and mourning the loss of culture and refinement. His only visitor is Ian (Anton Yelchin) his dealer, who brings him the good stuff and keeps his fans at bay.

His long time, on-again, off-again lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives far away, in Algiers, where she hangs out with presumed-dead cultural icons like Christopher Marlowe. She’s equally "only lovers left alive"listless, with the air of a pre-Raphaelite opium eater. But neither Adam nor Eve is addicted to drugs. It’s human blood they need – they’re vampires. But they don’t kill the “Zombies” anymore (that’s their word for muggles), they just drink plastic pouches of blood smuggled out of hospitals.

Life continues, but things are disrupted when Eve’s sexy sister suddenly shows up in Detroit. Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is noisy and selfish, and doesn’t stick to his moral guidelines. When "only lovers left alive"she sees blood, she takes it, even if it’s still in a friend’s veins. Will Adam and Eve ever be reunited? Will their love last forever? And will this movie ever end?

I have mixed feelings about this film. It has incredible night photography of faded Algiers and post-apocalyptic Detroit. Just amazing. And I could listen to the soundtrack all day. But the story is weak and the movie too slow and long. Either you buy into the conceit — that vampires are a RZ6A8434.JPGsecret nation of underground Goth hipsters, addicted to blood, not heroin – or reject it. I rejected it. It felt like a never-ending Lady of the Camellias. The whole faded rock-star/junkie as hero-vampire? Just die already.

This movie would work better as a coffee table book with an accompanying music playlist.

Only Lovers Left Alive and Brick Mansions open today: check your local listings. And Super Duper Alice Cooper – along with many other fantastic documentaries are playing now at Hot Docs. Rush tickets at daytime screenings are free for students and seniors. Go to hotdocs.ca for more info.

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

Mind Twisters. Movies reviewed: A Field in England, Divergent, Nymph()maniac (Parts 1 and 2)

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.

Brain teasers, mind-bogglers. This week I’m bringing you some real brain-twisting films. There’s a sci-fi-action-romance about a young woman caught in a futuristic caste-system determined by personality; a Euro comedy/drama about sex; And an absurdist British period piece about … I’m not quite sure what.

A Field in England Poster stacks_image_236A Field in England

Ben Wheatley

It’s 17th Century England in a field near Norwich. The civil war is raging. Three scruffy wanderers end up travelling together. They are heading toward a legendary alehouse where all their problems will be solved, all their differences will disappear. But things get complicated when O’Neal, a tall, sinister man, appears — seemingly out of nowhere — with a nasty henchman. The necromancer’s servant (one of the three travellers), tries to arrest O’Neal. But a warrant without a musket to back it up isn’t worth much in an English field. Instead, O’Neal press gangs the three men to dig for treasure. At least I think that’s the plot, but I’m not exactly sure.

People in this movie appear, disappear, die, un-die, turn into wooden posts, and drop magic mushrooms into unwatched soup pots.

Shot in beautiful black and white, with excellent contemporary experimental music, it leaves me scratching my head. Is it all just an acid trip by men wearing three-cornered hats in an historic battle reenactment? I cannot say. But it definitely belongs in the movie file labeled “WTF”.

DIVERGENTDivergent

Dir: Neil Burger

It’s Chicago a hundred years in the future. Society is divided into five castes, each with its own rules. Erudite is for the intelligent professionals who wear Wall Street suits. Abnegation is where the sympathetic and selfless helpers go — they control the government. And Dauntless is for the paramilitary – brave and aggressive.

Young Tris’s family (Shailene Woodley) is Abnegation. They wear beige, meditate, and eat whole grains. Tris only looks in the mirror for a few seconds each day. But when she attains age of majority and takes the annual test — to determine personality and faction – something strange happens. The test doesn’t work on her – it can’t assign her to a particular faction. This could mean she’s “Divergent” — someone who displays a personality that transcend a single type. And if the authorities find out, they’ll kill her.

To everyone’s surprise, she ends up joining Dauntless, trading beige burlap Divergent Theo Jamesfor black leather. She eats her first hamburger. She and the other Dauntless newbies are thrust into a world of violent, brutal competition, runaway L-trains and parkour jumping. She answers to a sadistic trainer Eric (Jai Courtney). Only her new best friends like Chris (Zoe Kravitz) help her hang on. But when she meets a Dauntless named Four (Theo James) is it love at first sight?

Divergent Kate WinsletIn order to stay in the faction she has to pass a series of tests that subject her to her worst phobias — her mind is read and recorded by a computer. Tris has to keep reminding herself: it’s not real.Will her secret be revealed?  Is Erudite, headed by Jeanine (Kate Winslet) plotting against the Abnegation faction? Is Four on her side? And will he ever understand how much Tris loves him?

Although Divergent occasionally veers into Twilight territory, with a few too many dewy-eyed moments, it mainly sticks to plot, action and great special effects. I liked it: a simple but neat concept, great special effects, and Shailene Woodley and Theo James are good as a team of romantic fighters.

nymphomaniac_mongrel_03_medium

Nymphomaniac

Dir: Lars von Trier

Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is lying half dead in a dark alley, when an elderly intellectual (Stellan Skarsgard) finds her. He takes her into his home and nurses her back to health. She says she’s a nymphomaniac. And she proceeds to tell him the story of her life;  specifically, the sexual parts.

The stories she tells are based on the pictures she sees on the wall of his room. Is Nymphomaniac 13 photo by Christian Geisnaesshe an unreliable narrator? Maybe, but her stories are fun to watch.

Her first orgasm makes her levitate and leads to a visit by the Virgin Mary. (The Whore of Babylon, says Seligman.)

Later, she intentionally loses her virginity to a man named Jerome (Shia LeBoeuf). She describes it like this:  first I lay on my back and he thrust three times. Then he turned me over and thrust five times. And here’s how Seligman responds: Three, then Five? Why that’s part of the Fibonacci number sequence!

Joe is unadulterated sex. Seligman (an asexual virgin) represents pure reason.

chapter1As a young woman, she and a friend compete to see who can pick up – and have sex with — the most men, sequentially, on a train. The winner gets a bag of candy. Seligman: Why that’s like fly fishing – you send out the lure and try to reel it in at just the right moment!

Joe describes how she dates many nameless men simultaneously, avoiding all emotional entanglement. She actually rolls dice before calling a boyfriend to decide whether to be nice, pouty, or to drop him altogether. But she discovers her game affects many people besides just the men she has sex with.

Love rears its ugly head. Jerome is back, and she falls for him hook, line and Nymphomaniac Uma Thurman & Stacy Martin photo by Christian Geisnaessinker. But are they sexually compatible?

She describes encounters with anonymous men,  a long relationship with a BDSM master (Jamie Bell),  her try at a 12-step program, and finding a protege (Mia Goth) to take her place.

This movie is much too long to describe in a short review. It’s full of cinematic quotes from Von Triers’ earlier films – his own movie scenes reenacted. He Nymphomania chapter_2_photo_by_Christian_Geisnaes_2insults critics, pundits, himself… and occasionally the audience. For example, a  scene about Joe and two (supposedly) African men dredges up hoary racial stereotypes — it’s intentionally offensive. But it’s followed by an equally long scene with Joe and Seligman debating “political correctness”. The ridiculous sex scene is Jamie_Bell_LOWreally just a straw man to make way for a long discussion.

It’s also a movie full of explicit sex and nudity: at one point there are a hundred consecutive penis pics, but mostly it’s vagina, vagina, vagina. This movie could be subtitled The Vagina Mia_Goth_LOWDialogues. The symbols are everywhere: tunnels, alleys, window curtains, sliding doors, and holes in walls. It’s a woman’s sexuality filtered through the eyes of a male director.

There is also some repulsive, graphic violence, especially in Part 2. But above all, the movie’s a comedy. And I liked it – all four and a half hours.

A Field in England is now playing, and Nymphomaniac (Parts 1 and 2 — separate tickets), and Divergent both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. The Pasolini retrospective continues at TIFF (tiff.net) and Cinefranco, Toronto’s francophone film festival, starts next week: details at cinefranco.com.

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

Pop Culture Icons. Movies reviewed: Need For Speed, Bettie Page Reveals All, Alan Partridge

Posted in Action, Breasts, Cars, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Pop Culture, Road Movie, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 6, 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.

They say as long as there’s a familiar name in a movie title people will go. Is that true? This week I’m looking at three diverse movies all based on pop-culture references. There’s an action movie based on a videogame about car racing, a documentary about a 50s pinup model, and a comedy about a (fictional) TV and radio talk show host.

NeedForSpeed_Downloads_Poster_SmallNeed for Speed

Dir: Scott Waugh

Tobey (Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) is a car lover in tiny Mt Kisco. He runs a repair garage with his mechanic buds and races his beauties on the street. He rebuilds cars for rich collectors. But then his nemesis Dino (Dominic Cooper) who stole his high school sweetheart, comes to town with a proposition: big bucks if he can beat him in a secret, three-car race. Someone ends up dying, and Tobey takes the fall and goes to jail.

Two years later, he’s free again, with the chance to enter a cross country race to Aaron Paul NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_13_LandscapeCalifornia sponsored by an elusive dot-com mogul (Michael Keaton). But he needs help. His old enemy Dino sics the police on him, so he’s racing and being chased. His pals from the garage agree to help him out; they use helicopters, race cars for back-up support, and attempt on-highway tune-ups and gas tank refills. Tobey can’t stop driving, no matter what.

Imogen Poots NeedForSpeed_682x517_CastCrew_ImogenPootsJulia (Imogen Poots), a mythical dream date for race-car-bros,  volunteers to help him win. She’s a blonde and beautiful millionairess , who’s also fast-witted and an expert driver who’s not interested in commitment.

Will Tobey’s honest small town ingenuity beat that bag-of-dicks Dino and his dirty tricks? Can he get vengeance for past crimes? And can he Dominic Cooper NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_17_Landscapeavoid all the feds on his tail?

This movie is based on a video game, and it’s filled with overt product placement. There’s a baffling five minute ad in the middle of the movie for Ford Mustangs! And it’s loaded with car porn, the camera caressing glowing fuselages and NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_01_Landscapesparkling pistons. The characters toss out lines like “Bro – whoa, look at that red Lambo!” Personally, car brands, street racing, or the video game it was based on, do nothing for me. But I enjoyed it anyway. It’s dumb with a senseless, simplistic plot, but I could still appreciate the excellent race scenes, special effects, blow ups, air-shots and wipeouts, leading to an ultimate finish line.

Bettie_Page_Reveals_All 3 Mark Mori Music Box FilmsBettie Page Reveals All

Dir: Mark Mori

Bettie Page was a 1950s pinup model from Tennessee. An underground star, she was known for her hairstyle — black with bangs — her body, her smiling good looks. Her images shout sex is nothing to be afraid of. She appears in bikinis on Florida beaches, topless in studio, dancing on a stage, holding a whip, in full bondage, and occasionally alongside wild animals. She made 16 mm films with suggestive titles like Teaserama, directed by someone actually named Bettie_Page_Reveals All Mark Mori Music Box Films6.9Irving Klaw! And she always appeared to be having a good time.

Then, suddenly, she quits, never to pose again and completely disappears from the public eye.

Flash forward to the 90s – and she shifts from subculture star to pop culture icon. People begin to dress like her, imitate her, or use her image in comic books, T-shirts and tattoos. She’s virtually ubiquitous, and everyone knows who she is. Porn stars, Roller Derby players, even pop stars — like Katie Perry — dress like her, imitate her, and on Halloween, many women (and some men) attempt to become her.

Bettie_Page_Reveals All 5This documentary reveals all. The filmmakers manage to track down Bettie Page (that’s her real name, by the way). She never appears on the screen but her voice tells about what really happened during and after her brush with fame. She’s born again, loses her marbles, gets married three times. And for much of this period she had no idea she was idolized by millions. Through it all she remains open, unapologetic and fascinated by sex. This is an amazing story of the rise, fall and rise again of a pop icon.

alan-partridge-posterAlan Partridge

Dir: Declan Lowney

Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is an obnoxious, small-town radio personality in Norwich, UK. He’s self-centred and aggressive, but also insecure, obtuse and vengeful. He has an unmistakable fake smile that’s as irritating as it is hilarious.

This character has been on British TV and radio for decades now, as a mock sportscaster, DJ and talk show host. And like any celebrity worth his salt he can talk endlessly about nothing in particular, in a way sure to make a guest squirm.

In this, his first movie, he’s back as an awful radio show host. His station gets taken over by corporate raiders who decide they need a “younger” image. He manages to hold onto his show, but his co-host Pat (Colm Steve Coogan and Colm Meaney in ALAN PARTRIDGEMeaney) gets the boot (which is partly Alan Partridge’s fault.) So what happens? Suddenly, the whole station is in lockdown and they’re all Pat’s hostages – except Alan Partridge. The police and special-ops swarm in and they decide, for some reason, that only Alan can negotiate Pat’s surrender. Hilarity ensues.

The plot isn’t really that important – just a format to let Alan Partridge be himself. And that’s all it needs. He is so, so funny. Self-unaware, attention-Steve Coogan in ALAN PARTRIDGEstarved, socially inept and excruciatingly unhip, he has just enough of that radio voice and vapid attitude to make it all seem plausible. You can see his old stuff on youtube, but it’s great to see him featured in a feature length feature. This is a silly, goofy, and really funny movie… especially if you like British TV comedy. Steve Coogan at his best, showing Alan Partridge at his worst.

Betty Page Reveals All and Alan Partridge both open today in Toronto, and Need for Speed opens next Friday; check your local listings. Also on is the great Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son. And the Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective: The Poet of Contamination plays through March. Go to tiff.net for more info.

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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