Fighting Monsters. Films Reviewed: Tickling Giants, The Void, The Zookeeper’s Wife

Posted in 1940s, Animals, Arab Spring, Cultural Mining, Horror, Human Rights, Journalism, Poland, Psychological Thriller, WWII by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

If relationship, family, work or school problems are too hard to handle, a movie is a good place to escape it. Especially if the people on the screen are fighting real monsters. This week I’m looking at movies bout people facing monsters. There’s a Polish zookeeper facing the Nazis, a political comic facing a military government, and a smalltown sheriff facing something scary… he’s just not sure what.

Tickling Giants

Dir: Sara Taksler

Bassem Youssef is a heart surgeon in Cairo. In the heady days of the Arab Spring, he heads to Tahrir Square to help support protesters as best he can. Many of them are beaten and need medical attention. But what he really wants to be is a comedian – specifically a political comic like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. Under Mubarek, outright criticism of the government was not permitted. But with the newfound freedom that came with the popular uprising, he is able to launch a TV show, known simply as the show. With a team of writers and producers it brings political satire to the masses. The show is wildly popular, but the newly elected president Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t like him one bit. So he takes him to court and loses! Baassem Youssef is a free man. Until… Morsi is overthrown in a military coup, putting General Sisi in charge of Egypt. Sisi is popular and dictators don’t like criticism. SomeoPro-Sisi protesters declare Youssef a traitor for criticizing the army, while others fear he will disrupt the relative calm the military coup brought. Is Bassem Youssef just what Egyptians need? Or is he too much, too soon?

Tickling Giants is a funny and informative documentary about how US style political humour fares in Egypt’s. Illustrated with political cartoons by a young man Andeel, it offers behind the scene look at TV production and how it influences and is affected by politicians. One criticism: it could have been a bit shorter; it doesn’t take almost two hours to tell this simple story.

The Void

Wri/Dir: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski

Daniel (Aaron Poole) is a police sheriff in a small town – a place with very little crime. So he’s startled to see a bloodied young man, under the influence, come stumbling out of the woods. But when he takes him to the nearby hospital where his wife Alison (Kathleen Munroe) is a doctor in the ER, things get strange. Patients behave erratically, and two heavily armed men show up at the gate threatening to kill the kid. Stranger still, a group of identically-dressed men appear outside the hospital brandishing large knives. They are wearing white sheets and hoods, sort of like flat-topped Klansmen, but with a mysterious triangle painted on the front their faces.

And otherworldly visions appear in Daniel’s mind, full of dark clouds roiling over a lunar landscape. Has the town been invaded by satanic worshippers, drug fiends or sex-crazed maniacs? Nobody knows for sure. It’s up to the people trapped in the hospital — including a pregnant woman, a kindly doctor (Kenneth Welsh) a young intern, and a state trooper (Art Hindle) – have to settle their differences and fight the mysterious powers before they tear each other apart.

The Zone is a horror and psychological thriller about ordinary people driven to extremes in there resistance to unknown killers. There are some fun scenes and a few shocking parts — and I loved the weird images that appear in Daniel’s head — but on the whole, it’s more unintentionally funny that genuinely scary. Some of they dialogue is atrocious, and much of the movie left me scratching my heads as to what exactly is going on. (For example, when two characters are fighting in an imaginary landscape, you don’t know which of them is hallucinating.) I kept waiting for the robot commentators from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to appear on the screen to explain it all to me.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Dir: Niki Caro

It’s 1939 in Warsaw. Husband and wife Antonina and Jan Zabinsky (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) run the zoo as if the amimals are family members. Especially Antonina. She’s a female Doctor Doolittle, who really does talk to the animals. She goes for daily runs around the park with a dromedary and sleeps with a white lion cub. And at a party, everyone sees her save an elephant calf from choking. Especially impressed is Lutz Heck, a leading German zoologist (Daniel Brühl). But when the Germans invade, their world is turned upside down. The zoo is bombed and wild animals run rampant across the city. Afterwards Lutz offers to help save the zoo animals by sending the best ones – the purest breeds – to Berlin. (Purest breeds? Sounds a bit Nazi…)  Sure enough, the next time she sees him, he’s dressed in full Nazi  regalia. He’s a high-ranked officer. And he has his eye on the beautiful Antonina. But she and Jan have a plan of their own: to help save their Jewish friends and colleagues from certain death in the Warsaw Ghetto, and help move guns to the resistance. The concoct a complex plan to smuggle people out of the ghetto inside a garbage truck holding slop to feed their pigs. (They’ve turned their beloved zoo into a pig farm.) They are hidden in plain sight, inside the Zabinsky villa even while Lutz is operating an army base on the same premises. Will there plan succeed? Or will they and their rescued friends be sent to their deaths?

Based on a true story, the Zookeeper’s Wife is a romantic drama set in war-torn Warsaw, where a zoo serves as a secret sanctuary for Jews escaping the Nazi death machine. It’s also a Holocaust rescue story… with furry animals. As such, it abbreviates familiar images that have been shown in movies so often: broken windows, Nazi banners covering public buildings, ashes falling like snowflakes, children loaded onto cattle cars… At the same time, it avoids most of the blood, death and gore — the camera always turns away. There are some devestatingly sad parts, like a young girl, Urszula (Shira Haas) who is raped by two German soldiers before she is rescued.  Still the movie didn’t show me much I haven’t already seen, aside from the zoo  — which had new, haunting images.

Good as a tearjerker.

The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Void both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Tickling Giants is playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this weekend. Go to tiff.net/human-rights-watch/.

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

Multiple stories. Films reviewed: The Debt, Wiener-Dog

Posted in Animals, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Morality, Peru, Resistance, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 8, 2016

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

Although every movie is different, most tell a single story. But there are exceptions. This week I’m looking at two new movies that tell a whole bunch of stories, stories that are somehow tied. There’s a dark comedy with a dog-related plot, and a drama related to a plot of land.

thedebtThe Debt

Dir: Barney Elliot

This movie is made up of three or four linked stories all set in Peru.

Oliver (Stephen Dorff) is a successful financier who works for a multinational bank. He specializes in vulture funds with debt bonds from distressed economies. His current goal? To corner the market in Peruvian real estate debt. He works with his idealistic Peruvian friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) to snap up debt at deep discount. But will Ricardo agree to business that might hurt his country?

Maria (Elsa Olivero) is a nurse at a Lima hospital. She’s trying to arrange an 13497864_592914470881753_5287121575246588419_ooperation for her mother who suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get surgery scheduled for her mom. Will she have to resort to illegal methods?

Meanwhile in a remote mountainous area, a slick real estate developer named Caravedo (Carlos Bardem) is promising the sky to gullible farmers. Health clinics, electricity, telephones… They are quick to sell, except one die-hard farmer named Florentino (Amiel Cayo). He is angry and will never give in.

13433132_592914790881721_5890480114800983280_oAnd on Florentino’s farm, his son, Diego (Marco Antonio Ramírez) is fascinated by the helicopters he sees. They carry wealthy investors from far away. But they also wreak havoc with his llamas, whom he depends on..

The Debt is a complex story, that brings the diverse plot together by the end. It’s done in the style of movies like Paul Haggis’s Crash – lots of interrelated characters who interact in unexpected ways. It deals with big issues – multinational economies, farmers driven from their land – but in a rather ponderous way. Lots of guilt, responsibility, betrayal, selfishness – things like that. Not my favourite type of movie, but it held my interest and I liked all the Peruvian actors.

88e6a62f-e132-4aed-af9b-694ce3559c7bWiener-Dog

Wri/Dir: Todd Solondz

This movie also has four stories, but told in a linea way, and only peripherally connected. They are all set present day New York City and the suburbs and towns around it.

Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is a young boy recovering from chemotherapy. He’s a survivor. His rich but uptight parents (Tracy Letts and Julie WD-7-20-15-125.CR2Delpy) They buy him a short haired dachshund at a puppy mill. But they don’t realize it will open a whole lot of hard-to answer questions. Like do dogs have feelings? What happens if they get sick? Why should she get spayed. — what if she wants to have kids? His mother is forced to concoct more and more outlandish stories to answer the boy’s questions.

In the second story the depressed and friendless Dawn WD-6-19-15-111.CR2Wiener (Greta Gerwig) meets her old teenage crush, the bully Brandon (Kieren Culkin). Brandon is passing through town and sees the girl he used to call Wiener Dog with her very own Wiener dog. On a whim, she agrees to join him on a mysterious road trip to Ohio. What’s in Ohio? She asks. Crystal meth. On the way they meet a band of mariachi hitchhikers and Brandon’s Down syndrome brother.

WD-7-6-15-88.CR2The third story is about Schmertz (Danny Devito) an over-the-hill scriptwriter with only a wiener dog to keep him company. He is forced to teach self-centred rich kids at a Manhattan film school. His students all write plotless scripts based on their gender-studies relevance not their stories. Where’s the What If? He always asks them. “You gotta have a what if.” But if he doesn’t come up with a what if for his life, he risks being fired.

In the final story, we see an angry depressed grandmother WD-7-8-15-144.CR2(Ellen Burstyne), cared for by another old woman. They never speak, except the occasional requests: Yvette — Kaopectate! Her new pet — wiener-dog of course – she names Cancer. It just seems appropriate. But she has to to come to terms with her own past and precarious future when a visiting granddaughter drops by.

I love Todd Solondz’s movies, even the ones that don’t quite work. They’re all fascinating, funny and deeply depressing. HeWD-6-19-15-589.CR2 creates complex, reflexive stories often with repeated plotlines. The Wiener Family has also appeared in his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse as well as Palindoromes, so if you follow his movies, it’s gratifying to see what happens to those characters. I love his painfully sad comedies, including this one. The acting is fantastic, especially Ellen Burstyn.

Wiener-dog is great.

The Debt and Wiener-dog 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

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

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

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

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

10150582_236914753098962_7581709544636208661_nTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dir: Dave Green

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

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

VmnrVO_teprometoanarquia_03_o3_8724673_1440102244I Promise you Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía)

Wri/Dir: Julio Hernández Cordón

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

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

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

10665747_557978830998084_4416378503890536433_nBurn Burn Burn

Dir: Chanya Button 

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Places. Films reviewed: Sunset Song, Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash

Posted in 1910s, Animals, Brazil, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Italy, Music, Rural, Scotland, Sex by CulturalMining.com on May 13, 2016

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

Someone asked me recently what I like about movies. I gave the usual answers: story, emotions, acting, images, themes, novelty… but she said she likes the places movies can take you, countries you otherwise wouldn’t get to visit. So this week I’m looking at dramas that take you to new places. There are celebrities in the Mediterranean, cowboys in Brazil, and farmers in northeast Scotland a century ago.

j266j4_SUNSETSONG_01_o3_8717089_1438274186Sunset Song

Dir: Terence Davies (based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon)

It’s the early 20th century in rural northeastern Scotland. Chris (Agyness Deyn) is happy and bright, a schoolgirl who lives on her family farm. She’s one with the land, but holds future ambitions of a career, maybe a schoolteacher. But her family life is less than nice. Her mother is depressed, her father (Peter Mullan) is a brute. She’s closest to her 8qKKrW_SUNSETSONG_06_o3_8716985_1438274181brother, Will, who hates their dad for good reason. Their father is quick with the whip and will bloody Will’s back for the slightest infraction, even a play on words using the name Jehovah. It’s a rough life.

RgjjVY_SUNSETSONG_05_o3_8716928_1438274178And when Mum survives an incredibly painful childbirth – it’s twins — she loses it and the family falls apart. Will leaves for greener pastures, Mum’s out of the picture, Dad has a stroke. Chris has to run the farm basically by herself, plowing the fields and harvesting the grain. She marries for love to a kind and gentle man named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). Their post-honeymoon life is idyllic until WWI. Then, suddenly, it’s loud sermons from the pulpit saying the Kaiser isQ1ggBM_SUNSETSONG_04_o3_8716871_1438274174 the antichrist and anyone who doesn’t join up to fight in the muddy trenches is both a coward and a traitor. He signs up. The next time she sees Ewan he’s been replaced by a horrible creature she doesn’t recognize.

Sunset Song is a coming-of-age novel about a strong and independent woman and the troubles she faces. But, being directed by the great Terence Davies makes it a different movie than you might expect. Time passes and scenes change like memories recalled much later. Chris is the narrator but she speaks in the third person. And as in most of his movies, characters are as likely to start singing songs  or reciting poetry or quoting biblical texts as they are to have “normal” dialogue. But it never feels odd or affected, it’s just how they talk. Sex and violence, fury and pain, anguish and celebration are all played out… by candlelight. Beautiful.

O76BgN_NEON_BULL_04_o3_8745169_1439475285Neon Bull

Wri/Dir: Gabriel Mascaro

Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a vaqueiro – literally a cowboy – in Brazil. He’s tough and swarthy with a black beard. He lives among the cows, feeding, washing and shoveling manure. His job is to tend the bulls used in a type of rodeo match called a vaquejada. Two men riding horses with a bull running between them have to take him down and cut off the end of his tail. Iremar is the one who powders the bull’s tail and pushes him into X6pO5k_NEON_BULL_05_o3_8745231_1439475286the ring. His work is rough, dirty and badly paid. But a more interesting life exists in the creative part of his mind. He sees images and fantasies which he brings to life, in the form of clothing and costumes.

He lives on the road as part of a travelling, impromptu family. There’s model-like Galega, his boss (Maeve Jinkings), her young daughter, the unfortunately-named Caca (Alyne Santana), and O76Byp_NEON_BULL_01_o3_8745069_1439475275others. In his free time he observes and collects: A mannequin he finds in a dump; surfing fonts he sees on a sign; the hair bobbed off the bulls tails at the rodeo… he keeps them all. And he sketches his designs over pictures of nude women in skin mags. He “dresses” them.

And he translates these into outfits for Galega to wear and perform in. But what outfits they are: a sexy mixture of horse and human.

And there lies the crux: they work with cows but dream about nZ64xl_NEON_BULL_02_o3_8745105_1439475276horses. Caca wants to own a horse, Galega dresses like one, and Iremar either wants to become one or have sex with one – it’s never completely clear. He certainly has erotic dreams involving horses, as well some real-life sexual interactions of a sort between man and beast. (I’ll say no more about that; you have to watch the movie yourself to understand what I’m saying.)

There’s not much of a story; see it for its images and ideas. It’s beautifully shot, alternating between explicit sex and amazing documentary-style animal scenes with the screen completely filled with white bulls. This is the kind of movie that gradually grows on you long after you’ve seen it.

A Bigger Splash PosterA Bigger Splash

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

Marrianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) lives in a secluded villa on a rocky Italian island in the Mediterranean. She’s a former rock star used to preforming in glam makeup and sequins before thousands of adoring fans. Until she lost her voice. Now she’s doted on by her much younger, faithful husband 1936314_1710870315814844_5082996276804202301_nPaul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They spend each day playing in bed or relaxing in their serene swimming pool.

Paul was introduced to Mariann by her first husband, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who felt a change was needed. Harry is a larger-than-life celebrity in his own right, a rock producer, who loves recalling his adventures with Mick Jagger. So Paul is in 12696974_1708471786054697_5272925310477745538_oawe of both Marianne and Harry. Which is why he can’t really object when Harry arrives uninvited at their doorstep with a blasé young woman named Penelope (Dakota Johnson). She lives with her mom in Connecticut but recently discovered she has a dad – Harry, of course. And here they both are.

Harry loves it. He’s the kind of guy who always needs a dramatic 12440495_1695143877387488_2734753458583916585_oentrance. And once he’s on stage he walks around naked for most of the movie. Penelope is looking for sex, and has her eye on both her putative father (she wants to see a DNA test) and Paul. Marianne is less than pleased by the interlopers. It opens up old wounds and unfinished business. She also prefers centre stage, she doesn’t want 12314676_1684142561820953_5135058809161723940_oto be a side kick in her own home. And Paul is overwhelmed by the uncomfortable situation, but keeps it to himself. Until things explode.

This movie feels like a stage play with four characters played by four great actors. They’re all fascinating but in a grotesque, hateable sort of way. As celebrities they’re used to being watched but they also need privacy. We get to watch them how they really are, and it ain’t pretty.

Some of the camera work bothered me – too show-offy and distracting — but the scenic beauty of a Mediterranean isle that’s also a landing point for asylum-seekers more than makes up for it. Luca Guadagnino also directed I Am Love in 2010;  A Bigger Splash is less stylized, more mature.

Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash, and Sunset Song all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Angry Inuk director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril at Hot Docs

Posted in Animals, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Inuit, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2016

0A7A2420Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

We’ve all seen the photos: a white-furred harp seal pup looking up at the camera with tears in its eyes, almost saying won’t you please save me from those evil, greedy hunters who want to skin me 0A7A2403alive just for my fur? Images like these have been seen worldwide and raised millions of dollars for animal rights and environmental groups, from Greenpeace to IFAW.

What is wrong with that picture? A lot, say Inuit activists, and it’s making them angry.

553283_4080Angry Inuk is a new documentary from the NFB, that’s having its world premier at Hot Doc’s documentary festival. It looks at the role of the seal hunt in Inuit culture, and the terrible consequences the well-meaning EU ban on seal products has had on Inuit lives. It also follows a group of Inuit people trying to change minds. Their stories — and her own — are told by filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

I spoke to Alethea at CIUT during Hot Docs.

 

Life and Death. Movies reviewed: Oddball, I Saw the Light

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, Adventure, Animals, Australia, C&W, Cultural Mining, Drama, Environmentalism, Kids, Movies, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on April 9, 2016

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

It’s spring film festival season in Toronto right now. There’s Cinefranco Special Quebec showing French language movies for free. Next week is the 29th annual Images festival,  with galleries and movie theatres both images.jpgpresenting art on film. And Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary festival is on later this month. But right now, starting today, is TIFF Kids, with movies from all over the 580ad56c1332d2d14ea2d62d12e141e1world for kids age 3-13, including many free screenings.

This week I’m looking at movies about life and death. There’s a real-life drama about a dog trying to keep some animals alive, and a biopic about a country and western singer trying to drink himself to death.

g5yk0j_oddball_02_o3_8961200_1456928702Oddball

Dir: Stuart McDonald

Emily (Sarah Snook) is a conservationist from a small town in Australia. It’s a tourist village filled with locals dressed in historical outfits. Emily lives with her young daughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) and her boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk) a tourism exec from New York. Her job? To keep alive a tiny flock of fairy penguins. These adorable little birds return each year to nest on a rocky island just offshore. It’s a wildlife preserve. But the penguins are threatened by an invasive, European species – foxes – that is knocking down their numbers. For theNxG8zv_oddball_06_o3_8961424_1456928765 island to remain a sanctuary, free of development, it has to have at least ten little penguins.

So they set up a watchman with a tranquilizer gun to stop the foxes, and build special boxes for the penguins to nest in. But still the numbers decrease. What can they do to save them?

ElyP3W_oddball_05_o3_8961362_1456928748Enter Olivia’s Grandpa (Shane Jacobson) and his dog Oddball. Swampy is a husky, bearded chicken farmer, given to frank talk and wild schemes. Oddball is a furry white dog who keeps the foxes out of Swampy’s chicken coops. Olivia adores her grandpa and his dog. Emily does too, but finds them a bit if a nuisance. Bradley can’t stand the dog. When Oddball runs rampant through the town, all hell breaks loose. He messes up an important event and upsets the apple cart. Literally. The town bigwigs are furious and banish Oddball to the farm 8qg9Jr_oddball_03_o3_8961241_1456928717forever.

But when Swampy notices how kind Oddball is to a penguin he saves, he and Olivia hatch a secret plan: Oddball becomes the official Penguin Guard on the rocky island. But they mustn’t let the bad guys who want to develop the island into a tourist trap – know what they’re doing. Can they save the penguins, outsmart the townfolk and preserve the sanctuary?

This is a cute movie based on a true story. It’s full of fair dinkum Aussie culture. And it avoids most of the pitfalls of kids movies: it’s not too violent or scary, no talking dogs, no princesses, nothing supernatural, and no commercial tie-ups. The only thing this movie is selling is conservationism.

db527156-7641-4c3b-8acf-64302690018bI Saw the Light

Wri/Dir: Marc Abraham

It’s 1944, in Andalusia, Alabama. Hank and Audrey are young musicians madly in love. Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) is pretty as a picture with her doe eyes and auburn hair. Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) is skinny and tall with jug ears. They’re getting married on the sly, with no wedding, no preacher, no guests. They hope to be famous someday, but for now they still live with Hank’s single mom, Lillie (Cherry Jones). She’s a classic stage mother chauffeuring her son to shows for 10 years now. 4fbd6615-aef7-49f6-a24a-2e1f61302ab4 Her Hank can do no wrong, but that Audrey – she could be trouble.

Hank and his band — guitar, bass, fiddle and steel — perform their hillbilly tunes on local radio each morning and at a bar at night. Some people like the sad songs he writes, but it doesn’t stop the hecklers and fighters from making his life miserable. One man nearly breaks his back in an unprovoked barroom brawl. So Hank shows up drunk as a skunk at most gigs. Alcohol eases his pain. His mom keeps him happily inebriated dropping bottles of hooch into his coat pockets, and Audrey doesn’t like it one bit. She thinks they’d be famous by now if he weren’t such a lush. And when he drops her from his radio show – her screechy voice is unpopular — things get dicey between them.

1S5B3346.JPGThough he’s a prolific songwriter, churning out hits by the dozen, he wants to be known as a performer. His ultimate goal? To join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

I Saw the Light follows Hank Williams’ quick rise to fame, cut short by a heart attack at age 29. Based on a tell-all biography, the movie concentrates on his problems at home and his troubles at work. So we get to see his fights with his wife, his extramarital affairs, his alcoholism, his back pain and his 79f73698-fa5a-44b4-854a-e084b4315d1daddiction to painkillers. At work we’re privy to the back room deals of the country music industry, with his agent/manager Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) as our guide and sometime narrator. The question is — why? His agent is boring. And his home life is depressing. It’s all very sordid and sad with hardly any good moments to relieve his relentless funk. I’m not saying the movie’s boring, just not fun to watch. We can ogle Hank’s hard times from afar, but we never get to see into his heart or share his passion.

The one redeeming factor is Hank Williams’ music. Something about his songs — both the sad tunes and the upbeat ones – always brings a tear to my eye.

I Saw the Light opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Oddball is the opening night movie for TIFF Kids. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks to director Mariano Barroso about his new film All The Women at Toronto’s EU Film Festival

Posted in Animals, comedy, Psychology, Road Movie, Romance, Sex, Spain by CulturalMining.com on November 21, 2014

unnamedNacho is a cattle vet in his 40s in present-day Spain. He inseminates the cows at his father-in-law’s  ranch. Life is dull. So when he hears of a plan involving rustling some cows and selling them across the border in Portugal, he jumps at the chance. He doesn’t like his wife’s father and could use the extra cash. But something goes wrong, that could wind up with him in jail. Nacho needs help and money. So he turns for advice to the women in his life — all the women.

All The Women, (Todas las Mujeres) is also the name of a new comedy/drama.  Adapted from a Spanish TV series, the movie  is a collection of short scenes of Nacho talking with the women in  his life: his wife, his mother, a lover, an ex-girlfriend,  his sister-in-law and a psychiatrist. This movie’s a big hit in Spain and won a Goya prize — the Spain’s Oscars.

I spoke with Spanish director Mariano Barroso in Madrid by telephone. He talks about Nacho’s character– both mean and loveable,  reactions to the movie by All The Women EU film fest Spainwomen and men at festivals around the world, what he changed from the TV,  why this movie is like an “internal” road movies, the nature of  the dialogue, the “cruelty” of the script, the most difficult female character to portray, the film’s rural setting, his cinematic influences (Coppola, Scorcese), theatrical influences (Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill) and the director’s visit to Toronto.

His film ALL THE WOMEN is having its Toronto debut this Saturday at 6 pm, at Toronto’s EU Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

Daniel Garber talks with Ingrid Veninger about her new film The Animal Project

Posted in Acting, Animals, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Movies, Music, Pop Culture, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 6, 2014

Ingrid Veninger The Animal Project photo © Daniel GarberHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Some movie actors say they’re just meat puppets, mouthing lines and showing off their faces and bodies before a camera. It’s just tits, ass, face and voice. But what if their faces, bodies and voices are completely covered by giant masks and furry animal costumes? Is that even acting?

Well, a new movie about acting students asks just that question. It’s a comedy/ drama called The Animal Project and it opens today in Toronto. It’s directed by Toronto filmmaker Ingrid Veninger known for her experimental but totally 2 Ingrid Veninger The Animal Project photo © Daniel Garberaccessible films — movies like Modra and I am a good person/I am a bad person — made on shoestring budgets. These are movies that straddle the line between fiction and documentary.

I spoke with Ingrid Veninger at the Spoke Club about The Animal Project, actors, dreams, the importance of costumes, line-trading, colour-blind casting, meta-stories, amateurs vs professionals, spontaneity, impromptu scenes… and what she would do with an unlimited budget.

 

Back to the Future? Films Reviewed: The Visitor, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Toronto Ice Storm 2013Hi, 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.

I’m taping this a week in advance, during the Toronto Ice Storm, when the power’s still off, the sidewalks still icy and Rob Ford is still mayor. But who knows what it will be like by the time you’re listening to this. Back to the future? Fittingly, I’m looking at a couple oddball fantasy movies — a remake and a rerelease — both pointless but watchable froth to bring in the new year. The remake is an American comedy about a day-dreaming adult, the rerelease an Italian horror movie (from the 1970’s) about a brat with secret powers.

The Visitor fangoria Films We LikeThe Visitor

Dir: Giulio Paradisi

Presented by Drafthouse Films and Fangoria

Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) is a modern woman who values her freedom. She lives in a mansion in Atlanta with her sweet little daughter Katy (Paige Conner) and Katy’s pet bird. She’s being wooed by Raymond (Lance Henrickson) a slick-but-secretive basketball promoter. What she doesn’t realize is that Raymond reports to a cabal of identically dressed businessmen who are up to no good. They just want her offspring. You see, Barbara has special DNA and Katy has supernatural powers. If the cabal can pull off an alien abduction Barbara will reproduce with a special superbaby (as if her one kid isn’t trouble enough!)

Katy is actually a foul mouthed brat. She uses her powers for selfish reasons – Visitor2puting the kybosh on other kids she goes skating or does gymnastics with.  On her birthday, Katy’s gift turns into a handgun, which shoots Barbara, rendering her paraplegic.

Meanwhile, a wise old man with a white beard and a beige leisure suit (John Huston) is tracking Katy, too. He travels with a retinue of kids dressed in white. These silent, baldheaded teenagers are his disciples. You can tell he’s important because whenever he appears the theme music starts up again as he walks down a futuristic-looking escalator. And when a detective (investigates her birthday shooting she sends her pet bird to attack him.

Who will triumph? The satanic businessmen-aliens? Or the benevolent robe-wearing superman-like aliens? And will anyone stop spoiling that evil kid?

Visitor3This movie exists in its own bizarro-world, circa 1979. Shelley Winters plays Barabara’s intuitive housemaid singing Mama’s little baby loves shortening bread as she spies on Katy. Sam Peckinpah – the director of infamously violent movies (like Strawdogs and the Wild Bunch) — is her gynaecologist!

This is a very trippy, very strange movie. It has lots of horribly dated and vaguely racist shtick, and the story makes no sense whatsoever. But it still feels cool to watch: filled with fantastic dated special effects: a house of mirrors, a swarm of birds, Barbara insanely driving her electric wheelchair in endless circles. It climaxes with a bug-eyed John Huston having his Close Encounters moment with the shooting stars.

Total kitsch, but funny.

Mitty_PosterThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Dir: Ben Stiller

Walter (Ben Stiller) is a milquetoast mama’s boy and a longtime employee of Life Magazine. He lives vicariously through the exciting photos he processes in a windowless basement room (he’s in charge of “negative assets” — photo negatives, that is). Instead of a pocket-protector he wears a bad windbreaker. In his frequent daydreams and fantasies, he sees himself as an international adventurer, a “real man” who will stand up to any bully. But in reality he’s lonely, middle-aged and single. He longs for a relationship with a new employee, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), but can’t seem to connect with her, even on an on-line dating site.

And now he faces a crisis. Life Magazine is folding, except on-line. A douche-y young executive (Adam Scott) is brought in to close it down, and makes Walter into the poster boy for unwanted employees. But when a negative — the cover photo of the final issue — goes missing, Walter takes it upon himself to track it down, wherever it may be. He embarks on a journey by plane, helicopter, boat, secret life of walter mittyskateboard, that takes him up mountains, across shark-filled seas, and past erupting volcanoes, all just to find the missing photo.

Will he find the picture? Will he find himself? And will his journey impress his crush Cheryl?

While the movie is filled with breathtaking scenery, it has little else to recommend it. It’s not that funny, interesting or original (the James Thurber novel is more whimsical and the Danny Kaye musical — 1947 — is more clever). Ben Stiller’s first attempt at Secret Life of Walter Mitty ben stillerdirecting fails to direct himself. He underplays it just when he should be hamming it up. His character comes across as flat, dull and pointless. Shirley MacClaine and Catherine Hahn are fun as his mother and sister but are rarely seen.

And the use of egregious product placement within the plot itself — a certain pizza chain, a cinnamon bun — is as embarrassing as it is flagrant. (Was he that desperate for funding?) It’s not that the Secret Life of Walter Mitty is terrible. It’s totally watchable, especially stunning footage of Icelandic moonscapes. It’s just… disappointing.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens on Christmas Day and The Visitor opens on Dec 30th for a three-day run 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

Daniel Garber talks to Zack Young about William Kurelek’s: THE MAZE playing at Toronto’s Rendezvous With Madness

Posted in Animals, Animation, Art, Art Therapy, Canada, Cultural Mining, Depression, documentary, Dreams, Psychology, UK, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 11, 2012

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

Most Canadians have heard of the beloved artist and illustrator William Kurelek, especially known for his winter views, with kids playing on the lonely, windswept prairies. But a film — first shot in the 1960’s — shows a lesser-known aspect of the artist’s work and life. This film — called WILLIAM KURELEK’S THE MAZE (playing at the 2012 Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival) — is a biographical discussion and exploration of one of his paintings, a fantastical, almost psychedelic view of his mental state at the time he created it. The long version of this film was never finished and the footage believed to be lost.

Now, more than 40 years later, Nick and Zack Young — the sons of the original film’s co-director, Robert M Young — have put the pieces back together and added new material and music to release a finished version.

In this interview (by telephone from Los Angeles) The Maze’s co-producer, musician and filmmaker Zack Young, talks about Kurelek, his troubled relationship with his family, the film’s genesis, the reasons it was made, what became of it, and more…

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