Made for the Big Screen. Films reviewed: Suburbicon, Human Flow, Faces Places

Posted in 1950s, Anthropology, Art, Clash of Cultures, Crime, documentary, France, Migrants, Refugees, Rural, Suburbs, War by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2017

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

Do you find it hard to keep up with all these Fall Film Festivals? Here’s some coming in November whose names are nearly self-explanatory: EstDocs shows documentaries from Estonia – This year is Estonia’s 100th anniversary since it first declared itself a republic. ReelAsian is one of Toronto’s biggest festivals, showing features from East and South Asia and their diasporas. And guess what Black Star shows? It’s a curated series of classics at TIFF featuring black movie stars: Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones, Sidney Poitier in In The Heat of the Night, and Denzel Washington in Malcolm X.

This week I’m looking at some movies — a thriller and two art documentaries – with strong visual elements that deserve to be seen on the big screen. These films are about migrating across continents, driving across France… or just staying put in the suburbs,

Suburbicon

Dir: George Clooney

It’s the late 50s in a cookie-cutter suburb. Nicky (Noah Jupe) is a twelve year old boy who lives with his mom and dad in a middleclass, white, Episcopalian home. His father, Mr Gardner (Matt Damon) works at a middle management office job, while his mom (Julianne Moore) stays at home. She uses a wheelchair to get around since she was almost killed in a car accident a year earlier. Her sister (also played by Juliane Moore) helps out around the house. Life is bland, suburban and normal.

Then two big things happen.

First, a middle class black family moves into the house behind theirs. This makes Nicky happy because they have a son his age– someone he can play baseball with. His all-white neighbours, though, didn’t like it one bit, and try to intimidate them into moving away. The second thing is a home invasion by a pair of lowlife criminals. They tie up the family to chairs at the dinner table and knock them out with ether. And when Nicky wakes up, his mom is dead and the killers are gone. Stranger still, his aunt quickly moves in to take her place and dyes her hair to look exactly like his real mom. What’s going on?

Then things get worse. White violence scalates against their new black neighbours escalates. A detective visits Gardner at his office investigating his wife’s murder. He’s suspicious. So is an insurance investigator. Then the killers themselves show up again making new demands. What do they want from him? When Nicky catches his Dad and his fake-mom in a compromising position on the pingpong table he realizes something is very wrong.

Suburbicon is a zany — but violent – mystery/thriller that looks at the dark side of a 1950s suburb, as seen through the eyes of a little boy. It also deals with segregation, but that’s really just a subplot — an attempt to give it relevance. It’s written by Joel and Ethan Coen, with the usual over-the-top violence and absurdist comedy, but it doesn’t feel like a Coen Brothers movie. This is George Clooney’s work. Aesthetically, it’s amazing, with incredible art direction that brings to life a stylized version of suburban America.

It’s a fun story, but that’s all it is — entertaining fluff.

Human Flow

Dir: Ai Weiwei

Millions of people around the world are housed temporarily in makeshift shelters. These refugees flee their homes or villages in fear for their lives. Many more are migrating across borders looking for a place to call home, now that war or famine or poverty has made their previous homes uninhabitable. This human flow, these crowds of people risk their lives qs they walk through deserts, through fields and cities, crossing oceans in leaky boats, as they search for sanctuary.

This movie follows refugees and migrants around the world: Rohingya in Bangladesh, Syrians walking through Europe, central Americans climbing those walls at the US/Mexican border. It takes us to Gaza, Kenya, Afghanistan, Turkey and Hungary, looking at how these people fare in unwelcoming environs.

Human Flow is huge, epic in scope and very long for a documentary – almost 2 ½ hours. It takes you to different locations without any narrative or order, punctuated with poetic quotes and info scrolling across the screen. There are some exciting parts — like the rescue of migrants in boats on the Mediterranean – but much of the film has a constant “flow”, just drifting to scene after scene. Ai Weiwei is primarily an artist so the filming is gorgeous and grandiose. It uses drone shots looking down from way, way up in the air where refugee camps look like tiny white pills arranged in neat rows. Then it zooms down, until you gradually see what looks like ants and then finally, real people with faces. Human Flow is visually stunning and informative.

I just wish it were an hour shorter.

Faces Places (Visages Villages)

Wri/Dir: Agnes Varda and JR

Agnes Varda is the Belgian-born artist and filmmaker who rose to fame in the French New Wave. JR is a contemporary artist known for his postering. He plasters his work — giant-sized, black and white paper photos – onto outdoor walls. Together they travel across France taking pictures of ordinary people they meet on their way: a coal miners daughter, a waitress, a farmer, and a woman who raises goats. They also pay homage to important figures from Agnes’s past: a man who modeled for her on the beach, the grave of photographer Cartier-Bressson, and Jean-Luc Godard’s home.

They make strange pair. Agnes is short, with a pageboy haircut, her white hair partly dyed with a red halo around the fringe. She’s 88. JR is tall and lanky. He won’t reveal his real name and keeps his face disguised with a fedora and dark glasses. He’s 33. They travel in JR’s little truck that has the image of a camera lens on the side. It functions as a photobooth that prints out the huge paper photos he take. And Agnes films it all, recording the process and people’s honest reactions to JRs art. The posters might wash off of walls by the next high tide , but they will remain longer on film.

Faces Places is a delightful personal documentary about art and photography, both still and in motion.  It shows us the transience of people and images.

Human Flow is now playing, and Suburbicon and Faces, Places 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 director Simon Stadler about Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Clash of Cultures, documentary, Germany, Travel by CulturalMining.com on December 25, 2016

14124088_1073052289410123_769607674_oHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

The Ju/’Hoansi are a people living in the Kalahari desert for millennia. They feed themselves as hunters and gatherers with minimal contact with outside groups. But not so long ago, hunting wild animals in the bush was banned in Namibia (in Southwest Africa.) Deprived of their livelihood, they were forced to turn to tourism to earn money selling handicrafts and posing for pictures. And the white tourists – known as ghostpeople – flocked in from all over. Later, some members of the village were shown other parts of Namibia, and four of them taken to Europe, a land filled with ghosts.

Ghostland: The View of the Ju/’Hoansi is a new feature documentary that ghostland5follows the four as they discover Europe, teach people there how to live as they do, and carry some of the wealth and technology they encounter back home to their families in the Kalahari. It is directed by Simon Stadler, a prizewinning filmmaker and known for his background in anthropology. I spoke with Simon in Germany by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM studio.

The film opens on Christmas Day at Toronto’s Hot Docs cinema.

 

 

Religion in remote places. Films reviewed: The Witch, the Club, Embrace of the Serpent

Posted in Anthropology, Catholicism, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Dreams, Indigenous, Movies, Mysticism, Supernatural, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 19, 2016

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

Religion can take a strange turn in remote places; this week I’m looking at three such movies. There are defrocked priests in a tiny fishing town in Chile, a shaman in the Columbian rainforest, and a preacher’s family in the woods near Salem village.

12357191_658718044294625_522435059894350027_oThe Witch
Dir: Robert Eggers

“A New England Folktale.”

It’s the 1630s in the New England colonies. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is a firebrand preacher in Salem Village. He doesn’t like the way things are going there, with all the suspicion, accusations and trials about witchcraft. So he packs up his wife and kids and settles in a clearing near the woods. But witchcraft may have followed them there.

It starts with little things. A wild boar destroying crops and the farm animals behaving in a strange way. Pretty teen Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is annoyed by the bratty little twins – they look like devilish imps. So to scare them she pretends to be a witch. But her brother takes it all very seriously. He goes looking for an old witch in the woods. And now he’s gone.xGjG7n_witch_01_o3_8778312_1439860966

Caleb is baffled by the events, but goaded on by his shrewish, pregnant wife, he looks deeper into the troubles. What does that satanic goat want? What’s happening to the milk cow? And is there a devil’s child on its way? Are there witches in the woods? Is Thomasin one of them? Or is it all just paranoia brought on by their isolation?

This is not your average horror movie. It’s an art house flic that’s more strange and creepy than scary. The images are spooky but beautiful/grotesque, and the music is great. Apparently the script is based on actual diaries from that era. So the dialogue is full of thees and thous… but don’t expect Shakespeare.  Just first-hand accounts of witchery 400 years ago.

The_Club_-_4The Club
Dir: Pablo Larraín

Four priests and a nun live in a house together in La Boca, a remote fishing village in Chile. The men are there by order of the Vatican in penance for their suspected crimes and misdemeaners. Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers: No) is their de facto jailer. But in fact they live comfortable lives. The gamble, they drink, they cuss. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro: Desde allá, No) even has a hobby:  a greyhound he bets on at dog races.

But then something happens. A new priest arrives at their sanctuary, pursued by a strange young man named Sandokan (Roberto Farías).

Sandokan parks himself by their front gate and begins reciting things in a sing-song voice. He tells in graphic detail all the horrible sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy by a Catholic priest. This leads to a shocking incident.

The Vatican sends an investigator – with a handful The_Club_-_6of secret files – in the person of Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso). Garcia is a hard-ass Jesuit stickler who demands the truth from the priests. This is not a spa, he says. They must confess everything.

But the priests and the nun are no pushovers. So it becomes a tug of warThe_Club_-_5 between the stubborn but suspect priests, and their powerful interloper. What are their secrets? Which of them is really guilty? And what will become of the mentally damaged Sandokan?

The Club is another excellent – but disturbing — movie from the great Chilean director who brought us “No”. He uses many actors from his previous films. This one’s a dark comedy but with a very serious undertone about the intersection of politics and religion, crime and punishment.

EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_01_o3_8681619_1439859054Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Dir: Ciro Guerra

It’s the early 20th Century. Theo Koch-Grunberg is a German Ethnologist living among the indigenous peoples of the northern Amazon rainforest. Theo (Jan Bijvoet: Borgman) is scraggly-looking man with a bony face and a long white beard who speaks the local language. He’s trying to find a shaman to show him the way to find a rare flower with mystical and medicinal properties. So with the help pf his student Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) he turns to Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) of the Arekuna nation to be his guide. Karamakate is a strong proud man who is one of the last of his people still living free in the traditional way. He walks through the forest basically naked except for a Embrace of the Serpentceremonial necklace. He carries no possessions. Everything he needs — the history, laws, medicine, geography, and stories of his people – are in his head. And he imposes strict rules that Theo has to follow if he wants Karamakate to lead him in canoe and on foot to the secret plant. He must starve himself in order to experience its power.

Flash forward half a century. Another foreign ethnographer, Evan (Brionne Davis) is back on the same path with the same goal: find pgBEVm_EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_04_o3_8681707_1439859084that flower! And he turns again to a much older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) to guide him. But Karamakate now says he’s forgotten everything.

The movie jumps back and forth between the two journeys, 40 years apart. And what they see and experience is amazing, stunning, frightening and spectacular. There are missionaries who dress up indigenous kids as altar boys and forbid them to speak their own language (shades of Canada’s residential schools.) Adults are turned into slaves to fuel the short-lived Amazon rubber boom in Manaus. And the jungle is full of false messiahs, drug addicts, jaguars and boas, marching soldiers and fleeing crowds… They see it all.

The whole movie is shot in some of the most spectacular black and white footage you’ve ever seen. This is an amazingly breathtaking film. It’s emotional, tragic, absurd and realistic. It’s based on the notebooks of those two explorers, which contain some of the only recorded records of indigenous people of the North Amazon. I recommend this movie

The Club, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent 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.

Love without Marriage. Movies reviewed: Auf das Leben! To Life!, Sailing a Sinking Sea, Far From the Madding Crowd

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Germany, Romance, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on May 1, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage … right? This week I’m looking at three movies about love and affection that may not lead to marriage. There’s a romance set in Victorian England about a strong-willed woman who doesn’t want to jump into marriage; a documentary – at Hot Docs — about a seafaring people in Southeast Asia who believe in mermaids, not wedding ceremonies; and a German drama – playing at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival – about an older woman who has lost her will to live. Ruth ( Hannelore Elsner ) und Jonas ( Max Riemelt ) schauen ihren alten Film

Auf das Leben! To Life! Dir: Uwe Janson

Ruth Weintraub (Hannelore Elsner) is a retired cabaret singer in Germany who now repairs musical instruments. Once a popular Yiddish singer in the 70s, something terrible happened, and now she’s a lonely woman with no friends or family. She reaches rock bottom when she’s forcibly relocated from her apartment of 30 years. So she’s shocked to see the young labourer packing up her stuff is a doppelganger for a lost love from her distant past. Johan (Max Riemelt) lives out of an old VW bus, picking up odd jobs. His only release is a daily run through the park. Clearly, he’s running away from something, but won’t say what. When he saves her from suicide and loses his bus in the process they are forced together. While Ruth harold-and-maude-movie-poster-1971-1020464060is locked up in a mental ward, Johan is watching old film reels he finds in her apartment, which gradually reveal her past. This is a nice, low-key German portrayal of an unusual pair of friends. While there’s a sweet, younger/older bond, don’t expect a new Harold and Maude. It’s simple, not quirky, and the characters are endearing, not complex. But I enjoyed it as a good TV drama, including the bouncy, passionate singing by Sharon Brauner as the young Ruth. Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_3

Sailing a Sinking Sea Dir: Olivia Wyatt

When the tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in 2004, over 200,000 people in Southeast Asia were swept away in a just a few minutes. But one group, the Moken people, who live on the Andaman sea between Thailand and Burma managed to survive almost unharmed. The Moken say they have no last names, don’t keep track of age and don’t use numbers. They are born on boats, have sex with mermaids, and can sing to the fish. Ghosts don’t scare them but monkeys do. They won’t kill Sea Cows, because they are too close to humans, but aren’t past making them cry to collect their tears for love potions. Marriage means a woman can grow breasts and a man Sailing_A_Sinking_Sea_1builds a boat; no wedding or special ceremony, they just move in together. This is an amazing, delightful documentary, its stories and songs told entirely in their language. Filled with gorgeous, Nemo-like underwater scenes of men hunting with spears deep in the water with women overhead on the boats. 7472830_max

Far From the Madding Crowd Dir: Thomas Vinterberg (based on Thomas Hardy’s novel)

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is a free spirit. She rides horses lying on her back. She’s well-educated but penniless since her parents died and lives in a little farmhouse in 19th century Dorset, England. Her nearest neighbour, farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), is plain-spoken but honest and loyal. He’s a young man with a flock of sheep and is heading for a prosperous future. Will you marry me? he asks her. She cannot. Soon after, there’s a reversal of fortune. He loses his farm while she inherits a manor and the huge country estate that surrounds it. She decides to manage it herself – unheard of for a woman. She meets resistance selling her crop – the men at the exchange won’t even acknowledge her. But the way she handles herself catches the eye of Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a very rich and 7472831_maxeligible bachelor. He has turned all the other women away, but this one intrigues him. Many years her senior, he can still carry a tune with the best of them. Their two farms put together would make a fine plot of land. And passing through town is the dashing, mustachioed Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), a sergeant in Queen Victoria’s army. Brash and impulsive, he dresses like a Mountie, complete with redcoat, sword and riding crop. He was left waiting at the altar by the love of his life, so he’s on the lookout for someone new. And stalwart 7472829_maxGabriel Oak, her erstwhile suitor, is now her employee. He’d still marry her in a minute. What to do? What to do? This is a wonderful, classic romance about a woman controlling her own fate. The cast is amazing – especially Flemish actor Christian Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) as Bathsheba. Danish director Vinterberg (The Hunt) presents it all as a straightforward record of life in the lush English countryside (far from the city’s madding crowd.) It takes a leisurely pace, and is heavy on the cultural details… but is never boring. And now that Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters have been done to death (complete with zombies and sea monsters) are we looking at a Thomas Hardy boom?

Far from the Madding Crowd opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. You can find Sailing a Sinking Sea at hotdocs.ca; and Auf Das Leben! To Life! is at tjff.com.

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 anthropologist/filmmaker Niobe Thompson about his three-part documentary The Great Human Odyssey on CBC TV

Posted in Anthropology, Cultural Mining, Disease, documentary, Evolution, Migrants, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 13, 2015

bJGwTDZvDCA_KinMwSXkYoC-SnM1haVkpAaaO7sttjoHuman’s are a strange species. We stand up, we cook our food, we talk and we remember.

Our bodies aren’t covered in thick fur, and we don’t have sharp teeth or claws. And yet we aren’t extinct. We live on every continent.

How come we’re alive when stronger hominids aren’t? How did a tropical species come to dominate cold climates? What kept us alive for 200,000 years in this Great Human Odyssey?

The Great Human Odyssey is also the name of a spectacular new three- part series from clearwater documentary that explores our species Homo sapiens and what sets us apart.

The series was written, directed and narrated by Canadian anthropologist-turned-filmmaker WQeSkYDsF4FI3LoSoY3UYx-VH3oS32OD601_3yEyfskNiobe Thompson. Thompson grew up in Wabasca, Northern Alberta, where he worked fighting forest fires. Later, he travelled the world, getting his PhD in social anthropology at Cambridge. He went on to make Gemini Award-wining documentaries, and The Great Human Odyssey is the most recent. It premiered on CBC’s the Nature of Things. I spoke to Niobe by telephone from Edmonton, Alberta about hominids, disease, reindeer, Neanderthal sex, evolution, coexistence, Papua New Guinea, Siberia, the Kalahari desert, genetic legacies… and more!

Daniel Garber talks to Andrew Gregg about his documentary THE NORSE: AN ARCTIC MYSTERY

Posted in Anthropology, Canada, CBC, Denmark, documentary, Dorset, Indigenous, Nanook, Norse, Nunavut, Scandinavia, TV, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on November 22, 2012

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

I grew up thinking in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and that he was the first European to make contact with people in the Americas. But evidence uncovered by archaeologist Pat Sutherland suggests that contact began much, much earlier. A new documentary shows that first contact was not by the Spanish in the Caribean but between Northern Europeans and the indegenous people dwelling in Canada’s North. THE NORSE: An Arctic Mystery is playing on CBC’s The Nature of Things on November 22.

In this interview the director, writer and producer ANDREW GREGG tells me about the unknown history of the Norse in Canada, where they came from, what they did, how long they stayed, and what is the evidence that proves this. He also talks about the politics likely behind the strange dismissal of the noted archaeologist from Canada’s Museum of Civilization.

October 26, 2012. Halloween Costumes and Disguises. Movies Reviewed: Cloud Atlas, Fun Size

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.

Hallowe’en is here. Traditionally, it’s a time of scariness, when the undead walk the earth, and lost souls are the ones in charge after the witching hour. But Hallowe’en has changed. Now it’s more about dressing up in funny costumes, going to wild parties and eating bags full of candy.

So this week, instead if my usual scary hallowe’en pics, I’m talking about two movies about dressing up: one is about teenagers who dress in funny costumes at a Hallowe’en party; the other about actors who dress up in funny costumes to tell a story.

Cloud Atlas

Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Based on the novel by David Mitchell

When Cloud Atlas had its world premier at TIFF, I thought it was going to be awful – it has all the hallmarks of shameless Oscar-bait (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant) and bad movies (multiple directors). But it was actually surprisingly interesting (though completely confusing). It jumps back and forth among six completely unrelated genres and just barely-related stories, ranging from historical epic, a period drama, a political thriller, contemporary comedy, and two futuristic space stories. Brace yourself, and let me try to explain them without any spoilers:

A 19th century American is in the South Pacific to broker a deal, but is forced to confront a stowaway slave as he sails home; a young, gay composer with a hidden past in 1930s England confronts a famous composer who may be stealing his music; a black, female investigative journalist in San Francisco in the 1970s wants to uncover a nuclear energy scandal; a present-day publisher finds himself a prisoner overnight, locked up in an old folk’s home; identical-looking female cyborg slaves foment a revolution in neo-Seoul, a futuristic Korea 200 years in the future; and a future world where people in Star Trek jump suits try to communicate with cave men speaking unaccented pidgin English like Jar-Jar Binks.

Did you get all that? No, I didn’t think so.

What’s really interesting is that the same actors play multiple roles, changing race, age, and gender from story to story. So you have famous actors in unrecognizable bit parts in one segment who star as the main character in another. Some work some don’t. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are not known for their skills at accents – they’re not Meryl Streep — so they end up looking ridiculous when they try. But groaners don’t spoil a movie. Even those two end up acting in scenes when you don’t even know they’re there. And much more interesting actors, (people like Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae, among others) more than make up for the missteps.

Cloud Atlas feels like you’re watching six movies at once on TV, but someone else is in charge of the remote control and they keep switching channels.

Is it perfect movie? No, definitely not. But is it worth seeing? Yes, definitely.

Fun Size

Dir: Josh Schwartz

Wren (Victoria Justice) is a high school student with outspoken feminist views — she plans to dress as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween — but turns to awkward mush whenever she thinks about the most popular boy in school – a Johnny Depp lookalike. Wren lives with her chubby six-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) who never talks but is fond of practical jokes like cutting out breast holes in her favourite sweaters; and her mom, Joy, who is back in the dating pool since their dad died. So Wren and her best friend April are thrilled when they’re invited to the big party. But mom (Chelsea Handler) tells her that Keevan, the 26 year-old frat boy she’s dating, wants her at his party. (She’s going as Britney Spears.) So Wren is stuck keeping track of the rambunctious little one. But that’s easier said than done.

Little Albert, dressed in a Spidey-suit with a fake arm, ends up leaving a trail of destruction as he travels from party to bar to fast food joint. And it’s up to Wren and her pals – including nerdy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann from Project X) and Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) a convenience store clerk who looks a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo — to try to track him down and save him. Will little Albert escape from those meddlesome grown-ups? Will Mom ever act her age? And will Wren find happiness with the most handsome and popular guy in school, or will she choose the earnest but awkward Roosevelt?

Fun Size is a mild, cute screwball comedy, full of disguises, mistaken identities, generational mismatches, bullies, love crushes, and sort-of funny characters. There are lots of lame gags and laff-lines that fall flat, at least to my adult ears. It wavers between Home Alone and Adventures in Babysitting, but is not as funny as either one. Still it’s a fun-ish and cute-ish, if forgettable, kids movie.

Cloud Atlas and Fun Size open today in Toronto, check your local listings. For scary found footage movies, check out Paranormal Activity 4, now playing, and V/H/S which played at Toronto After Dark and opens tonight. Festivals going strong in the city this weekend Ekran.ca the new Polish film festival showing avant- garde and mainstream movies from Europe.

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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August 17th, 2012. Carpe Diem. Movies Reviewed: And If We All Lived Together?, Dimensions, This Space Available

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Advertising, Anthropology, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, France, TIFF, Time Travel, UK, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 17, 2012

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

Carpe diem: seize the day. Sometimes, when facing seemingly insurmountable odds, you just have to face the problem head-on, and go ahead with your outrageous plans. This week I’m looking at three films; a French social comedy about a group of elderly friends don’t want to live in old-age homes; a documentary about activists confronting the proliferation of public advertising; and a British historical meta-drama about a group of young scientists in Cambridge who want to go back in time.

And If We All Lived Together?

Dir: Stéphane Robelin

A group of middle-class friends have held onto their bonds even in old age. But one of their number, Albert (Pierre Richard), seems to be slipping. He keeps an exquisite daily journal to keep track of events, but he’s never sure what year it is. And his wife, Jeanne (Jane Fonda), may be facing terminal cancer, but she’d rather pick out the most fashionable coffin she can find than to worry about surgery. So what will happen to Albert when she’s gone?

With the help of a leftist activist, Claude, and a couple, photographer Jean and Annie (Geraldine Chaplin), they decide to move in together, like college students in their first home. Meanwhile, after Albert hires Dirk, an anthro PhD student from Berlin, as a dog walker, he soon changes his ethnological thesis to look at the real lives of a distinct population: aging, white Europeans. So we get a birds-eye view of their sex lives, social lives, politics, and their long-buried secrets… which come to life again in their new close quarters.

What can I say? This is a sweet, gentle French comedy with excellent acting and realistic characters, including the sexuality of seniors. And you get to see Americans, Germans, and others happily acting in lovely, accented French.

Dimensions

Dir: Sloan U’Ren

Three children – Conrad, Steven and Victoria – are best friends, living in Cambridge in the 20s. They play by racing around willow trees, and dropping things into an extremely deep well. At a lawn party, they encounter a fascinating old professor who explains to them that time is not just something linear, like a piece of string, but also bendable, something that can be looped back again. He puts paper masks over their eyes with little slits in it to show what it’s like to live in two dimensions. We only have to learn to look outside our own restrictive masks, that trap humans in three dimensions. The three of them find it fascinating.

But when something terrible happens to Victoria, Conrad and Stephen become bitter rivals, riven with guilt.

The movie then jumps to the 1930s where they are working together again, with another woman, Annie, to build a functional time machine so they can stop history, and the tragic loss of their friend. If, as they suppose, in parallel universes all possible events might exist, then they should be able to escape the flawed one they live in. One of them must dive right in and change time. But who will it be? And might Victoria already be with them?

This is a fascinating and intricate meditation shaped into a meta-narrative, where the characters end up wondering whether they are emperors dreaming they’re butterflies or butterflies dreaming they’re emperors. It’s part drama, and part puzzle, filmed in period costume beside the University on the banks of the river Cam.

This Space Available
Dir: Gwenaëlle Gobé

Are billboards taking over the world? Sometimes it seems that way. Experts estimate that in 1984 Americans saw 2000 advertising images a day. And it’s tripled since then. Billboards, online banner ads, posters, pop-ups, and traditional commercials. Apparently Japanese advertisers have come up with urban digital screens that read your age and sex and change to target the viewer of the moment. And their ever growing sizes – sometimes illegally wrapping entire 30-storey buildings and turning them into city-sized ads – are becoming more and more common.

But what can we do to counter this? The documentary takes a look at activists around the world and what they’re doing to stop this. It was shot around the world, in Tokyo, Bombay, Moscow, Sao Paolo and across North America.

Graffiti artists slightly alter messages to change them from ads to dire statements. In Toronto, artist activists are replacing crass paper posters on kiosks and in bus shelters with beautiful, translucent prints, paintings and conceptual installations. And local politicians – in places like Houston and Sao Paolo – ban billboards altogether, exposing long hidden parks, spectacular architecture, and breathtaking urban vistas, lost for decades.

But what about freedom of speech? US court rulings have stated, you have no right to illegally post billboards; just the right to post what you want once given legal permission to use the space. But in reality, the bigger the company, the less likely to be fined for illegal postings.

This is a good introduction both to the value and the harm of outdoor visual and sound advertising and how it has changed our lives.

And If We All Lived Together and This Space Available open today in Toronto, And Dimensions will be showing for one night only, August 18th. check your local listings. And it’s only three weeks until TIFF — North America’s biggest film festival and one of the most important ones in the world. Ticket packages are still available, including ones for students and seniors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lorax

Dir: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

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

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

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

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

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

John Carter

Dir: Andrew Stanton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

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