Top to Bottom. Films reviewed: The Kindness of Strangers, The Two Popes, Knives Out

Posted in Argentina, Catholicism, comedy, Crime, Family, Homelessness, Movies, Mystery, New York City, Poverty by CulturalMining.com on November 29, 2019

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

With the awards season coming up, Hollywood is starting to release the big ones with famous stars and directors. This week I’m looking at three such movies. There’s a drama about the downtrodden, a biopic about religious leaders at the top, and a comedy mystery about a large group of suspects caught in the middle… of a possible murdet.

The Kindness of Strangers

Wri/Dir: Lone Scherfig (An Education, The Riot Club, One Day)

Manhattan is a lonely place, especially for people down on their luck. Alice (Andrea Riseborough) is an empathetic ER nurse who volunteers at a soup kitchen and moderates a forgiveness group. But her long hours are taking a toll on her psyche. Clara (Zoe Kazan: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Big Sick) is a wide-eyed young mom from Buffalo on vacation with her two boys _ well thats what she tells them. In fact she’s penniless, fleeing her husband, a cop Richard (Esben Smed: Lykke Per) who beats up their kids. She keeps them fed by shoplifting, dumpster diving and stealing hors d’oeuvres from parties. Marc (Tahar Rahim: A Prophet, The Past) is an ex-con, recently freed from prison by a lawyer, who lands a job managing a Russian restaurant. And Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones: ByzantiumContraband, The Last Exorcism) is an earnest simpleton who can’t hold onto a job. If he doesn’t pay his rent soon, he’ll be out on the street.

Luckily, some strangers are kind. But will Alice find happiness, Clara find refuge, Marc find friends, and Jeff find a job? Or are they just more victims in the Naked City?

The Kindness of Strangers follows seemingly unrelated stories as they gradually come together in unexpected ways. Danish director Lone Scherfig’s movies are always good, even the bad ones. And this is a good one. It’s basically a Christmas movie but without any santas or angels. Lots of snow, but no presents. Church basements but no preaching. Some criticism: Only 7% of homeless in NY City are white, but in this movie it’s 100%. Although it veers into corn territory once or twice, this tear jerker is miles beyond any Hallmark movie, and seems genuinely sympathetic to the downtrodden. It deals with real problems, and leaves you feeling warm inside.

The Two Popes

Dir: Fernando Meirelles

Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathon Pryce) is a popular priest in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He loves soccer, pizza and dancing the tango. He preaches humility and compassion to the poor, and though he’s a Cardinal, dresses in plain clothes. He is flying to the Vatican to request early retirement. Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) is a conservative German, whothis the Vatican was moving in the wrong direction and has to be fixed. He loves the pageantry and finery of the Vatican, from the fancy clothes to the elegant trappings. He likes eating alone, a bowl of plain broth with Knödel. And he invites Bergoglio to join him at his country retreat. There conversation goes nowhere, with one asking to retire, and the other refusing. They disagree on practically everything. Why are they meeting and will they ever find common ground?

The Two Popes is a dramatization of a meeting between – not a spoiler! –  two Popes: Benedict who stepped down amid scandal, and Francis, the first pope from the Americas, who took his place. It’s a highly visual film, shot in a semi-documentary style. It gives us a “Pope’s-eye view” of the inside of the Vatican, with all its sumptuous finery and grandeur. I once saw Pope John Paul II appear at the window; in this movie you’re inside the window looking down at the crowd, which is very cool. And the larger-than-life characters – as imagined by Welsh actors Hopkins and Pryce in effective performances – are humanized and normalized. They’re just like you and me.

But I think you have to deeply care about the doctrine, policies, politics and rituals of the Catholic Church to truly appreciate this movie.

Count me out.

Knives Out

Wri/Dir: Rian Johnson

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is a hugely successful mystery novelist. He lives in a gothic mansion with his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). All of his descendents are in town to celebrate his landmark birthday. There’s hard-boiled Linda, a real-estate agent with her hanger-on hubby and playboy son (Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans). Flaky, new-age entrepreneur Joni (Toni Collette) with her college-age daughter (Katherine Langford) and alt-right son (Jaeden Martell). Goateed Walt’s family (Michael Shannon) handles the publishing side of his dad’s burgeoning book empire. And Greatnana (K Callan) who observes all but says nothing. There are the usual family squabbles, But by morning, everything has changed. Thrombey is found dead in his bedroom in a pool of blood, an apparent suicide… but is it? And if it’s murder, whodunnit?

Investing the crime are two hapless cops (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) and a private detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc has an eagle eye and a deep southern drawl. Everyone is a suspect and has something to hide. Everyone but Marta, who is allergic to lying. She actually throws up if she says anything untrue.

Knives Out is an extremely entertaining mystery comedy, in the style of Agatha Christie and Murder She Wrote. Almost every line is clever, overflowing with biting cultural references: Benoit Blanc is referred to as CSI from KFC, and there are pastiches of everyone from Gwynneth Paltrow to Ben Shapiro. I’ve seen this one twice already and I could easily watch it again next year.

Knives Out is now playing in Toronto, and The Two Popes opens today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The Kindness of Strangers opens next Friday; 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 Luis Ortega about El Ángel

Posted in 1970s, Argentina, Crime, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Movies, Parkour, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 14, 2018

Adult language, topics.

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

Its 1971 in Buenos Aires Argentina. Carlitos is an innocent-looking boy with an angelic face and blonde curls. But this teenager has a strange hobby. He enjoys breaking into homes undetected and taking things.

He’s an expert cat burglar, born to steal. He loves what he does, but has no one to share his triumphs with. That is until he meets Ramon. Ramon is bigger, darker, and tougher and comes from a family of petty gangsters. Carlitos is smitten, and soon they’re a team –  one with homoerotic undertones – and together they wreak havoc across the city. And when guns enter the picture, people start to die. Is Carlitos the devil incarnate? Or an angel gone astray?

El Ángel is a new feature film from Argentina written and directed by Luis Ortega. This is Luis’s first film and it features an unknown actor in the title role. El Angel was featured in the Discovery series at TIFF and is opening soon in Toronto.

I spoke to Luis on site at TIFF 18.

El Ángel is Argentina’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

Point of collapse. Films reviewed: Rojo, The Good Girls, Climax

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Argentina, Dance, Economics, France, Mexico, psychedelia, Queer, Secrets, Sex, violence by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 2018

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

At a festival the size of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival which continues through the weekend) I try to carefully select which movies to see, based on reputation, subject and word of mouth. But even occasionally wandering into a movie at random can be a pleasant surprise.

This week I’m looking at three movies at TIFF set right before — and during — the point of collapse or disaster.

There’s a noir drama set in Argentina before the 1976 military coup, a social drama set in an upper class Mexico neighbourhood before the Peso crash of 82; and a dance, sex and drug fuelled  horror movie set in France in the 90s..

Rojo

Dir: Benjamín Naishtat

It’s the mid 1970s in a small provincial town in Argentina. The military has divided the country into war zones to fight guerrillas in the jungle. All is quiet but something is not right. Whole families are suddenly disappearing from their homes – are they kidnapped? Or just on vacation? Whatever, locals are enriching themselves by plundering whites left behind.

Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) a mild-mannered lawyer with bald head and a trim moustache, is not bothered by the tension — he is solidly middle class.. He joins a close family friend in a real estate scam to take over one of these empty homes. Claudio’s daughter and his scam partner’s son are dating though she seems less than eager – she’s more interested in the school’s dance club. But Claudio’s own life is disrupted by a disturbing incident at a restaurant: a man, a stranger in this town,  starts a loud argument over a reservation. Later, the argument turns violent, and Claudio secretly dumps the man’s body in the desert. And a famous private detective arrives from Santiago, Chile to investigate a missing person. Could this somehow be related to Claudio? Will this tension – and Claudio’s secret – ever go away? Or is Claudio – and Argentina — entering a terrible new phase of violent oppression?

Rojo is a dark mystery-drama about life in small-town Argentina before the US-backed military coup. It shows the stress uncertainty and violence affecting everyone in the town – from high school kids to the town’s leaders. Rojo nicely mixes politics, history, and noir-ish drama with a stylized, almost surreal 70s look — like an episode of Colombo.

I like this movie.

The Good Girls (Las Niñas Bien)

Dir: Alejandra Márquez Abella

It’s the summer of 1982 in a posh neighbourhood in Mexico City. Sofia (Ilse Salas) is riding high. She’s an elegant and beautiful woman from an upper-middle-class family, married to an investor. And she belongs to an exclusive country club where she and her friends meet daily to play tennis and gossip. Sofia is more interested in bags, shoes and facial creams than local politics. Her birthday party went flawlessly, ending with a wonderful present – a new cream-coloured car from her devoted husband Fernando (Flavio Medina). And with the kids at camp in the US– don’t talk to Mexicans! she tells them — she can devote herself to tennis, shopping and spending times with her friends.

But all is not well. Tell-tale signs are turning up – the taps run dry as the water utility runs into trouble. Oil prices are crashing and so is the Mexican economy. One of her best friends stops coming to the club, and a nouveau riche woman – named Ana Paula –  has taken her place on the ladder. Sofia continues to spend lavishly, but her cheques are starting to bounce. The creditors are moving in. And the servants are leaving, one by one. Is this a momentary lapse? Or – as one of her kids ask – are we poor now, mommy?

The Good Girls is a subtle and nuanced movie about the turning point, the exact moment when a woman realizes her carefully crafted life might crumble in an instant once the money goes away. When dignity disappears – and pettiness takes over – she realizes it could all be finished.

This is a spectacular movie – from the costumes, to the acting – and one I would have missed if I didn’t wander into the theatre at random when the movie I planned to go to was full.

Climax

Dir: Gaspar Noé 

It’s 1996 in an isolated building in rural France. A dance troupe — multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-sexual  — is perfecting their dance routine. There’s It’s the dress rehearsal before heading off to New York and they do it without a single problem. The celebratory afterparty is just starting, with the Daddy is playing tunes, David scouting a sexual partner, and psyche is pouting. as the choreographer sends her son up to bed. But something is wrong. Somebody has spiked the sangria with halucinegenic drugs! And the dancers are reacting in very strange ways. Dance turns to uncontrolled sex, and unchecked violence, as the dancers run through the red-lit halls in panic  escape. Others form impromptu gangs attacking skapegoats. Will anyone survive?

Gaspar Noé is one of my favourite directors and Climax does not disappoint. This is an amazing and unusual combination of contemporary dance, sex, drugs and extremely disturbing violence. The film starts with interviews of the dancers on old videotape, introducing themselves directly to the audience. Then theres a non-stop dance performance filmed from above, shot in what looks like a single take. Then comes the spiked punch and the horror begins, turning the world upside down. Its erotic, disturbing entertaining and extremely creepy and troublesome.

You also get Gaspar Noes amazing camerawork and design with upside down shots, titles appearing midway through the movie, non-stop music and some very funny lines before everything goes terrible.

Climax is amazing and disturbing.

Rojo, The Good Girls, and Climax are all playing at TIFF right now. Go to tiff.net for details. And don’t forget to show up at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sunday around 3 or 4 pm for free tickets to all the winning movies at TIFF selected by the audiences. There are four free screenings around 5-6 pm on Sunday.

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

Movies Made by Women. Films reviewed: What Will People Say?, Zama

Posted in 1500s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, Drama, Family, Indigenous, Kidnapping, Norway, Slavery, Spain, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 20, 2018

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

Spring festival season is on right now, with two or three new ones popping up each week. There are established festivals like Hot Docs, celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as some new ones. Reelabilities is only in its third year, but already programs a full international slate of dramas and docs – and even a comedy night — for and about people with deafness, mental illness, autism, down’s syndrome, and many others. And they’re dealing with important topics like sexuality and disabilities and disability rights. This week I’m looking at two movies directed by women and that played film festivals in Toronto (TIFF, Human Rights Watch Film Fest). There’s a coming-of-age drama about a Norwegian schoolgirl whose parents come from Pakistan, and an historical drama about a colonial Argentine whose ancestors came from Spain.

What Will People Say?

Dir: Iram Haq

Nisha (Maria Mozdah)is a high school student living in a snow-swept Oslo housing project. She has beautiful long hair, dark eyes and a shy but winning smile. Nisha is a typical Norwegian girl. She hangs with a tight-knit group of friends for partying, listening to music, texting. At night, though, she’s the grudgingly loyal daughter to her traditional Pakistani parents. She is the apple of her fathers eye. Mirza (Adil Hussein) piles money and gifts on his smart and beautiful daughter whom he dreams of becoming a doctor or an engineer. But Her mother is more strict, always wondering what other people – meaning people from Pakistan – will say, if they see Nisha doing outrageous things like… dancing? Little does she know. she’s dating a guy named Daniel who looks like Archie Andrews. But when her dad catches them in her bedroom, flirting, all hell breaks loose.

Before she knows what’s happening she’s on a plane to Pakistan on her way to a relative’s home in a remote town. They take away her phone, burn her passport, and forbid her from using the internet. Mirza says he’s doing it for her own good, but Nisha feels betrayed, lost and abandoned. And then there’s the physical dangers. She can’t just put on a hoodie and explore the streets alone like she did in Norway. Only a young cousin who idolizes her, and Amir, a boy she likes, make her life worth living. But her eyes and tastebuds are awakening to new sights and flavours she never encountered in cold, grey Norway.  She gradually adapts to her new home…. until a big change threatens her life and her future. Will she ever regain her old life and friends? Can she achieve success as a woman? And will she and her family learn to accept each other?

What Will People Say is a great coming-of-age drama that’s a bit of a thriller, too. It gives a multi-faceted look at a teenaged girl, partly self-centred and spoiled, partly facing a miserable life not of her own making. Pakistan is portrayed as a scary and violent place but also a vibrant and beautiful one, filled with both kindness and terror. The director (herself of Pakistani/ Norwegian background) eschews what could have been a one-sided kidnapping thriller in favour of a realistic and touching drama. She avoids easy stereotypes opting instead for a nuanced and loving look.

Zama

Wri/Dir: Lucrecia Martel

It’s 300 years ago in imperial Spain in South America.

Don Diego Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a low- level magistrate decked out in a white wig and three cornered hat, with a bright reddish jacket and a shiny sword. He’s there to provide justice and compassion in disputes among the colonists, their slaves and the indigenous peoples in the remote colony of Asunción. But he soon discovers his rulings are ignored, his requests disregarded, and his status questioned. He’s far from his wife in Buenos Aires, and his native mistress in Asunción doesn’t like him much, even after she gives birth to his son.

His life depends on the indulgences of a king in far off Spain, and a corrupt and decadent local Governor who spends most of his time gambling to win obscene tokens of power. He covets worthless geodes and decrepit ears sliced off a dead convict’s head. Colonial landholders slaughter Indios with impunity. As his life gets worse and worse, Zama feels trapped in a cesspit he can’t climb out of.

He finally gets his chance by joining a posse searching for Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele) a villainous criminal terrorizing the locals. But his search seems equally pointless and circuitous, achieving nothing, waiting for a Godot who may never arrive.

On his journey he faces dangers and fascinations both real and imagineary: small boys with psychic abilities, hidden ghosts and potergeists infecting his lodges. People appear and disappear, seamingly at random, dying and coming back to life, in a colourful whirlwind of unexplained phenomena.

Zama is a fantastic, non-linear adventure based on an Argentinian novel. It explores name and identity, position and class, and race and ethnicity in Colonial Spain. Indigenous languages are spoken without subtitles – we hear it all through Zama’s ears.

I’m not going to pretend I completely understood this movie, but like Embrace of the Serpent (which I reviewed here), the images and exotic scenes in Zama are so engrossing I didn’t worry too much about the plot. Picture a group of women on a riverbank covering their naked bodies with thick brown mud. And the scenery in Argentina’s northeast Formosa province — green moss, sweeping hills, twisting rivers and impossibly tall bare tree trunks — is like seeing those Dr Seuss books I read as a kid again but in real life.

What a great movie.

Zama opens today in Toronto. check your local listings.What will people say is playing at Human Rights Watch film fest.  This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Holy or Hollow? Films reviewed: Black Hollow Cage, The Holy Girl

Posted in Argentina, Coming of Age, Family, Fantasy, Sex, Spain, Thriller, Time Travel by CulturalMining.com on February 16, 2018

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

After a slow period, February is busting out all over. After Valentine’s Day, films and documentaries are showing at Toronto’s Black Film Festval, Next Wave – with free movies if you’re under 25 — is on this weekend, you can catch a lion dance for Chinese New Year, or just spend time with significant others on  Family Day. So there’s tons of stuff going on out there.

This week I’m looking at movies about young women from Spain and Argentina. There’s a house in the woods with a girl in a cube, and a hotel in the mountains with a girl in a pool.

Black Hollow Cage

Wri/Dir: Sadrac González-Perellón

Alice (Lowena McDonell) is a young teenager with brown hair and huge limpid eyes. She lives with her parents in an isolated, minimalist house, built of glass wood and steel. Her father Adam (Julian Nicholson) takes care of her, while her mother Beatrice is always by her side to offer advice. Sounds like a nice, simple life… but it’s not. Her mother is dead; Beatrice is actually a fluffy white husky with a device strapped to her collar that speaks in her mother’s voice. Alice lost an arm in the same accident that killed her mother. She’s been fitted with a prosthetic arm that looks like it was taken off a star wars storm trooper: shiny, bulky and white. Alice hates the arm and the exercises the physiotherapist tells her to do. One day, Alice is walking Beatrice in the woods near her home and comes across a large, matte-black box, just sitting there. What is it and where does it come from? When she approaches it it opens, revealing a handwritten note – they are not to be trusted. The note is in her own handwriting. Spooky! And a murderous ninja dressed in black is stalking the halls of her house.

Later her dad brings home Erika and Paul (Haydée Lysander and Marc Puiggener), a teenaged sister and brother in trouble. Paul is mute, but Erika talks for the two of them. They were badly beaten so Adam lets them spend the night. Can they be trusted? A voice tells Alice to kill them, but she hesitates. Can she kill innocent children in cold blood? But when she hesitates others end up dead.

How can she fix her errors? She finds that by climbing into the black cube she can emerge and revisit her day to set things straight. But by setting in motion parallel universes she risks upsetting everything and possibly killing her father, beatrice and maybe even herself.

Black Hollow Cage is an extremely strange movie based on a fascinating concept. Some of the strangers things become clear later on, but most of it is left unexplained. So you’re never sure if Alice is insane, whether time travel is actually possible, and who is actually good or bad. It’s one of these movies with strange concepts and beautiful minimalist settings but totally devoid of real life. I couldn’t make heads or tails of this confusing picture. It surprised and shocked me… but didn’t move me.

The Holy Girl (2004)

Dir: Lucrecia Martel

Helena (Mercedes Moran) is a beautiful divorcee who lives in a remote resort in Argentina. It’s a grand hotel, the same one she grew up in with her brother, but is gradually inching from splendid to seedy. The whole hotel is preparing for an influx of Ear-Nose-and-Throat doctors in town for a convention. Under the eagle-eyed manager Mirta,The masseuse is put to work chopping chickens in the kitchen and a nervous maid rushes from room to room spraying disenfectant on everything. Helena herself was once known for her high diving skills but now just dog-paddles in the hot pool worrying about tinnitus. When Helena encounters Dr Jano (Carlos Belloso) who remembers her in her glory days, he invites her to grace the stage at the closing night presentation at the convention. The convention organizer wants to end things with a bang.

Meanwhile her daughter Amalia (María Alché) attends church classes and is on a mission to serve God by saving men. She’s into memorizing catechisms and religious tracts and is looking for a sign. But most lessons are spent listening to her best friend Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg) whispering lascivious comments in her ear. She’s looking for a sign – does a naked man falling out a second story window outside her class count? One day, when standing in a crowd listening to a Theramin player, Amalia feels a man pushing against her from behind. She turns around and sees a clean shaven middle aged man rushing away. Maybe this is her sign?

Dr Jano is married with children who join him at the hotel, even as both Helena and Amalia pursue him, but for different reasons. Whose secrets will be revealed?

The Holy Girl is a wonderfully, Byzantine drama told through the eyes of both a mother and a daughter and the dozens of other characters swarming around them. It functions both as a coming-of-age story of a religiously engaged but sexually curious teen, and the drama of a middle aged woman trying to juggle work, family, and personal rivalries with chance sexual encounters. This is a lush, detailed film with great acting. I had never seen Lucrecia Martel’s movies before (never heard of her, in fact) but now I want to see everything she’s done.

Black Hollow Cage opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Holy Girl is part of the retrospective Argentine Genius: The Films of Lucrecia Martel playng at TIFF Cinematheque Feb 23-27. 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.

Is VR the New 3D? Movies reviewed: Ben Hur, Truman PLUS POP 03

Posted in Argentina, Barcelona, Bible, Cultural Mining, Family, melodrama, Movies by CulturalMining.com on August 19, 2016

Pop 03Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Does the future of cinema lie in virtual reality? Not yet, but it’s starting to make inroads in all movie forms. VR gives you a more experiential viewing experience than anything we’ve seen so far, expanding the margins to 360 degrees. A pop-up exhibition at TIFF (called POP 03) explores VR in the context of experimental and avant POP 03garde short films and experiential games.

Inverse Dollhouse puts you inside a virtual dollhouse. Floating hands move giant tables and enormous couches all around you. It’s terrifying!  A Viceland documentary takes you on a ride-along in a pickup truck with Justin Trudeau. He’s visiting Shoal Lake, a First Nation reserve entirely lacking in drinkable water. There’s Food Fight, trippy Exploding Fractals morphing all around you, Guy Maddin’s psychedelic Seances, and lots more. It’s put on by the National Film Board and TIFF, and you can see it through Sunday. I saw it just an hour ago and still digesting it. Amazing stuff.

This week, I’m looking at a 3-D reboot of a sword-and-sandal classic about brotherhood and faith; and a European drama about friendship and loss.

13641025_314903598841395_8827590151682346834_oBen Hur

Dir: Timur Bekmambetov

It’s around 30 AD in Jerusalem. They’re under Roman rule, but bands of zealots are trying to drive them out. But oblivious to all these troubles are brothers Judah and Messala. Judah Ben Hur (Jack Huston) is Jewish royalty and lives a life of luxury. His brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebell) was a Roman orphan adopted by Judah’s family as a child, but keeps Ben Hurhis Roman name religion and identity. The two of them love escaping to the desert to race on horseback. Messala, who is not of royal blood, feels the need to justify his existence. So he leaves his family to prove his strength on the battlefield, and returns home to Jerusalem triumphant.

He is asked by his commander to ensure safe passage through the city for Ben Hur paramount pictures 3Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate is the prefect of Judea for Rome, who struts around in foppish fur coats. The Zealots despise him. So when the procession passes the Ben Hur home, a zealot hiding there, shoots an arrow and misses. Ben Hur is blamed for this by his own brother, his family is crucified, and he is turned into a galley slave, rowing Roman warships 24/7. Years later, the ship is sunk and he washes up on shore. He is taken in by a chariot race entrepreneur (Morgan Freeman, in grey dreads!) and made into a charioteer. But so has his brother, Messala Severus, who is the Ben Hur Paramount Pictureschampion Roman chariot driver. A big race is coming soon, and Ben Hur wants revenge. Which of the brothers will triumph and which one will die?

This is a remake (in 3-D) of the 1959 movie, starring Charlton Heston, made during the heyday of sword-and-sandal Roman movies. It’s two hours long, but keep in mind the original was 3½ hours long! This is like the condensed version. Lots of royal Ben Hur Paramount Pictiures2politics, family rivalries and revenge. The whole movie is overlaid with a religious story. Jesus of Nazareth regularly appears on the streets of Jerusalem, preaching to the people to love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek… sort of a gospel greatest hits. The third part is the chariot race itself: exciting and gripping – very well done. Ben Hur may feel old fashioned, too long, too religious, and holding few surprises (if you’ve seen the original) but I still liked it.

13062552_1086121168113471_3948824687084435207_nTruman

Dir: Cesc Gay

Julian and Tomas have been best friends since their schooldays in Argentina. Nut now they live continents apart. Julian (Ricardo Darin) is an actor who lives in Madrid now, performing on stage, in wigs and costumes, in plays by Moilere. He’s divorced, with a grown son, with just his enormous dog Truman to keep him company. Tomas (Javier Cámara) is married to a Canadian woman with two small children and lives in Montreal. He works as an engineer f533ed07c49781675cdeab50a5b2e9bcspecializing in robotics. The two friends have an impromptu reunion — after many years apart – when he shows up, without notice, at Julian’s door, in Spain.

Why did he come from such a distance. Well, he’s heard the news.

12764515_1047339855324936_818289815822313283_oThe news is Julian is dying of cancer. Julian’s cousin Paula (Dolores Fonzi), another Argentinian living in Spain, told him all about it. So Tomas is there to spend a few days with him and help him out – as a friend should do.

Even though they’ve been apart for many years, they’re able to jump right back into their friendship, including the running jokes, wordplay and petty grudges. In the presence of a third person they can pick up on subtle clues and cover for each other. Doesn’t matter that Julian is a habitual liar who finds it hard to 13147317_1096737100385211_3584199723351401637_oface the truth. He wants to tie up loose ends, say goodbye to his family and friends, and find a new home for his dog Truman. And to face his own mortality.

This is a great movie. The story is as simple and straightforward as the performances are nuanced and complex. It’s sad and funny and quite touching. I haven’t seen many movies from Argentina, but it’s funny that I remember all of these actors from previous roles. Great actors leave a lasting 12314287_998340066891582_7019787486162808839_oimpression. Ricardo Darin is one of the best Argentine actors around. From Oscar winning films like The Secret in their Eyes, and Wild Tales. Meanwhile you may have seen Javier Cámara in lots of number of Almadovar movies – a good comic actor. I even remember the beautiful Dolores Fonzi from EL Critico a few years back. Great acting in the main and all the side roles. Even the dog is well-cast. Truman is definitely worth seeing.

Ben Hur and Truman both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. The POP 03 is on this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 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 with filmmaker German Kral about his new film Our Last Tango

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Argentina, Cultural Mining, Dance, documentary, Romance by CulturalMining.com on December 25, 2015

Director German Kral

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

Juan Carlos Copes and Maria Nieves met as teenagers in a Buenos Aires dance hall. They became dance partners and tangoed together through thick and thin in a famously rocky relationship. But it ended in 1997 after almost 50 years p6a6_IMG5252together when they danced their Last Tango.

Our Last Tango is also the name of a new documentary that looks at the famous couple through the years, as they turned their dancing from recreation to performance. Through new interviews it documents their history using dance recreations. The film was created by award-winning director German Krall, and produced by Pena director Wim Wenders. The film played at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in Toronto on Christmas Day.

I spoke with German in Buenos Aires by telephone from Toronto.

Latin America at #TIFF15. Movies reviewed: Colonia, Desde Allá, The Clan

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Argentina, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Thriller, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 2015

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

TIFF featured a number of notable South American films this year, so this week, I’m going to look at three of them. Two – an escape drama and a true crime drama — are set in the south, Argentina and Chile, under their rightwing, military dictators in the 70s. And one in the north, a drama set in modern-day Venezuela.

58KWyB_colonia_02_o3_8704338_1441928352Colonia

Dir: Florian Gallenberger

It’s 1973 in Santiago Chile. Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a German photographer who was drawn there by the excitement around the newly-elected socialist premier Salvador Allende. He is deeply in love with his girlfriend Lena (Emma Watson: Hermione in the Harry Potter series), a flight attendant for Lufthansa, who touches down regularly in Santiago. But when the government collapses with a CIA-backed military coup, the streets become dangerous.  Thousands of people – including Daniel and Lena — are herded into the Santiago Football Stadium. Some are shot on the spot, others taken away in vans.

Lena is safe, but Daniel is horribly tortured, nearly to death, by Pinochet’s forces. Afterwards, he is comforted by a strange man with long gray hair who says Daniel will be safe under his protection.

Lena takes a week off work and tracks him down to an isolated farm in central Chile known as colonia-1-first-look-will-emma-watson-be-able-to-escape-colonia-dignidadColonia Dignidad, run by a German, fundamentalist Christian cult. Her plan? To pretend to join the sect, unite with Daniel, and quickly escape Chile forever.

But she soon finds herself trapped there. It’s a strange farm surrounded by electrified barbed wire filled with people who have never seen the world outside. Men, women and children are all kept completely separated. Little boys with Hitler-youth haircuts are forced to sing angelic choir songs before the nefarious Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) – known as “Pius” —  who controls everything. The women are supervised by a stern female commandant named Gisele. By day, they pick potatoes like slaves; by night they are locked into their communal barracks. Any woman caught speaking of or even thinking about love or sex is punished at a “men’s council”, a ceremony where men are free to kick and punch accused girls or women. Lena searches for Daniel but he is nowhere to be seen. When she finally spots him, he appears to be feeble-minded from all the torture he endured. Can Lena ever contact him? Will he even recognize her? And can the two of them escape from the hell-hole known as Colonia?

Colonia Dignidad and Paul Schäfer were real. This film is actually a German movie, in English, not a South American one. If you’re looking for a political drama about Chile under Pinochet, you won’t find it here. This is more of an exciting escape drama, a prison break movie, with the politics kept low-key. Chile is the setting, with Pinochet a super villain, but it’s mainly about the notorious German settlement there. Bruhl and Watson are good as the heroes, but best of all is the realistic, slimy cult leader. I watched the whole movie without realizing he was played by Nykvist, the same actor who was the hero of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series!

JZWRXv_Desde_Alla_03_o3_8730120_1440509884Desde allá (From Afar)

Dir: Lorenzo Vigas

Armando (Alfredo Castro) is an odd, middle-aged man with a good income who lives alone in downtown Caracas. He has an creepy-looking job: his business is constructing and repairing dentures, inserting false teeth into intricate moulds. Occasionally, he visits his sister to talk about the horrible things their father did to them when they were growing up. What exactly happened is never said.

In his free time Armando has an unusual hobby. He approaches young, working class men on r0V6pW_Desde_Alla_04_o3_8730197_1440464747the street and offers them money in exchange for sexual favours. But the favours consist merely of Armando asking the guy to face away from him while partially undressed. That’s it.

But things start to change when he picks up an angry young man named Elder (Luis Silva). Elder is a violent, selfish thug whose father is in prison for murder. He’s the kind of guy who would lead his gang to attack his own girlfriend’s brother LgWRlv_Desde_Alla_05_o3_8730266_1440509909with steel pipes in a pool hall for no apparent reason. Despite this – and the vicious sneer permanently etched on Elder’s face – Armando approaches him on the street and hires him. But in his apartment Elder turns on him, beats him up and steals his wallet and some of his things.

Despite this (or perhaps because of this?) Armando approaches him again, not asking for his things back, but instead offering him even more money. And later — when a rival gang fights back and Elder needs a safe haven – Armando welcomes him back into his apartment. Far from being a sexual predator, Armando shies away from anynZ6P6Y_Desde_Alla_01_o3_8730049_1440509869 and all physical contact with Elder. Instead he behaves like a father-figure, teaching him moral lessons, feeding and clothing him. And the situation changes: now Elder starts feeling attached – perhaps even sexually – to Armando, who coldly turns him away. What is going on? And where will it lead?

Desde Allá is a strange and disturbing film, even more so at the end. Its shocking conclusion will make you rethink the entire movie. The acting of both the main characters is fantastic – and the film won the Golden Lion, the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.

pgLNE6_clan_05_o3_8766051_1439583560The Clan

Dir: Pablo Trapero

It’s Buenos Aeries in the late 1970s. Alejandro Pucci (Peter Lanzani) is a handsome young rugby player on the Argentinian Pumas. His father (Guillermo Francella) is a successful businessman with ties to the military regime .Alex has it all. He’s a popular student, a national sports hero and owns a surfing store in downtown Buenos Aries. And he is in love with his girlfriend. But when the military government falls they are forced to lie low. His dad is a member of the Argentinian CIA, and partly responsible for the notorious Disappeared, the countless people missing or murdered by the military junta.8qKpGm_clan_04_o3_8765985_1439583555

But the Puccis depend on these kidnappings to keep up their lifestyle and have turned it into a very profitable business. Most of the family is either involved in or aware of the kidnappings, since the victims are kept inside their home. But can any of them resist their dad’s orders?

This Argentinian drama is based on a true crime story out of Argentina that shocked the nation when it was uncovered. It’s also the most popular Argentinian movie ever.  It’s a scary, dark and gruesome story. The movie reveals the downfall of the family in the very first scenes, but for me – never having heard of this case before – I would have preferred if those scenes were left till later. Still, there is such a dramatic scene at the end of the movie that it retains its ability to shock.

Colonia, Desde allá and The Clan all played at TIFF15; keep your eye out for these films. Opening today is Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival — go to tpff.ca for details; also opening is the delightful Grandma, a comedy-drama starring Lily Tomlin as a feminist grandmother on a quest.

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

International Mainstream Movies. Films Reviewed: Kidnapping Mr Heineken, Serial (Bad) Weddings, Wild Tales

Posted in 1980s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Netherlands, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 5, 2015

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

I’m happy to say that Xavier Dolan’s brilliant Mommy swept up the prizes at the Canadian Screen Awards last weekend. And they’re releasing new indies, such as the Valley Below, set in the Alberta badlands. Good to know Canada is still making great movies. But what are people watching in other countries? This week I’m looking at three mainstream movies : a dark comedy from Argentina, a light comedy from France, and a crime drama from the Netherlands.

KFH__02707_rgbKidnapping Mr. Heineken
Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Based on the true crime book by Pieter de Vries

It’s Amsterdam in 1983, and the economy’s in a downturn. And a business run by five guys (with names like Spike, Cat, Cor and Willem) goes bottom up. Their assets won’t get you a cup of coffee during a recession. They vow never to be a wage slave to someone else – they want to be their own bosses. But you need money to make money. What to do?

Brothers-in-law tough-guy Willem (Sam Worthington) and idea-man Cor (Jim Sturgess) comeFH-1990_rgb up with a fool proof plan – the perfect crime. They’re not exactly strangers to the rougher side of life, but this will take it a whole new level. They’re going to kidnap that beer brewery billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins)! And the prize? More guilders than any crime in Netherlands history. First, in a KFH__01204_rgbdaring move, they knock over some Brinks trucks and escape with the cash in a uniquely Dutch way: they race through the canals of Amsterdam in a powerboat, pursued by cop cars. Next, they find an out-of-the-way location and build undetectable, soundproof rooms. Finally, in a carefully planned adventure, they grab the beer magnate and KFH__00951_rgbhis driver, and truck them off to their hideaway. They speak in German and never show their faces. But as the weeks pass with still no payoff, their confidence starts to fray.

Will they get the money and keep it? Can the five men trust each other or is there a snitch? And will there be blood spilled on the way? This is an OK crime movie, shot in English in Amsterdam with a British and Dutch cast. Hopkins is barely in it, he’s locked up in a cell, so the film depends on Worthington and Sturgess. They’re not bad but not terrific. The movie itself is enjoyable – with thrills, chases, shootouts – but it didn’t really grab me. The regular-guy criminals just weren’t that compelling, even in a true crime story.

Serial_Bad_Weddings_-_parentsSerial (Bad) Weddings
(Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?)
Dir: Philippe de Chauveron

The upper-class Verneuil Family consists of Claude and Marie (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) and their four lovely daughters. They live on a palatial estate in Chinon, France. They are devout Catholics who still pine for old France, and the days of Charles De Gaulle. They duly send their lovely daughters off to Paris to be educated. But imagine the parents’ surprise when three of them get married: to Rachid, an Arab Muslim (Ooh la la), David, a Jew (mon dieu) and Chau Ling, a Chinese man (aaaarghh!). But they aren’t even French, the parents say – they are the sons of immigrants. Things come to a head when the parents show up for their grandson’s circumcision. Claude shows his bigotry and the family is torn apart. But time heals all wounds, and a few years later things have smoothed out. Claude and Marie joyously await the arrival of their fourth son-in-law-to-be: Charles! He’s French and he’s Catholic…at last.

But guess who’s coming to dinner? Charles is actually Ivorian, from West Africa. And his dad, an serial_bad_weddings_-_churchold school military man (Pascal N’Zonzi) is as conservative and bigoted as Claude. He arrives in France looking for a fight, and Clause is ready and willing. Can the fourth wedding ever take place? Or is this the straw that will break the camel’s back, and will the wedding ruin the Verneuil clan forever? And can different ethnic groups ever get along in a new France?

For some reason – perhaps because all the ethnic tension – this comedy is a smash hit in France and Quebec. And it’s a cute and gentle crowd-pleaser. Unlike most Hollywood comedies there’s no nudity, puking or potty humour. But doesn’t take any risks either. The ethnic stereotypes are tired, and the characters are mainly bland. The daughters have barely sketched characters, and the sons, while slightly more developed, their insults to one another stick to groaner stereotypes: muslims are angry, Chinese eat dogs, Jews are good with money. Luckily, the parents, especially the dads are funny enough to save the movie. And who doesn’t hope for racial harmony? A cute, but safe movie from France.

4fd6c30e-cf73-4008-acfb-8417987be0ab Bombita Ricardo Darin as Simón Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

Strangers on a plane ride discover they have something in common. An heir to a fortune is caught in a hit-and-run. A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douchebf3deb47-7815-4eeb-9bd4-3c6c11fc68d2 Leonardo Sbaraglia as Diego, Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap in an act of road rage on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot in a Hollywood 0bf45366-79ef-4e25-a7d7-4aaae624b551 Rita Cortese as Cocinera and Julieta Zylberberg as Moza, Photo by Javier Juliá, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsstyle. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of unexpected climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

This is an amazing, exciting and hilarious movie, a dark comedy out of Argentina. The production values – including full-scale disasters — are top-notch. And so is the acting, with some of the top stars, including Ricardo Darin are first class.

Wild Tales, Serial Bad Wedings and Kidnapping Mr Heineken all open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Froday Morning for CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com

Dark Humour at TIFF14. Films reviewed: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, The Editor, Wild Tales, Magical Girl

Posted in Argentina, Canada, comedy, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Satire, Spain, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2014

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

It’s the final weekend at TIFF, with the hits rolling out…  There are amazing biopics, like The PHOENIXImitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing;  period romantic drama’s like Christian Petzold’s stunning Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss, and the dramatic drama from Ukraine called The Tribe — told entirely in sign-language, no subtitles! — about a boy at a school for the deaf who is pulled into a criminal gang. All fantastic films.

But these are all opening this fall, so I’d like to talk about the kind of festival movie that’s harder to categorize, harder to grasp. This week I’m going to look at the some unusual films from Sweden, Argentina, Canada and Spain. What do they have in common?  Dark humour, whether used ironically, absurdly or for its camp.

MjED0B__pigeonsatonabranch_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8264667__1406644686A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At some point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.

Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, maybe retro, maybe present day. the movie’s like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, and the actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. The title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” suggests the thoughts Roy Andersson imagined while viewing a diorama of a bird behind glass in a museum. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable – and it’s a comment on life, existence and man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously. You’ve got to see it – great movie, and it just won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival

ElZxkN__editor_01_o3__8277762__1407351475The Editor
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

It’s a dangerous time at a 1970s Italian movie studio. They’re shooting a sexy horror film, but someone keeps stabbing the stars. Luckily, Ciso, the one-handed, master film editor, is there to rework the scenes and save the footage. But Detective Porfiry thinks Ciso is the killer – and he’s gonna take him down once he finds the evidence. But he has to navigate round a suddenly blinded wife, devious movie stars, and a razor in a black-gloved hand. Oh yeah, and there’s the catholic priest warning him not to deal in the black arts or he might open the door to hell itself.

OK, that’s the barebones plot. But what The Editor really is, is a combination parody and homage to 70s-era Giallo movies – the sexy, bloody genre made by directors like Dario Argento. That means spooky music, gushing blood, dark shadows, screaming starlets, and blurry, soft-Wnwq44__editor_06_o3__8277930__1407351499core sex scenes. Throw in insanity, lust and suspicion, and you’re all set.

This parody goes out of its way to be authentic – things like characters who say lines, even though their lips aren’t moving.

This one had me laughing very loudly through much of the film, partly because it’s perfectly ridiculous. To say it’s full of gratuitous nudity and gore is like saying a musical is full of music. Of course there’s a lot of it, and in a normal movie it might be excessive, but in a movie like this, it’s not gratuitous, it’s essential to the genre. The movie stars the two directors in lead roles, blond Conor Sweeney as a sexually confused actor, and the marvellous Pas de la Huerta rounding off the cast. Made for drive-ins and Midnight madness. And to think they made it all in Winnipeg.

BgnDyY__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920Wild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douche in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. It starts with a small incident or conversation, but gradually escalates into something huge and potentially disastrous. Some of the characters are sympathetic, you can understand why they’re acting this way, even if you wouldn’t yourself. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot like hollywood features. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of amazing climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

P1MR0y_magicalgirl_03_o3_8343970_1408453081Magical Girl
Dir: Carlos Vermut

Luis, an out of work professor, is trying to take care of his young daughter. Alicia is into ramen, manga and anime. She says she and her friends go by Japanese names. But the girl is also dying of cancer. Luis will do anything for her. So in an effort to grant what he believes is her last wish, Luis decide to get her the dress the Magical Girl wears in her series. In desperation he decides to commit burglary, but is stopped by a strange coincidence that introduces her to Barbara (Barbara Lennie.)

Barbara is a beautiful woman married to a rich but domineering psychologist, who decides LgA62A_magicalgirl_01_o3_8348922_1408453230what she can do, who she can talk to and what meds to take. Luis ends up sleeping with her, but then turns to blackmail to get the money for his daughter’s dress. Now Barbara must decide whether or not to return to a previous secret life. But will that lead to unpredictable consequences both for her and Luis?

This is a combination comedy, tragedy and drama. It feels like an O Henry short story brought to the screen.The audience poured out of the theatre in droves as soon as it was over, because they all found it disturbing — it is disturbing. But in a disturbingly good way.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Editor, Wild Tales, and Magical Girl are all playing at TIFF through this weekend. 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.

%d bloggers like this: