Western-ish. Films reviewed: Lucky, Hostiles, Sweet Country

Posted in 1800s, 1920s, Australia, Indigenous, Movies, Music, US, violence, Western, Wilderness by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2017

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

If the western seems like an old, tired genre to you, there are some new movies you should take a look at. They reinvent the western by changing key elements and points of view.

This week I’m looking at three new movies that are westerns (or at least western-ish). There’s justice in the outback, a northbound trail, and a lonesome cowboy in the great southwest.

Lucky

Dir: John Carroll Lynch

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is a very lucky man. He’s 89 years old, smokes a pack a day, lives on milk, coffee and bloody mary’s – and not much else – and is still in perfect health. He’s a crotchety old coot who wears cowboy boots and a straw hat. He lives alone in a small town in the great southwest, amidst giant Seguara cacti and hundred-year-old tortoises. He likes yoga calisthenics, mariachi and crossword puzzles. He hangs out at the local diner by day and at the corner bar at night. So why is Lucky so sad?

The other day he fell in his kitchen for no reason. His doctor says that’s just what happens when you’re old. This makes Lucky reexamine his long-held attitudes and his stubborn ways. But can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Lucky is a nice and gentle look at an old cowboy in a multi racial southwestern town. It’s an arthouse film, full of music, stories, and funny, quirky characters, (played by David Lynch, Tom Skerrit and others.) It also functions as a tribute to Harry Dean Stanton himself, who plays the music and provides the backstories for the anecdotes Lucky tells. Stanton died earlier this year, but the film is less of an epitaph than a wry celebration of his life.

I like this movie.

Hostiles

Wri/Dir: Scott Cooper

It’s the 1890s in New Mexico. The Indians have all been killed or jailed under an army led by Captain Blocker (Christian Bale). Blocker is widely known for his fighting prowess and his cruelty – they say he’s scalped more natives than anyone. So he’s surprised when the President himself orders him to protect and accompany his sworn enemy on a trip to Montana. Blocker fought and jailed Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) a decade earlier. But now the Chief is dying of cancer and wants to be buried in his ancestral lands. Blocker sets off with the Chief, his family and a squad of soldiers. On the way they meet Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) a dazed mother still holding a dead baby to her breast. Her entire family was wiped out in a Comanche raid a few days earlier. She joins the group. The Chief offers to help them fight the Comanche but Blocker doesn’t trust him – he keeps him shackled to his horse. Is the enemy of his enemy his friend? But as the soldiers travel ever northward they begin to understand their captives, and overcome the fear, bigotry and hatred that killed so many.

Hostiles is a good, traditional western, shot against breathtaking scenery. It’s a bit slow, and there are way too many long-winded apologies as each character asks for forgiveness when he confesses his crimes. (One dramatic mea culpa would have been enough.) Though told from the white point of view, it is sympathetic toward the plight of First Nations. It satisfies as a Western with the horseback riding, shoot-outs and lots of dramatic tension. And Christian Bale makes a great silent soldier who sees the light.

Sweet Country

Dir: Warwick Thonrton

It’s 1929 in Northern Territory, Australia with three homesteads not far from a small town. They’re owned by whites, but worked by aboriginal families. Sam (Hamilton Morris) works for a kindly preacher (Sam Neill); Cattleman Archie (Gibson John) is indigenous but comes from far away. And mixed-race kid Philomac (Tremayne Doolan) lives near — but not with — his white father.

In comes Harry March, a deranged WWI veteran demanding some “black stock” – how he describes aboriginal workers — to repair a fence. Sam and his family volunteer, but March gives them no food or money for their work, and then sexually assaults Sam’s wife.

They flee back to the preacher’s house, pursued by March, armed and dangerous. Sam defends himself but ends up killing March, a white man (as secretly witnessed by Philomac). So Sam and his wife flee into the bush pursued by a posse that includes Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and Archie as their guide.  The sergeant is the de facto law in these parts and plans to lynch Sam whenever he finds him. But things changes when Sam ends up saving the Sergeant’s  life and turning himself in. Then an actual judge shows up to conduct the trial. But can an Aboriginal man receive justice in a white, frontier town?

Sweet Country is an excellent western set in 20th century Australia. It gives a raw and realistic look at brutal racism and frontier justice. It’s also a subtle examination of identity, and the uneasy give-and-take among the different aboriginal groups, the white settlers and their mixed race descendents.

I recommend this movie.

Sweet Country won the Platform Prize at TIFF and the Special Jury Prize at Venice.

Lucky starts today in Toronto, check your local listings, with Hostiles opening later on. You can catch Sweet Country on Thursday, Oct 19th at the Imaginenative film festival. Go to Imaginenative.org for show times and tickets.

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

Behind the scenes. Films reviewed: Chasing Asylum, Gulistan Land of Roses PLUS I Am What I Play

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Guns, Kurds, Movies, Refugees, War by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2016

12990990_10154130866154169_3035212064760826307_nHi this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s late April in Toronto, and that means it’s documentary season, with movies that take you behind the scenes. CIUT is presenting a special screening of I Am What I Play at the Carlton Cinema next Friday. It takes you behind the scenes at rock radio stations from the 1960s – 1980s. It features Toronto’s own David Marsden. The Mars Bar, broadcasting out of CFNY in Brampton, Ont., introduced the whole alternative music scene — punk, new wave, dance music, British pop — to everyone in the GTA. Incredibly influential. I Am What I Play is at the Carlton Cinema next Friday as part of a series of films presented by this station.

And Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary film festival, in on for the next 10 days.2016_Banner It’s showing a huge number of new documentaries, many having their world premier. And remember, if you’re a student or senior, all daytime screenings until 5 pm are free for you.

This week I’m looking at documentaries that take you behind the scenes. There’s a group of women preparing for battle against ISIS, and a group of refugees unprepared for the trouble they’ll face… from Australia.

Chasing_Asylum_1Chasing Asylum

Dir: Eve Orner

In most countries, refugees have a right to seek asylum upon arrival. The UN charter declares it. Except in Australia. Any migrant arriving by sea is summarily rejected and deported. This, government spokesmen explain, is to deter future migrants. But what happens next is shocking. ForChasing_Asylum_2 several years now, the Australian government has been deporting asylum seekers to camps in the Pacific islands of Nauru and New Guinea. This includes women, children (who receive no schooling) and even babies. What are these detention camps like? The inmates are locked behind metal fences and housed in tents policed by Chasing_Asylum_3former prison guards. And they are stuck there indefinitely.

All whistleblowing related to these detention centres is illegal in Australia, as is taking photos or footage at the camps. But this documentary managed to sneak in hidden cameras to interview detainees, and to speak to former employees. It’s shocking. Conditions there are said to be worse than at actual prisons within Australia. There are numerous cases of women being sexually assaulted, suicides, hunger strikes and even riots and death. Just Chasing_Asylum_4shocking.

And here’s the clincher: it’s not a money issue. Canberra ends up spending half a million dollars per year on each prisoner housed in conditions so squalid it’s described as Australia’s Guantanamo. Watching the film is hard to do: it’s slow paced and depressing at times, and the hidden cameras means you often can’t see faces.

Still, it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s a terrific example of investigative journalism exposing government malfeasance of the worst kind.

Gulistan_5Gulistan: Land of Roses

Dir: Zayne Akyot

It’s Iraqi Kurdistan two years ago. Peshmerga fighters dressed in baggy khaki uniforms with colourful sashes at the waist are training in the forest. They are learning to shoot and engaging in political discussions. Soon they’ll be heading to the battlefront to fight ISIS in the city of Mosul. Just another war documentary, right? Not exactly.

All the fighters in this brigade are women, They are led by a beautiful and charismatic Gulistan_4sergeant named Rojen, She speaks candidly, directly to the camera, saying things like she would feel more beautiful if she had a battle scar on her face. The soldiers switch between combing their long Gulistan_1black hair with nettles and sharing the names they give their rifles. Names like “Patience” and “Beloved”.

There is no up-close violence in this film — it finishes before the actual fighting begins. But a heavy shadow hangs over the brigade, not knowing who will live and who will die.

This is a beautiful movie. It is directed by a Canadian filmmaker from Montreal. But as a kurdish-speaking woman she was allowed to follow the soldier’s intimate lives first hand. This is a rare example of behind-the-scenes footage of the women soldiers challenging ISIS’s rule in Syria and Iraq.

Gulistan, Land of Roses and Chasing Asylum are both having the world premier at Hot Docs — go to hotdocs.ca for showtimes. And this station is presenting I Am What I Play next Friday. go to ciut.fm for details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

g5yk0j_oddball_02_o3_8961200_1456928702Oddball

Dir: Stuart McDonald

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wri/Dir: Marc Abraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country 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

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

Posted in Action, African-Americans, Art, Australia, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Italy, Movies, Thriller, Trial, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_ROW8158.tifThe Rover
Dir: David Michôd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queer parents, straight kids. Movies Reviewed: 52 Tuesdays, My Straight Son, Open Up To Me PLUS Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

Posted in Australia, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Finland, Inside Out, LGBT, Movies, Trans, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on May 23, 2014

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

Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT film festival — known for its innovative programming and great movies – starts today. One traditional sub-genre is the Coming Out movie: a young man or woman finds freedom and love but also faces bullying and depression, when he comes out publicly as gay, bi or lesbian. Usually there are cruel homophobic parents who don’t understand what they’re going through. This always makes for a good movie, but it’s been done a lot. So here’s a reversal: how about movies where the LGBT character is the parent, not the kid? This week I’m looking at three such movies (with an emphasis on trans characters) – from Australia, Venezuela and Finland — all serious dramas, but with good comic relief mixed in.

52 Tuesdays Poster52 Tuesdays

Dir: Sophie Hyde

Billie is a well-adjusted teenager with a great relationship with her parents. She lives with her mom, but regularly sees her motorcycle-riding dad. But one day, she comes home to a big surprise. Her mom has cut her hair, bound her breasts, and is changing her name to James. Starting today, her mom is becoming her dad! James will be undergoing testosterone treatments in a gender transformation. It’s a big change that will take a year. And during that year, James will need his detail_52tuesdaysspace – Billie has to live with her dad (her other dad). Billie is gobsmacked, but doesn’t want to lose contact with her parent. So they agree: she’ll visit after school, each Tuesday, until 10 pm. Over the course of the year, Billie records these weekly visits with her video camera. She also begins to explore gender identity, sexuality… and sex.

At school, she falls in with a passionate couple – Josh and Jasmine (Sam Althuizen and Imogen Archer) – when she spies them making out. They’re in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (where Viola dresses as a man). And, courtesy of Billie’s 52 Tuesdays pic with mustacheuncle, the three of them get their own private time in his empty apartment: Tuesdays from 10 to midnight, when both of Billie’s dads think she’s with the other. And Billie also records these meetings – including their sexual explorations – on her video camera.

So 52 Tuesdays is just as it sounds: 52 short scenes, from Billie’s point of view, tracing the changes – and setbacks – of James’s transformation and her own coming of age. It has a few too many divergent plotlines – school censorship, medical problems, accidents, family rivalries, hidden relationships — extraneous to the main story. But that doesn’t detract from the movie’s elegant structure. Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie is a joy to watch – she’s the next Carey Mulligan – and Del Herbert-Jane gives a fascinating and realistic portrayal of James’ transformation.

detail_mystraightsonMy Straight Son (Azul y no Tan Rosa)

Dir: Miguel Ferrari

Diego (Guillermo García) is a professional photographer in Caracas in his thirties. Life is great. He has a successful career, and a boyfriend, Fabrizio, who is a doctor. Fabrizio pops the question one night at dinner in a fancy restaurant. Do you want to live together? Diego’s surprised but inwardly happy. He says he’ll tell him his decision the next day. He plans to say yes, but two big things happen. Diego’s teenaged son Armando (Ignacio Montes) — who he hasn’t seen for five years since he moved to Europe with his mother — arrives at his Azul y tan rosa galeria-19doorstep. Armando feels neglected by his dad and baffled by his lifestyle. He retreats to online relationships. He’s good-looking but insecure. He uses a celebrity photo his dad took to create a new, online personality and along-distance relationship with Laura, a small town tango enthusiast.

The second thing that happens is Fabrizio is brutally attacked outside a gay bar by three young men who beat him Azul y tan rosa galeria-18senseless. And now he lies in a coma in his hospital bed. Diego identified the gay-bashers, but gets no help from the police – so he buys a gun.

Diego loves his son but doesn’t know what to do. He turns for help from his working class family, and his bar friends – a comic entourage with soap opera names like Dolores Del Rio and Perla Marina. Can Armando connect with his dad? And will he reveal his real face to his online girlfriend? Will Fabrizio come out of his coma? And will the attacking teens ever be brought to justice?

My Straight Son is a very enjoyable melodrama that mixes telenovela plots with pop culture tropes, all with a gay twist.

Kerron sinulle kaiken posterOpen Up To Me

Dir: Simo Halinen

Maarit (Leea Klemola) lives in Helsinki, where she works as a cleaning woman in an office building. She used to work as a guidance counselor in a small town, but left her spouse and teenaged daughter following sex-reassignment surgery. While cleaning an office one day, a psychologist tells Maarit to lock up when she’s done — she’s going to Spain for a few weeks. Two weeks! Hmm… So she tries on her make up and perfume and lounges about the office. Into the psychologist’s office walks Sami (Peter Franzén), a gym teacher and soccer coach. Sami has an appointment to talk about sex problems with his wife, also a school teacher. He detail_openuptomemistakes Maarit for a therapist. After a moment’s pause she slips easily into the role – and they both notice a spark between them. They arrange to meet again.

Soon, Maarit comes clean: she’s a cleaner not as a counseler. She reveals that they met, 20 years ago. Maarit, as a man, was on a professional soccer team (as was Sami) and he bested Sami at the national championships. Sami is taken aback, but Kerron sinulle kaiken Leea Klemola ja Peter Franzén (Kuvaaja Alisa Javits, © Edith Filmintrigued. Is this a budding relationship?

Maarit goes back to her home town where vicious rumours are spreading about her, and her daughter is being picked on in school. Can she rebuild trust with her daughter and restore her reputation? Back in Helsinki, she faces daily abuse and cruelties, ranging from shouted slurs, job discrimination – even propositions from men who assume she’s a prostitute. Through it all, Maarit learns to be a woman who can stand up for herself. Part love story, part family drama, Open Up to Me is an excellent movie, with Leea Klemola and Peter Frantzén — the two leads —  giving strong but subtle performances.

All of these films – and more – are playing now through June 1st at Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival. For more info, go to insideout.ca.

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

TIFF13: Older/Younger. Capsule Reviews: Gloria, Gerontophilia, Bright Days Ahead, Adore

Posted in Australia, Canada, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, LGBT, Montreal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 29, 2013

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

The Toronto Film Festival opens next Thursday for ten days, showing most of the good movies that will be in your theatres in the fall and spring. Well I’ve started watching some of these movies, and there seems to be a trend. Have you ever seen Harold and Maude? Or the Graduate? A lot of the films there are about cross-generational relationships.

So this week I’m looking at love and lust of May-September couples, but with a twist. The movies come from Canada, France, and Chile, and range from younger man/ older woman, middle-aged woman /older man, and very young man / geriatric man. (plus an Australian movie with a different theme.)

A193_C008_0101IKGloria

Dir: Sebastien Lelio

Gloria (Paulina Garcia) is an average, middle-aged divorcee in downtown Santiago. Her kids are adults now so she lives alone in an apartment, with just a noisy neighbor and a hideous, hairless cat intruding on her privacy. But she’s still full of energy – she wants to enjoy life, sing songs, have sex, fall in love. So she starts hanging out in discos, picking up guys – much older guys. She falls for Rodolfo, a very conservative elderly man. At first their relationship seems solid, but he always runs home whenever his daughters need him (he says he’s divorced but still responsible.) She wants him to meet her family and friends. Will he commit? And will he fit in with her lifestyle (Gloria’s a free-thinking Chilean, Rodolfo has roots in Pinochet’s military.)

Although told in an everyday manner, this is a fantastic, bittersweet look at one woman’s life. Paulina Garcia completely embodies Gloria, and exposes her feelings –and her entire body — for the camera.

gerontophilia_02Gerontophilia

Dir: Bruce la Bruce

Lake (Pier-Garbriel Lajoie) is a young guy in Montreal who likes making out with his revolution-obsessed girlfriend beneath a blow-up image Gandhi. But one day, at an aqua fitness class, while giving mouth-to-mouth resusetation to an elderly man, he discovers something.

Old people turn him on. He gets a job at a nursing home, to satisfy his obsessive fetish. Soon he falls for Mr Peabody (Walter Borden), formerly a flamboyant actor, now nearly catatonic on meds. They embark on a trip across Canada, but can this relationship last? Or is it headed for its final burn-out? This is a cute, very Canadian (bilingual French and English), and very mainstream movie. The former Reluctant Pornographer has made the switch to conventional director. Bruce la Bruce has left out the porn, the explicit sex, the nudity and instead made a simple, sweet coming-of-age romance. You could bring your grandpa to this one without blushing… well, your gay grandpa. I liked this movie.

brightdaysahead_01Bright Days Ahead

Dir: Marion Vernoux

The beautiful Caroline (Fanny Ardant) is bored and depressed in her seaside town. She’s mourning her best friend and the loss of her dental practice – she was forced into early retirement. So her daughters enroll her in classes at the local senior centre. She hates the cheesy nature of the place, the condescending tone of the teachers and the infantilisation of formerly dignified adults. That is until she falls into a passionate sexual relationship with Julien (Laurent Lafitte), a lusty computer teacher. Caroline is married and has never strayed before. But she decides to let go – get drunk, have sex, seize the day. Can her casual relationship survive the wagging fingers of small town life? Can she stand being one of many sexual partners? And what about her husband?

This is another light romance – the type that the French do so well. It’s a refreshing afternoon treat, with a palateable finish, much like the wines Caroline so enjoys tasting. Fanny Ardant is great, and Laurent Lafitte is a good foil. (Picture Mark Ruffalo with Candice Bergen…)

Outside of TIFF but opening next Friday is

AdoreFC_adore

Dir: Anne Fontaine (based on a story by Doris Lessing)

Roz and Lil are (Robin Wright, Naomi Watts) are blonde Aussie beach bums. Roz’s husband is dead, and Lil’s husband is distant – he wants to move to Sydney. But the two women grew up by the ocean and won’t leave it. Nor will they leave their friendship – they share everything. Now it’s just them and their two newly-adult sons, Ian and Tom. The boys are unusually handsome, the women are beautiful, and an unusual relationship develops there (no spoilers.)

It’s kept on the down low to stop gossip in the town, but everyone feels something is going on between the two families. Will there paradise last forever? Or will it wash away with the tides? Although Australian in location and cast, the feel of this movie is totally French. This is another summer sexual romance, with touching and erotic undertones.

Gloria, Gerontophilia, and Bright Days Ahead are all playing at TIFF starting next week – tickets are still available. Go to tiff.net for details. Adore opens next Friday in Toronto. And opening today is Our Nixon a documentary made of newly- uncovered super-8 footage taken by his Watergate co-conspirators Haldeman, Erlichman and Dean – excellent documentary.

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 JUSTIN McCONNELL and the Skullman GREG SOMMERS about the new film Skullworld

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Games, LARPing, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2013

skullworldHi, 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.

Have you ever turned down a dark alley only to run into a strange man with a skull for a head, a booming voice, decked out in elaborate body armour, and maybe holding a chain or an axe? Did you scream and run away? Or did you just say “how’s it goin bro” and buy him a beer?

Well that was probably Skullman, the subject of a new documentary opening Skull World 2today called SKULLWORLD. He’s part of a growing international gaming phenomenon known as Box Wars.

To explain all this, I speak with the Skullman himself, aka Greg Sommers, and the film’s director Justin McConnell.

An A+ on the Bechdel Test. Movies Reviewed: The Sapphires, Ich Bin Eine Terroristin, Nitrate Kisses PLUS Cinefranco

Posted in 1960s, Australia, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Movies, Musical, Protest, Queer, Uncategorized, Vietnam by CulturalMining.com on April 5, 2013

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

It’s official: festival season is on now. Cinefranco, is showing contemporary French-language movies from around the world each night at the Royal (with English subtitles, so everyone can enjoy it.) And Tiff Cinematheque is running a retrospective of the well-known radical-feminist filmmaker Barbara Hammer’s oeuvre. They’re screening through Sunday on the Free Screen (free to view).

This week I’m looking at three movies (in order of complexity), all told from the perspective of girls and women. There’s an 11-year-old revolutionary from France, a group of four aboriginal pop singers in Australia in the 1960s, and there’s an explicit look at the once-hidden lesbian sexuality, history and culture.

untitledThe Sapphires

Dir: Wayne Blair

It’s the 1960’s in Cummergunja, a small town in North Australia. There sisters living on a reserve — tough Gail, pretty-voiced Julie and feisty, young Kay (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Stebbens) – are known for their harmonized church songs and country and western tunes.

When they try their hand at a local talent show they meet up with a drunken ne’erdowell, Dave (Chris O’Dowd) who sleeps in the back seat of his car. Dave offers to make them rich and famous as a girl group with him as their manager. The catch? They’ll be IMG_1029_4nm3psxlperforming in Vietnam war zones for the American troops there. He switches their style from country to Motown, and tells them how to dress and change their hair. They accept a fourth singer, Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) who was pulled off their reserve as a child and adopted because, her skin was light enough to “pass” for white. Ironically, the four aboriginal Australians have been heavily discriminated against and pressured to assimilate, but now are told they’re “not black enough” for American audiences!

IMG_0918_eiepw73yThe movie follows the five of them through the bars and battlefields of Vietnam, as they find love with GIs, danger, success and setbacks. About a third of the film consists of their songs and performances, so if you don’t like 60s Motown pop, you won’t like the the Sapphires. I found it fairly corny and cheesy, your typical romantic musical drama, with conventional music. But I enjoyed it. It’s an indigenous cast, with good singers and capable actors, with Deborah Mailman and Chris O’Dowd giving the best performances. And it’s loosely based on a true story, written by the son of one of the singers.

Ich Bin Eine Terroristin cinefranco posterIch Bin Eine Terroristin

Dir: Valerie Gaudissart

Violette (Matthilde Besse) is an endearing 11-year-old girl in France. Her grandmother, a leftist revolutionary, has instilled in her a love of politics that her parents seem to have given up. So when her grandmother dies, she decides to spread revolution across Europe. Carrying her ashes and a book of Rosa Luxemburg’s prison letters, she makes her way alone to a train station and buys a ticket to train heading east. (Rosa Luxemburg was the revolutionary socialist murdered in 1919 by the German government.) Violette vows to take her grandma’s ashes to the places Rosa wrote about in her letters.

First she meets up with a Karl Marx lookalike in the dining car. They recite her verses to each other. In Berlin she visits her grave, and tries to get the tourists there to understand Rosa’s writings. She recites the poems and sings her own songs to anyone who will listenICH BIN EINE - Goethe Institut

On the way she meets border guards in Poland, refugees from Kosovo, and the proletariat women everywhere she goes. She wants to experience what Rosa did, even if it means a jail term.

This cute travelogue is part fantasy, part documentary. It’s full of non-scripted scenes, with real people playing themselves. And Matthilde Besse as Violette carries the film, enchanting us with her songs and writing.

NitrateKissesNitrate Kisses

Dir: Barbara Hammer

Lesbians and gays were silenced for generations in the 20th century in their stories covered up, their letters and diaries burned, and their history left unrecorded. Homosexuality was illegal, and socially so it was kept hidden. In popular culture, gay and lesbian themes had to be disguised, encoded. Old movies would use scenes of ancient Greece or stories from the bible to present homoerotic images in an acceptable manner. Sapphic love was mired within chaste romance and usually ended with lesbian characters going insane, being murdered or committing suicide. So entire historical chapters about a large part of the population remains blank, empty, nonexistent,

In an attempt to address this gap in the historical record, Hammer constructs an aural nitratekisses_02record. She includes spoken accounts of the early twentieth century. These oral histories are played back throughout the film along with music – everything from blues to Kurt Weill — from the periods discussed. Cultural evidence of a queer existence.

Visually, though, the film takes a totally different path. Hammer uses B&W explicit footage of various same-sex couples (three of women, one of men) having sex. Even though we’re inundated with nudity in contemporary cinema and porn is ubiquitous nowadays, you rarely see couples quite like this. Especially the case of two elderly women — a long-time couple — Nitrate-Kissesjoyfully making love for the camera. (Correction: I’ve been informed that the couples having sex on camera were, in fact, total strangers, hired specifically to perform for the film, and had nothing to do with the recorded voices.)

Aside from the sex, there are also lots of clips from period films, music, and lesbian pulp fiction. And every so often it’s topped off with an agit-prop quote plastered across the screen from literary theorists like Michel Foucault.

Nitrate Kisses is vigorously resistant to conventions like narrative, linear storylines, or synchronized sound and picture.

Doesn’t matter. It’s not disjointed at all. The film is an engrossing and engaging historical record.

Ich bin eine Terroristin is playing on april 14th, one of many films at Cinefranco.com – the festival is running all week; you can see Barbara Hammer’s retrospective running through the weekend with Nitrate Kisses screening on Saturday. Go to tiff.net for more information. And The Sapphires opens today – 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 .

Cabins in the Woods. Movies Reviewed: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, The Hunter, The Cabin in the Woods

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

I’m back again, and I’m reviewing three good movies opening this weekend, that are all about the hunters and the hunted in their cabins in the woods. There’s a documentary about a Siberian trapper in the Taiga; a drama about a hunter looking for a tiger; and a horror/ comedy about five college students trapped in a cabin by a hunter zombie.

Happy People. A Year in the Taiga

Dir: Werner Herzog, Dimitry Vasyukov

Genady is an enigmatic, bearded trapper and hunter who lives in Bakhtia, Siberia, in a town reachable only by boat (or helicopter). He sets handmade wooden sable traps over an area so enormous it would take a day and a half to cross by skidoo. He builds a series of little wooden huts across his trapping territory and the camera is there to show it. This is the Taiga, the boreal forest south of the Tundra that looks a lot like most of northern Canada. (Actually, Siberia is bigger than all of Canada.)

The directors follow Genady and other fur trappers for a year, showing the cycle of the seasons, the holidays, the intimate relationship between a hunter and his dogs, and the happy time when they’re welcomed back home for the new year.

You watch him carve skis from a living tree, using just a hatchet and wooden wedges, and some moose fur. He does the same thing people there have been doing there for centuries.

Everything is just how it always was… except maybe an occasional chainsaw, and a few skidoos whizzing across the crusty snow, past some wolves or a stumbling moose.

This is a low-key, educational documentary that gives a realistic and fascinating look at trappers in Siberia, filled with rot-gut vodka, fluffy white animals, frozen fish, and grizzled neighbours wearing black toques or flowery headscarves. Some of the scenes of river vistas, huge clouds and vast frozen tracts are truly beautiful. It’s not quite as funny or shocking as some of Herzog’s other documentaries, but it’s still good, and his deadpan narration is delightful, as always. My one complaint is, whenever anyone starts speaking Russian, instead of subtitles we get English voiceovers. (This is the theatrical version of a four hour German TV series.)

The Hunter

Dir: Daniel Nettheim

Willem Dafoe plays Martin, a cold, mercenary shootist, hired by a military bio- medical conglomerate to track down and kill the Tasmanian tiger, a rare animal in a remote island state in Australia. He is an anal, precision-obsessed anti-social pro, who is friendless — and likes it that way. He’s a loner. But when he arrives, he finds the rustic, wooden house he’s supposed to stay at is filthy, dysfunctional, and falling apart… and occupied by a family.

The father is missing, the mother (Frances O’Connor) is in a perpetual prescription-drug-induced stupor, and the kids run wild, climbing naked into the bathtub with him as he tries to get clean. He brushes them all off, as well as his local guide, Jack (Sam Neill) – he just wants to catch the Tazzie tiger.

But, gradually he adjusts to family life. He helps the mom detox, and starts to spend time with the kids. And, it turns out that the son, a tiny tyke, had accompanied his missing father on a similar tiger hunt. So he has first-hand experience and his drawings could help Martin in his search. But, as his heart warms up, his conscience begins to bother him: should he be killing the last member of a species? And can he survive the barren life in the bush, the xenophobic, redneck townies, the crusading “greenies” (enviro-activists), and the sinister corporation itself?

This is a good, tense drama – not an action movie, despite the way it’s being advertised – that shows Martin stalking the Tiger and resisting the deadly attacks from his rivals. This has good acting, spectacular and unusual scenery, a moving story, and an interesting plot.

Cabin in the Woods

Dir: Drew Goddard

Five college students head off for a fun weekend at a cottage in the woods, where they plan to hang out, maybe have sex, get drunk, and take drugs. It looks like it’ll be fun, despite the warnings of a crusty, tobacco-chewing local who predicts their demise. The five of them — Jules (Anna Hutchison), the newly-blonde party girl, Curt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) the “dumb” jock, Dana (Kristen Connolly) the shy, good girl, and Holden (Jesse Williams) the nice-guy nerd — just want to have a good time, and enjoy a game of truth or dare.

Only Marty (Fran “Dollhouse” Kranz) the stoner, suspects something is up:  why are the very smart students behaving like celebutantes and french-kissing wolf heads? It doesn’t make sense. And when the game leads them down to the basement, why do they accidentally summon redneck killer zombies from the grave by reading a spell they find in an old diary? Whatever the reason is, they find themselves fighting for their lives against an endless series of scary, trap-and-chain wielding hunter zombis. Just what you’d expect from a horror movie.

Except… this isn’t a conventional slasher story. It’s a meta-meta-meta movie, more layers than you can shake a stick at. You see, they don’t realize it, but it’s all been a set-up by technicians in a laboratory somewhere who have made their own hunger games inside and around the cottage, complete with little cameras hidden everywhere. It’s total manipulation and mind control! To get them to act sexier, they spray pheremones into the building. And when they try to escape, they discover they’re trapped in what may be something like a movie set (which eventually morphs into an extended version of Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”…) Is there any way to escape?

The movie switches back and forth between the boring, white-jacketed, middle-aged pocket-protector guys in the lab causing all the trouble (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the perennial lab-geek Amy Acker, from Whedon’s Angel and Dollhouse), and the teens in the cabin running for their lives.

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I just loved this comedy-horror movie by first-time director Goddard who previously wrote Cloverfield; and written by Joss Whedon, the man whose series Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired more PhD theses than Jane Austin. The best way to understand it is to compare it to a one season (BTVS) story arc, building from an innocuous start, through a twisted plot, and with a grand finale where everyone runs amok. Of course, the lines are hilarious, and the violence is scary, extreme and bloody.

Cabin in the Woods, and The Hunter open today in Toronto, Check your local listings; Happy People: a Year in the Taiga, opens at the TIFF Bell Light Box. The Images festival is on now. Also opening is Gus Madden’s long-awaited Keyhole; the wonderful, heart-wrenching drama, The Deep Blue Sea, (which I’ll talk about next week); and the slapstick meat puppets of The Three Stooges. And tickets for HotDocs, Toronto’s documentary festival, are now on sale.

And if you like what you hear, be sure to support CIUT in its membership drive, on now!

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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