Golden. Films reviewed: The Old Man & the Gun, Let the Corpses Tan, The Sisters Brothers

Posted in 1800s, 1980s, Belgium, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Horror, San Francisco, Sex, Texas, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 5, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at three genre movies -– a heist, a western and a retro horror/thriller — about the search for gold. There’s an old bank robber lookin’ for love while stealing krugerrands, two brothers in the old west working as hitmen while searching for gold nuggets, and criminals in Corsica killing for gold bars.

The Old Man & the Gun

Dir: David Lowery

It’s the 1980s in Texas. Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is the consummate gentleman, always kind and charming, especially with the ladies. He meets one such woman named Jewel (Cissie Spacek) by the side of the road where her car overheated. She’s a widow with a ranch but no family or friends nearby. He gives her a ride and they share lunch at a roadside diner. But when he jokingly tells her what he does for a living she doesn’t believe him. Who would think such a kindly old man is a bank robber?

But a bank robber he is, and a damned good one. Working with his partners Teddy and Waller (Danny Glover, Tom Waits) they pull off a stream of successful bank heists from Dallas to St Louis, without ever firing a shot or leaving a single fingerprint behind. That is until detective Hunt (a moustachioed Casey Affleck) connects the dots between these seemingly unrelated crimes. (This is long before google.) Can Tucker quit bankrobbing and settle down with Jewel before Hunt tracks him down?

The movie is based on a true story about a career criminal and escape artist but it’s so much more than that. It’s a tender love story (between Tucker and Jewel), and a buddy drama (between him and his respectful rival, the cop). It’s well-acted, wonderfully directed and with a classic script of the kind I thought Hollywood had forgotten how to write. It even has some filmmaking tricks – like a clever history of his escape attempts – inserted in an unexpected place.

What a feel-good movie this one is.

Let the Corpses Tan (Laissez bronzer les cadavres)

Dir: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

It’s a sundrenched day at a cliffside bed and breakfast in Corsica. Madame Luce (Elina Löwensohn) – a sultry, middle aged woman with a pageboy haircut – is your hostess, but don’t expect a five star rating. It’s a BnB… from hell. The rooms are made of crumbling rock shelters and breakfast means fried eggs served with live ammo. The guests include a scheming criminal, a crooked lawyer, a young tough, and a smash-faced thug. The only paying guest, Max Bernier, is an over-the-hill novelist from Paris in a perpetual drunken stupor. What are they all there for?

A heist, of course, in the form of a Brinks truck carrying a case of solid gold bars. They carry it off — killing two cops and the driver in the process — but then things start to go wrong. Bernier’s beautiful young wife and kid show up unexpectedly, and a pair of motorcycle cops, dressed in black leather, stop by to take a look around. At this point, gunshots start and rarely stop till the end of the movie. Some of the bad guys realize they’ve been stabbed in the back. Soon everyone on the mountainside is either a hostage or hostage taker, a shooter or a victim (or a potential sex partner) in a final shootout for the gold.

But this plot description doesn’t do justice to what this film really is. It’s an over-the-top horror/thriller/heist movie, flawlessly done in the style of 1960s spaghetti westerns. It’s intense, from the saturated colour to the Morricone score.  Every gun shot — and there are thousands – is followed by a mammoth splash of blood; every cigarette is lit with a whoosh of flame that fills the screen; every stabbing has a disgustingly loud squishing sound. There are extreme close ups, with a single eye or curled lip filling the entire screen. And lots of gratuitous nudity and violence, especially when the drunken novelist imagines stylized sex scenes from his own books.

See this one on a big screen.

The Sisters Brothers

Dir: Jacques Audiard

It’s the 1850s in the Oregon territory, and the country has gone gold crazy. Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix) are brothers who earn their living shooting to kill. Eli is smart and kind at heart, while Charlie takes after their dad, a drunk, mean bastard. They work for a shady robber baron known as the Commodore. Their latest job? Meet up with another man

who will provide them with their victim.

Meanwhile, in a town nearby, is the idealistic Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed) a brilliant scientist who is flat broke. He has an invention that could make him a millionaire. It’s a chemical he claims will make panning for gold easy as pie. On his travels he meets an upper-class adventurer named John Morris (Jake Gyllenhall). Warm likes Morris’s polite relaxed manner and sees him as a genuinely nice guy. As they travel he share his secret, though not the details, with him. What he doesn’t know is Morris – like the Sisters Brothers – works for the evil Commodore, and that he plans to hand over his erstwhile friend to those killers. But things aren’t necessarily what they seem. The hunters become the hunted with posses tracking the Sisters brothers for their past crimes. The four find themselves on the same side, at least temporarily, but who can be trusted?

The Sisters Brothers is French director Audiard’s first English language film, and he totally pulls it off. This is an excellent western that captures the frantic expansion of the gold rush towns in the old west with entire settler towns appearing, on-screen. We watch characters discover new technology like toothbrushes and hot-water plumbing. It captures the utopian politics of the time (though completely ignoring the plight of indigenous people). Reilly and Phoenix make great shootists, but it’s Riz Ahmed who really steals the show. The Sisters Brothers (based on Canadian writer Patrick deWitt’s novel), is a wonderful, new take on the classic western.

The Old Man & the Gun, Let the Corpses Tan and The Sisters Brothers — all great movies, though for different reasons — all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Jawad Rhalib about When Arabs Danced at #TIFF18

Posted in Belgium, Dance, documentary, Egypt, Iran, Islam, Religion, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 21, 2018

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

In the 1950s Egypt was known for its dancers.

From belly dancing to ballet dancing to ballroom dancing, dance was an acceptable, even revered part of Arab culture. But with the rise of fundamentalism, dancing has become frowned upon, or even banned in some countries. When will we see Arabs dancing again?

When Arabs Danced is a new documentary that looks at creativity and performance arts within the Arab community in the Middle East, North Africa and in Europe. It also celebrates dance and performance art that continues to thrive… when not being suppressed.

And it treads the fine line between community censorship and religion.  This documentary had its North American premier at Toronto International Film Festival and is directed by the Belgian writer, novelist, director and journalist Jawad Rhalib.

I spoke with Jawad Rhalib in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM during TIFF.

When Arabs Danced is coming soon…

Destinies and Destinations. Films Reviewed: Toni Erdmann, Gold, The Red Turtle PLUS Isaac Julien

Posted in Animation, Belgium, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Drama, Family, Finance, Germany, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 27, 2017

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

British filmmaker and artist Isaac Julien has two film installations on three screens each at the ROM, that follow parallel impressionistic journeys. One with migrants ijs105_western-union-series-no5_ghosts_they-build-their-lives_2007travelling from North Africa to southern Europe, the other following Matthew A Henson the African American explorer heading to the North Pole with Robert Peary.

So this week I’m looking at movies about destinies and destinations. There’s a prospector looking for Gold in Indonesia, a man stranded on a deserted island, and a German trickster in Romania.

c6006c5e-b388-4432-a637-9499a701e432Toni Erdmann

Dir: Maren Ade

Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is an elderly man who lives in Germany with his little dog. He still teaches but his main hobby is practical jokes, especially elaborate routines with him at the centre. He always carries a set of crooked teeth to slip over his own for the shocking effect.

Winfried has an adult daughter named Ines (Sandra Hüller). She’s in her thirties who dresses conservatively, with plain blonde hair. She works for a dda3ca6c-37d5-4322-8070-aeb2af566f08multinational corporation in Bucharest Romania. Ines is an uptight, by-the-book careerist, rising quickly to the top levels of her company. She’s also brimming with angst, loneliness and depression.

Who shows up at her corporate 01533d11-1237-4a24-9475-0bdfe53eed02office? It’s Winfried her dad, on a surprise visit. She loves him, but finds him awkward and uncomfortable to deal with, so she’s relieved when he leaves. Only he doesn’t. He’s still in Bucharest, but in character, complete with fake teeth, Richard Branson wig and dark suit. He says his name is Toni Erdmann, and, he shows up at every party, meeting and get together. And to Ines’s dismay, he’s very popular at her workplace. She has to play along with his joke or risk her job and career.646540f8-a2a1-47f6-a981-99169e9c5cfa

But the story gets really interesting when Ines starts to pick up on her dad’s playful nature and learns to relax, laugh and let herself go.

This is a long movie – almost three hours – and it’s a comedy but it’s never boring. It reveals the story at its own pace, and — no spoilers! — but it does include a nudist party, impromptu karaoke, and an enormous mythical yeti. Great movie!

bryce-dallas-howard-and-matthew-mcconaughey-in-goldGold

Dir: Stephen Gaghan

It’s the 1980s. Kenny Wells (Matt McConaughey) is a fourth generation prospector who lives in Reno, Nevada. His grandpa headed west to get rich on silver and gold. Prospectors say they can smell gold a mile away. But Wells seems to have lost that magic touch. Now he works in a cramped office, and he takes meetings at a rundown bar. Each of his investment schemes promise riches but GOLDend up in ruin. And his charm is in the eyes of the beholder. He’s balding with a pot belly, greasy hair and a snuggle tooth. His girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) still believes in him, but investors don’t.

Until he hears about a man from South America with a new theory. GOLDMichael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) is a dashing prospector with an air of mystery about him. He says there’s a ring of fire in Southeast Asia loaded with precious metals from ancient meteors. Wells and Acosta venture into the jungles of Indonesia looking for treasure. And just when Wells is about to give up, just when he is on deaths door with malaria… Acosta strikes gold. It’s GOLDthe motherload! Core samples say it’s the richest gold mine on the face of the earth. Now they need to face investors, Wall Street brokers, mining moguls and tinpot dictators to hold onto their claims and to make billions. Can Wells keep his indignation and ego under control? Will his relationship with Kay – and his bromance with Acosta — endure under pressure? And can they survive the dog eat dog world of high finance?

Though loosely based on a real story, Gold is strictly fiction. The movie doesn’t deal with things like environmental degradation or horrible work conditions that can accompany mining. And it’s a bit long. But it’s also a fun and fascinating story of the ups and downs of prospecting.

13340241_233264913726993_7447487803385711803_oThe Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)

Dir: Michael Dudok de Wit

A man is awakened on a beach by a crab skittering past. What happened? Where is he? He’s stranded on an island somewhere, a rock with sparkling white sand and pristine blue water. Exploring the island, he finds a lush bamboo forest on one side, a clear freshwater pond in the middle, and at the far end a high rocky precipice. Huge fruits hang from trees, 13415485_234005173652967_7596049063021961426_oready to pick and the beaches teem with fish, and clams. No one around to keep him company, just a wailing seal, fluttering birds and those annoying little crabs that follow him everywhere. Clearly he must escape.

14362673_288284511558366_2379912415219863982_oHe fashions a raft out of bamboo poles tied together with vines and sets off into the waves. Before long something enormous smashes raft to pieces from below. A shark? A whale? He can’t tell, but each attempt to escape the island ends in the same way… disaster. He unnamedfinally discovers the source: a huge red turtle. Eventually the turtle goes aground and walks on the beach, and in a fit of anger, the man flips it on its back and beats it with a stick. Feeling guilty, he tries, without success, to nurse it back to health. But the shell cracks open revealing a beautiful woman inside with long, red hair.

13316884_231361350584016_4940529898495944572_oThe red turtle is a beautiful animated film about a man and his family who form a symbiotic relationship with the sea. it’s produced by Japan’s famous Ghibli Studios – which may explain the Urashima Taro references, a classic story about a man and a turtle. But the look of the movie is purely northern European – the characters have dots for eyes, just like Tintin. This is a beautiful and poignant animated movie. I really liked this one.

Toni Erdmann has been nominated for best foreign film, and The Red Turtle for best animated film Oscar. Along with Gold, they all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Isaac Julien’s Other Destinies is now screening at the Royal Ontario Museum. Go to rom.on.ca for details.

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

Hard Choices. Movies Reviewed: Two Days, One Night, Escobar: Paradise Lost

Posted in Belgium, Clash of Cultures, Crime, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, drugs, Family, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 16, 2015

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.

What do you do when faced with an impossible choice? We all face hard decisions, so this week I’m looking at two such dramas: a woman in Belgium whose co-workers’ choice could change her life, and a young man in Colombia whose choice could end someone else’s life.

6bd2ac3a-afd4-48f5-9461-2f221f64c7ebTwo Days, One Night
Dir: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is depressed. She lives in Belgium with her daughter and her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione). At night she bakes tasty tarts for her family in her beautiful house. And during the day she puts on her white uniform to start work at a solar panel factory.

But yesterday something terrible happened and today she is deeply depressed. She had just gone back to her job after recovering from a long illness. And almost immediately her boss asks her coworkers to make a fatal decision. They’re told either Sandra keeps her job or they each get a 90aa5301-67b8-456d-b524-d70e008bedff1000 Euro Christmas bonus. One or the other. Which one would you choose?

So she gets fired. But without her income her family might lose their home… and move into public housing.

After a short conversation, her boss agreed to have a second vote on Monday at work. So her husband and a conscientious workmate tell Sandra what she must do. That weekend, visit each of your workmates and plead with them, one by one, to change their vote, and let her keep her job. And she only has two days and one night to do it. It’s a simple ff5e49a1-586f-44a2-ae2f-5226388ad008story, and. to be honest, a dull one. Sandra attempts to connect with all of her diverse workmates over one weekend: recent immigrants, locals, old and young, single and married, kids / no kids.  The interesting part is the unexpected responses she gets when she talks to them – some sympathetic, others shockingly hostile. And it follows the lead actress, the great Marion Cotillard, as she reacts to them: one moment she’s elated, the next her hopes are crushed into the dirt, as she visits them one by one. Along with a few dramatic surprises.

I liked this heartfelt drama.  It’s shot in that European style of stark hyper-realism, and looks like the Dardennes’ other movies: I’m used to it. It’s the characters and acting that make it watchable. Especially Marion Cotillard, the main reason for seeing this movie: she gives a fantastic performance.

PL-D02-IMG_0732Escobar: Paradise Lost
Dir: Andrea Di Stefano

Nick (Josh Hutcherson) is a young Canadian who follows his brother down south to Colombia. He wants to camp with him on a beautiful beach near Medeillin. It’s a secret paradise with palm trees, sandy beaches and crystal blue waters. Well, one day he meets a pretty woman with raven hair and beautiful smile. And smart too. Her name is Maria (Claudia Traisac) and they hit it off. Maria wants Rick to meet her uncle Pablo. He’s so nice, he’s like a father to her. What does he do? A local politician, and he brings schools and medical care to the poor people in this area. They love him.

So off they go to Uncle Pablo’s estate. He seems to be a nice, thoughtful PL-D09-IMG_4449and very religious guy.He says he’ll Nick like his own son. But most local politicians can’t afford massive swimming pools, enormous mansions, horse stables and pet elephants. Nick wonders how did he earn his fortune? Oh, says Maria, it’s cocaine. The locals have been cultivating coco leaves for centuries. Uncle Pablo just helps export an important national product. And his last name? He is Pablo Escobar, the world-famous drug lord.

After this, Nick, or Nico as Escobar like to call him, starts to notice PL-D17-IMG_9462strange things. Like when he tells Escobar they’re being harassed by local thugs on the beach the problem suddenly disappears… and so do the three thugs. And on Escobar’s estate, Nick sees people in clothes dripping with blood… human blood. But Nick is spared most of the violence until a big turning point. Escobar, who is at war with the central government, makes a deal to turn himself in. But first he calls in his most trusted family members – including Nick – and PL-D14-IMG_0732henchmen, to help him safely hide his vast riches while he’s out of the game. But, soon enough, Nick realizes there’s more to it than that. He might have to murder someone to keep Escobar safe. Is Escobar a father figure or a cold-blooded killer? Can Nick escape from this spiral of crime and death? And what about his fiancée? How do you PL-D44-IMG_4388solve a problem like Maria?

Escobar: Paradise Lost is a gangster pic with a twist. Nick is a peaceful, naïve outsider who finds himself embroiled in Escobar’s criminal enterprises. It’s part biopic drama, part thriller. The biopic part is just so-so. Luckily the thriller part is the final third of the movie, and by far the most interesting. Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games, The Kids are Alright) is a good movie star to watch – -sympathetic and believable as Nick: mainly bland and chill, heating up near the end. But Benicio Del Toro gives a nuanced portarayal of that super-sketchy mountain of flesh known as Escobar. Not bad.

Ingrid Veninger The Animal ProjectTwo Days, One Night opens today in Toronto, and Escobar: Paradise Lost also opens today in theatres and on VOD: check your local listings. Also, tonight only, at the newly re-opened Innis Town Hall, at Innis College there’s a free screening of The Animal Project. And a talk and Q&A by Screenwriter-in-Residence Ingrid Veninger, and the cast as well, so don’t miss it. And if you’re curious to learn more about the situation Charlie Hebdo, long before the massacre, check out the 2008 documentary by Daniel Leconte, C’est dur d’etre aime par des cons or Its Hard Being Loved by Jerks. It’s free online: go to myfrenchfilmfestival.com .

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

 

 

Putting Together, Tearing Apart. Movies Reviewed: Earth to Echo, It’s only Make Believe, Borgman

Posted in Belgium, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, Fairytales, Horror, Movies, Norway, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 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.

Does your life ever feel like a never ending battle between order and chaos? This week I’m looking at three movies that explore this theme. There’s an American sci-fi adventure about kids trying to put the metal pieces of an extraterrestrial back together; a Norwegian drama about an ex-con trying to put her family life back together; and a Flemish movie about a mysterious visitor trying to tear a family apart.

Earth To EchoEarth to Echo
Dir: Dave Green

Three best friends — Munch, Tuck and Alex — go to Junior High together in Nevada. Munch (Reese Hartwig) is a chubby blond kid with with glasses. He’s the kind of boy who has to line up his ketchup packets, just so. He’s OCD. He’s also an electronics whiz. Alex (Teo Halm) is a tough talking foster child whose worst nightmare is being abandoned by his family. And Tuck (TV rapper Astro) is the leader of the group – he’s smart, but ignored by his parents and cooler, Earth To Echoolder brother.

They’re about to tear down their neighbourhood to build a freeway, so it’s the three boys’ last day together.. That’s when they discover something strange – cryptic messages coming through their cellphones that point to a place in the desert. They hop on their bikes and head out on an adventure.

Earth To EchoThis leads them to find a rusty hunk of junk… which turns out to be a living, sentient being of some kind. It’s a palm-sized metallic ET: an owl with awesome magnetic powers. Joined by a smart girl, they name the metal thing Echo and decide to help him find his spaceship to take him back to… well, wherever he came from. But can they EARTH TO ECHOoutsmart all the meddling grown-ups, and scary government agents, who might mess it all up?

Earth to Echo is a fun, kids’ movie, totally enjoyable by adults. It’s all about found footage and jiggly, handheld cellphone cameras. Obviously it harkens back to ET, with its Spielbergian feel, but it’s very much a contemporary story. More Super 8 than ET. No stars, simple dialogue, but very engaging characters, and awesome special effects involving pieces of metal coming together in midair. I liked this one.

1897928_707411882624939_320300712_nIt’s Only Make Believe
Dir: Arild Østin Ommundsen

Frank and Jenny are young lovers who do casual work together in small town Norway. That work involves petty crime, and they dress the part, with matching leather jackets and blonde hair. On their way to a small job, Jenny (Silje Solomonsen) tells him she’s pregnant. He’s elated, gives her a stolen engagement ring, and vows to stay together forever. But the simple job goes wrong and someone is killed. Ten years later, Jenny is out of prison, ready to start a new life. A childhood schoolmate, Gary, who works at a bank, wants to date her. But she has no money, just an old, broken down 14703_504149072951222_172066000_nhome. Fiance Frank is quadriplegic and comatose. Their daughter, Marete, born after Jenny was in prison, has a stepmother of her own. She’s into crazy dancing and horse riding. And, to 1239409_625710790795049_1287033371_nJenny’s dismay, the dark figures from her past – drug dealers and thugs — start to pop up again, trying to drag her back to a life of crime. Can she shrug off the old and start anew?

This movie is hard to categorize. One scene is a happy montage of playing with her 10-year-old daughter, and renovating her house. The next will be sinister encounters with violent criminals. Then more happy montage with pop/folk music… then more violence. Is it a family drama or a crime thriller? I have no idea. But the acting is good, the main star, Solomonsen, is easy to watch, and the story keeps you interested.

Borgman Poster236Borgman
Dir: Alex Van Warmerdam

Richard and Marina (Jeroen Perceval and Hadewych Minis) are a successful couple who live in a mansion surrounded by woods. He’s an arrogant but successful executive,
while Marina is a compassionate but bored and naïve housewife. A Danish nanny named Stine cares for their three perfect children.

But into this world comes Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) a borgman_20000188_st_4_s-highcombination magician, tramp, fantabulist, storyteller and demon. . He has long hair, a beard, and looks like he just stepped out of a Rembrandt painting. He, and his confreres Ludwig and Pascal, live like hobbits in borgman_20000188_st_1_s-highunderground houses connected by twisted tunnels. Rounding out their team are two deadly, female hitmen, and a pair of elegant race dogs.

They gradually work their way into the family and strange things begin to happen. Camiel tells strange old fairytales to the kids, indicting them into his view of the world. People start dying and disappearing. Richard notices an X mark tattooed onto his shoulder. And at night Camiel climbs onto Marina’s sleeping body like a succubus, implanting scary dreams into her thoughts.
Borgman_still_01-1
Borgman is a very strange, dark comedy, a combination fairytale, fantasy, horror movie and family drama. It remind me of French director Leos Carax, but with that distinctively cold northern European deadpan feel. Really weird, cool movie.

Earth to Echo is now playing and Borgman, and It’s Only Make Believe open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. Also opening today is Gerontophilia, from director Bruce La Bruce.

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

Group Efforts. Movies Reviewed: Bombay Talkies, The Great Passage, Broken Circle Breakdown PLUS Reel Asian

Posted in Belgium, Cultural Mining, Drama, India, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2013

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

I was speaking with a movie producer recently who wonders why do I interview directors. Why are they called the filmmakers, not producers? he wanted to know. They’re the ones who really make the film happen. I said, well, it’s the director who puts his personal stamp on a movie. But he’s right.  It’s never just a one-person show. Ensemble pieces need great actors who work well together. The screenwriter is the one who makes the story: crucial. Never mind the necessities of music, wardrobe, hair and makeup, lighting and sound mixing. – it takes a veritable movie village.

This week I’m talking about group efforts to get things done… and the troubles they face. There’s a film from India about Bollywood that has four directors; a gentle drama from Japan about a man at a publisher who wants to collect every single word; and a passionate romance from Belgium about a man and a woman in a band who are trying to raise a child.

Bombay_Talkies3Bombay Talkies

Dir: Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap

What’s the biggest centre in the world for film production? That’s Bombay not Hollywood. And it’s 100 years old, so they created this tribute to Bollywood which also opened Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

Thisis actually four complete short films, all of which touch on the same theme. One follows a gay man who discovers his female boss’s handsome husband shares his passion for old Bollywood singers. But do they share something else too? The second one is about a little boy who wants to dance. Then there’s a dad who fails at all his ventures, whether it’s a get-rich-quick involving emu’s to years of effort to make it as an actor. But fortune smiles on him when he’s pulled onto a set to INDIA-ENTERTAINMENT-BOLLYWOODplay a part in a film. And finally there’s a man sent on a holy pilgrimage from a small town to Bombay. His mission? To get a movie god to take a bite of his mother’s famous sweet. Just a bite.

All four were very different but all cute. They’re followed by a song-and-dance starring the biggest names and faces in Bollywood. I knew they were big because the audience was gasping, laughing and cheering as they appeared one by one, but I only recognized one or two faces.

What’s most interesting is this tribute to Bollywood chooses to use a western-style movie structure. You can see the actors dying to jump up and sing and dance and emote whenever there was a dramatic pause… but they can’t, because of the nature of this film. But it kept the melodrama, the humour, and the acting (and occasional overacting – to my western eyes) distinctive to this genre. A good intro to Bollywood for those – like me – not in the know.

The_Great_PassageThe Great Passage

Dir: Ishii Yuuya

It’s the 1990s. The editor at a major Japanese publishing house wants to produce a new kind of Japanese dictionary, one that includes all words – including ones they hear on the street: slang, contractions, new terms just catching on. It’s a huge, all encompassing project they think will take more than 20 years to complete. And it may not make money in these troubled economic times. And then the editor quits, so the search is on for a new editor, someone young enough to follow it through but with a true love of words. Their ultimate choice is shy, non-communicative young nerd from the sales department. He’s a dreadful salesman… but a traditionalist when it comes to words, definitions and precision. Even his name — Majime — means serious and hard-working. But his personal and home life is dismal. Majime (Matsuda Ryuhei) never talks to women – actually he never talks to anyone except his elderly landlady and his cat named Tora (Japanese for tiger).

But then he meets his pretty neighbor Kaguya (Miyazaki Aoi), a young woman in training as a sushi chef, who is as expressive in speaking as she is with a knife. Will a painful courtship lead to true love?

The film watches him bloom even as the dictionary (called Daidoukai) passes through its great passage. It comes to life from index cards to piles of manuscripts — proofread five times. But will it ever be published in a country turning digital?

The Great Passage is an odd little movie about a huge, multigenerational project and the ordinary but quirky people who make it happen. I love its attention to words, sounds and details. Although the structure is like any movie about a group trying to accomplish something great despite the odds against them, it’s nice to see it not about a baseball game for a change.

Broken Circle Breakdown 6 -topshotonbedBroken Circle Breakdown

Dir: Felix van Groeningen

It’s Bush-era Belgium. Didier and Elise are lovers (Johann Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens). She’s a tattoo artist, petite with blonde hair and symbolic images of all over her body. They used to be pictures of ex-lovers, but when breaks up she redraws the images into something new. He’s a burly bearded fellow with crooked teeth and a huge beard. He sings and plays the banjo in a bluegrass band filled with other bearded Flemish cowboys… and Elise. Their country life centres on music, their friends, and the great sex. Passionate sex, angry sex, comfort sex, make-up sex.

This also brings them adorable little Maybelle. She likes TV girl superheroes dancing and running around. Maybelle sees a bird die when it crashes into their glass veranda. She’s upset by the unfairness of it all. The parents reveal their fundamentally different philosophies. Didier thinks it’s all part of the long process of evolution: birds as a species must learn about clear glass and adapt. Elise thinks problems should be changedpragmatically, by fixing or covering up past mistakes. Redraw a tattoo. Put a picture of a hawk on the glass. She sees the bird’s sudden appearance as a sign or an omen.

Maybelle develops leukaemia and has to undergo radical chemo with a low chance of survival.the broken circle breakdown _still_03_band

While this sounds like a mainstream sick girl / concerned parents movie, it’s not told that way at all. The plot is cut up style – flashbacks and flashforwards all pasted back together, jumping back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life and trauma, the happy and the sad. The story is subtly narrated by songs sung by the bearded Greek chorus (the band at the bluegrass club). The film touches on death, religion, music, God and politics, punctuated by extended musical and a capella sequences.

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a passionate and moving drama – I really liked this one.

The Great Passage and Bombay Talkies are both playing at the Reel Asian Film Festival (reelasian.com ): and Broken Circle Breakdown opens today at the TIFF Bell Light Box in Toronto (tiff.net) . Rendezvous with Madness starts Monday: go to rwmff.com for details. Also opening soon is Ekran, Toronto’s Polish film festival, and Monsters and Martians festival. And check out another passionate – and highly explicit — three-hour-long sexual romance called Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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

 

May 17, 2012 Inside Out and Upside Down. Movies Reviewed: The Dictator, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, Bullhead PLUS CFC Short Film Fest

Posted in Belgium, Books, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Denial, Steroids, Toronto, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 17, 2012

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

The Festivals continue in Toronto, and coming on June 5th is the CFC Short Film Festival, which proves once and for all, it’s not the size (of movies) it’s the motion. Or something like that… You know all those Oscars for sort films , but never get a chance to see them? Well these are the ones that might be nominated for next year’s awards. There are movies featuring celebs like Michael Fassbender, David Duchovny, Charlotte Rampling and Anna Paquin. In short films! And they’re all grouped in categories like “Homeland Security”, “Indie Comedy Showcase”, and “The Night Shift” – which will be showing at late hours, soft of a Midnight Madness Mini-me… It all sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, and it starts on June 5th

And NXNE, where music conquers all – and that includes their movies – is coming on June 11th. But right now, starting last night, it’s time for the friendly and fascinating LGBT Film Festival, Toronto’s own Inside Out. And if you think its all rainbow ring necklaces and coming-out stories, well, you’re wrong. It’s a very diverse, multi-genre collection of movies, some of which push the limits of the conventional. There are movies from Canada, and around the world: Scandinavia, the US, even Vietnam. Comedies, dramas, romance, documentaries, and lots of sex, of course. Something to satisfy every sexuality and interest. I’m talking about a couple movies today, a Belgian one about cows, and a Canadian one about white oak trees…! But first, a new comedy, you may have heard about.

The Dictator
Dir: Larry Charles

Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the military dictator of a North African kingdom. He’s cruel and unpredictable, quietly sentencing to death anyone who disagrees with him. Like Saddam Hussein he has a series of identical doubles to take the bullets from any assassin out to get him, and a Gaddafi- style band of beautiful women soldiers to protect him. He’s a world pariah, and like Kim Jong-il is set to test-launch a nuclear WMD. But what he doesn’t know is that his trusted Tamir (Ben Kingsley) is the one trying to depose him and make his homeland a pseudo-democracy controlled by big oil.

So, on a trip to NYC to speak before the UN, he is kidnapped by a racist American torturer, until he manages to escape… but without his trademark beard and clothing he is just another man. So in a bid to seize back his country at a UN meeting, he falls in with a hippy named Zoey (Anna Faris) who works in an organic food co-op.

OK, this is a new type of movie for Sacha Baron Cohen – different from Borat and Bruno. Instead of getting its laughs in fake documentaries by forcing unsuspecting ordinary people into embarrassing encounters with an invented character, this one has a script by a four-person writing team, music, other actors, old-school film plots and special effects. Presumably it’s because too many people recognize him to trick anyone. So he’s abandoned his revolutionary style of youtube filmmaking for an ordinary comedy. But does it work? I have to admit, at times, flashbacks of those awful, fish-out-of-water comedies with Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler at their worst popped into my mind… but it was better than those, because he’s a good actor, and funnier, wittier, and, even now, more subversive with his parodies of both the rabid right and the flaky left. He stays with the simultaneously self-centred — but somehow self-deprecating — nature of his over-the-top characters. Comic actress Anna Faris was great as his “straight-man” foil.

And, except for a few painfully awful sequences, I thought it was funny. It kept me laughing – or at least smiling — for most of the movie.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche
Dir: Maya Gallus

Jalna, a book about a rich family won the Atlantic prize for best novel in the 20s, propelling its unknown author to international fame and fortune and dozens of bestsellers about this patrician, horsey collection of matriarchs and patriarchs, grandmothers, lovers and cruel siblings, a sort of an on-going saga at the Whiteoaks mansion. But what’s interesting about it is the hidden life of the Canadian author Mazo de la Roche.

Mazo de la Roche (born, in Newmarket as the decidedly unglamorous Masie Roach) created a persona for herself woven with false stories and mythical status. And even more interesting was her “Boston Marriage” to a woman, Caroline Clement, her adopted sister. Together they adopted two children and ran a novelistic empire. In an era when homosexuality was both illegal, and taboo, her lesbian readers saw her disguised subtexts of relationships and exalted in her hidden codes.

Her story is told half as a conventional documentary with talking heads, and half as a theatrical, dramatic reading of Mazo and Caroline’s life, played by two actors.

The movie brings in her descendents, old photos, and great Canadian novelists like Marie-Claire Blais and Susan Swan to comment on the influence these largely forgotten novels had on her readers.

This is a good, entertaining NFB documentary, and it’s made by a great director, Maya Gallus, who does amazing documentaries about women that always grab you – like last year’s Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service.

Bullhead (Rundskop)
Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Jackie (Mattias Schoenaerts) is a Flemish cattle farmer in Belgium. He’s big and built, partly from heavy work, and partly from his steroid injections. He’s generally brooding but gentle, but on occasion loses it, in a rush of roid-rage. Like cows, like people. To speed up the growth rate of his cattle, he gets involved in the illegal purchase of growth hormones.

Flashback to two decades earlier, we watch him and his best friend Diederik, spotting a pretty girl on a French-speaking Walloon farm. Jackie keeps wanting to go back so he can talk to her again, and Diederik tags along. But on one of those visits he’s caught by a crazed bully, her big brother, who brutally attacks little Jackie… smashing his balls with a huge rock. I kid you not. Diderik doesn’t come to his defense and then is prevented from testifying against the bully who permanently injured his best friend.

Now, back in the present, Jackie is still taking the testosterone that let him grow to manhood, and he and Diederik are working together again, buying steroids. And Jackie is trying to talk one more time to the girl from that fatal day, who now works in a perfume shop in the French part of Belgium. And Diederik, meanwhile, has a bro-crush on his ball-less boyhood buddy, even as the police are looking for people to blame for a shooting, perhaps tied to the hormone trafficking.

This is a great movie, if a long one. It’s one of those slow-build dramas, where for the frst half you barely know what’s going on, but by the second hour it becomes gripping, filled with tension – sexual courtship, criminals vs cops, gay and straight, Male Female, French and Dutch, all in a hugely complicated but moving drama. Bullhead was the Belgian entry for Academy award for Best Foreign Language Picture, and it’s having its Toronto debut at Inside Out.

The Dictator just opened, check your local listings, and Bullhead, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, She Said Boom and many more great movies are playing at the Inside Out Festival: go to insideout.ca for more info.

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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