Daniel Garber talks with Michael Del Monte and Janae Marie Kroczaleski about Transformer

Posted in Bodybuilders, Canada, documentary, Family, LGBT, Sports, Trans, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2018

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Janae Marie is a Michigan pharmacist, originally from Ypsilanti, divorced with three sons.

Matt was a high school football player, a former marine who rose to fame as a competitive bodybuilder and power lifter. What brings the two together?

Jenae used to be Matt.

She’s a transwoman facing the unusually difficult transition from titanic 250 pound man into her current status. This transformation is documented in a new feature film called Transformer.

The documentary is directed by Toronto native, award-winning filmmaker Michael Del Monte.

It follows Janae both at home with family and friends, and inside the hypermasculine world of competitive weightlifting. It shows her life both as Matt and as Janae while she makes the difficult decisions and myriad changes faced by all trans people, as well as those unique to her world. Transformer is an eye-opening, surprising, touching and always respectful movie.

I spoke to Janae Marie Kroczaleski and Michael Del Monte on location during Hot Docs.

Del Monte’s Transformer won the won Hot Docs Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award and the Rogers Audience Choice Award for Best Canadian Doc. It starts its theatrical run today.

Bro Movies. Films reviewed: Bigger, First Man, Free Solo

Posted in 1930s, 1960s, Biopic, Bodybuilders, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Space, Sports by CulturalMining.com on October 12, 2018

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

It’s Fall Film Festival season in Toronto now, meaning more movies than you can shake a stick at. Toronto After Dark will thrill and chill you with horror, cult and fantasy pics. Cinefranco brings brand new French language comedies, dramas and policiers from Quebec and Europe. And Rendezvous with Madness plays fascinating films accompanied by panel discussions on addiction and mental health.

But this week I’m talking about bro films, two biopics and a doc about men with lofty goals. One wants to climb a sheer cliff, another wants to build the perfect body, and a third one who just wants to fly to the moon.

Bigger

Dir: George Gallo

Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) is a poor jewish kid in depression-era Montreal. On the streets tough kids beat him up and steal his paper route money, and at home his cruel mom beats him for not keeping clean. At least his little brother Ben (Aneurin Barnard) looks up to him. Joe finds inspiration in unusual places: a strongman at the circus and photos of weight lifters he see at newsstands. He begins to obsessively draw pictures of perfect male bodies, copying from textbooks at the McGill library. He wants to promote beautiful physiques, bodies that are muscular, symmetrical and healthy. But fitness for health and looks is still a new concept. In those days people guzzled booze, smoked like chimneys, and thought exercise was a dangerous thing best left to olympic athletes.

Weider challenges all that with self-published magazines, promoting new exercises, diets and weight training, illustrated with glamour shots of barely-dressed muscle men. It’s a smash hit, he gets a US contract and Joe and Ben’s empire expands to bodybuilder contests, weights, and a wide range of magazines. And when business takes him to Hollywood, he spots a bleached blonde pin up model working out at Jack LaLanne’s gym.  Betty (Julianne Hough) is everything he desires: beautiful, fit and smart (he is separated from his first wife). Is this true love? Later he discovers Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger – the personification of his childhood drawings – and brings him to America.

Bigger is a fun, if idealized, look at the life and career of Canadian fitness mogul Joe Weider. It’s a bit corny, with Montreal-born Joe talking in an unplaceable, choppy accent. And it steers clear of his lawsuits and scandals. But Hoechlin and Hough are enjoyable as Joe and Betty, and there’s even a super villain, a racist, anti-semitic homophobe named Hauk (wonderfully played by Kevin Durand) who is his business rival and real-life enemy. Not a great movie, but an enjoyable one.

First Man

Dir: Damien Chazelle

It’s the 1960s in America, the space race is on, and the Soviets are winning. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a test pilot exploring the skies. He can land any plane, even one about to explode. He’s married to Janet (Claire Foy), a pixie-ish woman with a fierce temper. They have a young daughter they both love. But when the girl dies of an incurable illness, and Neil loses his job despite his skills they know things have to change. So Neil makes a big decision: NASA needs astronauts, and he’s going to be one. They move down to Houston and settle in to suburban life.

First Man follows the career and home life of the renowned astronaut, from Gemini missions, to Apollo’s first landing. Armstrong is portrayed as a strong silent type, a no-nonsense guy who drives off alone to handle anger and depression. It also deals with astronauts and their uncertain lives (lots of them died). And director Chazelle makes you feel like you’re there with them in the planes and rockets. He even inserts showtunes into his astronaut movie. (Wait — showtunes?)  So why didn’t I Iike it? First Man is too heavy, too long, too ponderous. It’s one of those overly stern and patriotic American movies about national heroes. And where’s the suspense? We already know he was the first man on the moon. What’s the point? Ok, there are a few powerful scenes, but First Man consists mainly of rattling cockpits, brooding astronauts and suburban housewives yelling about their husbands.

Ryan Gosling is wasted in this boring example of Oscar Bait.

Free Solo

Dir: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

It’s 2016 and Alex Honnold has one obsession: to scale a sheer cliff in Yosemite. Mountain climbers have done it before in teams rapelling with ropes, pitons and caribiners. But Alex wants to do it “free solo”, that is, by himself and without safety ropes. One slip, one miscalculated reach, will send him plunging to his death. But he really wants to climb El Cap, and if it’s not free solo, what’s the point?

Alex is a boyish, wiry vegetarian who cares little for material things. He’s a loner who lives out of a trailer. He’s also in perfect shape, lithe, bendy and incredibly strong. He has to be to hold onto a crack in a rock with just a few fingers while stretching his body sideways to the next outcropping. He intensely studies the cliff, practicing each stage in separate small climbs using ropes. And he is accompanied by the filmmakers, who are accomplished climbers themselves. Alex proves to be a bit camera shy, hesitant to “let go” before the cameras. Is it performance anxiety? And will Alex make it to the top of El Capitan… or plunge to his death?

Free Solo is an amazing and spectacular look at one climber attempting the nearly impossible. I have no deep-seated passion for rock climbing – I even have a fear of falling – but this movie kept me riveted the whole time. Scenes that show Alex’s quirky nature and the people around him —  including other climbers, his family and his girlfriend – help give him a more rounded portrayal. But it’s the climb itself, and the truly amazing photography, that really keeps your attention.

Bigger, First Man, and Free Solo and 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.

Secretive Groups. Movies Reviewed: Pussy Riot, Kill Team, Pain & Gain PLUS Hot Docs!

Posted in 1990s, Bodybuilders, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Punk, Russia, Trial, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on April 26, 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.

Hot Docs – Toronto’s legendary Film Festival that shows over 200 documentaries in one week – is on now. It brings cutting edge documentaries from around the world, the filmmakers, and subjects, It’s centered on the Hot Docs cinema on Bloor St, but runs movies and events all around the downtown. And if you’re a student or a senior, you can get free rush tickets for any daytime screening.

What do conspiracies look like? They can be a group of well-meaning protesters, a gang of thieves, or a secret cabal of soldier killers. This week I’m looking at three films about secretive groups whose actions run up against the law and morality. One’s about Russian feminist punks who run into trouble with Putin and the Russian Orthodox church; another’s about a whistleblower in the US military who gets charged with murder; and a third is about some ambitious bodybuilders who want their slice of the pie – and will do whatever is necessary to get it.

The_Kill_Team_2Kill Team

Dir: Dan Krauss

When the photos of Abu Ghraib hit the papers, people were shocked at the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. But a series of incidents in Afghanistan , even more shocking than Abu Ghraib are the subject of a new expose. Here’s what happened.

Winfield, a young skinny marine, the smallest in his unit, notices a strange shift in his unit when a new commanding officer, Gibbs, arrives. Gibbs has a reputation for violence during his term in Iraq. And now he was demanding his soldiers take down Afghan civilians – boys and yound men — in their area. Gibbs forms an elite squad, a “Kill Team”, who are The_Kill_Team_3sent out on “drop weapon” missions. This means they would surprise someone, kill him, and then drop a weapon they had brought for that purpose beside the dead body to justify the killing. And then pose for smiling souvenir photos.

So Winfield becomes a whistleblower, sending out word of these heinous murders to his family, asking them to report it. But, through a series of events that the film reveals, the whistleblower ends up being arrested and charged with murder for the very events he was trying to prevent. The movie tells the story of the various marines involved in this particular unit, as the trials and court-martials are prepared. This disturbing documentary also suggests that these practices were not restricted to that one unit but are common practice among soldiers in Afghanistan. They were just the only ones caught. While mainly talking heads – the various soldiers telling their stories – and with a few too many scenes involving negotiatins with lawyers – it is a serious, important film. The Kill Team puts the integrity of the entire Afghan mission into question.

Pussy_Riot_A_Punk_Prayer_1Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Dir: Maxim Pozdorovkin, Mike Lerner

Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk band. They perform their protest pieces wearing neon-coloured balaclavas to cover their faces, playing guitar and singing about government corruption, human rights and freedom of expression. But something happened when they choose to sing about Putin’s ties to the Russian Orthodox church’s patriarchy on the actual altar of a famous cathedral. Within seconds police swarm the stage and arrest three of them for trespassing and defaming religion.

And so begins a lengthy trial followed around the world. The movie interviews the three prisoners – Nadia, Maria and Ekatarina – their families, co-performers and friends. Performance art, public satire and the avant garde, while familiar in the west (where it’s met with yawns or raised eyebrows) are new and genuinely revolutionary in Russia. Somehow, the filmmakers got their cameras and microphones into the trial itself, with perfect views of the three women boxed into a glass cage, as if they were Hannibal Lecters on trial for mass murder. It’s a rare glimpse into the Russian justice system, where playing a simple protest tune still holds the threat of a term in a Siberian prison camp.

Pussy Riot is a must-see at Hotdocs.

PG-01Pain & Gain

Dir: Michael Bay

Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a musclehead personal trainer. He’s given to mindless slogans to inspire him. He’s all about the American dream, being a doer not a don’t-er, and yo, bitches, his body is his temple, his muscles a shrine to physical power (“no homo!”). It’s Miami in the 90’s. This is America — a buff, pimpin’ nation! Or so say the men with fake orange tans at Sun Gym.

But Danny just isn’t making enough money – and he wants to have it all. So he gathers a team of ex-cons to kidnap his client Pepe, an obnoxious, middle-aged Jewish guy from Colombia. After some trouble and some violent episodes, their scheme pays off – they’re rich! They have everything now: a mansion, a sportscar, a yacht, cocaine, a Romanian girlfriend, penile implants… But a persistent P.I. (Peter Weller) is on their trail. Will he catch them in the act?

Pain & Gain is a mildly interesting comedy /action movie. It’s just not that funny, or that PG-12interesting, and without much action. The main characters are all caricatures – Dwayne Johnson (“the Rock”) is OK as a sub-normal, born-again body-builder; Tony Shalhoub is great as the world’s most annoying kidnappee; and Mark Wahlberg does his wannabe criminal mastermind very well. But the characters seem to be there just so the audience can laugh at how stupid they all are. (It’s also a weirdly structured movie. The plot repeatedly screeches to a halt to give each character a freeze-frame and an extended voiceover explaining their backstory, out loud. Why?) Pain & Gain is intentionally kitschy, mildly offensive and aims for the lowest common denominator… but it still entertains.

Pain and Gain opens today, check your listings; and Hot Docs is on now: for showtimes of movies like Pussy Riot (screening today) and Kill Team, go to hotdocs.ca.

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

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