Lifestyles? Films reviewed: My Wonderful West Berlin, The Lavender Scare, Baywatch

Posted in Berlin, Breasts, comedy, documentary, LGBT, Protest by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

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

Inside Out is Toronto’s LGBT film festival showing dramas, comedies, documentaries and short films from around the world. There are events, free screenings and a chance to talk to the filmmakers and stars at most screenings.

This week I’m looking at two historical Inside Out documentaries about gay life and repression in two cities, Washington, D.C. and Berlin; and an action/comedy about straight life on a California beach.

My Wonderful West Berlin (Mein wunderbares West-Berlin)

Wri/Dir: Jochen Hick

After WWII, a defeated Germany was divided into East and West, its bombed-out former capital, Berlin, into Soviet and Western zones. But the pre-war laws still applied. Paragraph 175 — an anti-gay section of the German criminal code passed by the Nazis in 1935 — made many homosexual acts illegal. But gays and lesbians flocked there – Berlin represented freedom, counterculture and revolution.  And when the Berlin wall went up in the early 1969s Berlin served as a beacon located entirely within East Germany.

The districts of Shöneberg (and later Kreutzberg) became the centres of a queer counterculture. The movie follows the changing city from the 1950s to the 1990s. There’s the well-known drag shows and sex clubs, but also a vibrant theatre scene, and a city filled with gay artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers (including Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim). There were gay squatters who set up home inside abandoned buildings. In the 1960s groups of men formed “Male Communes”, living spaces where pairing-off into heterosexual-style marriages was considered bourgeois. Cooking, cleaning and sex were all shared. But could Marxist thought coexist with gay sex?

The movie covers the subculture of the 1950s, the leftist counterculture of the 60s, through the punk movement, the AIDS crisis, and the end of the cold war. Filmmakers played a crucial war in establishing gay culture. The Berlin Film Festival, (where this film recently premiered), is the first major film festival to have a gay film prize, the Teddy awards. My Wonderful West Berlin is a fantastic guide to Berlin’s history, illustrated with contemporary and historical interviews with the people who lived through it. It also includes eye-popping photos and footage of everything from safe-sex porn to Taxi Zum Klo. An excellent look at a complex city.

The Lavender Scare

Dir: Josh Howard

In the 1930s Washington, D.C. attracted educated people from across America to follow their ambitions and live openly gay or lesbian lives. WWII brought together men and women across the country with a new same-sex comradery. And the Kinsey Report (1948) estimated that close to a quarter of all men have had some same-sex experience. This all came to a sudden halt in the early 1950s. Politicians (like Senator Joe McCarthy) claimed communists were lurking in every dark alley. Party members, fellow travellers, socialists and liberals were purged en masse from government jobs and blacklisted for a decade. This Red Scares was followed by the lesser known “Lavender Scare”, an anti-gay purge that started in the 1950s but that lasted for 40 years. Civil servants were spied on by police and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Anyone seen in “suspect” bars, observed as having habits different from the mainstream or even “gay” patterns of speech, was interrogated and forced to name names. Each person accused of being gay, lesbian or bi had to name five other suspects, who were also arrested. The excuse was that LGBT people were vulnerable to blackmail — since homosexual acts were illegal, and therefore prone to act as spies for the Soviet Union. But in fact, there was not a single proven incident of LGBT government employees blackmailed into becoming traitors. Instead, thousands of people lost their jobs, had passports revoked, with many driven to suicide.

The movie follows mainly white, middle-class, educated, professionals in Washington — navy brass, diplomats, post office workers — both men and women, and how the Lavender Scare changed their lives. The film takes a mainstream, middle-of-the-road look at LGBT politics. It covers an early gay and lesbian advocacy group known as the Mattachine Society, and the founder of its DC branch Frank Kameny. At protests, he ordered men to wear suits and ties and women dresses, to demonstrate that they were just like “ordinary” people. (Trans not welcome here.) The Lavender Scare is a mainstream, suitable-for-television look at US government persecution of gays and lesbians and the effect it had on their lives. It’s lavishly illustrated with snapshots and period footage.

Baywatch

Dir: Seth Gordon

Mitch (played by wrestler-turned-actor The Rock) is a huge, egotistical lifeguard adored by everyone on the beach. Along with two women, CJ and Stephanie (Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera), the Baywatch team save lives on a daily basis. They also function as an unofficial police force, patrolling the waves for drug pushers and petty thieves. Today’s the day they choose three new rookies out of the hundreds who apply. This year’s choice? Summer (Alexandra Daddario), an athletic young woman, Ronnie (Jon Bass), an out-of-shape computer geek, and Brody. Brody (Zac Efron) is a former olympic swimmer with pop-idol good looks, who rides a vintage motorcycle. He’s also impulsive, brash and selfish, and prone to excess drinking.

Brody and Mitch do not get along.

Then bad things start happening. Dead bodies wash up on shore along with packets of a designer drug. And there’s a new dog in town, Victoria, a rich and ruthless villain (Priyanka Chopra). Is she somehow connected to these crimes? Can the lifeguards stop corruption at City Hall? And can the Baywatch team just learn to get along?

Baywatch is an action/comedy based on the hit 90s TV show. There are a few inside references to the original version, along with chase scenes, rescues and shootouts. But let’s be real; this movie is really about boobs and dicks on the beach. Virtually every scene involves close ups of unzipped one-piece swim suits. And the penis jokes never end. I’m not exaggerating. There’s one scene involving Ronnie’s erection stuck in a wooden lounge chair that lasted for 5-10 minutes.

Is Baywatch funny? Not very. Is it exciting? Not really. Is it surprising. Not at all. Men get all the punchlines, while women provide the scenery. But did I hate it? No. How could I? It’s just like sitting on a beach, watching all the people walk past.

Baywatch opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Lavender Scare and My Wonderful West Berlin are playing at the Inside Out Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for tickets and showtimes.

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

Daniel Garber talks to burlesque stars Judith Stein and Camille 2000 and director Rama Rau about The League of Exotique Dancers

Posted in Breasts, Burlesque, Canada, Dance, documentary, Feminism, Sex Trade, Strippers, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 20, 2016

Judith Stein, Camille 2000Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In the days before pole dancing and pornhub, ecdysiasts plied their trade in show palaces across North America. These women performed their acts on stage with live music, costumes, and comedians. It was known as burlesque and Camille 2000, Rama Rau, Judith Steinproduced stars of its own, known for their songs, dances and looks. Burlesque reached its heyday in the 1950s and 60s before taking its last bows.

Now the original dancers are performing together again at a special Las Vegas show honoring inductees into the Burlesque Hall of Fame. A veritable League of Exotic Dancers.

The League of Exotique DancersThe League of Exotique Dancers is also the name of a new documentary that had its world premier at Hot Docs. It’s directed by award-winning Toronto-based filmmaker Rama Rau and features the original burlesque stars. I spoke with Rama Rau and burlesque artists Canadian Grand Beaver Judith Stein and Camille 2000.

They told me about the glamour and costumes of burlesque, Judith and Camille’s early days, burlesque vs neo-burlesque, burlesque and Bollywood, why strip bars pushed burlesque out of the picture… and more!

The League of Exotique Dancers opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

Daniel Garber talks with director Gaspar Noé about his new film Love (in 3-D) at #TIFF15

Posted in 3-D, Breasts, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, France, Mental Illness, Movies, Penis, psychedelia, Romance, Sex, Suspicion, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 14, 2015

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

Murphy is an American in Paris. On New Year’s Day he awakens from a sexual dream to find himself miserable and hungover. He is married to a woman, Omi, he barely knows and father of Gaspar Noe 2an accidental baby named Gaspar. He retreats to his one private space, an old VHS box. Inside are the only items that still connect him to his one true love, raven-haired Electra: a stack of stereoscopic photos and a piece of opium. And Karl Glusman, Gaspar Noe photo © Jeff Harris cultural mining 2after a desperate, panicky call from Electra’s mother, he lies back, takes the opium, and retraces what happened to their Love.

LOVE is also the name of a new movie about sexual romance, passion and loss, as seen through the eyes of Murphy, a young American filmmaker and two European women, Electra and Omi. The film was made by the legendary GasparLOVE - Still 2 Noé, known for his mind-blowing movies Enter the Void, Irreversible and I Stand Alone. It had its Canadian premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is opening in Toronto today. I spoke with Gaspar on location (some background noise) at TIFF15 in September. He talked about actors Aomi Muyock’s hair colour, Klara Kristin’s electricity, Karl Glusman’s looks, Dustin Hoffman,  Douglas Sirk, Winston Churchill, himself, intimacy, sperm, “Gaspar Julio Noe Murphy”, Wild Bunch, Irreversible,  tunnels, circles, the colour red, psychedelic images, Enter the Void, a fourth dimension, humidity, old movies… and more!

Photos by Jeff Harris

Daniel Garber talks to actor Barrett Crake and writer/producer Eric Staley about their new film Eternity: The Movie

Posted in 1980s, Breasts, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, L.A., Music, Musical, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2014

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

It’s the 1980s. Naive and starry-eyed, blond Todd Lucas arrives in LA with just the shirt on his back and the song in his heart. His dream? Make it big as a musician. But to pay his rent he takes a day job at a discount clothing store. There he meets dark, moustachioed BJ Fairchild, who’s into sex, Eternity_Postersaxes, and girls, girls, girls!

Together the two of them form an R&B duo. The band’s called Eternity. But will it last? Will their friendship persevere? And is  something in their relationship that will make it last… an Eternity?

So asks a new musical comedy called Eternity: The Movie that opens today in Toronto. Eric Staley, Barret Crake 1 Eternity the Movie © Daniel Garber CIUT 89.5 FM culturalmining.comEternity is a high-camp look at bad sweaters, big hair, music videos, and the whole hardboiled LA music scene of the 1980s.

I spoke to Eric Staley and Barrett Crake here in Toronto. They shared their thoughts on singing, Hall & Oates, R&B, auditions, moving to LA from Texas, San Diego, quadruple threats, sucking breasts, the 80s, Myko Olivier, Care Bears and Rainbow Brite, Madonna, Eric Roberts, playing the guitar, a possible tour with Eternity, karaoke and Eternity: the Movie.

 

Daniel Garber talks with Kitty Green about her new documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Posted in Breasts, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, France, Hotdocs, Protest, Resistance, Sex Trade, Ukraine, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2014

Kitty Green at CIUT 89.5 FMHi, 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.

Ukraine is at the top of the news. Beginning in November last year, Euromaidan street protests drove President Yanukovych out of office Kitty Green 2and out of the country. Soon after, Russia took control of Crimea, with sites in Eastern Ukraine facing further unrest. But long before any of this, a different form of protest, one you could call unique, was taking root in that country. The group is called Sasha Shevchenko (right) and Inna Shevchenko (left) from "Ukraine is Not a Brothel". Photograph by Ozan Kose.Femen. It’s a self-proclaimed feminist protest group. What’s unusual is the form of their protests: to oppose the oppression and sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women… they expose their slogan-covered breasts for the cameras!

A great new documentary that played at Toronto’s Hot Docs gives an inside view of the Femen protestors and exposes their contradictions. The film is called UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL and I spoke with its Australian director, Kitty Green, on April 29th, 2014 in Toronto. Kitty talks about protests in Ukraine, the sex trade, feminism, Femen, its members, the languages spoken, and the meaning of the word “girl”.

Pop Culture Icons. Movies reviewed: Need For Speed, Bettie Page Reveals All, Alan Partridge

Posted in Action, Breasts, Cars, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Pop Culture, Road Movie, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 6, 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.

They say as long as there’s a familiar name in a movie title people will go. Is that true? This week I’m looking at three diverse movies all based on pop-culture references. There’s an action movie based on a videogame about car racing, a documentary about a 50s pinup model, and a comedy about a (fictional) TV and radio talk show host.

NeedForSpeed_Downloads_Poster_SmallNeed for Speed

Dir: Scott Waugh

Tobey (Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) is a car lover in tiny Mt Kisco. He runs a repair garage with his mechanic buds and races his beauties on the street. He rebuilds cars for rich collectors. But then his nemesis Dino (Dominic Cooper) who stole his high school sweetheart, comes to town with a proposition: big bucks if he can beat him in a secret, three-car race. Someone ends up dying, and Tobey takes the fall and goes to jail.

Two years later, he’s free again, with the chance to enter a cross country race to Aaron Paul NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_13_LandscapeCalifornia sponsored by an elusive dot-com mogul (Michael Keaton). But he needs help. His old enemy Dino sics the police on him, so he’s racing and being chased. His pals from the garage agree to help him out; they use helicopters, race cars for back-up support, and attempt on-highway tune-ups and gas tank refills. Tobey can’t stop driving, no matter what.

Imogen Poots NeedForSpeed_682x517_CastCrew_ImogenPootsJulia (Imogen Poots), a mythical dream date for race-car-bros,  volunteers to help him win. She’s a blonde and beautiful millionairess , who’s also fast-witted and an expert driver who’s not interested in commitment.

Will Tobey’s honest small town ingenuity beat that bag-of-dicks Dino and his dirty tricks? Can he get vengeance for past crimes? And can he Dominic Cooper NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_17_Landscapeavoid all the feds on his tail?

This movie is based on a video game, and it’s filled with overt product placement. There’s a baffling five minute ad in the middle of the movie for Ford Mustangs! And it’s loaded with car porn, the camera caressing glowing fuselages and NeedForSpeed_1024x517_Images_01_Landscapesparkling pistons. The characters toss out lines like “Bro – whoa, look at that red Lambo!” Personally, car brands, street racing, or the video game it was based on, do nothing for me. But I enjoyed it anyway. It’s dumb with a senseless, simplistic plot, but I could still appreciate the excellent race scenes, special effects, blow ups, air-shots and wipeouts, leading to an ultimate finish line.

Bettie_Page_Reveals_All 3 Mark Mori Music Box FilmsBettie Page Reveals All

Dir: Mark Mori

Bettie Page was a 1950s pinup model from Tennessee. An underground star, she was known for her hairstyle — black with bangs — her body, her smiling good looks. Her images shout sex is nothing to be afraid of. She appears in bikinis on Florida beaches, topless in studio, dancing on a stage, holding a whip, in full bondage, and occasionally alongside wild animals. She made 16 mm films with suggestive titles like Teaserama, directed by someone actually named Bettie_Page_Reveals All Mark Mori Music Box Films6.9Irving Klaw! And she always appeared to be having a good time.

Then, suddenly, she quits, never to pose again and completely disappears from the public eye.

Flash forward to the 90s – and she shifts from subculture star to pop culture icon. People begin to dress like her, imitate her, or use her image in comic books, T-shirts and tattoos. She’s virtually ubiquitous, and everyone knows who she is. Porn stars, Roller Derby players, even pop stars — like Katie Perry — dress like her, imitate her, and on Halloween, many women (and some men) attempt to become her.

Bettie_Page_Reveals All 5This documentary reveals all. The filmmakers manage to track down Bettie Page (that’s her real name, by the way). She never appears on the screen but her voice tells about what really happened during and after her brush with fame. She’s born again, loses her marbles, gets married three times. And for much of this period she had no idea she was idolized by millions. Through it all she remains open, unapologetic and fascinated by sex. This is an amazing story of the rise, fall and rise again of a pop icon.

alan-partridge-posterAlan Partridge

Dir: Declan Lowney

Alan Partridge (Steve Coogan) is an obnoxious, small-town radio personality in Norwich, UK. He’s self-centred and aggressive, but also insecure, obtuse and vengeful. He has an unmistakable fake smile that’s as irritating as it is hilarious.

This character has been on British TV and radio for decades now, as a mock sportscaster, DJ and talk show host. And like any celebrity worth his salt he can talk endlessly about nothing in particular, in a way sure to make a guest squirm.

In this, his first movie, he’s back as an awful radio show host. His station gets taken over by corporate raiders who decide they need a “younger” image. He manages to hold onto his show, but his co-host Pat (Colm Steve Coogan and Colm Meaney in ALAN PARTRIDGEMeaney) gets the boot (which is partly Alan Partridge’s fault.) So what happens? Suddenly, the whole station is in lockdown and they’re all Pat’s hostages – except Alan Partridge. The police and special-ops swarm in and they decide, for some reason, that only Alan can negotiate Pat’s surrender. Hilarity ensues.

The plot isn’t really that important – just a format to let Alan Partridge be himself. And that’s all it needs. He is so, so funny. Self-unaware, attention-Steve Coogan in ALAN PARTRIDGEstarved, socially inept and excruciatingly unhip, he has just enough of that radio voice and vapid attitude to make it all seem plausible. You can see his old stuff on youtube, but it’s great to see him featured in a feature length feature. This is a silly, goofy, and really funny movie… especially if you like British TV comedy. Steve Coogan at his best, showing Alan Partridge at his worst.

Betty Page Reveals All and Alan Partridge both open today in Toronto, and Need for Speed opens next Friday; check your local listings. Also on is the great Japanese drama Like Father, Like Son. And the Pier Paolo Pasolini retrospective: The Poet of Contamination plays through March. Go to tiff.net for more info.

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

Dry Steak or Juicy Burger? Movies reviewed: Killing Them Softly, Sushi Girl PLUS Exile

Posted in Breasts, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Thriller, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 7, 2012

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

It used to be easy to tell a high-brow movie from a low-brow movie. B-movies followed certain genres, used B-grade stars, and had a specific look, a “cheaper” style to them. They mainly went for laughs and gore, titillation, exploitation, and easy thrills. But what happens when the border between the two starts to blur?

This week I’m looking at two similar American crime movies about hold-ups going wrong: a high-brow drama and an unapologetically low-brow thriller.

sushi girl poster 2Sushi Girl

Dir: Kern Saxton

Six years after a diamond heist, the hoods who pulled it off are meeting in an abandoned Chinese restaurant to welcome back their heist-mate Fish (Noah Hathaway). He took the fall for the group and is just out of prison. His co-conspirators at the dinner include a crazed, bearded maniac named Max (Andy Mckenzie), a dwarfish, acerbic blond called Crow (Mark Hammil – yes, that Mark Hammil!) Francis (James Duval), a cleancut, young family dude, and the tall, scheming, black gang leader, Duke (Tony Todd).

It turns out that the diamonds from the heist are all missing, and someone (in the room) must have them. Since the only one out of circulation for six years was Fish, the ex-con, they decide he’s to blame. They tie him to a chair (a la Reservoir Dogs), and Duke pulls out a wind-up egg timer. In a bizarre game, Crow and Max take turns horribly torturing Fish as they trade barbs with each other, as Duke keeps time. It doesn’t really matter if the poor guy knows anything, since both his torturers are sadists. Each time he loses consciousness, we get to see a bit more of what happened the day of the heist in his flashback dreams.

And the title? Oh yeah, I forgot about her. Right in the middle of the torture room, all through the evening, lies a beautiful woman (Cortney Palm) on her back, totally naked. Pieces of sushi are artistically (dare I say gingerly?) arrayed all over her breasts and body. She’s been warned not to move a muscle or react… no matter what she sees.

sushi-girlWill Fish tell them what they want before he dies? Who really holds the loot? Who will survive the violence? What’s the twist? The unexpected ending? I’m not telling…

OK, it’s a total B-grade movie, overflowing with Tarantino touches (especially Reservoir Dogs): retro sound track, extended torture, snappy, occasionally witty dialogue, cameo appearances by stars (like Sonny Chiba as the sushi chef, and the perpetually-macheted Danny Trejo as Schlomo the diamond dealer). It’s shlock and kitsch and low-budget dreck — intentionally so — but it does have all the humour, suspense and twists it needs.

Then there’s…

KILLING THEM SOFTLY POSTERKilling them Softly

Dir: Andrew Dominik

It’s four years ago, in a post-Katrina New Orleans, on the eve of the US presidential election. Apparently high hurricane winds have purged the city of all its women and African-Americans, leaving only white Mafiosi and their customers. Times are tough. Frankie (Scoot McNairy) a low-life hood, and his best pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) an Aussie junkie (who makes Frankie look positively genteel in comparison) are hired by a sleazy dry cleaner to pull of the perfect heist. All they have to do is knock over a gangster-run poker game and steal all the cash. Everyone will blame Trattman, the poker game chief (Ray Liotta) since he is known to have robbed his own game years back.

Killing Them SoftlyNaturally, things go wrong. A corporate-type gang leader (Richard Jenkins) brings in a known hitman (Brad Pitt) to kill everyone involved. He subcontracts the hit to a depressed, over the hill killer named Frankie (James Gandolfini from The Sopranos). But, for some reason, Frankie just want to get drunk and laid in his hotel room, not kill people – imagine that. So Brad Pitt might have to hunt them all down and kill them himself.

That’s basically the movie – no suspense, no twists and turns, no thrills, no sex, and no humour. Just a bunch of criminals trudging through their gory, pointless workdays. Oh yeah, and lots and lots of dull business discussions about who gets paid what, who kills whom, and how they should reach their demise. And the occasional gratuitous — but oh-so-tasteful — slo-mo death scenes.brad-pitt-richard-jenkins-killing-them-softly

OK – great movie stars, incredible art direction, sound, and editing, and social relevance: lots of supposed reference to Bush-era economic malaise, political disappointment, alienation – all the stuff high-brow, festival-type movies thrive on. And yet, despite these fancy trappings, it would be harder to find a duller, more pointless movie than this one. A thriller it ain’t.

So, which would you rather have? A hundred dollar piece of Kobe beef (unsalted, lukewarm, overcooked) or a fresh, hot and juicy burger (of questionable origin) on a wonderbread bun?

Killing Them Softly is playing now, and Sushi Girl opens today. Also opening is Exile, an archaeological and historical documentary about the myth of the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land and how it was reinterpreted by Imperial Rome, early Christianity, rabbinic Judaism, and modern-day Israelis and Palestinians, each with their own point of view. Check your local listings for details. And it’s a busy weekend with Monsters and Martians film fest and free Japanese movies sponsored by the Japan Foundation.

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

Mar 1, 2012. California Dreamin’. Movies Reviewed: Project X, Rampart

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.

Southern California… It never rains there, they say. Surfers, bleached blondes, Beach Blanket Bingo, there’s something about LA and environs that seems so saccharine, so perfect and yet ersatz, so way out there. Back when they rarely wanted to go on location, the studio back lots doubled for the old west, middle America, suburban NY, or LA itself. Melrose Place, 90210, OC – movies or TV, it’s all so hyper-perfect.

But beneath that veneer there also lurks that festering pit of tar, that horribleness, that evil and corruption – The Manson Family, the casting couch, the satanic rituals, the real estate double dealing, the stuff you’d read about in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon…

So which is it? Well, in our present-day dystopia, southern California’s an about-to-collapse world, where the authorities are corrupt, but they’re the only things that are stopping total anarchy and destruction. …at least that’s how it’s portrayed in a lot of movies now.

So this week I’m talking about two new films about southern California… one’s about a party that explodes, the other’s about a cop that implodes.

Project X
Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (his first film)

It’s Thomas’s birthday, so his buddy Costa — a loudmouth in a sweater vest — says he’s going to throw him the best birthday party e-ver…! Both of Thomas’s parents are leaving Pasadena for the weekend, but they’re not worried – he’s just not a popular kid, his dad says – how many people does he know? Thomas thinks the party just might work, he might get away with it. But the two of them, along with their other best friend, JB, decide to go for it. And maybe Thomas will finally take his friendship with pretty Kirby to the BF/GF level?

They start out gathering the essentials – booze, drugs — (they steal a plaster gnome from their pot dealer, without realizing it held some things inside) and telling everyone at school, online, by email, texting, facebook – by any means necessary to bring in the crowds. They’re not really worried about people crashing the party – you can never have too many people… right? Besides they have their own security guards, little 10 year-olds ready to taze anyone making trouble. Everyone starts to trip on MDMA, and jump into the swimming pool – the boys fully dressed, the girls (as part of some adolescent boy fantasy) nude of course. More gratuitously naked breasts than you can shake a stick at.

Unfortunately, no one can anticipate the number of people eventually showing up, and the anarchic state that ensues.

I enjoyed Project X, as a party movie — more fun than funny, with a bit of a nasty streak running through it. But it also had a really “new” feeling to it, sort of like an extended youtube feature, but with a movie sized budget. The whole thing is purportedly taped by Dax, an unseen goth dude in a trench coat (straight out of Columbine) with a camera.

It seems like more and more movies feel that if you don’t include the camera as a character, it’s not “real”. (I disagree).

I liked the nihilism of it — though the “punish the good guys / reward the douches” theme was a bit disturbing…

The acting is great — the three mains, all unknown, mostly playing characters with their own names – Thomas Mann as Thomas, Jonathon Daniel Brown as JB, and Oliver Cooper as Costa – remind me of the three “geek” kids from Paul Feig’s “Freaks and Geeks” (Daley, Starr and Levine). Only these three are a bit older, and a bit meaner.

Project X is a “wow!” movie , as in I wanna go to that party, but also a “whoa…!” movie, especially towards the end. Not a terrific movie, but a fun and jarring experience.

Rampart
Dir: Oren Moverman

David “Date Rape” Brown is a mean egotistical street beat cop. He’s a cock-of-the-walk who drives around like he owns the Rampart precinct, an especially notorious part of Downtown LA. If he doesn’t get a confessioin he wants, he beats up the suspect until they break. He forces a rookie cop to eat her French Fries even though she doesn’t want them. He’s from a long line of cops. He lives with both his ex wives (they’re sisters!) and the one daughter he had with each of them. Dave is practically invincible. He takes the law into his own hands, and is admired by his fellow cops for his indefatigable character. And the brass tolerate him, since he brings in lots of convictions.

Dave loves his life – pretty (though troubled) daughters, two ex-wives, and he can pick up beautiful women in bars on the side. His LA is constantly moving: busy, dirty and corrupt. It’s filled with gangsters, drug dealers, drive-by-shootings, and snitches in wheelchairs. The cops are as much a part of the warp and weft as the criminals they chase. And lots of innocents die between them.

Then, one day, he gets caught on cell phone camera beating up a guy (a la Rodney King) whose car rammed him and then ran away. And things start to go wrong. The DA office starts following him around, the lawyers want him to resign, and there’s some strange unexplained conspiracy bubbling up beneath al of this. Things get worse and worse, as he gradually loses his home, his family, his friends, his money, and his status. He embarks on a self-destructive journey, though it’s never quite clear whether he means to ruin things or if they’re all just happening to him.

Woody Harrelson is amazing as Officer Brown, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, and Sigourney Weaver, among others, are fun as some of the many women picking on him. Each scene could end in a dramatic turn, but more often devolves into very long conversations about relationships and guilt. I was expecting Rampart to be an action and chase cop thriller – which it’s not. It’s a drama about what happens to a middle-aged cop when his power disappears.

Rampart is playing now, and Project X, and the new documentary Family Portrait in Black and White both open today in Toronto. 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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October 16, 2011. Toronto. An Interview With Derek Hayes, Author of the New Book “The Maladjusted”

Daniel Garber: I’ve read all of your stories many times, but now I’d like to hear you talk a bit about them. There’s a tone of black humour in this book, Derek, but would you say most of the short stories in your new collection, The Maladjusted (October, 2011, Thistledown Press) are comedies or tragedies… and why?

Derek Hayes: I think they are tragic for some of the characters, but not in any way that matters to anyone but themselves. And for this reason I hope readers will find the stories funny. I’m interested in characters that for their own personal, deeply-rooted reasons have bad habits about how they think about the environment they live in.

I know the title of the book comes from the name of one of the short stories, but is it safe to say that the protagonists in most of them are having trouble fitting in… in social situations, workplaces, or relationships?

Yes, each story has at least one character who has trouble fitting in. I’d also add that it’s not the social situations, workplace or relationship per se that is inherently troublesome, but the characters thinking that is distorted or “off” in some way.

Most of the stories are told through the point of view of the male characters; do you see a bit of yourself in those guys, or is it more often your impressions of people you observe?

I definitely see myself in some of the characters. And others. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for people close to me to know that I suffer from anxiety sometimes. But the actual details of the stories are madeup. It’s easy to take material from my own life and adjust, exaggerate, fabricate in order to make a narrative that works on its own terms.

A lot of your stories take place overseas — why is that?

About twelve years ago I worked in Istanbul for a year and then Taipei, Taiwan for two years. Three of the most enjoyable years of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and for lack of a better way of saying it, felt “alive” for the first time in a few years.

What’s your favourite story from the collection?

I think most writers of short stories would be reluctant to pick one, or maybe some writers would. I can’t speak for others I guess. I tried to arrange the collection in a way to keep the reader engaged, interspersing the more neurotic of the stories throughout so as not to exhaust readers.

I think some of your characters are just a little bit odd or off, while others are way out there. Which type of personality is harder to capture in writing?

The ‘way out there’ characters are more difficult to capture. Perhaps like the author is trying too hard. For a story to work readers have to feel a connection to a character, and if a character is too strange, readers may feel manipulated or put off. But having said that I’m not so sure I’m thinking about any of this when I’m writing a story.

Congratulations on your first published book, Derek! I know you have some great novels to follow.

Yeah, I have three novels. Mentee is about a struggling teacher. Kadikoy is about expats in Istanbul, and The Streets is about a basketball coach. It’s also about a guy who is looking for his mentally ill brother. All of which, you, Daniel, edited by the way 🙂 And you edited The Maladjusted. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for that as well.

Thanks Derek, and thanks for the interview.

Derek Hayes will be launching his book across Canada with a series of readings, beginning October 19th in Toronto.

  • October 16: Ottawa, Nicholas Hoare (downtown), 5-7p.m.
  • October 19: Toronto, Type Books on Queen West (near Trinity Bellwoods Park), 7-9p.m.
  • October 23: (with Sean Johnston) Vancouver, Cafe Montmartre (downtown), 7-8p.m.
  • October 29: London, Oxford Books  (Oxford and Richmond), 2:30-4:30p.m.
  • November 20: Edmonton, Thomson/ Wright House, 1-2 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Derek Hayes’s The Maladjusted:

I climb out of my fourth floor window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

For the first fifteen days of each month I order a pizza from Tony’s. Then I run out of money. Until the end of the month I live on crackers, canned tuna and tomatoes, which I buy in bulk. My belly fluctuates in size according to the time of month, just as a python’s shape changes depending on what it has eaten.

I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my groceries. Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Value Mart, I said goodbye to two men, probably fathers, who were waiting for a taxi. They gave me a look, from which I inferred that they thought this was strange. So I told them that I have a mental illness. They said that they were sorry. I refuse to go back there.

I don’t watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley’s good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers – really weeds that I’ve tended that have climbed up from some dirt in three mouldy flowerpots – I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved. The alley teems with life, with meth-heads providing the main drama. Look at them now. The one with the stringy blonde hair, all ninety pounds of him, has picked up a dead mouse and is holding it by its tail. The other has a garbage can lid, thrust out as a shield. He’s trying to knock the rodent from the other kid’s hand, his head craned back in revulsion.

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

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

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

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

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

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

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

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

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

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

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

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

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

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

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

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

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

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

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

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

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

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

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

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

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

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