Making sense of things. Films reviewed: Little Men, Indignation PLUS Lo and Behold

Posted in 1950s, Brooklyn, College, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, Kids, Romance, War by CulturalMining.com on August 5, 2016

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

In Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog’s excellent new documentary about the internet, a scientist explains the first internet connection between two computers. The message was supposed to be “log on” to start the transmission, but it was cut off after the first two letters, LO. As in the biblical Lo and Behold. The mysteries of life.

This week I’m talking about two dramas, about young men trying to make sense of life’s mysteries. There’s two friends in Brooklyn trying to understand their parents; and a young man in Ohio trying to understand the meaning of life.

12513502_761314487302803_7976637993320204498_oLittle Men

Dir: Ira Sachs

Jake and Tony are best friends. They met on the day Jake moved with his parents from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and immediately hit it off. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a sensitive quiet boy who is bullied at school. Jake expresses himself through the art and comics he draws. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is his exact opposite. Outspoken, Brooklyn born and bred. He’s good at sports and always loyal to his friends. Jake is a shy introvert, while Tony is bursting out all over.

They meet because Tony’s mother, (Paulina Garcia), is a dressmaker with 13331003_828730807227837_8992169820379428690_na small boutique. It’s on the ground floor of the apartment Jake’s family is moving into. They inherited it when Jake’s grandfather died, and Brian – Jake’s dad — (Greg Kinnear) inherited it.

Finally, Jake has a friend, someone to hang with. Tony shows him around the hood, lets him meet his buddies, they even take an acting class together. Tony excels there – he’s a natural. The two boys even have a plan: that they both get accepted to the NY High School of Performing Arts. Tony would pursue his acting, of course, and Jake could do his drawing.

So we’ve got two 12-year-old kids, best friends, everything’s going great, until… the grown- ups ruin everything. Jake’s grandpa was a kindly old man, who took a Chilean refuge (Tony’s mom) 12485861_761657650601820_3424484959118845572_ounder his wing and kept her rent low. But Brian, Jake’s dad, has no such attachment or obligations to their tenant. They just want to make money. So the disagreement becomes a spat, which becomes a feud, which becomes a lawsuit. It’s spiraling out of control, and the parents aren’t letting their sons – who have nothing to do with it — see each other anymore. Jake and Tonty decide to fight back. But can they change their parents’ minds?

Little Men is not a remake of the Parent Trap; it’s not a kids’ movie at all.  It feels more like an adult’s  bittersweet memories of childhood. That said, it’s a great coming of age drama about two best friends torn apart by a family disagreement. The parents are well played, but it’s the acting of the kids that really shines, especially newcomer Michael Barbieri as Tony.

150619_IND_College_Webhall_00360.CR2Indignation

Dir: James Schamus (Based on the novel by Phillip Roth)

It’s 1951, in Newark, N.J. Marcus (Logan Lerman) works in his father’s butcher shop plucking chickens. He’s in High School, captain of the baseball team, with straight A’s. Which is very important. Because America is at war in Korea, and all his friends are being drafted, sent to fight, and shipped back home in a coffin. Only Marcus might avoid the war if he gets into university — students are Sarah Gadon stars in INDIGNATIONexempt. Marcus isn’t concerned. But his Dad (Danny Burstein) is sick with worry that his only son will die. He develops a compulsion, and follows him around at night to make sure he’s safe. Marcus’s mom (Linda Emond) meanwhile is going bonkers over her husband’s obsessive behaviour. For Marcus, the only solution is to go somewhere far, far away.

He ends up a scholarship student at a college in small town Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a chance to shed his background, expectations, stereotypes – that of the insular Jewish community of 150625_Hospital_Escargot_00071.CR2Newark, New Jersey — by cultivating his intellect at a free and open mid-western campus. He can stay true to his ideals and beliefs: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, non-conformity, and freedom from religion – he’s an atheist. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done.

He arrives to find he’s placed in a dorm with the only other Jewish kids on campus not in a fraternity.

And the University head, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) is a cold-war Sarah Gadon & Logan Lerman star in INDIGNATION - in theaters Augustconservative, a churchgoer and nosy as hell. And seems to take particular interest in Marcus, forcing him – to his great distress — to defend all his personal beliefs and philosphies.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The awesome Olivia Hutton (Toronto actress Sarah Gadon) seems to notice Marcus. Olivia is everything he dreams of – smart, beautiful, and independent with the manners of sophisticated society. Their first date is awkward but it’s what happens next when they park the car that’s important. She gives him a ind_0707_000471468363878blow job… and it blows his mind. This is 1951, and he can’t understand what happened. “Nice” girls aren’t supposed to be sexual. Why did she do what she did? And what does it mean?

Marcus is in love, but everyone else – his roommates, the Dean, his parents, and Olivia’s secret vullnerability – threaten to destroy their relationship. Can Marcus stay true to his beliefs in oppressive, 1950s America?

Indignation is another great drama. It’s moving and fascinating, with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s literary in form – full of long debates and discussions – alternating with intimate scenes of suppressed sexuality.

James Schamus is a first-time director but he’s no newbie. He’s an old hand at scriptwriting and producing movies. He was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s writer and producer for many years, including movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain to name just a few. He’s treading new waters here, but he does it quite well.

Lo and Behold, Little Men and Indignation 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 actors Kerwin Johnson, Jr and Curtiss Cook, Jr and director Jay Dockendorf about their new film Naz & Maalik

Posted in African-Americans, Brooklyn, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Gay, Islam, Morality, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 28, 2016

naz and maalik-4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Naz and Maalik are African-American teenagers living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. They sell lottery tickets and Catholic Saint cards on the street to earn extra cash. Normal kids, they chat about religion, morality and what it’s like to be young, gifted and black. They’re both Muslim, but Naz is more devout. And they have a secret they keep on the down low. They’re lovers. But when an FBI agent begins to follow them, thinking they’re radicalized, they don’t know which is the biggestJay Dockendorf threat: Arrested as a Muslim? Shot by the police as a black man? Or coming out as gay to their families?

Naz & Maalik is also the name of a new film, just released on DVD and VOD. It stars two charismatic young actors in their first feature roles: Kerwin Johnson Jr. as Naz, and Curtiss Cook Jr., as Maalik. It’s written and directed by filmmaker Jay Dockendorf. They’re winning prizes for this touching and realistic story of triply-marginalized youth. I spoke with Kerwin, Curtiss and Jay in Brooklyn by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

Real / Not Real. Movies Reviewed: Frank, The Trip to Italy PLUS The Dog

Posted in Brooklyn, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Ireland, Movies, Music, Travel by CulturalMining.com on August 15, 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.

Ever heard of “native advertising”? Well, you should. It’s when newspapers or websites – like the Globe and Mail and the New York Times – plant advertisements disguised as journalism right alongside real news articles. So it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish between what’s real and what’s made up. Well, this week, I’m looking at movies that cross the line between fiction and reality. There’s a comedy from the UK about actors on a trip who play themselves, a comedy from Ireland about a musician who hides his face, and a documentary about a bank robber who inspired a movie.

Domhnall Gleeson in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Frank
Dir: Leonard Abrahamson (based on an article by Jon Ronson)

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a ginger-haired nerd in his twenties who still lives with his parents. He lives in a seaside English town and works at a boring desk job. But he imagines himself as a successful singer-songwriter and keyboardist. He spends his free time recording feeble, unfinished verses on his computer… He’s of the Twitter generation and can’t think longer than 140 characters. But one day he witnesses an attempted suicide on a beach by an actual deranged musician – a keyboardist. And just because Jon is in the wrong place at the right time he is asked, spontaneously, to take his Michael Fassbender in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.place at a gig.

The show is a disaster. He’s terrible, the band can’t play, and the performance generates an on-stage fight. But Jon is mesmerized by the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank is a charismatic man, with huge blue eyes, neat black hair and enigmatic features. He has a friendly, enthusiastic style that everyone likes. He’s everything Jon would want to be.

The thing is, his features are enigmatic because they never change. His big blue eyes are entrancing because they are enormous. In fact, Frank wears a gigantic, painted papier-mache globe over his real head. What does his face look like? Nobody knows. He never takes it off and eats his food through a straw.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.John invited to join them in a cabin in the woods to record an album. But he soon discovers this group is a strange bunch. Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays the Theramin ad looks like a smouldering heroin addict, with her pale skin and art-school hair. She’s outright hostile to John. She thinks he’s the Yoko Ono, tearing the group apart. The rest of them include a sneering Frenchman, a burnt-out American, and others, who come and go. Days turns to weeks, then months. They’re broke. Will they ever finish it? But without telling the others, John posts clips on youtube and reports their progress on Twitter. Soon they have a solid fanbase without ever performing beyond the cabin. Newfound success draws them to SXSW in Texas. Will they have a hit? Will the people adore them? And will Frank ever take off his fake head?

Frank is a great movie, strange quirky and funny. It’s a new look at sex and fame and rock and roll. As Frank, Fassbender is a combination Jim Morrison and Mr Dressup, with his music morphing from prog rock to silly electric piano pop. Maggie Gyllenhall is terrific as the brooding musician and love interest and Gleeson is a new Michael Cera. This is a good movie to watch.

Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon 63718-trip to italy_01The Trip to Italy
Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Steve Coogan is an English movie actor, at a slow point in his career. So he sets out with his travel companion, Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, for a drive down the coast of Italy. You see, they’ve been hired to relax at exclusive resorts, putter around on yachts, and enjoy meals at 3-star restaurants. All they have to do is comment on the experience. And along the way they retrace the steps places visited centuries earlier by British poets (and early tourists) Keats, Shelley and Byron. Steve is divorced with a teenaged son and considers himself a bit of a womanizer, while Rob is happily married with two small children, who he talks to by phone each day. But who will pick up the most beautiful women for casual sex? This is a sequel to an almost identical movie set in England a few years back.

This sounds awful and boring as hell, right? No! it’s absolutely hilarious. Basically, the two Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan Trip to Italy 2 63721-_CRX6989actors play exaggerated, fictional version of themselves, while, the rest of the cast – the photographer, tour guide, family members – are all other actors cast in the roles. Aside from views of gorgeous scenery and delicious looking cooking scenes for foodies, what this movie is really about is two guys in a car, singing along to songs from the 90s by Alanis Morisette. And they re-enact entire scenes from The Godfather, Part II (another sequel), reciting every line in the voices of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Arguing about who was the best James Bond. Commenting about people at the next table at a restaurant in Rome or amongst the ruins of Pompeii. Not every joke hits the mark – I’m at a loss when it comes to comments about, say, European sportscasters – but there’s a cumulative effect, with all the jokes, comments, plays on words, competitive punning and imitations of Michael Caine, each building on the one before, until it’s just wipe-the-tears-from-your-eyes hilarious. It’s a particular style of improvized, spoken humour. There’s no pratfalls, no racial jokes, no gross-outs, no silly comments on “those crazy foreigners”, no stand-up comedy humour that depends on a punchline… It’s just two guys engaging in caustically funny conversations. It’s just great.

The Dog stacks_image_236And finally, I want to recommend The Dog, a great documentary by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. It’s the true story of folk hero / criminal John Wojtowicz. A self-described pervert, John is the guy who robbed a bank and took hostages in Manhattan in the early 1970s to pay for his girlfriend’s sex change. They were soon surrounded by cops but he entranced the crowd – and the news media — by talking to them, to his mom, and to his wife Carmen. It’s one of the earliest TV as-it-happens news stories, with a twist. It inspired Dog Day Afternoon, but his story is even wilder, encompassing his bisexuality and his early role in queer politics. This funny-looking guy is an amazing, absurd character, filled with Brooklyn bravado. And his story is amazing and well-worth seeing.

Frank, The Trip To Italy and The Dog all open today in Toronto: check your local listings for details.

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

December 9, 2011. Daniel Garber speaking with Nelson George about his new documentary “Brooklyn Boheme”

Posted in African-Americans, Brooklyn, Cultural Mining, documentary, Spike Lee, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 24, 2011

Daniel Garber interviews writer, columnist, novelist, filmmaker Nelson George about a new documentary “Brooklyn Boheme”. The documentary is about a Brooklyn neighbourhood — Fort Greene and Clinton Hill  — that in the 80’s and 90’s reached a critical mass of great African-American art, jazz music, movies, plays, poetry that some say was comparable to the Harlem Renaissance. In the interview, Nelson George talks of the many people who lived and worked there, what made them choose this place, how it has changed, and where Brooklyn’s young, black creative class is now.

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