Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Pat Mills about Don’t Talk to Irene

Posted in Bullying, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, High School, LGBT, Movies by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2017

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

Irene is an unusual girl who lives in a small town an hour north of Toronto. It’s her first day of highschool and she can’t wait to join the cheerleading team. But her mother says she’s just not cheerleader material. She’s chubby, plain, and has no friends; garbage is her comfort zone. And when she is bullied by a mean girl and sent to an old age home for community service, she worries she’ll never fit in. Luckily, she meets a lot of potential mentors: an ex-boxer, two elderly women, a non-binary classmate, a mean-ass cook, and a poster of Geena Davis on her ceiling… that seems to communicate with her. But will any of them ever talk to Irene?

Don’t Talk to Irene is the name of a new movie, a coming-of-age comedy that premiered at TIFF17 and is now playing in Toronto. It’s written and directed by Toronto filmmaker Pat Mills known for his very dark — and very funny — looks at society’s outcasts.

I spoke with Pat Mills in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Lions and Lambs. Films reviewed: Handsome Devil, Before I Fall, Bitter Harvest, Table 19

Posted in 1930s, Bullying, comedy, Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Gay, Ireland, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2017

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

March came in like a lamb, followed by a pride of lions, roaring at the gate. I’m talking about the spring film festival season, which is on now with films from Ireland and more.

This week I’m looking at movies with lions and lambs: a few comedies plus one tragedy. There’s friendship in Ireland, tragedy in Ukraine, fantasy in the northwest and a wedding in the midwest.

handsome devilHandsome Devil

Wri/Dir: John Butler

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is a skinny redhead at a boy’s boarding school in Ireland. He likes reading and indie music, and dresses in hip rocker gear. Popular kid, right? Wrong. He’s bullied, reviled and labeled as gay just because he’s not into rugby. and rugby is the school handsomedevil_04sport.

Enter Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) his new roommate. Conor was kicked out of his last school for fighting. Is he an outcast? Just the opposite. He’s handsome, athletic and on the pitch he’s both nimble and brutal. He quickly becomes the king of rugby, a handsomedevil_05veritable idol at his new school. He’s even nice to Ned, and stops the bullies — especially one called Weasel — from beating him up. Has Ned found a friend?

Things get even better when a new English teacher, Mr Sherry (Andrew Scott) encourages the kids to broaden their interests beyond just rugger, to include music and literature. But that’s sacrilege, and the coach won’t have it. He decides to break up Ned and Conor’s friendship whatever it takes.

Handsome devil is a funny and moving coming-of-age story about an unexpected friendship. I like this one.

before-i-fallBefore I Fall

Dir: Ry Russo-Young

It’s a big day for Sam (Zoey Deutch), a teenaged girl in the Pacific northwest. It’s Valentine’s day and she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. Her dad and mom (Jennifer Beals), and her cute little sister who likes origami, are all nice but they just don’t get it. It’s her posse, her three best friends, that she shares everything with: Ally – rich but insecure; Elody – sexually halston-sage-medalion-rahimi-cynthy-wu-zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallaudacious; and Lindsay (Halston Sage). She’s the alpha dog, the honey badger: she always keeps her cool; just don’t get on her bad side.

Her school has special traditions for Cupid Day. All the girls (except the class lesbian) receive messages from their admirers. While the teacher drones on about the myth of Sisyphus, Sam gets baskets of roses delivered to her desk… including one _X6A7999.JPGfrom Kent (Logan Miller), a geeky poet in her class that she ignores. In the café, the four friends relentlessly mock Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) a blonde woman with frizzy hair. She’s the school pariah… are Sam and her friends bullies? That night at the party, things spiral out if control, with a breakup, a drunken fight and a terrible car crash.

But the next morning it’s a new day and everything’s back to normal. Until Sam realizes… it’s the same day as yesterday! Her little sister’s origami, the rose from Kent, Juliet in the cafeteria, and the fight at the party. Like Sysiphus, she’s caught in a cosmic, karmic loop, and she can’t escape. No zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallmatter what she tries to change, she still wakes up each morning on Valentine’s Day. Can Sam right all her wrongs in a single day, or will she be stuck to repeat them forever?

Before I Fall, is a fantasy set in the present day. There have been others about people caught in a repeating loop – Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code – but this is the first I’ve seen from a female point of view. Like the Twilight series, it’s set in the Pacific North West but without its unbearable soppiness. This is a good YA movie.

15194340_949283011838918_4071947400932947185_oBitter Harvest

Dir: George Mendeluk

It’s the 1930s in a small village in Ukraine. Yuri (Max Irons) is a young farmer who is also a skilled artist. He’s the grandson of a great swordsman named Ivan (Terrence Stamp), and is in love with his childhood sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks). They paint, frolic in the woods and attend church regularly. All is going well until the Russian Bolsheviks come to town, led by a man with a scar across his cheek. Sinister 15895153_988096897957529_6383476820894374352_nSergei (Tamer Hassan) is dressed in black leather from head to toe and carries a whip. Sign this paper, he orders, and collectivize those farms! Your farm, your wheat, even you belong to the state now! The people refuse and chase Sergei out of the village. But he will return.

After hiding the treasured town icon of St Yuri, his namesake sets off to Kiev carrying his grandfathers prized knife. In the city, he studies art and spends time with his best friend, Mykola. Mykola also happens to be the head of the Ukrainian Communist 15319318_967538840013335_3644678351628886805_nParty, uniting Ukrainian nationalism with socialism. But he doesn’t realize that in Moscow, Stalin has other plans at work. Stalin despises Ukrainians and vows to kill them all. Party members are purged, Yuri is sent to prison, and Stalin, with evil subordinates like Sergei, send all the wheat to Mother Russia, leaving Ukraine with a terrible 15941277_990987597668459_5998812033080133428_nfamine killing millions. A Bitter Harvest indeed.

Bitter Harvest is the story of a Ukraine village during the Holodomor, the horrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. It’s an important part of history, rarely portrayed, that deserves to be shown on the big screen. This movie, unfortunately, doesn’t quite cut it. While it includes authentic-looking Ukrainian costumes, locations and folklore, the rollicking story is just not told very well. The movie is clunky and Kludgy, unintentionally campy and melodramatic, and full of comic-book villains. It lacks the gravity it deserves. Bitter Harvest isn’t bitter enough.

table-19-posterTable 19

Dir: Jeffrey Blitz

Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is a grudging guest at her best friend’s wedding party at a lakeside hotel in Michigan. Grudging because her boyfriend Teddy – the bride’s brother – dumped her. Blonde, bearded Teddy (played by Wyatt Russell, looking like a younger and dumber Owen Wilson), is best man but Eloise has been demoted from maid of honour at the centre table to the dreaded table 19.

Table 19 is a veritable land of Lost Toys, the cast offs of the wedding party. Bina and Jerry (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) a bickering middle aged couple; Rezno (Tony Revolori) a socially-awkward adolescent; elderly Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny; and gangly ex-con 13123270_780360932099535_7819038637567418602_oWalter (Stephen Merchant). Eloise is mortified by her table mates and just plain depressed. But things start to look up when a suave and handsome stranger, named Huck, arrives. They dance and kiss before disappearing into the mist like a male Cinderella. But when jealous Teddy confronts her, mayhem ensues, resulting in a ruined wedding cake. The Table 19ers, retreat to their hotel rooms to clean up, and their they learn that they’re a lot more fun than they expected. Together they vow to find love for Eloise, a first date for Rezno, a reunion between Jo the Nanny and the bride, and more.

Table 19 is a gentle social comedy that shows that, once you get to know them, even outcasts are real human beings with foibles of their own. The script is co-written by the Duplass brothers, known for their indie movies about quirky oddballs. It’s tame for a comedy, with a few too many pratfalls, but it’s also touching, with a cute, romantic ending. Hendricks is terrific as Eloise, and the rest of Table 19 all keep their characters from falling into dumb stereotypes.

Table 19, Before I Fall, and Bitter Harvest all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Handsome Devil is playing this weekend at Toronto Irish film fest. Go to toirishfilmfest.com for info.

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

Canada’s Top Ten. Closet Monster, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bullying, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Gay, Politics, Quebec, Satire by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2016

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

It’s New Year’s Day, a good time to look back over the past year. Canada’s Top Ten — running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 8th to 17th — offers a selection of ten movies over ten days for ten bucks a pop. So this week, I’m looking at two of those movies: a coming of age drama from Newfoundland about a gay teenager yearning to spread his wings and fly; and a comedy from Quebec about a newly-empowered politician who dreads leaving the ground. And afterwards, I’ll give you my favourite films of the 2015.

98Y9QD_closetmonster_03_o3_8698586_1438737352Closet Monster

Wri/Dir: Stephen Dunn

Oscar is a little boy in Newfoundland, whose head is filled with strange voices and nightmares during the day, and his bed is full of scary nightmares at night. He depends on his story-telling dad Peter (Aaron Abrams) to banish the bad thoughts. But two things happen. First, on the same day he discovers he’s gay, he witnesses a terrible incident in a cemetery near his school. A kid is beaten up, impaled,  and left to die. But Oscar’s obsession with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer leads him to internalize the violence and permanently tie it to his newly discovered sexuality. Now gay means dealing with X6pQL5_closetmonster_04_o3_8698631_1438737343supernatural monsters and death and vampires, so he banishes it all to a metaphoric; closet. Around the same time, his parents begin to fight. His mom moves out leaving the boy with his dad… who is losing it. Now Oscar only has his talking hamster Buffy (Isabella Rosselini) to turn to for advice.

Flash forward a few years. Oscar (Connor Jessup, Blackbird) is in high school now and getting ready for University. where he wants to study movie make-up design. He spends most of his time in his secret Buffy-verse, a world of monsters he has created inside his backyard treehouse. It’s a place where people grow horns, he practices his make-up, and a place where he hangs out with a sort-of girlfriend named Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). But he really has his eyes on Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) a guy he 8qK3q3_closetmonster_01_o3_8698541_1438737331works with at a big box store. But as things start to go wrong and his life begins to unravel he realizes now’s the time to make the big decisions in his life. This culminates in a big costume and makeup party.

Can Oscar escape his very real inner demons, embrace his sexuality, come out to his neglectful mother and homophobic father, find live at work and pursue his dreams of creating monsters for the movies?

I liked this movie. It’s wonderfully imaginative with leaps of faith and new things all around. Even so, the script and the acting is uneven, ranging from the superb to moments of dialogue so jaw-droppingly wooden you wish they had never made it to the screen.  Still, this first-time director’s look at sexuality shown through a supernatural lens — played out in a Newfoundland setting — offers an unusual take on an old story.

qjp892_myinternship_01_o3_8889108_1449615288Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (My Internship in Canada)

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Felardeau

Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus) is a highly-educated young man from Port au Prince, Haiti. He is well-versed in the writings of Rousseau and de Tocqueville, but wants to experience real democracy first hand. So he arrives in northern Quebec, at an office above a lingerie store, to start his internship. MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a former hockey player who cares little about politics science. He’s also an independent, free from party 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_opolitics. He divides his time cutting ribbons, listening to local complaints, and mediating disputes between Algonquin First Nations and the small town miners and lumberjacks who get in their way. And he drives everywhere he goes because of a pathological fear of flying.

He lives with his conservative wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) who owns a nursery. and his neglected lefty daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) who wants to move to Denmark. And Souverain fits right in, passing on sage political advice to the 12113292_1650759721828727_4678384698342888006_ohapless Steve.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, which holds a slight majority, decides it wants to go to war in the Middle East, while the opposition parties want to stay away. Everything is going smoothly until Steve suddenly finds himself at the centre of things when a Conservative backbencher is rushed to hospital, and 11825648_1629299423974757_2831573805500131430_nwon’t be well in time for the vote. Souverain, meanwhile is observing everything, and secretly skyping back to large crowds in Port au Prince. And, through his his Machiavellian manoeuvres and machinations, he steers Steve on the path of direct democracy. He sets up local meetings so the people can decide whether or not to go to war. His wife is adamantly in favour, and his daughter steadfastly opposed. But as his story gains national attention, the competing parties zoom in to try to win him over. Can Souverain help Steve solve this Cornellian dilemma without alienating either his wife or his daughter? And can democracy flourish in northern Quebec?

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a genuinely funny look at Canadian politics, one of the first movies like this I’ve ever seen. Acting is great all around, and the story has lots of surprises, including a quintessentially Canadian journey to Ottawa. Great fun.

And finally, here are some movies I really liked in 2015: (coming soon!)

Closet Monster and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (also known as My Internship in Canada) are playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Movie Experiences. Films Reviewed: Foxfire, Young and Beautiful PLUS Game of Thrones Exhibit at TIFF

Posted in 1950s, Bullying, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Movie Theatre Trends, Movies, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 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.

photo 1 Game of Thrones, © Daniel GarberEver watched a movie on your cel phone or iPod? People do. Tiny screens are considered acceptable now. So how do they keep people coming to theatres? By giving us more bang for the buck.

More stimulation. More one-of-a-kind experiences. Movies are becoming immersive – appealing, simultaneously, to all the senses. There’s a Game of Thrones exhibit on through Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, where you can Game of Thrones Exhibit TIFF photo © Daniel Garber 4sit on the throne or look at the swords and costumes up close. But, more than that, there’s a display where you don headphones and goggles, using Oculus photo 3 Game of Thrones Exhibit TIFF © Daniel GarberRift technology, and climb into a wood and metal cage. You can look all around and it feels like you’re rising off the ground in a wooden elevator on a snowy day watching people in the forest far below…amazing! Is totally immersive, experiential cinema the future?

This week, I’m looking at two movies, both dramas, about young, female characters looking for outlawed experiences. One’s about a secret girl gang in 1950s western New York; the other’s about a beautiful young woman in Paris, with a hidden identity.

Foxfire Confessions of a Girl GangFoxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang (Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates)

Dir: Laurent Cantet

It’s the 1950s, in a small town in western New York. Men hold all the money and the power. The words sexual harassment didn’t exist, and things like rape are never talked about. “Good” girls know their place and never fight back. “Bad” girls are ostracized, and tough girls are outcastes. Then something changes at the town high school. Pretty Rita (Madeleine Bisson) is harassed, humiliated and made to stay after school by a skeezie math teacher. But the working-class tough girls — Maddie, super-tough Goldie and their leader Margaret “Legs” Sadovsky (Raven Adamson) – decide to take Rita’s side. They get revenge on the teacher by publically shaming him.

The proto-feminist Legs always questions authority. Raised by a single father, she runs away from home and bunks with gentle Maddie (Katie Coseni), who narrates the movie. Wouldn’t it be great of we had friends we could always count on – no matter what? After learning revolutionary ideas2 foxfire confession of a girl gang from an old priest (Gary Reineke) – from each according to her abilities, from each according to his needs – the five girls decide to make it official. They will live by their ideals. They form a gang called Foxfire, and seal their commitment with bloody tattoos beneath their bra straps, sterilized with a splash of cheap bourbon.

Their actions start small and non- violent – just protests at pet stores, broken windows and graffiti. They intervene whenever one of them is in trouble, rescuing Maddie from her evil molesting uncle. They’re a mystery at school – who or what is Foxfire? The boys’ gangs think it must be other boys. Nobody knows. But when they go on a joy ride in a stolen car, Legs ends up in Juvie and the rest of them on probation. Is Foxfire finished?

Foxfire_Legs Raven AdamsonNo. When their terms are finished they move to a new level: co-operative living. Maddie documents it all on her portable typewriter.

They find a rundown house on the edge of town and move in together, sharing chores and pooling money. More women join the group, but they still can’t support themselves. Men hold the power and the purse strings. So they turn to extortion, using honeypot schemes to entrap married men. They decide to carry out one big crime, to get them the money they need.

This is a fascinating, novelistic picture of a girl gang. Some of the acting is great, especially Legs and Goldie (Raven Anderson and Claire Mazzerole), while others sounded stilted or unnatural at times. It’s not perfect, and it’s almost two and a half hours long. But I’m glad I saw it.

Young and Beautiful Marine Vacth (Isabelle). Courtesy of Mongrel MediaYoung And Beautiful (Jeune et Jolie)

Dir: Francois Ozon

Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is teenaged girl from a middle class family. She loses her virginity to a German boy she meets on a summer seaside holiday. But the sex is not good. She feels detached, literally, from the experience. It’s an out-of-body episode, where she casually views herself, lying on her back, having meaningless, uncomfortable sex.

Back in the city, she decides to explore that mental split. In the fall, she creates Marine Vacth (Isabelle)  Courtesy of Mongrel Mediaa separate, nighttime personality – with a different makeup, clothes and hairstyle – and sets up an online presence. Her nighttime persona secretly works in the sex trade, meeting much older men in posh hotels. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes eye-opening, occasionally with an emotional connection. She doesn’t spend any the money – she just squirrels it away. Only her gay-ish little brother suspects something is up. Her daytime-self is still virginal, inexperienced with boys. She just goes to school, studies, or chats with her school friends about dates. Her nighttime self is totally adult.

But come wintertime, she is shocked by an unexpected turn of events. Can Isabelle’s emotional maturity ever catch up to her sexual maturity?

Marine Vacth in Young & Beautiful 02 Courtesy of Mongrel MediaYoung and Beautiful follows the two sides of the gorgeous, model-like Isabelle as she navigates growing up and her troubled relationship with her own liberal mom. Simple in form – it’s divided into four parts, following the four seasons – the movie is psychologically and emotionally complex. This is a really good movie.

Foxfire and Young and Beautiful both open today (May 16, 2014) in Toronto – check your local listings; and the Game of Thrones Exhibit continues through Sunday. It’s fully booked and free, but a few rush tickets are still available.

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

Past, Present and Future. Movies reviewed: Muscle Shoals, The Dirties, Gravity

Posted in Bullying, Cultural Mining, documentary, Music, Science Fiction, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 4, 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.

Toronto is a city overflowing with film festivals, and fall high-season is upon us. Coming soon are the BRAFFTV Brazilian film fest, Toronto After Dark (for horror, science fiction and cult), ImagineNative for aboriginal film and art, Planet in Focus for environmental documentaries, Realasian – films from Asia and the Asian diaspora, and Rendezvous with Madness about addiction and mental health… to name just a few.

So this week I’m looking at three movies (opening today) that originally played at Toronto festivals: Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark and TIFF. These movies are set in the past, the present and the future.

10272_JJ_WilsonPickettSessionMuscle Shoals

Dir: Greg “Freddy” Camalier

Alabama. In the 1960s, it was still the land of cotton, and old times there were not forgotten. Die-hard Segregationist George Wallace was Governor, and Alabama had also been the sites of sit-ins, boycotts and protests — a centre of the civil rights movement. So Alabama was very much in people’s minds in the 1960s. But there’s also a small town in northern Alabama, population 12,000, called Muscle Shoals. Ever heard of it? Me neither.

But people who really know about music know about Muscle Shoals.10438_JJSkynyrdat361417

Mick Jagger knew it. And Bob Dylan. And Jimmy Cliff. The Stones’ Brown Sugar was recorded there. Later, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers. Most important, powerful music producer Jerry Wexler – the man from Atlantic records who coined the term R&B – knew about it in the 1960s and started bringing his singers down south to record there. Soon Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Picket and countless others were heading down to get a slice of that Muscle Shoals Sound.

The heavy, powerful Muscle Shoals sound — described as a punch in the gut that sends shivers down your spine — was made by the Swampers, a team of (mainly white) back-up musicians at studios like Fame and Muscle Shoals. They jammed ArethaFranklinaway on their electric organ, drum, bass and guitar sweetened with background horns. These free sessions, just some music and words, gave them a looseness, a funkyness, a dirty sound so different from the highly-produced, precisely composed pop songs coming out up north.

At their peak in the 1970s, they were cutting 50 albums a year, shifting from R&B to that country-influenced rock, reggae and pop. This film looks at all the musicians, the singers and the local producers who used or were influenced by Muscle Shoals. They have amazing footage from the recording sessions with new interviews with the big names (Bono, Aretha Franklin, Keith Richards).  Very informative documentary – beautifully shot —  that told me everything about where this music comes from. I’m not enough of a “history of rock” devotee that I care about all the infighting and production rivalry. But it’s the music – even those overplayed staples like Brown Sugar and Mustang Sally – that makes it so good.

412715_402768383177285_547971069_oThe Dirties

Dir: Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams (played by Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams) are movie geeks at a Toronto high school. Matt is pudgy and flamboyant while Owen is shy and introverted. They’re best friends, almost by default, since they are two of the school’s most-picked-on kids. Not a day passes without a confrontation in the halls, a punch, or a rock in the head. They hear that perennial bully F-word more than their own real names.

They’re taking a movie-making course, and Matt is totally into it. He plunders old movies for lines, scenes and costumes to make them their own. They film it on school property. But while directors like Tarantino rely on old B-movies, Matt and Owen take it one step further, plundering equally from revenge pics and 1262545_435128609941262_422010104_onews accounts of real-life crimes.

The movie they’re making is about two tough guys (played by them) who get back at the bullies who persecute them – the guys they call the Dirties – in a great, long gun shoot-down. Their “making-of” is documented by unseen cameramen – that’s the film we’re watching.

The teacher doesn’t approve of the director’s cut, so the class just sees an embarrassing mess

So Matt has taken to carrying around copies of Catcher in the Rye (like Mark David Chapman) and is brushing up on details from books about the Columbine shootings. He wants to get the character (of insane high school spree shooter) just right. Owen is more interested in pursuing Chrissy (Krista Madison) a girl he’s crushing on heavily. Matt seems to be blurring things between the film they’re making and real life. Is Matt a psychopath? and is he just a movie copycat… or a copy-cat killer?

13010_430143987106391_924165995_nThe Dirties is so meta it’s astounding. The conversations and incidents in The Dirties we’re watching, are edited, over the course iof the movie, into The Dirties that he’s making. The viewer never knows for sure whether it’s a comedy/drama, a documentary, or just found footage of a horror movie. This film is unclassifiable and uncategorizable.

The Dirties is excellent, low budget and local, a movie that can shift from hilarious to quite disturbing in a flash. It’s easier to watch than it is to describe… so watch it!

GRAVITYGravity

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Three astronauts are floating around admiring the beauty of outer space. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission, so she’s very meticulous about fixing some machinery. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is a veteran space guy, a regular Buzz Lightyear. He’s using his jet pack to fly in circles around their space station. Wheee!Look at me – I’m an astronaut… wheeee! A warning comes from Houston: there’s been trouble with a Russian satellite, and its debris is heading their way. Nothing dangerous, they say.

And then it hits! They’re cut off from Houston and their lives are in danger. Dr Stone starts to panic – oh no… what can she do? It seems like yesterday she was in her safe, suburban home worrying about PTA meetings. She’s just a soccer mom – not an astronaut-man. Unless Kowalski can calm her down, she’s going to use up all her oxygen.

The two of them must get to a safe space ship, somewhere with oxygen and protection from the elements. Hopefully she can learn to drive one of these crazy foreign spaceships with all their gibberish controls! Maybe if she pushes buttons at random she’ll be fine. Oh, I’m such a klutz!  Will Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – oops, I mean their characters – ever make it back to earth?

Gravity lets you experience what it’s like to be an astronaut, and it is quite an experience. The special effects are flawless. But, I suppose because it needs someone we can identify with, it gives us Dr Stone as a bumbling everywoman who has to overcome her fears. I get it. But it made her the antithesis of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. This makes women look helpless without a man there to save them.

The Earth spins round and round like a topGravity isn’t a movie, it’s a ride. I saw it in 3-D and UIltra AVX. There’s a 20-minute-long scene where you’re spinning and spinning and spinning around in 3-D space. It made me physically ill. I didn’t actually throw up, but it was horrible, like when too many tequila shots kick in all at once. If you like experiencing the spins, or want to go on a midway ride for half an hour, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, I can’t think of why you’d want to watch this simplistic, boring and sick-making film.

The Dirties, Gravity, and Muscle Shoals all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the cute, Saudi-made movie Wadjda I reviewed last week, and 15 Reasons To Live by Toronto documentarian Alan Zweig. I spoke with him last spring about this heart-warming, quirky film.

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

Summer Adventures. Movies Reviewed: The Mortal Instruments City of Bones, Prince Avalanche

Posted in 1980s, Art, Bullying, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, Witches by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 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.

Summer’s coming to an end, but there’s still time to get away. So how about some movies that take you on  journeys to strange places? This week, I’ve got two movies: one’s a supernatural drama about a girl in Manhattan who discovers a hidden world engaged in an epic fight between good and evil;  and a comedy/drama about two guys repairing roads for a summer job in the woods who discover their own hidden neuroses.

TheMortalInstrumentsCityOfBonesThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Dir: Harald Zwart

Clary (Lily Collins) is a typical teenaged girl in New York, who lives with her mom — an artist. No boyfriend, but Simon (Robert Sheehan) is her best friend who will follow her anywhere. (I think he likesher.) And she just happens to live above a tarot card fortune teller. But one day, something happens: she starts doodling a strange runic symbol, over and over. It’s a diamond shape with two horns coming out of the top. She sees it everywhere — what could it mean?

It’s actually a sign: something her mom should have told her City Of Bonesapart before mysteriously disappearing. You see, Clary has special powers – she can see a whole lot of people, monsters and heroes, invisible to us muggles. And one of them, a waifishly pale blond guy named Jace (played by the fortuitously named Jamie Campbell Bower), offers to show her around his world.

He shows her the City of Bones – a catacomb beneath the city – and takes her out to a weird, metal-goth swinger party. (Simon tags along, too.)

City of Bones 3Jace lives in an ancient secret academy filled with stone walls and stained glass. It’s run by a decrepit old guy, and a few of brash fighters. They take fencing lessons and cultivate their special powers. They’re an ancient group – sort of like Templar Knight vampires. Not many of them still around and they distrust Clary intruding in their sanctuary.

But they all want to fight an evil man named Valentine, and to keep his dark forces at bay. There’s a magical passage inside the building, where the bad guys might come in.

Well, Clary discovers she has the power to turn flat objects 3-D — without any special glasses. And she is somehow connected to a cup –  a cup that everybody wants — sort of a non-religious holy grail. Clary has so many questions: What is this cup? Who is Valentine? Where’s her mom? What’s her own role in all this? …and does that Jace-guy think she’s cute?

If you haven’t guessed, this is a very complicated, somewhat confusing movie, based on a City of Bones 2series of books. The genre: supernatural action/romance. Not for everyone, but I actually liked this movie. It’s kind of like the Twilight series, but much easier to take, without all those Jesus-y chastity vows, sparkly skin, and painfully awful music.

Less dreamy mooning, more action, drama, magic and plot, plot, plot. Lily Collins and is good as Clary. And Simon – real surprise. It’s the guy who does Nathan on the great UK TV show Misfits! Totally unrecognizable and low-key, he manages to keep his over-the-top persona under wraps, only rarely mugging pantomime for the camera.

Prince_Avalanche_poster_08Prince Avalanche

Dir: David Gordon Green

Alvin and Lance are semi-brothers-in-law working for the summer as the road crew on a remote highway. They paint stripes and nail posts. It’s the 1980s, so they communicate with the folks back home by writing letters. A phone call means a trip to the nearest town. They camp out at night and do repairs during the day. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is pompous, uptight and bossy.  He wants to learn German. He likes giving lectures (about whatever) to his girlfriend’s brother; he wants to bring some gravity to the tarmac.  Lance (Emile Hirsch) is long-haired and chubby, and talks Prince_Avalance_1like a childish dork. He wants to get laid, but is shy about meeting girls.

They two of them dress like the Super Mario brothers in baggy blue overalls and hardhats. Alvin even has a bad mustache to go with it. They look like cartoon characters, but their dialogue seems more like Pozzo and Lucky… if Lucky spoke, and was an obnoxious brother in law, not a slave.

As they work their way down the road they meet some people. There’s an old woman picking through the rubble of her former house, looking for a piece of paper. And a boisterous old man – maybe their boss? – who wants to share his rotgut alcohol with them.

Prince_Avalanche_6Prince Avalanche is a movie, but feels more like a minimalist play. The brothers gradually reveal their feelings, confess their fears, air their differences.

Here’s a dramatic moment… listen:

Prince Avalanche is one of those movies that waivers between the sublime and the ridiculous. I struggled at the beginning to take it seriously, but by the end I was thinking – hey! this is good, funny, clever, interesting. The movie looks and feels more like a European minimalist art film, than a goofy American comedy. (It turns out it was based on an Icelandic film, which somehow makes a lot of sense.)

I know Director David Gordon Green for his stooopid stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and The Babysitter, but after seeing this, I think I have to revisit his comedies – maybe there’s something more to them, too…

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones just opened and Prince Avalanche starts today: check your local listings. Also on now is the Art Gallery of Hamilton film festival – showing an amazing selection of great movies from other festivals. Go to aghfilmfest.com for more info.

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

HIgh School Confidential. Movies Reviewed: Geography Club, Schoolgirl Complex, Animals PLUS Epic and Inside Out

Posted in Bullying, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, High School, Japan, LGBT, Spain, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on May 24, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and ZulmaCIUT 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.

High school often plays a central role in coming-of-age dramas, (since that’s where teenagers spend most of their time). It’s the place where people become aware of their sexual identities, their desires, their genders. And often, it’s not a lot of fun. Throw in some bullying, suicide, peer pressure, sex, university applications and young love, and you’ve got a boiling cauldron of teenage trouble waiting to overflow (at least in the movies).

So this week I’m looking at three such movies, all playing at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival a place to see mainstream and experimental films by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people from around the world. It’s the third biggest such festival, and it’s also a great place to meet people and experience a different aspect of movies — one that is often swept under the carpet.

So… back to these troubled teens. This week I’m looking at a US movie about a club hidden in plain sight, one from Japan about a club on a roof, and one from Spain about people who would never join a club.

lg_geographyclubGeography Club

Dir: Gary Entin (based on the popular young adult novel by Brent Hartinger)

Russell and Kevin (Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley) are both in their senior year, but may as well live in separate universes. Russell’s the brain – his parents have already decided he’s going to Yale, and he’s wearing a sweatshirt to prove it. Kevin’s the jock, the quarterback of the football team, the cock of the walk. He’s going for a football scholarship. They’re both gay, and they end up meeting — anonymously, online — even though they see each other in the hallway at school. Secret passion ensues… until a girl sees them kissing on a school trip. They both find a hand-written note in their lockers the next day: go to room 327. What is it? Blackmail? Will their reputations be ruined?

Turns out, this is the site of an unofficial club where closeted LGBT kids can talkZPxLTD9g2pDGh32T_9MdWYmS-MxIJD-o1sAUnyvupCI,Q9GgDboopGMH38UWb-WfQiffwoBjAX8T4DhlBqLknxA openly with one another. But to keep their sexuality secret they call it the Geography Club, a club so boring, they think, that no one would accidentally wander into it. Russell joins up, but Kevin is too afraid he’ll lose his jock status (and potential scholarship). He wants Russell as his boyfriend but kept on a Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell basis. And when the club threatens to go official, as a Gay/Straight Alliance, Russell and Kevin have to make a decision: come out together or stop seeing each other. Which will they choose?

The Geography Club is a very mainstream, easy to follow, after-school-special-type movie. Still, it deals with very real topics, like bullying, sexual identity, and the lives of closeted kids who are forced (by peer pressure) to conform. It’s told as a light drama, but with GSAs a hot issue in Ontario Catholic schools right now, it may just open some eyes and change some minds.

27xZGiNQa8vEEubHIuVthvQLa9WbHf8qTB00Cadk9Zc,UInHtw6sjnrewhzSuGJv0pRS562nDD1H8raPHQWTf8ESchoolgirl Complex (スクールガール・コンプレックス~放送部篇)

Dir: Yuichi Onuma

It’s an all-girl high school in Japan. They dress in crisp white shirts and plaid skirts with floppy red bows around their necks. (No sailor suits here.) Everyone joins clubs. Even more than classes, clubs are the source of their identity and friendships. One such group is the Broadcast Club, for people who like the sound of their own voices. They meet each day on the roof of the school to practice elocution, random syllables, and nonsensical rhymes to perfect their radio Japanese, and lose any trace of a regional accent.

nv1IMtM_XvPUV1JGpsp7ZsGv7-QbyXl5wkXcRT1rFPsYou can hear them taking turns at making announcements over the school PA system, waxing lyrical on subjects like The Importance of Japanese Curry. It’s the end of the year and the broadcast club will do a reading for the whole school of Schoolgirl, a story by 20th century novelist Osamu Dazai (太宰 治). But whose voice will they use?

Group leader Manami (Aoi Morikawa) is naïve and kind, with a high forehead and pale skin. Until now, she spends most of her time hanging with her best friend Ai, eating red bean pies with mayonnaise. But when the older and wiser Mitsuzaka (Mugi Kadowaki) visits her at the school sick bed and gives her some caramels, Manami’s world is shaken. Who is this worldy woman with tousled hair and sensuous features? Is it love, lust or just a crush?

Manami puts all her faith in Mitsuzaka (an absentee member of the club), and gives her the lead role. But will Mitsuzaka even show up for the reading?

Schoolgirl Complex looks at hidden loves and crushes, at passionate obsessions and tearful confessions. This is a gentle, bittersweet story of the power dynamics of teenaged girls.

Animals 7Animals

Dir: Marçal Forés

Pol (Oriol Pla) is a student at a British-style school in Catalonia. He’s always up for sharing a smoke with his beautiful, sort-of girlfriend Laia (Roser Tapias), or his bitterly funny gay chum, the curly-haired Mark (Dimitri Leonidas). But his real best friend, the one he can always count on in times of trouble, is the cute Deerhoof. He gives Pol advice, accompanies his punk guitar-playing on the drums, and is generally just there for a hug whenever he needs him. That means a lot: Pol is lonely with his parents gone, and only his brother Lorenc, a cop, to look after him. Thing is, Deerhoof is actually a teddy bear! (Pol’s a bit whacko.)

Then a new kid, Ikari (Augustus Prew), comes to the school, and he brings Animals 1trouble. He’s into bigger things, mature things, sexual adult things. And things like cutting your wrists, watching it bleed. Pol doesn’t like the cutting but he really likes the sex and love part. He decides to let go of his childhood crutches and enter the real world. He buries the past, metaphorically… and literally (but will it stay buried?)

Does Ikari (like Icarus) fly too close to the sun, and will Pol fall to the ground in a tailspin? And will the whole school explode in chaos? Animals is a really great, nihilistic high school movie with a punk sensibility. I’d rank it up there with Heathers, River’s Edge, and Donnie Darko for its dark humour, great acting, music and story.

June 3,  2013:  ANIMALS, directed by Marçal Forés (Spain) has won the Bill Sherwood Award for Best First Feature at Toronto’s Inside-Out Film Festival. ANIMALS is awarded this prize for its accomplished and assured filmmaking and the promise the jury sees in Forés future work.

Animals, Geography Club and Schoolgirl Complex are all playing at the Inside Out festival in Toronto: go to insideout.ca for showtimes. Also opening today is another story, Epic, about a high school girl who discovers a whole other Epickingdom in the woods behind her father’s house when she is shrunk down to a tiny size. She has to help the leaf men — soldiers who fight the evil, rotten types on the backs of hummingbirds — to save the pod (a single lotus seed) on this special day, to allow a new Beyonce-voiced queen to be born. It’s animated, 3-D and it’s not Disney, not Dreamworks, but 20th Century Fox’s try at animation. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it’s basically Arriety meets Camelot.

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

Small Town Blues. Movies Reviewed: At Any Price, Blackbird

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.

Sometimes ordinary people find their trajectories at odds with the people around them. Suddenly they have to get out of extraordinary situations, ones that affect not just their own lives but that of their friends and families.

This week I’m looking at two movies when small-town fathers and sons land into terrible trouble.

At Any Price 2 QuaidAt Any Price

Dir: Ramin Bahrani

Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) lives in Whipple, Iowa, on the family farm. His corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye. Those genetically-modified seeds he plants sure work wonders! He should know – he’s the top seed salesman in seven counties. But in order to succeed it’s grow or die, your farm has to get bigger and bigger just to survive. So Henry’s also a land shark, snatching up any acres that come available at local funerals.

Then there’s his family. He’s happily married… but fools around on the sly. His older boy is groomed to take over as soon as he comes home from college. Then there’s Dean (Zac Efron), the black sheep, the prodigal son. He’d rather hang out with his girlfriend Cadence, and drive his car in figure-eights. Forget farming, corn sucks. He’s gonna find his fortune as a champion stock car racer.

But things aren’t quite right. First, the older son never comes home – he’s in South America somewhere finding himself. And a competing seed salesman is infringing on his territory. Henry might loses Decatur county! And that same salesman’s son is a wannabe Nascar racer, too. So he’s an instant rival to Dean. Like father, like son: a two-generation feud. Henry wants to open up to Dean. But how can he get Dean to talk to him? Or even look him straight in the eye? It’s clear: Dean hates his dad.

And on top of all this, the GMO seed company hears a rumour that At Any Price Efron QuaidHenry is washing his seeds and reselling them – a normal farming practice, but a copyright violation if it’s a GMO seed. He could lose everything. His Dad already looks down on Henry, what would he do if he lost the farm?

At Any Price is a hard movie to grasp. Is it a family drama? A grain-conspiracy thriller? A rural slice of life? This movie interests me because the director, Ramin Bahrani, made a really good, low-budget super-realistic movie Chop Shop just a few years ago. Chop Shop was a neat little movie that almost felt like a documentary about a homeless kid who lives in a junkyard in Queens N.Y. So I thought this would be “Chop Shop in the Cornfields”. It’s not. It has big stars, bigger budget.

There are some good, drawn-out scenes – the movie conveys some emotions and events visually – no talking. This is no TV movie about life on a farm – it’s cinematic, it has big skies and endless fields.

The problem is it’s just not that good. It’s really slow, it’s really long and the plot just drags its way through all these convoluted relationships. It gets exciting (or at least dramatic) and heavy toward the end – in a good way — but that doesn’t redeem the blah-ness of most of the movie. The acting was very good, especially Dennis Quaid as Henry, and Maika Monroe as Cadence, the young woman who is both Dean’s girlfriend and Henry’s apprentice. I don’t want to completely dis this movie, since it has a sophisticated and satisfying ending, but if you see it go prepared for a long and slow film about father/son relations.

blackbird_02_largeBlackbird

Dir: Jason Buxton

Sean (Connor Jessup) is a gothy-looking adolescent who goes to school every day wearing a spiky leather jacket torn-up skinny jeans, and a cloud of attitude. He likes his pet lizard, red wiccan stars, and camo sheets. He’s actually a big city boy, but his mom has pawned him off on his small town Nova Scotia dad, now that she’s remarried. Dad lives for hockey and works as a Zamboni driver; he’s not comfortable with his son always “dressing up for Hallowe’en” as he calls it. He says it’s not a smart thing to do in a small town. It also attracts the school bullies – the alpha-dog hockey players. He could just stay away from them but he really likes hockey bunny Deanna (Alexia Fast) who rides the bus with him. He’s attacked and humiliated by the school bullies, and Deanna doesn’t defend him. But when his guidance counsellor tells him to express his anger in story form, things turn from bad to worse. The police get a hold of his notebook, his website, and the short films he made on his cell phone and he’s arrested for supposedly plotting to kill everybody. And his lawyer tells him to plead guilty to cut down his jail time. Through no fault if his own, Sean is caught in a whirlpool of injustice with only his father and potential girlfriend to save him. The victim of bullying is painted as the criminal.

Blackbird is divided among a very realistic portrayal of life as a pariahblackbird_03_medium in a small town, the even rougher stay in a juvenile detention centre, and his ongoing relationship Deanna. Equally compelling is the in-prison run-ins with the unstable psycho-killer Trevor (Alex Ozerov) who labels Sean “Columbine”. Jessup is fantastic as Sean, as is Ozerov as Trevor, and the understated performances of Alexia Fast and Michael Buie as Sean’s girlfriend and dad serve as good foils for the main character. And it gives an eye-opening, stark portrayal of Canada’s youth justice system. I really like Blackbird – it’s one of the best things I saw at TIFF last year, and it’s an impressive debut for writer/director Jason Buxton.

At Any Cost and Blackbird both open today in Toronto. Also opening is another father/son drama, this one a Canadian psychological thriller called A Good Lie. When his mum dies, a young man (Thomas Dekker) discovers his late mother had a secret – his dad is not his biological father. That was dangerous criminal who had raped his mother. And Workman Arts is showing an interesting  series of short films dealing with addiction and mental health.

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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November 23, 2012. The Joys and the Dangers of Fantasy. Movies Reviewed: Rise of the Guardians, The Suicide Room

Posted in Animation, Bullying, Christianity, Cultural Mining, Dragons, Drama, Dreams, drugs, Emo, Fantasy, Magic, Movies, Poland, Russia, US by CulturalMining.com on November 22, 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.

A new American import known as “Black Fridays” is spilling over into Canada as a big shopping day. The name supposedly comes from the day in which the average US retailer reaches a positive balance on sales for the year which is usually the Friday after American Thanksgiving. But in a weird case of a snake swallowing its own tail they have turned it into a massive frenzy of shopping from consumers searching for bargains put on by retailers wanting to capitalize on a chance to pump up sales.

It also means it’s the start of Christmas shopping in earnest. So, just in time for new childhood memories to form, this week I’m talking about two movies that show the good side and the bad side of believing in fantasy.

Rise of the Guardians

Dir: Peter Ramsey

Jack Frost (Chris Pine)  is a mischievous teenager in a hoodie and skinny jeans who likes snowball fights, getting kids’ tongues stuck to metal poles, and skatebording on hazardous, icy roads. When his snow lands on humans they have fun.He’s also invisible. He loves play but wishes he knew where he came from, and that other kids could see him.

Meanwhile there’s trouble up at the north pole: the bogeyman, aka Pitch, a fey, vain and evil man with an English accent (of course) is injecting nightmares into kids’ minds, and interfering with their sleep. So the Guardians who live there – Santa, the Easter Bunny, Mr Sandman, the Tooth Fairy — summon Jack to join them in their fight against scariness.

Santa (Alec Baldwin) is a Finnish-type Father Christmas known as “North” – muscular, tough and tattooed — but with an unplaceable Eastern European accent. He carries matruschka dolls, and curses using the names of Russian composers: Rimsky Korsakov! Shostakovitch! He’s guarded by a gang of rough looking Yetis and serviced by short-bus elves. The Easter Bunny is a foul-tempered Aussie (Hugh Jackman), and the Tooth Fairy collects teeth to store the memories of children.

In their war room stands a giant globe of flickering lights – each one representing a kid who still believes in them. But with Pitch on the upswing, the lights are gradually dimming, and, like in the Peter Pan cartoon, if no one believes in fairies then tinkerbell will die! In this case they won’t die, they’ll just become invisible to the non-believers, like Jack is.

So… will Jack join up with the good guys and try to get the human kids to believe in them again? Or will he let the world fall into the clutches of the evil and scary Pitch?

Rise of the Guardians is a resolutely non-religious Christmas movie, without a cross, a church or even a glowing star to be seen. God takes the form of an all-knowing and all seeing Man in the Moon, the easter bunny is all about eggs, and they’re all on equal footing of secular figures like Sandy the Sandman. It’s a beautiful crafted movie – really nice art direction, with an interesting plot. It’s clearly aimed at the pre-teen set, but was aesthetically pleasing enough to hold my attention.(like an incredibly beautiful scenes where they all meet in a sort of a floating, rust-tiled Samarkand in their encounter with Pitch.) And it has Guillermo Del Toro’s name on it – as an executive producer, which lets you know it’s not degenerating into a comedy dissing childhood beliefs.

And it’s in 3-D.

Much grimmer, but also a partly- animated drama is

The Suicide Room

Dir: Jan Komasa

Dominik (Jakub Gierszal) is a happy, popular private school kid, a bit emo-looking but in tight with the in crowd. But there’s a guy he likes at school who may or may not be leading him on. And when he has an embarrassing frottage incident at a judo practice when he gets a bit too frisky with the guy he’s crushing on, he is mortified. All his friends seem to have turned on him and to make matters worse, they other guy put up a video of the incident on Facebook where everyone could see it. He’s cyber-bullied into hiding up in his bedroom.

His one solace is an animated world on line, a sort of Second Life ruled by a queen, Sylwia (Roma Gasiorowska), who lives in a castle. He becomes obsessed by her and seems to exist only in the form of his avatar, while his real self lives in the dark, barely eating and never going outside. From most popular kid to reclusive otaku in a matter of weeks. Sylwia strongly pressures Dom to join their suicide club and kill himself.

His parents, both rich and successful, have no idea what’s going on. Dominik may be on the verge of killing himself while the parents are more worried about how their son’s aborted sexual life might embarrass them and damage their career ambitions. They just want him on meds so he stops bothering them.

Will Dominik choose to live or to die? Will he reconnect with the outside world? Will he get to meet his cyber-love Sylwia face to face? And will his parents ever show compassion for their son?

This Polish film (which played at this year’s Ekran Polish Film Festival in Toronto) is a look at adolescent depression, cyber-bullying and Second Life, all aspects of contemporary Polish life largely unknown in North America.

Rise of the Guardians is playing now, while Suicide Club played at the EKRAN Polish Film Festival. Also look out for free Japan Foundation screenings coming up in December at the Bloor cinema featuring dramatizations of Japanese novelist Osamu Dazai’s stories; The Toronto Film Noir Syndicate showing the Coen brothers’ classic Blood Simple this weekend, and the first annual Blood in the Snow Canadian film festival showing new and classic Canadian horror movies next week at the Projection Booth on Gerrard St E. It features cool pics like Bruce MacDonald’s Pontypool and the world premier of new movies like SICK and psychological thriller the House of Flies.

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

October 26, 2012. Halloween Costumes and Disguises. Movies Reviewed: Cloud Atlas, Fun Size

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.

Hallowe’en is here. Traditionally, it’s a time of scariness, when the undead walk the earth, and lost souls are the ones in charge after the witching hour. But Hallowe’en has changed. Now it’s more about dressing up in funny costumes, going to wild parties and eating bags full of candy.

So this week, instead if my usual scary hallowe’en pics, I’m talking about two movies about dressing up: one is about teenagers who dress in funny costumes at a Hallowe’en party; the other about actors who dress up in funny costumes to tell a story.

Cloud Atlas

Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Based on the novel by David Mitchell

When Cloud Atlas had its world premier at TIFF, I thought it was going to be awful – it has all the hallmarks of shameless Oscar-bait (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant) and bad movies (multiple directors). But it was actually surprisingly interesting (though completely confusing). It jumps back and forth among six completely unrelated genres and just barely-related stories, ranging from historical epic, a period drama, a political thriller, contemporary comedy, and two futuristic space stories. Brace yourself, and let me try to explain them without any spoilers:

A 19th century American is in the South Pacific to broker a deal, but is forced to confront a stowaway slave as he sails home; a young, gay composer with a hidden past in 1930s England confronts a famous composer who may be stealing his music; a black, female investigative journalist in San Francisco in the 1970s wants to uncover a nuclear energy scandal; a present-day publisher finds himself a prisoner overnight, locked up in an old folk’s home; identical-looking female cyborg slaves foment a revolution in neo-Seoul, a futuristic Korea 200 years in the future; and a future world where people in Star Trek jump suits try to communicate with cave men speaking unaccented pidgin English like Jar-Jar Binks.

Did you get all that? No, I didn’t think so.

What’s really interesting is that the same actors play multiple roles, changing race, age, and gender from story to story. So you have famous actors in unrecognizable bit parts in one segment who star as the main character in another. Some work some don’t. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are not known for their skills at accents – they’re not Meryl Streep — so they end up looking ridiculous when they try. But groaners don’t spoil a movie. Even those two end up acting in scenes when you don’t even know they’re there. And much more interesting actors, (people like Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae, among others) more than make up for the missteps.

Cloud Atlas feels like you’re watching six movies at once on TV, but someone else is in charge of the remote control and they keep switching channels.

Is it perfect movie? No, definitely not. But is it worth seeing? Yes, definitely.

Fun Size

Dir: Josh Schwartz

Wren (Victoria Justice) is a high school student with outspoken feminist views — she plans to dress as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween — but turns to awkward mush whenever she thinks about the most popular boy in school – a Johnny Depp lookalike. Wren lives with her chubby six-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) who never talks but is fond of practical jokes like cutting out breast holes in her favourite sweaters; and her mom, Joy, who is back in the dating pool since their dad died. So Wren and her best friend April are thrilled when they’re invited to the big party. But mom (Chelsea Handler) tells her that Keevan, the 26 year-old frat boy she’s dating, wants her at his party. (She’s going as Britney Spears.) So Wren is stuck keeping track of the rambunctious little one. But that’s easier said than done.

Little Albert, dressed in a Spidey-suit with a fake arm, ends up leaving a trail of destruction as he travels from party to bar to fast food joint. And it’s up to Wren and her pals – including nerdy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann from Project X) and Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) a convenience store clerk who looks a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo — to try to track him down and save him. Will little Albert escape from those meddlesome grown-ups? Will Mom ever act her age? And will Wren find happiness with the most handsome and popular guy in school, or will she choose the earnest but awkward Roosevelt?

Fun Size is a mild, cute screwball comedy, full of disguises, mistaken identities, generational mismatches, bullies, love crushes, and sort-of funny characters. There are lots of lame gags and laff-lines that fall flat, at least to my adult ears. It wavers between Home Alone and Adventures in Babysitting, but is not as funny as either one. Still it’s a fun-ish and cute-ish, if forgettable, kids movie.

Cloud Atlas and Fun Size open today in Toronto, check your local listings. For scary found footage movies, check out Paranormal Activity 4, now playing, and V/H/S which played at Toronto After Dark and opens tonight. Festivals going strong in the city this weekend Ekran.ca the new Polish film festival showing avant- garde and mainstream movies from Europe.

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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