Happy trails. Films reviewed: Ghost Town Anthology, Red Rover, The Hummingbird Project

Posted in Canada, Canadian Screen Awards, comedy, Computers, Death, Ghosts, Mars, Quebec, Romantic Comedy, Toronto, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on March 15, 2019

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

You know, Canada makes a lot of movies. Oscar season might be over, but the Canadian Screen Awards are on at the end of March, with lots of great nominees, including Les Salopes, The Drawer Boy, What Walaa Wants, The Grizzlies and The Hummingbird Project. And for a look at next year’s possible winners the Canadian Film Fest will be showing a dozen new movies starting on Tuesday.

This week I’m looking at three new Canadian movie about people blazing new trails. There’s a man in Toronto following a path to Mars, another man constructing a straight line from Kansas City to Wall Street, and locals in northern Québec trying to block strange outsiders from entering their town.

Ghost Town Anthology (Répertoire des villes disparues)

Wri/Dir: Denis Côté

Irénée-Des-Neiges is a mining town in Northern Quebec whose mine was shut down. The population is steadily decreasing and young people are moving south. So when Simon Dubé, one of the few young man left in the town, dies in a strange car crash everyone is devastated. His mom (Josée Deschênes) and little brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor), are hit especially hard. Was it an accident, a suicide, or something else? Whatever the cause it seems to spark a change in attitude in this dying town.

The Mayor Simone Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) reassures everyone that while it’s a sad event, the town will survive – we are a place for the living and will never be a ghost town. But Jimmy tells his best friend André (Rémi Goulet) his dead brother is communicating with him – so they go to visit the shack where his coffin is stored till spring (you can’t dig graves in the winter up north).

Adèle (Larissa Corriveau) a gawky young woman, prone to paranoia, is sure she hears strange noises late at night. Loulou and Robert a pair of retired busybodies thinks there might be wolves in the woods. Pierre and Camille, the attractive rich couple who own the local restaurant, see the shrinking of the town as a good thing – maybe they can renovate abandoned houses? When a grief counsellor arrives from Montreal (wearing a hijab, no less! *gasp*) the mayor sends her packing. We can take care of ourselves. We don’t like outsiders.

But the outsiders keep coming, including strange little kids wearing felt masks and Peruvian ponchos. Who are they and what do they want? Are they real, or just a hallucination? But when things turn really strange, the town has to make a decision – move away or get rid of these unusual outsiders with help from the outside.

Ghost Town Anthology is an eerie look at history, kinship, and mourning in small town Quebec. It’s also about the xenophobia and fear of strangers that persists long after secularism replaced Catholicism as its official religion.

Shot in beautiful, grainy 16mm film, it embraces the coldness and grey skies of a Canadian winter. With good acting and a consistently surprising story, Denis Côté continues his flirtation with magic realism in this unusual film.

Very interesting movie.

Red Rover

Dir: Shane Belcourt

Damon (Kristian Bruun) is a failed man. He’s a geologist at at a mining firm in Toronto’s financial district but his MBA boss Brad steals his research and treats him like dirt. His ex-girlfriend Beatrice (Meghan Heffern) dumps him the day he proposes, pushing him into the basement of the house they share. Now he’s forced to listen to her having sex with Mark (Morgan David Jones) a narcissist instructor from Australia she’s shacked up with. Damon is just a pudgy, depressed introvert who wallows in his misery. His only pastime is searching for treasure on the beaches with a metal detector.

But everything changes when he runs into a woman dressed in a space suit dancing in the sands. Phoebe (Cara Gee) is a singer- songwriter who is everything he is not – joyful, hopeful and full of life. She’s currently promoting Red Rover, a program to send a few people to settle on the planet mars! It’s sponsored by Gopi, a billionaire, who will choose the best applicants. She agrees to help Damon apply and they gradually are drawn to each other? Is it love or just a fling? Can Damon regain his self confidence? And is her really flying to Mars?

Shot in Toronto, Red Rover is a lighthearted rom-com with an unusual science fiction twist. It’s full of people telling stories and singing songs… and Cara Gee is especially appealing as the quirky love interest.

The Hummingbird Project

Wri/Dir: Kim Nguyen

Vinnie Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young guy full of spit and vinegar. He works with his cousin the nerdy and neurotic Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) a computer programmer. They work at a Wall street investment firm headed by the canny Eva (Salma Hayek). She keeps a close eye on her employees. Vinnie has a grand vision: to build a fiber optic line stretching from the Kansas City stock exchange directly to Wall street. By sending data a few milliseconds faster, the speed of one flap of a hummingbird’s wings. he could make billions of dollars on stock trades.

But the project is enormous. It involves digging a tunnel through mountains, under rivers in an absolute straight line, withthosands of tiny land purchase – just the width of the cable – along the way. He finds a secret investor from New Jersey to pay for it, an engineer, Mark Vega (Michael Mando) to do the physical planning, and hundreds of others to do the digging. They are working against time. Anton has to speed up the transmission. The investor has to keep investing, and Vinnie himself is postponing a potentially lifesaving operation to bring the project in on schedule. But can they complete the project in time, and overcome all the obstacles along the way?

The Hummingbird project is a look at the importance of the small local obstacles that can stall huge projects, and the burning ambition needed to complete it. It’s wonderfully shot in a forests and mountain ranges, with backplows, giant helicopters and sputtering drills all along the way. It’s a sometimes touching, sometimes tender story of an impossible dream. Eisenberg is great as Vinnie and Skarsgård unrecognizeable as Anton. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this movie’s energy, ambition and passion. It just seems at times that the meandering story is just an excuse for showing cool scenery and actors in hard hats.

Ghost Town Anthology opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Hummingbird Project opens in a week, and Red Rover is the opening night feature at the Canadian Film Fest next Tuesday night.

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

Past and Future. Movies reviewed: Svengali, 45 Years PLUS Oscars So White

Posted in Canadian Screen Awards, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Romance, UK, Wales by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

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

One of the big cultural stories this week was the whiteness of all the actors nominated for an Oscar. The reason isn’t the Academy’s voting patterns. It’s because Hollywood just doesn’t make “Oscar-type” movies starring non-white characters. It doesn’t cast black actors in those types of roles. TV movies, comedies, action-thrillers, yes, but “serious” Hollywood movies — historical dramas, movies adapted from books, or biopics? Almost never.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBut what about Canada? Do actors in movies here look like us? I’m surprised that the cultural pundits, even on CBC radio, failed to mention Canadian Screen Awards nominees when talking about the Oscars. Take a look: Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal (from Beeba Boys) and Irdens Exantus  (My Internship in 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_oCanada) are just a few of the many multicultural faces in this year’s movie nominees.

This week, I’m looking at two UK movies. A light drama about a young couple from Wales with a rock’n’roll future, and a heavy drama about an elderly couple in Norfolk with a message from the past.

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

Dixie (Jonny Owen) is a youngish guy from small town Wales. People say he has golden ears – he can tell great rock music the moment he hears it – and he aims to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Oasis. One day he hears a band on youtube and decides that’s the band I want to manage. He heads off to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) and his collection of 45s.

Convincing the band is easy – all it takes is a few cans of beer.SVENGALI_CAST_JONNY_AND_VICKY But connections prove more difficult. His childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) is now a record label exec. But he’s also a douchey hipster of the worst calibre who sneers at Dixie’s smalltown ways. Dixie dresses in chainstore mod revival outfits and carries his band’s demo songs – on cassette tapes, no less – in grocery bags.

Svengali_Stills_0651But things start to snowball when he books them at a pub. The show is a disaster – igniting a near riot — but that’s exactly what he needs. Almost instantly the band’s music is on the BBC, their pics appear in NME, and the band members get booked on a football talk show. All for a group that has yet to sign to a record label.

But at the same time, Dixie is bleeding money. On the brink MG_3095of success he’s also flat broke, nearly homeless, pursued by loan sharks, and worst of all, his girlfriend Shell – the love of his life – might leave him. Will he make it big in London, or return to his country ways?

Svengali is a cute, low-budget fish-out-of-water comedy. Jonny Owen and the gang are fun to watch and the sountrack is catchy. It’s also a self-consciously retro tribute to the good old days of rock and roll. It’s full of handbills, cassette tapes, vinyl 45s and record contracts written on paper. It feels like an aging millennial mimicking a rocker from the 80s who is imitating a mod from the 60s. But even with the stock characters and predictable plot, I enjoyed it anyway.

6a1cfe62-844f-4158-816c-b1800241235d45 Years

Dir: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)

Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) live in a small town in Norfolk, England. They have a happy, if uneventful, life, as they enjoy their retirement years. Sex is a chore. Conversation is routine. Their friends are annoying. They have dogs, not kids or grandkids. Geoff is forgetful, Kate a bit surly and depressed. And then there are the health issues. But they do have each other. They fit together like hands in old leather gloves. They know everything there is to know about each other. And they’re getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. 45 years of faithful marriage. Then a letter arrives from Switzerland.

They have recovered a body from a glacier in the Alps. A be5824c6-6d9d-48eb-b2bf-3fb9a9edf94bwoman who died 50 years earlier, but whose body is only revealed now, due to global warming. And Geoff is listed as next of kin. What?

Turns out, there was another woman. Did he cheat on her? No this was before he married Kate. But he still seemed to carry a torch for this young love. And up in the attic, packed away, are letters and slides, evidence of a relationship Kate never knew about. Has their half-century together been just an afterthought? And will the big event – the 45th anniversary party in a rented hall – even take place?

66dbabff-5c1c-449f-a8ad-aa66e1279d2745 Years is a well-acted film about love and relationships. I could call it introspective, thoughtful and subtly nuanced, and that would be true. Definitely no overacting in this movie. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for this role, and Tom Courtenay is another beloved actor known for his working class characters. Thing is – dare I say it? – I thought it was dull. Dull, drab and slow-moving. It was like the French movie Amour, but without death, dementia, intrigue or suspense. It’s not a bad movie (it’s infinitely more complex than the light Svengali) and it’s not that I disliked it, but I was underwhelmed.

45 Years open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Svengali is now available online and VOD. You can view the Canadian Screen Awards nominees here.

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

Sexy Strong Seniors! Movies Reviewed: Cloudburst, Still Mine

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.

An ever increasing proportion of our population is made up of seniors, so it makes sense that more movies are made about them. They share certain themes: wisdom, loss, history and memory, dissatisfaction with change, along with infirmity, dementia or death. But, so far, not many are about old men and women as fully sexual, dynamic and heroic figures (exceptions include Haneke’s Amour and Sarah Polley’s Away from Her). So this week I’m looking at two new movies that do just that. They’re both told from the point of view of older couples fighting the system. As an added bonus, they both are set in scenic Atlantic Canada. One has a pair of older women escaping to Canada so they can get married; the other has a farmer and his wife fighting the system to build a house on their own land.

cloudburst dukakis frickerCloudburst

Dir: Thom Fitzgerald

Stella and Dottie (Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker) are lovers. They’ve been together for decades, in small-town Maine. They know each other inside and out and like playing things like “hide the vibrator’ in bed. Stella has a foul mouth, a mannish haircut and a cowboy hat. Dottie is blind, plump, ailing, and motherly, with billowy dresses and curly white hair. Life’s a peach.

But when Stella isn’t looking, Dottie’s uptight granddaughter gets her to sign away her power of attorney. Then, with the help of her husband, the town policeman, she trucks her grandma away to an old-age home and takes possession of her house. Naturally, when Stella find’s out she’s furious. But there’s nothing she can do, since she’s not Dollie’s blood relative, just her lover. What to do? Stella has a plan…

She reconnoiters the old-age home, loads Dottie into her car, and heads off north to the Canadiancloudburst ryan doucette border. If they can get up there they can get married and everything will be OK again. On the way, they see a hitchhiker, a young, modern dancer named Prentice (Ryan Doucette) showing some skin by the side of the road. Stella invites him on board but sets him straight “Pull up your pants kid — you’re humping the wrong fire hydrant!” He’s their third wheel, but adds a new flavour to the mix, as he tells them about his own home troubles. He also lets them have some private time when they’re caught in a cloudburst. Will they make it to Canada? Are they fugitives from the law? And can they pull off the wedding in time?

This is light, comical road movie, full of jokes and radio music. All three of the leads are fun to watch as they play out their characters. It takes place in an Atlantic Canada that’s an idyllic, rustic place, full of tolerant, friendly folks. It’s not meant to be a serious story, more of a light comic fantasy. Funny and tender in some parts, sad in others, but never too deep. I think it’s director’s Thom Fitzgerald’s try at a mainstream crowd-pleaser– as opposed to his earlier, more experimental films, like Hanging Garden —  and it works.

STILL MINE_cromwellStill Mine

Dir: Michael McGowan

Craig and Irene (James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold) live on a sprawling, 2000 acre family farm near St Martins, N.B. They’ve been married 60 years and have seven kids, and raise chickens, cows and strawberries. And they still live at home. They are very much in love, and still sleep together. Craig is tall, stern and gaunt; Irene has flowing long white hair that she lets loose on her slim body. (The movie makes a point at showing them bioth partially naked)

Irene’s memory is going, and she’s increasingly hard to handle in their old home. But Craig’s a stubborn old cuss, and there’s no way he’s leaving that place, despite their childrens’ entreaties.

So he decides to build a new house. By himself. By hand. He’s been schooled in the art of building since he was a lad, and St Martins was an old ship-building port, so he’s inherited all the rules: cutting and aging wood, building joists, making it all just right. He’s building a perfect, one story home, as tight as a ship, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. One where Irene will STILL_MINE bujoldnever have to worry about climbing or falling down staircases again.

But things start to go wrong. He never bought a refrigerated truck to transport his strawberry harvest – a new rule. So he can’t sell them. His cattle have wandered away since he didn’t fix a hole in a fence. And worst of all, Mr Daigle, at the licensing desk, says he didn’t follow the proper rules in building the new house, and posts WORK STOP notices all over the skeleton of the house he’s building. If he disobeys the law he could go to jail. Will the house be torn to the ground? Or will Craig and Irene win and get to live in their lovely new house?

Based on a true story – stubborn NB. farmer fights the bureaucrats — this is a nice movie with excellent performances by Bujold and Cromwell (He just won the best actor prize in a Canadian film this past weekend.) Some of the scenes looked similar to ones in Away from Her, with pretty Irene wandering unchecked, in a daze, with her long white hair blowing in her face.It’s modeled on rural life, and they both seem like real farmers, but it also shares the very slow, largely uneventful feel (I’m guessing here) of rural life. So it’s a bit sloooow, not so exciting. But it is a nice, gentle satisfying film to watch.

Cloudburst starts today, check your local listings, and keep your eyes out for Still Home which opens a few months from now, in May.

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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