Daniel Garber talks with producer Jason Charters and director Larry Weinstein about Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas

Posted in China, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas songs, Cultural Mining, documentary, Eating, Judaism, Music, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 2017

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

It’s the 1960s. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire… outside the snow is falling and friends are calling yoo-hoo… it’s Christmastime in the city. Mom, Dad and the two kids get in the car to go out for their traditional family dinner. Is it ham? Turkey? No… it’s Chinese food! Beause these folks are dreaming of a “Jewish Christmas”.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a new documentary that looks at the secular celebration of a religious holiday in North America and how it’s reflected in popular culture – especially in Christmas songs. It re-eneacts a 1960s dinner in Chinatown with new performances of classic Christmas songs by Steven Page, Dione Taylor and Aviva Chernick.

The film was produced in Toronto by Jason Charters and Liam Romalis at Riddle Films and directed by Oscar nominee Larry Weinstein.

I spoke with Jason in studio at CIUT and with Larry via telephone.

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is playing on CBC Documentary Channel on Dec 24 and Dec 25.

Warm your cockles, flex your mussels. Films reviewed: Tampopo, Sugar Mountain, Office Christmas Party

Posted in Chicago, Christmas songs, comedy, Food, Japan by CulturalMining.com on December 9, 2016

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

With short days, long nights and sub-zero temperatures, winter is clearly here. So this week I have three movies to warm your cockles (or flex your mussels). You can take a brisk walk in the snow with an Alaskan crime thriller, dive into a spiked punch bowl with an Christmas comedy, or try a hot bowl of ramen with a Japanese classic.

Tampopo posterTampopo

Dir: Itami Juzo

Goro (Yamazaki Tsutomu) is a Japanese trucker. He wears a cowboy hat and drives a tanker with bullhorns at the front, along with his junior partner Gun (a young Ken Watanabe). But Goro’s real passion is ramen, that Chinese soup-noodle so popular in Japan. Each glistening slice of pork, each slurp of noodle, each sip of fragrant broth, represents the culmination of years noodle 28880id_046_w1600evolution. They stop at a roadside ramen joint but are dismayed by what they see: A boy being bullied out front while a gang of drunken louts harass the ramen chef inside. Goro and Gun manage to rescue the boy and clear out the abusive customers but the ramen they finally eat is just not good.

The chef’s name is Tampopo (Miyamoto Nobuko) and she’s also the mother of the little boy they rescued. She thanks them 28880id_032_primary_w1600profusely, but admits she doesn’t know how to make ramen. She inherited the store from her late husband but not the recipe or technique. So Goro vows to train her to make the perfect bowl of ramen, in a one-woman bootcamp. On the way, he enlists more help: Sensei, a homeless man who lives with a gang of hobos; Shohei, the chef of a rich man whose life they save; and Piss-Ken one of the drunken hoods they met at their first visit to Tampopo’s ramen house. Will Tampopo – a woman — ever become a genuine master ramen chef? And who will she fall for: Goro or Piss-Ken?

Tampopo was originally released in 1985; this rerelease is a newly-28880id_002_w1600remastered 4K version. It’s a comedy/western and one of the first foodie movie ever made. The main humour comes from treating something simple and popular like fast food as if it were a vintage wine. It was made during the Japanese economic bubble when conspicuous consumption of elite, expensive imports was a national pastime. The movie consists of dozens of short tableaux with hundreds of characters — including a hedonistic couple dressed in white who mix food with sex —  separate, but somehow linked to the main story. The late Itami Juzo was a great satirical filmmaker, and Tampopo his first international hit, basically creating a new genre: the food movie. Definitely worth seeing.

Sugar Mountain posterSugar Mountain

Dir: Richard Gray

Miles and Liam West (Drew Roy, Shane Coffey) are brothers who work in the tourist trade in the scenic port Seward, Alaska. Liam is as honest and , trustworthy as Miles is shifty and undependable. Liam can fight a bear, while Miles is a newbie in the wilderness. Because of a recent accident – they Sugar Mountain, Drew Roycrushed the fingers of a famous concert pianist – the family business is in dire straits. So Miles – the sketchy one – comes up with a scheme to make tons of money. It’s flawless, he says, as long as they do it right. They pretend Miles is lost, without a phone, on the banks of the formidable Sugar Sugar Mountain, Haley WebbMountain. Only to reappear 10 days later to sell his exciting story to the media. Miles’s girlfriend Lauren (Haley Webb) is in on it too, and she helps manipulate press coverage, including a fake story that Liam fought with — and possibly murdered! — his own brother. The problem is, Miles really seems to be lost, or momoacoffeypossibly dead. And the town cop, who us also Lauren’s dad, (Carey Elwes) suspects Liam

To top it all off, Liam doesn’t realize his brother’s other motive – he needs the money to pay off other debts. And the guy he owes them to (Jason Momoa), is not a happy camper. If he doesn’t get the money, he’ll take it out in blood… most likely Liam’s.

Sugar Mountain is a solid, dramatic thriller, with lots of unexpected twists. And the fact it’s all played out against the breathtaking mountains, glaciers and forests of southern Alaska really adds to the pleasure.

14682206_1781862548770120_1903229054794222162_oOffice Christmas Party

Dir: Josh Gordon & Will Speck

Josh (Jason Bateman) is a recently divorced manager at a Chicago-based internet provider. They’re making good money, and, thanks to Josh’s good nature, the employees all seem to like it there. Tracy (Olivia Munn) is a tech genius who works on his team. She has a plan to revolutionize wifi. Josh’s boss is Clay (TJ Miller) the son of the company founder. Clay is an extreme sports devotee who majored in Canadian TV Studies. He may be irresponsible but he can throw a mean party.

Everyone is excited about their bonuses and the end of the year festivities, until… in walks the CEO. Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is 14681108_1782510598705315_346340364558759401_othe opposite of Clay. Where he is a partier she’s a wet blanket. Where Clay is fun and spontaneous, Carol is uptight with a sadistic streak. They’re also brother and sister, carrying all the emotional baggage that entails. She announces austerity plans — what a Grinch! what a Scrooge! — with no parties, no gifts, no bonuses and laying off 40% of the staff. Unless they can somehow land a major corporate client within 48 hours. But the client they want, a Mr Davies, thinks the corporate culture there – with all its layoffs 13895133_1744744402481935_8648184611797836688_nand uncertainties — is no good. So it’s up to Josh, Clay and Tracy – and the rest of the company — to hold the best party ever… and to convince Mr Davies to save the company and their jobs.

The rest of the movie is a just a wild office party, exactly what the title suggests. Picture live reindeer, cocaine, naked people sitting on 3-D printers, a Santa with cash taped to his body… and widespread mayhem and destruction. It’s like the movie Project X but for grownups. Is it funny? Yes it is. Constant gags and laughs, with truly funny ones every so often. And the small parts are even funnier than the main ones, including Jillian Bell as a deranged female pimp.

Office Christmas Party, Tampopo, and Sugar Mountain all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Sugar Mountain is also available today on Video on Demand.

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

Philadelphia Freedom. Movies reviewed: Jingle Bell Rocks, Let the Fire Burn

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.

I was in the US for American Thanksgiving. Had a wonderful visit to family and friends, beautiful places, lots to see and do. But you wouldn’t know it if you watched TV news on Black Friday. It’s an orgiastic  frenzy of consumer excess slapped onto an otherwise sedate family weekend. All you could see on TV was the repeated image of two women at a Philadelphia Walmart tasing each other to get at a discount i-Pad. Just crazy.

But they segue nicely into my themes this week: Philadelphia and holiday excess. I’m looking at Canadian documentary about Christmas music. And an American doc about a firebomb dropped on a radical commune in Philadelphia.

mitch_hat_vigJingle Bell Rocks

Dir: Mitchel Kezin

Mitchel is obsessed with Christmas songs., Not the traditional carols or sing-alongs — Silent Night, Jingle Bells —  but the many, possibly countless, record albums released over the past 60-70 years. He believes that, among all the treacle and dross they play constantly for a month and a half every year, there are gems to be discovered. So he goes to every flea market, ducks into every used record store he sees, on the off chance there’s an indie treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

It all started with a Nat King Cole song about a little kid pining for his absentee dad, who won’t be home for Chistmas. His own dad was never there and eventually his parents were divorced. Now he feels driven to recreate the sad feelings john_waters_pic2he remembers from a melancholy tune.

And he’s not alone. There’s a hip-hop producer, a radio DJ, and a rock star, each with their obsessive horde of old Xmas vinyl.

The movie spans decades, including everything from be-bop jazz (that’s Bob Dorough singing with the Miles Davis Quintet in the background) to soul – there’s a risqué song about a Backdoor Santa – to Vietnam protest songs, ordinary pop, bill_adler&rev-run_prod2counter-culture kitsch and hip hop, all the way to the nineties and beyond.

Stars include Flaming Lips, Run DMC, and John Waters, with the movie culminating in an amazing recording session with calypso legend Mighty Sparrow.

Not bad for a documentary. Jingle Bell Rocks is 90-minute look at an ordinary – if oddball – guy with a hording obsession. I can sympathize with the narrator’s plight, but never feel his drive. Anyway, it’s a light subject, not intrinsically exciting. But it’s saved by the music: great tunes.

let the fire burn poster_largeLet the Fire Burn

Dir: Jason Osder

In the mid 1980s, Philadelphia — a city I love — experienced a terrifying event. A home was bombed, and many people were killed. You might think: terrorists? But the bomb was dropped on a row house from a helicopter… by the police! And as the fire grew, the fireman stood by to letthefireburn.photo03watch the flames engulf a city block.

How could this have happened? Some background.

Half a century after the civil rights movement, Philadelphia is still a de facto segregated city. It experienced decades of unrest and white flight to the exurbs. Much of this was related to the combative stance letthefireburn.photo05of the police force and City Hall, led, in the 1970s by Frank Rizzo.

A former police commissioner, Rizzo fought a personal battle against radical groups like the Black Panthers, displaying, at times, seemed more loyalty to his fellow police than toward the people of the city. He was known for his harsh treatment of black people, in general. Well, right in the middle of this was a small, black-to-nature group known as MOVE, headed by the self-named John Africa. They believed in such “radical” concepts as a vegan diet, the raw food movement, animal rights — a new religion that was anti-pesticide letthefireburn.photo02and anti-technology. The kids walked around naked and everyone shared the same last name. They also proselytized loudly in public, using a megaphone, not endearing themselves to their neighbours.

The police accused them of being an armed terrorist group and raided their home. In the melee a cop was killed, but it was never determined where the shot came from. (The police were caught on video brutally attacking an unarmed Delbert Africa.) Nine members of MOVE were convicted of third-degree murder and jailed.

Seven years later, in an apparent act of revenge for the  policeman’s death, they dropped two fire bombs – supplied by the FBI — on the urban commune and stood by, as 11 people, including five small children, letthefireburn.photo01died. Afterwards, the city’s Mayor, W. Wilson Goode, called for an investigation.

This excellent movie tells the story in an unusual way. The documentary is composed entirely of  period news footage, TV interviews, and, most of all, the recorded testimony of the inquiry. There’s no narrator, only voices from that time, preserved on tape. Police and survivors of the bombing all testify why they did what they did and bring light to what was happening that tragic day. (Some police were appalled by what happened and did what they could to rescue people, while others clearly supported it.) Especially poignant is the testimony of a little boy, Birdie Africa, who clears up many of the false claims and misconceptions about what went on. This is a stunning movie and an excellent oral history.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Hot Docs) and Let the Fire Burn (TIFF Bell Lightbox) both 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 .

%d bloggers like this: