Noisy or quiet? Films reviewed: Mission Impossible: Fallout, Angels Wear White PLUS #TIFF18

Posted in Action, China, CIA, Corruption, Crime, Drama, Espionage, Migrants, Thriller, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 26, 2018

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

Summer is when the blockbusters come out but there are also great arthouse pics to watch, too. So this week I’m giving you a choice. A Hollywood action thriller that takes you to world capitals, and a moving Chinese drama set in a quiet seaside resort.

But first, here’s  some news about what’s coming this fall to theInternational film festival.

TIFF

TIFF held its annual press conference this week, about the first wave of festival choices coming up. If you’re going here’s how to navigate through the hundreds of movies playing. A few that look terrific, are Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, about a gang of child thieves that operate like Fagins fake family. This year a full third of its movies will be directed by women. French director Claire Denis is always a good bet. she has one called Highlife… Did you see Moonlight two years ago? Barry Jenkins is premiering If Beale Could Talk. based on James Baldwin’s novel. And look out for Canadian films by Donald McKeller, Kim Nguyen, and Patricia Rozema, among many, many others they’ll be announcing soon.

And a warning: if you want to avoid potentially bad movies stay away from remakes, movies about movies, and movies directed by movie stars.

Mission Impossible: Fallout

Wri/Dir: Christopher MacQuarrie

It’s present day Europe, and the Mission Impossible team is together again. There’s the indestructible Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), he faces any crisis by saying “we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.” yHe’s supported by the always affable Luther (Ving Rhames) and the nervous Benji (Simon Pegg). And Ethan’s onetime lover Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), late of the MI6, will pop up every so often when they least expect it. Their mission: to recover three high grade plutonium balls before terrorists use them to destroy large parts of the world.

The bombs are in the hands of The Apostles, devotees of cult leader Solomon Lane. And the IMF – Impossible Mission Force – is further hampered by their own government: The CIA doesn’t trust them. Ethan has to work beside a CIA agent named Walker (Henry Cavill) who looks more like Sgt Preston of the Yukon than a spy. But the team has a bag of tricks of their at their disposal: digital trackers, rubber masks, and the die hard resilience of the members themselves. Can they trick the bad guys out of their info, smoke out the traitors in their midst… and save the world?

Mission impossible:Fallout has its good points and its bad points. It has beautiful shots of tourists sites in Paris and London… but no actual local people – just criminals, cops and more spies. Parisians and Londoners are just scenery. (And in scenes supposedly set in Kashmir there wasn’t a single Kashmiri.) There are fast -moving fist fights, shootouts and relentless chase scenes… but you never know why they’re doing what they’re doing. The chases are there just for the spectacle.

The script is bad, the acting is mediocre, but the stunts and special effects are amazing. This is an action movie with a cliffhanger (literally) and a ticking bomb (also literally). I love the helicopter fights, the mountain-side fights, and the rooftop chases. I just wish there was something there there. Mission Impossible: Fallout never leaves you bored, just feeling empty inside.

Angels Wear White

Dir: Vivian Qu

Xiaomi (Wen Qi) is a teenaged girl in eastern China. She works as hotel maid at a seaside tourist spot. She spends her free time wandering the beach, paying daily visits to her mentor – an enormous statue of Marilyn Monroe in a white dress. She seeks comfort curled between the goddess’s towering legs. Her life is simple until she witnesses a crime at the hotel and saves a copy on her cell phone. The criminal? A high-ranked party member. The crime? He forces himself on two little girls he lured to the hotel.

She is horrified at what happened but when the police come by she clams up. She’s undocumented, a migrant from a poor area, so she has to keep a low profile, especially around cops. (But maybe she can sell the video for enough cash to buy an ID card?)

Meanehile the two victims Xiao Wen (Zhou Meijun) and her best friend go back to school as if nothing happened – “to save their reputations.” They are scolded by teachers for being late, bullied by other students, and finally Wen’s bitter divorced mom blames her own 12-year-old daughter for the attack. Why is your hair so long, why do you wear clothes like this? So she runs away, ending up at her dad place inside a splash park. His boss says he’ll fire him if he does anything to embarrass powerful official. The parents of the other girl are hoping for a big cash payoff for keeping quiet.

Only the state attorney, an honest lawyer named Hao (Shi Ke) wants justice. So she doggedly pursues the witness and the victims to build an airtight case. But can one woman — and some little girls – fight the power of a rich corrupt official and all his cronies? Or can only the powerless statue Marilyn Monroe come to their rescue?

Angels Wear White is an excellent film about a loathesome crime. She handles it with skill and compassion, showing the results through the eyes of three girls and women: the victim, the witness, and the lawyer. No exploitation here. It’s also about corruption and all its tentacles, the status of women – terrible – and the plight of the quarter of a billion migrant workers in China. Angels Wear White is a powerful, heart-wrenching story.

For more info on TIFF films go to tiff.net. Mission Impossible: Fallout and Angels Wear White 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.

America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country all 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

Stars. Movies Reviewed: A Most Wanted Man, And So It Goes PLUS TIFF 14

Posted in CIA, comedy, Cultural Mining, Germany, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2014

TIFF14 Press Launch Piers Handling and Cameron BaileyHi, 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.

TIFF announced some of this year’s films to watch out for at a press conference this week. While many of them are blatant Oscar-bait, a few look promising. Lone Schiffrin directs The Riot Club, a story of Oxford toffs – upper-class university students with money, power and prestige – who try to get away with something really bad. Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings us Coming Home, about a relationship torn apart during the Cultural Revolution. German director Christian Petzold’s tries his hand at a post-holocaust, mysterious drama starring his leading lady Nina Hoss. And many more.

So, in deference to the upcoming red carpets, I’m looking at two movies filled with stars. One’s an American rom-com about retired baby boomers; the other’s a thriller set in Hamburg about spies and the War on Terror.

Most Wanted Man Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin courtesy EOne films canadaA Most Wanted Man
Dir: Anton Corbijn (based on the novel by John le Carré)

Hamburg is a huge European port city, where sailors explore shwarma stands and sex shops. It’s where the Beatles played in the early 60s. And it’s where Muhammad Atta, one of the presumed 9/11 conspirators, is said to have joined al-Qaeda. Now it’s a hotspot for American black-ops, surveillance and spies.

So when an unidentified bearded stowaway in a hoodie is spotted arriving by boat, intelligence goes on high alert. Who is he? What is he there for?

Turns out, his name is Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the son of a Chechen mother and a Russian military father. He is rescued by a kindly local family and a refugee lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). He carries no ID except a priceless document – a letter from his dead father to a Hamburg bank. Annabel offers her help – she’ll show it to the bank’s CEO (Willem Defoe) to get Issa back on his feet.

But that could involve a large amount of money. The spies all panic. Is he a terrorist? A lone Most Wanted Man Phillip Seymour Hoffman  courtesy EOne films canadawolf? The intelligence crews swoop down, ready to bring him in. But Annabel manages – for now at least — to keep Issa safe from the team that tries to kidnap him.

Chief among the spies is Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles) a street-level agent who cultivates local informants. He talks like Winston Churchill nursing a hangover. He tells the American spies and German police not to bring Issa in. Gunther has bigger fish to fry. If they let him expand his mission he promises to bring down an international terrorist financial network. But is Issa really a terrorist? Where did that banker get the money? Can Gunther be trusted? And which spy organization is really pulling those strings?

A most wanted man is a fascinating spy flick. Like most le Carre novels, it has a complicated, and initially confusing plot, involving many players with conflicting motives. It’s this moral ambiguity – who are the bad guys, who are the good guys – that make it so realistic and satisfying. The movie is loaded with European actors: Germans Nina Hoss (star of Christian Petzold’s films) and Daniel Bruhl are almost wasted in their side roles. Russian Grigory Dobrygin is compelling as the presumed terrorist with the secret past. And Hoffman goes out with a bang – he will be missed.

A most Wanted Man is shot in a gritty urban style, filled with heavy industry, shipping containers, and abandoned warehouses.

I like the action and the thrilling plot. But even more I like the sense of unease the movie leaves you with, with its dark, depressing portrayal of excessive surveillance.

VVS_ASIG_poster.inddAnd So it Goes
Dir: Rob Reiner

Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a retired real estate dealer who lives in a cute rustic home. He calls it his Little Shangri La, but for his tenants who share the building, it’s no paradise. He’s a cranky old man who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing small children, shooting stray dogs with paint guns and stealing parking spaces from pregnant women. He’s a nasty old coot. Apparently he used to be an all-right guy… until his wife died. Now he’s nobody’s friend.

He’s trying to sell his family mansion for eight million dollars – not six! – so he can move away, but keeps alienating potential buyers with snarky attitude. And suddenly someone appears to upset his apple cart. It’s his estranged, middle aged son. Dad hasn’t seen him since the boy was a junky. Now he’s a middle aged man about to serve time in prison for some unknown crime. And the son has a cute, 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerrins) that he wants his Dad to take care of.

Selfish Oren wants nothing to do with the kid. He dumps her on his neighbour Leah (Diane ASIG_03862.NEFKeaton) in the adjoining apartment. Leah is an underemployed lounge singer. She is as nice as Oren is mean – and she needs the money – so she agrees. Then thing start to change: despite their initial rocky start, Oren and Leah find they have something in common – could it be love? And will the adorable little granddaughter melt her cruel grandpa’s heart?

I wasn’t crazy about this movie. The father runs into trouble searching his son’s friends and the kid’s mother. They’re.. poor! (Which ASIG_02615.NEFmeans they’re all ugly, dirty, drug addicts.) Not like the nice, rich people he wants to talk to. It also tries for laughs with Oren’s racist remarks, but assumes the audience is familiar with his ethnic stereotypes. (I honestly didn’t get these “jokes”. Are Latinos in the US assumed to be gardeners?)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton seem to be playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves: arrogant ass meets flibberty-gibbets. It’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s more just disappointing that the director who has chronicled American baby boomers for decades, should fall back to weak rom-coms rather than gems like Spinal Tap, Misery and Princess Bride.

A Most Wanted Man and And So It Goes open today. 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

Movie Movies. Films Reviewed: Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill PLUS AKP Job 27

Posted in 3-D, CGI, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Gladiator, Rome, Serbian, Silent Movie, Toronto, Uncategorized, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 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.

Do you ever get tired of movies with deep meanings and avant-garde styles? Do you ever just want to see a “movie” movie? Well this week I’m looking at some movie movies, each with a bit of a twist. There’s a sword- and-sandal romance that’s also a disaster movie, an action-thriller that’s a family comedy, and a Yakuza movie… that has no lines!

Pompeii HarringtonPompeii (in 3D)

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Roman empire is reaching its apex, planting the golden eagle on Brittainia.  A particularly cruel general named Corvus battles the Celts. When it’s over he says to his henchman: Kill them all! But one little boy survives.

Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones) grows up to be a champion fighter, with stringy hair, a wispy beard and killer abs. He’s sent to Rome to compete as a fighter-slave. But on the way he comes to the aid of a beautiful, upper-class woman with porcelain features named Cassia (Emily Browning) Her horse has an accident, and Milo has a way with horses. He was “born on horseback”, he says. But will they ever meet again? You can count on it.

Pompeii Kit Harrington, Emily Browning

Now, Milo is sent to Pompeii (a holiday spot outside of Rome) to fight to the death in the arena there (Cassia’s dad controls Pompeii’s stadium). The ultimate fight will be between Milo and his rival Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Pompeii, Kit Harrington, Atticus Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeAgbaje) an African gladiator about to win his freedom.

Who comes to town, but a suitor, a senator from Rome. He says he’ll approve the new stadium, if — and only if — Cassia marries him. But she hates him (they had an earlier run-in in Rome) and she has a thing for Milo. And who is this Pompeii Sutherlandsenator? Why it’s Corvus (Keiffer Sutherland) who, along with his henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz) massacred Milo’s family as a child!

So all of these plots are going on right at the base of Mt Vesuvius. And as we all know now, the volcano is about to blow, pouring lava and volcanic ash over Pompeii, Sasha Roizeveryone, rich and poor, who doesn’t get out of there soon.

This movie has three things going on. There’s the frequent action scenes – lots of fights, great gladiator matches, chase scenes; then there are the romantic parts: Cassia and Milo are constantly risking their own lives to rescue each other from death and danger; and there’s the inevitable disaster part: ground rumbling, buildings crumbling, spectacular collapses… The movie uses way, way, way too many CGIs. It makes everything look dark. You long for some blue skies. Nevertheless, I totally enjoyed this movie. Excitement, interesting plot, fights, romance, tears… it’s got everything.

And believe it or not, this movie about ancient Rome was shot in Toronto’s west end, all in enormous  soundstages and backlots.

Costner, 3 Days to KillThree Days to Kill

Dir: McG (The O.C.)

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is just a regular guy who wears Dockers and roots for the Pittsburg steelers. He’s been away from his wife and daughter for five years. Why? Because he’s also a CIA assassin. He is in Belgrade to kill a sadistic criminal named the Albino (played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis as a James Bond-type super-villain). He’s known for chopping off the heads of his enemies. A young CIA agent named Vivi (Amber Heard) is there at the same time to kill another criminal known only as the Wolf. But something goes wrong.

Ethan collapses to the ground just when he should have shot the Albino.

Turns out he has inoperable brain cancer. He decides to spend his last days with his estranged wife and resentful teenaged daughter Zooey (Haillee Steinfeld, True Grit) in Paris.  This is where the action is supposed to turn to laughs.

Back in Paris, his apartment has squatters: an extended family from Mali. (He’s white, they’re black… Get it?) And his teenaged daughter Zooey is angry because he neglected her. (She’s young, he’s old… Get it?) Well, somehow, he convinces his wife he can be trusted to take care of their daughter for three days while she’s away on a business trip. But then Vivi reappears to say: I’ll cure your cancer with some secret drugs if you murder the Wolf (Ethan’s the only one who saw his face in Belgrade.) So now he has to juggle bonding with Zooey, with dying of cancer, and torturing suspects and killing alleged criminals.3 Days to Kill Amber Heard

This is such a craptastically messed-up movie. Believe it or not, the script was originally co-written by Luc Besson, the notorious French action movie director. So it does have some good chase scenes and shootouts.

But the humour? So lame, it’s absolutely devoid of laughs. Costner is a terrible comic actor, and Amber Heard is embarrassingly bad as the multi-wigged Vivi. The script feels like it was written in French, rewritten in Serbo-Croation with the English version courtesy of Google Translate, alpha edition. Just dreadful.

A016_C094_11139EAKP Job 27

Dir: Michael Suan

And in a tribute to the old Luc Besson comes a silent gangster pic from Toronto. A Yakuza hit man travels to on assignment in Canada and falls for a beautiful woman in the sex trade… who reminds him of a long lost love. This is a purely visual movie with a smorgasbord of images: gunshots in a field of air A007_C076_1102PN3turbines, sex scenes in red and blue. There is too much slo-mo and choppy jump cuts for my taste —  at times it feels like an extended 1980s music video. But it’s commendable as a first film, with Suan re-imagining a noir-ish Toronto as a city full of dark allies, rainy streets, neon lights, and strip bars.

Pompeii, Three Days to Kill and AKP Job 27 all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The glorious Chilean film Gloria continues, and also opening this week is Tim’s Vermeer.

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

 

January 10th, 2013. Political Context in Action Thrillers. Movies reviewed: Zero Dark Thirty, A Darker Truth

Posted in Army, CIA, Cultural Mining, Death, Environmentalism, Protest, Thriller, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on January 26, 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.

Many people complain that action movies are vapid, pointless pablum, just meaningless flashes and a driving score to keep people distracted. Maybe so. But does adding a political context make an action movie better? This week I’m looking at two movies – both basically action thrillers – that are told within a political context. One’s a celebration of a CIA agent’s role in the assassination Osama Bin Laden, the other’s about a Canadian multinational messing things up in South America.

zero-dark-thirtyZero Dark Thirty

Dir: Catherine Bigelow

Maya (Jessica Chastain) is an up-and-coming CIA agent, with a delicate personality and whispey red hair blowing in the wind. She finds herself in a secret dark site. It’s post- 9/11 and the CIA is trying to find out where the next terrorist attack is going to be, and how they can stop it. She turns to the ruthless Dan (Jason Clarke) as her mentor. He’s a laid-back kinda guy with a scruffy beard who likes to say things like “It’s cool bro… everyone breaks eventually” to the people he’s torturing. He raises cute little monkeys in a cage, right beside the suspects, also kept in zoo-like cages. So she’s soon happily stringing up people, stripping them naked, putting black hoods on them and waterboarding the prisoners, just like the rest of the agents. Pretty grim stuff.

But she’s doing it to save America. As one character says in a dramatic speech: Al Qaeda attacked us from the air, from the land and by sea. We must stop them! And when she personally witnesses a bombing that kills her colleague she makes it her lifelong goal to kill that terrorist mastermind, Osama Bin Laden. (And it’s not a spoiler to say that he’s killed in a Navy SEAL raid on Pakistan in May, 2011.)

Zero Dark Thirty is a very long movie that traces the CIA’s violent, twisted and bumpy path toward getting Bin Laden. Gradually the public and the government seem to lose their original goal of catching the culprit of 9/11, but it’s Maya’s dogged pursuit that gets him in the end.

I thought it was a too-long, and not all that interesting, action movie telling a story we already know, completely from the Jessica Chastain zero dark thirtypoint of view of a CIA agent. It’s not one-sided – it is unsparing in its portrayal of torture – but it seems to make it all just seem like an episode of the TV show “24”, where there’s always a ticking time bomb or a planned terrorist attack ready to happen. If they can get the bad guys to talk – however they do it – any method is OK. The thing is, in real life torture is not OK, and it doesn’t work. Among other things, it talks about the 3000 innocent people killed on 9/11 – a terrible tragedy — but doesn’t seem to mention any of the 100,000s of innocent people, completely unrelated to that event, who were killed by the US and its allies in retaliation. (It does casually mention drones in Afghanistan, but just in passing.) It also portrays terrorism as a constant, never-ending threat, killing people all over the world. And its portrayal of Muslims and especially Arabs was especially simplistic.

(One of the most annoying scenes in the movie looks like it was written by someone who had never met a Muslim. It involves a group of women in black robes and hijab, their faces veiled with niqab. And what happens? Well, in this movie, any woman who covers her face must be up to something devious or sneaky; naturally, they end up being male assassins disguised as women who pull out weapons and mow someone down… Really?)

As a movie, the acting (especially Chastain, Clarke and Jennifer Ehle as another CIA agent) is very good, and the storyline is initially compelling, though its subject matter is extremely disturbing.

But it gets boring in the second half — just people walking through the steps taken to “get” bin Laden. Fun if you’re into Navy Seal recruitment videos, but boring to everyone else. I also thought its portrayal of good guys and bad guys – Us vs Them – overly selective. Every suspect turns out to be a terrorist, who can’t be trusted and is there just to kill us. Not just that, but we should make them hurt bad, not just because it’ll save lives, but because they did bad things to us and our friends and should pay for it. And that torture works.

Zero Dark Thirty is not a good movie.

Another action thriller is

Dark-truth-poster-1A Darker Truth

Dir: Damian Lee

Morgan (Deborah Kara Unger) is a ribbon-cutter, a Toronto heiress at a multinational resource corporation, who cuts ribbons and launches benevolent charities in the company’s name. But when she has an alarming run-in with an Equadorian on the lam her eyes are opened. She decides to investigate her company’s actions in South America where they may be responsible for poisoning water and killing locals, all for the sake of the bottom line. So she hires local talk show host Jack Begosian who has long rallied against what he calls the Great Transformation: corporate commoditization of necessities like water, land and air. Jack’s radio call-in show is called The Truth, but he’s pretty secretive about his own truth – he may have been a CIA agent in his past.

So Jack has to go to Equador, uncover the truth, and bring the Campesino revolutionary Francisco Francis (Forest Whitaker) to safety in Toronto. Francisco and his wife Mia (Eva Longoria) are the only ones speaking up for the endangered locals. But it’s not so easy.

A sniper-assassin named Tor (Kevin Durand) has been hired by the Canadian company to kill Jack and everyone else involved in order to protect their profits and image. Who will live and who will die? Who can be trusted? And will the truth ever be released?

A Dark Truth is another interesting-sounding action thriller that loses some of its steam due to an overly complicated plot. Parts are exciting and dramatic, with a good shoot-out and some interesting plot turns. But some parts are glacial in their painful slowness, like Jack’s scenes with his family wife and son. There are also far too many subplots to care about. The story keeps jumping back and forth across continents, with way too many flashbacks and tons of confusing images (like the heiress lying in a bathtub fully dressed – what does this mean and why do they keep showing it?) The acting is mixed. Durand, Garcia, Unger and Devon Bostick as the young Equadorian are all good, while the usually great Forest Whitaker seems bafflingly flat and uninteresting.

It’s nice to have Toronto playing itself for once, and important topics — like eco-revolutionaries and international intrigue – are rare to see on the big screen, but A Dark Truth is just so-so as an action thriller.

Zero Dark Thirty and A Dark Truth, both open today. Check your local listings. Also opening is Michael Haneke’s fantastic Amour, one of my top ten movies of the year.

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

October 12, 2012. Revisionist History? Films reviewed: Argo, Stories We Tell

Posted in 1980s, Canada, CIA, Clash of Cultures, Diplomacy, documentary, Drama, Espionage, Family, Iran, Thriller, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 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.

History is always changing: it depends a lot on who the storyteller is. And, often, the most recent storyteller owns the story, for the moment at least, and controls that history. This week I’m looking at two movies that retell events in Canadian history. One’s a thriller that retools a famous story of Canadian heroism in Iran; the other is a personal story about a woman who wants to find out what happened when her mother went to Montreal… in order to be in Toronto.

Argo

Dir: Ben Affleck

It’s late 1979 – the Shah of Iran who fled the country, has been allowed into the US, and, because of this, back in Tehran, angry, anti-American demos are in full swing. Furious students storm the walls of the American Embassy even while the staff on the inside are busy shredding all the files. A few manage to escape through a side street and are secretly rescued by Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador, but the rest are all held as hostages inside the occupied US Embassy. The escaped six are safe in the basement of the Canadian diplomat’s home, but for how long? Meanwhile, those darn hostage-takers are sorting through the shredded documents and will eventually discover that there are six missing diplos hiding somewhere, and what they look like.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a young CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to get them out of Iran – he’ll pretend they are Canadian filmmakers! So he goes to Hollywood and arranges the whole thing with the help of funny and obnoxious industry-types (John Goodman and Alan Arkin), then flies off to Iran with Canadian passports to save his countrymen. Will they pass as Canadians? Will they be able to leave the country? And will the whole Hollywood back-story hold up before the Revolutionary Guards?

Argo is a fun, exciting movie with a cool, unbelievable plot, and lots of thrills and suspense to keep you captive. Audiences were cheering when I saw it at TIFF, and I left feeling good. The acting is fine, the early 80’s look of the film is cool (though I doubt conservative diplomats were dressed like San Franciscans) and the story is exciting.

(Personal connection: in an earlier TV version of the Canadian Caper starring Gordon Pinsent as Ken Taylor they used Toronto’s Polish Cultural Centre on Beverley Street — just down the street from where I lived at the time — as the stand-in for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.)

It has a few problems though. It makes the CIA into the heroes! Remember, they’re the ones who overthrew the democratically-elected PM Mossadegh in the 50’s when he nationalized their oil industry. They also helped found the Shah’s dreaded SAVAK – whose torturous methods was one of the biggest reasons for the demonstrations and hostage-taking. The movie never makes clear the CIA the skullduggery that led to this crisis.

Second, it falsely makes Ken Taylor and Canada in general into a funny side-kick to the supposed heroism of a low ranked CIA agent (though I understand they’ve changed the very offensive final titles from the version I saw.) Anyway, I shrugged that off when I saw it – it’s just a movie.

But most of all I was disturbed by the way it made all Iranians in 1979 look like evil villains out to destroy a besieged America – a hell of an image to present in an election year when there’s a big political push to bomb that country.

But… whatever, it’s a good movie anyway, well worth seeing.

A very different kind of revisionist history is

Stories We Tell

Dir: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s wild, blonde actress mother Diane died when she was a child, so she was raised by her kindly, stiff-upper-lip dad, Michael. So to find out more about her past and that of her mother, she enlists her brothers, sisters, family friends and relations to tell their versions of their past, and illustrates it all with found Super-8 footage from her dad’s collection. He narrates the story from a recording booth and Sarah documents her own search for history. But… during this search she discovers that, not long before she was conceived, her mother went away to Montreal to act in a play there called “Toronto” (by David Fennario). And while she was there, rumour has it, had an affair with someone from the cast – maybe Sarah’s father isn’t her biological parent!

I am not going to give away Sarah Polley’s family secrets – but, that’s just part of what makes the film so fascinating.

This is an amazing family story told by an unreliable narrator and with lots of misleading half-truths, myths, lies and legends. One of the characters produced the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me” which sort of sets the tone for this doc. What’s real? What’s a trick? You discover that the big happy family you assume you’re watching at first never really exists as a single unit. Off-the-cuff narration is gently exposed as scripted and directed. And even the found footage is revealed as part genuine, part manufactured.

This is a fantastic blend of truth and re-creation that Sarah Polley keeps small. She does everything right: stays largely off-camera and concentrates on the story. And she’s carefully to occasionally expose the artifice of filmmaking, including docs. This isn’t one of those awful celeb stories with teary revelations and maudlin music. It’s a clever and funny — but still very touching — meditation on Canada, Sarah’s history and the meaning of family.

Great doc!

Argo and Stories We Tell both played at TIFF and are opening tonight in Toronto. Also opening this week is Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, an epic drama of love, addiction and gay life in Manhattan.

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

August 10, 2012. Angsty White Men. Movies reviewed: Oslo, August 31st, Killer Joe, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

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.

Hey white guys out there — do you rule the world, cause all the trouble, and carry the guilt on your shoulders? (It seemed so on the news last night). Well, this week I’m looking at three movies about white guys, and the bitter angst of responsibility, fear of failure, and the terrible crimes we are responsible for.

One’s a Norwegian drama about a guy in his 30s, forced to confront the world outside his addiction centre; there’s a crime drama about a guy in his 20s who considers turning to murder to solve his own debts; and an American documentary about an ethical family man… who played a part in some of his country’s worst war crimes.

Oslo, August 31st

Dir: Joachim Trier

Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is a wiry, intense intellectual in his mid-thirties. He is let out of a drug rehab centre for a day after a long stay. The movie follows his encounters with family, friends, party-goers, and strangers in homes, offices, parks and cafes.

Anders is not your “normal drug addict” (if there is such a thing); he’s successful at picking up women, has (or once had) a relaxed self-confidence at social gatherings, and is much more comfortable debating Proustian aesthetics than sitting at moderated addiction self-help groups. But his intelligence, razor wit, and nuanced reactions are not enough.

He just can’t face the outside world. He finds himself rejected or completely blanked by a lot of the people – his old friends and family — he tries to speak to. But he is so filled with despair and self-loathing that he seems to sabotage his future, even when things seem to be going right. Because he’s sure there is no future: he blew his chances of a promising career and family life and he can never get back to them.

I don’t do justice to this beautiful, desperate movie by concentrating on the plot – that’s just the framework. It’s more of a travelogue of a shut-in’s chance to experience a day out in his city. He’s never happier than when he absorbs and mentally files the random conversations around him, along with the voices of past conversations echoing in his brain – sonic flashbacks. You feel for Anders but you experience the rejection and anger by those around him who he may have wronged in the past.

This is a great, gently-paced internal drama: I recommend it.

Killer Joe

Dir: William Friedkin

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a broke loser in debt to a local good-old-boy. But, with the help of his stupid father (Thomas Haden Church) and despite resistance from his sleazy, shifty step-mother (Gina Gershon) he comes up with a plan to get the 25 grand he needs: he’ll secretly murder his mom and split the insurance with his dad. They hire a corrupt and deadly local cop known as Killer Joe (Matt McConaughey) to do the deed. But when their plans don’t go as smoothly as they thought they would, Chris’ younger sister, the appropriately-named Dottie (Juno Temple), is dragged into the mess he made.

Dottie is tetched in the head. Although now sexually an adult she still thinks of herself as a 12 year old, and likes to practice kungfu kicks while watching Chinese movies on TV. She’s given to random non-sequitors, and taking off her clothes. And the predatory Killer Joe wants to take her as sexual collateral until he gets paid.

Will Chris and Dottie remain true to their vows of loyalty? Will he escape the venomous cop and the violent local mobster? And what about their Mom?

OK – this movie has a lot going for it. It’s based on a play with a gripping plot (which may or may not translate into a good movie), interesting characters, and an excellent cast, and it’s directed by William Friedkin who brought us The Exorcist, The French Connection and the Boys in the Band. But (perhaps because of its low-budget) it wavers between good and cool, and drop-dead awful. So we get to see the (generally credible) Emile Hirsch overacting wildly in a scene where he loses it before the camera; and even worse, Juno Temple reciting her non-sequitor lines deadpan. (Come on, Juno – if Dottie’s crazy or mentally handicapped it’s not enough just to read the lines and stand around naked. It may work for a few minutes but eventually you have to act.)

On top of this, you have to sit through a relentless and excruciatingly violent scene of a sexual assault using a Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick. While there are some good parts, the unevenness of the acting and the overblown dialogue make it hit or miss.  And this hard-core crime-drama is definitely not for the squeamish.

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

Dir: Carl Colby

William Colby was a career spy who worked his way to the top of the CIA from its earliest stages immediately after WWII, to the awful fallout of The Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Some background: The CIA was formed as the main international intelligence agency following WWII, and by the 1950s took on the Cold War as its main raison d’etre. So, in addition to collecting information, the CIA was also infiltrating civil rights groups, financing political parties of the right, and sabotage parties that were left of centre; and sponsoring coups to overthrow elected governments around the world (in Iran, Chile, and Vietnam, among others) in the name of democracy and the free world.

So into this world steps the educated and upper-class devout Catholic William Colby. This movie follows his career from WWII, to being an agent working out of the Embassy in Rome, funneling millions in cash to the conservative Christian Democrats to stop Italy from “falling to the Communists”.

From there he moves to Saigon, reluctantly playing a part in the coup that brought down South Vietnam’s (Catholic President Nho Dimh Dien) and the changes in policy from benevelant helper of the South Vietnamese to purveyor of napalm and agent orange (that leads to over a million deaths.) This culminates in a series of testimonies he gives before the US Senate investigating the CIAs wrong doings. (Ironically, his truthful testimony uncovers a huge load of dirty laundry the CIA had kept hidden until then.)

The film covers all angles, using period film clios and snap shots, but what’s really interesting is that the talking heads – notorious figures like Donald Rumsfeld and famed journalists like Seymour Hersh – all speak directly to the filmmaker. So their memories aren’t all about Bill Colby, they’re about “your father”. (Probably it was the director’s personal connections that allowed him access to some of these major figures.) His mother’s testimony is especially interesting. For example, she talks about going to a cocktail party and being held back from speaking with a couple they had had drinks with just the night before “ We don’t know them”. She had trouble keeping track of her husband’s web of covert deceptions.

The Man Nobody Knew is a good documentary both as an apolitical history of the CIA and as a personal bio.

The dramas Oslo, August 31st and Killer Joe open today in Toronto, and the documentary The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby, is now playing at the HotDocs Bloor St Cinema – check your local listings. Also, coming out this week on DVD and blueray is the wonderful Genie Award-winning Quebec drama, Monsieur Lazhar (Directed by Philippe Falardeau). This is a great movie – touching, tender, funny – about a French-speaking Algerian schoolteacher with a hidden, tragic past who tries to find peace teaching Montreal kids… who are recovering from their own loss.

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

May 17, 2012 Inside Out and Upside Down. Movies Reviewed: The Dictator, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, Bullhead PLUS CFC Short Film Fest

Posted in Belgium, Books, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Denial, Steroids, Toronto, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 17, 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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

The Festivals continue in Toronto, and coming on June 5th is the CFC Short Film Festival, which proves once and for all, it’s not the size (of movies) it’s the motion. Or something like that… You know all those Oscars for sort films , but never get a chance to see them? Well these are the ones that might be nominated for next year’s awards. There are movies featuring celebs like Michael Fassbender, David Duchovny, Charlotte Rampling and Anna Paquin. In short films! And they’re all grouped in categories like “Homeland Security”, “Indie Comedy Showcase”, and “The Night Shift” – which will be showing at late hours, soft of a Midnight Madness Mini-me… It all sponsored by the Canadian Film Centre, and it starts on June 5th

And NXNE, where music conquers all – and that includes their movies – is coming on June 11th. But right now, starting last night, it’s time for the friendly and fascinating LGBT Film Festival, Toronto’s own Inside Out. And if you think its all rainbow ring necklaces and coming-out stories, well, you’re wrong. It’s a very diverse, multi-genre collection of movies, some of which push the limits of the conventional. There are movies from Canada, and around the world: Scandinavia, the US, even Vietnam. Comedies, dramas, romance, documentaries, and lots of sex, of course. Something to satisfy every sexuality and interest. I’m talking about a couple movies today, a Belgian one about cows, and a Canadian one about white oak trees…! But first, a new comedy, you may have heard about.

The Dictator
Dir: Larry Charles

Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is the military dictator of a North African kingdom. He’s cruel and unpredictable, quietly sentencing to death anyone who disagrees with him. Like Saddam Hussein he has a series of identical doubles to take the bullets from any assassin out to get him, and a Gaddafi- style band of beautiful women soldiers to protect him. He’s a world pariah, and like Kim Jong-il is set to test-launch a nuclear WMD. But what he doesn’t know is that his trusted Tamir (Ben Kingsley) is the one trying to depose him and make his homeland a pseudo-democracy controlled by big oil.

So, on a trip to NYC to speak before the UN, he is kidnapped by a racist American torturer, until he manages to escape… but without his trademark beard and clothing he is just another man. So in a bid to seize back his country at a UN meeting, he falls in with a hippy named Zoey (Anna Faris) who works in an organic food co-op.

OK, this is a new type of movie for Sacha Baron Cohen – different from Borat and Bruno. Instead of getting its laughs in fake documentaries by forcing unsuspecting ordinary people into embarrassing encounters with an invented character, this one has a script by a four-person writing team, music, other actors, old-school film plots and special effects. Presumably it’s because too many people recognize him to trick anyone. So he’s abandoned his revolutionary style of youtube filmmaking for an ordinary comedy. But does it work? I have to admit, at times, flashbacks of those awful, fish-out-of-water comedies with Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler at their worst popped into my mind… but it was better than those, because he’s a good actor, and funnier, wittier, and, even now, more subversive with his parodies of both the rabid right and the flaky left. He stays with the simultaneously self-centred — but somehow self-deprecating — nature of his over-the-top characters. Comic actress Anna Faris was great as his “straight-man” foil.

And, except for a few painfully awful sequences, I thought it was funny. It kept me laughing – or at least smiling — for most of the movie.

The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche
Dir: Maya Gallus

Jalna, a book about a rich family won the Atlantic prize for best novel in the 20s, propelling its unknown author to international fame and fortune and dozens of bestsellers about this patrician, horsey collection of matriarchs and patriarchs, grandmothers, lovers and cruel siblings, a sort of an on-going saga at the Whiteoaks mansion. But what’s interesting about it is the hidden life of the Canadian author Mazo de la Roche.

Mazo de la Roche (born, in Newmarket as the decidedly unglamorous Masie Roach) created a persona for herself woven with false stories and mythical status. And even more interesting was her “Boston Marriage” to a woman, Caroline Clement, her adopted sister. Together they adopted two children and ran a novelistic empire. In an era when homosexuality was both illegal, and taboo, her lesbian readers saw her disguised subtexts of relationships and exalted in her hidden codes.

Her story is told half as a conventional documentary with talking heads, and half as a theatrical, dramatic reading of Mazo and Caroline’s life, played by two actors.

The movie brings in her descendents, old photos, and great Canadian novelists like Marie-Claire Blais and Susan Swan to comment on the influence these largely forgotten novels had on her readers.

This is a good, entertaining NFB documentary, and it’s made by a great director, Maya Gallus, who does amazing documentaries about women that always grab you – like last year’s Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service.

Bullhead (Rundskop)
Dir: Michael R. Roskam

Jackie (Mattias Schoenaerts) is a Flemish cattle farmer in Belgium. He’s big and built, partly from heavy work, and partly from his steroid injections. He’s generally brooding but gentle, but on occasion loses it, in a rush of roid-rage. Like cows, like people. To speed up the growth rate of his cattle, he gets involved in the illegal purchase of growth hormones.

Flashback to two decades earlier, we watch him and his best friend Diederik, spotting a pretty girl on a French-speaking Walloon farm. Jackie keeps wanting to go back so he can talk to her again, and Diederik tags along. But on one of those visits he’s caught by a crazed bully, her big brother, who brutally attacks little Jackie… smashing his balls with a huge rock. I kid you not. Diderik doesn’t come to his defense and then is prevented from testifying against the bully who permanently injured his best friend.

Now, back in the present, Jackie is still taking the testosterone that let him grow to manhood, and he and Diederik are working together again, buying steroids. And Jackie is trying to talk one more time to the girl from that fatal day, who now works in a perfume shop in the French part of Belgium. And Diederik, meanwhile, has a bro-crush on his ball-less boyhood buddy, even as the police are looking for people to blame for a shooting, perhaps tied to the hormone trafficking.

This is a great movie, if a long one. It’s one of those slow-build dramas, where for the frst half you barely know what’s going on, but by the second hour it becomes gripping, filled with tension – sexual courtship, criminals vs cops, gay and straight, Male Female, French and Dutch, all in a hugely complicated but moving drama. Bullhead was the Belgian entry for Academy award for Best Foreign Language Picture, and it’s having its Toronto debut at Inside Out.

The Dictator just opened, check your local listings, and Bullhead, The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche, She Said Boom and many more great movies are playing at the Inside Out Festival: go to insideout.ca for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

February 10, 2012. How Do We Communicate? Movies Reviewed: A Dangerous Method, Chronicle, Safe House

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

I watch a lot of movies, but film is only one way to communicate. How do you record the truth? Do you write it down? Do you tell it to your friends or whisper it in someone’s ear? Do you text it? Or do you save it in some more durable format?

This week, I’m looking at three movies that centre on recording or preserving information: A Dangerous Method is a historical drama, where talking is prime, and observations are recorded by hand, using pen and ink, in meticulous notes and sent by voluminous, lengthy letters; Chronicle, is a science fiction thriller, where a high school student records his life using a hand-held video camera; and Safe House is an action/thriller, where everything important has been recorded in a single tiny microchip.

Interestingly (at least in these three movies), the more advanced the medium, the shallower the plot.

Dangerous Method
Dir: David Cronenberg

A woman — at first known only as “S” — is an unusual patient admitted to a mental hospital near Zurich, Switzerland. She shrieks she groans, she writhes, and her face is strangely contorted. She plays with her food and rolls around in the mud! The doctor there, Karl Jung decides to try a new treatment – the Dangerous Method. This unheard-of cure has the doctor sitting behind the patient who is cured by talking… about her problems, her dreams, her thoughts and her memories. It was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but Jung doesn’t know if it’ll actually work. But soon the patient, Sabina Spielrein, a Russian-Jewish woman, is miraculously cured when they discover something hidden that happened to her as a girl. He puts her to work in the clinic, and she gradually changes from patient to doctor.

Then another patient, Otto Gross, who’s also a psychiatrist, arrives smoking pot, snorting coke, and drawing dirty pictures. He’s analyzed by Jung who doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s the early 20th century, not the 1960s,, but Otto’s saying just do it man, give in to your sexual desires. She says she wants you, and you want her… Uptight Jung doesn’t want to… but he also does want to. And Sabina makes it clear what she wants. What’s he gonna do?

This is a really good movie, an interesting historical biopic, about the dawn of psychiatry, the rivalry between Freud and Jung, and the passionate, but illicit, love affair between Jung and Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg made a beautiful movie filled with the exquisite European gardens, antiseptic, white hospital beds, and steampunk clinical devices. Fassbender is great as Jung, Viggo Mortensen interesting as a new type of Freud — imagined as a big, burly, tough-guy patriarch; and Vincent Cassel is terrific as Otto the counter-culture hedonist. But the real star is Keira Knightley as Sabina, the conflicted, smart, pervy and passionate young woman. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether Sabina, the character, was really that crazy, or if she was just putting it on for her doctors, (and Knightley’s accent shifted from Russian to Danish-sounding and back again), but she was still amazing to watch.

Chronicle
Dir: Josh Trank

Andrew (Dave de Haan) is a high school kid in Seattle. His mother is bedridden and dying. His dad is a frustrated ex-fireman who likes smacking his only son around. Andrew’s a bit scrawny, a bit hard to talk to, not an athlete, and can’t defend himself. Instead he decides to keep a record of all the indignities and abuses he suffers with a video camera that he’ll carry around wherever he goes. He’s bullied at school, he’s bullied at home, he’s even bullied by the boys in the hood loitering on the corner. He doesn’t have any friends, and is still a virgin. But at least now he has an identity: he’s “the guy with the camera”. We – the audience — see whatever his camera sees.

He occasionally hangs out with his much richer, bigger, better-looking smarter, and more popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who, most important, has a car. Matt likes to quote Schopenhauer and Jung. Andrew wonders what Jung would say about glow sticks.

So one night at an outdoor rave, Steve (Michael B Jordan) — the quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend and who’s running for class prez — asks him to come take some footage of something weird. It’s a strange, glowing crystal deep in a cave nearby. They spelunk down underground. There’re some clicking noises, a flash, and then they all wake up somewhere else. But they’re not the same anymore. They can move things around by telekinesis! But will they use they use the powers for good… or for evil? Or just to get laid? Well, as it turns out, all three.

The three guys make a pact to keep their new powers a secret, not to hurt anybody, and as Matt warns — to avoid hubris at all costs.

As their powers grow they find themselves tied to one another with some powerful immutable force that may be entering their brains. Can they fight it off? will they live or die? Will they go to Tibet? Will they change the world?

I liked this movie, too. Its very simple, a lot of fun, and most of it’s left unexplained, (if anything, it’s most like an unauthorized X-Men knock off, filmed in the style of Cloverfield). The mainly TV actors are engaging and new. The camera work is grainy, and jiggly and bumpy, but luckily, once Andrew can move things without touching them he lets the camera float free, making it a much more pleasant to watch. The special effects are great, culminating in the expected flaming and booming battle royale.

SPOILER ALERT
Not exactly a spoiler, since its apparent in the trailers, but I was disappointed by a trend in comic book morality. The American dream says it’s the good, smart and hardworking kid can always overcome his disadvantages. The poor, suffering underdog character overcomes obstacles and becomes the hero who uses his powers for good. The rich and powerful characters are spoiled, privileged and unfeeling, and try to take his power away for their own personal gain. But the poor kid has pluck, brains and gumption and triumphs in the end.

In this movie, the rich, popular kids are the heroes, while the poor, picked-on kid is the sort-of villain. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Safe House
Dir: Daniel Espinoza

Matt (Ryan Reynolds) is a low level CIA agent. He’s good at boxing, foreign languages, and strategic analysis. He sits around all day, stationed in a safe house – a secret, high security place where spies can do their stuff – in Cape Town, SA. He just sits around all day, like a Steve McQueen, throwing the baseball against a wall.

Then one day the notorious Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) comes in from the cold. He’s been a rogue agent, accused of selling CIA secrets for a decade for his own personal game. Frost is an expert spy and a master of disguise. He’s holding a tiny microchip loaded with important information. And he’s being chased by vaguely middle-eastern looking assassins.

But as soon as Tobin’s in Matt’s safe house, (after they warm him up a bit with some complimentary waterboarding), the assassins come barging in and kill everyone – except Matt who escapes with the handcuffed Tobin. he’s disgusted by the violence, but has to remain true to his mission — protect the captive. The rest of the movie is all fight, fight, fight and chase, chase, chase.

The chases take us from a Capetown stadium, through busy city streets, and into the ramshackle townships where people live in corrugated aluminum shacks lit only by a neon church crosses.

The fight scenes are extended and grueling, involving guns, bombs, knives, fists and broken glass. Who do you trust? Who are the real good guys? And is Tobin Matt’s mentor… or his enemy?

This is a fast-moving, never-stopping very violent action movie. It has a barebones plot – who does Matt trust and what’s on the microchip — hollow characters, and not much acting to speak of. I guess I wanted the heroes to survive, but I didn’t really care. Neither Denzel Washington nor Ryan Reynolds is very compelling.

It’s got tons of super-quick scene changes so the jagged camerawork is hard to watch. So much so that my brain couldn’t always tell who was punching or shooting whom.(For example, aguy in the assassin team, coincidentally, looks so much like Ryan Reynolds that I couldn’t keep tell if he’s getting away or shooting at himself. Stupid casting.) And because It’s so fast moving, the few slow scenes — like one with Ruben Blades — seem especially boring.

Safe House is an action movie with a good location. But that’s all.

Dangerous Method and Chronicle are playing now, and Safe House opens tonight – check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

How Women see the World. Films reviewed: Beeswax, Littlerock, Hanna, Born to be Wild PLUS Rivers and my Father, Images Festival, Sprockets Festival

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still true. The Hollywood star system has made a huge shift over the past few decades across the gender line. The biggest stars are now male, not female; most movies are about men, not women, and most stories are told from a man’s point of view. Even in movies with a female star, all the other main characters are often male. Most, but not all… there’s actually a bumper crop of movies opening today that buck this trend.

So, this week, I’m looking at four very different new movies, two realistic dramas, an action thriller, and a kids documentary, all told from the point of view of women, and, interestingly, all touching on family relationships. (All of these films were directed by men.)

Two of them, Beeswax and Littlerock, are part of a new trend in indie filmmaking (sometimes called New Realism or Mumblecore), using non-actors — often using their own names — ordinary situations, improvisational scenes, locations not studios, no special effects, and without the usual obvious plotlines and clichés. (Last year, I enjoyed Modra, and No Heart Feelings, two Toronto movies that fit into this category.) It’s always fun watching new types of movies, but some work better than others.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

Jeannie and Lauren (Tillie and Maggie Hatcher) are adult twin sisters who live together. Jeannie owns a vintage store in an American college town. She gets around in a car or using her wheelchair. She’s having problems with her business partner who’s always flying off overseas, while Jeannie’s always working at the store. She’s faced with the question of what to do with her business and whether her partner is suing her. Meanwhile, her sister Lauren is also deciding whether or not to take a big step in her life. And Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), a law student writing his bar exams, is Jeannie’s on again off again bed-partner, and her potential lawyer, if he passes the bar.

The movie starts and ends very suddenly, as if we’re allowed to spend a few days with these characters — as if it were a documentary — and then they’re gone again. The story itself is about normal everyday events: people living their lives, having sex, going to work, talking with friends and family members. The parts are played by non-actors, who are appealing, and pretty funny, but still just regular people.

I like the fact that it has one main character with a physical disability, without making it the main story, and dealt with in a very matter-of-fact way — not ignoring the very real accommodations she has to be aware of to live her life, but without making it the central point, morphing into some weeper where she stands up out of her wheelchair in triumph saying “I can walk again!” It’s sort of like casting a black Hamlet or a male Ophelia. This movie also deals with same-sex-couples in the same unremarkable way.

It’s not a big and exciting movie, but has a comfortable, familial feel about it, along with the underlying competitiveness and rivalry among family members. Beeswax (as in mind your own?) is a realistic look at a few days of the secrets and tensions in two sisters’ lives.

Littlerock

Dir: Mike Ott

Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), and her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) are visiting from Japan. They’re driving from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area (to visit a place related to their past) when their rented car breaks down in Littlerock, a small town in LA county. They’re forced to stay in a motel until they send them a new one. But when they go to the room next door, to complain about a loud drunken party, they end up meeting some locals and hanging out.

Atsuko likes Cory (Cory Zacharia) – who wants to be an actor/model, but owes too much money to his father and his drug dealer – but they don’t speak the same language. They pretend to understand what each other are saying, but once Rintaro takes off, they are left without a translator. Atsuko meets some other people, and jealousy and duplicity ensues.

The problem with the movie is that most of the characters seem bland or uninteresting. It’s realistic, but maybe too realistic. Atsuko and Cory never figure how to communicate – but most of the things they want the other to hear are just standard chatter anyway – aside from a very touching scene toward the end of the movie. It really needed more interesting dialogue to go with the nice scenes of a pensive young Japanese woman coming of age in smalltown USA.

Hanna

Dir: Joe Wright

Hanna (Saoirise Ronan) is brought up by her dad, Erik (Eric Bana) — a spy and assassin who’s gone rogue — in an all-natural setting somewhere in the far north. She learns everything from a stack of old encyclopedias, dictionaries, and grimm’s fairytales. He teaches her how to shoot a deer with a bow and arrow from far away, skin it and cook it. “Always be alert” he tells her. She has to be ready to fend off any attacker — even when she’s asleep. But when she can beat her father at a fight, she realizes it’s time to “come in from the cold” to use the old spy term. She’s ready to face her father’s old foe and handler: the icy, prada-clad CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett).

From there, the movie races on, with the three competing killers – Erik, Hanna, and Marrissa — trying to out-do, capture or kill one another. It’s purposely kept unclear who is the hunter and who is the prey, who is running and who is chasing as power dynamics shift. Marissa and her henchmen – an effeminate German man in white tracksuit and his two skinhead fighters – pursue the 14 year old through various unexpected exotic settings. Hanna just wants to make a friend, find her father again, revisit the brothers Grimm, and listen to music for the very first time. She falls in with a family of British hippies who are driving their van around on a camping trip, and begins to understand the complex rules of social interaction.

The plot is extremely simple, a more-or-less non-stop series of chases and fights – but it’s visually sumptuous movie, with a terrific driving soundtrack, constantly surprising cultural references, stunning scenery, great comic relief, and amazing camera work. There are scenes where the camera spins around and around in a full 360, and others where it flips or rolls or turns upside down. Cate Blanchett is great as the super-villainess, Erik Bana good as a troubled spy, and Saoirise Ronan really great as Hanna, a new type of super hero.

Born to Be Wild

Dir: David Lickley

Wild animals? Aww… Cute, baby wild animals? Cute little baby wild animal… orphans? Awwwww….

How about cute little orphaned baby elephants in Kenya, and baby orangutans living in the rain forests of Borneo… in IMAX 3D???

Yeah, this is one really cute G-rated movie, the kind that makes you

say to hell with my carbon footprint — I wanna hop on a jet-fuel guzzling airplane and fly off to the jungles of Borneo to commune with the Orangutans who look a lot like Homer Simpson…

Actually, the movies about how the rainforests that make up the wild habitat of many the great apes are rapidly disappearing. And in Africa, there are still poachers killing elephants for their ivory tusks. And when the young are left without their mothers they have no one to feed them. These are the orphans – meaning motherless orangutans and elephants — that the movie is about. Narrator Morgan Freeman shows two women — Birute in Indonesia and Daphne in Kenya — who adopt and raise these animal orphans until they’re old enough to gradually be set free again. The extremely short movie (it’s 40 min long) also has some of the best live 3-D footage I’ve seen since Avatar. An enjoyable film (though maybe a bit cloying for adults) it’s perfect for kids who want to see wild animals up close.

Canadian director and artist Luo Li’s newest film premiered at the Images Festival, North America’s largest experimental art and moving images festival, that combines gallery exhibitions with screenings at movie theatres.

Rivers and My Father

Dir: Luo Li

In this movie, he takes his father’s collected memoirs of old China, and sews them together in a black and white patchwork quilt of repeated disjointed scenes, narrations, titles and subtitles, centering around people in and around water. His own relatives play some of the parts (but not all).

So you see a man in a bathing cap bobbing up and down in a river; kids playing in the woods; a formally dressed woman leading a child up an outdoor staircase; a boy on a boat; and some older people talking to each other about their childhood memories, and about shooting this movie.

I was a bit put off by his use of obvious anachronisms that don’t match the year given in a scene’s title; and the frequent repetition of certain odd scenes, but I love his images of a wet road scene looking down in a moving bicycle in the rain; of the slow, grey waters of the Yangtse river; of a distant shore across water.

It’s funny — I’m dismissing various “errors” in the movie as artistic license, but grumbling to myself just the same… when the last third of the movie begins: his own father’s critique (represented by moving, plain and bold chinese fonts on the screen, over english subtitles) of the film I’m watching, as I watch it, and the filmmaker’s response! That was the most surprising and interesting section of this movie.

Beeswax and Littlerock are at the Royal, Born to be Wild at AMC in IMAX 3-D, and Hanna in wide release, all opening today, April 8, 2011. Check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Images Festival, which is playing right now, both on-screen in theatres and off-screen in art galleries. Look online at imagesfestival.com . And Sprockets, the festival of movies for kids and young adults opens this weekend: www.tiff.ca/sprockets

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

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