Do opposites attract? Films reviewed: Tito, Uncle Peckerhead, My Days of Mercy

Posted in Canada, Cannibalism, Class, comedy, Horror, Lesbian, LGBT, Music, Prison, Punk, Romance, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 2020

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

Do opposites attract? This week I’m looking at three new indie movies about odd combinations. There’s an introvert confronting an aggressive frat boy; a law-and-order lawyer vs an activist opposed to capital punishment; and a punk band with a hillbilly roadie… who’s also a cannibal!

Tito

Wri/Dir: Grace Glowicki

Tito (Grace Glowicki) is a young guy who lives alone in an empty wooden house. He’s tall and gangly, dressed in black with heavy brow and sideburns, and straight hair tucked behind his ears. He always carries a red plastic whistle around his neck, to scare way the baddies. And they’re everywhere, banging at the doors, scratching at the windows or just roaring and howling inside his head. He’s very hungry – down to just pickle brine in the fridge – but he’s too scared to go outside.

Everything changes when he wakes up to find a strange man in his kitchen, cooking breakfast. Who is he? John (Ben Petrie) says he’s there to lend a hand and make a friend. Tito is petrified and repulsed by this invasion, but he joins him at the table. John is the yin to Tito’s yang. He’s a frat boy bro who gesticulates with grand gestures and talks and shouts non-stop; while the introverted Tito can barely choke out a syllable. But when he passes Tito a joint, the voices in his head turn to music, and he even lets John take him for a walk. Can Tito emerge from his shell? Can this odd couple become friends? Or will it lead to trouble?

Tito is a stylized and impressionistic character study, a look inside an introvert’s brain. Sort of a cross between acting, modern dance and pantomime. Petrie is great as John, the self-declared “pussy-hound”. He’s loud, manipulative and bursting with barely-controlled aggression. And Glowicki perfectly conveys a young man’s paranoia with a hunched-over walk, pulled inward and cringing at the slightest provocation. Tito isn’t your usual comedy, drama or art house film, but is fascinating and watchable nonetheless.

Uncle Peckerhead

Wri/Dir: Matthew John Lawrence

Judy (Chet Siegel) is a happy-go-lucky musician in her thirties whose dream is finally coming true. Her punk band – called Duh – is going on their first tour! They make a good trio: Mel (Ruby McCollister) on drums is a ginger-haired nihilist, Max (Jeff Riddle) on bass and vocals is a friendly chowderhead, bald and bearded; and Judy – skinny with long black-hair, who plays bass and lead vocals – keeps the group running. She has everything ready – demo tapes, T shirts, a full roster of music, and clubs booked to play it in. There’s only thing missing: money – barely two coins to rub together. They’ve already quit their day jobs and they’re being kicked out of their apartment. But when their van gets repossessed, they’re really in trouble. How can they go on tour without wheels?

Luckily they meet a polite and friendly man with a van (David Littleton) who offers to be their roadie. He’ll drive and do the heavy lifting in exchange for meals and gas money. It’s a deal! And what’s his name? “My dad always called me Peckerhead, but you can call me Peck.” They’re all set… except for one problem. At midnight, Peck changes in strange ways, and a hidden evil beast emerges. And pretty soon they’re leaving a pile of half-eaten mutilated corpses wherever they go.

Uncle Peckerhead is a horror/comedy road movie, about the usual aspects a touring band faces – pretentious musicans, unscrupulous managers, adoring fans – combined with hilarious extreme violence and gore. It starts out quirky and funny, but gradually builds to an over-the-top, blood-drenched finish. Fun music, silly characters, unexpected situations and lots of splashing blood. Siegel is great as Judy and Littleton steals the show as the aw-shucks, cannibal yokel.

My Days of Mercy

Dir: Tali Shalom-Ezer (Princess)

Lucy (Ellen Page) is a woman in her twenties who lives in a small Ohio town with her older sister Martha (Amy Seimetz) and her little brother Ben (Charlie Shotwell). The three of them drive their camper across the country to protest capital punishment in front of prisons where an execution is about to take place. She’s part of a large community of protesters that regularly meet and comfort one other. At one such demo she shares a cigarette with a woman named Mercy (Kate Mara). The two are quite different – Mara is a well-dressed lawyer with neatly cut blond hair from Illinois, while Lucy is working class, in jeans and T-shirt – but something clicks. When the two meet again they become friends, and ther friendship leads to a relationship. Soon they’re meeting in motels, the RV or in Lucy’s home for passionate sex.

But something keeps them apart. Mercy’s father is a cop whose partner was killed. She’s at the demos to support the executions. While Lucy is there because her dad is on death row, blamed for the murder of her mom. She, Martha and Ben have spent the past six years devoting their lives to save him. Can Lucy and Mercy overcome the political and family divisions that keep them on opposing sides? Or is their romance doomed from the start?

My Days of Mercy is a great Romeo and Juliet (or Juliet and Juliet?) romantic drama, tender and moving, and starkly told. Each episode is set outside a different prison, punctuated by a still shot of a dying prisoner’s last meal. Their romance is erotic, the sex scenes tastefully done, though surprisingly vanilla (were Lucy and Mercy both raised by missionaries?) It’s beautifully shot in a realistically rendered working-class home and the insides of actual prisons. Ellen Page and Kate Mara are full of passion and pathos as the star-crossed lovers, their story skillfully told. It’s a real tear-jerker – I cried at least twice – both for the couple and the horrors of executions. I recommend this one.

Tito and Uncle Peckerhead are now playing digitally and VOD and My Days of Mercy starts today.

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

Families. Films reviewed: Before You Know It, Downton Abbey, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

Posted in 1920s, 1960s, 1970s, Canada, Class, documentary, Drama, Family, Music, Screwball Comedy, Theatre, TV, UK by CulturalMining.com on September 20, 2019

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

This week I’m looking at three movies exploring different families. There’s a band of brothers who form a band inside a big pink house; a pair of sisters who live inside a Greenwich Village theatre; and an extended family of aristocrats – and their servants – who live inside a stately mansion.

Before You Know It

Dir: Hannah Pearl Utt

Rachel and Jackie (Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock) are adult sisters who live inside a Greenwich Village playhouse. Homeschooled by their playwright Dad (Mandy Patinkin) since their mom died, their world is centred on their family theatre. Rachel, dressed in plain clothes and sensible shoes, is their always-reliable stage manager. Jackie – flamboyant, and self-obsessed – is an actress. Her impulsive behaviour gave her with an alcohol problem and a 13-year-old daughter named Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Rachel wishes she could date more, but she has too many responsibilities.

Life continues, until a major revelation shakes up their lives. Turns out their mom (Judith Light) is still alive, and has been living nearby under a stage name since they were kids! What’s more, she owns their theatre, and they might lose their careers, their home, their entire lives. Can Jackie and Rachel infiltrate a TV studio, meet their soap opera actress mom, and convince her to let them stay on at their theatre they call home? Or is this their final act?

Before You Know It is a delightful story of three generations of women in a theatrical setting. Written by Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt it veers between a gently screwball plot and a somewhat more serious coming-of-age story about growing up, both for Dodge and the two adult sisters. Nothing spectacular, just a pleasant and fun indie movie.

Downton Abbey: The Movie

Dir: Michael Engler

The Crawley’s are an aristocratic family living in a stately mansion on a vast manor estate in post- Edwardian England. It takes a village to keep things going smoothly, and it’s almost as self-sufficient community living inside the walls. This includes the extended family and their in-laws but also the multitude of servants, footmen, groomsmen, maids, kitchen help, grounds keepers, valets, a butler and more. But the normal social order is threatened by some unexpected guests. The King is coming! The King is coming!

Amd this brings all sorts of problems. Violet, the dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) has a longstanding inheritance feud with Maud Bagshaw, a lady in waiting (Imelda Staunton) for theQueen. Tom Branson (Allen Leech), an Irish socialist and widower who started as a chauffeur but later married into the family, is suspected by a mysterious government agent as being disloyal to the King. Meanwhile, amongst the other half of the house, other troubles are revealed. Kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McSheera) wonders whether longtime boyfriend William is right for her, especially since a handsome young plumber arrives on the scene. And when the Kings servants barge in and take over everything, they must concoct a plot to get back their rightful place within their own house. Meanwle Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) the usually secretive and conniving butler seizes the chance to explore his sexuality in a nearby town.

Downton Abbey,the movie is a continuation of the popular British nighttime soap that ran for many years. I remember watching the first two seasons of it before giving up.It concentrated on a dull patriarch andhis faithful butler, his bickering daughters and various servants seen skitting around behind the scenes. It felt like a Leaveit to Beaver sitcom superimposed ona feudal estate. Deadly dull, politically loathesome – I hated it. But I found the movie much more interesting. It concentrates as much on the “Downstairs” as on the “Upstairs”, there are real surprises, and the characters are allowed to grow and progress.

I’m as surprised as you that I actually enjoyed this movie.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

Dir: Daniel Roher

It’s the late 1950s in Toronto. Robbie Robertson is a teenaged boy and aspiring musician who learns to play chords on visits to his mom’s family at Mohawk Six Nations. When Southern rocker Ronnie Hawkins brings his band to town, Robbie is mesmerized by their energy, showmanship and confidence, especially their stick-twirling drummer Levon Helm. He writes some tunes and joins the Hawks at age 16, alongside other multitalented Canadian musicians: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel. They travel down south to perfect their style, playing alongside blues artist and country musicians. The Hawks outgrow their front man and set out on their own,

They tour Europe as Bob Dylan,s band rght when he goes electric.They are booed on every stage, but realize they have something special. They move into a big pink house in woodstock NY where they prefect their unique boendof folk,country, rock,blues and R&B. Robbie writes most of the songs while the entire band, one with the three vocalists, crafts each song. They start releasing their own songs under the name The Band and become one of the most influential North American groups of the ’60s and ’70s.

Once Were Brothers is a great music doc about the Band, as told through Robbie Robertson’s eyes. Through old photos, magazine clippings, period footage, and new interviews, it explores their brother-like friendship through its ups and downs, including jeolousy, addiction and car crashes. And looks at the rivalry between him and Levon Helm which eventually tore the band apart. It looks at their music, the pele they knew even their look — long hair and bearded, country gentlemen farmers, dressed like in 19th Century photos. It follows them from the early 60s through their Last Waltz, a giant concert filmed by Martin Scorsese. This is a beautiful, compelling story of the – can I say it? – legendary band.

Before You Know It (at the Tiff Bell Lightbox) Once Were Brothers and Downton Abbey all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Toronto’s fall festival season continues through the weekend with the Toronto Palestine Film Fest.

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

Quirky films at TIFF 19. Entwined, Parasite, 37 Seconds, Love Me Tender

Posted in Class, Disabilities, Fairytales, Fantasy, Greece, Japan, Korea, Manga, Mental Illness, Poverty, Switzerland by CulturalMining.com on September 6, 2019

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

TIFF – the Toronto International Film Festival – started last night with over 300 movies to see. There’s more glamour and celebrity than you can shake a stick out down on King St. West. But this week I’m going to talk about some of the unusual, odd or quirky movies you might otherwise miss. There’s a woman in the woods in Greece, a poor family in a Korean mansion, a disabled manga artist in Japan, and a house-bound woman in Switzerland.

Entwined

Dir: Minos Nokolakakis

Panos (Prometheus Aleifer) is a young doctor starting a practice in a remote Greek village. But on a drive through the forest, his car hits a beautiful young woman, all dressed in white. Though injured, she flees into the woods. He follows enchanted music until he finds her cabin. It’s an old place built around an ever burning hearth, with music coming from an ancient windup Victrola. But to his horror, he finds her under the spell of a violent, old man who keeps her as his bride. He defeats the ogre, drives him to a hospital and comes back for the woman, Danae (Anastasia Rafaella Konidi).

He intends to bring her to the city for counselling and medical care (she has a strange skin disease). But Danae refuses to leave – she owes it to the trees, earth and sky to keep the hearth burning. Instead she gives him strange potions that make him sleep for days, or possible months. And whenever he tries to leave the forest the trees seem to lead him back to the cabin. Who is this strange woman? What does she want? How old is she? What is she hiding behind her locked door? And is he her lover…orher victim?

Entwined is a contemporary take on classic fairytales, with a bit of mythology thrown in. Though somewhat predictable, it’s pretty to watch, well-acted and… well, I like fairytales.

Parasite

Wri/Dir: Bong Joon-ho

Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) lives with his family in a desolate basement apartment in Seoul. They’re destitute but clever; Ki-woo earns money writing exams for rich but stupid college applicants. So when Min offers him his parttime job tutoring a highschool girl, he smells bucks. Big Bucks. She lives in a beautiful home built by a famous architect, along with her bratty little brother, vapid mother and absentee Dad, a CEO. Through some skillful manoeuvring Ki-woo manages to find jobs for his sister, father and mother in the same house, as, respectively, art therapist, chauffeur and housekeeper without ever letting on they are all related. Only the youngest notices they “all have the same smell”. They’re the sort of people who take the subway, explains the father. They all have a disgusting smell that never comes off…

Now that they all have well-paid employment they can turn their lives around, and leave their apartment. Until… something awful happens which sends their lives spinning in a new direction. [No Spoilers: this movie depends on its surprises].

Parasite starts as a knock off of last year’s Shoplifters, about a poor family making do. But once they’re in the rich house, the plot spirals outward in ever-more shocking, funny, and impossible directions, until it becomes a bizarre fantasy.

Brilliant.

Parasite won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

37 Seconds

Wri/Dir: Hikari

Yuma (Kayama Mei) is a woman in her twenties who lives with her single mom (Misuzu Kanno). She was born with Cerebral Palsy, and depends on her mother for basic functions, including bathing, dressing herself and getting around in her electric wheelchair. Though she can’t walk, she’s a gifted manga artist who works for an instagram star named Sayaka. Sayaka passes Mayu’s work as her own, and pretends she doesn’t know her at book signings. But when Maya tries to publish work under her own name, she gets snubbed.The only publisher who will consider her work is a comic book porn publisher. But when they meet, Maya is told the sex scenes just aren’t real enough. Come back after you get some sexual experience. Now Mayu has a goal, which opens a new world to her, and uncovers some secrets from her past. But can she get what she wants under the ever-watchful eye of her over-protective mother? And can an inexperienced and naïve disabled woman find independence and happiness?

37 Seconds (the title refers to the amount of time she was deprived of oxygen in childbirth) is a wonderful and warm, feel-good movie. It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age story about a disabled woman in a big city, as she encounters aspects of adult life – including sex work, porn and sex toys – she knows nothing about. No spoilers, but the story also takes her on an unexpected journey, unrelated to the other plot line.

First-time actor Kayama Mei is both touching and adorable as Yuma, and breaks new boundaries as a disabled actress. 37 Seconds is an unexpected treat.

Love Me Tender

Wri/Dir: Klaudia Reynicke

Somewhere in Italian-speaking Switzerland. Seconda (Barbara Giordano) is an adult woman who lives with her parents in an apartment overlooking a courtyard. She likes to dance in a green leotard and stare at passersby outside her window. Life is uneventful until two things happen: her mother suddenly dies and her father disappears leaving just a post-it note on the fridge. At first she feels free to do what she wants and eat what she wants. She throws her meds out the window. But she finds she also has adult responsibilities: feeding the cat and the fish, — at which she fails miserably – keeping the house in order and, most important, feeding herself.

And she encounters a rude debt collector who leaves threatening voicemail messages, and a hapless young man Santo (Antonio Bannò) who collects deposit bottles. But when she runs out of food, she realizes she has to go shopping. Problem is, she’s never been outside her home – she has acute agoraphobia. But rather than starve to death, she dresses in protective blue armour – a zippered jumpsuit – and ventures into the outside world for the first time.

Love me Tender is a fantastical comedy abut an unusual woman living with mental illness. Klaudia Reynicke’s style feels a bit like Yorgos Lanthimos’ early films, with the simplistic tone and the childlike behaviour of adult characters… but she does it in a manner all her own. And Barbara Giordano is just so good, imaginative and full-body-expressive as Seconda… she totally owns the role.

Entwined, Parasite, 37 Seconds and Love Me Tender are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Shells. Films reviewed: Journey’s End, Ready Player One, The China Hustle

Posted in 1910s, China, Class, Corruption, Darkness, documentary, Drama, Games, Movies, Poverty, Science Fiction, Wall Street, War, WWI by CulturalMining.com on March 30, 2018

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

It’s a holiday weekend filled with eggs, whether hard boiled or made of chocolate with a prize inside. So this week I’m looking at three new movies about… shells. There are VR gamers looking for a hidden easter egg, Wall Streeters investing in shell corporations, and WWI soldiers dodging mortar shells.

Journey’s End

Dir: Saul Dibb

It’s March, 1918, in the WWI trenches of northern France. Underground, where the officers stay, it’s dark, dank and smelly. Up on the surface its deadly dangerous, with snipers aiming at your head. Four British divisions rotate their stays at the front at one week per month. It’s like a lottery – with a one in four chance of dying. And the soldiers in Company C are just trying to stay sane and alive. There’s the fatherly Osborne (Paul Bettany) who everyone calls “Uncle”, the indefatigable cook Mason (Toby Jones), and the shell-shocked Hibbert.

So no one can understand why the green, idealistic Lt Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) pulls strings to join this benighted group. Why? His upper classman Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is stationed there and he wants to see him again. But he doesn’t realize the level of death and despair that has taken hold there. And that his hero, Stanhope,

is now a mean and bitter alcoholic. The soldiers there are forced to make pointless raids in daylight so as not to interrupt the dinner schedule of far-off Generals. And things reach a boiling point when word gets out the Germans are about to attack on Thursday, right there. They’re essentially sentenced to die at the front. How do they all handle this?

Journey’s End – based on the classic play – is a tense retelling of an old war story, exactly 100 years later. It deals with the futility of war, the rigid British class system, and the male comeradery of life in the trenches. The acting is very good, and the camera wonderfully captures a world lit only by flickering lanterns. Even so, it was hard to sympathize with the stuff-upper-lip, tally-ho language of the script. The long theatrical conversations might might work on stage but not on the screen. The main emotions I got from this movie were depression, disgust claustrophobia and fatalism. It all felt too long, too slow, and too distant, especially once you know their fate… Just die already!

Ready Player One

Dir: Steven Spielberg

It’s 2045 in Columbus, Ohio and the world is a mess. People live marginal existences in ramshackle towers beside huge corporations. Wade (Tye Sheridan) is an 18-year-old orphan who spends most of his time online in a wildly- popular VR fantasy world called Oasis. Its creator left a trillion-dollar prize to whoever can solve the puzzles hidden within this digital world. First they must complete three levels of games and collect three keys  and claim the hidden easter egg. Wade he surprises the world by appearing on the boards as Player One, the top ranked player in the world. But he’s not the only gunter (egg hunter) trying to win. His closest virtual rivals are Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) a fiery red-head, Aech, a muscular giant and genius mechanic; plus Daito and Sho whose avatars look like a samurai and a ninja, respectively. Wade calls himself Parzival. Like the Wagner opera character, he’s searching for a holy grail. And he’s in love with the lovely Artemis. But as best-bud Aech keeps telling him: you only know her avatar – that’s not what she’s like in real life. And lurking in the shadows is the rich and evil Sorrento, (Ben Mendelssohn) the head of IOI, the corporate rival to Oasis’s company. He pretends to be a champion gamer, but he’s actually a fake who hires employees to play for him. But he’s out to win — and take over the world — at any cost. Which of the hunters will figure out the puzzle and find the easter egg? And can they defeat the villainous Sorrento?

Ready Player One is an incredibly fast-moving sci-if action movie. Oasis’s inventor, whose puzzles they’re all trying to solve, was obsessed with the 80s, so the movie feeds you a random hodgepodge of Back to the Future and Iron Giant, Gandam and Street Fighter, New Order and Van Halen, a non-stop shower of pop culture, to the point where you can’t tell self-referential jokes from cheap product placement. (Maybe they’re both?) But why would kids in the 2040s care about the 1980s? I can’t call this a good movie; it’s incredibly commercial, felt more like a theme park ride than a film, and parts were like watching a video game with someone else holding the controls. But you know what? I still enjoyed it. And it does have that classic Spielbergian look and sound.

China Hustle

Wri/Dir: Jed Rothstein

After the Subprime Mortgage crisis, American investors, pension funds, and ordinary moms and pops were looking to make some money. But where? Chinese people were making millions investing in their red-hot companies, but those stocks weren’t traded on Wall Street. Until, suddenly, they were. Hundreds of Chinese startups were being bought and sold and making big bucks. And companies like Roth Capital were holding lavish parties known as “investment conferences” to reel in buyers. They were backed by reputable auditors like Deloitte. It’s a win-win proposition – everyone makes money. Until, that is, some suspicious investors fly to Shanghai and looked around.

Turns out, many of these companies operate as “Reverse Mergers”. Existing Chinese corporations buy shell companies already registered in the US, take them over, change their name, and they’re open to make money.

But their books here don’t look like their books there. Idle factories in China are said to be making ten times what they’re actually earning. And no one’s checking up on them.

So a few maverick investors decide to short sell their stock (like in that movie The Big Short) counting on its value crashing soon. And they speed this along by publicising the corruption and questionable accounting of the parent companies back in China. The result, riches for a few, terrible losses for many.

The China Hustle is a fascinating documentary looking at the shady practices behind deregulation, auditing and investments, as told by three American short-sellers. I thought its view of China as a monolithic villain was superficial and rather one-sided; for example, it shows how these fraudulent investments affect ordinary Americans’ lives, but not how they affect ordinary Chinese.

But it does expose in detail a huge scandal I knew nothing about.

Ready Player One opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Journey’s End and The China Hustle are in theatres and Video On Demand. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Dark Comedies. Films reviewed: The Square, Happy End, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Class, comedy, France, Greece, Psychological Thriller, Satire, Scandal, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 5, 2017

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

TIFF started just last night and continues through the 17th. I’ve seen a lot of the films now, but I’m barred from commenting on most of them until they open. So I’ll tell you a bit about a few European movies having their Canadian Premiers at TIFF. All three are dark comedies.

The Square

Dir: Ruben Östlund

Christian (Claes Bang) is a rich, handsome and successful man at the top of his game. He’s divorced with two kids and uses his single status to pick up women for one-night stands. At work, he’s the chief curator at a famous art museum inside a former royal palace. The gallery is known for challenging old ideas… it’s revolutionary! Like the new show he’s working on, called The Square: a simple brass plaque on the plaza where a statue of a king on a horse once stood. Now the square welcomes everybody, as a place of respect and responsibility, whether you’re rich or poor, have- or have-not, Swedish born or a recent immigrant.

But things start to go wrong, that call into question his intehrity and high- minded beliefs. When con artists steal his celphone, he traces it back to a public housing highrise, but doesn’t know which apartment it’s in. So he prints up hundreds of threatening letters and drops them into each apartment mailbox. At work he scoffs at an accident involving an art installation – just replace it, he says, no one will notice. He hires young MBA hot shots to promote The Square, but doesn’t pay attention to an offensive promotional video they make – it’s all good, as long as it goes viral. And his personal life spirals out of control when he tries to juggle responsibility toward his bratty kids, with his sex life. Will his life and career all collapse from a series of awful mistakes? And will he realize he’s part of the system causing all these disasters?

The Square, by the director of Force Majeure, is a biting satire about hypocrisies in the art world, told in a series of very funny vignettes. Like when a night of sex with a woman he meets (Elizabeth Moss: A Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men) turns into a hilarious fight over who owns the used condom – the man or the woman. It’s a long movie but a very enjoyable one. And it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch of a Laurent enterprises a huge corporation based in Calais France. It’s run by his daughter

Anne (Isabelle Huppert) a no-no-nonsense business woman. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a successful surgeon, lives on the family estate with his young wife Anaïs. Then there’s the third generation. Pierre (Franz Rogowski) Anne’s son, knows how to wear a hard hat, but that’s about it. He’s responsible for a disaster that happens at a construction site. And Thomas’s daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) from a previous marriage re-enters his life when his ex-wife suddenly gets sick. The cute and innocent little girl is not as nice as she seems. She’s a tiny psychopath who does horrible things just for the lulz – and to share them anonymously on Snapchat. And Georges, the patriarch, desperately wants to end it all.

Happy End is a very dark comedy about a rich, dysfunctional family. Haneke its great director, does something really unusual: He recreates characters from a previous film, but with an entirely different back story. Amour, Which won an Oscar in 2013, was about an elderly musician man, Georges, facing his wife’s dementia. IN Happy End, Georges (and his daughter) are back again played by the same actors, but this time not as musicians but as corporate leaders. And this time it’s a comedy not a tragic romance. Another great movie.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Steven and Anna (Colin Farrell) and Nicole Kidman) are a Cincinatti power couple, both successful doctors. They live in a beautiful home with their two kids. Everything is normal, except… theres a teenaged boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who Steven is spending a lot of time with. He meets him on the sky, treating him to lunch at a local diner, meeting him beneath city bridges. He buys Martin a Rolex as a birthday gift. And then Steven takes him to meet his family. What’s going on?

It turns out the boy’s father died a couple years before on the operating table. Steven was the heart surgeon. At first Martin wants to befriends – he even tries to set Steven up with his mom (Alicia Silverstone) at an awkward dinner date. But his true motives are much more sinister. He says Steven must suffer as much as he suffered when s father died. He wants him to sacrifice – in the manner if the ancient greeks – a sacred deer. Meaning one of his family members: his son, his daughter or his wife. And due to some strange condition that the doctors cannot diagnose, the two kids become paralyzed from the waste down. Only Stevens decision can stop this terror.

The killing of a sacred deer is advertised as a horror movie, and there is a bit of that, but like all of Lanthimos’s movies – from Digtooth to the Lobster – it’s more of a dark comedy with a bizarre premise. And like in all the movies, the characters talk like robots, say inappropriately formal things, and don’t notice their own strangeness, because everyone in the movie acts the same way. You get the feeling he doesn’t treat it completely seriously. For example, whenever he’s near Martin, even in an innocuous situation I, the extra loud forbiding music starts to play. I think I liked it, once I accepted the premise. And it is alternatively very funny and disturbingly shocking.

Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Square, Happy End are all playing at TIFF. Go tiff.net for details.

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

 

 

Behind the Camera. Films reviewed: Cameraperson, Harry Benson: Shoot First

Posted in 1960s, Beauty, Class, Death, documentary, Politics, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 16, 2016

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

Every film is actually just a series of still images, sped up to appear to be moving. We don’t see the still shots only their motion. But did you ever wonder who is behind the camera, who is taking these pictures? This week I’m looking at two new documentaries about life behind the camera. There’s a celebrity photographer who always pulls out his camera in the right place at the right time; and a documentary cinematographer who captures war and death, but is affected by what she sees.

1476907888851Cameraperson
Dir: Kirsten Johnson

What would you do if…

A baby is delivered by a midwife in a hospital in Kenya. She leaves the room, but the filmmakers are still there… and the baby doesn’t seem to be moving.  Should they just observe? Or run after the midwife to save the baby’s life?

In the aftermath of the war in Bosnia, an elderly woman in Foča refuses to tell American reporters about the rapes and massacres: nothing happened, she says. But earlier another woman described what happened to four young women who talked to a reporter in the sports stadium where they were interred. They were taken away and never heard from again. Should all journalists bear responsibility for deaths caused by one reporter?

A boxer in blue shorts, storms out of the ring, furious after losing a match. He is followed down the halls by a camera that catches him punching at walls, storming past people, knocking over tables. Then he turns to face the cameraperson with fire in his eyes. Should the cameraperson keep shooting,  or should she run for her life?

These are just some of the dilemmas and dangers faced by a cinematographerbts1-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-majlinda-hoxha shooting real-life events, things that she caused or what shooting the documentaries did to her. This film follows seemingly random shots taken from films that cinematographer Kirsten Johnson – the cameraperson of the title — has worked on. These include Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour, Johanna Hamilton’s 1971, and Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War. But don’t expect a conventional “greatest hits” collection of scenes from famous docs. This is an arthouse flick and much subtler than that. It differs from the usual fly-on-the-wall style of filmmaking by bringing the cameraperson into the story.

The clips you see are made of footage that usually ends up on the cutting room floor. The wobbly camera before it is fixed, the setting of the shots before they bts3-cameraperson-kirsten-johnson-cr-janus-filmsdecide on the framing. They don’t show Johnson herself, but you get to hear her voice and reactions before they get edited out. She gasps when there’s a sudden lightning bolt striking across a field. And she starts to cry when a young boy tells what happened when a bomb hit his brother… even though he she doesn’t speak his language or understand what he said (the subtitles are added much later.)

This is a beautiful and powerful film about how a photographer affects what she sees, and how it haunts her long after the film is made. It’s quirky and spontaneous, with lots of unexpected turns. (Like a filmmaker who loses it on camera, just as a tiny avalanche of snow off the roof falls outside the window behind her.)  Through clever editing, seemingly unrelated events are tied together, with athletes and abstract modern dancers followed by rows of gravestones in Bosnia or prison tents at Guantanamo Bay. It has striking scenes that seem to come out of nowhere, like the unexplained jerky movements and bizarre facial contortions of (what appears to be) dancers in Uganda. What does it mean? (Who knows?) But just like the rest of Cameraperson, the photography and its consequences stay with you long after it’s finished.

14691165_1155188961244083_8145693863171075297_oHarry Benson: Shoot First
Dir: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele

Harry Benson is a famous photographer born to a working class family in Glasgow, Scotland. He makes his way to Fleet Street in London – and the fiercely competitive world of gutter journalism – to work as a news photographer. But he catches his big break in 1964. He is sent to Paris to follow the Beatles just before they hit it big. He is with them, 14568083_1145147232248256_3937976388731490458_nshooting their famous hotel room pillow fight, the moment they receive word they are headed to America to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. And he is going with them. He never looks back. He continues his winning streak 15002305_1183935851702727_2037230550259169653_oby always being right there in the nick of time. He chronicles youth culture and the baby boomers as they gradually age against the background of rapidly changing world events. Some examples: Harry goes camping with Bobby Kennedy’s family… and is right beside them when RFK is murdered in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan. He was the one with the camera even as Ethel Kennedy tries to shoo him away: shoot first (think later). He is there in Memphis the day Matin Luther King is shot, and is invited into Richard Nixon’s home when he resigns in shame.

After the early seventies, Benson is famous enough to concentrate on celebrity pics. For some reason, even thedonald-trump-harry-benson most reclusive and private figures seem to trust him. He is allowed to photograph football star Joe Namath’s in his secret bachelor pad, OJ Simpson naked in the shower, and Bobby Fisher with a white horse in Iceland. By the 1980s, he is part and parcel of the Reagan Era’s glitz and glamour, a time of Vanity Fair and Ralph Lauren. His photos are geared more toward People Magazine than LIFE. But his eye for beauty — even in tragic circumstances – is why the rich, famous and powerful let him into their inner sanctums: he always makes them look fantastic.

the-clintons-harry-bensonIs he to blame for the glamorization of politics — the film shows his photos of both First Lady Hillary snuggling up with Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump snuggling up with a million dollars in cash — and our obsession with celebrity culture? Probably.

I had never heard of Harry Benson before this film, but I sure knew his pictures – they’re everywhere, engrained in the collective unconscious. If you like glamour and celebrity caught in unusual ways at the cusp of history – this is a the film for you:  it’ss hocking, exciting and amazing.

The documentaries Cameraperson and Harry Benson: Shoot First 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

Daniel Garber talks to director Mahmoud Sabbagh and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi about Barakah meets Barakah at #TIFF16

Posted in Class, comedy, Cultural Mining, Islam, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Satire, Shakespeare, Social Networks by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016


Hi, This is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Barakah is a municipal civil servant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He drives a tiny white truck and gives tickets to people defying city bylaws. He lives in a rundown flat with his shrieking aunt (a midwife), and his complaining uncle (a down-and-out former musician).

Bibi is a hugely popular culture critic and fashion plate with a unnamed-1million followers on Instagram. She shares her opinions and photos…but only from the lips down (to keep her identity a secret). She’s rich, famous and single.

After a series of chance meetings, Bibi and Barakah realize destiny is at play, and the two of them just might belong together. Problem is: how do you date in a country where unmarried men and women can’t kiss, hold hands… or even appear together in public without an escort? Will Bibi and Barakah ever get to know each other? And how can two people of different backgrounds bridge the gap between them?

Mahmoud Sabbagh at TIFF16, photo © Jeff Harris for Cultural MiningBarakah meets Barakah is a cute romantic comedy having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a humorous look at the troubles of dating inside restrictive Saudi Arabia. But it’s also a lament for the loss of the once vibrant Saudi culture. It’s directed by Mahmoud Sabbagh, and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi, as the star-crossed lovers.

Barakah meets Barakah is only the second contemporary Saudi film to screen in Canada. I spoke with Mahmoud, Hisham and Fatima on location at TIFF16.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Daniel Garber talks with Zhang Yimou about his new film Coming Home at #TIFF14

Posted in 1960s, Class, Communism, Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Morality, Movies, Prison by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2015

_MG_9568Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s China’s cultural revolution. A jailed intellectual escapes from prison to see his wife, but they are prevented from meeting by a political bargain set up by someone he should trust. And in the scuffle his wife suffers a brain injury. Years later, after the cultural revolution, he returns home… only to find his wife doesn’t 676e8779-1a75-47db-9a86-ccc0604f9061recognize him, and his daughter, a ballet student, has been kicked out of their home. So a family has been split in three as a result of his coming home.

COMING HOME is also the name of a film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It stars _MG_9561Gong Li as the mother. It was directed by Chinese master filmmaker Zhang Yimou, known, over the past three decades, for movies like Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and Hero. As a Chinese director he is rare indeed as one who is commercially successful, critically acclaimed and acceptable to the government. I spoke to him at TIFF in September, 2014.  Coming Home opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Skool Daze. Movies reviewed: Boychoir, It Follows, The Riot Club

Posted in Class, Cultural Mining, Drama, Horror, Kids, Movies, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Are school days the best days of our lives? Or a journey through the nine stages of hell? This week I’m looking at three movies: a drama about a choir school for boys, a horror movie about high school students, and a dark tale set at Oxford University.

Photography By Myles AronowitzBoychoir
Dir: Francois Girard (The Red Violin)

Stet (Garret Wareing) is a dirt-poor kid in Odessa, Texas. His mom’s an addict and the boy runs rampant at school, picking fights and acting out his frustrations. Mom ODs, Stet’s an orphan, so he’s taken under the wing of his school principal (Debra Winger). She recognizes his musical talent and angelic voice, and convinces his biological father to send him to American Boy Choir an elite music school on the east coast.

He may be talented, but he has no training – he’s musically 896a532c-bd1d-4e4d-870d-38b382f5e407 Dustin Hoffman in Boychoirilliterate. Other kids bully him, and he retreats farther and farther into himself. The teachers at the school react differently. Drake (Eddie Izzard) is a priggish snot – he thinks Stet’s challenging his own protégé, the prize soloist Devon,  so he offers no help; Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) is a egotistical tyrant, but he sees himself in young Stet. He gets more sympathy from Wooly, a young teacher (Kevin McHale) and the pragmatic schoolmistress (Kathy Bates). Stet’s father (Josh Lucas) supports him financially, but keeps his existence a secret – is he ashamed of his own son?

Photography By Myles AronowitzIt’s up to Stet himself to study and practice if he ever wants to sing solo in the travelling choir and reveal his amazing talent. He can reach and hold a high “D” – the holy grail for young singers. But time is ticking. He’s twelve years old, and his voice may change at any moment.

Boychoir is heavy-duty weeper, but I liked it. My eyes teared up at least 5 times over the course of the movie. I realize it’s intentionally pulling all the sentimental strings but it still works. Aside from a few acting missteps and bungled scenes, Stet and the rest of the kids play their roles naturally and sing very well. Boychoir shows how young kids can be both innocent and cruel.

629a894c-6ed1-4f8c-bbf4-e4664ebfb9a7It Follows
Dir: David Robert Mitchell

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a teenager who lives a quiet and dull suburban life with her sister and her friends. She’s dating Hugh (Jake Weary) an older guy. He’s pretty nice, if a bit weird. One night they drive out to a deserted area and have sweet sex in the back seat of his car.

Next thing you know she’s tied to a chair in an abandoned 8ca0fd9e-e409-4f69-a7f2-d902e94d077aparking lot! It gets worse: Hugh says he infected her with an incurable STI. And not just that: this “infection” means someone or something will always be following her, and if it catches her she’s dead. And only she can see it but it’s real, and can change its appearance at will. An old lady in a hospital gown. A naked, middle-aged guy on a roof. A feral kid. You can outrun it, but it never stops coming.

deb8edab-19f9-43c4-bf02-b904ebdcb584Your only cure is to pass it on to the next person by having sex. As long as they’re still alive, you’re safe. When they’re gone, you’re next in line again.

So Jay and her friends (basically there are no adults in this movie) – her sister, a shy boy with a crush, a smart girl, the dude across the street – together they try to keep her, and themselves, safe from this thing.762937db-6c02-48be-85c4-1e0ce9523704

This movie is oddly calm, but terrifying. It’s filled with white suburban fear and angst… and lots of casual sex. This is not your regular Hollywood teen horror movie; it feels more like an indie pic with its unconventional characters and normcore aesthetic. But it’s the plainness, the ordinariness of the creature that will scare your pants off.

10154919_1001948323154626_384318691203502678_nThe Riot Club
Dir: Lone Scherfig

When Miles (Max Irons) starts at Oxford, he’s a hellofa nice guy. He’s smart, personable and good-looking. He’s also filthy rich, complete with stately mansion and Westminster education. He’s paired up with Alistair (Sam Claflin) for their two-person tutorials, and it’s a study in contrasts. Alistair is an insufferable snob, a stuck-up, disagreeable prick. The two of them are chosen to join a secret fraternal organization of ten young men; notably no women, since this club thinks of females as comodities, not 1926768_951500188199440_3355565866358656126_npeople. It’s known as the Riot Club. More than two centuries old, it’s devoted to the best eating, drinking and debauchery money can buy. Its members are all handsome, witty, self-confident and well connected. The ten of them will go on to rule the finances and government of the UK and the world.

While not a rebel, Miles doesn’t think much about class and status and is dating a pretty girl, Lauren (Holliday Grainger), from a decidedly non-posh background. But things take a sinister 10662061_944410158908443_3913457697926683186_oturn at a dinner initiation. Anything is permitted at the country pub, and any damages are paid off in cash. The ten of them arrive in white ties and tails, but their behavior is anything but formal. In this movie, the upper class is less Downton Abbey, more Clockwork Orange (with ordinary people as their victims). Will both Miles and Alistair take part these excesses? Or will Miles stay true to his girlfriend Lauren?

I can’t say I loved this movie – it’s quite disturbing. It’s the opposite of a feel-good movie. It’s a feel bad movie. Sadly, the story is modelled on an actual group, the Bullingdon Club. They say its cynical, aristocratic members still rule Britannia, including London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, the Chancellor of the article-2407406-1B8A4305000005DC-25_634x489Exchequer and even UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Excellent acting, great script (based on the play POSH) The Riot Club is a well-made, powerful film… but not a nice one.

Boychoir, It Follows and The Riot Club 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

Cracks in the Foundation. The Continent, Rocks in my Pockets, Rosewater

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

From far away, porcelain looks smooth, shiny and flawless, but look too close and fine cracks appear. This week, I‘m looking at movies that expose the cracks in faraway Latvia, China and Iran. There’s an Iranian man who wants to leave prison; three Chinese men who want to leave their island, and a Latvian woman who, at times, wants to leave life altogether.

TheContinentThe Continent
Dir: Han Han

Three young men have lived their lives on a tiny, windswept island off the east coast of China. But they decide it’s time to check out the continent. Like in the classic Chinese novel, they set out on a “Journey to the West. They each have a different reason. Jianghe (Chen Bolin  [陈柏霖], who also starred in Buddha Mountain [觀音山] — read my review here) a school teacher an”d eternal optimist, is transferred by the government to a remote location far, far away. Haohan (Feng Shaofeng [冯绍峰]) is a blustering young man dying to see the world. He longs to stand on a determined mountaintop and shout to the world about the size of his dick. And he has a childhood pen-pal Yingying TheContinent_still2(Yolanda Yuan [袁泉]), a pretty girl he’ll finally meet face to face. And true love will soon follow. Their third friend, Hu Sheng, is mentally challenged, and depends on the other two to tell him what to do.

But they soon discover life outside their tiny island is bewildering and confusing. They stumble onto a movie set in WWII. And at their first hotel Jianghe is approached by an escort named Sumi, immediately followed by knocks on the door from aggressive police. Bewildered, he plays the hero, HanHanbusting out through a barred window and “saving” Sumi from a fate worse than death. Or so he thinks. And a sketchy, Cantonese hitchhiker helps them with their navigating – but can he be trusted? Maybe not, in a place where anything that you don’t hold onto with both hands when you gp to sleep will likely be gone by morning. But it’s also a country with stunning and empty vast vistas, rockets flying to outer-space, and cool and savvy people at every turn.

The Continent is writer-director Han Han’s (韩寒) first film, but he’s far from unknown. His blog is the best-known one in China which automatically makes him one of the most famous people in the world. This is not just a simple, picaresque road movie. It’s also a slyly humorous — if bleak — cautionary tale about life in contemporary China.

RocksinMyPockets_Poster_MediumRocks in My Pockets
Wri/Dir Signe Baumane

Signe is a Brooklyn artist, originally from Latvia, with a hidden family past. She wants to find out the truth behind the family matriarch, her late grandmother. On the surface, she was a preternaturally hard-worker, known for her Sisyphean feat of carrying endless buckets of water up a steep mountain. She had retreated to a backwoods cabin with her husband, an eccentric entrepreneur, to escape the difficulties of life in the city. But, after a bit of digging, Signe discovers a streak of depression, suicide and mental illness in her family stretching back three generations. The title refers to her grandmother’s attempted suicide by drowning – she was unsuccessful because she forgot to fill her pocket with rocks. Even if the mind wants to end it all, the body – until the last breath — will fight against dying. At the same time, Signe realizes that the many children and grandchildren managed to survive and succeed despite harsh time. In this film, Riga is imagined as a rocksinmypockets-1024x576place with enormous human faces on their buildings, within a country filled with animistic creatures with long tails, dog ears and goggly eyes that lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

Her odd family history is portrayed in a series of short, animated episodes, using panels of sketched characters moving against brightly-tinted Linda_Sc_080_with_WS_Thumbnailbackgrounds. These are interspersed with super-imposed stop-motion images made of rope and papier-mache figurines. This giuves the whole movie an unusual three-dimensional feel, combining classic drawing with computer-manipulated mixes. And omnipresent is the wry and funny –though at times grating – voice of the narrator telling and commenting on her family history. The director shows the deleterious effects of Soviet era psychiatry – one where cures consist of medicinal corrections to chemical imbalances – and how it makes some people long to “erase themselves” and ceasing to exist. A poignant, fascinating and great animated feature.

RW_LM_20130810_0238.jpgRosewater
Dir: Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist based in London. He lives there with his beautiful (and pregnant) wife. He is assigned to cover the upcoming elections in Iran, but quickly runs unto trouble as soon as he arrives. He quickly makes friends with a politically active and sympathetic taxi driver who takes him to areas fertile with dissent. But after witnessing a potentially explosive event he is arrested. His charge? Spying.

Ironically, a comic TV interview he had given to an American comedian on the Daily Show is used as evidence of his wrong doing. He is quickly thrown into solitary confinement in a notorious prison. He is psychologically tortured until — says the warden — his will is broken and he will lose all hope.

His family, it turns out, is no stranger to death and imprisonment for RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgpolitical views under earlier regimes. Both his father and his sister had gone through it, and appear, in his mind, to convince him to hold on. But will he make it?

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s first film, and it shows it. Stewart is known for the brilliant and funny The Daily Show that skewers mass media from a left-ish perspective. But a feature film is not a three-minute sketch. The movie starts out great with exciting scenes of news-gatering, but it starts to drag, heavily, once it moves to the prison. While it conveys the loneliness and suffering,  solitary confinement does not make for good cinema. Bernal and the supporting actors are fine, but the buffoonish prison guard and the sinister administrator seem too much like the evil twins of  Schultz and Klink to take seriously.

The Continent played at the ReelAsian Film Festival which continues for another week (reelasian.com), Rosewood played at TIFF this year and opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Rocks in my Pockets opened the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (which features films on addiction and mental health – with an additional screening tomorrow: go to rendezvouswithmadness.com for times. Also opening: next week at Hot Docs there’s the great documentary called Point and Shoot about a young American traveler/journalist who, despite being non-religious and non-radicalized, nevertheless joins the rebel armies fighting in Libya (listen to my review here). And a surprising story about the Life of Pigeons on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

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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