16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

Valentines Day Date Movies. The Roommate, Gnomeo and Juliet, Modra

Do you long for the good old days of your youth, when people gave holiday gifts purely out of love, and commercialization had yet to permeate all our rituals and celebrations?

I want to say that I’m bothered by the ever increasing commercialization of holidays, but I’d be lying. I’ve been handing out store-bought candy and valentines since I was a little kid, so I have no memory of a non-commercial Valentine’s Day, if there ever was one. So, in keeping with spending money to say I love you (or I lust for you), here are some potential date movies for next week, that explore themes of romance, passion or love.

The Roommate

Dir: Christian E. Christiansen

… gives us a not-so-typical relationship of sorts, a story of a poor little rich girl who just want to be friends, but takes it to a new level.

Sarah (Minka Kelly) is from Des Moines, Iowa, but loves studying fashion in Southern California. She may not be rich, but she has a sense of style that can’t be taught. She has a tattoo of her dead sister’s name above her left breast. She has a funky Lesbian pal, and dorm mates who know how to drink and dance. At a frat house with her party-girl friend, Tracy, she meets a frat boy and they fall in like.

But when her new roommate, a rich and sophisticated, but somehow troubled, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), moves in, things begin to change. Rebecca has lots of expensive clothes, but Sarah dresses her up to be cool. “What are you a label whore?” Sarah asks. “I got this vintage jacket for 20 bucks at a garage sale!” Sarah also lends her a pair of earrings, not noticing that Rebecca doesn’t have pierced ears… Rebecca takes then anyway — cause Sarah’s her friend! — and pokes them through her earlobes drawing blood. And when she licks the blood from her fingers she gets a little evil smile on her face… Uh oh. (Don’t worry, this is a psychological thriller, not a vampire flick.) Things go downhill from there.

Rebecca likes drawing, but will not show Sarah what’s in her sketchbook. She becomes fixated on her roommate, and intensely jealous whenever Sarah’s friends seem to intrude on their lives. Party girl, ex-boy friend, frat boy, fluffy kitten… they are all potential targets of Rebecca’s increasingly warped mind. It’s not a romance; Rebecca just wants to be her (only) friend.

This is a weird movie, that varies from a few good spooky scenes, to lots of incredibly predictable TV style pap. Rebecca’s the stalker and Sarah the stalked, but the actress playing the victim character forgot to learn how to do scared. She’s better at “I like you!” “this is fun!” and “That’s OK!” (as she brushes back her hair from her pretty face) than at looking stressed or terrified. Leighton Meester is better, but she just looks deranged, and not nearly evil enough. And maybe its me but the whole movie seems too tame. If there’s a potentially crazed killer, you want to see at least some graphic splatter and gore, right? No…? This movie wasn’t scary.

This is a very forgettable (but fun enough), cable TV-grade, B-movie. I had a good time, the actresses are all attractive, and there were some neat aerial-view shots from the ceiling, like in a Hitchcock or De Palma horror movie. But the unintentionally funny scenes — like a montage of double-exposures of lips and eyes in a phone- sex scene; or Billy Zane as a supposed fashion expert, but wearing ridiculously clownish clothes as he teaches his university students about true fashion and style — were more interesting than the rest of the movie.

Leaving the theatre I overheard one girl repeating, “I’m never having a roommate… ever!” Which I guess sums up this not-very-thrilling, dumb thriller.

Gnomeo and Juliet (in 3D)

Dir: Kelly Asbury

This is a reworking of Shakespeare’s play about the star-crossed lovers of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, and their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. This version is unusual in that it’s told using plaster lawn ornaments in the main roles. Yes, you heard me: Plaster lawn ornaments.

Like garden gnomes — those little germanic-looking statues — cute lawn bunnies, plastic pink flamingoes, and ceramic frog. They live in a parallel universe, where, in the world of quaint suburban, English homes, they decorate the gardens, whenever the humans are around, but live their own lives when they are alone. Their one unbreakable rule is they have to switch back to immobile statues whenever a person comes near. And they all wear pointy hats.

This version is aimed at the pre-teen set, so, to make it easier to follow, they’ve turned Juliet’s Capulets into the red-hats, (who live in the garden ruled by Lord Redbrick) and Romeo’s Montagues into blue hats from the yard of Lady Bluebury next door. And instead of duels with sword fights, competitions take place in the back lanes involving drag races using old-school, chugging lawn mowers. The gnome statues are not allowed to go in each other’s yards, but when cute adventuress Juliet in disguise, meets equally rambunctious Romeo in a neutral area, they soon fall in love, without realizing they are from opposing clans. Juliet (with the voice of Emily Blunt) dresses in mittel-European clothes, while Gnomeo (James McAvoy), like all the male gnomes, has a graying neck beard, but otherwise acts like a teenager.

Meanwhile the feud between the two families, including the bullying Tybalt, escalates, even risking intruding on the human’s lives. Vicious gnomes attempt to symbolically castrate their rivals by smashing their point hats. Peacekeepers, like Featherstone, a flamboyant lawn flamingo looking for his long lost mate, and Juliet’s Nurse/Frog, proffer advice and warn against potential ruin, but death and destruction seem inevitable, as in the classic tragedy. Will this version end up with the death and suicide of the romantic lovers? While it’s true to Shakespeare’s original, keep in mind this is a Disney cartoon aimed at little kids.

It’s a cute, fun, cartoon romance, suitable for young kids, accompanied by a soundtrack (for some reason) of Elton John’s 70’s pop hits. While it does occasionally verge upon Disney’s old standby theme of the helpless girl needing to be rescued by the brave prince, they have mainly moved on, and give the modern Juliet her own strength and courage, so both boys and girls can have their requisite positive role models.

Good for an afterschool group date.

Modra

Dir: Ingrid Veninger

For a very beautiful, subtle, and gentle semi-romance of two teenagers from Toronto visiting Slovakia in the summer, you really should see Modra.

Modra is about a 17 year old girl named Lina (Hallie Switzer). She breaks up with her boyfriend just before they were supposed to fly to visit her relatives in Slovakia. On an impulse she invites a guy, Leco (Alexander Gammal) from her high school to go with her instead. So they land in this very small town, with orange rooftiles in a green valley. And Leco, who speaks no Slovakian, is introduced as her boyfriend – they’re given a room to share.

Lina and Leco’s – who make a very cute couple – relationship shifts gradually from non-existent to estranged, to warm, and back again over the course of their week long visit. This is not a conventional, mainstream boy-meets-girl drama, with revealed secrets, and big plot turns. And the European locations aren’t there to evoke glamour, The Slovakian town is isolated and rustic. The locals wear their traditional costumes for special occasions – embroidered dresses, men with black feather plumes on their hats as they sing or dance folk songs. There’s the town mute, the local ranch, the local hood who hits on Lina. Loudspeakers on poles make echoey announcements harkening back to its Stalinist precedents.

“Modra” is a very sweet, low-key, naturalistic film, with first-time actors – and non-actors – experiencing things on camera at the same time as the audience. It’s a gentle, verite travelogue of two kids on the cusp of adulthood. I like this kind of almost-documentary film when it works — and in Modra, it really works.

It was voted one of the Top Ten Canadian movies of the year, and I couldn’t agree more. It has that new Toronto feel to it, that I also saw in No Heart Feelings and This Movie is Broken. It would make a great Valentine’s Day date movie.

Rommates is now playing, Modra opens today in Toronto at the Royal Cinema, and Gnomeo and Juliet also starts today, across North America. Check your local listings.

Next: The Eagle,  Ong Bak 3

Who Will Root for the Underdog? Movies Reviewed: The Parking Lot Movie, Dinner for Schmucks

Posted in Anthropology, College, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, Underground, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, I somehow found myself with a pair of tickets to Just for Laughs at Massey Hall – that’s the Montreal stand up comedy festival which now has a Toronto version as well. And I hadn’t been to a stand-up comedy stage show in a building like Massey Hall since… well never. Anyway, I guess stand-up comedy appeals to a particular sense of humour; (at least in the show I went to) it’s guys on a stage — the featured act was Brad Garret from Everybody Loves Raymond– making fun of the people in the audience. Racial and ethnic stereotypes, fat jokes, and jokes about any and all women. You know, the things obnoxious acquaintances or distant relatives of yours start saying around the time the first 2-4 has disappeared. I guess part of the appeal is the audience squirming in discomfort and shock at the rudeness and meanness of the people on stage.

And what does this have to movies?

Well, movies, specifically comedies, have a whole subgenre built around picking on the little guy, the “loser”. In general, Hollywood has always been on the side of the person who’s made fun of, picked on, or oppressed – even if the audience gets to vicariously watch the poor guy being teased or mocked. There’s still always the same ending: the bullies get punished and the underdogs, the people at the bottom, get their long due just desserts.

But there is some nipping at the edges of this conventional theme. The various TV idol contests have parts where they show how bad a singer is or how terribly they’re dressed, and the judges enjoy laughing at them and insulting them. And some college movies, like “Tucker Max: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” take the side of the privileged ones, making fun of the women they try to have sex with (or actually purchase, in the case of strippers or prostitutes.)

This week I’m looking at two movies that follow the classic Hollywood model, both funny movies about sort of sad and lonely people. Are they really funny? Should these movies be making fun of these people? (And why are they always guys?)

The Parking Lot Movie

Dir: Meghan Eckman

My first thoughts, before I saw this movie, were: Oh my God – a movie about a parking lot? Is there no line documentary makers won’t cross? No topic too mundane?

This documentary’s about a bunch of hipsters / college students / slackers / extremely over-educated bunch of guys in their twenties who hang out in this legendary parking lot – the Corner Parking Lot. It’s their job. The guys (and they’re all guys) sit in a little wooden booth, like an oversized dog house, and raise and lower the wooden turnstyle barrier (they call it the gate) and collect the money. Half of them look like Zach Galifianakis, the rest look like either tattooed guys in an indie band, or else perpetual grad students.

First of all, it’s an indie parking lot, not one of those big-label corporate ones. They’re so fake. This parking lot’s the real thing, dude.

It’s in the middle of what looks like a bar district in a college town (Charlottesville, Virginia), so you get all these sorority girls and Tucker Max wannabes in their hummers stumbling back to their cars after last call.

They guys who work there all really HATE their customers. It’s the parkers vs the park-ees.

The director has a really good eye. There are some images that are just so funny – I don’t know why — they just grab you.  Like a shot of one of the guys guy listening to music on his headphones, bobbing his head as he counts a big wad of parking lot cash… brilliant.

You have to wonder – are these guys actually all serial killers or something? Naaah, just graduate students in philosophy and anthropology. They’ve broken down all the variables in a parking lot and taking them as far as they can possibly go. Like the wooden turn-style gate —they spray paint stenciled messages on them – a different one each day. Or they play an inane catch-toss game with the orange rubber pylons.

And then there are the faceless parkers. GRRrrrrrrrr… anyone ever worked in the service industry? You can see how even just one obnoxious, lazy, overfed, douchey-frat boy, a single nasty parking lot customer, these paragons of entitlement driving 100K Hummers who argue over a 50 cent charge… I feel deep sympathy for the parking lot guys.

This movie is way better than Kevin Smith’s legendary Clerks. Looks better too – it’s actually nicely coloured, with outdoor oversaturated night scenes, stop-motion clouds, everything looking like an MTV indie music doc, except they’re not celebs. It’s got that slick, handmade look, complete with a white hiphop video toward the end about the parking lot, complete with hand gestures. (CPL! CPL!)

I don’t know what it is, but this movie really cracked me up, despite it’s random acts of senseless, vindictive anger and complaining. And even though it enjoys making fun of the slackers, the movie is decidedly from their point of view. It keeps to the Hollywood rule of rooting for the underdogs.

“Dinner for Schmucks”

Dir: Jay Roach

(based on the French film “The Dinner Game”)

This movie is a bit different; it shows the oddballs of the world (and the troubles they seem to bring) but through the eyes of a “normal” guy.

In this movie, a guy named Tim (Paul Rudd) works for some financial company in a highrise somewhere. He’s not a parking lot attendant but, in his mind, he may as well be. He’s a middle-level executive, stuck in a rut. But then he has an idea – he speaks up at a meeting. Tim had an idea! He says he can get this eccentric swiss millionaire to invest in their company. Great! He’ll finally move upstairs. But, (says his boss surrounded by his yes-men) first you have to prove yourself by showing up at a dinner, and bringing an idiot, pretending to be his friend – so we can laugh at him.

That’s terrible! But when he accidentally meets Barry (Steve Carell)  — a guy who works for the IRS tax office, a hobbyist who stuffs dead mice and dresses them up, and uses them in elaborate dioramas – when he meets Barry, Tim feels like a gift just landed in his lap.

Anyway, the plot creaks on. it’s a so-so story bandied together with cheap rubber bands. Tim’s fiancé is a curator, and he’s worried she’ll run off with a New Zealand artist (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) who wears fake goat horns to compliment his “animal magnetism”. Meanwhile, Tim has a bad back. And he’s also being stalked by an ex-girlfriend, a crazed dominatrix. And then there’s bearded Zach Galifianakis playing a co-worker of Barry’s at the IRS who is studying hypnotic mind control.

The story all works its way toward the party – what will happen there? Like the movie itself, it’s a venue for lots of TV comedians to do their schtick. Lots of people you see on the Daily Show or other TV shows, and a lot of people who look vaguely familiar but you’re not sure from where. They each have their moment in the sun to act funny-stupid. Never from their clever repartee, always from the uncomfortableness or strangeness of their personalities.  It’s up to Steve Carell’s super weird but cuddly and lovable Barry to carry the movie. The plot won’t do it. The problem is he’s sometimes funny, sometimes just stupid. His character isn’t really that great, despite the fake funny teeth, and the bad windbreaker he wears… he’s just not that consistent, and seems willing to do things just for a laugh, even when it’s totally out of character.

Is the movie there to make fun of people? Yeah, but that’s what comedians want: For people to laugh the loudest when they’re on the screen. Dinner for Schmucks is a funny — but not that funny — summer comedy. But I do give it two points for managing to avoid toilet humour, all too common in most comedies.

Inside Out Festival, 2010. Movies Reviewed: Leo’s Room, The OWLs, Brotherhood, Oy Vey My Son is Gay, Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work, Undertow

Today I’m going to take a look at some of the movies playing at this year’s Inside Out festival, Toronto’s LGBT Film and Video Festival.

Inside Out is good and friendly film festival, with a wide, and extremely varied itinerary, ranging from Ryan Trecartin’s excellent art videos, to movies and documentaries including a very good selection of first-run foreign films, from France, Scandinavia, Israel, Latin America, Korea and, of course, the US. They deal with themes like aging, coming out, secrecy, discrimination, violence, tolerance, and of course, love and sex.

“Leo’s Room”, a gentle, low-key drama from Uruguay (Directed by Enrique Buchichio), is a coming-of -age story about a graduate student, Leo. Leo breaks up with his girlfriend to try to pursue something he’s not getting from her. Something one character says is all men think about, even though it only totals about ten minutes of their life each year: he was referring to the orgasm. Leo turns to the internet to secretly meet other men, whom he takes home to his small, dingy unpainted room. He makes his new friend sneak out past his couch potato pothead roommate, lest he suspect what was going on. But when he runs into a childhood crush in a supermarket, Caro, a sad but pretty woman, he finds a new friend. His life is still full of bleached-out faded colours and enclosed spaces. Caro ends up bedridden for an unknown reason, while Leo doesn’t want to leave his own room and face the world. Will they ever be able to voice their troubles and free themselves?

“Leo’s Room” (set in a rarely-seen, urban Uruguay), is a nice, if simple, look at how a man and a woman in a non-sexual relationship can help one another rid themselves of their secrets.

In the Danish dramatic thriller “Brotherhood” (Directed by Nicolo Donato) Lars starts going to clandestine meetings of a political group, partly to spite his liberal parents. He quickly rises up in the organization – it’s a neo-nazi, white supremacist party – and proves his mettle by attacking and beating up a Muslim refugee. In order to become a member for life of the sinister group, Lars is sent to a country house where Jimmy, a longtime Nazi skinhead, will instruct him in the ways of the order: Masculinity, worship of nature, extreme nationalism and so-called racial purity. All couched in the highly-charged homo-erotic atmosphere of male bonding. But the two men — Jimmy with giant swastikas and the number 88 (code for Heil Hitler) tattooed all over his body; and upper-class, rebellious Lars – take the step from homo-eroticism to homo sex. They become lovers. This complicates things. Even more so when Lars discovers that his new friends don’t just beat up immigrants, but also gay men. “Hey– that’s not fair…!”

This is a troubling, difficult movie; it’s hard to sympathize with members of a repugnant group who enthusiastically study Hitlerian theory and put it to work in thuggish attacks on innocent strangers, just to further their political causes… but I think it does manage to show this unlikely, doomed-from-the-start relationship as a compassionate one in the oddest of places. A very problematic movie to reconcile, morally, but an emotional one, none the less.

The OWLs (Directed by Cheryl Dunye of the Parliament Collective) is an extremely low budget (12 thousand dollars!) look at the lives of a group of aging women living together in a sprawling home in southwestern US. These OWLs – meaning Older Wiser Lesbians – were involved in an incident at a pool party where a young woman, Cricket, was killed. Their relationships are grouping and regrouping, they’re trying to sell the house and move on, and they’re terrified that someone might find the body. But their already tenuous equilibrium is upset with the arrival at their door of Skye, a much younger, muscular, masculine and aggressive woman. Skye dismisses their politics, their relationships, their beliefs, and inserts herself between couples. An even bigger shock is when the actors step out of their roles and discuss politics, identity, collaboration, sexuality, gender and the changing attitudes of younger lesbians.

At first I was put off by this meta-movie spoiling the storyline, but by the end their discussions are even more interesting than the plot, and somehow (not sure why) they provided both the content and the glue to hold this unusual collaborative movie together.

Oy Vey, My Son is Gay (Directed by Evgeny Afineefsky) is a comedy about the Hirsches, a middle-aged Jewish couple, (played by Lainie Kazan and Saul Rubinek) who are looking for a bride for their unmarried son, Nelson, a real estate agent. But, as the title says, he’s gay (they don’t know it) and is living with Angelo, an interior decorator. Shirley, the mother, is led to believe that he’s going out with a female porn star (played by Carmen Electra) and that Angelo is just there to tastefully decorate his apartment.

I was all set for a gay re-take of the old-school screwball comedy– you know, where there are lots of mistaken identities, witty dialogue, sharp-tongued innuendo, and all the characters running around trying to make sense of all the confusion. Well, it’s a little bit screwball, but mainly lame movie-of-the-week about parents struggling trying to understand and accept their gay son.

But, ¡ay, caramba! Mama mia! Was this ever a bad comedy. Painfully bad. Oy vey is right. The witty repartee, the mistaken identities, the disguises – they were all sparse indeed. No double entendres in this movie – you’re lucky to find a single entendre… There are some OK parts – especially the few times when Saul Rubinek and Lainie Kazan get into some energetic discussions, and stop walking through their lines – but they’re counterbalanced by awful, unfunny scenes. Like the father trying to get the porn star to date his son, to turn him straight again, but ends up making a glacially slow pass at her instead, and falls onto her, on a sofa with his bum sticking up in the air. And then stays like for two minutes.

I seriously think the movie needed a laugh track, to fill in the enormous gaps between punchlines; at least I’d know when it was supposed to be funny.

One movie that actually is funny is “Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work” (directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg), a tell-all documentary about the famous stand-up comic and talk-show host. When I say she’s famous, I mean I’d heard of her name, but never actually seen her perform as a stand-up comic, anywhere, even on TV. The documentary follows her career as a funny woman, when female comics were few and far between, and her catch line was: “My name is Joan Rivers – and I put out!”

Now, I’ve been told she’s been using the same one-liners for half a century, but my ears were virgin territory. So her jokes were funny, and still just offensive enough to surprise a laugh out of the listener. Equally shocking were candid scenes of her face without makeup: puffed, sewn, reconstructed and botoxed. I was like – Wow! Who’s that ventriloquist dummy, (and what happened to that smooth-cheeked blond woman who was there a minute ago)?

But you can see she’s still on the ball as a comedian by the way she deftly handles an angry heckler who objected to her Helen Keller jokes.

Finally, “Undertow”, (Directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon) a beautiful, intriguing movie about a macho Peruvian fisherman in love with a rich painter and tourist from Colombia.

Miguel, the fisherman, starts the movie by welcoming his new son, even as he “offers” a villager’s dead body to the harsh waters. The villagers believe if that’s not done, his soul will never rest. But macho Miguel is also having a love affair with Sebastien, a rich, gay Columbian painter (played by Manolo Cardona). They secretly meet in an abandoned building on the beach. But after a fight he disappears into the waves… and then comes back as a ghost. His dead body was never offered, so his corporeal self remains there but visible only to Miguel. He is elated – he can spend time with his lover without any threat to his machismo. But things soon go awry. His relationship is exposed. He must choose between his loves – his wife and son, his fellow villagers, and the memory of his male lover. Undertow is a great movie, beautifully shot.

Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Revenge of the Jocks?

Posted in Breasts, College, comedy, Feminism, Good Ol' Boys, Movies, Sex, Sex Trade, Strippers, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 13, 2009

beer in hell

Tucker Max’s I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
Dir: Bob Gosse

Tucker Max (Matt Czuchry) takes his two sidekicks, Drew (Jesse Bradford) and Dan (Geoff Stults) on a drive to a faraway strip bar for a bachelor’s party the night before Dan’s wedding. They get drunk, act like boors, break things, and insult women while ogling their breasts. The End.

Is it funny to watch a rich, privileged, southern, white, good ol’ boy and his buddies enjoy the good life at the expense of everyone else? Not particularly. Is it unusual for someone like Tucker Max (the man, not the character) to enjoy describing his pick-ups and sex life in detail on a blog (www.tuckermax.com)? Unfortunately not.

In fact, is there anything, anything at all, distinctive or worthwhile about such a patently offensive movie? Maybe a little. It has a few very funny lines, and there’s an engaging round of competitive insults between the abusive, depressed gamer Drew and a smart stripper; and affable acting by the actor playing Tucker Max. But on the whole, jokes with audaciousness but no irony — humour that takes the side of the bullies instead of the underdogs — quickly begin to grate. Ten-minute potty jokes are better written down than shown. It’s supposed to be funny when he happily tosses bills off a wad of cash to get poor people to do unpleasant things for him. And you do laugh at the awfulness of his mindset. But it’s not meant to be self-deprecating; you’re supposed to think of him as a hero for his unparalleled honesty.tucker max with ex-girlfriend

Tucker Max is touring the continent with campus previews of his film (earlier this week at Innis College, University of Toronto) and surprisingly he attracts as many female fans as males. His Q&A this week after the screening was funnier than the movie — he’s a good stand-up comic. But he’s the type of guy who gets his laughs by insulting insecure students in the audience: “I liked you in Harold and Kumar, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The most surprising thing about Tucker Max may be the fact that he doesn’t get beaten up.

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