Are the 90s back? Films reviewed: Brigsby Bear, Landline

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Manhattan, Movies, Sex by CulturalMining.com on August 4, 2017

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

What’s with the nineties? Is it a thing now? Are the nineties back? It’s recent enough that we don’t yet know how to abbreviate it. Is it what was there? Grunge, flannel, ecstasy, glow sticks, drum and bass, Roxette, gangsta rap. Or is it what wasn’t there any more (the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact). Or is it what hasn’t happened yet: 9/11, cell phones, texting, facebook, google.

I guess it is possible to be nostalgic for the 90s. This week I’m looking at two indie movies, dramatic comedies that played at Sundance this year. There’s a Manhattan family living in the 90s and a 25-year-old guy who is stuck in the 90s.

Brigsby Bear

Dir: Dave McCary

It’s present-day America. James (Kyle Mooney) is 25 but still lives with his dad (Mark Hamill) and mom. He was homeschooled and has never left his house – an underground bunker – because poison gas has flooded the planet. At least that’s his parents tell him. His only contact with the outside world is a TV show called Brigsby Bear, a low-budgets kids’ show. The highlight of his week is when his dad, wearing a gas mask, comes home with the latest episode recorded on VHS. Life never changes, until…

Until the day when there’s a police raid on their home. They arrest his parents and interrogate him. Turns out, everything James thought he knew was wrong. His parents? Actually kidnappers who snatched him from his real family as an infant and raised him as their own. Poison gas? Another lie to keep him from leaving. But the biggest shock of all was his hero and best friend Brigsby Bear, the foundation of his entire universe. No one else has heard of him.

James is reunited with his birth parents and a 16 year old sister sister named Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins.) But he sticks out like a sore thumb. His clothes and bad haircut are stuck in the 90s and the only thing he talks about is Brigsby Bear. He knows nothing about sex drugs and rock and roll. The ultimate fish out of water. He learns about a few things at his first party, from his new best friend — a teenager named Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) — and his first potential girlfriend. He’s a bit of a celebrity, the kidnapped guy, so people like to gawk at him.

James’ therapist (Claire Danes) wants him to forget about Brigsby Bear and enter the real world. But that would leave him rudderless with nothing familiar to him. Until Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) tells him a secret. He knows where Brigsby Bear is – the costumes the props, the whole thing. Will James – and his friends – recreate the TV show so he can achieve closure? Or will his parents and his therapist gang up to destroy his Brigsby universe… for his own good?

Brigsby Bear is a cute, gentle comedy drama. There’s no real villain, just James trying to adjust. Unfortunately, it relies a lot on Saturday Night Live-style humour: grown ups who act like children, are socially inept, or out of fashion; people who look like us but talk strange. The problem is, James is both the sympathetic main character and also the butt of most of the jokes. The movie just isn’t that funny, but it is entertaining and watchable.

Landline

Dir: Gillian Robespierre

It’s summertime in the 1990s and the Jacobs family is returning from their cottage to Manhattan. Ali (Abby Quinn) is the foul-mouthed teenaged sister. She’s a rebel, into raves, recreational drugs and, she hopes, sex at some point with her current non-boyfriend Jed. Dana (Jenny Slate) works at Paper magazine and is engaged to her affable fiance Ben (Jay Duplass). Then there’s Dad and Mom (John Turturro and Edie Falco). Dad’s an advertising copywriter – but wants to be a playright — and Mom’s involved in municipal politics. Her inspirations are Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and Jennifer Aniston hairstyles. (It’s the 90s). They’re a happy family, though they never stop fighting.

But everything changes when Ali picks up a random floppy disc and puts it into her dad’s grey computer. She discovers a file, filled with erotic poetry he wrote, not for her mom but for someone named “C”. Is her father having an affair?

Dana, meanwhile, is in a comfortable relationship with her fiance, one that involves kinky sex in the shower and watching movies on TV. But at a party she runs into Nate, an old flame from college (Finn Wittrock). He’s clearly interested in her, despite the engagement ring. Which way will Dana go?

When Dana runs into Ali in an unexpected encounter the two sisters are forced to come clean, talk to each other and work out their family’s growing problems.

Landline is a good, funny and sometimes moving look back at family life in NY city in the 1990s. Characters are not caricatures, they’re quirky and realistic, and the acting is uniformly spot on. The 90s aspect is there as a gimmick, not central to the plot. The soundtrack is mainly from the songs from the 70s and 80s. What’s with the trench coats? And correct me if I’m wrong, but the NY City skyline seems already missing the Twin Towers. But other details — things like using a pay phone to check voice messages — are very realistic. Who knows …Maybe the 90s were kinda cool.

Brigsby Bear and Landline 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 with Kliph Nesteroff about Funny How? at Just For Laughs Film Fest and Viceland

Posted in comedy, Comics, documentary, Reality, TV by CulturalMining.com on July 28, 2017

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

Comedians and their audience share an unspoken contract. Standup comics provide the funny things, the audience supplies the laughs. But the unknown variable, the big question hovering at the back of the comic’s mind is always: Funny how?

Funny How? is the name of a new documentary series that takes you behind the scenes of stand-up comedy. It’s showing at the Just For Laughs Film Festival in Montreal, and is broadcast on TV on Viceland. Funny How is hosted by Kliph Nesteroff, the celebrated author, producer and comedy historian.

I reached Kliph in Montreal by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM in Toronto.

Kliph Nesteroff’s new series Funny How? premiers at the Just for Laughs Film Festival and will be broadcast on Viceland TV.

For information about Just For Laughs go to hahaha.com.

 

Lifestyles? Films reviewed: My Wonderful West Berlin, The Lavender Scare, Baywatch

Posted in Berlin, Breasts, comedy, documentary, LGBT, Protest by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

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

Inside Out is Toronto’s LGBT film festival showing dramas, comedies, documentaries and short films from around the world. There are events, free screenings and a chance to talk to the filmmakers and stars at most screenings.

This week I’m looking at two historical Inside Out documentaries about gay life and repression in two cities, Washington, D.C. and Berlin; and an action/comedy about straight life on a California beach.

My Wonderful West Berlin (Mein wunderbares West-Berlin)

Wri/Dir: Jochen Hick

After WWII, a defeated Germany was divided into East and West, its bombed-out former capital, Berlin, into Soviet and Western zones. But the pre-war laws still applied. Paragraph 175 — an anti-gay section of the German criminal code passed by the Nazis in 1935 — made many homosexual acts illegal. But gays and lesbians flocked there – Berlin represented freedom, counterculture and revolution.  And when the Berlin wall went up in the early 1969s Berlin served as a beacon located entirely within East Germany.

The districts of Shöneberg (and later Kreutzberg) became the centres of a queer counterculture. The movie follows the changing city from the 1950s to the 1990s. There’s the well-known drag shows and sex clubs, but also a vibrant theatre scene, and a city filled with gay artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers (including Fassbinder and Rosa von Praunheim). There were gay squatters who set up home inside abandoned buildings. In the 1960s groups of men formed “Male Communes”, living spaces where pairing-off into heterosexual-style marriages was considered bourgeois. Cooking, cleaning and sex were all shared. But could Marxist thought coexist with gay sex?

The movie covers the subculture of the 1950s, the leftist counterculture of the 60s, through the punk movement, the AIDS crisis, and the end of the cold war. Filmmakers played a crucial war in establishing gay culture. The Berlin Film Festival, (where this film recently premiered), is the first major film festival to have a gay film prize, the Teddy awards. My Wonderful West Berlin is a fantastic guide to Berlin’s history, illustrated with contemporary and historical interviews with the people who lived through it. It also includes eye-popping photos and footage of everything from safe-sex porn to Taxi Zum Klo. An excellent look at a complex city.

The Lavender Scare

Dir: Josh Howard

In the 1930s Washington, D.C. attracted educated people from across America to follow their ambitions and live openly gay or lesbian lives. WWII brought together men and women across the country with a new same-sex comradery. And the Kinsey Report (1948) estimated that close to a quarter of all men have had some same-sex experience. This all came to a sudden halt in the early 1950s. Politicians (like Senator Joe McCarthy) claimed communists were lurking in every dark alley. Party members, fellow travellers, socialists and liberals were purged en masse from government jobs and blacklisted for a decade. This Red Scares was followed by the lesser known “Lavender Scare”, an anti-gay purge that started in the 1950s but that lasted for 40 years. Civil servants were spied on by police and J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Anyone seen in “suspect” bars, observed as having habits different from the mainstream or even “gay” patterns of speech, was interrogated and forced to name names. Each person accused of being gay, lesbian or bi had to name five other suspects, who were also arrested. The excuse was that LGBT people were vulnerable to blackmail — since homosexual acts were illegal, and therefore prone to act as spies for the Soviet Union. But in fact, there was not a single proven incident of LGBT government employees blackmailed into becoming traitors. Instead, thousands of people lost their jobs, had passports revoked, with many driven to suicide.

The movie follows mainly white, middle-class, educated, professionals in Washington — navy brass, diplomats, post office workers — both men and women, and how the Lavender Scare changed their lives. The film takes a mainstream, middle-of-the-road look at LGBT politics. It covers an early gay and lesbian advocacy group known as the Mattachine Society, and the founder of its DC branch Frank Kameny. At protests, he ordered men to wear suits and ties and women dresses, to demonstrate that they were just like “ordinary” people. (Trans not welcome here.) The Lavender Scare is a mainstream, suitable-for-television look at US government persecution of gays and lesbians and the effect it had on their lives. It’s lavishly illustrated with snapshots and period footage.

Baywatch

Dir: Seth Gordon

Mitch (played by wrestler-turned-actor The Rock) is a huge, egotistical lifeguard adored by everyone on the beach. Along with two women, CJ and Stephanie (Kelly Rohrbach, Ilfenesh Hadera), the Baywatch team save lives on a daily basis. They also function as an unofficial police force, patrolling the waves for drug pushers and petty thieves. Today’s the day they choose three new rookies out of the hundreds who apply. This year’s choice? Summer (Alexandra Daddario), an athletic young woman, Ronnie (Jon Bass), an out-of-shape computer geek, and Brody. Brody (Zac Efron) is a former olympic swimmer with pop-idol good looks, who rides a vintage motorcycle. He’s also impulsive, brash and selfish, and prone to excess drinking.

Brody and Mitch do not get along.

Then bad things start happening. Dead bodies wash up on shore along with packets of a designer drug. And there’s a new dog in town, Victoria, a rich and ruthless villain (Priyanka Chopra). Is she somehow connected to these crimes? Can the lifeguards stop corruption at City Hall? And can the Baywatch team just learn to get along?

Baywatch is an action/comedy based on the hit 90s TV show. There are a few inside references to the original version, along with chase scenes, rescues and shootouts. But let’s be real; this movie is really about boobs and dicks on the beach. Virtually every scene involves close ups of unzipped one-piece swim suits. And the penis jokes never end. I’m not exaggerating. There’s one scene involving Ronnie’s erection stuck in a wooden lounge chair that lasted for 5-10 minutes.

Is Baywatch funny? Not very. Is it exciting? Not really. Is it surprising. Not at all. Men get all the punchlines, while women provide the scenery. But did I hate it? No. How could I? It’s just like sitting on a beach, watching all the people walk past.

Baywatch opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Lavender Scare and My Wonderful West Berlin are playing at the Inside Out Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for tickets and showtimes.

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

Family relations. Films reviewed: The Second Time Around, Wilson, Personal Shopper

Posted in comedy, Drama, Family, Fashion, France, Supernatural, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on March 24, 2017

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

Family ties can span generations. This week I’m looking at movies about family relationships. There’s a grandmother looking for love, a middle-aged misanthrope looking for his daughter, and a young woman in Paris looking for her twin brother… even though she knows he’s dead.

The Second Time Around

Dir: Leon Marr

Katherine (Linda Thorson) is an elegant, silver-haired widow who loves the opera. She dreams of someday seeing a performance at La Scala. She lives with Helen, her grouchy daughter (Laura de Carteret), Helen’s husband, and her granddaughter Sarah, an art student (Alexis Harrison). But when she breaks her hip, she is placed in a retirement home for rehab and recovery. It’s a huge change. Up to now, she has always lived in a family home: with her parents, then her husband and finally her daughter. Not to worry, her temporary home is full of new friends.

There she meets Isaac (Stuart Margolin), a gruff and grumpy old man who complains about everything. A former tailor, he smokes cigars, plays poker with his buddies, and is never far from a mickey of rye. But when she catches him unobserved, mending clothes for a friend while softly singing a yiddish tune, she discovers Isaac is actually a pretty nice guy. Sparks fly and their relationship develops… perhaps to something bigger?

The Second Time Around is a gentle, low-key drama with the feel of a high school movie of the week. Retirement homes apparently have clubs, cliques, lunchroom gossip, even a senior prom — in a place where everyone’s a senior. It also deals with a slew of real life issues, including death, disabilities, depression… as well as passionate sex. And it features Canadian TV stars from the past half century: Louis Del Grande, Paul Soles, Jayne Eastwood and the late Don Francks in his last movie role. I just felt it hard to connect with what was, essentially, The Retirees of Degrassi Street.

Wilson

Dir: Craig Johnson (Based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes)

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a middle-aged man who lives in a tiny house, with a small dog, in an unremarkable city. He has two personality traits that don’t go together. He loves social contact and will talk to strangers; but he also hates people and thinks the world is going to hell. He’s an opinionated, overbearing misanthrope who swears like a sailor. When his old man dies and he realizes he’s all alone in this world, he climbs into his wood-panelled station wagon and sets out to find his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern). She was a pregnant, drug-addicted sex worker when she left him 17 years earlier. Last thing he heard she got an abortion and moved far, far away. But Wilson doesn’t use computers, smartphones or social networks. So he doesn’t realize she lives in the next county over, and that all those years ago, she put their baby up for adoption. Now they team up to find the 17- year-old. But can a misbegotten family hold together based only on rude behaviour patterns and DNA?

Wilson is a very funny, dark comedy about a man looking for his place in a world he doesn’t like. It’s based on the graphic novel by the amazing cartoonist Daniel Clowes, who brought us works like Ghost World, and Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. It’s not your typical slapstick comedy. Rather, it’s a hilariously sad look at the fate of unlikeable outcasts and what they can learn.

Personal Shopper

Wri/Dir: Olivier Assayas

Maureen (Kristin Stewart) is a personal shopper for a super celebrity named Kyra. Her boyfriend lives in Oman, and her twin brother is dead. She roams the aisles of haut couture houses choosing sequinned gowns, leather harnesses and priceless baubles for her boss. She carries blank cheques to pay for it all but earns little money herself. She puts up with Kyra’s tyrannical behaviour because she needs to stay in Paris until she receives a sign from her twin brother. Lewis had the same heart defect she suffers from and they both vowed who ever died first would communicate with the other.

She spends the night in the spooky, empty house where Lewis used to live, to see if he would talk to her. Instead she sees a troubled spirit that scratches crosses into the furniture. Later she starts receiving anonymous texts on her phone, by someone who seems to know her every thought. It pays for hotel rooms and sends her cryptic paper notes. Is the mysterious stalker a man or a woman, living or dead? And should she be excited… or terrified?

Personal Shopper is a great new drama – in English, but set in Paris – from French director Olivier Assayas, who recently brought us Clouds of Sils Maria. This one’s even better. It neatly combines theosophy and spiritualism with high fashion and celebrity culture. Maureen bridges the two sides. I like Kristin Stewart – my main problem with her is she’s not a great speaker. She tends to mumble and always speaks the same way. Luckily in this movie she relies less on her voice, and more on her body, her face, her movement. She broods and she panics. She poses with her naked torso at a fashion house, or curls up into a ball in a haunted mansion. Stewart is the movie, and she does a good job of it. I really liked this movie.

Personal Shopper, Wilson and The Second Time Around all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Canadian Film Fest is on now, and Sundance Now a curated indie, doc and art house channel — starts streaming in Canada today.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Sarah Kolasky and Adam Garnet Jones about Great Great Great

Posted in Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Romance, Secrets, Sex, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on March 17, 2017

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

Lauren and Tom have been together for five years. Lauren is smart, sexy and successful, while unemployed Tom is a mild-mannered homebody who really loves her. They’re a perfect couple… until two things happen. First Lauren’s parents divorce. Her mom says a good marriage isn’t good enough – she deserves a great one. Then Lauren discovers her new boss is Dave, a man she had a passionate tryst with years before she ever met Tom. Dave is older and aggressive; Tom is faithful but wimpy. Should she stick to brunches and Lego with Tom? Or go for 50 Shades of Dave. Which relationship is just good enough, and which one will be great, great, great?

Great Great Great is a new feature, a bittersweet comedy drama, shot in Toronto and playing next Thursday at the Canadian Film Fest. It’s co-written by Adam Garnet Jones and Sarah Kolasky. Adam also directed the award-winning film Fire Song – I spoke to him on this show in 2015. Sarah who plays Lauren, is an accomplished producer, writer and sketch comic from Toronto.

I spoke to Adam Garnet Jones via telephone from Winnipeg and Sarah Kolasky in studio at CIUT.

We talk about sex, relationships, nudity, Toronto, Daniel Beirne, comedy… and more!

GREAT GREAT GREAT won Best Feature at the 2017 Canadian Film Fest.

Heimat Films. Movies reviewed: Schultze Gets the Blues, Window Horses

Posted in Animation, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Germany, Iran, Movies, Music, Poetry by CulturalMining.com on March 10, 2017

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

Heimat is the German word for home, homeland and fatherland… with hints of blood and soil. It’s also the name of a particular postwar film genre. Backed with strong American encouragement it helped Germans forget their economic problems and troublesome past, and look blithely forward toward a better tomorrow. Heimat films were made in southern Germany and popular in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland, depicting traditional small towns filled with girls in blonde pigtails. Heimat films are having a comeback in contemporary Germany, perhaps in response to Conservative governments and feelings of turmoil and insecurity. They concentrate on a mixture of traditional, homogeneous, smalltown Germany, so-called authentic culture, and a longing for a simpler past. Toronto’s Goethe Films: Heimat Now series is running until March 14th.

This week I’m looking at movies about home. There’s a comedy about German man whose accordion leads him to zydeco; and an animated feature about a Canadian woman whose poems lead her to Shiraz.

Schultze Gets the Blues

Wri/Dir: Michael Schorr

Schultze (Horst Krause) is a miner in a small town Germany. This town is so small that the radio traffic report is just a long pause. The village is dominated by a railroad crossing, a motorcross track and an enormous slag pile, expelled from the mine where Schultze works with his two friends Jurgen (Harald Warmbrunn) and Manfred (Karl Fred Muller). But when the three men retire they find they have nothing to do. Chess games end in fights, and trips to the local pub means just the same old faces, over and over.

At least Schultze has his garden gnomes and his trusty accordion. Like his father before him, he’s been entertaining townsfolk with his polkas for two generations. They’re even planning on sending a cultural emissary to its twin city in Texas. Nothing ever changes, until one day, out of nowhere, he hears accordion music on his radio that isn’t quite right. It disturbs him. It’s not a polka, it’s faster, jumpier, and catchier. What is this Amerikanische music? It has entered Schultze’s brain and will not go away. Locals listen in horror and shout the N-word at him. So Schultze sets off for the swamps and bayous of America in search of Zydeco. And he finds the people in small town Texas a whole lot like the ones he left back home.

Schultze Gets the Blues is a simple, endearing comedy about a big-bellied man looking for meaning in music. I have to admit watching this movie felt, at first, like watching paint dry. I guess I’m a city boy used to a faster pace. But once I adjusted to the slower small-town rhythms, it was funnier, fascinating, almost profound. I ended up liking it.

Window Horses

Wri/Dir: Ann Marie Fleming

Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh) is a young woman with pigtails who lives in Vancouver but dreams of Paris. Her mom died, and her dad abandoned her when she was just a little girl so now she lives with her kind but overprotective grandparents.

She works in a fast food joint, and loves poetry, berets and the romance of far-off France. She writes down the words that come to her as she strums at her guitar, and publishes a collection of these poems at a vanity press. Imagine her surprise when she’s invited to a poetry festival far away. Not in Paris, France, but in Shiraz, Iran. With her grandparents consent she arrives there, a Chinese-looking Canadian dressed in a black chador, the most conservative type of Iranian dress, a combination black hijab and full-length gown.

At the poetry festival, she seems out of place. Iran is a land of poetry and Shiraz its poetic capital. At poetry slams she tries to understand what she hears, but the poems in Farsi, German and Chinese evade her. Gradually she meets people who had heard of her… through her father. Far from abandoning her, she discovers her dad was forced to leave her and kept away from her by outside forces. Not only that, but he was Iranian, loved poetry and once lived in Shiraz. His story, and its connection to Rosie May is gradually revealed through the music, the poetry and the people who seek her out. But will she ever discover the truth about her Iranian father?

Window Horses is a visually and musically beautiful movie, portraying a naïve Canadian woman exposed to a colourful and culturally rich country. This is an animated film with simple drawings. Rosie is a stick figure with two lines for eyes, who almost disappears in her Chador. Others have faces decorated with oblong jowls and curlicue eyes. Animation shifts from traditional two dimensional figures to sepia -coloured 3-D frescoes. Voices are provided by Sandra Oh as Rosie, with Don McKellar, Ellen Page and Shohreh Aghdashloo in other roles.

I like this movie.

Window Horses starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Schultze Gets the Blues is playing at the Heimat Now series at the Goethe Institute in Toronto.

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

Lions and Lambs. Films reviewed: Handsome Devil, Before I Fall, Bitter Harvest, Table 19

Posted in 1930s, Bullying, comedy, Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Gay, Ireland, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2017

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

March came in like a lamb, followed by a pride of lions, roaring at the gate. I’m talking about the spring film festival season, which is on now with films from Ireland and more.

This week I’m looking at movies with lions and lambs: a few comedies plus one tragedy. There’s friendship in Ireland, tragedy in Ukraine, fantasy in the northwest and a wedding in the midwest.

handsome devilHandsome Devil

Wri/Dir: John Butler

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is a skinny redhead at a boy’s boarding school in Ireland. He likes reading and indie music, and dresses in hip rocker gear. Popular kid, right? Wrong. He’s bullied, reviled and labeled as gay just because he’s not into rugby. and rugby is the school handsomedevil_04sport.

Enter Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) his new roommate. Conor was kicked out of his last school for fighting. Is he an outcast? Just the opposite. He’s handsome, athletic and on the pitch he’s both nimble and brutal. He quickly becomes the king of rugby, a handsomedevil_05veritable idol at his new school. He’s even nice to Ned, and stops the bullies — especially one called Weasel — from beating him up. Has Ned found a friend?

Things get even better when a new English teacher, Mr Sherry (Andrew Scott) encourages the kids to broaden their interests beyond just rugger, to include music and literature. But that’s sacrilege, and the coach won’t have it. He decides to break up Ned and Conor’s friendship whatever it takes.

Handsome devil is a funny and moving coming-of-age story about an unexpected friendship. I like this one.

before-i-fallBefore I Fall

Dir: Ry Russo-Young

It’s a big day for Sam (Zoey Deutch), a teenaged girl in the Pacific northwest. It’s Valentine’s day and she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. Her dad and mom (Jennifer Beals), and her cute little sister who likes origami, are all nice but they just don’t get it. It’s her posse, her three best friends, that she shares everything with: Ally – rich but insecure; Elody – sexually halston-sage-medalion-rahimi-cynthy-wu-zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallaudacious; and Lindsay (Halston Sage). She’s the alpha dog, the honey badger: she always keeps her cool; just don’t get on her bad side.

Her school has special traditions for Cupid Day. All the girls (except the class lesbian) receive messages from their admirers. While the teacher drones on about the myth of Sisyphus, Sam gets baskets of roses delivered to her desk… including one _X6A7999.JPGfrom Kent (Logan Miller), a geeky poet in her class that she ignores. In the café, the four friends relentlessly mock Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) a blonde woman with frizzy hair. She’s the school pariah… are Sam and her friends bullies? That night at the party, things spiral out if control, with a breakup, a drunken fight and a terrible car crash.

But the next morning it’s a new day and everything’s back to normal. Until Sam realizes… it’s the same day as yesterday! Her little sister’s origami, the rose from Kent, Juliet in the cafeteria, and the fight at the party. Like Sysiphus, she’s caught in a cosmic, karmic loop, and she can’t escape. No zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallmatter what she tries to change, she still wakes up each morning on Valentine’s Day. Can Sam right all her wrongs in a single day, or will she be stuck to repeat them forever?

Before I Fall, is a fantasy set in the present day. There have been others about people caught in a repeating loop – Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code – but this is the first I’ve seen from a female point of view. Like the Twilight series, it’s set in the Pacific North West but without its unbearable soppiness. This is a good YA movie.

15194340_949283011838918_4071947400932947185_oBitter Harvest

Dir: George Mendeluk

It’s the 1930s in a small village in Ukraine. Yuri (Max Irons) is a young farmer who is also a skilled artist. He’s the grandson of a great swordsman named Ivan (Terrence Stamp), and is in love with his childhood sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks). They paint, frolic in the woods and attend church regularly. All is going well until the Russian Bolsheviks come to town, led by a man with a scar across his cheek. Sinister 15895153_988096897957529_6383476820894374352_nSergei (Tamer Hassan) is dressed in black leather from head to toe and carries a whip. Sign this paper, he orders, and collectivize those farms! Your farm, your wheat, even you belong to the state now! The people refuse and chase Sergei out of the village. But he will return.

After hiding the treasured town icon of St Yuri, his namesake sets off to Kiev carrying his grandfathers prized knife. In the city, he studies art and spends time with his best friend, Mykola. Mykola also happens to be the head of the Ukrainian Communist 15319318_967538840013335_3644678351628886805_nParty, uniting Ukrainian nationalism with socialism. But he doesn’t realize that in Moscow, Stalin has other plans at work. Stalin despises Ukrainians and vows to kill them all. Party members are purged, Yuri is sent to prison, and Stalin, with evil subordinates like Sergei, send all the wheat to Mother Russia, leaving Ukraine with a terrible 15941277_990987597668459_5998812033080133428_nfamine killing millions. A Bitter Harvest indeed.

Bitter Harvest is the story of a Ukraine village during the Holodomor, the horrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. It’s an important part of history, rarely portrayed, that deserves to be shown on the big screen. This movie, unfortunately, doesn’t quite cut it. While it includes authentic-looking Ukrainian costumes, locations and folklore, the rollicking story is just not told very well. The movie is clunky and Kludgy, unintentionally campy and melodramatic, and full of comic-book villains. It lacks the gravity it deserves. Bitter Harvest isn’t bitter enough.

table-19-posterTable 19

Dir: Jeffrey Blitz

Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is a grudging guest at her best friend’s wedding party at a lakeside hotel in Michigan. Grudging because her boyfriend Teddy – the bride’s brother – dumped her. Blonde, bearded Teddy (played by Wyatt Russell, looking like a younger and dumber Owen Wilson), is best man but Eloise has been demoted from maid of honour at the centre table to the dreaded table 19.

Table 19 is a veritable land of Lost Toys, the cast offs of the wedding party. Bina and Jerry (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) a bickering middle aged couple; Rezno (Tony Revolori) a socially-awkward adolescent; elderly Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny; and gangly ex-con 13123270_780360932099535_7819038637567418602_oWalter (Stephen Merchant). Eloise is mortified by her table mates and just plain depressed. But things start to look up when a suave and handsome stranger, named Huck, arrives. They dance and kiss before disappearing into the mist like a male Cinderella. But when jealous Teddy confronts her, mayhem ensues, resulting in a ruined wedding cake. The Table 19ers, retreat to their hotel rooms to clean up, and their they learn that they’re a lot more fun than they expected. Together they vow to find love for Eloise, a first date for Rezno, a reunion between Jo the Nanny and the bride, and more.

Table 19 is a gentle social comedy that shows that, once you get to know them, even outcasts are real human beings with foibles of their own. The script is co-written by the Duplass brothers, known for their indie movies about quirky oddballs. It’s tame for a comedy, with a few too many pratfalls, but it’s also touching, with a cute, romantic ending. Hendricks is terrific as Eloise, and the rest of Table 19 all keep their characters from falling into dumb stereotypes.

Table 19, Before I Fall, and Bitter Harvest all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Handsome Devil is playing this weekend at Toronto Irish film fest. Go to toirishfilmfest.com for info.

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

Whence America? Films reviewed: Paterson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

Posted in African-Americans, College, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Racism, Slavery, US by CulturalMining.com on February 10, 2017

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

The recent executive order known as the Muslim Ban has made the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens and residents uncertain. So uncertain that some refugee claimants are fleeing the Land of the Free, seeking sanctuary across the frozen border in Canada.

Whence America? Where is that country heading?

This week, I’m looking at two movies that give a more optimistic look at life in the United States. There’s a new documentary about Historically Black Colleges, and a quirky drama about the state of life in a post-industrial town.

spelman-college-1964Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities

Dir: Stanley Nelson

Did you know that under slavery, it was actually illegal for African Americans to learn to read and write? And that even slave owners – who could beat, sexually assault or even murder their slaves with impunity — were legally forbidden from educating them? It was in the best interest of the Government and slave owner to keep black Americans ignorant, docile, and illiterate.

To counter this, after emancipation and the civil war, African Americans realized education was the most important way to rise up from slavery. The first colleges were opened based on the writings of scholars like Frederick hbcu-students-from-c-1900-graduates-of-atlanta-baptist-college-and-spelman-seminary-from-the-institutions-that-were-later-known-as-morehouse-college-and-spelman-collegeDouglas. And like Douglas, the first students were born into slavery. Early education efforts were aimed at skilled trades or religion, but as the movement grew it shifted to academic subjects.

Two schools of thought emerged. Southerner Booker T. Washington believed in a business-oriented outlook, centred on entrepreneurship but was opposed to any protests or political action confronting the status quo. W.E.B. Du Bois took the opposite stance, and led the movement toward equal rights.

Many of the early colleges were run by whites, who imposed harsher disciplinary policies on black students students.

bp_standingfedbldg_seattle-e1401981658505Fisk University harshly segregated the students by sex and forbade social interaction. This led to a protest and an organized walkout until the school President resigned.

By the 1930s and 40s, the teachers and administration positions were increasingly filled by blacks, many of whom had been educated at these same colleges and universities. The US was still strictly segregated under so-called separate but equal laws. So all the best and the brightest students flocked to these schools, becoming the new black middle class. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers and judges all passed through these schools, including renowned Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Howard University Law School).

By the the 1950s and ’60s these schools also became a hotbed of black-led political movements. Civil rights tell_them_we_are_rising_the_story_of_black_colleges_and_universities_xlgactions — like sit-ins at segregated lunch counters — were spearheaded by students at black universities..

100 years after it was a crime for blacks to read or write, the Brown v Board of Education decision promised to end segregation in schools. But this had an unexpected negative impact on black colleges. With white universities now open to black students, there was a brain drain of top applicants to ivy league schools.

Today there are still over 100 black colleges and universities, some thriving, but others crumbling for lack of funds.

Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the first documentary to tell the full history of this important but not-widely-known institution. It’s narrated by voiceovers and talking heads: historians and former students and professors from these schools. It’s beautifully illustrated with period photos and film clips touching all aspects of black college life, including educational,  political movements and social: fraternities, and sororities, sports and music.

It’s by director Stanley Nelson who also made the excellent The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

04e8c932-9d19-4a19-8e05-12ebd8db89f2Paterson

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver who lives with his girlfriend, Laura, in a small house in Paterson, NJ. He lives a routine life. He carries a lunchpail to work each morning, and a notebook to write down any poems that might occur to him. He eats lunch in a tiny national park. After work he talks with Laura over dinner. And each night he walks his dog to a neighbourhood bar and stays PATERSON_D25_0077.ARWfor a drink or two, chewing the fat.

Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is an artist who remembers her dreams. She covers everything around her in rough swaths of black and white. Clothes, chairs, curtains, cupcakes… their home is her canvas. Except for his basement where he goes to tinker with things and think. The two of them have a symbiotic relationship. he is the observer, passively PATERSON_D19_0011.ARWtaking in what he sees and hears around him. She is the dynamic one, planning their future, and launching business projects that may or may not succeed.

The town of Paterson serves as the third character in the movie. It’s the first city in North America designed as an industrial centre powered by a series of 18th century canals and mills. It has become an artistic hub for New Yorkers who can’t afford the high rents of that city. Jarmusch includes these brick factories and waterfalls in all his outdoor shots. What he doesn’t show is the parts of town with a large and vibrant middle eastern community there. Instead they’re represented by Laura, played by a Persian American actor. (Paterson is also the place where Trump falsely claimed Muslims were dancing on their rooftops during 9-11.) Maybe it’s because I’ve visited Paterson the town, but I was really tickled by this movie.

Paterson is a richly minimalist film that leaves you feeling good about the state of the world.

Paterson opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is playing on February 15th at the opening night of the Toronto Black Film Festival. Go to torontoblackfilm.com for more information.

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

Destinies and Destinations. Films Reviewed: Toni Erdmann, Gold, The Red Turtle PLUS Isaac Julien

Posted in Animation, Belgium, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Drama, Family, Finance, Germany, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 27, 2017

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

British filmmaker and artist Isaac Julien has two film installations on three screens each at the ROM, that follow parallel impressionistic journeys. One with migrants ijs105_western-union-series-no5_ghosts_they-build-their-lives_2007travelling from North Africa to southern Europe, the other following Matthew A Henson the African American explorer heading to the North Pole with Robert Peary.

So this week I’m looking at movies about destinies and destinations. There’s a prospector looking for Gold in Indonesia, a man stranded on a deserted island, and a German trickster in Romania.

c6006c5e-b388-4432-a637-9499a701e432Toni Erdmann

Dir: Maren Ade

Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is an elderly man who lives in Germany with his little dog. He still teaches but his main hobby is practical jokes, especially elaborate routines with him at the centre. He always carries a set of crooked teeth to slip over his own for the shocking effect.

Winfried has an adult daughter named Ines (Sandra Hüller). She’s in her thirties who dresses conservatively, with plain blonde hair. She works for a dda3ca6c-37d5-4322-8070-aeb2af566f08multinational corporation in Bucharest Romania. Ines is an uptight, by-the-book careerist, rising quickly to the top levels of her company. She’s also brimming with angst, loneliness and depression.

Who shows up at her corporate 01533d11-1237-4a24-9475-0bdfe53eed02office? It’s Winfried her dad, on a surprise visit. She loves him, but finds him awkward and uncomfortable to deal with, so she’s relieved when he leaves. Only he doesn’t. He’s still in Bucharest, but in character, complete with fake teeth, Richard Branson wig and dark suit. He says his name is Toni Erdmann, and, he shows up at every party, meeting and get together. And to Ines’s dismay, he’s very popular at her workplace. She has to play along with his joke or risk her job and career.646540f8-a2a1-47f6-a981-99169e9c5cfa

But the story gets really interesting when Ines starts to pick up on her dad’s playful nature and learns to relax, laugh and let herself go.

This is a long movie – almost three hours – and it’s a comedy but it’s never boring. It reveals the story at its own pace, and — no spoilers! — but it does include a nudist party, impromptu karaoke, and an enormous mythical yeti. Great movie!

bryce-dallas-howard-and-matthew-mcconaughey-in-goldGold

Dir: Stephen Gaghan

It’s the 1980s. Kenny Wells (Matt McConaughey) is a fourth generation prospector who lives in Reno, Nevada. His grandpa headed west to get rich on silver and gold. Prospectors say they can smell gold a mile away. But Wells seems to have lost that magic touch. Now he works in a cramped office, and he takes meetings at a rundown bar. Each of his investment schemes promise riches but GOLDend up in ruin. And his charm is in the eyes of the beholder. He’s balding with a pot belly, greasy hair and a snuggle tooth. His girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard) still believes in him, but investors don’t.

Until he hears about a man from South America with a new theory. GOLDMichael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) is a dashing prospector with an air of mystery about him. He says there’s a ring of fire in Southeast Asia loaded with precious metals from ancient meteors. Wells and Acosta venture into the jungles of Indonesia looking for treasure. And just when Wells is about to give up, just when he is on deaths door with malaria… Acosta strikes gold. It’s GOLDthe motherload! Core samples say it’s the richest gold mine on the face of the earth. Now they need to face investors, Wall Street brokers, mining moguls and tinpot dictators to hold onto their claims and to make billions. Can Wells keep his indignation and ego under control? Will his relationship with Kay – and his bromance with Acosta — endure under pressure? And can they survive the dog eat dog world of high finance?

Though loosely based on a real story, Gold is strictly fiction. The movie doesn’t deal with things like environmental degradation or horrible work conditions that can accompany mining. And it’s a bit long. But it’s also a fun and fascinating story of the ups and downs of prospecting.

13340241_233264913726993_7447487803385711803_oThe Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)

Dir: Michael Dudok de Wit

A man is awakened on a beach by a crab skittering past. What happened? Where is he? He’s stranded on an island somewhere, a rock with sparkling white sand and pristine blue water. Exploring the island, he finds a lush bamboo forest on one side, a clear freshwater pond in the middle, and at the far end a high rocky precipice. Huge fruits hang from trees, 13415485_234005173652967_7596049063021961426_oready to pick and the beaches teem with fish, and clams. No one around to keep him company, just a wailing seal, fluttering birds and those annoying little crabs that follow him everywhere. Clearly he must escape.

14362673_288284511558366_2379912415219863982_oHe fashions a raft out of bamboo poles tied together with vines and sets off into the waves. Before long something enormous smashes raft to pieces from below. A shark? A whale? He can’t tell, but each attempt to escape the island ends in the same way… disaster. He unnamedfinally discovers the source: a huge red turtle. Eventually the turtle goes aground and walks on the beach, and in a fit of anger, the man flips it on its back and beats it with a stick. Feeling guilty, he tries, without success, to nurse it back to health. But the shell cracks open revealing a beautiful woman inside with long, red hair.

13316884_231361350584016_4940529898495944572_oThe red turtle is a beautiful animated film about a man and his family who form a symbiotic relationship with the sea. it’s produced by Japan’s famous Ghibli Studios – which may explain the Urashima Taro references, a classic story about a man and a turtle. But the look of the movie is purely northern European – the characters have dots for eyes, just like Tintin. This is a beautiful and poignant animated movie. I really liked this one.

Toni Erdmann has been nominated for best foreign film, and The Red Turtle for best animated film Oscar. Along with Gold, they all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Isaac Julien’s Other Destinies is now screening at the Royal Ontario Museum. Go to rom.on.ca for details.

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

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

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

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

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

Tampopo posterTampopo

Dir: Itami Juzo

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

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

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

Sugar Mountain posterSugar Mountain

Dir: Richard Gray

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

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

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

14682206_1781862548770120_1903229054794222162_oOffice Christmas Party

Dir: Josh Gordon & Will Speck

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

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

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

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

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

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