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.

 

Unexpected Gifts. Movies Reviewed – The Gift, Fantastic 4 PLUS Canadian Films coming to TIFF

Posted in Canada, Comics, Cultural Mining, Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2015

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

August is vacation time, and everyone likes bringing back something to remind them of their trip. Then there are the souvenirs – tape worm, STDs – that are best avoided. This week I’m looking at two movies about unwanted souvenirs. One’s a psychological thriller about a couple who return to his home town to find it loaded with baggage and unwanted gifts; the other is a superhero flic about young scientists who visit a foreign dimension and return home with unexpected gifts.

8qWV3l_1507-TIFF40-8484_o3_8663841_1436473920But first a look at Canadian Movies premiering at TIFF.

Canadian movies get short shriff at movie theatres, so TIFF is the place to see them. Here are some of the ones that look really good. I haven’t seen any of them yet – these are just my first impressions. Did you know there were riots in Montreal in the 1960s when student activists took over? Mina Shum (who directed Double Happiness), has made a documentary called 9th Floor about an uprising at Concordia University by students from Trinidad over incidents of racism at the school. Another documentary looks at a very explosive contemporary issue: it’s called Guantanamo’s Child, and it’s about Canadian Omar Khadr and what happened him there. He was accused of war aaa_maddin_4__photo_by_dualityphoto-comcrimes at age 15, and has spent most of his life at the notorious prison. The movie has Omar Khadr tell his own story, so this could be really interesting.

One of Canada’s best and totally uncategorizable director Guy Maddin is bringing The Forbidden director_igor_drljacaRoom, co-directed by Evan Johnson. Apparently, it’s something about cavedwellers, sailors and submarines, but whatever it is I know it’ll be dreamlike and mind-blowingly strange.

There are also films by Quebec’s Philippe Felardeau and Toronto’s own Bruce McDonald, as well as two great directors I interviewed in the past: the offbeat, hip Kazik Radwansky offers an awkward social drama called How Heavy this Hammer; and avante-garde and pensive Igor Drljaca gives us the Waiting Room about an actor with memories of the Yugoslav civil war.

314434K1k_TheGift_Josh_NoText_1d47ba47-d825-e511-a2f6-d4ae527c3b65_lgThe Gift
Dir: Joel Edgerton

Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple with no kids who just moved to California. He’s in security software sales, she does interior design. . He got transferred to his company’s HQ, that happens to be in his home town. They move into a glass-encased home, visible from four sides. It’s a fresh start — especially for Robyn, who is getting over a miscarriage. Simon is a sympathetic husband but more than a bit condescending.

They run into a guy named Gordo (director Joel Edgerton) who GIFT_SG_045_f65a4b15-f4ed-e411-8342-d4ae527c3b65_lgremembers Simon from his High School days. Back then, Simon was in the In Crowd — quarterback, cheerleaders. Like the Simon Says game — everything Simon wanted Simon got. But the socially awkward Gordo was a bit of an outcast. And something happened, way back, that greatly affected Gordo’s life. But he’s willing to let bygones be bygones — let’s be friends.

GIFT_SG_040_f55a4b15-f4ed-e411-8342-d4ae527c3b65_lgRobyn feels lonely and isolated in her new home — no friends, family or work: nothing to do. So she’s cheered up when Gordo starts stopping by their house — always during the day — to drop off elaborately wrapped gifts. How wonderful — you must come from dinner! But Simon is disturbed by the whole thing and tries to nip it in the bud. What does Gordo the Weirdo want with his wife?

The tension begins to escalate with strange, almost bizarre incidents happening almost daily. IsDF-06121RC_e6f5ca37-b508-e511-a207-d4ae527c3b65_lg there a stalker at large? Robyn feels vulnerable, under attack… But who is really to blame? She decides to investigate on her own, and uncovers some unexpected things. Who should she side with – Gordo or Simon?

The gift is an excellent psychological thriller. Its point of view shifts among the three characters. The acting is great. Bateman is a self-centred alpha dog with a smarmy undertone, Hall as the vulnerable but not helpless woman, with Edgerton as the wildcard — persecuted victim or scheming psychopath? This is a good, taut thriller.

11058662_884247218299276_93324967550151567_oFantastic Four
Dir: Josh Trank

Reed is a chubby kid with coke bottle glasses from small town NY. He’s a science nerd known for his late night garage explosions. He’s working on a machine — a teleporter that can move things between places, times and dimensions. Kids laugh and teachers scoff at his ballpoint pen scribbles. Only Ben, a poor kid who lives in a junkyard, believes in him. He lends him a hand finding the needed missing metal parts. A few 10841960_875785619145436_888880065447110432_oyears later, they build a prototype but are kicked out of a science fair for breaking glass. They are discovered by a scientist, and his daughter Sue Storm. They recognize his genius and whisk him off to a top secret lab in Manhattan run by the secretive Baxter Foundation. Ben says goodbye and goes back to his junkyard.

Now it’s Reed’s chance to build it on a grand scale. Together with pretty egghead sue. They are joined by her brother Johnny, a hot-tempered street racer, and Victor Von Doom, a cynical and pessimistic genius whose attempts at his own teleporter were unsuccessful. And behind the scenes, watching very closely, are arms dealers, the military, the government and oil companies all of whom see teleportation as the potential solution to all their problems. Before they can get their paws on 11175034_892562207467777_4643096208375631222_nthe invention, they decide to try it themselves. Reed invites Junkyard Ben, one of the original inventors, to join in their maiden voyage. But something goes wrong on the spiky, barren planet they visit. Victor is held back by a greenish energy, and the other three — plus Sue in the home base– are all weirdly affected by this strange energy source. Reed becomes stretchy guy, Ben a gigantic rock covered Thing, Johnnie a flamer, and Sue can disappear in an invisible bubble. Then they all wake up in a military prison What will happen to this strange11188216_892562220801109_6393569219790851588_n group? Can they handle their new powers And what about Victor?

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I love the smalltown, working class feel to it. It’s like Spielberg’s E.T or J.J. Abrams’ Super 8. The young cast — Reed (Miles Teller) Sue Storm (Kate Mara) Johnnie Storm (Michael B Jordan) Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) Victor (Toby Kebell) – are all great. It makes sense to eliminate Reed’s greying temples and youth-ify all the characters. And if you view it as a story of their origins –a comic book standard – it makes sense. But the problem is it leaves out the most interesting part; the period where they adjust to the changes and figure out how to use and what to do with their new superpowers. They literally spend two seconds on that and then it’s”one year later…”! What a waste.

Still, it’s a virtual masterpiece… when compared with past attempts at movie versions of the Fantastic Four.

The Gift and Fantastic Four both open today in Toronto, check your local listings; and for more information about Canadian movies coming to TIFF go to tiff.net. 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 Eric San (Kid Koala) about Nufonia Must Fall premiering at Luminato in June.

Posted in Animation, Canada, Comics, Cultural Mining, Live Movies, Movies, Pop Art, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 2014

KidKoala_1 Photo Corinne MerrellHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 fm.

When you’re shaped like a tin can with headphones I see possible troubles. And if you’re in love with a girl who doesn’t have time for silly love songs,Nufonia Image 4 KK what’s a cartoon robot to do? The answers lie in a new performance that combines comics, projected film images, puppets and music — both live and recorded.

It’s called Nufonia Must Fall, based on the graphic novel of the same name. It was created Nufonia Image 5 KKby Canadian DJ, musician and cartoonist Kid Koala. It’s having its world premier at Toronto’s Luminato festival in June. I spoke to Kid Koala, a.k.a. Erik San, by telephone in Banff Alberta, about Nufonia (its music, design, genesis, inspiration, and technique), nostalgia, K.K. Barrett, found art, Mellotrons, robots, vinyl, “live movies”, imperfection, high tech vs low-tech… and more.

Exotica. Movies Reviewed: Hotel Lux, The Rabbi’s Cat, To the Wonder

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Africa, Algeria, Animation, Berlin, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Comics, Germany, Kremlin, Romance, Uncategorized, US, USSR by CulturalMining.com on April 19, 2013

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

Images and Toronto Jewish Film Festival continue on through this weekend, with Hot Docs just around the corner. This week I’m looking at movies about people travelling to exotic lands. There’s a German screwball comedy about an actor who escapes the Nazis only to find himself in the heart of Stalin’s Moscow; a French animated film about a group of travellers from Algiers looking for a lost city; and an American romance about a woman from Paris looking for love in America.

Hotel_LuxHotel Lux

Dir: Leander Haussmann

It’s Berlin in the 1930s. The comedy team Zeisig and Meyer (Michael Herbig and Jurgen Vogel) work at a successful cabaret, playing Stalin and Hitler. But their livelihood is threatened when the Nazi’s come to power, and political satire is no longer tolerated. An undercover Dutch communist, Frida, suddenly appears, and Zeisig, a notorious lothario, is smitten. Meyer goes into hiding, but Zeisig sees no reason to run. But eventually he must. He flees Berlin with fake papers and the name of a Moscow landmark: the Hotel Lux. Outside, it’s a stately building with a spinning red star on the roof. Inside it’s a rat-infested heap. And what he doesn’t realize is it’s also the epicenter of Stalinism, a hotel filled with the hardcore German communists in exile.

Every conversation is bugged. People are constantly dragged out of their rooms by a diminutive NKVD agent and accused of the worst possible crime: Trotskyism! And, due to a series of strange coincidences and mistaken identities, Zeisig, the Stalin impersonator, finds himself in meetings with Stalin himself. And his old friends, Meyer and Frida, both end up in Hotel Lux, too.

How will Zeisig get out if this mess? Will he have an influence on Stalin’s decisions? Will his true identity be discovered? And will Frida ever like him?

Like an Austrian comedy set in the same era, My Best Enemy, this movie doesn’t have any grave meanings or deep philisophyt to impart. Rather, it’s a fantasy set against a backdrop of the troubled thirties. Hotel Lux is just a cute, old-fashioned screwball comedy, with its history and politics filtered through the eyes of post-reunification Germany.

The_Rabbis_CatThe Rabbi’s Cat

Dir: Antoine Delesvaux and Joann Sfar (based on his graphic novels)

It’s 1920s in Algiers, part of the North African colony annexed by France. (It’s inhabited by Arabic-speaking Muslims and Jews, and their French speaking rulers.) Rabbi Safr lives with his beautiful but fiery daughter Zlabiya. But there normal life is interrupted by some strange things. His cat suddenly begins to speak, and wants to have religious debates. The dead body of a blond Russian man appears in a wooden crate of prayer books sent from Europe. And a cousin, who travels with a huge lion comes for a visit. The Rabbi Safr, accompanied by a Muslim sheikh, also named Safr, a Chagal-like artist, and an aristocratic white Russian, set off on a road journey in a Citroen. They are on a quest through northeast Africa to find an ancient hidden city, an African Jerusalem, the legendary land of giant Black- African Jews.

On their journey, they encounter nomads, Belgian colonists (in the form of a pink-skinned Tintin in a pith helmet), and pick up new members to join their group.

Joann Safr is a great, contemporary French cartoonist who creates fantastical imaginary worlds. This is the first animated version of his work I’ve seen, and it stays true to his comics. This is a great movie: funny, fantastical, and colourful, and featuring French-Algerian actors like Mohamed Fellag.

Redbud_Day28 (412 of 381).CR2To the Wonder

Dir: Terrence Malick

Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a single mother, meets Neil (Ben Affleck), an American tourist who is visiting France. They fall in love in scenic spots. Their love affair is extended when he invites her (and her daughter) to follow him back to America. Ah, America. Calm, rich, honest, she thinks as she pirouettes around her new Oklahoma backyard. Her whispered thoughts are an ongoing narration to her new life there. Ah… l’amour, l’amour, she whispers, turning another pirouette. Je t’aime. Her life is an avalanche of tenderness. Neil doesn’t speak, he just nods or grunts and goes out to check an oil pump.

OK, just so you know, I was describing a typical scene. But the whole movie is like that. It’s like a two-hour-long movie trailer, an endless montage of a bumpy, depressing relationship in an Oklahoma suburb. With a non-stop voiceover of the most painful poetry, the most awful French doggerel ever inflicted on my ears in one dose. I kind of liked Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life from two years ago (he supposedly spent a decade making it) but this one is worthless. I’m not even mentioning the various sub plots — Marina’s depression, a priest who talks to poor people, marital infidelity — because they barely add anything to this meandering, dull story. Avoid this movie at all costs, unless you are looking for two hours of pointless, superficial Hallmark images and loads of false solemnity.

To the Wonder opens today, check your local listings; and The Rabbi’s Cat and Hotel Lux are both playing this weekend: go to TJFF.ca for details.

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 Darcy Michael about his new movie Lloyd the Conquerer

Posted in Acting, Adventure, Calgary, Canada, College, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, Uncategorized, Unicorns by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2012

darcy-and-harland-williams-filming-l-nquerorHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

There’s a malevolent presence in South Calgary that threatens the peace, order and good government
of the people playing there. No, I’m not talking about Harper, this is a new Canadian comedy movie about LARPers.

Comedian, actor and Vancouver-based all-around celeb

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Lloyd The Conquerer illustrations by Evan Williams

Darcy Michael tells me

about this film, the life of a stand-up comic, and his own personal ups and downs.

Poster: Lloyd the ConquererHe’s performing in Toronto at Yuk Yuk’s this weekend, at Massey Hall on New Year’s Eve; Lloyd the Conquerer opens today.

Daniel Garber talks to Jason Kieffer about his new comic ZANTA: THE LIVING LEGEND

Posted in Art, Books, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, Prison, Protest, Psychology, Resistance, Toronto, Underground by CulturalMining.com on November 2, 2012

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

Unless you arrived in Toronto very recently, you’ve probably encountered the once ubiquitous character who walks shirtless down Yonge street, flexing his muscles and wearing a Santa Claus hat. He’s a reality show waiting to happen.

I’m talking, of course about Zanta, Toronto’s legendary street performer, all-around shock-disturber and general maniac. But, for some reason, Zanta was “banned” from downtown Toronto, and thrown into jail just for performing his act.

Toronto cartoonist and illustrator Jason Kieffer (above, left) probes this fascinating story in a new comic book ZANTA: THE LIVING LEGEND. In his first radio interview, he talks about Zanta’s history, the illegal arrests he suffered, and Kieffer’s own views on comics, art, civil rights, and the unusual characters that make a city great.

July 26, 2012 Heroes vs Superheroes. Movies Reviewed: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Posted in Art, Batman, China, Comics, Cultural Mining, 艾未未, Hotdocs, Movies, Super-heroes, Uncategorized, US, 中国艺术 by CulturalMining.com on July 27, 2012

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

People like to watch superheroes and supervillains, whether its on the big screen or on the news screen – media gobble up anything in the news that seems horrific, and when it can be tied to movies or TV – like the recent shooting disaster in Colorado, it’s media gold. But what about a real hero? Those are harder to find. Do we give as much attention to heroes as villains, and what about real heroes vs comic book superheroes?

This week I’m talking about two action movies about superheroes trying to save Manhattan from being blown up, and a documentary about a real guy, an artist, who’s trying to stop China from imploding.

The Avengers

Dir: Joss Whedon

OK, NASA is building a machine called the tesseract that is powered by this bluish glowing cube about yea big. But a skinny goth with a glowing, golden sceptre — the Norse god Loki — puts the scientists under mind-control and zooms off somewhere to open a hole in the universe that would let an army of slimy metallic evil creatures from outer space take over the world.

So a group of people with special powers are brought together by a secret US government agency — SHIELD — to fight supervillain Loki. There’s Thor, the God of Thunder with a heavy hammer, Bruce Banner, the scientist who might turn into the Hulk at any moment, Ironman, a rich dude who’s also an inventor; Captain America, an earnest military guy from the 1940s who wears an ice-ballet stars and stripes leotard and carries a super-strong shield; and the black widow Natasha, a former Soviet spy who now fights bad guys everywhere. They all get loaded onto this mammoth airborne battleship the size of a small city. And, for some reason, Loki’s locked up into a glass cage on board.

Since they’re superheroes, they get into a bunch of fights: Thor vs Ironman, Hulk vs Thor, etc etc… until they finally get it together to fight the real baddies. But of course Loki and his hypnotized minions are going to stop them. Will the good guys beat the bad guys? Or will the earth crumble, taken over by Loki’s alien allies? Uh… guess.

This is a pretty goofy movie but it’s directed by Joss Whedon so you know it’s going to be watchable with lots of collapsing buildings falling apart just behind someone running full speed toward the camera. Cool. And the space aliens — who look like massive flying trilobite armadillos with sharp teeth – get in some amazing urban disaster scenes, smashing through glass office towers. The big stars – Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansen, Samuel Jackson, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki — all seem to be having a good time.

And the bits of sardonic humour thrown in here and there, helps it a lot. Not great fun, but at least good fun once all the fighting starts.

The Dark Knight Rises

Dir: Christopher Nolan

As in The Avengers, a super-villain, this one called Bain, — a big guy with a mask over his mouth — descends on Manhattan, aka Gotham City, because he wants to take over, seize Wayne Enterprises’ secret energy-generating device (with WMD potential), and then kill everybody. Why? Doesn’t really matter. Because he’s a bad guy, I guess.

But billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is in retirement, his company running dry, and the forlorn orphans he used to help are left abandoned. Meanwhile, in a French Revolution-style takeover, they storm the Bastille letting the world’s worst criminals out of jail, a Robespierre-type judge sentences everyone to death or exile, and the NYPD are all locked up in a collapsed underground tunnel. Who will save everyone? It takes the combined efforts of a tough, young cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a slinky cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) to finally get Batman out of his funk to fight the bad guy. But Bain locks him up in a pit in central Asia with no way out. Oh no!

I dunno about this one. Two hours and forty minutes later we get to see the ending, find out who will triumph and what is the villain’s secret. To be honest, this is a pretty stupid movie. The effects are good enough, but never seem to be justified – they’re evoked seemingly at random. Great actors — like Tom Hardy as Bain and Christian Bale as Batman – spend the movie masked, with distorted voices. Why bother? They could have meat puppets doing the same thing. What a waste. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway are a bit better, as their characters actually get to develop, but in general, this movie was a humourless drudge. Good enough to watch, but not worth dying for (this is not meant to downplay the terrible shooting at the premier in Colorado).

Incidentally, the scariest part for me was when someone walked past my aisle seat, with a loud, sudden pattapattapatta clacking sound. Everyone jumped and stared and a security guard came running into the theatre to investigate, but it turned out to be just some guy spilling reese’s pieces all over the steps.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Dir: Alison Klayman

But what about a real hero?

Ai Weiwei (艾未未) is a Chinese artist and photographer who studied in NY in the 80s and 90s and is now an international art celeb. He helped design the Beijing Olympic stadium and his photography – he’s famous for giving the finger to all the world’s great buildings — and installations are widely known. And he has impeccable credentials: his dad was Ai Qing (艾青), the poet who was jailed by the Nationalists, and who joined the Communist Party and participated in Mao Zedong’s famous Talks on Art and Culture at Yen’an. That’s major historical creds in postwar China.

But Ai Weiwei doesn’t like everything going on in China these days. So when a poorly designed school building collapses in Sichuan, killing hundreds of kids, his art turns political – after painstaking research he creates a memorial listing all the names of the dead. But this is taken as a possible insult to the the authorities. He is arrested and beaten up by a violent cop known only by his badge number. So begins his odyssey, fighting the powers that be, and trying to get justice using his art, his writing, the media, lawsuits, fighting in court, and filming everything, everywhere he goes.

He is one of the signers of Liu Xiaobo’s Charter 08, and generally makes a name for himself, not just as an installation and photographic artist, but as a leading dissident — a sort of a Chinese Michael Moore, but one with deep artistic and cultural capabilities.

This documentary (that opened this year’s Hotdocs) is very important as an historical record. While it may be a case of the filmmaker being in the right place at the right time – It’s mainly shot with a handheld camera allowed to trace and document his life: in the galleries, his encounters with the police, his family life, including time with his son (from an unseen mother, not his wife).

He comes across as a bit unlikeable – not a smiling panda, but an irascible, sometimes obnoxious stubborn man. But one who sticks to his principles (freedom of speech, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary, etc). AI Weiwei has had his studio destroyed by the government, he’s been thrown in a secret prison — allegedly for tax reasons – and fined millions of dollars, but he hasn’t stopped fighting. Really interesting and worth seeing if you’re interested in China, politics, or art.

The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are playing now, check your local listings; and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry opens today in Toronto.

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

April 6, 2012. The Dispassionate Eye. Movies Reviewed: Images Festival, Strawberry Tree, The Pettifogger PLUS Bully v. Fightville

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

…I’m back again with some movie reviews. As I’ve said, springtime is film festival time. You can catch the Toronto Film Society’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” weekend at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto starting on May 11th, for a chance to see B&W film noir and other classics from the 1940’s, like Suspicion, The Big Sleep, The Glass Key and Double Indemnity.

And starting this Wednesday is the unique and amazing Images Media Arts Festival. Images is North America’s biggest festival of art-driven film and videos, including live performances, gallery installations, and, of course, movies. It’s their 25th anniversary, so you can see new and innovative work, as well as work shown their first year, way back in the 80’s. The Festival opens with John Akomfrah’s The Nine Muses, and closes with a live performance by Yo La Tenga.

The Strawberry Tree

Dir: Simone Rapisarda Casanova

This film is filled with mundane but lovely composed views of life in a small, Cuban fishing village. Scenes range from repairing fishing nets, and fish teeming underwater, and the slaughter of a goat in real time, to a woman peeling plantains, or  a man performing card tricks at a kids’ party.

The director’s camera is an unmoving, dispassionate observer set up on the floor, usually at a distance from the people he’s filming. But the posture of an artist’s indifference is challenged and exposed by the constant patter of the film’s subjects: sexual banter, casual insults, joking stories and comments often involving the artist by name. They talk about his jewelry, make fun of his accent, his attitude, his looks, his wealth, and the way they think his life must like in Canada. And they talk about the film itself and how it distorts – positively or negatively — the way it makes them look.

The calm beauty of the film is balanced with the knowledge (from the very first frame) that everything we see was later wiped away by a hurricane that flattened the village after the film was made.

This is a gorgeous and often funny impression of small town life in Cuba.

To get in the mood for the festival, on Wednesday, the day before Images begins, there’s an amazing free screening of:

The Pettifogger

Dir: Lewis Klahr

This is kind of an art-film, kind of a mood-narrative, about an early sixties gambler. It’s filled with noir-ish newspaper comics, film stills, and found objects like buttons, poker chips, and plastic sword-shaped toothpicks. Everything leads back to hardboiled tough guys — men who wear hats — and their femmes fatales. Using cut-out style animation, Klahr manipulates the collage images across the screen in jerky jumps.

So suspicious comic-strip detectives can be seen peeking through the glassine windows of manila envelopes. Two jacks from a  poker deck do an angry, sullen standoff before skulking off screen again. And everywhere are the bright, coloured icons of that Man’s World: cigarettes, mickeys of scotch, license plates, greenbacks, with hearts and spades, all floating around on the screen. The “bars” of the one armed bandits detach themselves and become coloured bars blocking or censoring the stories he tells… and in the background, sounds of traffic, thunderstorms and ever-suspicious dialogue from radio potboilers.

Check out The Strawberry Tree and Pettifogger at Images, all starting next week.

Last week, I left this studio and saw, a stone’s throw away at Queen’s Park, a protest against bullying. That’s nice, I thought, They’re against teenaged bullying. Until I got closer — it was a pro-bullying demonstration! A what? That’s like a protest against puppies! Apparently, fundamentalist, right wing religious groups object to the new anti-bullying law because it involves teaching about sexuality in public high schools, and calls for allowing “gay-straight alliance” support groups to be started in government-funded schools — in order to help many of the kids who are being driven to suicide by this very bullying. It seems there are people who want to keep bullying just as it is now…

Which brings me  two documentaries opening this weekend, Bully (dir: Lee Hirsch), which is getting a lot of attention, and Fightville (dir: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker), both of which I saw at last year’s HotDocs.

Bully is about bullying, Fightville is about Mixed Martial Arts.

So which is the better documentary?

It’s hard to admit, but Fightville is just a much better doc. Although it’s much more commercial in its style, its characters are more interesting, it’s camera work more pleasing, the storyline (two young fighters trying to become pros vs. five high school students who get bullied) more engaging and dynamic. The problem is Bully, which follows five bullied kids around for a year, has the feeling of a fundraiser, a charity infomercial  (the sort of thing you find yourself watching on cable TV at 5 am on a Sunday morning.) It’s bland and it’s slow and it’s a little bit boring. It doesn’t really offer many solutions. And I was left with the impression that the filmmaker intentionally tried to make one poor kid, Alex, (who has a slightly “unusual”-looking face from certain angles), look odder than he really was. Which in my mind is “movie bullying”.

Does this mean bullying (as an issue) is less important than a bloody, competitive sport? Of course not! It’s just that Fightville is a better film than Bully. I often talk about movies with “good taste” versus movies that “taste good”.  But it looks like I’ve been neglecting a third category. Bully is “good for you”. Like brussels sprouts.

Opening this weekend are Lovers in a Dangerous Time, a low budget, pretty, romantic Canadian drama; Pettifogger and the Strawberry Tree (go to Imagesfestival.com) and the docs Fightville and Bully.

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

March 9, 2012. If You Love This Planet. Movies reviewed: The Lorax, John Carter

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

With globalization, things affect the whole planet all at once even if they only happen in one place. The Earth is all shook up! Like last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan – I remember seeing those horrific scenes of towns being swept away, and the ongoing tension about the nuclear leak at Fukushima.

In gratitude for the support of the international community, the Japan Foundation in Toronto is offering a series of free films next week at Innis College called Light Up Japan. The documentaries are all about what has happened since the disaster in that area and how the people are coping with it. Check out the Japan Foundation ( jftor.org ) for more information.

So in keeping with the theme of global events, this week I’m looking at two movies with whole-planet-sized topics. One is about a kid trying to save the earth from total destruction; the other is a man who finds himself a part of the potential ruin of Mars.

The Lorax

Dir: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

Ted lives in Thneedville, a plastic suburban shopping mall town where life controlled by a Mr O’Hare, a nasty rich guy who made his fortune bottling air, and who spies on everyone in town. Ted has a crush on his neighbour Audrey who is into trees – which don’t exist anymore (people use plastic trees instead). Audrey says she wishes she could see one.

So taking his grandmother’s advice, Ted climbs into his vehicle – a sort of a unicycle/ segway/ scooter – and sneaks out of the city to find the Once-lear – the only person who still knows the truth. He discovers that the vast wasteland outside of Thneedville once was a land of rainbows, happy fish, droopy birds, and teddy bears who ate the berries from the puffball trees, and lived happily and peacefully. An industrialist uses the puffballs to make a knitted stringy thing, the thneed, that consumers buy by the millions. He decides it’s cheaper and easer to cut them all down rather than using their puffballs as a renewable resource. Only the Lorax, (a tiny mustachioed environmentalist who descends from the heavens in a thunderstorm) can save the day, if only people will listen. He speaks for the trees…

I thought this movie was OK, but it really seemed to stretch the short Dr Seuss book into a 90 minute song-and-dance musical. It soft-pedals the problems of industrial pollution and consumerism, and reduces the motivation from ardent environmentalism to a boy wanting to kiss a girl. It relegates the Lorax story to flashback status, and kept the wonderful Seuss-like scenes of the valley to a minimum, while over-emphasizing the non-Seuss humdrum suburban scenes, filled with your usual 3-d sitcom characters.

It’s not a bad movie, and of course it’s great to tell kids about environmentalism and privacy, but the songs were dull, the characters not-so-interesting, the story not very original, and the animation and character style not up to what I expect from a Dr Seuss story.

Interesting fact — The Lorax earned more money in its opening weekend than Hugo did in its entire run.

John Carter

Dir: Andrew Stanton

John Carter is a mean and strong fighter, a cavalry man from the civil war. He can escape from jails, scrapple with anyone – weapon or not – is good on horseback and keen with a sword and a rifle. And he doesn’t take sides – Apache or US Army – they’re all the same. He doesn’t want any part of it. He just wants to find his cave of gold in the Arizona desert. But when he encounters a stranger in the cave, and repeats the word Barsoom while touching a glowing amulet, he is magically transported to Mars a land of great civilizations, far beyond earth’s imagination.

Strong John Carter, though smaller than the four-armed tusked Tarks – some of the creatures who live there – soon discovers he can leap high in the air and jump long distances, because of the different gravity there. He soon finds himself in the middle of a huge war between the city of Helium and the bad Zodanga. And he meets Dejah, (a beautiful princess-warrior, as well as a physicist, inventor and a great swordswoman) who is being forceed into marrying a bad guy from the other kingdom. Meanwhile, the shape-shifting super-gods who are manipulating everyone on that planet, are messing things up. It’s up to John Carter to save civilization – but he’s not sure he wants to – he just wants to find the amulet and go back to earth. But with the help of his speedy and faithful dog-monster Woolla, and the noble and honest Thark-guide Sola, he and Dejah must find mutual trust, truth and possibly true love in their search for the secrets of this planet.

As you can tell, this is a very long, plot-heavy story about an adventure on Mars. Like comics, manga and pulp fiction, the story takes precedent over feelings, emotions or characters – it’s more the action, the twists, the background, the secrets, the fights, the betrayals and the fantastical, sex-tinged images. But it carries it through amazingly well in this 2½ hour epic. (People call everything epics now, but this is an actual epic). I thought it was amazing.

It’s done in the style of Frank Frazetta’s illustrations: fiery-eyed women in exotic garb with pendulous breasts and black tresses; snarling men with steely gaze and bared chests, brandishing their swords toward the red skies…..  but through a Disney filter, making it sexy, but not sexual.

It feels more like Roman sword-and-sandal story than science fiction. (It’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.) It has a mainly British cast, plus Canadian Taylor Kitsch — just great in the title role. I liked Lynn Collins (never heard of her) as Dejah, and Dominic West (The Wire) as one of many assorted bad guys in this cast-of-thousands picture. Want to be overwhelmed by an elaborate, exciting movie getaway, with a complicated fantasy plot that never lets up, even for a second? Then this is the one to see.

The Lorax is playing now, and John Carter opens today in Toronto, and the Japanese documentaries are playing all week at Innis College.

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

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July 22, 2011. Final Fantasy. Movies reviewed: Captain America, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Shirome

Posted in Action, Bullying, Comics, Crime, High School, Horror, Magic, Monsters, Mystery, Nazi, Sex, Uncategorized, violence, War, Women, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2011

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.

It’s hottest summertime when a young person’s fancy turns to … fantasy (to mangle a quote.) School’s out, offices are closed, cottages are open, job vacations are on, and blockbusters, filled with the fantastical, pack the theatres. This week I’m looking at three movies about the supernatural with their origins tied to traditional youth culture: One’s adapted from a kid’s book, one from a comic book, and one starring a group of teen idols In an unusual situation.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Dir: David Yates

Everyone knows who Harry Potter is – the English orphan boy who discovers he’s a wizard, studies magic at the Hogwarts academy, and – with his friends Ron and Hermione — is in an ongoing fight with his evil nemesis, the snakelike Voldemort. Well this movie, the second half of the last book of the series, picks up exactly where the last one left off. Harry and his friends must find and destroy the rest of the horcruxes (little objects that hold part of Voledmort’s power) or else everything they live for will be lost, the school will be ruined, and all the people enslaved.

This final movie was filled with long serious scenes of gravitas, Harry grimacing at the camera, the good guys giving their all for the final battle, the confrontation between good and evil. The usual villains are there – Snape, Draco Malfoy, Bellatrix Lastrange and the Death Eaters – but some startling twists and discoveries show that things aren’t always what they first appear to be. A lot of the humour, the traditional school scenes, and the fun sense of adventure are missing here, but audiences seem to lap it up anyway – who wants it to be just another episode when it’s the final one? There was a long ovation after the last scene in the theatre, with scores of costumed viewers — more adults than kids — applauding a blank screen as the credits rolled.

I enjoyed it (although most of the 3D effects were pretty lame – you may as well see it in 2D and save a few bucks) but, like the last book in the series, it left me with the hollow, sad feeling that an era was over.

The next movie

Captain America

Dir: Joe Johnston

…had – for me — a lot of points in its favour before I even saw it. It’s a WWII European action drama of the allies versus the Nazis, it’s adapted from a comic book, and it uses a fun sub-genre called body transformation or body growth. This usually involves a 98-pound weakling who gets sand kicked in his face who (through some natural or supernatural phenomenon) turns instantly into an invincible super hero. On the negative side, Captain America looks militaristic, it’s overly nationalistic, and more than a bit corny. In the 50’s Captain America was trotted out as a symbol of American conservativism, Cold War anti-communism and McCarthyism, and by the 60’s and 70’s was thought of as a hopelessly dated, and almost fascistic caricature, a symbol of the country’s misadventures in Vietnam.

So… what about the movie? Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny kid from Brooklyn who wants to join the army. He never runs away from a fight, despite his skinny body, asthma, and flat feet. He hates bullies, and stands up to them, but it’s left to his best buddy, Bucky, to rescue him from the dust-ups. But he’s rejected from joining the army until a German scientist who had fled the Nazis brings him into an elite squad of potential superfighters. He trains alongside much bigger guys, but catches the attention of the beautiful and sultry, but tough, British Spy Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell).  The scientist chooses him for his experiments because of his true heart, and because he has compassion and no killer instinct. So after an injection he’s transformed into an almost indestructible hero – strong, fast, muscular and agile. And he carries a round metal shield. But instead of being a fighter, he’s made the centrepiece of a kitschy Victory Bonds team who tour America to raise money, performing on stage in elaborate musical numbers with red, white, and blue, high- kicking dancing girls.

Meanwhile, his nemesis, Dr Shmidt (Hugo Weaving), — an evil man who is out-nazi-ing even the Nazis in his Nordic mysticism and a master race – is preparing ultimate victory. He’s also super-powerful but he is cruel and selfish where Captain America is kind and just. Schmidt and his lackeys say “Hail Hydra” (instead of Heil Hitler) in deference to his plans. And where Cap is handsome, Schmidt is hideously ugly once he removes his face mask, revealing a red skull underneath.

Will Captain America prove himself as a real hero not an imitation one? Will he be able to give back what he owes his buddy Buck for past rescues? Will he consummate his love for Agent Carter? And will he be able to beat the indestructible villain?

Although mainly just a war and battle movie, Captain America was very enjoyable to watch. The art direction – yes, that’s what I mean, the whole look of the movie – was amazing, and its corniness was presented with enough tongue in cheek to balance the kitsch. And the 3D effects were fantastic, with some especially pleasing shots of 3D faces against flat, green-screen projections, like in Lars Van Trier’s Europa. So if you like comic-book war scenes, with lots of explosions, and simple two dimensional characters, this is a good movie for that.

Shirome

Dir: Shiraishi Koji

It’s typical for Japanese idols, talents, or stars to be followed around by cameras all day long. So it sort of makes sense that their a strange video about a pop group. In this tape, an under-aged Japanese girl group called Momoiro Clover is shooting a promo when they are asked to make an appearance, on camera, at an old, abandoned school. Apparently, legend has it, a spirit known as Shirome – “White Eyes” – will grant them any sincere and heart-filled wish, as long as its repeated three times in front of its marker – a butterfly on an old wall. But if they disobey the rules they may be found dead, just like other people who had tried this.

Their manager convinces them to wish for a chance to appear on the annual Red and White New Years Day Show, where celebrities, singers and idols perform for all of Japan. But a teller of ghost stories spooks them and they don’t know what to do. Should they accompany the exorcists and psychics into Shirome’s den in the old abandoned schoolhouse? Or should they run away as fast as they can?

This movie is a strange one.  It’s 50% treakly, cutesy over-performing teen idols talking to an ever-present video camera, pursing their lips, posing, and repeating their routines, or bursting into catchy music-video numbers. And 50% Japanese-style horror, with a strange, little white butterfly appearing on grainy footage enchanting and choking various characters as it flutters past. And the usual crackling video, starting and stopping, and almost unnoticeable evil seeping in and out of recovered footage. Picture Paranornal Activity, but instead of actors, starring a Japanese girl group. Death by kawaii-sa?

A strange movie indeed.

Harry Potter and Captain America are playing now, and Shirome and other new Japanese films are playing this weekend only at the Shinsedai Film Festival – go to shinsedai-toronto.com .

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

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