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

 

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

Youth. Films reviewed: Land of Mine, The Young Offenders, Before the Streets

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Denmark, Depression, Drama, drugs, First Nations, Germany, Indigenous, Ireland, Movies, WWII by CulturalMining.com on February 17, 2017

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

Twelve to twenty-four-year-olds make up the biggest chunk of frequent moviegoers in North America, but what are they given to watch? Superheroes, spaceships, slashers and rom-coms. Rare is the serious movie about people their age, people they can identify with. So this week, I’m looking at movies about youth. There are two guys in Ireland searching for cocaine, Germans in Denmark digging up landmines, and an aboriginal man in Quebec facing up to his past.

bd52baf8-2b00-4bee-a2ae-a68f84b1982a

Land of Mine (Academy Award nominee: Best Foreign Language Picture)

Wri/Dir: Martin Zandvliet

It’s Denmark, May, 1945, Victory in Europe and the hated German soldiers are force- marched back across the border. But they left a gift: thousands of landmines planted across pristine Denmark’s beaches. (They thought the allies would invade there, not in Normandy) Hard-ass Sgt Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is called in to supervise a cleanup of the beaches using German POWs. They put them there — they should be the ones to get rid of 8e2649d8-61de-447e-894b-6dbd2abd2cd4them. It’s a simple process: sweep off the sand, unscrew a bolt, defuse the mine, then move on to the next one. Do it wrong you get blown up. Do it right you get sent back home… once the entire beach is clear. And that’s when you’ll get to eat again – no point wasting food on Nazi POWs.

97abadb7-b7bc-47f5-839f-d1216540b6d0What Rasmussen doesn’t expect is that these so-called soldiers are just boys, pulled off farms and remote villages at the end of the war. Kids like innocent identical twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oscar Belton) who still hold hands to feel safe; the earnest Sebastien who always wears a paisley scarf (Louis Hofmann); and even the bitter Helmut (Joel Basman) who considers himself in charge of this ragtag unit. Can these teenagers keep up their morale even as they see 25579aa2-36b8-4321-9219-c9e677cfa6bctheir friends exploding all around them? And can hard-hearted Sgt Rasmussen ever feel for these boys that are his prisoners?

Land of Mine is a touching, high-tension war drama based on true events. And you can’t help but feel for these poor kids forced into a horrible situation. I cried. It’s a real tear-jerker, and it addresses long-hidden war guilt on the part of the allies — stories that must be told. But it’s also very manipulative, painting Germans as the innocent victims and Danes as their cruel oppressors… just days after the end of WWII!

youngoffenders_06The Young Offenders

Wri/Dir: Peter Foott

It’s 2007 in Cork, Ireland. Two 15 year olds, Conor and Jock (Alex Murphy, Chris Walley) are schoolmates. They’re inseparable, with the same tracksuits, the same haircuts, the same zits. They even share the same underwear.

The shorter one, Conor, works in a fish shop with his single mum. Jock’s lives with his dad an abusive drunk. The taller Jock earns money as a bike thief known as Fake Billy: he commits his crimes wearing a realistic rubber mask that looks just like the real Billy, a dangerous local hood. Jock and Conor aren’t particular smart or youngoffenders_02good looking or rich, but at least they have each other. Then fortune smiles on them – they hear about a shipwreck of 61 bales of contraband cocaine, worth 7 million Euros each, off the coast of Ireland. This is their chance. Even if they get caught, as 15-year-olds they’d avoid doing hard time.

So they set off across the country on two stolen bikes to find their one bale of coke. But they don’t realize they’re being chased by a vengeful cop, a deranged drug dealer, and a vicious hood. Will their friendship – and their lives – survive this great road trip?

This is a fun, laddish road movie about life as working-class teens in Ireland. Cute.

beforethestreets_03Before the Streets

Wri/Dir: Chloé Leriche

Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare) lives a nice life in his Atikamekw community, with his little sister and her baby, their mom and stepdad. He hangs with his best friend, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He playing a drums, singing,, smokes grass and exploring the land. But things started to go bad when his stepdad, a cop on the reserve, takes away his bingo winnings. Now he’s broke so he agrees to act as a guide for Thomas (Martin Dubreuil), a Québécois he meets at the liquor dealer’s house. Thomas says he’ll just take the stuff rich city folk leave behind in their summer cottages. But the very first burglary ends in disaster, and Shawnouk flees into the woods in horror. He is beforethestreets_04taken in by strangers, an elder and her granddaughter who nurse him back to health. Reading his face she tells him he must talk with someone about what happened. She wraps tobacco in a piece of red cloth and tells him to go to a sweatlodge on a nearby island.

He takes her offering but stows it always and returns home as if nothing happened. But his cop stepdad is investigating Shawnouk’s crime and is covering it up.

beforethestreets_02But far from relieved he is wracked with guilt and self loathing for what he did, and his bad feelings spread to the rest of his family. His stepdad takes it out on him, forcing him into a horrible job killing stray dogs. He can’t take it anymore. He heads off to his last hope, the sweatlodge, though he knows it won’t help.

Before the Streets is a first film, different from anything I’ve seen. The roles are played by non-actors from the director’s community and all dialogue is in their own language. It’s shot entirely from an aboriginal point of view, incorporating the director’s culture, language, customs and music. It covers sweat lodges, smudging, gift giving and healing, as well as negative issues like suicide, depression, and domestic violence. A touching and informative first feature.

Land of Mine opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Young Offenders and Before the Streets are both playing at the Next Wave Film Festival right now showing movies and events for free if you’re 25 or younger. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Flashback. Films Reviewed: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Rings, Shepherds and Butchers

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Coming of Age, Horror, Montreal, Movies, Prison, Seattle, South Africa, Trial by CulturalMining.com on February 3, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUTflashback-film-fest 89.5 FM.

If the 1970s was Hollywood’s golden age then the 80s and 90s were its tin foil age —when a series of corporate takeovers placed short-term profits over creativity, and the Oscars celebrated forgettable, middle-brow pap. Even so, there were some fun and popular movies from 80s and 90s. Films like Alien, Shallow Grave, and Starship Troupers are playing at Cineplex’s Flashback Film Festival (FBFF) across Canada starting today, giving you a chance to revisit favourites on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at flashbacks. There’s a rerelease of a Canadian coming-of-age classic from the 70s, a flashback to a courtroom drama set in apartheid South Africa in the 80s; and a new sequel to a Japanese horror movie from the 90s.

duddy_kravitz_4colThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)

Dir: Ted Kotcheff Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

It’s the 1940s in a poor, Jewish section of Montreal. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a teenager recently graduated from Fletcher’s Field (a.k.a. Baron Byng) High School. MBDAPOF EC001He lives with his widowed father Max (Jack Warden) who works as a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his big brother Lennie. Lennie is a smart and sophisticated med student at McGill. But Duddy has neither the brains nor the inclination to study.

He’s a boorish and loud, nervous and uncouth, always sweating and scratching, jumping MBDAPOF EC008and cussing. He has a filthy mouth and an intrusive manner. With no friends or admirers he just wants to get rich quick. His idol is a gangster known as The Boy Wonder (Henry Ramer), and his favourite retort is kiss my Royal Canadian Ass.

He gets a summer job at a holiday resort in the Laurentiens, but is relentlessly put down by rich kids from Westmount and Outrement. He makes friend with a pretty waitress named Yvette (Micheline Lanctot). They fall for each other and she takes him to a secret spot beside a pristine lake. He’s struck by its beauty and vows to buy it, but is blocked by Québécois farmers who never sell property to jewish people. And Yvette is turned off by his constant drive for profits and MBDAPOF EC006wealth.

Duddy sets off on a series of impossible ventures he thinks will make enough money to buy the land: Importing Pinball machines with his friend Virgil, an American he meets on a train (Randy Quaid); and producing films with an alcoholic British communist (Denholm Elliot). But in his quest for success, he risks alienates his friends, his lover and his family. What will he learn from his apprenticeship with the real world?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a hilarious and audacious drama from the 70s which deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a dark slice of Canadian life, a world full of bigotry, snobbery, selfishness and deceit, tempered with the glorious freedom of a young man pursuing his dreams.

15871828_1198279710249685_2066179248684362877_nRings

Dir: F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia (Matilda Lutz ) is a high school grad in small town USA. She’s sad because her pretty, but dumb-as-a-post boyfriend (Alex Roe) is heading off to university in Seattle. Don’t worry, Holt says, I’ll skype you every night. But when the calls stop coming and he doesn’t answer her texts, brave Julia heads off to Seattle to investigate. And she finds something strange: there’s an old black-and-white video everyone tells her to watch. Everyone she meets tell her to watch. What she doesn’t know is that anyone who watches this video will be dead in seven days. But if you trick someone else into15844158_1196804380397218_3255840937653140664_o watching it, you get another seven days added to your life.

Like Orpheus in the underworld, Julia decides to forge ahead, rescuing her boyfriend from Hell. She intentionally watches the dreaded video, and using her powers of second sight – she’s clairvoyant — she decides to follow a ghost to its point of origin. But first she has to deal with a secretive professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) and a blind graveyard custodian (Vincent d’Onofrio).

Can Julia rescue Holt, defeat a ghost with long black hair, and figure out the meaning behind the cursed video tape?

Rings is a reboot of the scary Japanese movie Ring and its sequels. Last week I interviewed two ghosts from that era, Sadako vs Kayako. In the American films, Sadako is Samara, and urban Japan becomes a village somewhere in Washington State. More than that, Rings trades the chill feel of video static for a more conventional American ghost story.

Is it scary? A little, especially towards the end as Julie’s visions start to pay off. But the story is so ridiculously disjointed it’s laughable. It treats the original Ring just as a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made the original so scary.

29_img_8235Shepherds and Butchers

Dir: Oliver Schmitz

It’s 1987 in Apartheid-era South Africa. Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) a white Afrikaner, is arrested for murdering seven black African members of a soccer club in a quarry. The seven bodies were found neatly lined up in a row. The accused refuses to defend himself or even to say anything about what he did; he says he can’t remember. It’s an open 08_img_6438and shut case. Or is it?

In walks the famed jurist Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), a staunch opponent to the death penalty. While not contesting the actual crime, instead he says it is the brutal South African justice system that led to the crime. A church-going shy kid turned into a mass murderer in just a few years? Preposterous!

It turns out Leon since age 17 has been forced  to work on death row in a maximum security prison. His work is like a shepherd, tending to the needs — food, showers, and prayers — of  men  “on the rope” (waiting to be hanged). But he’s also a butcher, forced to 32_img_6718kill — en masse, often seven at a time — the same men he takes care of.

His story is told at his trial in a series of gruesome and realistic flashbacks. Johan goads him into recounting what he – and the prisoners — has been through. This film shows the horrors of capital punishment, and particularly 47_img_9027the mass executions held in South Africa, in graphic detail. It is horrifying and extremely hard to watch, because it brings you the viewer  right into the gallows itself. Shepherds and Butchers is a touching story about an important topic, but believe me, it is not for the faint of heart.

Rings and Shepherds and Butchers both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is playing for free this Sunday as part of the Canada on Screen series. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Village People. Films reviewed: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Silence, 20th Century Women

Posted in 1970s, Art, Christianity, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Family, Feminism, Gay, Japan, Punk, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 13, 2017

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

Everyone lives in a neighbourhood, whether it’s a city or a small town. This week I’m looking at movies about village people. There’s a photographer in the East Village, a priest in a Japanese village, and a woman who believes it takes a village.

MapplethorpeMapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Dir: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Robert Mapplethorpe was a major 20th century artist who rose to fame just as four major changes were taking place: the gay liberation movement, the Aids crisis, the socially conservative backlash under Ronald Reagan, and the sudden rise in value of contemporary art and photography. Born in Queens NY he went to Pratt art college and moved in with 201605317_1_img_fix_700x700underground poet and musician Patti Smith. He smoked acid and boiled a dead monkey. Mapplethorpe fell in with the jet-set of the ultra-rich in Mustique, in the Caribbean, creating a demand for his black and white photos. And his second life was spent in a legendary S&M gay bar called the Mineshaft in the meatpacking district. Likewise, he divided his work docs_mapplethorpe02-296x300into three categories: X, Y and Z. Explicit gay S&M imagery (X); flowers (Y); and nude portraits of African-American men, focusing on their genitals (Z). He died of Aids in the late 80s at the height of his career, just as conservative Jesse Helms blocked his art from a Washington museum, plus a court case labelling his art as obscene.

This documentary covers his life and career, and most of all reveals his work. It’s a great introduction to his art and its history, but I was bothered by its stance: venerate the art – as significant and valuable; but denigrate the artist – as vain, selfish, ambitious and petty.

15137495_1333188413378658_1730090754012238611_oSilence

Dir: Martin Scorsese (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel)

Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfiield and Adam Driver) are Jesuit priests in 17th century Portugal. The Jesuit mission to convert the Japanese under Frances Xavier has failed: the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, and closed off the country to all outside contact. Japanese Christians have reverted back to Buddhists or else practice their religion underground. Worst of all, their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is missing. So they sneak into Japan with the help of a shady fisherman named Kichijiro (Kubozuka Yousuke). Once there to their surprise, they discover hidden Christians everywhere, who call them Padre and rush to confess. But behind the scenes lurks the grand inquisitor Inoue (Ogata Issei), a samurai whose sole job is to flush out hidden Christians, and convert them to Buddhism. When he finally meets 15168802_1341247705906062_2844253298776036664_oRodrigues the two embark on an extended religious debate. Who will triumph? The Christlike Rodrigues or the cunning Inoue?

Silence is a beautiful looking movie. For Rodrigues, Japan is witnessed mainly through cracks in wooden walls, either hiding from the authorities or imprisoned by them. The islands are lush and green shrouded in a mist that surrounds the padres and their followers. But 15235447_1344428582254641_1724759706567928024_oonce the action shifts to a battle of minds on government land, it becomes sharp and austere.

The original novel is by Shusaku Endo, a Catholic Japanese novelist (a rare thing). Andrew Garfield (who plays Rodrigues) is becoming a poster child for Christian philosophy in a Japanese setting – he’s also starring in Hacksaw Ridge about a conscientious objector fighting in Okinawa in WWII. Garfield is great, as is the entire Japanese cast, filled with top actors and a surprising number of directors. (You can tell they all want to appear in a Scorsese film). To name just two, Kubozuka is fascinating as the Judas character Kichijiro, and Ogata is amazing as Inoue (he starred in Aleksandr Sokurov’s masterpiece The Sun). Silence is a long and intense movie, filled with philosophical debate, and punctuated by disturbing death and torture. This is not an easy movie to take in but it’s well worth seeing.

_DSC1289.NEF20th Century Women

Wri/Dir: Mike Mills

It’s 1979. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom in small town California who works as a designer in a canning factory. She’s a 20th century woman who wears Birkenstocks and smokes menthol cigarettes. She was the first female pilot in the Air Force in WWII. Now she lives in a big house with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Jamie is 15, rides a skateboard and just hangs out. But when he nearly dies after a silly game, Dorothea realizes they aren’t connecting anymore. So she asks for help from the younger women in her life. Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s childhood crush. She likes riding her bike and _TND7063.NEFattending her mom’s psychotherapy encounters. She’s exploring sex and will sleep with any guy she likes…except Jamie. Well she’ll sleep with him and share his bed, just no sex. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) rents a room in their house, recovering from cervical cancer. She’s a punk _DSC4067.tifphotographer who dyes her hair red. She introduces Jamie to feminism with a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. He gets in his first fist fight at school in an argument about clitoral orgasm. And then there’s William (Billy Crudup) a hippy handyman drifter who repairs the house in lieu of rent. Mom is loving and giving and wants to share it all with Jamie and the rest, but fears the effects of feminism, and the sexual revolution on his development as a man. And Jamie? He just wants to live life and make sense of it all.

Twentieth Century Women is a funny and fascinating ensemble piece. It’s narrated by an omniscient version of Dorothea in some future incarnation. There are a few jarring anachronisms:  would a 15 year old in 1979 receiving a gift of recorded music exclaim “It’s a Mixtape!”? But that doesn’t detract from this excellent coming-of-age story within an impromptu family. Great movie.

Silence is now playing, 20th Century Women opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures opens on January 13th,  with a special screening at the AGO. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Back to School. The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea #TIFF16

Posted in Animation, Coming of Age, Games, High School, Horror, School, Science Fiction, Uganda, UK, US, Women, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016

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

It’s mid-September as TIFF enters its final weekend with lots left to see. It’s also the start of an academic year. So this week I’m looking TIFF movies about going back to school. We’ve got an American school sinking into the sea, smart African kids who can’t afford the school fee, and British kids kept under lock and key.

thegirlwithallthegifts_02The Girl with all the Gifts

Dir: Colm McCarthy

It’s a military camp in a dystopian, future UK. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a bright and friendly girl who gets along well with others. She goes to school each morning and is the best kid in the class. But she – like the rest of the kids – is kept locked up in a dingy prison cell, fed raw worms, and derided thegirlwithallthegifts_04by heavily armed soldiers as a monster abortion. Only her teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Atherton), sticks up for Melanie. But Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) a sinister scientist, also has her eye on Melanie.

You see, all of England has been infected by a fungal virus that turns you into a flesh-eating zombie who never dies. But these kids are second generation — infected in utero — who think and act like humans but carry a craving for raw flesh. thegirlwithallthegifts_01Caldwell wants to carve up Melanie’s brain to find a cure. But when the camp is overrun by zombies, the three of them (along with a troupe of soldiers) are forced to escape in a military vehicle to find another base. Can Melanie – the girl with all the gifts – be trusted to stay moral and not eat the humans? Can trigger-happy soldiers and heartless scientists be trusted not to kill her? This is a great science fiction drama in the form of a zombie flic. Glenn Close goes a bit overboard in her evil rants, but Atherton and Manua are amazing as the good guys.

queen-of-katweQueen of Katwe

Dir: Mira Nair

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl who lives in Katwe, a desperately poor slum in Uganda. By day she sells corn to passing motorists. By night she sleeps in an unlit shack with her brother, her sister and her stern mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who always sticks up for her kids. Is there no way out of this desperate life.

Enter Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). He has an engineering degree but works at a community centre for underprivileged kids, teaching them chess. Phiona and her brother take to the game almost immediately, despite kids deriding their unwashed clothes. She’s illiterate but learns to play strategically, plotting out future moves in her head. Robert sees a chess prodigy and his wife helps her learn to read. But Phiona is still penniless, playing chess with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. Her mother tries to Queen of Katwepull her away from that gambling den. But Coach Robert convinces her that only by becoming a chess master can Phiona make it out of Katwe. Mom finally understands, selling her only possessions to pay for paraffin candles so Phiona can study at night. But can a girl from the ghetto become a Chess Master?

Queen of Katwe is a wonderful traditional family story, about hard work and tenacity. It says never give up, believe in yourself. At the same it shows a realistic portrait of desperate lives, their constant search for money, and the terrible prejudice they face. The story is told in a simple way but it’s very moving. It’s shot in Africa by the great Indian director Mira Nair, an expert at showing class differences. The actors portray their roles well, from grumpy Nyong’o, to optimistic Oyelowo and especially the wonderful Nalwanga as Phiona.

myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea

Wri/Dir Dash Shaw

Dash is starting a new year with high hopes. A junior at Tides High, he’s a cynical news geek who writes for the school paper, the Tides Gazette, with best friend Assaf and Verti the editor. He wants to find the big story. He’s sure his school is about to collapse due to bad maintenance. But no one reads the paper’s turgid prose and his warnings are ignored. Assaf and Verti are dating now so he’s left all alone. When he is caught looking through school files for hard evidence, he ends up in detention. But that’s when disaster strikes — an earthquake starts fires and sends the shoddily built school sinking into the sea. It’s also on fire, with sharks in the water and rats on land. It’s up to Dash and his friends — along with a courageous lunch lady — to lead his schoolmates to safety. But they must face the school myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_01snitch, drug dealers, the devious principal, popular kids and the school quarterback who reigns from a golden throne in only his jockstrap. But who will survive and who will be torn to bloody pieces before their very eyes?

This is a fantastic animated feature, one of the best movies at TIFF. It’s the Poseidon Adventure set in a high school. The art and animation takes unexpected forms. No pixar 3-D or complex cell animation here. Instead it’s broad splashes of tempera paint behind the thick black lines that make up character faces. There are cutouts and fingerpaint, boy scout illustrations, pop art and trippy half-tone dots from newspaper sunday comics.

Great voices are provided by Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon as Lunch Lady Lorraine. But the art of Dash Shaw — and his fellow cartoonists and artists — is what makes this so great.

The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, and My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea, are all playing now at TIFF. And you can line up at Roy Thompson Hall around 4 pm on Sunday to get a free ticket to the people’s choice award movie. Always worth watching, always free. Details are posted at tiff.net.

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

Making sense of things. Films reviewed: Little Men, Indignation PLUS Lo and Behold

Posted in 1950s, Brooklyn, College, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, Kids, Romance, War by CulturalMining.com on August 5, 2016

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

In Lo and Behold, Werner Herzog’s excellent new documentary about the internet, a scientist explains the first internet connection between two computers. The message was supposed to be “log on” to start the transmission, but it was cut off after the first two letters, LO. As in the biblical Lo and Behold. The mysteries of life.

This week I’m talking about two dramas, about young men trying to make sense of life’s mysteries. There’s two friends in Brooklyn trying to understand their parents; and a young man in Ohio trying to understand the meaning of life.

12513502_761314487302803_7976637993320204498_oLittle Men

Dir: Ira Sachs

Jake and Tony are best friends. They met on the day Jake moved with his parents from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and immediately hit it off. Jake (Theo Taplitz) is a sensitive quiet boy who is bullied at school. Jake expresses himself through the art and comics he draws. Tony (Michael Barbieri) is his exact opposite. Outspoken, Brooklyn born and bred. He’s good at sports and always loyal to his friends. Jake is a shy introvert, while Tony is bursting out all over.

They meet because Tony’s mother, (Paulina Garcia), is a dressmaker with 13331003_828730807227837_8992169820379428690_na small boutique. It’s on the ground floor of the apartment Jake’s family is moving into. They inherited it when Jake’s grandfather died, and Brian – Jake’s dad — (Greg Kinnear) inherited it.

Finally, Jake has a friend, someone to hang with. Tony shows him around the hood, lets him meet his buddies, they even take an acting class together. Tony excels there – he’s a natural. The two boys even have a plan: that they both get accepted to the NY High School of Performing Arts. Tony would pursue his acting, of course, and Jake could do his drawing.

So we’ve got two 12-year-old kids, best friends, everything’s going great, until… the grown- ups ruin everything. Jake’s grandpa was a kindly old man, who took a Chilean refuge (Tony’s mom) 12485861_761657650601820_3424484959118845572_ounder his wing and kept her rent low. But Brian, Jake’s dad, has no such attachment or obligations to their tenant. They just want to make money. So the disagreement becomes a spat, which becomes a feud, which becomes a lawsuit. It’s spiraling out of control, and the parents aren’t letting their sons – who have nothing to do with it — see each other anymore. Jake and Tonty decide to fight back. But can they change their parents’ minds?

Little Men is not a remake of the Parent Trap; it’s not a kids’ movie at all.  It feels more like an adult’s  bittersweet memories of childhood. That said, it’s a great coming of age drama about two best friends torn apart by a family disagreement. The parents are well played, but it’s the acting of the kids that really shines, especially newcomer Michael Barbieri as Tony.

150619_IND_College_Webhall_00360.CR2Indignation

Dir: James Schamus (Based on the novel by Phillip Roth)

It’s 1951, in Newark, N.J. Marcus (Logan Lerman) works in his father’s butcher shop plucking chickens. He’s in High School, captain of the baseball team, with straight A’s. Which is very important. Because America is at war in Korea, and all his friends are being drafted, sent to fight, and shipped back home in a coffin. Only Marcus might avoid the war if he gets into university — students are Sarah Gadon stars in INDIGNATIONexempt. Marcus isn’t concerned. But his Dad (Danny Burstein) is sick with worry that his only son will die. He develops a compulsion, and follows him around at night to make sure he’s safe. Marcus’s mom (Linda Emond) meanwhile is going bonkers over her husband’s obsessive behaviour. For Marcus, the only solution is to go somewhere far, far away.

He ends up a scholarship student at a college in small town Winesburg, Ohio. It’s a chance to shed his background, expectations, stereotypes – that of the insular Jewish community of 150625_Hospital_Escargot_00071.CR2Newark, New Jersey — by cultivating his intellect at a free and open mid-western campus. He can stay true to his ideals and beliefs: freedom of thought, freedom of speech, non-conformity, and freedom from religion – he’s an atheist. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done.

He arrives to find he’s placed in a dorm with the only other Jewish kids on campus not in a fraternity.

And the University head, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts) is a cold-war Sarah Gadon & Logan Lerman star in INDIGNATION - in theaters Augustconservative, a churchgoer and nosy as hell. And seems to take particular interest in Marcus, forcing him – to his great distress — to defend all his personal beliefs and philosphies.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The awesome Olivia Hutton (Toronto actress Sarah Gadon) seems to notice Marcus. Olivia is everything he dreams of – smart, beautiful, and independent with the manners of sophisticated society. Their first date is awkward but it’s what happens next when they park the car that’s important. She gives him a ind_0707_000471468363878blow job… and it blows his mind. This is 1951, and he can’t understand what happened. “Nice” girls aren’t supposed to be sexual. Why did she do what she did? And what does it mean?

Marcus is in love, but everyone else – his roommates, the Dean, his parents, and Olivia’s secret vullnerability – threaten to destroy their relationship. Can Marcus stay true to his beliefs in oppressive, 1950s America?

Indignation is another great drama. It’s moving and fascinating, with an unexpected twist at the end. It’s literary in form – full of long debates and discussions – alternating with intimate scenes of suppressed sexuality.

James Schamus is a first-time director but he’s no newbie. He’s an old hand at scriptwriting and producing movies. He was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s writer and producer for many years, including movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain to name just a few. He’s treading new waters here, but he does it quite well.

Lo and Behold, Little Men and Indignation 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.

Blend in, fight back or run away? Movies reviewed: Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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

When faced with a monolithic system, do you fight back, try to blend in or run away? This week, I’m looking at movies about people trying to make the land their own. We’ve got soldiers and slaves heading into the swamp; a boy and his uncle heading into the bush; and a teenaged girl heading into the jungle… of modelling.

13502538_1122801797742983_2500767010940376674_oNeon Demon

Wri/Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives)

Jesse (Elle Fanning, Ginger and Rosa) is a small-town girl recently arrived in L.A. She’s there to make it big as a fashion model. But to do that you need connections. Right away, she meets Dean an earnest young photographer (Karl Glusman, Love). He takes some photos for her portfolio. Then, at a nightclub filled with neon she meets three women ready to lend a hand. Two blonde supermodels named Sara and Gigi (American Abby Lee and Aussie Bella Heathcote) and a makeup artist. Red-haired Ruby (Jena Malone) says she knows all the right people.

Almost immediately, Jesse starts her dizzying rise to the top. She signs with a major agency, lands a gig with a famous photographer, and is chosen as the lead 13115958_1092780254078471_5268238841686621476_omodel in a runway show. A star is born.

But beneath its shiny veneer this world is rotten to the core. She still sleeps in a super-seedy motel room. Hank, her skeezy landlord (Keanu Reeves) is a serial predator always on the lookout for victims. Jesse is startled to find wild animals animals climbing through her window. Other models she encounters are just bitter vipers waiting to strike. And her makeup artist friend, Ruby? She’s a makeup artist all right — for corpses. Only Dean seems genuine…but he’s not famous, so he doesn’t fit in her new world.

13445279_1117929004896929_5538370989361420723_nWhen her so-called friends witness Jesse’s triumph at an audition they are consumed by jealousy and rage. In despair, one model smashes a mirror in the washroom. At first Jesse tries to comfort her. When she cuts her hand on the broken glass, something horrible happens. The model literally tries to suck up Jesse’s blood to gain some of her beauty and youth!

Neon Demon is a surreal fable set in the world of modeling. Danish director Refn Wilding is known for his dark, stylized urban dramas like Drive (starring Ryan Gosling). Like his other films, it has great music, pretty people and arresting images, both beautiful and hideous. I liked it, but it’s not your usual narrative. It’s strictly art-house horror, so it’s never clear whether it’s a dream, a fantasy or real life – it’s left up to you to decide.

unnamedFree State of Jones

Dir: Gary Ross

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a Confederate soldier from Mississippi. He’s a medic, so he sees his fair share of death at the frontlines. But when he sees a young boy (Jacob Lofland, Mud), a draftee from his home town, killed on his first day, he’s FREE STATE OF JONEShad enough. Newt takes his body back for a proper funeral. Which makes him a deserter.

Back in Jones County he discovers the problems aren’t just at the front – they’re behind the lines too. All the men and boys are being sent to die defending slavery, but the actual slave owners – anyone with more than 20 slaves – is exempt from serving. This war is being fought for rich people, the cotton plantation owners, not for the poor farmers like him and all his neighbours. Not just that. The army is stealing all the food, FREE STATE OF JONESclothing, practically anything of value from the poor farmers in what they called taxation. They need it to feed the troops they say. But they leave the plantations untaxed and untouched. The raids are all led by the villanous Lt Barbour (Bill Tangradi) with his foppish blond curls.

Newt has had enough — he flees to the swamps, attacked by a vicious army dog on the way. Runaway slaves there nurse him back to health and become his new family. In particular, beautiful Rachel (the wonderful British/South African actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a house slave who serves as a secret go-FREE STATE OF JONESbetween for the runaways and slaves still on the plantation. And the self-named Moses (Mahershala Ali) a righteous leader who escaped with a hideous iron contraption still locked around his neck.

Word spreads and poor white farmers join Newt’s makeshift army. He declares a free state in Jones and FREE STATE OF JONESneighbouring counties. He deems them all free men, both black and white, says farmers can reap what they sow, and that no one will ever go to war again for the rich. They start like Robin Hood, taking back food the army is stealing. But end up going to battle against the Confederate government from deep within Mississippi.

This is a fascinating, true story. It’s timely too. with the rise of populism in American politics. Warning – it’s a very long movie (almost feels like a mini-series). It continues long after the civil war, covering things like lynching, post-war slavery and KKK terror, rarely mentioned in mainstream movies. It’s the first time I’ve heard about this slice of history — a genuine civil rights movement born deep in Mississippi, in the midst of civil wat.

HUNTTHD-01_KeyArt_FMtrimHunt for the Wilderpeople

Dir: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows)

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a chubby 12 year old city kid, into hip hop and gangsta movies. He’s a “bad egg” says Paula his tough-as-nails social worker (Rachel House). He’s surly, unresponsive and a frequent runaway. Given up for adoption as an infant he’s reached his final foster home – if he doesn’t fit in here, he’ll be sent to juvie. His new 12541048_771498859649965_4286703744334521458_nhome is out in the middle of nowhere at an isolated farmhouse in the green-covered hills of New Zealand. He’s immediately welcomed by the warm and giving Bella (Rima Te Wiata). She decorates his room, makes him special food, even gives him a hot water bottle to snuggle up with at night. Her husband HFTW 1 Julian Dennison (Ricky), Sam Neill (Hec) CreditHec (Sam Neill), on the other hand won’t even give him the time of day. He’s reclusive and anti-social, but he does know his way around the woods. Ricky runs away a few times but soon realizes this is his real home with a loving mom, a new dog, he calls Tupac, and a place to write haiku.

But then disaster strikes, and his new life is imperiled. He flees into the bush to live off the land. Like the South African wildebeest he plans to walk a thousand miles. Unfortunately, he V1-0071_150525HFTWP23_620hasn’t a clue what to do. Luckily, Hec comes to his rescue to help him out. But unbeknownst to them both they become famous – in a bad way: the object of a nationwide manhunt. Can they survive in the bush without driving each other crazy?

This world is full of strange people. Like Psycho Sam, a tin-foil hat devotees and idiot city hunters who want to turn them in and collect the reward.

V1-0046_150521HFTWP17_93474This movie is told from an indigenous point of view. The director and most of the actors – though not the characters they play – are of Maori descent. The story incorporates indigenous culture. Ironically, it’s Uncle Hec, the white character, who passes on the indigenous learning that Ricky was never taught. And Ricky who shares contemporary culture and basic literacy with the isolated Hec.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good, light, family comedy. I like this movie — it’s cute and a lot of fun.

Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople 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

New Places. Films reviewed: Sunset Song, Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash

Posted in 1910s, Animals, Brazil, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Italy, Music, Rural, Scotland, Sex by CulturalMining.com on May 13, 2016

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

Someone asked me recently what I like about movies. I gave the usual answers: story, emotions, acting, images, themes, novelty… but she said she likes the places movies can take you, countries you otherwise wouldn’t get to visit. So this week I’m looking at dramas that take you to new places. There are celebrities in the Mediterranean, cowboys in Brazil, and farmers in northeast Scotland a century ago.

j266j4_SUNSETSONG_01_o3_8717089_1438274186Sunset Song

Dir: Terence Davies (based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon)

It’s the early 20th century in rural northeastern Scotland. Chris (Agyness Deyn) is happy and bright, a schoolgirl who lives on her family farm. She’s one with the land, but holds future ambitions of a career, maybe a schoolteacher. But her family life is less than nice. Her mother is depressed, her father (Peter Mullan) is a brute. She’s closest to her 8qKKrW_SUNSETSONG_06_o3_8716985_1438274181brother, Will, who hates their dad for good reason. Their father is quick with the whip and will bloody Will’s back for the slightest infraction, even a play on words using the name Jehovah. It’s a rough life.

RgjjVY_SUNSETSONG_05_o3_8716928_1438274178And when Mum survives an incredibly painful childbirth – it’s twins — she loses it and the family falls apart. Will leaves for greener pastures, Mum’s out of the picture, Dad has a stroke. Chris has to run the farm basically by herself, plowing the fields and harvesting the grain. She marries for love to a kind and gentle man named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). Their post-honeymoon life is idyllic until WWI. Then, suddenly, it’s loud sermons from the pulpit saying the Kaiser isQ1ggBM_SUNSETSONG_04_o3_8716871_1438274174 the antichrist and anyone who doesn’t join up to fight in the muddy trenches is both a coward and a traitor. He signs up. The next time she sees Ewan he’s been replaced by a horrible creature she doesn’t recognize.

Sunset Song is a coming-of-age novel about a strong and independent woman and the troubles she faces. But, being directed by the great Terence Davies makes it a different movie than you might expect. Time passes and scenes change like memories recalled much later. Chris is the narrator but she speaks in the third person. And as in most of his movies, characters are as likely to start singing songs  or reciting poetry or quoting biblical texts as they are to have “normal” dialogue. But it never feels odd or affected, it’s just how they talk. Sex and violence, fury and pain, anguish and celebration are all played out… by candlelight. Beautiful.

O76BgN_NEON_BULL_04_o3_8745169_1439475285Neon Bull

Wri/Dir: Gabriel Mascaro

Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a vaqueiro – literally a cowboy – in Brazil. He’s tough and swarthy with a black beard. He lives among the cows, feeding, washing and shoveling manure. His job is to tend the bulls used in a type of rodeo match called a vaquejada. Two men riding horses with a bull running between them have to take him down and cut off the end of his tail. Iremar is the one who powders the bull’s tail and pushes him into X6pO5k_NEON_BULL_05_o3_8745231_1439475286the ring. His work is rough, dirty and badly paid. But a more interesting life exists in the creative part of his mind. He sees images and fantasies which he brings to life, in the form of clothing and costumes.

He lives on the road as part of a travelling, impromptu family. There’s model-like Galega, his boss (Maeve Jinkings), her young daughter, the unfortunately-named Caca (Alyne Santana), and O76Byp_NEON_BULL_01_o3_8745069_1439475275others. In his free time he observes and collects: A mannequin he finds in a dump; surfing fonts he sees on a sign; the hair bobbed off the bulls tails at the rodeo… he keeps them all. And he sketches his designs over pictures of nude women in skin mags. He “dresses” them.

And he translates these into outfits for Galega to wear and perform in. But what outfits they are: a sexy mixture of horse and human.

And there lies the crux: they work with cows but dream about nZ64xl_NEON_BULL_02_o3_8745105_1439475276horses. Caca wants to own a horse, Galega dresses like one, and Iremar either wants to become one or have sex with one – it’s never completely clear. He certainly has erotic dreams involving horses, as well some real-life sexual interactions of a sort between man and beast. (I’ll say no more about that; you have to watch the movie yourself to understand what I’m saying.)

There’s not much of a story; see it for its images and ideas. It’s beautifully shot, alternating between explicit sex and amazing documentary-style animal scenes with the screen completely filled with white bulls. This is the kind of movie that gradually grows on you long after you’ve seen it.

A Bigger Splash PosterA Bigger Splash

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

Marrianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) lives in a secluded villa on a rocky Italian island in the Mediterranean. She’s a former rock star used to preforming in glam makeup and sequins before thousands of adoring fans. Until she lost her voice. Now she’s doted on by her much younger, faithful husband 1936314_1710870315814844_5082996276804202301_nPaul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They spend each day playing in bed or relaxing in their serene swimming pool.

Paul was introduced to Mariann by her first husband, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who felt a change was needed. Harry is a larger-than-life celebrity in his own right, a rock producer, who loves recalling his adventures with Mick Jagger. So Paul is in 12696974_1708471786054697_5272925310477745538_oawe of both Marianne and Harry. Which is why he can’t really object when Harry arrives uninvited at their doorstep with a blasé young woman named Penelope (Dakota Johnson). She lives with her mom in Connecticut but recently discovered she has a dad – Harry, of course. And here they both are.

Harry loves it. He’s the kind of guy who always needs a dramatic 12440495_1695143877387488_2734753458583916585_oentrance. And once he’s on stage he walks around naked for most of the movie. Penelope is looking for sex, and has her eye on both her putative father (she wants to see a DNA test) and Paul. Marianne is less than pleased by the interlopers. It opens up old wounds and unfinished business. She also prefers centre stage, she doesn’t want 12314676_1684142561820953_5135058809161723940_oto be a side kick in her own home. And Paul is overwhelmed by the uncomfortable situation, but keeps it to himself. Until things explode.

This movie feels like a stage play with four characters played by four great actors. They’re all fascinating but in a grotesque, hateable sort of way. As celebrities they’re used to being watched but they also need privacy. We get to watch them how they really are, and it ain’t pretty.

Some of the camera work bothered me – too show-offy and distracting — but the scenic beauty of a Mediterranean isle that’s also a landing point for asylum-seekers more than makes up for it. Luca Guadagnino also directed I Am Love in 2010;  A Bigger Splash is less stylized, more mature.

Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash, and Sunset Song all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Sweet Love in Bitter Times. Films Reviewed: Princess, Fever at Dawn PLUS TJFF

Posted in 1940s, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Hungary, Israel, Movies, Romance, Sweden, WWII by CulturalMining.com on May 6, 2016

2016_Festival_bookHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TJFF, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, is one of the biggest of its kind, with comedies, dramas and documentaries from Canada and around the world. This year they’re featuring works from the Golden Age of Canadian TV, from comics ptq1-utgkRCMkqxVWjuSSm0fGla_1yUdV37o6kV_UlcWayne and Shuster’s Shakespearean take on baseball, to an early TV drama with a young William Shatner. The festival is on now, including many free screenings. This week I’m looking at TJFF movies about the search for sweet love in bitter circumstances. There’s a dying man in Sweden looking for love in letters; and a young Israeli girl in a dysfunctional family who finds her match on the streets.

10390340_323724601085809_3429696569493410229_nPrincess

Dir: Tali Shalom-Ezer

Adar (Shira Haas) is an extremely intelligent 12 year old schoolgirl who is flunking out of school. She sleeps in every morning, and never shows up for class. She lives with her divorced mom Alma (Keren Mor) a beautiful doctor who is always at work, and Alma’s boyfriend Michael (Ori Pfeffer). Michael is a friendly, gregarious guy who also seems to lie about all day painting watercolours. He lost his job as a teacher.

Alma is worried about her daughter’s “illness” but not overly so. She’s more concerned that Michael isn’t paying enough attention to her: forget the kid, I’m the 10511189_342046895920246_5058560699891259446_nbeautiful one, aren’t I? she keeps asking. But Alma is a deep sleeper, and doesn’t notice Michael’s late night visits to Adar. Is he just comforting his “prince”, as he calls her, or is there something more sinister going on? Adar looks outside her home for answers. Wandering the city one day she sees a street kid play-boxing with a tall, skinny girl with long hair. She meets the girl and discovers… 10383857_324927560965513_4871300977690319209_ohe’s a boy! Alan (Adar Zohar Hanetz) is a lanky boy around her age, almost her doppelganger. They hit it off right away, sharing clothes and sexual secrets. He’s homeless, so he moves in with Adar’s family, just for a few days. But Michael starts paying too much attention to Alan now, and the 1979386_334504990007770_6056517843585025238_otension escalates.

Princess is a troubling and disturbing coming-of-age story told through the eyes of a young girl. The scary parts are horrific. It cuts away from night scenes to the point where you can’t be sure if she’s being abused or just imagining it – she blocks them from her mind, treating the “visits” as dreams. Not for the faint of heart. But this is not an exploitative movie — there are sweet scenes between Adar and Alan, the two kids just trying to figure things out. This is a difficult movie to watch, but one that treats the unspeakable with nuance and sensitivity. And all the acting, especially Haas and Hanetz, is fantastic.

10422291_391305784327869_4804890456130766117_nFever at Dawn (Hajnali láz)

Wri/Dir: Péter Gárdos

It’s 1945, just after the end of WWII. Miklos, 25, (Milan Schruff) is a former journalist from Hungary who finds himself in hospital in Sweden. He was a prisoner in a Nazi death camp and is in desperate need of medical attention. Along with many other Hungarian Displaced Persons, he is now in a refugee camp, not as a prisoners this time, but still kept locked up behind fences. That’s the good news.

The bad news comes from Doctor Lindholm (Gabor Mate). He says Miklos, you have 12360109_493388837452896_3257359522469345631_nspots on your lungs from Typhus and TB is gobbling up what’s left. You have six months to live. That’s why Miklos has a fever each morning and regularly coughs up blood.

But instead of giving up, he decides to write letters. 117 to be exact, all to Jewish Hungarian women in D.P. camps in Sweden. The letters are written in the particular style used only in Debrecen, a city in northeastern Hungary. He hears back from many of them, but with one, Lili (19) he feels something more. Lili (Emöke Piti) treats each letter as a treasure she hides 11046355_421465161311931_3345752524933432903_nunder her mattress, awaiting the day they can meet. Although they’ve never spoken to each other, or even seen each other’s faces, they both see it as true love.

But they face serious obstacles from well- meaning friends. Judith (Andrea Petrik) is a beautiful, raven-haired woman who survived the camps with Lili. Judith is devoted to her — she once hid potato peels in her mouth to save a starving Lili. When she hears of Miklos’ 117 letters she sees him as a womanizer 10257_491849797606800_4887635868100874382_nor a conman, and tries to sabotage their love. She wants to keep Lili all to herself. Meanwhile, Dr Lindholm wants Miklos to stay put, for the sake of his lungs — despite all his attempts to see her.

Can the two of them ever meet, even for a day? Will they love each other in the flesh as much as they do on paper? And do either of them have many days left to live?

Fever Dawn is shot in beautiful black and white, with dialogue in Swedish, Hungarian and German. Based on a true story, it’s a good old-fashioned romance of the purest kind. It hasn’t been Disney-fied — there is suicide, death, crime, racism and debauched sex going on all around them. But it’s up to true love and destiny to bring them together, even if it’s just for a moment.

Princess and Fever at Dawn are both playing at the Toronto Jewish film Festival. Go to tjff.com for details.

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

%d bloggers like this: