Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

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

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel 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

 

Daniel Garber talks with David Bull and Toru Tokikawa about Ukiyo-e Heroes at Hot Docs

Posted in Movies, Cultural Mining, documentary, Canada, Japan, Clash of Cultures, Art by CulturalMining.com on May 12, 2017

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

Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro – these are the masters of Ukiyo-e or  Japanese block printing.

Their images of great waves, courtesans and journeys along the Tokaido highway are recognized around the world. Ukiyo-e flourished in Edo Japan, with the masters treated like superstars. But when the country modernized and westernized, the craft of woodblock printing began to fade. It lay moribund, until an unusual influence, a Canadian craftsman, is helping to reawaken interest. Who is this Ukiyo-e Hero?

Ukiyo-e Heroes is the name of a new feature which premiered at HotDocs, Toronto’s International Documentary Festival. It tells the story of two people helping to revive interest in ukiyo-e in Japan: Canadian David Bull who learned the traditional craft despite all the obstacles imposed on him. And Jed Henry, an American artist obsessed with Japanese pop culture. The film is directed by LA-based Toru Tokikawa, known for his award-winning music videos.

I spoke with Toru and David in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Daniel Garber talks to OCADU artist-in-residence Isaac Julien with Yuling Chen

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Migrants, Movies, Toronto, UK by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

In the late 1970s and early 1980s,  Thatcher’s England was a place of great unrest and mistrust. The country was rocked by strikes, demonstrations and riots. It was also the time of a burgeoning music scene, with fashion, art and the punk movement inspiring international change. It was into this world that Isaac Julien came of age in London’s East EndAs an artist and filmmaker he embraced three separate movements: the Afro-Caribean scene, London’s gay nightlife and the largely white progressive left. His work incorporated themes of sex, politics and interracial  relationships. Over the decades to follow, his focus shifted from film to art installations.

From young soul rebel to international art star, Julien’s moving image installations can now be seen in Europe, Asia and around the world. Recently two of his works ran at the Royal Ontario Museum, another is on at the Museum of Modern Art, and two of his early films will be screening at Toronto’s Images Festival. He’s artist in residence at OCAD University (the Ontario College of Art and Design) where he is mentoring five students who will follow him to London.

Yuling Chen is a Toronto artist, originally from Hainan, China. She creates animation, video and performance art and is studying with Isaac Julien.

I spoke to Isaac Julien and Yuling Chen in studio at CIUT. 

 

 

Fighting Monsters. Films Reviewed: Tickling Giants, The Void, The Zookeeper’s Wife

Posted in 1940s, Animals, Arab Spring, Cultural Mining, Horror, Human Rights, Journalism, Poland, Psychological Thriller, WWII by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

If relationship, family, work or school problems are too hard to handle, a movie is a good place to escape it. Especially if the people on the screen are fighting real monsters. This week I’m looking at movies bout people facing monsters. There’s a Polish zookeeper facing the Nazis, a political comic facing a military government, and a smalltown sheriff facing something scary… he’s just not sure what.

Tickling Giants

Dir: Sara Taksler

Bassem Youssef is a heart surgeon in Cairo. In the heady days of the Arab Spring, he heads to Tahrir Square to help support protesters as best he can. Many of them are beaten and need medical attention. But what he really wants to be is a comedian – specifically a political comic like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. Under Mubarek, outright criticism of the government was not permitted. But with the newfound freedom that came with the popular uprising, he is able to launch a TV show, known simply as the show. With a team of writers and producers it brings political satire to the masses. The show is wildly popular, but the newly elected president Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t like him one bit. So he takes him to court and loses! Baassem Youssef is a free man. Until… Morsi is overthrown in a military coup, putting General Sisi in charge of Egypt. Sisi is popular and dictators don’t like criticism. SomeoPro-Sisi protesters declare Youssef a traitor for criticizing the army, while others fear he will disrupt the relative calm the military coup brought. Is Bassem Youssef just what Egyptians need? Or is he too much, too soon?

Tickling Giants is a funny and informative documentary about how US style political humour fares in Egypt’s. Illustrated with political cartoons by a young man Andeel, it offers behind the scene look at TV production and how it influences and is affected by politicians. One criticism: it could have been a bit shorter; it doesn’t take almost two hours to tell this simple story.

The Void

Wri/Dir: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski

Daniel (Aaron Poole) is a police sheriff in a small town – a place with very little crime. So he’s startled to see a bloodied young man, under the influence, come stumbling out of the woods. But when he takes him to the nearby hospital where his wife Alison (Kathleen Munroe) is a doctor in the ER, things get strange. Patients behave erratically, and two heavily armed men show up at the gate threatening to kill the kid. Stranger still, a group of identically-dressed men appear outside the hospital brandishing large knives. They are wearing white sheets and hoods, sort of like flat-topped Klansmen, but with a mysterious triangle painted on the front their faces.

And otherworldly visions appear in Daniel’s mind, full of dark clouds roiling over a lunar landscape. Has the town been invaded by satanic worshippers, drug fiends or sex-crazed maniacs? Nobody knows for sure. It’s up to the people trapped in the hospital — including a pregnant woman, a kindly doctor (Kenneth Welsh) a young intern, and a state trooper (Art Hindle) – have to settle their differences and fight the mysterious powers before they tear each other apart.

The Zone is a horror and psychological thriller about ordinary people driven to extremes in there resistance to unknown killers. There are some fun scenes and a few shocking parts — and I loved the weird images that appear in Daniel’s head — but on the whole, it’s more unintentionally funny that genuinely scary. Some of they dialogue is atrocious, and much of the movie left me scratching my heads as to what exactly is going on. (For example, when two characters are fighting in an imaginary landscape, you don’t know which of them is hallucinating.) I kept waiting for the robot commentators from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to appear on the screen to explain it all to me.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Dir: Niki Caro

It’s 1939 in Warsaw. Husband and wife Antonina and Jan Zabinsky (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) run the zoo as if the amimals are family members. Especially Antonina. She’s a female Doctor Doolittle, who really does talk to the animals. She goes for daily runs around the park with a dromedary and sleeps with a white lion cub. And at a party, everyone sees her save an elephant calf from choking. Especially impressed is Lutz Heck, a leading German zoologist (Daniel Brühl). But when the Germans invade, their world is turned upside down. The zoo is bombed and wild animals run rampant across the city. Afterwards Lutz offers to help save the zoo animals by sending the best ones – the purest breeds – to Berlin. (Purest breeds? Sounds a bit Nazi…)  Sure enough, the next time she sees him, he’s dressed in full Nazi  regalia. He’s a high-ranked officer. And he has his eye on the beautiful Antonina. But she and Jan have a plan of their own: to help save their Jewish friends and colleagues from certain death in the Warsaw Ghetto, and help move guns to the resistance. The concoct a complex plan to smuggle people out of the ghetto inside a garbage truck holding slop to feed their pigs. (They’ve turned their beloved zoo into a pig farm.) They are hidden in plain sight, inside the Zabinsky villa even while Lutz is operating an army base on the same premises. Will there plan succeed? Or will they and their rescued friends be sent to their deaths?

Based on a true story, the Zookeeper’s Wife is a romantic drama set in war-torn Warsaw, where a zoo serves as a secret sanctuary for Jews escaping the Nazi death machine. It’s also a Holocaust rescue story… with furry animals. As such, it abbreviates familiar images that have been shown in movies so often: broken windows, Nazi banners covering public buildings, ashes falling like snowflakes, children loaded onto cattle cars… At the same time, it avoids most of the blood, death and gore — the camera always turns away. There are some devestatingly sad parts, like a young girl, Urszula (Shira Haas) who is raped by two German soldiers before she is rescued.  Still the movie didn’t show me much I haven’t already seen, aside from the zoo  — which had new, haunting images.

Good as a tearjerker.

The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Void both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Tickling Giants is playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this weekend. Go to tiff.net/human-rights-watch/.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Garber talks with Hirokazu Kore-eda about After the Storm at #TIFF16

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Interview, Japan, Movies by CulturalMining.com on March 16, 2017

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

Ryota is a middle-aged man, separated from his wife and son, and estranged from his mother. Once a rising star in Japan’s literary world, his one novel gathers dust in second-hand bookstores. He hasn’t published anything for 15 years. Instead he earns his living at a skeezy detective agency, taking incriminating photos and selling them back to the victims caught on film. What money he does earn goes not for rent or child support but directly to the racetracks. A death in the family brings all the players in his life — his mother, his ex-wife Kyoko and Shingo his son – together again, in his childhood home. But clouds are gathering as a typhoon approaches. Will they still be talking… after the storm?

After the Storm is the name of the newest film by festival favourite and award-winning filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu. He wrote, directed and edited this film, a bittersweet, yet tender look at families, disappointment and loss. This film had its Canadian premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. I spoke to him on location at TIFF16.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s feature After the Storm is now playing in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

 

 

Daniel Garber talks with movie critic Simon Howell about the Oscars

Posted in Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Movies by CulturalMining.com on February 24, 2017

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

Hooray for Hollywood. Yes, it’s Oscar time again, with the excessive glitz and glamour that goes with the award ceremony: things like 100,000 dollar swagbags, and a red carpet to show off a parade of dresses. Then there’s the awards themselves, the celebration of an increasingly rarefied and incestuous genre that some say exists only for the awards themselves. And yet… as many as a billion people still watch it – including me.

To help me talk about the Oscars and present our (probably) wrong predictions, I invited movie pundit Simon Howell.  Simon co-hosts two podcasts: one focused on genre film called Sordid Cinema, and another The Lodgers, a Twin Peaks podcast, that he also produces. Previously a music and talk show host at CJLO in Montreal, Simon is an “avid devotee of all forms of expression that let you remain invisible.”

I spoke to Simon Howell in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

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

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

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

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

Whence America? Where is that country heading?

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

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

Dir: Stanley Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Garber talks with Japanese ghouls Sadako and Kayako at #TIFF16

Posted in Cultural Mining, Horror, Japan, Movies, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 27, 2017
2-svsk4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Do you remember those scary Japanese movies from the late 1990s and early 2000s? The Ring had a cursed videotape that killed anyone who watched it and received a phone call from a girl named Sadako. And in Ju-on (aka the Grudge) anyone entering an old house was haunted by the spirits of a drowned little boy and an 1-sadakovs-kayako_01-brightened-rep-stillangry mother named Kayako. Well, they’re both back again — but with a twist.
Two art students, Yuri and Natsumi, are infected by the videotape and could be dead in two days, while a schoolgirl named Suzuka is strangely drawn to the haunted house nearby with hazardous results. The only way to save them? Somehow provoke a fight between the two ghosts, Sadako and Kayako. But who will win?
Sadako v Kayako is a new horror movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is viewable now on shudder.com. It features Minami Elly as Sadako and Endo Runa as Kayako.
I spoke with them at TIFF16.

Love lost. Films reviewed: Nocturnal Animals, Manchester by the Sea, Allied

Posted in 1940s, Art, Cultural Mining, Family, Meta, Sex, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2016

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

With U.S. Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas just a month away, this is when Hollywood pulls out the big guns – Oscar-bait films, serious topics and big-name actors. This week I’m looking at three of these grown-up dramas. There’s love and lies in London, lost love in LA, and family ties in New England.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALSNocturnal Animals

Dir: Tom Ford

Susan (Amy Adams) is a rich, LA art dealer who leads a rarefied but hollow life. She receives a package in the mail from Tony, a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). They were a passionate couple in their twenties but she dumped him when his career stalled in favour of the unfaithful Stepford husband she’s currently married to. But she’s intrigued by what he sent her: a novel called Nocturnal Animals in manuscript form. The story comes to life on the screen as she reads it.

It’s about a middle class family brutally carjacked on a desert highway by redneck killers. The husband survives the attack and vows revenge. He enlists a local sheriff NOCTURNAL ANIMALS(Michael Shannon) to help.

As Susan reads the book, she examines her current, pointless life, and remembers earlier days with her ex, Tony. The movie alternately follows all three strands — the novel, her flashbacks and the present day — as filtered through Susan’s mind.

Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating but flawed movie. It moves you emotionally, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALSwithout tears or love. The emotions it stirs are fear, revulsion and uncomfortableness. Director Tom Ford made the unusual leap from high fashion to Hollywood, so Nocturnal Animals is visually powerful. But it’s too “meta”. We see Tony’s book through the reader (Susan)’s eyes as envisioned by Tom Ford – three steps away from the plot. Which leads to weird images, like performance art we see in Susan’s gallery appearing again, but in distorted form, in Tony’s story. Get it?

Interestingly, Ford bucks the Hollywood trend of exploiting women’s bodies. The naked women you see here are either grossly obese… or dead. Instead, he undresses his men — Gyllenhall, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Johnson — at every possible opportunity. Lots of surface shocks and surprises in Nocturnal Animals, but nothing deep.

76e05278-81a6-4fc7-97b4-861c73eee46eManchester by the Sea

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman who lives alone in Quincy, just outside Boston. He’s called back to his hometown, a picturesque, fishing village, when his divorced brother John dies. It’s up to him to tell his nephew Patrick that his dad is dead. Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is 16 years old, on the school hockey team and in a band. Lee was close to him as a child, until something terrible happened, and Lee left town. Now, suddenly and against his wishes, he finds himself Patrick’s de facto dad. It’s written in his brother’s will. He doesn’t know what to do.

He had kids once, and Randi, his ex-alcoholic, ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still lives MBTS_2354.CR2there, but that was long ago.

At first he acts like Chris’s buddy – lets him drink, take girls home, say or do whatever he likes. But gradually reality sets in as Lee realizes he has to do the right thing: either raise him properly or find someone else who can. Trouble is Lee’s reputation in this town is dirt, and no one will hire him. Can he raise his stubborn nephew despite their geographic and emotional divide?

MBTS_3869.CR2Manchester by the Sea sounds like a typical movie, but it’s not.. It’s an emotional powerhouse that will leave you shaken. The movie is edited in a chop-up style, with flashbacks appearing unannounced right after a present-day scene. So you have to pay attention to understand it. It’s a devastating tearjerker, gradually revealed as his flashbacks come to life. The whole film is exquisitely structured, with certain scenes repeated but with new, subtle variations and revelations. And Casey Affleck might be Ben Affleck’s little brother but you can see who has all the talent. Casey is just fantastic in this understated drama.

I recommend this movie.

14708276_1786944501572397_9000336162931941931_nAllied

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s 1942, when Casablanca was a hot spot for foreign spies. Max (Brad Pitt) is a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who carries out daring flights behind enemy lines. He’s in French Morocco to meet up with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) a legendary spy with the French resistance. In ten days they plan to assassinate a top Nazi at a high-society party. He is pretending to be her husband, 14700787_1785050565095124_6988829959708533249_oa phosphate executive from Paris, madly in love with her. But they are actually meeting for the very first time. They play their parts well, laughing, kissing and staring in each other’s eyes. And, the night before the big day, not knowing if they will survive, they make passionate love in a car surrounded by a sand storm.

Later, Marion joins Max in London. This 14884429_1792693047664209_3520425651819957282_otime they really are in love. They marry, have a child, and settle into a normal life in Hampstead, even as German bombs fall all around them. But then Max receives distressing orders from HQ. He must carry out a blue dye test – planting a false message to see if it‘s picked up by enemy agents. And who is the potential Nazi spy? Marion! If she proves to be a double agent, Max has to kill her in cold blood. Can spies ever know if they’re really in love when they’re so good at telling lies?

I liked but didn’t love Allied. Marion Cotillard is as passionate as Brad Pitt is stiff and wooden. Most of the side characters are instantly forgettable, the plot has holes in it, pod2gand there seems to be cigarette product placement throughout the film. The movie is not slow, but it feels flat until the last quarter, when it finally gets exciting. Allied is an OK historical drama… but it ain’t no Casablanca.

Nocturnal Animals and Allied are now playing today, while Manchester by the Sea opens November 25th in Toronto, check your local listings. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, an animated reboot of Dr Who: The Powers of the The blood-in-the-snowDaleks, a 70s episode lost for 50 years, is showing next Wednesday; and an all-Canadian horror festival is on this weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.

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

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