Strong female roles. Films reviewed: In the Fade, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches PLUS Forever My Girl

Posted in C&W, Depression, Drama, drugs, Family, Germany, Nazi, New Orleans, Quebec, Terrorism by CulturalMining.com on January 19, 2018

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

It’s funny. A few years ago I was wondering what happened to all the female movie stars? They had been pushed into the margins, with hardly any good female roles. This year, though, there are more great female performances than you shake a stick at. Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Francis McDormand in Three Billboards, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, Claire Armstrong in Dim the Fluorescents, Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and so on.

So this week I’m looking at some more powerful performances by women in very intense movies. There’s a woman in Hamburg confronting Nazi terrorists, and an isolated teenager in rural Quebec reacting to the outside world.

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes)

Wri/Dir: Simon Lavoie

It’s some point in the distant past in rural Quebec. Two brothers with dirty faces and scruffy hair (Marine Johnson and Antoine L’Écuyer) live with their father on an isolated farm in the woods. They’re close enough to the next village to hear churchbells in the distance, but they never go there. It’s a grand old stone manor filled with empty rooms and whole sections blocked off. The teenaged boys are forbidden from seeing them. If you go there, says their father (Jean-François Casabonne) you will die.

The house is lit by church candelabra arranged on altars with lanterns carried through the dark halls. The boys can read but most books are forbidden. They listen to liturgical records on their wind-up gramophone. And the younger brother sometimes visits a terrible monster, locked up in a dark shed. He feeds it apples and pieces of bread through gaps in a wooden cage.

The boys dress in frontier clothes and priest’s hassocks. Younger brother has to keep watch – his bullying older brother often jumps him in the woods and does something to him he doesn’t understand. He keeps his chest tightly wrapped in cloth – his father insists. But he still has questions. He has seen pigs mating in the sty. Why don’t I have a penis? His father says, I told you, it fell off when you were younger. He also believes babies are made out of clay.

It’s a rough life, but it’s all they know, save for faint memories of a beautiful woman in a white dress, and two little girls in pinafores. In fact they can’t remember ever seeing someone from the outside. Until one day when a young man (Alex Godbout) drives to the house on a motorcycle. The town needs to survey the property, he says, but Père and Frère chase him away with their rifles. Is he a knight in shining armour? Or does he signal an invasion by the churchgoing villagers? And when something happens to Père, the two boys discover the house’s secrets, and some of their own. Like the fact that the younger brother… is pregnant!

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a powerful, surreal drama with an almost fairytale feel. It tells the story of naïve teenagers whose father (who went mad) is their only source of information. It’s shot in stunning black and white, and is filled with sinister images of the all-pervasive Québec church. It’s creepily fascinating with fantastic acting by L’Écuyer and Johnson. This is a great — but highly disturbing — movie.

In The Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

Wri/Dir: Fatih Akin

It’s present-day Hamburg. Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger) is a happily married woman with a young son named Rocco. She likes artistic tattoos, going to saunas with her best friend Brigitte and making love to her husband. Nuri is of Kurdish ancestry, but wears his hair like a samurai. They were married when he was still in prison. Now he runs a translation office in a Turkish section of town.

Katja’s life is nearly perfect until something devestating happens. An explosioin levels her husband’s office killing him and their son. It turns out it was a bomb, possibly the work of terrorists. And Katja thinks she knows who did it. She saw a blonde woman park her bike right in front of the office on the day of the explosion. In fact she even spoke to her so she knows she’s German. But the police, the press, even her own mother, keep looking at the victim as the cause of the killing. Is it the Turkish Mafia. Islamic terrorists? Drugs?

Katie talks with Danilo her lawyer and good friend (Denis Moschitto) to make sense of it all. They realize it must be be a right wing terrorist — a nazi — who did this. Eventually the police make an arrest based on her description, and two Nazis, a young couple named Edda and Andre Möller (Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Brandhoff) are put on trial for the killings. But will they be convicted?

In the Fade is a great dramatic thriller that combines Katja’s grief and sorrow with her need for vengeance. It’s told in three chapters: her interactions with her family, in-laws and the police; the trial itself; and the heart-pumping aftermath, when she decides to track down and punish the killers. Diane Kruger is just fantastic as Katje, the best I’ve ever seen her, and she puts her whole body and soul into the part. You can really feel her anger, grief and frustration, but she never overacts.

I liked this movie a lot.

Also opening today is this romantic drama:

Forever My Girl

Wri/Dir: Bethany Ashton Wolf (based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin)

Liam Page (Alex Roe) is a Country & Western superstar. He writes and performs his own songs with a back-up band. He can fill a New Orleans stadium with adoring fans.  Teenaged girls will chase him, screaming, down a city street when he appears in public. They love his smooth voice, handsome face and his sentimental songs. But offstage Liam is a real prick. He’s emotionally vapid, sleeping with different groupies each night. He’s rude and abusive toward his affable, bearded manager Sam (Peter Cambor) and his LA publicist Doris. And he’s addicted to alcohol and drugs.

He carries only one thing to remind him of his life as a smalltown boy: an old flip phone with a recorded message. But after a tragic turn of events, he finds himself back in his hometown, St Augustine, LA, for a funeral. He may be famous, but in “the Saint” his name is mud. You see, he was engaged to marry his highschool sweetheart Josie (Jessica Rothe) eight years earlier, but left her standing at the altar, without an explanation or apology.  When she sees him now, Josie greets him with a sucker punch. And he discovers he has a 7-year-old daughter named Charly (Abby Ryder Forston) that Josie has been raising on her own.

Can Liam change his ways and conquer his demons? Will Josie ever talk to him again? Can he spend time with his precocious daughter? And can his father, the town preacher, forgive his selfish son?

I’m not a big fan of country music or conventional romances involving small-town churchgoers — this is not the kind of movie I rush to see.  It takes few risks and most of the characters walked straight out of Central Casting. But I found it entertaining anyway. I assumed the aw-shucks, southern boy Liam was played by a non-actor, a country singer who basically played himself — woodenly, at that — and performed his own tunes. Turns out I was way off the mark. This UK actor had me convinced he was a real country singer from the Deep South!

In the Fade and Forever My Girl open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is playing at Canada’s Top Ten festival; go to TIFF.net for details. Also opening today is Hostiles (read my review here) and My Piece of the City  (listen to my interview with director Moze Mossanen here). 

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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Life and Death. Movies reviewed: Oddball, I Saw the Light

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, Adventure, Animals, Australia, C&W, Cultural Mining, Drama, Environmentalism, Kids, Movies, Music, US by CulturalMining.com on April 9, 2016

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

It’s spring film festival season in Toronto right now. There’s Cinefranco Special Quebec showing French language movies for free. Next week is the 29th annual Images festival,  with galleries and movie theatres both images.jpgpresenting art on film. And Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary festival is on later this month. But right now, starting today, is TIFF Kids, with movies from all over the 580ad56c1332d2d14ea2d62d12e141e1world for kids age 3-13, including many free screenings.

This week I’m looking at movies about life and death. There’s a real-life drama about a dog trying to keep some animals alive, and a biopic about a country and western singer trying to drink himself to death.

g5yk0j_oddball_02_o3_8961200_1456928702Oddball

Dir: Stuart McDonald

Emily (Sarah Snook) is a conservationist from a small town in Australia. It’s a tourist village filled with locals dressed in historical outfits. Emily lives with her young daughter Olivia (Coco Jack Gillies) and her boyfriend, Bradley (Alan Tudyk) a tourism exec from New York. Her job? To keep alive a tiny flock of fairy penguins. These adorable little birds return each year to nest on a rocky island just offshore. It’s a wildlife preserve. But the penguins are threatened by an invasive, European species – foxes – that is knocking down their numbers. For theNxG8zv_oddball_06_o3_8961424_1456928765 island to remain a sanctuary, free of development, it has to have at least ten little penguins.

So they set up a watchman with a tranquilizer gun to stop the foxes, and build special boxes for the penguins to nest in. But still the numbers decrease. What can they do to save them?

ElyP3W_oddball_05_o3_8961362_1456928748Enter Olivia’s Grandpa (Shane Jacobson) and his dog Oddball. Swampy is a husky, bearded chicken farmer, given to frank talk and wild schemes. Oddball is a furry white dog who keeps the foxes out of Swampy’s chicken coops. Olivia adores her grandpa and his dog. Emily does too, but finds them a bit if a nuisance. Bradley can’t stand the dog. When Oddball runs rampant through the town, all hell breaks loose. He messes up an important event and upsets the apple cart. Literally. The town bigwigs are furious and banish Oddball to the farm 8qg9Jr_oddball_03_o3_8961241_1456928717forever.

But when Swampy notices how kind Oddball is to a penguin he saves, he and Olivia hatch a secret plan: Oddball becomes the official Penguin Guard on the rocky island. But they mustn’t let the bad guys who want to develop the island into a tourist trap – know what they’re doing. Can they save the penguins, outsmart the townfolk and preserve the sanctuary?

This is a cute movie based on a true story. It’s full of fair dinkum Aussie culture. And it avoids most of the pitfalls of kids movies: it’s not too violent or scary, no talking dogs, no princesses, nothing supernatural, and no commercial tie-ups. The only thing this movie is selling is conservationism.

db527156-7641-4c3b-8acf-64302690018bI Saw the Light

Wri/Dir: Marc Abraham

It’s 1944, in Andalusia, Alabama. Hank and Audrey are young musicians madly in love. Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) is pretty as a picture with her doe eyes and auburn hair. Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) is skinny and tall with jug ears. They’re getting married on the sly, with no wedding, no preacher, no guests. They hope to be famous someday, but for now they still live with Hank’s single mom, Lillie (Cherry Jones). She’s a classic stage mother chauffeuring her son to shows for 10 years now. 4fbd6615-aef7-49f6-a24a-2e1f61302ab4 Her Hank can do no wrong, but that Audrey – she could be trouble.

Hank and his band — guitar, bass, fiddle and steel — perform their hillbilly tunes on local radio each morning and at a bar at night. Some people like the sad songs he writes, but it doesn’t stop the hecklers and fighters from making his life miserable. One man nearly breaks his back in an unprovoked barroom brawl. So Hank shows up drunk as a skunk at most gigs. Alcohol eases his pain. His mom keeps him happily inebriated dropping bottles of hooch into his coat pockets, and Audrey doesn’t like it one bit. She thinks they’d be famous by now if he weren’t such a lush. And when he drops her from his radio show – her screechy voice is unpopular — things get dicey between them.

1S5B3346.JPGThough he’s a prolific songwriter, churning out hits by the dozen, he wants to be known as a performer. His ultimate goal? To join the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

I Saw the Light follows Hank Williams’ quick rise to fame, cut short by a heart attack at age 29. Based on a tell-all biography, the movie concentrates on his problems at home and his troubles at work. So we get to see his fights with his wife, his extramarital affairs, his alcoholism, his back pain and his 79f73698-fa5a-44b4-854a-e084b4315d1daddiction to painkillers. At work we’re privy to the back room deals of the country music industry, with his agent/manager Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) as our guide and sometime narrator. The question is — why? His agent is boring. And his home life is depressing. It’s all very sordid and sad with hardly any good moments to relieve his relentless funk. I’m not saying the movie’s boring, just not fun to watch. We can ogle Hank’s hard times from afar, but we never get to see into his heart or share his passion.

The one redeeming factor is Hank Williams’ music. Something about his songs — both the sad tunes and the upbeat ones – always brings a tear to my eye.

I Saw the Light opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Oddball is the opening night movie for TIFF Kids. 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.

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