Disruptions. Films reviewed: Marlina the Murderer, Darken, North Mountain

Posted in Canada, Darkness, Feminism, Indigenous, Indonesia, LGBT, Nova Scotia, violence, Western, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 29, 2018

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

It’s Canada Day weekend – a good time for fireworks, beer, and maybe a movie. So I’ve been looking around for films not from south of the border — and three unusual ones caught my eye. Two are from Canada — and one from Indonesia — and two of the three are directed by and feature women.

This week I’m looking at three movies about people whose lives are disrupted by unexpected visitors. There’s a Mi’kmaq trapper fighting off thieves in eastern Canada, a widow fighting off rapists in eastern Indonesia, and a Toronto nurse fighting medieval soldiers… in a parallel universe.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Dir: Mouly Surya

It’s present day Sumba, an island in Eastern Indonesia near Flores and Timor Leste. Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a sad and lonely widow. Her only child died years ago, and her husband’s body sits beside her in her home, wrapped in traditional cloth, awaiting his funeral. All she has left are her cattle, chickens and pigs. But her sad relections are interrupted one day by a visitor on a motorbike. It’s Marcus (Egy Fedly) an evil, long-haired outlaw from a nearby town. He heard she’s alone and comes there to take advantage. I have a gang of six more men on their way, he says. You’re a woman all alone, so we own you now. You’re going to cook us a meal. We will steal your cattle and anything else you own. And — if you’re lucky — we’ll rape you, but not kill you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Marlina is sickened and terrified… but not helpless. She poisons four of the men with her chicken soup, and when Marcus sexually assaults her, Marlina, in a moment of desperation, grabs a machete and chops off his head! Not knowing what else to do, she decides to turn herself in to the local police.

At the truck-taxi stop she meets a neighbour named Novi (Dea Panendra) who reacts rather mildly to the dead man’s head she’s carrying.  Novi is more concerned with her own problems. She’s ten months pregnant but the baby just won’t come out! So they set off down the long and twisting road to the nearest town.

But two of the killers are still after her. Will Novi ever give birth? Should Marlina turn herself in? And what will she do with Marcus’s head?

Marlina the Murderer is a genre-busting drama, part revenge pic, part feminist western, part art house dark comedy. It has an amazingly calm tone in the midst of horrible crime. There are horses, and posses, and road trips and fights. I haven’t seen many Indonesian movies, so I’m far from an expert, but the two stars were both in great action movies I actually have seen: Headshot and The Raid 2 – which is a good sign. And it introduces the music, customs and amazing scenery and people of Sumba, a place I had never heard of before this film, but now at least have experienced a taste of it.

Marlina the Murderer is a brilliant, rich and baffling movie.

Darken

Dir: Audrey Cummings

Eve (Bea Santos) is a Toronto nurse who’s feeling down. She’s depressed and her life has lost its point. Until one day she runs into a woman on a sidewalk calling for help. The woman is dressed in a strange medieval leather outfit and is bleeding from a knife wound. She asks Eve to rescue her friends. But when Eve opens a door to a nearby building, she finds herself, like Alice in Wonderland, in a whole other world.

It’s a land called Darken, composed of a series of linked rooms and hallways, It’s always indoors in Darken and always nighttime. It’s governed by a goddess who provides life through her blood and is ruled by an autocratic priestess named Clarity (Christine Horne). It serves as a refuge for outcasts from different eras, all of whom live peacefully together. That is, until now.

The Mother Goddess is out of the picture, and Clarity has declared war on all dissidents. Her spear-wielding guards – all decked out in Game of Thrones gear – provide her the muscle; and a lackey (Ari Millen) — who reminds me of the young Penguin on Gotham — defends her legal rulings.

But Eve falls in with the rebels, including the fierce Kali (Olunike Adeliyi) and the kindly Mercy (Zöe Belkin) who communicates using sign language. Which side will win? And can Eve ever get back to her normal world?

Darken is a science fiction/fantasy set in a parallel universe. It ranges from unexpected plot twists to absolute cheese. Above all, this feature shouts TV, from the set design, to the lighting, to the acting and the script. There are even scenes that fade to black as if they’re saying: Insert Ad Here. And I find shows shot entirely on dark blue sets claustrophobic. But that’s just me.

On the other hand, women-centred science fiction or fantasy movies are rarer than an affordable apartment in Toronto. And this one has a a goddess, an evil priestess, a heroine, and noble fighters — all played by women. The men are there as peripheral characters or arm candy.

And for that reason alone it might be worth seeing.

North Mountain

Dir: Bretten Hannam

Wolf (Justin Rain) is a young hunter/trapper in a Nova Scotia forest. He knows every rock and tree on North Mountain: where to set the snares, where to hunt the deer. He lives a traditional Mi’kmaq life in his Grandmother’s wooden cabin, a life still lit by candlelight. He uses a bow and arrow to kill the animals he eats, and honours and respects each life he sacrifices. It’s a simple, quiet existence, punctuated by monthly visits to the town store where he catches up with Mona (Meredith MacNeil), a long time friend.

Nothing changes except the seasons, until… he finds an older man’s body leaning against a tree. He’s bleeding, barely alive, and is holding a leather satchel filled with cold, hard American cash. Wolf tends to his wounds until Crane (Glenn Gould) comes back to life. Turns out he’s from this place and speaks the same language.

Their first conversations are fraught with violence and fistfights and filled with suspicion. But at some point their initial violent antipathy shifts to something very different: they become lovers! And just as they’re making sense of it, a group of strangers comes to the mountain. A posse of crooked cops and organized criminals. They want the cash and don’t care who they kill to get it. Can a pair of indigenous lovers wielding bow, arrow and tomahawk overcome a heavily-armed contingent?

North Mountain is half violent thriller, half passionate, aboriginal gay love story. Rain and Gould (of Plains Cree and Mi’kmaq heritage, respectively) are excellent as the two lovers, and the action – including references to Peckinpaw’s ultra-violent Straw Dogs – is as heart-pounding as any good thriller.

North Mountain, Darken and Marlina the Murderer 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.

Shells. Films reviewed: Journey’s End, Ready Player One, The China Hustle

Posted in 1910s, China, Class, Corruption, Darkness, documentary, Drama, Games, Movies, Poverty, Science Fiction, Wall Street, War, WWI by CulturalMining.com on March 30, 2018

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

It’s a holiday weekend filled with eggs, whether hard boiled or made of chocolate with a prize inside. So this week I’m looking at three new movies about… shells. There are VR gamers looking for a hidden easter egg, Wall Streeters investing in shell corporations, and WWI soldiers dodging mortar shells.

Journey’s End

Dir: Saul Dibb

It’s March, 1918, in the WWI trenches of northern France. Underground, where the officers stay, it’s dark, dank and smelly. Up on the surface its deadly dangerous, with snipers aiming at your head. Four British divisions rotate their stays at the front at one week per month. It’s like a lottery – with a one in four chance of dying. And the soldiers in Company C are just trying to stay sane and alive. There’s the fatherly Osborne (Paul Bettany) who everyone calls “Uncle”, the indefatigable cook Mason (Toby Jones), and the shell-shocked Hibbert.

So no one can understand why the green, idealistic Lt Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) pulls strings to join this benighted group. Why? His upper classman Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is stationed there and he wants to see him again. But he doesn’t realize the level of death and despair that has taken hold there. And that his hero, Stanhope,

is now a mean and bitter alcoholic. The soldiers there are forced to make pointless raids in daylight so as not to interrupt the dinner schedule of far-off Generals. And things reach a boiling point when word gets out the Germans are about to attack on Thursday, right there. They’re essentially sentenced to die at the front. How do they all handle this?

Journey’s End – based on the classic play – is a tense retelling of an old war story, exactly 100 years later. It deals with the futility of war, the rigid British class system, and the male comeradery of life in the trenches. The acting is very good, and the camera wonderfully captures a world lit only by flickering lanterns. Even so, it was hard to sympathize with the stuff-upper-lip, tally-ho language of the script. The long theatrical conversations might might work on stage but not on the screen. The main emotions I got from this movie were depression, disgust claustrophobia and fatalism. It all felt too long, too slow, and too distant, especially once you know their fate… Just die already!

Ready Player One

Dir: Steven Spielberg

It’s 2045 in Columbus, Ohio and the world is a mess. People live marginal existences in ramshackle towers beside huge corporations. Wade (Tye Sheridan) is an 18-year-old orphan who spends most of his time online in a wildly- popular VR fantasy world called Oasis. Its creator left a trillion-dollar prize to whoever can solve the puzzles hidden within this digital world. First they must complete three levels of games and collect three keys  and claim the hidden easter egg. Wade he surprises the world by appearing on the boards as Player One, the top ranked player in the world. But he’s not the only gunter (egg hunter) trying to win. His closest virtual rivals are Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) a fiery red-head, Aech, a muscular giant and genius mechanic; plus Daito and Sho whose avatars look like a samurai and a ninja, respectively. Wade calls himself Parzival. Like the Wagner opera character, he’s searching for a holy grail. And he’s in love with the lovely Artemis. But as best-bud Aech keeps telling him: you only know her avatar – that’s not what she’s like in real life. And lurking in the shadows is the rich and evil Sorrento, (Ben Mendelssohn) the head of IOI, the corporate rival to Oasis’s company. He pretends to be a champion gamer, but he’s actually a fake who hires employees to play for him. But he’s out to win — and take over the world — at any cost. Which of the hunters will figure out the puzzle and find the easter egg? And can they defeat the villainous Sorrento?

Ready Player One is an incredibly fast-moving sci-if action movie. Oasis’s inventor, whose puzzles they’re all trying to solve, was obsessed with the 80s, so the movie feeds you a random hodgepodge of Back to the Future and Iron Giant, Gandam and Street Fighter, New Order and Van Halen, a non-stop shower of pop culture, to the point where you can’t tell self-referential jokes from cheap product placement. (Maybe they’re both?) But why would kids in the 2040s care about the 1980s? I can’t call this a good movie; it’s incredibly commercial, felt more like a theme park ride than a film, and parts were like watching a video game with someone else holding the controls. But you know what? I still enjoyed it. And it does have that classic Spielbergian look and sound.

China Hustle

Wri/Dir: Jed Rothstein

After the Subprime Mortgage crisis, American investors, pension funds, and ordinary moms and pops were looking to make some money. But where? Chinese people were making millions investing in their red-hot companies, but those stocks weren’t traded on Wall Street. Until, suddenly, they were. Hundreds of Chinese startups were being bought and sold and making big bucks. And companies like Roth Capital were holding lavish parties known as “investment conferences” to reel in buyers. They were backed by reputable auditors like Deloitte. It’s a win-win proposition – everyone makes money. Until, that is, some suspicious investors fly to Shanghai and looked around.

Turns out, many of these companies operate as “Reverse Mergers”. Existing Chinese corporations buy shell companies already registered in the US, take them over, change their name, and they’re open to make money.

But their books here don’t look like their books there. Idle factories in China are said to be making ten times what they’re actually earning. And no one’s checking up on them.

So a few maverick investors decide to short sell their stock (like in that movie The Big Short) counting on its value crashing soon. And they speed this along by publicising the corruption and questionable accounting of the parent companies back in China. The result, riches for a few, terrible losses for many.

The China Hustle is a fascinating documentary looking at the shady practices behind deregulation, auditing and investments, as told by three American short-sellers. I thought its view of China as a monolithic villain was superficial and rather one-sided; for example, it shows how these fraudulent investments affect ordinary Americans’ lives, but not how they affect ordinary Chinese.

But it does expose in detail a huge scandal I knew nothing about.

Ready Player One opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Journey’s End and The China Hustle are in theatres and Video On Demand. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

A French Connection? Movies reviewed: Finding Vivian Maier, L’autre vie de Richard Kemp, Triptyque

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

With Quebec elections coming up, this week I’m looking at movies with a “French connection” (francophone, that is.) These movies all share a dark, mysterious and introspective mood.

There’s a doc about an artist who never showed her art, a Quebec drama about two sisters – one loses her voice, the other writing; and a French thriller about a detective thwarted from catching a serial killer… by himself!

FVM_WomanHatNYPublicLibrary_RavinePicturesLLCFinding Vivian Maier
Dir: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

When John, a third generation Flea Marketeer, buys a box of negatives at an auction, he doesn’t realize at first what he has. It’s a vast collection of never-printed negatives taken by an unknown photographer named Vivian Maier. She plied the streets of Chicago for decades documenting street life. Her shots are beautiful, poignant, the black and white photos aesthetically astute.

But who was she? Where did she come from? And why is she unknown to theFVM_YoungWomaninCar_RavinePicturesLLC2013 world?

Turns out the photographer, Vivian Maier, died recently. She left behind over 100,000 photos, plus audio tapes and some super-8 reels. But none of the photos had ever been professionally printed, and almost no one had seen them but the photographer herself. Maier was a very tall woman with a mannish haircut and a vaguely French accent. She wore heavy boots, old-fashioned hats, and always carried a rolleiflex camera. An eccentric, she was given to hording any items she found. Most surprising is how she earned her living… as a nanny and a maid.

This is a fascinating and intriguing documentary that pieces together parts of her life – though most is left unknown – while showing lots of her incredible photographs. We hear from her former bosses, the grown-up kids she had nannied, even a few Alpine relatives.

FVM_COLORVMSelfPortraitMirrorRedClothinShop_Ravine PicturesLLC2013Her story is similar to the case of Henry Darger, another eccentric artist (who worked as a janitor) who hoarded his own intricate drawings that were only discovered after death. And, as in that case, the filmmakers are tied to the one who owns all the art. There’s an ulterior motive: to get rich from the work of a previously unknown artist.

Still, this doesn’t detract from the beauty and mystery of her story or of the appeal of the street photos themselves. It does make you wonder, though. Is a photographer who never selects which photos to show and who never successfully prints the pictures she took – an artist? Or is the posthumous curator the real artist here? Either way, Finding Vivian Maier is a great story.

Lautre vie de richard kemp poster affiche cinefrancoL’autre vie de Richard Kemp (Back in Crime)
Dir: Germinal Alvarez

Helene, (Mélanie Thierry), an elegant psychologist out for a morning run, finds a dead body washed up on shore. She’s questioned by a scruffy police detective named Richard Kemp. She is cold and dismissive. Kemp (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is troubled because it shares the M.O. with a case, never solved, from early in his career. An unknown killer – known only as the earwig — kidnaps his victims, punctures their ears, and throws them autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-melanie-thierry-unifranceinto the ocean. Was the killer back again?

Though their first meeting is frosty, eventually Helene and Richard hit it off. (She’s a widow with a son, he’s divorced.) But while investigating the case on a bridge, he is struck from behind and thrown into the water. When he climbs out things have changed. The streetcar driver won’t accept his Euros: they’re “foreign” money. At home he sees a stranger autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-unifrancewith a key to his modernistic apartment. He soon discovers the truth: it’s 25 years earlier, and the man he saw – is himself!

He rents a room in a highrise across from the curvy building his younger self rents. Maybe young Richard will do it right this time. But he makes the same mistakes again. So he decides to follow the earwig’s trail himself – he knows the MO, maybe he’ll catch him or at least save the autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-melanie-thierry - unifrancevictims. But he ends up as a suspect being chased by his younger self.

So he turns to the only one he can trust: Helene. Can he win her to his side, convince her his plight is true, and will they rekindle their future romance? This is a neat, dark detective story with a bit of a time travel twist. I like this one.

triptyque-afficheTriptyque
Dir: Robert Lepage

Marie and Michelle Lavallee are two Montreal sisters, the crème de la crème of Quebec culture. Marie (Frédérike Bédard) is an internationally-known singer. Michelle (Lise Castonguay) is a noted poet and author. But fame does not shield them from tragedy. Marie discovers she has a brain tumour. She seeks the help of Austrian brain surgeon Thomas (Hans Piesbergen) who, secretly, suffers from a hand tremor.

Michelle, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is committed to a mental hospital triptych_eOne_02_largeand kept on medication. Once released, she seeks solace in a Montreal bookstore. No coffee, no WiFi, just actual books by Quebecois artists and intellectuals. But, inhibited by her medication, she finds herself unable to write.

After her surgery, Marie is left with aphasia – she can’t recall words. She can triptych_eOne_01_largesing the notes but not the lyrics. And her memory is faulty: she can’t remember her own father’s voice. But she has found love. All three characters in Triptique have to work through their losses, fill the gaps, and right the wrongs.

This film is an abbreviated version of part of Lepage’s epic stage drama Lipsynch which played in Toronto two years ago. It trades the intricate stage design for which he’s so famous, for an intimacy and closeness you can’t get on a stage. And it captures Montreal’s bitterly elegant winter cityscapes as only a movie can.

Triptyque and Lepage’s other films are now playing in a retrospective at TIFF; for details, go to tiff.net; l’Autre Vie de Richard Kemp (a.k.a. Back in Crime) is having its North American premier and is one of many great pics at CineFranco, Toronto’s francophone film fest (go to cinefranco.com for tickets); and Finding Vivian Maier opens 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 to Doug Blush about his new film about bipolar people OF TWO MINDS

dougblushHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

There’s a psychiatric term to describe the condition of extreme mood swings that go from up in the clouds to down in the dumps. It’s known as Bi-Polar disorder. Its been diagnosed, categorized, treated by prescription drugs. Some people fear it and ostracize anyone given that label. Others say the world would be worse off, less interesting without it.

A new documentary, called OF TWO MINDS, gives an account of four people whose lives Cheri-Dance-01-1024x576and personalities are tied to and shaped by this condition, by both its good and its bad aspects. And I’m very pleased to have DOUG BLUSH, (who produced documentaries like the Invisible War) co-director, with Lisa Klein, of OF TWO MINDS.

of two minds posterDoug’s talks about bipolar people, what it’s like, how it’s dealt with in popular media, how people handle it, why he chose to make a film about it, Mad Pride, medication, “Bipolar 1 vs Bipolar 2” diagnoses, and more…

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Cabins in the Woods. Movies Reviewed: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, The Hunter, The Cabin in the Woods

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

I’m back again, and I’m reviewing three good movies opening this weekend, that are all about the hunters and the hunted in their cabins in the woods. There’s a documentary about a Siberian trapper in the Taiga; a drama about a hunter looking for a tiger; and a horror/ comedy about five college students trapped in a cabin by a hunter zombie.

Happy People. A Year in the Taiga

Dir: Werner Herzog, Dimitry Vasyukov

Genady is an enigmatic, bearded trapper and hunter who lives in Bakhtia, Siberia, in a town reachable only by boat (or helicopter). He sets handmade wooden sable traps over an area so enormous it would take a day and a half to cross by skidoo. He builds a series of little wooden huts across his trapping territory and the camera is there to show it. This is the Taiga, the boreal forest south of the Tundra that looks a lot like most of northern Canada. (Actually, Siberia is bigger than all of Canada.)

The directors follow Genady and other fur trappers for a year, showing the cycle of the seasons, the holidays, the intimate relationship between a hunter and his dogs, and the happy time when they’re welcomed back home for the new year.

You watch him carve skis from a living tree, using just a hatchet and wooden wedges, and some moose fur. He does the same thing people there have been doing there for centuries.

Everything is just how it always was… except maybe an occasional chainsaw, and a few skidoos whizzing across the crusty snow, past some wolves or a stumbling moose.

This is a low-key, educational documentary that gives a realistic and fascinating look at trappers in Siberia, filled with rot-gut vodka, fluffy white animals, frozen fish, and grizzled neighbours wearing black toques or flowery headscarves. Some of the scenes of river vistas, huge clouds and vast frozen tracts are truly beautiful. It’s not quite as funny or shocking as some of Herzog’s other documentaries, but it’s still good, and his deadpan narration is delightful, as always. My one complaint is, whenever anyone starts speaking Russian, instead of subtitles we get English voiceovers. (This is the theatrical version of a four hour German TV series.)

The Hunter

Dir: Daniel Nettheim

Willem Dafoe plays Martin, a cold, mercenary shootist, hired by a military bio- medical conglomerate to track down and kill the Tasmanian tiger, a rare animal in a remote island state in Australia. He is an anal, precision-obsessed anti-social pro, who is friendless — and likes it that way. He’s a loner. But when he arrives, he finds the rustic, wooden house he’s supposed to stay at is filthy, dysfunctional, and falling apart… and occupied by a family.

The father is missing, the mother (Frances O’Connor) is in a perpetual prescription-drug-induced stupor, and the kids run wild, climbing naked into the bathtub with him as he tries to get clean. He brushes them all off, as well as his local guide, Jack (Sam Neill) – he just wants to catch the Tazzie tiger.

But, gradually he adjusts to family life. He helps the mom detox, and starts to spend time with the kids. And, it turns out that the son, a tiny tyke, had accompanied his missing father on a similar tiger hunt. So he has first-hand experience and his drawings could help Martin in his search. But, as his heart warms up, his conscience begins to bother him: should he be killing the last member of a species? And can he survive the barren life in the bush, the xenophobic, redneck townies, the crusading “greenies” (enviro-activists), and the sinister corporation itself?

This is a good, tense drama – not an action movie, despite the way it’s being advertised – that shows Martin stalking the Tiger and resisting the deadly attacks from his rivals. This has good acting, spectacular and unusual scenery, a moving story, and an interesting plot.

Cabin in the Woods

Dir: Drew Goddard

Five college students head off for a fun weekend at a cottage in the woods, where they plan to hang out, maybe have sex, get drunk, and take drugs. It looks like it’ll be fun, despite the warnings of a crusty, tobacco-chewing local who predicts their demise. The five of them — Jules (Anna Hutchison), the newly-blonde party girl, Curt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) the “dumb” jock, Dana (Kristen Connolly) the shy, good girl, and Holden (Jesse Williams) the nice-guy nerd — just want to have a good time, and enjoy a game of truth or dare.

Only Marty (Fran “Dollhouse” Kranz) the stoner, suspects something is up:  why are the very smart students behaving like celebutantes and french-kissing wolf heads? It doesn’t make sense. And when the game leads them down to the basement, why do they accidentally summon redneck killer zombies from the grave by reading a spell they find in an old diary? Whatever the reason is, they find themselves fighting for their lives against an endless series of scary, trap-and-chain wielding hunter zombis. Just what you’d expect from a horror movie.

Except… this isn’t a conventional slasher story. It’s a meta-meta-meta movie, more layers than you can shake a stick at. You see, they don’t realize it, but it’s all been a set-up by technicians in a laboratory somewhere who have made their own hunger games inside and around the cottage, complete with little cameras hidden everywhere. It’s total manipulation and mind control! To get them to act sexier, they spray pheremones into the building. And when they try to escape, they discover they’re trapped in what may be something like a movie set (which eventually morphs into an extended version of Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”…) Is there any way to escape?

The movie switches back and forth between the boring, white-jacketed, middle-aged pocket-protector guys in the lab causing all the trouble (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the perennial lab-geek Amy Acker, from Whedon’s Angel and Dollhouse), and the teens in the cabin running for their lives.

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I just loved this comedy-horror movie by first-time director Goddard who previously wrote Cloverfield; and written by Joss Whedon, the man whose series Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired more PhD theses than Jane Austin. The best way to understand it is to compare it to a one season (BTVS) story arc, building from an innocuous start, through a twisted plot, and with a grand finale where everyone runs amok. Of course, the lines are hilarious, and the violence is scary, extreme and bloody.

Cabin in the Woods, and The Hunter open today in Toronto, Check your local listings; Happy People: a Year in the Taiga, opens at the TIFF Bell Light Box. The Images festival is on now. Also opening is Gus Madden’s long-awaited Keyhole; the wonderful, heart-wrenching drama, The Deep Blue Sea, (which I’ll talk about next week); and the slapstick meat puppets of The Three Stooges. And tickets for HotDocs, Toronto’s documentary festival, are now on sale.

And if you like what you hear, be sure to support CIUT in its membership drive, on now!

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

November 4, 2011. Another Rendezvous with Madness. Films Reviewed: UFO, Corridor, 22nd of May, Gods of Youth, Take Shelter, Like Crazy.

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

What does it mean when dreams, hallucinations and thoughts begin to blur? When fears overtake you or sadness engulfs you? And what can you do about it? This week I’m looking at films that deal with these issues, and with a film festival called Rendezvous with Madness, that touches on mental illness and substance addiction, as well as the wonderful visions, voices and opinions of people living with these conditions. Films shown – which range from documentaries to stand-up comics, dramas to reality shows to experimental short pieces by great video artists like Michael Stecky and Steve Reinke – are all followed by expert panels and the audiences discussing the issues in depth.

UFO

Dir: Burkhard Feige

It’s the 80’s in West Germany and young Bodo (Henry Stange) lives with his parents and brother near a nuclear power plant. He’s into space travel and aliens and walkie-talkies, but things aren’t going right. The cold war’s heating up again, and the USSR and the Americans are both in trouble. When he watches the news on TV with his mom (Julia Bendler), the space station Challenger blows up right in front of them. And not too far away, in Chernobyl, there’s a nuclear meltdown. Lots of material for angst.

His mother is sure everything they drink or touch might be infected by radiation (and she may be right), and they have to get out of there. She argues daily with his father. She tells Bodo they’re all out to get her, and, just because she’s going crazy doesn’t mean she’s wrong, because they’re coming to take her away ha ha they’re coming to take her away ho ho ha ha hee hee to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time…etc.

Well, when Bodo goes to visit her in hospital after an accident, they won’t let her out. He wants to help her escape, but the guards block her from leaving. He’s horrified. And torn – should he be loyal to his mother or his father? Especially when his father is the one locking up his mother, She’s tied down, and drugged – it’s not right.

UFO is a touching, coming-of-age story about life in Germany in the turbulent 1980s, complete with a good/bad eighties pop-rock soundtrack with Neun und Neunzig Loftballons, Corey Hart in the dark, and Billy Idol dancing with himself.

Corridor

Dir: Johan Lundberg

Frank (Emil Johnson) is a skinny, shy and smart student, working hard to pass his Swedish Medical exams, just like his father had, and doesn’t want other people interfering. He’s not a very social guy. So he’s about as cold as you can get to the nice, young woman, Lotte, who lives in the apartment upstairs, directly above his. He doesn’t like the bedroom noises she makes with her boyfriend at night – it’s messing up his sleep. He starts drifting off in class and its affecting his grades. (He’s not too keen on cutting up dead bodies either, but that’s another problem.)

But things take a sinister turn, when Lotte’s boyfriend starts beating her up. He’s twice the size, twice as old, and twice as scary as anything Frank can muster up – and the guy thinks Lotte’s cheating on him… with Frank! He locks his door but can see the mean guy marauding the halls.

Frank becomes a shut-in, afraid to leave his apartment, repeatedly calling the police, but no one believes him. Finally, he decides to fight back, but with some unintended consequences. Is the boyfriend the one to be feared now, or is it the housebound Frank?

Corridor is a good, dark psychological thriller, with shades of Polanski’s “Repulsion”.

22nd of May

Dir: Koen Mortier

Sam (Sam Louwyck) is a non-descript, blandly-dressed, middle aged man who works as a security guard at a Belgian indoor shopping arcade. He goes to work each day, puts on his black, polyester tie and windbreaker, kicks out the homeless woman who sleeps in the halls, nods to the same faces, gives directions, keeps his eyes open for anything unusual. But nothing unusual ever happens.

Then – boom! – a horrible explosion sends him hurling through the air in an awful blast of fire. He pulls himself up and gets the hell out of there, like anyone would. But afterwards he’s torn apart by guilt: why didn’t he save that mother with her baby? Why didn’t he spot the suicide bomber coming in? He’s visited, one by one, by the dead: the angry guy, the man with a crush on a married woman, the sad mother.., each of the ghosts in his head want Sam to turn back the clock. Can he fix the past? Or should he accept the truth and mourn for the dead?

22nd of May combines dramatic special effects with mundane social problems.

Gods of Youth

Dir: Kate Twa

This movie’s about Jay, a teenaged meth dealer who makes friends with a guy named Paul, who wants to try something new. They share a bowl, and life is wonderful. Soon there are beautiful women in bikinis throwing themselves at them as they jiggle sensuously for the camera. Life is great! Paul’s instantly hooked. They do some more and now its like they’re transported to some battlefront with bombers and shooters all around them. They’re losing it. Things go from bad to worse to dreadful, and hours later they’re collapsing on the streets, breaking out in fits of nervous laughter and delusion. Jay is forced to do disgusting things just to get a bit of cash to pay for his next hit. Don’t they know? Drugs are bad for you…!

Gods of Youth has a great title and it works as a sort of a fun, over-the-top addiction drama, but it seems too much like the new Reefer Madness to take it seriously: Tweaker Madness. I’m not saying crystal meth isn’t bad for you, I’m just afraid that super-exaggerated versions like this aren’t going to convince many people not to use it.

Take Shelter

Dir: Jeff Nichols

Curtis and Samantha (Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain) and their young daughter live in a small town in the flat part of Ohio. He works in gravel quarry, and she does sewing jobs at home. His daughter, who is deaf, has a chance at getting a cochlear implant if he can get his insurance to cover it. And Sam is excited about their upcoming beach vacation. But all is not well. He begins to have extremely realistic nightmares – about a vicious dog, tornados, lightning, and other signs of an impending disaster. He’s sure there’s a storm coming, worse than any they’ve ever seen. His family must have a shelter to hide in, for when the worst of his suspicions come true. Curtis knows the difference between dreams and thoughts, but the boundaries are starting to blur.

Is he crazy? Or prophetic? His mother had similar episodes around the same age: 35. But he has vowed to protect his family, never to leave them, no mater what.

Take Shelter is a very moving and interesting drama about how an ordinary family deals with the possibility of mental illness. And I’d see it just for the incredible dream sequences (with thunder clouds, tornados, birds, and strangely coloured rain – I love this stuff!) which put the spectacular but meaningless special effects in movies like Inception to shame.

Like Crazy

Dir: Drake Doremus

(This movie doesn’t fit the theme — except for the title.)

Jacob is an American studying furniture design and Anna is an aspiring British writer who meet at a California university. She writes him a note (seen only by the two characters, not the audience) that inspires a meeting, which quickly leads to a passionate relationship. After a summer spent rolling around in their bed, she’s forced to go back to England but promises to see him soon. But she’s deported from the airport on her return because she overstayed her student visa. Their relationship continues via voice mail and text messages but they both want to be back together permanently. How will the long-distance relationship pan out?

Like Crazy is a bitter-sweet romance about distance and togetherness. They both hook up with other mates when it looks like they’ll be apart for a long time, she with a neighbour, he with someone at work. (If you’re not near the one you love, love the one you’re with.) Their new partners, though good-looking, seem saccharine and superficial compared with Jacob and Anna’s very real love. The movie manages to convey all this not with the lines, but with the looks in the eyes, and expressions on their faces. Will the two of them ever clear up the visa problems and the petty jealousies that have sprung up? And are their shared memories enough to sustain their love? Not a tear-jerker at all, but a realistic romance about the troubles a young couple might face when separated. But like the lovers themselves, you start losing interest in their affair.

UFO, 22nd of May, Corridor, Gods of Youth and many more films, documentaries and discussions are all playing at the Rendezvous with Madness film festival, which starts tonight and runs for a week, and opens tonight with Brothers and Sisters, by Carl Bessai. Go to www.rendezvouswithmadness.com for times and listings. Take Shelter is now playing, and Like Crazy opens tonight – check your local listings.

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

October 28, 2011. Hallowe’en! Films Reviewed: Paranormal Activity 3, Rabies, Anonymous PLUS Guillermo del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone & Cronos, NFB, Face-Off 40th Anniversary re-release, and Stop Concussions!

Posted in Canada, Darkness, Drama, Dreams, Hockey, Horror, Israel, Mexico, Shakespeare, UK, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on October 30, 2011

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

I’m going to dive right with some movies to watch this Hallowe’en weekend ’cause there’s lots to cover.

Now, I know about the weird phenomenon of Holiday Creep (where one day celebrations get stretched into month-and-a-half long marketing seasons) and that hallowe’en has been totally commercialized and stolen from kids so the grown-ups can have a good time, but I’m not complaining. We get to act like idiots, eat poorly, imbibe substances in excess, and disguise our identities. Anonymity rules the day. So get ready to stuff your faces with peanut-free snacks, put on your zombie blood and stripper outfits, and swarm out, en masse, to some hallowe’en movies. Go with someone who can handle a nails-in-the-palm hand squeeze. Because they’re scary. This week I’m talking about a ghost story caught on tape, a horror story in the woods of Israel, and a historical drama about anonymity and disguise. Plus some movie classics.

Paranormal Activity 3

Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Julie, her two kids, and her boyfriend Dennis have moved into a new suburban, California home. Dennis likes video cameras – he works as a wedding photographer, so he’s always in a room editing VHS tapes. But when they try to film a provate sex tape, something scary appears on the footage. And her youngest daughter Kristie Rey’s imaginary friend Toby… might not be imaginary. So Dennis sets up cameras around the house to try to catch some paranormal activity on tape. But he might uncover some stuff he shouldn’t mess with.

This is the third of the Paranormal seres, and it’s pretty scary, with little surprises, shocks, and lots of red herrings. The idea is, the two little girls will grow up to be the young women of the first two pictures. And that this whole movie is just excerpts of found footage from a box of old 1988 VHS tapes. So it jumps around, sometimes even in mid sentence, to the next tape, or fast forwards in the middle of scene, like we’re watching the private videos but someone else holds the remote control. Lots of things are never explained they’re just there and they’re scary. But, strangely enough, it’s completely understandable, even though it’s all over the place, like watching youtube. It’s the building tension that’s great, and wondering what’s happening just off camera that you can hear but not see. The scenes shot by a camera taped to a slow moving oscillating fan, that pans left and right, left and right, are really good and scary. If you want to have nightmares on Hallowe’en, this is the one to see.

Rabies

Wri/Dir: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

Two young men in tennis shorts clothes and two women in track suit tops and white skirts drive down some out-of-the-way road as they look for tennis courts. They meet up with a guy named Ofer – after hitting him with their SUV — who is trying to rescue his sister who is trapped in a hole – possibly an animal trap –underground. Meanwhile, a middle- aged forest ranger is out inspecting the reserve when his German Shepard disappears. And a truly sinister killer in a green jumpsuit is doing various bad things.

So the three guys go out to search for the missing girl and the women stay behind to wait for the cops. But one of the cops is a skeeze-bag molester who insists on a full-body search, which puts the girls in a- uncomfortable position. From there, most of the characters end up splitting-up and and gradually either getting killed or doing the killing in various gruesome ways, involving things like bear traps, explosions, knives and rocks. Is it the woods, or the blood, or is it something in the air? I’m not saying. But they all seem driven to extreme behaviour. In between, everyone communicates using static-y walkie-takies, adding to the surreal feel.

The killings are mainly off-camera, but they spare no expense on blood splashes and missing body parts. Afterwards you get to see people so mushed-up they look like extras in a zombie movie… but no zombies here.

Rabies is a comic mystery/horror/ slasher movie, apparently the first of its kind ever made in Israel. Like most horror movies, it’s partly for the thrill and the shock and the tension, and partly just to show attractive, scantily dressed actors running into trouble on screen. It’s more gross than it is scary – but it’s shot in the daytime which gives it a good, creepy and eerie tone. Its great, all-star cast includes Henry David (Restoration) as Ofer, Ania Bukstein (Secrets) as the tough-assed tennis player Adi, and Ran Danker (Eyes Wide Open) as Mikey.

Anonymous

Dir: Roland Emmerich

This movie is about a rich nobleman, Edward De Vere of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (played by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as the old and young Queen) who, because of his status, must disguise his writing talent. He gets a commoner, playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), to anonymously mount the plays Edward writes. Johnson, in turn, passes them on to a talentless, greedy, bumbling and illiterate actor named… William Shakespeare!

Edward has to deal with an evil, manipulative father-and-son team of the puritanical and art-hating Cecil family who are the Queen’s closest advisors, and his biggest rivals. IN his youth, he has an affair with the so-called Virgin Queen and unknowingly leaves an illegitimate child. Will a pretender succeed Queen Elizabeth? Will he be able to continue his writing undetected? Or will the Globe theatre be closed down for it’s political plays? And will the nefarious Cecils or the good Edward emerge triumphant?

So it sounds like a good movie – there are a few good scenes, and I’ll admit, it kept me interested, more or less, for the whole movie. Enough not to walk out. Problem is, it’s just a hard movie to watch. It has flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, with tons of similar-looking characters (the men all seem to have little black van-dyke moustaches) emerging during different time periods, with different actors playing the same role. Especially for a movie about Shakespeare, the lines are not particularly beautiful or clever – they often sounds like ESL; the plot’s muddled, the score is intrusive, the motivations are confusing, and it is one of the gaudiest movies I’ve ever seen: Every pole has a vine around it, every wall has distracting tapestries, every crowd scene has extras in tableaux from Breughel or Hals, every outdoor shot has to have a bit of mist or fog floating past, every chimney has CGI smoke… Give it a rest! It made me long for a scene without neck ruffles and flickering candles. You’ve heard of minimalism? This movie is maximalism.

Anonymous is historically revisionist. It says a common person like Shakeseare could never have been so great — only a member of the nobility. And women in power (even a Queen) were all helpless biddies who can be easily manipulated by men.

It does have some shockingly unexpected plot twists, but not enough. You should leave this movie to an anonymous fate.

The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

In Devil’s Backbone, Carlos, is a kid placed in an old orphanage during the 1930’s Spanish civil war, who meets a strange boy in a closed off part of the building. He might be a ghost who holds the untold secrets of the place, and he caries a warning.

In Cronos, a kindly old antique dealer finds a mechanical gold bug that can bring eternal life, but at a frightening cost – the bug attaches itself to a person and makes him do bad things.

If you’ve seen Pan’s Labrynth, you’ll recognize a lot of the character types from these movie– the stern but beautiful middle-aged woman, the kindly grey-bearded older guy, the cruel but handsome fascist soldier, and the quiet, observant child – a boy in Backbone, a girl in Cronos. I loved both these movie, and they rarely play on the big screen. They’re on Sunday night as a double feature at the Bell Lightbox. Go to tiff.net for details.

Also on, this weekend only, at the NFB is a free animated film show, showing New short cartoons. It’s on everyday this weekend. For more information go to www.onf-nfb.gc.ca.

And coming next week, right after the release of the sequel to Goin’ Down the Road, is the first release on dvd of another Canadian classic, Face-Off, about a small-town player who joins the Maple Leafs. Tagline: He’s a Rookie, She’s a Rocker! It’s especially apropos now with all the controversy about hockey goons and head injuries. The message now is avoid head trauma at all costs. Speaking from personal experience, the last thing you want is to injure your brain in any way. So there’s a special charity screening of this movie next Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Go to stopconcussions.com for more info.

Paranormal Activity is playing now, Anonymous opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Rabies is playing one show only, on Sunday, October 30th at 8pm at Innis College. For more information go to www.tjff.com.

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

September 23, 2011. TIFF aftermath. Films reviewed: Where Do We Go Now?, Drive, Limelight

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

With the closing of this year’s TIFF — with all of its orgiastic
excess of filmic stimulation, eye candy, and brain prods — you may be
suffering from withdrawal. But have no fear — there’s no need to go
cold turkey, because Toronto’s Fall festival season is positively
brimming with good smaller film festival to keep your addiction alive.

Coming soon are: Toronto After Dark, the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, Planet in Focus, the Real Asian Film Festival, and the
European Union Film Festival, among others. And TIFF itself continues
on all year, showing their programmed films at the Lightbox. So if you
missed a good movie at TIFF, even if it doesn’t get a wide release,
you may be able to catch it later on in the year.

But first, the awards. Phillipe Felardeau won the Toronto Best
Canadian feature prize for Monsieur Falardeau — and it’s already gone
on to become Canada’s entry for a Best Foreign language Film Oscar.

The People’s Choice Award at TIFF is often used as an indicator of
who’s going to win a Golden Globe and later get nominated for an
Oscar. Past years’ winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s
Speech, and Precious. It’s voted on not by a panel of judges, but by
the moviegoers at the festival themselves. What this also means is
that sometimes a completely unknown movie — one with no “buzz” at all– can come out of left field, and take this award.

This year’s surprise is a film out of Lebanon, called:

Where Do Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va où?)
Dir: Nadine Labaki

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally
between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all
too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the
graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury
the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids
weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV
night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry
movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men
will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the
village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the
village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the
cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and
their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious
miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers –
anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an
incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon?
And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away
from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie had an extremely slow beginning, with a handmade
feel to it – sort of like an even-lower-budget Big Fat Greek Wedding
meets Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s a comedy, but a lot of the
jokes fell flat. And it’s a musical, but some of the songs just don’t
translate well. The ensemble plot, with dozens of characters, leaves
you confused until you can figure out who everyone is.

That said, in the second half, when the pace picks up and the story
gets interesting, it becomes good. And the ending is just great –
clever and imaginative, and leaves you with a much better feeling
than you came with. Nadine Labaki – who is also a member of the cast – is
the first female director to win the TIFF People’s Choice award, and
it’s nice to see her touching story about an important topic given a
boost. I’m curious as to where the movie will go now.

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling plays this guy in a satin jacket who drives cars around,
plain-looking cars but with souped-up engines that can outgun any
police car. He can tumble a car, flip it over on a highway, and
still remain absolutely calm, a Japanese toothpick still in his mouth. He’s the
strong silent type, good at heart. By day, he works in a garage, and
is sent out by his shady boss Shannon (Brian Cranston) to do movie
stunts. (This is LA, so, of course,  it’s always about the movies.) And by night, he
serves as the driver for bank heists and robberies.

He falls into almost a family relationship with pretty waitress Irene
(Carey Mulligan), and her son, little Benicio, and takes them for
drives around the city. But when her husband, Standard, is released
from prison, his good life starts to fall apart and the violence
builds. He becomes embroiled in a scheme involving sinister gangsters
Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and the great, neanderthalic Ron
Perlman). He ends up holding a dufflebag with a million dollars in
stolen money. What should he do with it? Will he settle down as a
champion stock car racer? Or will violence rule the day?

This is a fantastic — though sometimes horrifically violent, and
weird – movie. (Every once in a while you think – what is this? Is
this for real? Who are they trying to kid? You lose the connection for a moment, but then you slip right back into it.) It looks like a rejig of an 80’s movie like Thief,
with the driving bass (bubbadubba dubbadubba bubbadubba…) background music, and the
night scenes with glowing lights all around. The movie titles are
scribbled, Andy Warhol-style, in hot pink, and strange Eurodisco
dominates the soundtrack. The violence is almost comical, though
bloody. This is NOT your usual action thriller, but a clever, Danish
take on LA film noir. Great movie.

Next, another look at the louche underculture, this time in Manhattan
in the 90’s. A documentary

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

Peter Gatien, a Canadian nightclub promoter who lost an eye in a
hockey game as a kid, was known for his black eye patch, his canny
business practices, and how he had his hand on the pulse of all of New
York clublife in the 80’s and 90’s. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,
but he brought in demimonde celebs – the club kids – to bring in the
cool crowd. He opened famous places like Tunnel, the Palladium and
Limelight (not so affectionately known as slimelight by clubgoers) a
club opened inside of a church.

So everything’s going good, until Giuliani, the law and order supreme,
was elected mayor of New York. But when the drug of choice changed

from coke to MDMA to crack cocaine, so did the mood in the clubs, from

selfish and driven, to touchy-feelie, to insane. Giuliani vowed to
“clean up” the city. And he despised nightclubs, sex and dancing as
musch as drugs. Used to be the people in the burrows and New Jersey
would travel into the city on weekends for fun. By the end of his
reign, the term bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to be a better
description of the people in Manhattan who were so desperate they’d
migrate out of the city just to dance all night.

Well, Giuliani chose Peter Gatien, as his nemesis, and launched a
full-scale attack, an elaborate scheme to paint him as a drug dealer
and criminal. This movie traces, in minute detail, all the players
involved in his trial – the rats, the dealers, the feds, the femme
fatale, and the legendary club kids like murderer Michael Alig.

It’s an interesting movie, about a fascinating topic, with a great
segment giving a history of the evolution of music, nightclubs, and
drugs, worth seeing, but it’s just too long. It gets bogged down with way too many
talking heads against acid-green lighting.

Drive is playing now, Limelife opens today, and  Where Do We Go Now?
won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

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


May 25, 2011. Inside Out Festival. Renee, Lost in the Crowd, Gun Hill Road, Black Field, Harvest, We Were Here

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Or queers for short. The festival is continuing through this weekend, mainly at Toronto’s Light Box, and I hear there are still some tickets available, so now’s your chance to catch some of these very varied and interesting movies.

So this week I’m going to look at a cross-section of movies and docs at this festival with a special emphasis on some good movies about the too often neglected “T” in LGBT. Next week: more on the “L” word.

Renee

Dir: Eric Drath

“I’m getting the message across that you can be a transsexual… and yet be a nice, normal, socially acceptable and productive member of society.” – Renee Richards.

Renee Richards was born as Richard Raskin, who grew up as an aggressive alpha male, served in the navy, became a tennis champ, a young man with dating prowess, a surgeon, a husband and a father.

But in the early seventies, after years of agonizing, and (after first chickening out on her first attempt, when she went to Morocco for sex-reassignment surgery) she took the plunge and became a woman. She named herself Renee (French for reborn) and started a new life. She became a sensation on the women’s tennis circuit until the past came out. She was ostracized, alienated by many tennis players, and splashed across the mass media.

They attempted to force Renee Richards to take a DNA test to prove her sex – this despite surgery, hormones, her day-to-day identity, clothes, body, voice and name. So she took them to court.

This is a very good, sympathetic documentary, that uses TV sports footage, home movies, newspaper articles and present- day interviews with family members, and famous tennis players (like Billie Jean King and Martina Navritolova). The most emotionally trying part of the documentary is about her difficult relationship with her son Rick.

Lost in The Crowd

Dir: Susi Graf

…is another documentary, also touching on problems faced by transsexuals and others. But if Renee is about rich and famous celebrities, Lost in the Crowd is about the other side of things. It’s about Queer youth who migrate to new York City to escape homophobia and other dangers in their hometowns, only to find themselves penniless, homeless and alone on the streets of Manhattan. It shows a few of these kids and young adults, many latina, and gay or trans, who seek shelter but end up in prison, on the streets, or dead.

While a very important issue, I was a bit disappointed by the movie, since it mainly just showed the victimization of the runaways by drugs, prostitution, and crime. It didn’t really offer any new viewpoint on the standard risks that face all runaways. One exception were the scenes shot in a prison, where one person (who had been arrested for low-level drug dealing) said he felt more free in the jail than he had in his midwestern small town.

Much more moving was a fictionalized drama about many of the same issues, a movie called

Gun Hill Road

Dir: Rasheed Ernesto Green

This tells about Enrique, and ex-con out on parole going back home. He’s an ultra-macho Puerto Rican-American who was known for attacking any “maricon” in prison who might have looked at him the wrong way. What’s a few months of solitary if he’s defending his own masculinity? He arrives back with his street corner pals to see his much missed son Michael (Harmony Santana). But something about Michael has changed.

He’s living his life as a girl in school, but like a boy at home. He hangs out with his friends at school but faces widespread bullying in the hallways. As pretty and strong Vanessa, she meets a boyfriend at a poetry slam, but he’s less friendly once he discovers Vanessa is a pre-op transsexual. He doesn’t want to see her as a boy – she has to cover up anything that might turn him off. But Michaels’s father doesn’t want to see his son as in any way feminine. He attacks him with a scissors and hacks off his long hair.

Gun Hill Road is a good, moving drama of the trials and tribulations of being trans in a public school, and how both a father and a son have to learn how to understand each other. The actor playing Vanessa/Michael is excellent, and you feel for all the characters. And it has a great latino hiphop soundtrack.

Black Field

Dir: Vardis Marinakis

In the middle ages, at its height,  the Ottoman empire used a special unit in their military known as the Janissaries. This was a division consisting entirely of paid, trained soldiers who were also slaves. They had no outside friends or families because they were kidnapped as small boys from outlying villages in the Balkans. Eventually, they converted to Islam and enlisted in this all-male, elite part of the army — the Janissaries.  In this movie, a wounded janissary (Hristos Passalis) is found outside a Christian convent in a remote, mountainous region of Greece. The black-hooded nuns take him in, chain him up, while they tend to his wounds. A young nun, Anthi  is sent to heal him, but there she makes a surprising discovery  — his genitals are like hers. She is actually a boy, who had been taken in as an infant and raised there, so that the Mother Superior could save him from being kidnapped and made into… a janissary!

The movie follows – literally follows, the camera holds back behind the two as they walk through the lush forest, a green-covered swamp, and a dark rocky area –  the tough, mean, AWOL soldier and the timid, whispering nun, as he forces the newly discovered boy to reclaim his male identity, and eventually become his partner. To make matters even more ambiguous, the boy who was raised as a girl is played by a very good actress (Sofia Georgovassili). It’s a slow-paced, challenging, sometimes violent, and at other times sensuous and exquisitely beautiful,  first film. Very interesting to watch and should be seen on the big screen.

Harvest

Dir: Benjamin Cantu

Marco is a young man who lives and works at an internship program on what used to be an East German communal farm. He wears overalls and a T-Shirt as he sorts carrots, bales hay, and clips the ears off cattle, along with the other interns. But he’s resisting committing himself to a lifetime of farm work. He doesn’t want to write the exam he has to take, mainly because he can’t write well. And he’s a bit of a loner – he won’t go out drinking with the other trainees, and they tease him for it.

But he enters into a silent friendship with a newby, Jacob. Things start to heat up in an abandoned old car (a Trabant?) and they realize they have something in common when Jacob finds the keys and drives them both into Berlin for an evening.

Harvest is another one of these hyper-realistic films –  made on real locations, usually with non-actors, without a complicated plots, and often without a written script. There aren’t that many lines in this movie, and the budding relationship between Marco and Jacob is never really talked about – it just happens. But you totally understand and identify with all the characters, and the farm footage is fantastic – I’d never actually seen an enormous carrot-sorting mill. Harvetst is a very good, understated, realistic drama.

We Were Here

Dir: David Weissman

This is a documentary about San Francisco from the late 70’s until the early nineties. That was the period when the city was transformed from a gay mecca into the epicentre of a worldwide epidemic. I’m speaking about AIDS and HIV, then called the gay plague for the sudden, massive death toll of that community.

This movie is heart-wrenchingly moving because of the way it was made. They found a handful of people who lived there at that time and were somehow involved in that disaster, to tell the story of themselves and their friends directly to the camera.

The movie shows the face of one speaker’s friend and then close-ups, ten days later. So happily galavanting at a Castro street party one day, and then, suddenly, the same man infected with Karposi Sarcoma (cancerous, but painless black spots on the skin) and then, a few days after that, just dropping dead.

No one knew what was going on or what to do about it. Panic set in. The movie shows the quick progression of events — the protests, the medical advances, the set-backs — all told through the eyes of real, sympathetic men and women.

This is a very important, living oral history, illustrated by ample newspaper clips, snapshots and still photos.

These movies and more are part of Inside-Out, continuing on this weekend: you can check times atinsideout.ca . Also opening is the terrific documentary Bobby Fischer against the World, and the Canadian low-budget spooky, post-apocalyptic horror thriller The Collapsed, both of which I reviewed last week, and Little White Lies, a very funny, if long, French social comedy about the secrets and conflicts of a group of friends who vacation together; I reviewed that last year.

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

Is It All In The Story? Movies Reviewed: Red Riding Hood, The Adjustment Bureau

I don’t about you, but one of the main reasons I go to the movies is to see a good story. I want to feel like I’m being taken into the plot and meeting the characters – I want to care if they live or die, and I want to find out what’s going to happen to them.

So people making movies look around for stories to use, if they can’t come up with their own. Awful source of plots are things like video games, 1970’s TV comedies, long forgotten Saturday morning cartoons, TV commercials, or ideas churned out by executives trying to duplicate the success of previous blockbusters. Good sources are things like novels or short stories, plays, along with myths, legends, and, believe it or not, fairytales and folktales. So today I’m going to look at two movies with stories that come from possibly good sources, but may or may not translate well into movies.

The Adjustment Bureau

Dir: George Nolfi

(based partly on a short story by Philip K Dick.)

David (Matt Damon) whose parents died when he was young, is a young and ambitious Kennedy-like congressman from New York, trying to make it to the Senate. But he blows the election when an old video surfaces of him mooning the camera in his days as a fratboy. But as he practices his concession speech in the men’s room, he has a fleeting encounter with a strange woman, Elise (Emily Blunt), he meets there. Love at first sight?

But their meeting confuses some cosmic order of destiny. When he goes into work, everyone has been frozen, except him, and the men in hats, and their faceless enforcers, are wiping clear everyone’s memory.

Who are these men in hats? Are they angels? Conspirators? Aliens? Or just accountants? Doesn’t matter. They tell him he has to follow what’s written in a book, that tells him what to do. And he’s not supposed to be with her.

Wait? Everyone’s lives are predetermined and there is no free will? No, no, no, they tell him. Just the superior – you know the politicians. The muggles all just live their lives, but the golden boys like David, are important people so the accountants take special care of them. The men with hats can pass through doors at will, and keep track of what the uber-menschen are up to all day, or so a sympathetic hat-man, Henry, tells him.

So will Dave be able to resist getting together with his lifemate? Or will he choose a life of politics? Blah blah blah…

Philip K Dick wrote the books that were turned into movies like Blade Runner, and Total Recall. So does this one work? No! it feels like a high-concept movie based on some producers scribbling down ideas on a cocktail napkin.

While it starts out good and interesting, this movie left me angry with its fake thriller trailers (it’s actually a romance, not a thriller) it’s badly thought-out characters, and its almost random plot-turns. People can only hide from the hat men near water – why? Are they fish people? Ado they swim? Are they allergic? Naaah, no reason. To pass through magic doors they have to wear their hats. And turn doonobs to the left! Why? umm… no reason. They all talk about a book – who wrote it? but when you see the books, they’re just roadmaps – no writing that I could see. And do they freeze the whole world anytime anything goes awry? Who cares…

It’s also a movie with 20 main characters, but except for Emily Blunt’s ballerina, they’re all men. The men in hats? The politicians? The people he knows? The people he talk to? All men. Even the other dancers were mainly male. What’s that all about…?

The whole movie seems like an ersatz excuse to show off more special effects. I thought the Adjustment Bureau was a waste of time.

Red Riding Hood

Dir: Catherine Hardwicke

…is very loosely based on the children’s fairytale Little Red Ridinghood, so its story is best described in the form of storytelling.

Once upon a time, in a valley by the mountains and beside a dark forest, there lived a drunk woodcutter and his wife and their two daughters. Now, everyone in the village knew there was a big bad wolf that lived in the woods, so, each month, on the full moon, they locked all the doors, and put out a pig for the wolf to eat, so he wouldn’t attack the villagers.

Valerie, the older daughter was pretty and strong, and good at hunting, and she promised to marry her best friend, a poor woodcutter like her father. But her mother said she had to marry the rich blacksmith instead. Her friend said, “Come away with me. Let’s leave this village.” But Valerie didn’t know what to do. Should she go with the woodcutter she loved, or stay with the blacksmith who her mother wanted her to marry?

Well, one day, the big bad wolf came back to the village and killed Valerie’s younger sister, despite the animal sacifice. So the village decided to call in a famous priest to catch it. Father Solomon was a cruel man: he murdered his own wife and locked up his two daughters, and traveled with a private army and an elephantine torture chamber. But he was also good at hunting wolves, and (or so he said), it wasn’t a regular wolf attacking them, but a werewolf. And this werewolf was someone from the village, but no one knew who that was. When it was a wolf, only its eyes remained human, so it looked like a giant animal.

Did she live happily ever after? And which husband did she choose? And did she stay or did she go? And who was it who turned into the werewolf? And what about the scary priest – will he kill the villagers in his crusade? And will she ever put on her red ridinghood, go through the forest with a basket of goodies, and visit her grandmother?

Red Riding Hood is a partially successful kids movie retelling a well known children’s story. You get the feeling there’s a tug-of-war going on. Hardwicke directed the blockbuster Eclipse before this one. Red Riding Hood seems to waver between the director’s artistic vision of a feminist, sexualized look at three generations of empowered women fighting a medieval culture war against religious excess and patriarchal violence and repression; and the producers’ mercenary attempt to recreate the success of Eclipse, that smarmy, anti-sex vampire/werewolf franchise of a weak and powerless highschool girl whose only thing of value is her virginity, and whose only choice is which superhero boy she’ll choose to rescue her helplessness from the baddies.

Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, and Amanda Seyfried are all good as a three generation triumverate and the center of the movie, while the boyfriends are really just Valerie’s arm-candy. Gary Oldman as Father Solomon is a great villain, almost as frightening as the childcatcher in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. In this strange medieval universe, the men look like prancing Peter Pans lost somewhere in Sherwood Forest… while the woman all just stepped out of a commune near Vancouver. There’s a nicely multi-racial cast, and some cool scenes that like bacchanalias from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but the sets all look artsy-craftsy, like they were constructed indoors for a stageplay or pantomime.

Problems? There are long gaps between lines, especially in the beginning, that are painful to watch – it really drags the movie down. And the whodunit/who’s the wolf plotline took away from the much more interesting rivalry between the women and the evil priest. And it’s not a grown-up movie — clearly aimed at pre-teen romantics, but still includes some horrific violence and scariness. It’s a so-so movie but one with some great ideas and images.

Red Riding Hood opens today in Toronto; The Adjustment Bureau is now playing: check your local listings.

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