Vulnerable. Films reviewed: Songs my Brother Taught Me, The Lady in the Van

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, First Nations, Movies, Old Age, Poverty, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 7, 2016

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

8qzGkl_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_02_o3_8934485_1453302729You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at how it treats its most vulnerable members. This week I’m looking at two dramas, one from the US, another from the U.K. There’s a teenaged bootlegger in a pickup truck in a badlands state; and an old lady in a van in Camden in a bad state of mind.

Songs My Brother Taught Me
Dir: Chloe Zhao

Johnny Winters (John Reddy) is a teenager living in a Sioux Nation reserve in the Badlands, Northwestern US. He helps care for his sister Jashaun (Jashaun St John) and their mom (Irene Bedard) who stays in bed all day. NxKlQm_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_05_o3_8934624_1453302723She’s depressed. And there’s an older brother in prison.

Johnny’s still in high school, but he plans to cut out as soon as he graduates. He’s saving money so he can buy a pickup truck and drive to LA with his girlfriend. She’s going to University in the fall, and he hopes to make it as a boxer. So he turns to a bootlegging as a source of income. The reserve he lives on is officially dry, but there’s still a black market for beer and alcohol. k5jYyY_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_03_o3_8934502_1453302704He meets with an older woman who brings in the bottles and he distributes them for cash. But he faces trouble and potential violence from rivals who think he’s poaching on their territory.

His little sister knows all and sees all. She likes to draw, paint and dance. She begins to follow a tattoo artist to study his crafts and learn about her culture.

Jashawn looks at her brother almost like a father. Then their real father, Carl, dies in a fire, and Jashawn and Johnny realize they don’t know who he was. They get to know their extended family. Carl was a champion bull riderGZX1PQ_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_04_o3_8934563_1453302713 who followed the rodeo circuit. They all share Carl’s last name, along with lots of others at the reserve, but Johnny and Jashawn barely knew him. So they are jealous of his “real” family. Will knowing his relatives help him get a job? Or will he move to the big city and leave his mom and sister behind?

Songs my Brother Taught Me is a realistic look at life on a Lakota reserve, and pulls no punches. It’s not a Hollywood feel-good movie. It has a low-key, almost documentary feel to it, and shows a lot of sad and depressing scenes about scraping by with not enough money or jobs. But the realistic acting — especially the appealing performances of John Reddy and Jashawn St. John — help mitigate its downer feel. And the scenery — the dramatic crumbling white cliffs of the badlands — give it a stark and timeless immediacy.

1cf24d8d-9a27-480a-a622-172fc82728a7The Lady in the Van
Dir: Nicholas Hytner

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) is a writer living on a quaint, middle-class street in Camdentown, north London. His life is a quiet one until an eccentric old woman enters the scene. Miss Sheppard (Maggie Smith) is a nearly homeless woman who lives in a VW van. She’s ornery and smells bad. And she doesn’t mince words: she needs a place to park her home so she can live in peace. And after some deliberation with nosy neighbours, Alan agrees it’s his turn to help Miss Sheppard. So she moves into his driveway takes up residence and lives there for the next THE LADY IN THE VAN15 years.

For Alan Bennett the character, Miss Sheppard is a pain in the ass: a disputatious, mentally ill old lady who gets in the way. She infringes on his private space, interferes with visiting sex partners, and interrupts his writing. And the smell! Plastic bags serve as her toilet. But for Alan Bennett the writer, she’s a fascinating character, dying to be explored and studied.

Turns out Miss Sheppard has a hidden past. The reason she lives in London is to escape a witness to a possible hit-and-run incident decades earlier. Alan also discovers she was once a concert pianist, and later joined a French convent. She’s a bullying, difficult woman with a “derelict nobility”.

THE LADY IN THE VANIronically, the more time he spends trying to learn about Miss Sheppard, the less he spends with the other old woman in his life – his own mother. She is neither glamorous nor mysterious not frightening, and he can’t bring himself to visit her. He’d rather think about the woman in the van in his driveway.

This is a great movie. Maggie Smith is just fantastic, not given to grandiose gestures. She plays it straight as a homeless woman with a strong personality. And Jennings plays Alan Bennett as two characters: the man and the narrator, who appear on the screen together to debate what to do about the woman in the driveway. It’s a theatrical conceit but it works reallyTHE LADY IN THE VAN well. Alan Bennett’s books and memoirs often have internal dialogue that doesn’t work in plays or on the big screen.

He’s a really witty and fun writer and playwright – he writes books like Smut and plays like History Boys – so it’s neat to see him as a character. The Lady in the Van is part memoir (it’s a true story) and part imagined drama. It’s a difficult comedy, one that makes you think and squirm while you laugh. Great movie.

12647247_223040471366833_8306883834731885620_nThe Lady in the Van opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Songs my Brother Taught Me is showing next weekend at Toronto’s Next Wave festival. Next Wave shows films by, for and about young adults, including many free screenings. Go to tiff.net for details. Also playing now is the sometimes hilarious parody 50 Shades of Black. If you like the Wayans’ style of comedy, this one’s for you.

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

Commitment. Movies reviewed: Jimmy’s Hall, The Tribe, PLUS It Comes in Waves

Posted in Canada, Catholicism, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Ireland, Politics, Sign Language, UK, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2015

Stephen O’Connell in It Comes in Waves. Photo by Jeremy MimnaghHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most forms of entertainment ask for little commitment from their viewers: just sit there and take it all in. But sometimes they demand a little bit more.

I just saw a production — a combination of theatrical drama, 11709591_1024415027582463_3885855130064308103_nmusic, modern dance and exercise — called It Comes in Waves (Jordan Tannahill, bluemouth inc., and Necessary Angel). The audience actually rows canoes to a remote part of Toronto Island, in a Heart of Darkness journey past wild egrets and tame swans. Once there, expect to catch a trumpet 11745530_1024414667582499_268456507655648282_nand snare drum drifting past in a rowboat, Naked Guy running across a field, voices singing in the woods, campfires, Celtic dances and a Waiting for Godot-style surprise party (where the audience — us — are the guests). You walk down the beach carrying lanterns as an ethereal angel dances half a mile away. It’s a play that completely eliminates the proscenium arch, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

But what about movies? This week I’m looking at two films that require if not participation, at least commitment. There’s a historical political drama from Ireland that stimulates intellectual rigour, and a crime drama from the Ukraine that activates creative vigour.

Jimmy’s Hall
Dir: Ken Loach

Jimmys HallJames Gralton (Barry Ward) witnessed the roaring twenties in NY. 10 years later, it’s the Great Depression and he’s back home in County Leitrim, Ireland. He’s there to take care of his aging mother (Aileen Henry). He’s keeping a low profile, having been kicked out after the Irish Civil War. He’s back to work digging up peat. But no sooner does he get there than he sees kids from the town dancing the jig on a country road. Is this a local custom? No. They just have nowhere else to go. A decade earlier he had built and opened a community centre on his land, where people would sing songs, write poetry, draw, study literature, dance to jazz music, practice boxing… but the hall was closed and he was kicked out.

Now that he’s back, he’s surrounded by locals imploring him toJimmys Hall reopen Jimmy’s Hall, a place where they can enjoy life. Is there anyone, anywhere who could oppose such a thing? You bet there is. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) the top local priest. If it isn’t run by the church, it is, by definition, no good. “He’s a communist and plays jungle music!” says the good Father.

And a high-ranked official also loathes Jimmy for his left-wing politics. His daughter, though, can’t wait to join the club. And Jimmys HallJimmy’s lost love Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is glad to see him back

But local incidents can lead to national repercussions. With Catholic and Protestant labourers striking together in Belfast the Powers That Be feared what James Gralton might inspire. As tensions escalate, who will triumph? Father Sheridan and his supporters? Or Jimmy?

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall is a typical Ken Loach movie. Its politics are decidedly left-wing, but the characters and the ideologies they espouse are never cut-and-dry. For every right-wing Father Sheridan, there’s a younger priest urging compromise. And like Loach’s other historical dramas (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom), it has scenes with long  — though never boring — political discussions. Not for everyone, but I liked this film a lot. Well-acted and nicely shot, it filled in a period of Irish history — leftist politics in the 1930s — that I knew nothing about.

THETRIBE_PressPhoto_04The Tribe (Plemya)
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

It’s present-day Ukraine. A nondescript kid named Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at his new home, a boarding school for deaf kids. It’s a typical school, the classrooms and dorms flavoured by drab Soviet austerity.

Sergey is honest, polite and naïve. And he suffers like any newbie: he’s at the bottom of every possible totem pole at the school. Even a boy with Down Syndrome nonchalantly steals his lunch. Almost immediately, he’s guided by a weasely fast-talker to meet his new boss, a no-nonsense older student. Higher-ranked bullies confiscate his money, and he’s put right THETRIBE_PressPhoto_03to work.

He’s thrown out of bed on his first night and sent out to a truck stop along with two young women from the school. Anna (Yana Novikova) is a flirty, pale blond, her dark haired coworker is bigger and bossier. They ply their trade by knocking on parked truck windows, and Sergey pimps them out and collects the money. This is just part of a complex criminal gang operating out of the school.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyThey sneak out at night to mug pensioners and steal their groceries. They also send young kids to ply ugly little plush toys on commuter trains, a front for unlawful behavior. They’re looking for charity donations but are just as willing to beat up reluctant donors.

His status begins to rise when he fends off four guys in a no-rules fight. He becomes a tough enforcer: he shakes down little kids for their pocket change. Literally! He holds them upside-down by their feet until their money falls out of their pockets.

Eventually he hooks up with Anna in a paid encounter, and they become a couple. But her main goal is to get the hell out of there with an exit visa to Western Europe. And as he becomes more experienced his personality is transformed.Will the moral Sergey ever come back to the surface?

The Tribe is a fantastic movie. And – get this — all dialogue is THETRIBE_PressPhoto_01in sign language – with not a word spoken in the entire movie… and no subtitles either. But it’s completely clear what they are saying. The actors are all hearing-impaired and express themselves beautifully. Each scene is shot in a single take, with one camera constantly moving down halls, around corners, and into rooms. Explicit sex scenes, violent fights… everything happens right in your face.

The Tribe and Jimmy’s Hall open today in Toronto; check your local listings. It Comes in Waves is now playing as part of Panamania, the cultural side of the Pan Am games. For more information go to toronto2015.org/panamania.

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

Movies about Sex and Disabilities. Films reviewed: Hyde Park on the Hudson, Rust and Bone PLUS Morgan, Beeswax.

Posted in 1930s, Action, Cultural Mining, Depression, Disabilities, Drama, Fighting, France, Inside Out, Marineland, Movies, Orca, Sex, TIFF, UFC, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2012

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

In movies, disabilities were traditionally there to provide tragedy and pathos. People have an accident and end up in a wheelchair or a bed… my life is over, I will never work again, so sad. Or else they were a signal of great personal triumph. Look ma, I survived! Occasionally, you’d have the villain in horror movie, bitter, evil, deformed, taking out his pain on other people. Witches with canes, super-villains in wheelchairs…

Then came the movie-of-the-week disabled person as the frail victim, the pitied, while their counterpart character is the strong, powerful, and privileged one. They either die or “get better”.

We haven’t even reached the point where disabled people become the equivalent of the token black neighbour or gay best degrassifriend. (exceptions: Drake on Degrassi).

That’s why it’s neat to have two new movies with normal, fascinating, multidimensional, central characters who have, but aren’t defined by, their disability. The disability is part of the plot but not the central reason for the character. And, most important, people with disabilities are shown to be sexual.

This week I’m looking at two new movies, both romantic dramas, one light, one powerful — where one of the two main characters – the one with more education, wealth and power – has a disability.

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Dir: Andrew Michel

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Daisy (Laura Linney) has fallen into hard times. So she likes it when she gets summoned to visit a distant relative Franklin (Bill Murray) who is doing much better. He’s a stamp collector — he’s staying at his mother’s estate in the Hudson Valley in Western NY. Oh yeah… and he’s the President. FDR to be exact. Well they get along famously and one day he takes her for a drive into the hills, leaving his Secret Service agents behind. And what happens at the top of the hill? (Cover your ears, kiddies…) She gives him a handjob.

And so begins their long-term relationship. He builds a secret house for their trysts – he’s married to Eleanor Roosevelt – and they form a warm and loving special relationship. But the movie also focuses on another special relationship: One crucial weekend, when King George and Queen Elizabeth – in sort of a prequel to The King’s Speech – are visiting the states to get them to get on board in the soon-to-come war against Hitler.

The Queen (the current Queen’s mother) is portrayed as a shrewish manipulator with the young, stammering George as a weakling, prey to her machinations. What are hot dogs and why are they asking us to eat? Why did they put political cartoons of George III on the wall? They’re insulting us!

Then there’s Roosevelt — he had polio as a kid. At the time, in official photos, his disability was always hidden, never hyde park on the hudsonspoken of, never photographed. But as this a backstage view of his life, he’s constantly being lifted from room to room or moving about in a specially-designed wheelchair. The same is true of their relationship:

I liked it. It feels like a PBS Masterpiece Theatre episode, complete with stately homes and royalty, but with stupendous acting and subtle writing. This is actually a good, touching movie, an historical drama based on newly discovered material about a person – Daisy – who is largely unknown. Some historical details seem questionable – were his servants really white not black? – and some are surprising – The Canadian PM William Lyon Mackenzie King was the one who brought George and Elizabeth to meet FDR that weekend, yet he was nowhere to be seen. (As usual, Canada is erased from the picture.)

The acting is great, both Bill Murray and Laura Linney are fantastic. The casting didn’t worry too much about looking like the real thing – Eleanor Roosevelt as a very beautiful woman? She was known for her inner beauty more than her movie-star good looks – it was more about conveying their personalities. While the characters’ feelings are kept largely opaque, it still conveys the story.

rust and bone schoenaerts and cotillardRust and Bone

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Ali is a ne’er-do-well single dad and fighter from Belgium. He has to take his cute kid Sam to the south of France to stay with his sister when his wife, a junkie, ends up in jail. He’s a terrible father, self-centred and irresponsible, a negative role-model. His sister, and her husband, a trucker are responsible and take on the child-rearing responsibilities.

But Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is Sam’s dad, so he takes care of him as much as he can, which isn‘t much.

He’s irresponsible but also totally spontaneous. He sees a woman he likes, sleeps with her, moves on, no strings. If they’re free – they text they’re “OP” (operational) and they meet.

He has no job experience but is good fighter, so he lands a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. There he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) an older woman, very beautiful, who works as an orca trainer (!) at Marineland. She’s not there for a rust and bone cotillard schoenaertspick-up; she just wants to be the object of desire by others.

Ali helps her when a fight breaks out and treats her with respect… even though he always says the wrong thing (he’s a Flemish speaker.)

Then Stephanie has a serious accident at work with the orcas, and her life changes. She’s caught in a funk of self-pity and hatred. Ali, meanwhile is moving up to sketchy work as a security guard and open air Mixed martial arts fights where he gets a cut of the bets in the fight.

So depressed Steph calls him up – maybe this odd couple can get together and help each other survive? Will he bring her back to life? Will she teach him to behave in a civilized way? Will he take responsibility as a father? Will they ever have an actual relationship?

rust and bone schoenaertsI don’t want to give away any more of the story – and it’s a terrific story! – but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply moving romance, a drama, a family story, a boxing movie, and lots more. The director, Audiard – he made A Prophet, another great movie — is fantastic, all the supporting actors (especially Corrinne Maseiro as Ali’s sister and Armand Verdure as Sam, his son) are amazing. But the two main leads Schoenaerts and Cotillard – are powerfully perfect in their roles.

Morgan

Dir: Michael D. Akers

Also worth mentioning is the low-budget drama Morgan (Dir: Michael D. Akers) that was screened at this year’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. In this film, Morgan (Leo Minaya), a competitive bike racer is disabled in an accident on a steep hill in Central Park, which is on the very path of the tournament he wants to win. After a struggle, and with the help of a caring boyfriend Dean (Jack Kesy) who he first meets on a basketball court, he Morgandecides to tackle the race once again, this time using a bike adjusted to fit his disability. This movie sensitively shows how partners can learn to treat a disability as a normal, erotic part of their sex lives.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

And the realistic film Beeswax, from two years ago, also doesn’t shy away from sex involving a person with a disability. A nice, comfortable film, Beeswax is about the secrets and tensions shared by two sisters (played by real-life twins Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher), one of whom uses a wheelchair.

beeswaxHyde Park on the Hudson opens today, and Rust and Bone opens next Friday, Dec 21st. I don’t reveal my top ten movies of the year until the end of the month, but I guarantee Rust and Bone will be in that list. Also now playing is the very cute Korean romance A Werewolf Boy, which played at TIFF this year, about a boy raised by wolves, the girl who dog-trained him to behave like a person, and the romance that grew between them.

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

Mar 1, 2012. California Dreamin’. Movies Reviewed: Project X, Rampart

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.

Southern California… It never rains there, they say. Surfers, bleached blondes, Beach Blanket Bingo, there’s something about LA and environs that seems so saccharine, so perfect and yet ersatz, so way out there. Back when they rarely wanted to go on location, the studio back lots doubled for the old west, middle America, suburban NY, or LA itself. Melrose Place, 90210, OC – movies or TV, it’s all so hyper-perfect.

But beneath that veneer there also lurks that festering pit of tar, that horribleness, that evil and corruption – The Manson Family, the casting couch, the satanic rituals, the real estate double dealing, the stuff you’d read about in Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon…

So which is it? Well, in our present-day dystopia, southern California’s an about-to-collapse world, where the authorities are corrupt, but they’re the only things that are stopping total anarchy and destruction. …at least that’s how it’s portrayed in a lot of movies now.

So this week I’m talking about two new films about southern California… one’s about a party that explodes, the other’s about a cop that implodes.

Project X
Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (his first film)

It’s Thomas’s birthday, so his buddy Costa — a loudmouth in a sweater vest — says he’s going to throw him the best birthday party e-ver…! Both of Thomas’s parents are leaving Pasadena for the weekend, but they’re not worried – he’s just not a popular kid, his dad says – how many people does he know? Thomas thinks the party just might work, he might get away with it. But the two of them, along with their other best friend, JB, decide to go for it. And maybe Thomas will finally take his friendship with pretty Kirby to the BF/GF level?

They start out gathering the essentials – booze, drugs — (they steal a plaster gnome from their pot dealer, without realizing it held some things inside) and telling everyone at school, online, by email, texting, facebook – by any means necessary to bring in the crowds. They’re not really worried about people crashing the party – you can never have too many people… right? Besides they have their own security guards, little 10 year-olds ready to taze anyone making trouble. Everyone starts to trip on MDMA, and jump into the swimming pool – the boys fully dressed, the girls (as part of some adolescent boy fantasy) nude of course. More gratuitously naked breasts than you can shake a stick at.

Unfortunately, no one can anticipate the number of people eventually showing up, and the anarchic state that ensues.

I enjoyed Project X, as a party movie — more fun than funny, with a bit of a nasty streak running through it. But it also had a really “new” feeling to it, sort of like an extended youtube feature, but with a movie sized budget. The whole thing is purportedly taped by Dax, an unseen goth dude in a trench coat (straight out of Columbine) with a camera.

It seems like more and more movies feel that if you don’t include the camera as a character, it’s not “real”. (I disagree).

I liked the nihilism of it — though the “punish the good guys / reward the douches” theme was a bit disturbing…

The acting is great — the three mains, all unknown, mostly playing characters with their own names – Thomas Mann as Thomas, Jonathon Daniel Brown as JB, and Oliver Cooper as Costa – remind me of the three “geek” kids from Paul Feig’s “Freaks and Geeks” (Daley, Starr and Levine). Only these three are a bit older, and a bit meaner.

Project X is a “wow!” movie , as in I wanna go to that party, but also a “whoa…!” movie, especially towards the end. Not a terrific movie, but a fun and jarring experience.

Rampart
Dir: Oren Moverman

David “Date Rape” Brown is a mean egotistical street beat cop. He’s a cock-of-the-walk who drives around like he owns the Rampart precinct, an especially notorious part of Downtown LA. If he doesn’t get a confessioin he wants, he beats up the suspect until they break. He forces a rookie cop to eat her French Fries even though she doesn’t want them. He’s from a long line of cops. He lives with both his ex wives (they’re sisters!) and the one daughter he had with each of them. Dave is practically invincible. He takes the law into his own hands, and is admired by his fellow cops for his indefatigable character. And the brass tolerate him, since he brings in lots of convictions.

Dave loves his life – pretty (though troubled) daughters, two ex-wives, and he can pick up beautiful women in bars on the side. His LA is constantly moving: busy, dirty and corrupt. It’s filled with gangsters, drug dealers, drive-by-shootings, and snitches in wheelchairs. The cops are as much a part of the warp and weft as the criminals they chase. And lots of innocents die between them.

Then, one day, he gets caught on cell phone camera beating up a guy (a la Rodney King) whose car rammed him and then ran away. And things start to go wrong. The DA office starts following him around, the lawyers want him to resign, and there’s some strange unexplained conspiracy bubbling up beneath al of this. Things get worse and worse, as he gradually loses his home, his family, his friends, his money, and his status. He embarks on a self-destructive journey, though it’s never quite clear whether he means to ruin things or if they’re all just happening to him.

Woody Harrelson is amazing as Officer Brown, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, and Sigourney Weaver, among others, are fun as some of the many women picking on him. Each scene could end in a dramatic turn, but more often devolves into very long conversations about relationships and guilt. I was expecting Rampart to be an action and chase cop thriller – which it’s not. It’s a drama about what happens to a middle-aged cop when his power disappears.

Rampart is playing now, and Project X, and the new documentary Family Portrait in Black and White both open today in Toronto. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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January 27, 2012. Airplanes and Wheelchairs. Films Reviewed: Red Tails, Moon Point PLUS Oscar nominations

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Acting, Action, African-Americans, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Movies, Slackers, US, video games, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2012

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

They announced the Oscar nominees this week, some expected and others not so. I’ll be talking more about the nominations closer to the awards ceremony. They nominated some enjoyable movies – like The Help, War Horse, some good but not special ones like the Descendents, some good but flawed movies like the Tree of Life, and some mediocre ones like The Artist. And then there are the shockers. They nominated one of the worst movies of the year for best picture — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; one of the worst acting performances — Rooney Mara for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and Nick Nolte’s overwrought “Drunk Dad” in the mixed martial arts flick The Warrior.

I think Hugo is a good movie, but isn’t it sad that Scorsese could win for his so-so movies like this or The Departed but not for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas or King of Comedy? Ok, just wanted to let off a bit of steam, as I plod along my way…

This week I’m looking at two movies in motion. One’s an American film about soldiers who want to fly in the air, and a Canadian one about friends who want to roll up a hill.

Red Tails (Based on a true story)

Dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s nearing the end of WWII. The Americans have taken Italy and are pushing the Germans northward across Europe. And at one of the Italian bases is a team of ace flyers who have yet to see battle. Why? Because they’re all African Americans from a special Air Force project in Tuskegee, Alabama. And in the 1940’s America was still a segregated country, with the “colour bar” strictly enforced. Black officers aren’t even allowed to drink in the officers’ club. The want to kill some Germans. Instead they’re stuck puttering around in glued together old junk-heaps, aiming their guns at covered jeeps and enemy trains.

Their officers, meanwhile, are in DC, trying to give them a chance to do some real fighting as they train in northern Italy. The whites in the military characterize this group of bright-eyed University-educated, ambitious, would-be-heroes as lazy and incompetent.

But they are actually champ flyers and fighters, especially Lightning (David Oyelowo) the best of them all. He swoops and spins, ducks, turns and flies upside down They all have nicknames, like “Easy” (Nate Parker) the drinker, or “Junior” (Elijah Kelley) the kid – with their names and logos painted on the sides of their planes. But they all want “kills” o their planes, too.

One day on a flight, Lightning sees a beautiful woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah) looking out her window as he flies overhead – they catch each others’ eyes, and it’s love at first sight. (But will it be happily ever after?)

Finally the men are given new planes to fly, and they paint the tails bright red to make it clear who they are. Will they win their battles? Will Lightning shoot down his personal enemy a Red Baron Nazi flyer they call Pretty boy for his scarred face? And will they get to go with the other planes to drop bombs on Berlin?

What can I say about this movie?

It has a lot going for it. I liked the acting – an all-around good cast (although the scenes in Washington, with Terrence Howard pleading his soldiers’ case, were painfully wooden). David Oyelowo, especially, owns the screen.. And I have to say I enjoy the spectacular plane fights up in the air – it felt like a cool video game. And it’s a good idea to tell little-known history, to give kids role models, and to celebrate forgotten accomplishments by African Americans.

The problem is in the movie’s tone. Seriously — is it possible to show such a gung-ho, “war is great” type of movie in this day and age with a straight face? Even a hint of disgust for the excesses of war would have made this more understandable for contemporary audiences. Instead it ends up feeling more like a 1940’s recruitment ad then a modern-day movie.

Moon Point

Dir: Sean Cisterna

Darryl (Nick McKinley) is a slacker, a loser, and a compulsive liar who lives at home and is picked on by his snobby cousin Lars. He does little aside from hanging out with his good friend Femur (Kyle Mac), a disabled orphan who lives with his grandma. But when his cousin sarcastically asks if Darryl will be bringing a date to Lars’s upcoming wedding, he vows he’ll be bringing a movie star. You see, he had a crush on Sarah Cherry when he was a kid, and now she’s back shooting a movie.

Things have got to change. So Darryl convinces Femur to drive him up north to Moon Point, a town where where the movie’s being shot. By drive, he’s referring to Femur’s motorized scooter he uses when not in a wheelchair. So Darryl climbs into the little metal cart pulled by the scooter and begin their extremely slow trip to the North. On the way they meet a young woman, Kristin (Paula Brancati) who hitches a ride after her car broke down.

Will Darryl ever find his Hollywood crush? Will Kristin find her true love? And will Femur tackle his personal crisis? And can they all get to Moon Point and back in time for a wedding… at 5 miles an hour?

Moon Point is a very low-budget, locally-made Canadian comedy. It’s cute and fairly original with likeable characters. It’s a comedy, but some of the jokes fall as flat as a pancake. The humour comes less from the one-liners than from the unusual and uncomfortable situations characters find themselves in. Like sitting in on an A.A. meeting after catching a lift from a drunk driver (played by Art Hindle… dressed in a banana suit!) Or an impromptu karaoke contest in a highway roadhouse. The tone swings back and forth, from hokey to charming — but I ended up liking it.

Moon Point reminds me of Bruce MacDonald’s earliest movies, like Roadkill, only not rock and roll… calmer, gentler.

Red Tails is playing now, and Moon Point opens in Toronto next week – check your local listings.

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

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December 30, 2011, More Xmas Movies. Movies Reviewed: The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close PLUS My Choice of 2011 Best Eleven Movies

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Cultural Mining, Dance, Death, Denial, Disabilities, Drama, Hollywood, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Terrorism, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 31, 2011

Hi, this 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.

Well, here it is, a day away from New Year’s eve, so I guess I’d better tell you my choice for the best movies of 2011.

But first, let me tell you about two more Christmas-y movies that opened this week, one about a kid with a key after the fall of the World Trade Centre, the other about an actor and an actress after the fall of the silent movie.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Dir: Stephen Daldry

Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a little kid in Manhattan who’s a bit neurotic, a bit bratty, pretty smart, a little autistic-y, and prone to temper tantrums. Not that different from a lot of kids. Then his dad (Tom Hanks) just happens to be visiting the twin towers on September 11th. So… the kid is left without his dad, and Oskar becomes more and more sketchy. He communicates with his grandmother by walkie-talkie (she’s in the apartment across the courtyard), and ignores his mom. All that’s left of his dad are the voicemail messages he recorded on an answering machine before the towers collapsed. Oskar sets up a secret shrine to his dead father, and, when going through his father’s things, he discovers a key in an envelope with the name “Black” written on it.

Oskar divides the whole city into small quadrants on a paper map and decides to knock on the door of every family named Black in the city to see if they have the lock that his father’s key will open. One day he meets his grandmother’s reclusive tenant (Max von Sydow) for the first time, even though he’s shared her apartment since after WWII. The tenant is an old German man who will not (or cannot) speak, but communicates by writing little notes in his moleskine with a sharpie and tearing out the pages. Oskar sets out with him on a search for his father’s hidden secrets. With the old man‘s help, maybe he can face his worst fears and reach closure with his dad’s death.

Unfortunately, this is a dreadful movie. It rests on the shoulders of a first-time child actor, who is just not very good. (Apparently, they cast him after he enchanted audiences on Kids’ Jeopardy). We’re supposed to find his Asberger-like behaviour fascinating – it’s not – and his precociousness awe-inspiring – also not. Then there’s Sandra Bullock’s awfulness as the weepy, suffering mother. (Go away, Sandra Bullock — I don’t want to watch your movies anymore.) Only the always-dependable Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis (in a small part as one of the hundereds of people named “Black”) partly redeem the scenes they’re in. Other than that, it’s a non-stop yuck-fest of forced-sentimental pseudo-patriotism with the aim of bestowing sainthood on an entire city because of 9-11. Give it a rest… I would avoid this movie at all costs.

The Artist

Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

George Valentin, (Jean Dujardin) is a movie star of the Silent Screen, the darling of his fans, rich, successful. He can do anything, even question the decisions of the Sam Goldwyn–type movie moghul at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman). It’s just him, his stodgy wife, and his cute little doggy. One night at a reception he runs into a pretty young flapper who catches his eye, and gets her face on the cover of Variety: Who’s That Girl? it asks. Why, it’s an unknown, new starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)! And just like that, a star is born… but as she rises, he falls. And when talkies are introduced, he soon finds himself poor, jobless, homeless, and single again. Will Peppy Miller make it big? Will Valentin ever have his comeback? And will his cute and faithful dog (Uggie) and his chauffeur (James Cromwell) stay by his side?

What’s the twist? Well, the whole movie is filmed in the style of a silent movie, with no spoken dialogue. So what? you may be thinking. And my answer would be: indeed.

Doing a silent movie that’s also about silent movies shows an incredible lack of imagination. There’s nothing especially new or interesting in this film. I mean, it’s visually pleasing, a fun re-enactment of old movies, a nice diversion… but nothing more. The score – which is so important in silent films — was underwhelming; and the story held almost no surprises, except an especially lame ending. The costumes and the camera work, though, were both incredible; and I thought the acting was great – for what it’s worth (it seemed more like a pantomime to me.)

I mean, people like Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati made great silent movies long after talkies were well established, but they were good because they were original, funny and surprising. This one isn’t – there’s not an original moment in the entire film, just the re-hashing of things that were once original moments in silent movies. (There are a few hahaha parts, but no real gut busters.) They seem to forget that silent movies were actual movies. This one is more concerned with replicating the surface of silent movies – or how people today look back at them — than making a good movie, period. The Artist is a film for movie collectors not for moviegoers.

Here’s my top eleven movies of 2011. I only included movies that played commercially during that year, so I had to leave out terrific ones that only played in festivals – like Hysteria and Himizu at TIFF, and The Evening Dress at Inside-out. And I don’t include the many amazing documentaries, like Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles that played at HotDocs; or Page One: Inside the New York Times. I also try to include both mainstream and independent or avant-garde movies. And I haven’t seen every movie from this past year, so I may have missed some gems. OK, here goes, in alphabetical order:

Quadraplegic amputee “war god” returns to his Japanese village:

Caterpillar

Lesbian romance in Tehran:

Circumstance

Danish L.A. film noir thriller:

Drive

Bizarre Polish art film about CIA black sites in Europe:

Essential Killing

Poor, black maids and rich white housewives in 1960’s Mississippi:

The Help

Women leading a wagon train through Oregon

Meek’s Cutoff

The apes are revolting:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Kids shooting a super 8 film uncover a dangerous mystery:

Super 8

A mentally ill husband dreams of coming disaster:

Take Shelter

Cold War thriller about a possible mole within the high-ranks of MI6:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A horse seeks his boy in the trenches of WWI:

War Horse

Runners-up:

Names of Love (le Nom des gens)

Submarine

Incendie

Attack the Block

The Artist and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are now playing in Toronto (check your local listings). War Horse, Tinker Tailor…, Take Shelter and Drive are also playing in some theatres.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . 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 16, 2011. Toronto. An Interview With Derek Hayes, Author of the New Book “The Maladjusted”

Daniel Garber: I’ve read all of your stories many times, but now I’d like to hear you talk a bit about them. There’s a tone of black humour in this book, Derek, but would you say most of the short stories in your new collection, The Maladjusted (October, 2011, Thistledown Press) are comedies or tragedies… and why?

Derek Hayes: I think they are tragic for some of the characters, but not in any way that matters to anyone but themselves. And for this reason I hope readers will find the stories funny. I’m interested in characters that for their own personal, deeply-rooted reasons have bad habits about how they think about the environment they live in.

I know the title of the book comes from the name of one of the short stories, but is it safe to say that the protagonists in most of them are having trouble fitting in… in social situations, workplaces, or relationships?

Yes, each story has at least one character who has trouble fitting in. I’d also add that it’s not the social situations, workplace or relationship per se that is inherently troublesome, but the characters thinking that is distorted or “off” in some way.

Most of the stories are told through the point of view of the male characters; do you see a bit of yourself in those guys, or is it more often your impressions of people you observe?

I definitely see myself in some of the characters. And others. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise for people close to me to know that I suffer from anxiety sometimes. But the actual details of the stories are madeup. It’s easy to take material from my own life and adjust, exaggerate, fabricate in order to make a narrative that works on its own terms.

A lot of your stories take place overseas — why is that?

About twelve years ago I worked in Istanbul for a year and then Taipei, Taiwan for two years. Three of the most enjoyable years of my life. I met a lot of interesting people and for lack of a better way of saying it, felt “alive” for the first time in a few years.

What’s your favourite story from the collection?

I think most writers of short stories would be reluctant to pick one, or maybe some writers would. I can’t speak for others I guess. I tried to arrange the collection in a way to keep the reader engaged, interspersing the more neurotic of the stories throughout so as not to exhaust readers.

I think some of your characters are just a little bit odd or off, while others are way out there. Which type of personality is harder to capture in writing?

The ‘way out there’ characters are more difficult to capture. Perhaps like the author is trying too hard. For a story to work readers have to feel a connection to a character, and if a character is too strange, readers may feel manipulated or put off. But having said that I’m not so sure I’m thinking about any of this when I’m writing a story.

Congratulations on your first published book, Derek! I know you have some great novels to follow.

Yeah, I have three novels. Mentee is about a struggling teacher. Kadikoy is about expats in Istanbul, and The Streets is about a basketball coach. It’s also about a guy who is looking for his mentally ill brother. All of which, you, Daniel, edited by the way 🙂 And you edited The Maladjusted. I’ll take this opportunity to thank you for that as well.

Thanks Derek, and thanks for the interview.

Derek Hayes will be launching his book across Canada with a series of readings, beginning October 19th in Toronto.

  • October 16: Ottawa, Nicholas Hoare (downtown), 5-7p.m.
  • October 19: Toronto, Type Books on Queen West (near Trinity Bellwoods Park), 7-9p.m.
  • October 23: (with Sean Johnston) Vancouver, Cafe Montmartre (downtown), 7-8p.m.
  • October 29: London, Oxford Books  (Oxford and Richmond), 2:30-4:30p.m.
  • November 20: Edmonton, Thomson/ Wright House, 1-2 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from Derek Hayes’s The Maladjusted:

I climb out of my fourth floor window and onto the fire escape landing, where I look down the alley for Ming. Spring has come and it’s starting to warm up a little. I’m wearing a white robe and flip-flops, and carrying a basket that is attached to a long rope. Inside the basket is the exact amount of money for a medium vegetarian pizza, a bottle of Pepsi and a side order of garlic bread. This is the special from Tony’s. Like an old house-ridden Middle Eastern woman, I lower down the basket of money to Ming, who is standing below the fire escape. Ming is non-judgmental, waiting patiently on the ground, as if all his customers order in this way. He takes the money and places the food into the basket. I carefully pull my dinner towards the fourth floor, stopping just before it reaches the metal landing. I remove the box of pizza and bottle of Pepsi and the garlic bread and yank the basket over the rail. I lie down on the cool surface of the fire escape landing and rest my arm on the warm pizza box.

For the first fifteen days of each month I order a pizza from Tony’s. Then I run out of money. Until the end of the month I live on crackers, canned tuna and tomatoes, which I buy in bulk. My belly fluctuates in size according to the time of month, just as a python’s shape changes depending on what it has eaten.

I’ve got to find somewhere else to buy my groceries. Three weeks ago, as I was leaving Value Mart, I said goodbye to two men, probably fathers, who were waiting for a taxi. They gave me a look, from which I inferred that they thought this was strange. So I told them that I have a mental illness. They said that they were sorry. I refuse to go back there.

I don’t watch TV. I have nothing in common with Chandler, Joey or Ross. My alley’s good for entertainment. My fire escape is on the fourth floor and, because of some creepers – really weeds that I’ve tended that have climbed up from some dirt in three mouldy flowerpots – I am afforded some camouflage, allowing me to watch while being unobserved. The alley teems with life, with meth-heads providing the main drama. Look at them now. The one with the stringy blonde hair, all ninety pounds of him, has picked up a dead mouse and is holding it by its tail. The other has a garbage can lid, thrust out as a shield. He’s trying to knock the rodent from the other kid’s hand, his head craned back in revulsion.

May 17: All the Lonely People. Movies Reviewed: The Collapsed, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles PLUS Inside Out Festival

Posted in Canada, Disabilities, Disaster, documentary, Ham Radio, Hotdocs, Mental Illness, post-apocalypse, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 8, 2011

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

It’s been raining and foggy and overcast for almost a week now – it’s hard to get up in the morning when there’s no sun coming in through your window. I thought this was supposed to happen in April — April showers? On the other hand, it’s a good time to go to the movies.

You won’t be missing much by shutting yourself into a dark room with some friends and a tub of greasy popcorn. And odd characters – the ones who won’t show themselves outside are nest viewed in the dark. So this week I’m going to talk about some new movies — two documentaries and two feature films — about reclusive, eccentric, lost, or just plain strange or unusual people.

The Collapsed

Dir: Justin McConnell

In this Canadian horror film, a family – Mom, Dad (John Fantasia), and their kids, Jennifer and Aaron (Steve Vieira) — is riding around after the world has ended. The skyscrapers are on fire, the streets are deserted and there are bodies lying around here and there.

Something or someone scary is out there – you can tell because the music goes plink plink plink, and because of all the flies stuck to fly strips hanging from the ceiling.

So Dad tells them to pile into their car and drive away from populated areas. They’re sure the bad guys must be after them because there are some man in camo with gas masks on shooting people. (Note to self: the good guys do wear plaid, bad guys wear camouflage…)

Then they do a bunch of horror movie-like things like explore abandoned houses, and running through the woods pointing their long guns at threatening noises. “Lets run wildly thorough this corn field!” or “let’s split up in the middle of the woods and explore!” You know, the usual. More bzzzz sound effects, more meaningless dialogue, more scary plink plink plink music… and then comes the weird sounds: Grouuouououwwwhhh… someone’s in the woods!

Is it a zombie? Is it a ghost? is it an alien? Who knows…? Who cares.

The thing is, there’s almost nothing scary about this movie. I can see that it’s ultra low-budget, so they can’t afford pricey special effects, but there’s no real horror in it at all. Finally, after a whole hour – a whole hour! – has passed, it starts to get a bit interesting. What or who is killing everyone? And why? Will they be able to catch it? And what’s the cause of it all?

The movie gets better right toward the end. There are some twists revealed and plots explained in the last 10 minutes, so you might want to stay till then, as it’s the most exciting part of the movie… but that means watching pointless wandering through the woods for the whole first hour.

This movie is just not scary enough.

Also opening next weekend is a really good documentary, about a historical icon and controversial figure:

Bobby Fischer Against The World

Dir: Liz Garbus

Bobby Fischer was to chess what Muhammed Ali was to boxing — a superstar, a huge international sensation in the early 70’s, a face known around the world. He rose to prominence in the midst of the cold war, and his historic tournament, Fischer against Boris Spassky in Reijkavik was touted in the media as a huge factor in International diplomacy and the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) talks. He personified America and the west, in his games against Spassky for the Soviet Bloc.(much like in the Hockey games between Canada and the Soviet Union.)

This movie follows Fischer from his childhood (he was raised by a single mother — a communist with a PhD) through his teen years, to his amazing fame in the next few decades, until his tragic spiral into infamy as he was engulfed by paranoia and mental illness.

It also concentrates on the big tournament Itself, where the world was transfixed by Fischer’s astounding gambits and seemingly incomprehensible chess moves, his lateness, and other mindgames, that so unnerved Spassky, that he, too, started to suspect spy cameras and strange noises coming out of the walls and the lights.

.

After the tournament, he gradually, and intentionally faded Into solitude after being overly exposed to paparazzi and intrusive media.

Then, following 9/11, Fischer re-emerged from obscurity with some outrageous statements to the press — but, unexpectedly, he was arrested for this and held at Narita Airport, until a third country offered him asylum.

The director has put together an amazing assortment of photos, obscure TV and film clips, dating back to his childhood, including B&W TV appearances as a young boy, and footage of his hilarious Olympic-style physical training captured by a photographer.

His triumphant and tragic life are told in this really fascinating and vivid historical documentary — I strongly recommend this movie.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Dir: Jon Foy

Speaking of secretive, elusive, and eccentric figures, here’s a movie about those weird messages that have been appearing in the surface of streets in the US east coast for a couple decades. These coloured tiles, imbedded into the tarmac, all say the same thing:

Toynbee Idea

In Kubrik’s 2001

Resurrect Dead

On Planet Jupiter

Just that –a haiku-like remnant of someone’s thoughts duplicated thousands of time by an unknown person, with occasional bizarre rants on tiny sidebars vowing vengeance on evil journalists and newspapers.

This extremely low-budget but compelling documentary looks at a group of friends in Philadelphia who attempt to track the writer down. A self-taught artist who lives in a squat, and some friends he gathers on the way (including the filmmaker) become a roving Scooby Gang, out to uncover the secret behind the Toynbee Tiles. Who made them? Where does he live? What’s his name? Why is he saying these things? And… what Is the David Mamet connection?

Delving into the fringes of society (in places like shortwave conventions) and knocking doors in Fishtown they explore the influence of an obscure but widely known prophet. The movie is as much about the characters involved in the search as it is about the one they’re searching before. I liked this unusual documentary, which was shown at Sundance and Hotdocs.

The Canadian horror movie The Collapsed, and the documentary Bobby Fischer against the World open next week, Check your local listings, and Resurrect Dead played Hot Docs and will open at a later date.

Also starting today is Toronto’s Inside-Out film festival, a celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Queer features, videos, TV shows, documentaries and short films, including Canadian and world premiers of films with a queer theme. In addition to Toronto and Canadian-made movies, this year they are featuring films and TV shows from the UK, as well as many from the Middle East, Latin America, Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. Look out for the film and discussion “Dykes Planning Tykes: Queering the Family Tree”; the new UK film The Night Watch, based on Sarah Waters’ amazing novel; and Gun Hill Road a drama about family relations for an ex-con in the Bronx. For details, go to insideout.ca.

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

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