Minors and Miners. Films reviewed: After the Wedding, Mine 9, Good Boys

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Disaster, Drama, Drones, drugs, Family, Friendship, India, Kids, Movies by CulturalMining.com on August 16, 2019

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

Mountains can grow out of moleholes. This week I’m looking at three movies – a disaster, a family drama, and a comedy with kids – about minors facing major difficulties. There are three tweens caught up in adult-type problems, coal miners caught in a disaster, and a woman who works with orphans in India facing major problems back in New York.

After the Wedding

Wri/Dir: Bart Freundlich

Isabel (Michelle Williams) is an American woman grudgingly back in New York for the first time in decades. She fled the country as a teen after an unplanned pregnancy, and has lived in India ever since. She works at an orphanage in Tamil Nadu, raising the kids there, including Jai, a little boy she found abandoned on a street. But she’s forced to travel to The States for the sake of the kids; to secure a large donation to the orphanage. The donor insists she come, not anyone else.

Theresa (Julianne Moore) is a ruthless media magnate preparing to sell all her assets and retire. She wants to donate to various charities – including the orphanage. But when she meets Isabel she says she’ll only confirm the donation after her daughter Grace (Abby Quinn)’s wedding . And Isabel must attend.

But Isabel is in for a shock. Turns out the father of the bride is Oscar (Billy Crudup) Isabel’s teenaged boyfriend, and the father of the unwanted child they put up for adoption so many years ago! He’s why she moved India in the first place, to erase her past and start again. He seems as shocked to see her as she is to see him. Is this just a coincidence? Could the bride possibly be the baby she gave birth to? And if Theresa finds out that Isabel and Oscar were once lovers will she cancel all the money the orphanage needs so badly?

After the Wedding is a remake of Danish director Susanne Bier’s film from 2006. I’ve never seen the original but I’m told in Bier’s film Isabel and Theresa are male roles and Oscar is a woman. This switch seems to work. And I found the continuous revelations fascinating – I wanted to know what would happen all the way till the end.

That said, the script was so clunky it felt, at times, like it was written by Google Translate. Williams’s main emotion was being perturbed, and the whole film lasted 30 minutes longer than it should have. I didn’t love this movie but I didn’t hate it either: good story, bad script; great actors but who are not at the top of their game here.

Mine 9

Wri/Dir: Eddie Mensore

It’s a mining town in West Viriginia. The coal mine is the only steady employer, but it’s a dangerouns place. Some of the old timers, like Kenny (Mark Ashworth), Daniel (Kevin Sizemore) and John (Clint James), have lived most of their lives underground. The black dust is ground into their skin, their hair, their beards. They don’t like it, but it’s their livelihood, and their only source of health insurance. But when they narrowly escape a methane leak, they wonder if it’s safe to go back down into mine #9. And with no outside foreman or rescue team, if there is an accident, who will save them?

But management insists so down they go, along with Ryan (Drew Starkey) a newbie fresh out of high school. It’s his first time in a mine, though his family has been doing it for centuries. Things seem to be going alright until a short circuit leads to an explosion and a collapse. The mine is filling with poisonous gas with only an hour’s worth of oxygen left. They have to battle fire, rushing water, smoke, dust, methane gas and collapsing tunnels all around them. It’s up to Zeke (Terry Serpico) their dependable leader, to bring them to safety. Who will escape and who will be left two miles down?

Mine 9 is an indie action/ disaster movie about West Virginia coal miners. It has a realistic, gritty feel to it, capturing the dirt, darkness and claustrophobia of coal mining, along with the excitement of escape. Unfortunately it’s also full of problems, both big and small.

I understand why they have to wear oxygen masks to breathe and hard hats for safety, but how can you care about characters when you can’t see their faces for much of the movie? And, seriously, do miners really break into miners’ songs each time they go underground? Their names aren’t Sneezy, Dopey and Doc.

Still, if you’re in the mood for a short trip into a coal mine, you might want to look at Mine 9.

Good Boys

Co-Wri/Dir Gene Stupnitsky

Max, Lucas and Thor are the Bean Bag Boys, three best friends and grade sixers. They’re a team that does everything together. Thor (Brady Noon) pierces an ear to be cool, but is labelled “sippy cup” by the popular kids for not trying beer. Lucas (Keith L. Williams) is a God-fearing boy who cannot tell a lie, but whose beliefs are shaken when his parents announce their divorce. Max (Jacob Tremblay) is a lover not a fighter, and is crushing on a girl he’s never actually met in lunchroom. But when Max is invited to a kissing party, he realizes he has to learn how to kiss before he can go there. These foul-mouthed boys can say the dirty words, but they don’t know how to do them. They can’t ask their parents and they find internet porn too disgusting to look at.

So the Bean Bag Boys concoct a plan: to spy on Hannah (Molly Gordon) the much older, girl next door as she makes out with her drug-dealer, frat boy boyfriend. But how? Using Max’s dad’s drone – something Max is forbidden even to touch. Caught in the act, Hannah and her friend Lily (Midori Francis) seize the drone from the boys. Then they steal her purse. But the purse contains the MDMA the women planned to take that night. Can the three boys escape their pursuers and rescue the drone? Can Max kiss the girl he thinks he loves? Or will the big problems they all face destroy their unbreakable friendship?

Good Boys is a hilarious coming-of-age comedy about extremely naïve kids encountering adult situations – like drugs and sex – for the first time, and deal with them from a child’s perspective. The laughs are constant, with very few misses. A lot of the humour rests on believing the kids are so sheltered they’ve never seen or encountered anything adult.  For example they find Thor’s parents’s sex toys but use them as weapons and kids’ toys. They’re afraid tasting beer will turn them into alcoholics. They’ve heard grown-up words but don’t know their real meanings: Nymphomania means having sex both on land and at sea. Misogyny means giving massages.

The three main kids are great, especially Tremblay (Room), but so are all the other roles. And despite the fact it’s being marketed as an R-rated movie, except for some foul language and innuendo, it’s not outrageously offensive. No serious violence and no sex, just some 11-year-old kids being extremely funny.

After the Wedding, Mine 9, and Good Boys 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.

 

Other people’s danger. Films reviewed: Blaze, Ben is Back, The Quake

Posted in Addiction, Biopic, C&W, Christmas, Disaster, Family, Morality, Music, Norway, Romance, Texas by CulturalMining.com on December 14, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

 

With all the trouble in the world, some people like to safely observe other people’s problems, as a kind of catharsis. This week I’m looking at three new movies about people putting themselves in danger. There’s an opiate addict at Christmas, a quake spotter in Oslo, and an alcoholic musician in a bar.

Blaze

Dir: Ethan Hawke

It’s the 70s in the deep south. Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) is a hefty, bearded Texan from San Antone, living in an artsy, hippy commune. That’s where he meets a beautiful woman with kinky hair named Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat). He’s a musician and a raconteur, she’s a writer and aspiring actress. The two decide to shack up together in a treehouse for some sweet, summer lovin. When they’re not in bed they’re singing songs to each other. But Sybil – or Tsibele, as her parents call her – sees something more. Blaze, she says, you gotta go to Austin to make it big. And Blaze says I don’t wanna be a star, I want to be a legend.

But he agrees to tour blues bars while she works as a waitress. Problem is, when he’s lonely he drinks – he’s a boozehound – and when he drinks he gets angry, and when he gets angry he gets into fights – not a good career move for a budding musician.

Can their relationship survive? And will people ever get to hear his music?

Blaze is a meandering biopic about a musician you’ve probably never heard of. It jumps back and forth over a twenty year period tracing his highs and lows… mainly the lows. (Like the time when a trio of Texas Oilmen — played by Steve Zahn, Richard Linklater and Sam Rockwell — who think they’ve discovered the next big thing and put up the money to record an album.)  And there are lots of concerts in small bars. Blaze’s story is narrated by Towne Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) recalling his life and his music. Blaze was dead by age 40, but now, 30 years later, he’s finally getting listened to.

It sounds super depressing… but it’s not. It’s actually a very gentle, pleasant movie, mainly because the music – folk, blues, country – never stops for the whole two hours. Lots of plucking of guitars and Ben Dickey’s sweet voice. And Alia’s, too.

OK, it is a bit too long and the plot isn’t that interesting (though the stories Blaze tells are), but if you go to this movie to feel it, not to think about it… well, you just might like it.

Ben is Back

Wri/Dir: Peter Hedges

Holly (Julia Roberts) is happily married to her second husband (Courtney B Vance) and fond of her three kids who live at home. She’s preparing for Christmas: trimming the tree and wrapping the presents. But then a surprise visitor shows up. It’s Ben (Lucas Hedges), the eldest from her first marriage, the return of the Prodigal Son. She over him dearly, but he also makes her nervous. He’s an addict,

and he’s supposed to be at rehab. But she welcomes him for dinner, after carefully hiding all the prescription drugs, money and valuable jewelry. She loves him, but everyone knows addicts lie, cheat and steal… the boy can’t help it.

But maybe this time is different. He’s been clean for 80 days now, and he promises he won’t do anything to hurt his family. He seems back to normal. But when Ben is back, all his history, his baggage, all his friends and enemies are there with him, metaphorically. And some literally: when they go to sister Ivy’s Christmas pageant, they come back to a burglarized home… and Ben’s pet has been dog-napped.

Who dunnit? It’s up to him to visit all the ghosts of his past – people he stole from, families of overdose victims, druggies, dealers and gangsters – until he finds the one with his dog. But Holly won’t let him do it alone. She’ll stick by his side until he’s safe again. Will they find the dog? Or die in trying?

Ben is Back is one of a creepily popular genre: addiction movies. And like many of them it’s not about the addicts, it’s about the harm they bring to their parents or lovers. (The recent Beautiful Boy is a good example – it should have been called Dithering Dad.) While Ben is Back’s story kept me interested, the movie as a whole was both moralistic and grueling to watch… why are moviegoers forced to sit through yet another reenactment of a 12-step meeting? Ugh. That’s not entertaininment. And as if that’s not enough, you also have to sit through an interminable Christmas show.

Equal doses of saccharine and grime… No thanks.

The Quake

Dir: John Andreas Andersen

It’s present-day Norway. Gaunt, bearded Kristian (Krisoffer Joner) lives in the picturesque, fjord-filled town of Geiranger. Three years ago a deadly tsunami swept through there but Kristian saved many people including his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) his son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and his darling daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). He’s a national hero… and a broken man, far away from his family who moved to Oslo. Why? Because Kristian hears tremors everywhere – he’s in a constant state of panic, just waiting for the next earthquake. Perfect for an emergency but unfit to be a normal husband and father.

But his panic starts to escalate when a series of clues – unexplained seismic data, a collapsing tunnel, rats running away – tell him the next earthquake is coming to Oslo. He has to get there fast and warn his family.. and everyone else. Has Kristian gone bananas? Or is he right? The Quake is a disaster movie so of course he’s right. Once the tremors start the real action begins, mainly in a glass and steel highrise in downtown Oslo. Somehow Dad, Mom, Little Julia and Marit (Kathrine T Johansen) a woman helping Kristian find the truth, all end up there, at the very top of a skyscraper, when the earthquake hits. Who will survive?

The Quake is a terrific disaster flic, mainly because the characters are interesting enough to care about. And the special effects are amazing. You believe they’re hanging onto wires in elevator shafts or sliding toward the edge as the skyscraper starts lean. The director of this movie is actually a cinematographer so its very visual: aerial views, long tunnels, fjords, and collapsing new buildings. I had to watch it on a computer screen, but you should try to see it in a theatre with a big screen, and loud rumbles.

Blaze, Ben is Back, and the Quake 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.

Acts of God. Movies reviewed: Into the Storm, Calvary PLUS TIFF Canadian Films

Posted in Action, Adventure, Catholicism, Christianity, Cultural Mining, Death, Disaster, Drama, Ireland, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2014

TIFF14 Rising Stars © Jeff Harris Sophie Desmarais, Alexandre LandryHi, 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.

The names of the Canadian films opening this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival were announced this week, and they look really good. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. From Quebec, there’s a drama about a young man in Montreal who joins the nascent FLQ in the 1960s. It’s called Corbo, directed by TIFF14 CorboMatthieu Denis. Xavier Dolan’s movies are always worth seeing. His fifth one, called, simply, Mommy, revisits the themes of his first film (J’ai tue ma mere) about a mother/son relationship and all its perils. With Anne Dorval back as the mom. And Master filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin is bringing another NFB TIFF14  Alanis Obomsawin, NFB director of Trick or Treatydoc on First Nations issues. This one, Trick or Treaty, covers the battle for treaty rights. There are many other too, including a new one from Cronenberg, a remastered film by Atom Egoyan, and movies from Jean Marc Valee, and Phillipe Felardeau, both starring Reese Witherspoon for some reason. Go to tiff.net for more info.

This week, I’m looking at two movies about The Imp and the Angels Sally de Frehn 1946brave people facing “acts of God”. One’s an American disaster-adventure about the danger brought to a family by unstoppable winds; the other’s an Irish drama about the dangers brought to a priest by an emotional loose cannon.

INTO THE STORM afficheInto the Storm
Dir: Steven Quale

On graduation day in Silverton, a single dad (Richard Armitage) and his two sons, Donnie and Trey (Max Deacon, Nathan Kress), are making a time capsule on video. 25 years from now they’ll look back in wonder — or so they think. Instead, a series of unusually powerful, super – tornadoes strike their town during the graduation ceremony, wreaking havoc in its path. Donnie is trapped with a classmate in an abandoned paper mill on the outskirts of town. (He skipped graduation to help a girl he has a crush on get some footage for her Into the Storm 1environmental film.)

Dad and Trey set out to find them but encounter another group on the way. It’s a team of storm chasers — people who make their living by pursuing tornadoes and capturing it all on video. Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a scientist, while Pete (Matt Walsh) is her boss. It’s Pete’s dream to pass through the eye of a tornado and live to tell the tale — and this is the biggest twister he’s ever seen. With the help of his tank-like car (called Titus) he treats the storm as his great white whale.

But when Dad rescues Allison from blowing away – literally! A manly man relying on the brute strength of his handgrip to overcome the tornado and save her from blowing away like a leaf — she decides to help him. They drive off to save his son; she chooses people’s lives over fame and fortune.

Into the Storm 2But can anyone beat this Grandmother of a superstorm? While there are some nice shots of huge objects bring blown away, and some wicked “flame-nadoes”, it wasn’t enough. Where are the sharks?

Terrific special effects don’t excuse the mediocre plot and script, and ho-hum acting. And it’s dripping with Tea Party subtexts: The school principal is an Obama surrogate. A good speech-maker but it’s the Paul Ryan-type Dad who can save the day. It’s also a movie about irregular weather systems that never talks about climate change. But the biggest problem is you can’t have a disaster movie that’s also an adventure flick; the two types are diametrically opposed. Disaster movies are all about sadness and braveness in the face of terrible disaster. Adventure movies are all about fun and excitement. This movie doesn’t know which way to turn. Into The Storm, while diverting, will disappear as fast as a tornado.

62996-Calvary_001Calvary
Wri/Dir: John Michael McDonagh

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a priest in a small, isolated village in Ireland. A husky bearded man in his 60s, he still wears the traditional black cassock. He’s attended by a novice priest and a Machievellian altar boy who steals bottles of sacramental wine. The movie begins in confession where a disembodied man’s voice says he was savagely raped as a child – repeatedly, over many years – by a priest. That priest is now dead, but the man declares he will kill this good priest, Father James, in his stead. And he tells him he has one week to make peace with the world, and to show up next Sunday on the beach outside town to die. Quelle Calvaire!

From there the movie follows Father James as he visits his parishioners to make amends, offer forgiveness, and maybe discover who plans to kill him. But the people’s problems are not what might be expected in small-town Ireland. There’s a woman who cheats on her husband (Chris O’Dowd) with a Senegalese mechanic. The local policeman is gay, the priest’s novice is a toady, a local lad says he wants to join the army so he can murder people, and the arrogant local millionaire tosses his money around like toilet paper.62997-Calvary_013

Father James also has a beautiful grown daughter. (Not what you think – he joined the priesthood after his wife died.) They were estranged can they get along again? Everyone knows he’s a good man, but not many of them still carries the faith like he does. He’s a combination social worker, therapist, enforcer and drinking buddy, and, well, priest. Surrounded by such unrelenting cynicism, he’s beginning to question it all, too. Does he have the strength to face his upcoming Calvary?

This is a very good movie from Ireland. It has a large cast, but each character, each part seems perfectly played. Visually, it’s fantastic, with huge, aerial shots of mammoth, grass-covered rocky plateaus and beaches. And jarring images, like a discussion inside the grocer’s freezer played against an oddly beautiful background of cow carcasses. Father James is a tough, Jesus-y character facing a troubling fate even as he tries to do good and forgive the worst sins of others. Calvary challenges our perceptions of traditional Irish life and the role of the Catholic Church there — warts and all.

Into the Storm and Calvary both open today in Toronto – check your local listings.

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

Not Safe at Home. Movies Reviewed: Home Again, Olympus Has Fallen

Posted in Action, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, drugs, Jamaica, Korea, Movies, Politics, Poverty, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 23, 2013

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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

OHF_04104.NEFFestival season is gearing up now, with Hot Docs, Images, and Cinefranco announcing this year’s line-up – fantastic stuff to come. But in the meantime, here are some non-festival releases. Today I’m looking at an action/thriller about one man inside a big house who wants to save the world; and a drama about three people stranded on an island who just want to survive.

Olympus Has Fallen

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Mike Banning (played by perpetually gruff and surly Scot, Gerard Butler) was once a big man in the Secret Service. But when the First Lady is killed in an accident, he loses his status as a presidential guard. So he’s not at the White House when strange things start happening one morning. An errant gunner pilot flies a plane over the mall in Washington DC, mowing down random tourists, and knocking down OHF_09772.NEFAmerica’s most famous penis, the Washington monument. Then, a group of tubby but ruthless terrorists manage to capture the White House, including the president and hold him captive. The American Empire is teetering on the brink…

Who are these bad guys? Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Iraq? Iran? No! It’s the Zeppo of Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – the North Koreans!

The other Secret Service agents all look like part-time tenors in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Boy are they white!) But only tough-as-nails Mike is qualified for disasters like this. He gets to the White House on his own and OHF_13131.NEFopens up communication with his boss (Angela Bassett) and the grumpy, southern Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman).

The chief bad guy, Kang (Rick Yune), holds all the cards. He is determined to learn the Cerberus defence code (known only to a few top officials). And he demands the DMZ be taken down and the Korean peninsula unified. With his crack team of super-shooters (inexplicably wearing silly Gilligan hats and bandanas over their faces) and computer experts, along with some American traitors, he’s unbeatable. Or is he?

It’s up to Banning to single-handedly beat all the bad guys, rescue the President (Aaron Eckhardt who is much more a Romney than an Obama), his young son, Connor, and the feisty Secretary of State (Melissa Leo). And, while he’s at it, free the White House, and save the world from an imminent disaster. He accomplishes this with old fashioned American know-how, brutal fighting skills, and brutish come-back lines. (Best line: “Kang, let’sOHF_10923.NEF play a round of f*ck off — you go first.”) He improvises, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, using things he finds on the way. Like smashing in a terrorist’s head using a marble bust of Lincoln. As a Secret Service agent Banning knows every cubbyhole, every secret passageway in the White House.

Antoine Fuqua made the very good movie Training Day, but this is absolutely nothing like that one in style or plot. None of the movie is even vaguely plausible, but it doesn’t need a deep read to understand it. It’s hilariously awful at times, but tense and exciting at others. It’s a classic action movie, complete with explosions, shoot-outs and a virtually unwatchable close-up fight scene with a hand-held camera jiggly enough to make you lose your chili nachos in the lap of the guy in the next seat.

Watch it, laugh at it, and then forget it.

0134_lqxemynyGoing Home

Dir: Sudz Sutherland

Due to a change of laws, the US, Canada and the UK are now in the habit of deporting people — landed immigrants who moved to these countries as small children – back to their birthplaces after being convicted even of relatively minor crimes. This drama follows the different paths the three of them take as they are unceremoniously dumped in Jamaica with just a suitcase.

Dunstan (Canadian actor Lyric Bent) is a likeable, big guy from New York. His cousin helps set him up as security at a meth lab in Greenwich Farms, (a tough part of Kingston). He’s working for The Don, a hairy-eyeball young gangster who operates like a high court judge in his neighbourhood, punishing or helping the people there, as he sees fit. Soon he meets the pretty but stand-offish Cherry C. (pop star Fefe Dobson) and likes her a lot. Wants to get to know her much better. But she wants nothing to do with a Deportee.

0024_vysosif1Everton (played by Torontonian Stephan James) is a clean-cut and naïve, upper-middle-class student from London. He arrives in Kingston like a fish just waiting to be caught. His uncle Sam, who he’s supposed to meet in Trenchtown, isn’t there. He meets up with a cute high school girl, but things just get worse and worse. He soon finds himself homeless and penniless waiting for his mother to rescue him. But she’s a continent away and he can only reach her by long distant phone calls.

And finally Marva from Toronto (Tatyana Ali) was separated from her two young children when she was deported. She can’t find work because no one will trust a deportee. Forced to live with her relatives — a cruel aunt and a skeezy uncle (very well played by Paul Campbell) — Marva feels trapped in an untenable situation. If she can somehow get her kids to join her in Jamaica things will get better.

Will Everton be able to pull himself together and return to England once his court appeal goes through? Can Home Again. Tatyana AliDunston earn enough to buy a forged passport and get back to his little brother in NY? And can Marva get together again with her kids?

The three deportees have their own separate sub-plots with only minimal contact among them. But they are all set in a very real-looking, fascinating Caribbean city (it was shot in Trinidad), with its colourful scenes and dancehalls, marketplaces and homes. And the movie takes place during a growing gang war affecting all of their lives.

I thought there were enough sub plots and sub-sub plots to fill a miniseries, with dozens of different side characters and twists — too much stuff going on for one movie. But by the end it all starts to coalesce, and you really feel for the characters. Great soundtrack – reggae mixed with dance. The acting is also great – especially Tatyana Ali, but also all the small roles, and there are many — and most of the (subtitled Jamaican) dialogue was fun too. As movies go, it’s a depressing plot, one I wouldn’t normally want to rush to see, and Canadian movies are prone to the overly earnest. But this didn’t happen: I liked it! It gives you lots to think about. Home Again is a good, plot-heavy drama that never leaves you bored.

Olympus has Fallen, and Home Again both open today, as does the film Yossi: 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 .

Grinch: Please steal some of these. Movies Reviewed: The Impossible, Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away, Jack Reacher

Posted in Canada, Circus, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Movies, Thriller, UK, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 21, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I don’t want to be a Grinch stealing Christmas cheer from moviegoers, but I gotta say, these mainstream December movies are a definite mixed bag. This week I’m looking at a detective action thriller, a disaster melodrama, and … um… a circus.

NAOMI WATTS and TOM HOLLAND star in THE IMPOSSIBLEThe Impossible

Dir: Jack Antonio Bayona

Mom and Dad (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) are spending Christmas at a luxury hotel on a small, tropical Thai island with their three boys. Then a tsunami strikes, and they’re all separated and swept away. The two teams – headed by mom and dad – don’t know if the others are still alive but they hold out hope as they struggle to survive the odds and reunite. Will they all make it? And will they somehow find each other again on this tiny island?

After some wicked disaster special effects, most of the rest of the lines in the movie consist of Mom? … Mom? Lucas? Where are you? HELP! Is that you Dad? where’s Dad – I think I see him over there!? Henry, where are you Henry…? Plus a series of crowd scenes where they can’t quite find each other, other characters lying in hospital beds going I must… hold on… until I see them again… unnngh, and near misses in bus stations.

OK, a lot of people at TIFF just loved this heartfelt movie, so what do I know? But, to me, this was just a gooey, gluey dreadful lump of treacle. Painful to watch.

Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away Zaripov LinzCirque du Soleil: Worlds Away in 3D

Dir: Andrew Adamson

A pretty young woman (Erika Linz) goes to the county fair and makes eyes with a scruffy carnie roustabout. It turns out he’s also an aerialist with the circus. But when she goes to see him perform, the daring young man (Igor Zaripov) falls off his flying trapeze. She runs into the ring to help him but they both get sucked into a rabbit-hole vortex, and she spends the rest of the movie trying to find him. So much for the plot.

This is sort of a K-Tel medley of all the Cirque du Soleil shows floating around the Las Vegases of the world. The acts range from extremely cool – people climbing around on a swinging, giant boat suspended in midair — to pervy Mongolian contortionists forming weird, soft-core kamasutra-like body formations. The stage suddenly tilts and everyone slides off in a flood of sand… groups of gymnasts form Busby Berkeley square formations in the water… synchronized swimming…flying carousel horses…Cirque du Soleil Worlds Away -contortionists

Most of this movie is completely incomprehensible. Why is a yakuza with Kabuki face makeup brandishing a metal hotpot as he sadistically tortures a chained athlete? I haven’t a clue. And why, why, why are people in top hats swarming in rhythm across the stage to the recorded sounds of Paul McCartney singing Mr Kite? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Shoot me now.

This movie feels a lot like a classic Broadway musical, but without the singing, dancing, acting… or plot.

Seriously, the whole movie is a non-stop, 3-D IMAX spectacle culminating in periodic, orgasmic fountain bursts and fireworks. I guess it’s meant for people who have seen and love the stage acts. They intentionally keep all the wires and cables visible, so you know they’re really doing these tricks – no special effects. And they’ve added faint canned applause between acts, along with a multi-bowed curtain call at the end, so the movie theatre audience can know exactly when to spring to their feet and cheer at the screen. I just don’t get it.

It sounds like I hated it – I didn’t. It’s got lots of watchable eye-candy. It just didn’t do it for me.

Jack Reacher Rosamund Pike Tom CruiseJack Reacher

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie

Jack Reacher is a hobo. He drifts, aimlessly, across America with just the shirt on his back. He’s cold, emotionless, and physically indestructible. So what’s he doing in Pittsburg? He’s there to right a wrong.

You see, he used to be in the army where he was a police detective who always caught his suspects by use of his perfect memory, dogged persistence, and attention to minute details. And some crazed army sniper he remembers from his time in Iraq is in the news now: he shot some random strangers.

But he is hired by the defense attorney (!) an equally stubborn young lawyer to investigate the case. Did he really do it, and why? Or could this be another “grassy knoll” conspiracy? It’s up to Jack to connect the dots, fight the shady figures conspiring behind the scenes – a cyborg-like killer (Jai Courtney), a shady, Siberian cipher, a hidden mole – physically fend off the thugs hired to stop him, and protect and save the Zatoichi Monogatariinnocent.

Okay, I read the whole airport paperback series, all 16 of ‘em. (Jack Reacher’s like another unofficial detective, Zatoichi, the Japanese blind swordsman, who travels from town to town not looking for trouble, but always ending up in the middle of it, and always beating the bad guys.) The books are interesting, violent mystery-thrillers about this super-hero-like character who is physically huge, 6’6” –Jack Reacher Jai Courtney– an intimidating, Schwartzeneggar- type. And I wanted to see how badly Tom Cruise (at least a foot shorter with a squeaky, high-pitched voice) would blow it.

But he didn’t blow it — he pulled it off. The movie is good, interesting and suspenseful, with excellent car chases, shoot-outs, and some not-bad fistfights. I could do without the weird scene of Tom Cruise taking his shirt off and posing for the camera, and an insipid segment with him punching out five guys in an alley, but other than that, it works.

The international supporting cast – Brits Rosamund Pike as the lawyer, David Oyelowo as the cop, Aussie Jai Courtney who is terrific as the psychopathic killer, and even Werner Herzog! — were all fantastic.

The question is, what’s with all these nutbars and their gun culture? And will people want to see a violent Jack Reacher Tom Cruise with Riflemovie about a random sniper just a week after the terrible killings in Newtown, Connecticut? We’ll soon find out.

The Impossible, Jack Reacher, and Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away all open today. Check your local listings. Also opening today is the great French drama Rust and Bone – don’t miss it.

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

May 25, 2012. Rescue Me! Movies Reviewed: Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, Where Do We Go Now? PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in Cold War, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Feminism, Horror, Sex, Thriller, UK, Ukraine, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 27, 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.

Toronto’s spring film festivals are full speed ahead now. Inside out, Toronto’s great LGBT film festival is on through Sunday, featuring a Women’s Spotlight evening tonight, including the Toronto premiere of Cloudburst, Thom Fitzgerald’s new movie starring Olympia Dukakis. And coming soon are the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, The CFC Short Film Festival, and NXNE.

Festivals are a chance to see on a big screen foreign, indie, niche, low-budget, or experimental movies, the kind that never make it to your movieplex. But at a recent screening at Inside Out, one of the directors said something that struck me. Ira Sachs, (director of Keep the Lights On) made the point that, were it not for the support they receive from these film festivals, many of these movies could never have been made in the first place. All the more reason to see movies at film festivals.

So this week I‘m looking at a horror movie about jaded tourists who want to ogle technological excess; an historical comic-drama about how technology can make women happy; and a drama about how how the women in a Lebanese village try to stop a war.

Chernobyl Diaries
Dir: Bradley Parker

A group of Americans backpackers are relaxing in Ukraine where one of them has an apartment, when one of them announces a change of plans: Instead of Moscow, let’s try extreme tourism – a daytrip in and out of Chernobyl! That’s the uninhabited site of the nuclear disaster back in the 1980’s. It’s a post-apocalyptic time capsule – all the workers at the plant only had minutes to flee the village, leaving half-eaten sandwiches and family photos behind. With its abandoned classrooms and peeling communist murals, it’s a modern-day Pompeii. And nature has reclaimed the town of Pripyat, with feral animals and plants running wild. So it’s a creepy thrill for the travellers to explore, and their guide Uri carries a Geiger counter to warn them if the radiation level gets too high.

But when Uri disappears, possibly attacked by wild dogs, and the van they came in stops working, they are forced to find their own way out. Can they survive the radiation, the wild animals, and… maybe, the people who never escaped the place? Sounds like something scary is about to happen…

I spoke with its writer and producer Oren Peli this week, the creator of the classic Paranormal Activity series. He said “there are moments where you don’t see anything but you hear a noise far away, you don’t know what the noise is, but just the fact that the noise exists that you are hearing something cluttering in an apartment nearby when there is not supposed to be anyone else there, that can be really scary.” And he’s right — the soundtrack really is scary and the images and the mood are perfect.

But what about the movie? The title is somewhat misleading. It’s not a found footage film like the Paranormal Activity series; it’s more of a conventional horror movie, (one without the camera as a character) with lots of constant suspense, shocks and boos. But the story itself lacked much humour, sympathy for the characters, or surprising plot turns… and it didn’t quite make sense to me. It was just a lot of panicky people screaming and shouting as they run around, randomly chased and knocked off (as tends to happen in horror movies) by mysterious, and possibly zombie-like bad guys. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not as scary as Paranormal Activity.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

(I saw this one at last year’s TIFF, and it’s just delightful.)

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s porcelain-skinned but conservative daughter Emily (Felicity Jones); she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay-ish best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. I think this is a great movie!

Where Do We Go Now?
Dir: Nadine Labaki

This movie was the surprise winner of the people’s choice award at last years’ Toronto Film Festival, and Director and star Labaki was the first woman to win it.

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 has an extremely slow beginning, with a low-budget, handmade feel to it. Not promising at all. But the pace picks up and gets much better in the second half. And the ending is just great – clever and imaginative, leaving you with a much better feeling.

Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, and Where Do We Go Now open this weekend in Toronto, check your local listings, and Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Festival continues through Sunday: go to insideout.ca for more info.

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

March 9, 2012. If You Love This Planet. Movies reviewed: The Lorax, John Carter

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.

With globalization, things affect the whole planet all at once even if they only happen in one place. The Earth is all shook up! Like last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan – I remember seeing those horrific scenes of towns being swept away, and the ongoing tension about the nuclear leak at Fukushima.

In gratitude for the support of the international community, the Japan Foundation in Toronto is offering a series of free films next week at Innis College called Light Up Japan. The documentaries are all about what has happened since the disaster in that area and how the people are coping with it. Check out the Japan Foundation ( jftor.org ) for more information.

So in keeping with the theme of global events, this week I’m looking at two movies with whole-planet-sized topics. One is about a kid trying to save the earth from total destruction; the other is a man who finds himself a part of the potential ruin of Mars.

The Lorax

Dir: Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

Ted lives in Thneedville, a plastic suburban shopping mall town where life controlled by a Mr O’Hare, a nasty rich guy who made his fortune bottling air, and who spies on everyone in town. Ted has a crush on his neighbour Audrey who is into trees – which don’t exist anymore (people use plastic trees instead). Audrey says she wishes she could see one.

So taking his grandmother’s advice, Ted climbs into his vehicle – a sort of a unicycle/ segway/ scooter – and sneaks out of the city to find the Once-lear – the only person who still knows the truth. He discovers that the vast wasteland outside of Thneedville once was a land of rainbows, happy fish, droopy birds, and teddy bears who ate the berries from the puffball trees, and lived happily and peacefully. An industrialist uses the puffballs to make a knitted stringy thing, the thneed, that consumers buy by the millions. He decides it’s cheaper and easer to cut them all down rather than using their puffballs as a renewable resource. Only the Lorax, (a tiny mustachioed environmentalist who descends from the heavens in a thunderstorm) can save the day, if only people will listen. He speaks for the trees…

I thought this movie was OK, but it really seemed to stretch the short Dr Seuss book into a 90 minute song-and-dance musical. It soft-pedals the problems of industrial pollution and consumerism, and reduces the motivation from ardent environmentalism to a boy wanting to kiss a girl. It relegates the Lorax story to flashback status, and kept the wonderful Seuss-like scenes of the valley to a minimum, while over-emphasizing the non-Seuss humdrum suburban scenes, filled with your usual 3-d sitcom characters.

It’s not a bad movie, and of course it’s great to tell kids about environmentalism and privacy, but the songs were dull, the characters not-so-interesting, the story not very original, and the animation and character style not up to what I expect from a Dr Seuss story.

Interesting fact — The Lorax earned more money in its opening weekend than Hugo did in its entire run.

John Carter

Dir: Andrew Stanton

John Carter is a mean and strong fighter, a cavalry man from the civil war. He can escape from jails, scrapple with anyone – weapon or not – is good on horseback and keen with a sword and a rifle. And he doesn’t take sides – Apache or US Army – they’re all the same. He doesn’t want any part of it. He just wants to find his cave of gold in the Arizona desert. But when he encounters a stranger in the cave, and repeats the word Barsoom while touching a glowing amulet, he is magically transported to Mars a land of great civilizations, far beyond earth’s imagination.

Strong John Carter, though smaller than the four-armed tusked Tarks – some of the creatures who live there – soon discovers he can leap high in the air and jump long distances, because of the different gravity there. He soon finds himself in the middle of a huge war between the city of Helium and the bad Zodanga. And he meets Dejah, (a beautiful princess-warrior, as well as a physicist, inventor and a great swordswoman) who is being forceed into marrying a bad guy from the other kingdom. Meanwhile, the shape-shifting super-gods who are manipulating everyone on that planet, are messing things up. It’s up to John Carter to save civilization – but he’s not sure he wants to – he just wants to find the amulet and go back to earth. But with the help of his speedy and faithful dog-monster Woolla, and the noble and honest Thark-guide Sola, he and Dejah must find mutual trust, truth and possibly true love in their search for the secrets of this planet.

As you can tell, this is a very long, plot-heavy story about an adventure on Mars. Like comics, manga and pulp fiction, the story takes precedent over feelings, emotions or characters – it’s more the action, the twists, the background, the secrets, the fights, the betrayals and the fantastical, sex-tinged images. But it carries it through amazingly well in this 2½ hour epic. (People call everything epics now, but this is an actual epic). I thought it was amazing.

It’s done in the style of Frank Frazetta’s illustrations: fiery-eyed women in exotic garb with pendulous breasts and black tresses; snarling men with steely gaze and bared chests, brandishing their swords toward the red skies…..  but through a Disney filter, making it sexy, but not sexual.

It feels more like Roman sword-and-sandal story than science fiction. (It’s based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels.) It has a mainly British cast, plus Canadian Taylor Kitsch — just great in the title role. I liked Lynn Collins (never heard of her) as Dejah, and Dominic West (The Wire) as one of many assorted bad guys in this cast-of-thousands picture. Want to be overwhelmed by an elaborate, exciting movie getaway, with a complicated fantasy plot that never lets up, even for a second? Then this is the one to see.

The Lorax is playing now, and John Carter opens today in Toronto, and the Japanese documentaries are playing all week at Innis College.

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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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 20, 2011. The Calm Before the Storm. Movies Reviewed: Restoration, Wiebo’s War, 50/50 PLUS ImagineNATIVE

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.

There’s a term “The Calm Before the Storm”, and I’m getting the sensation that we’re there right now. Have you ever felt what it’s like before a tornado hits? It’s uncomfortably still, with a heavy weight in the pit of your stomach, and a strange feeling in the air. No wind. Weird feeling. Last weekend I stopped by the Occupy Toronto protest, where people are talking about how the middle class and poor — in countries like Canada, the US, Germany — have had their incomes go down or stay stangant over the past two decades, while a tiny percentage, that “1%”,  have had the biggest increase in their wealth in a century. Our national wellbeing is not keeping up to the constant rise in GDP.

Before the march, they pointed out the medics, in case people got clubbed or shot, and asked everyone to write down a number to call in case you’re thrown into prison. So there was that nervous sensation, not knowing how the police would react, would they be violent?, and what the potential risks were for marching, even in a democratic country. It turned out to be totally peaceful with a friendly police escort and no bad incidents whatsoever… but you never know.

So, knowing that some countries are on the brink of self-destruction, and (not that the two are comparable) knowing that next week – Hallowe’en – will be marked with deliberate mayhem and confusion, I’ve decided to talk about three movies where people face potential chaos, calamity, and collapse, and the different ways they choose to confront the coming storm.

First is a movie, which played at TIFF, about people confronting personal change and relationships, and trying to avoid a collapse.

Restoration
Dir: Joseph Madmony

Anton (Henry David), a young man and almost a drifter is looking for work in a run-down section of Tel Aviv. He stumbles into an old-school furniture-restoring shop and gets hired immediately by the grizzled and grumpy old carpenter Fidelman (Sasson Gabai). But the childless co-owner of the place dies the next day, and leaves his half not to the carpenter, but to his son.

Fidelman’s broke. And his son, a lawyer, is a bit of a douche, who is glad to be removed from his father’s life as a tradesman. He calls the place a junkyard, and wants to sell the property to build a condo, destroying his own father’s livelihood and forcing him into retirement. But musical Anton, (who has family troubles of his own) vows to learn the trade and tries to find the golden egg that will save the store. If he can only locate the missing piece of a rare antique piano, it will change from a piece of junk to a treasure worth enough money to keep the place open, and evade the impending doom. Anton becomes almost a surrogate son to the carpenter… almost. But it’s complicated when he realizes he may be falling in love with the real son’s pregnant wife.

This movie had great acting from the two main characters. On the surface, it’s a “let’s work hard to fix the piano and save the shop!”-type story, but that’s just its superficial structure. It’s actually much more sophisticated. Though drab-looking, Restoration is a bitter-sweet examination of love, duty, families, allegiances, death and inheritance.

Next, a movie, which played at Hotdocs, about a man, his family, and his supporters who take drastic moves to confront what he thinks is a coming disaster.

Wiebo’s War
Dir: David York

Wiebo Ludwig is a devout Christian who lives in a remote, isolated colony with his fellow religious settlers in BC, near Alberta. Their lives are food and energy self-sufficient, but, in the 90’s, things began to go wrong. Goats started having frequent stillbirths, and, when a woman also miscarried, they realized their watershed had been contaminated by natural gas wells built right at the edge of their property.

He was later arrested, tried, and jailed for bombs he had set off at wells and pipelines in that energy-rich Alberta area. This movie follows filmmaker David York who was allowed to film inside their compound.

Is Wiebo a religious nut or a devoted social activist? Well, he’s certainly religious, but he’s crazy like a fox. The movie documents some of Wiebo’s (and those of his fellow settlers’) frequent brushes with the law and the big energy companies. There are run-ins with outwardly conciliatory execs from Encana; pointless, intimidating, and relentless police raids of their homes to test things like how many ball point there are on one floor, and how many cassette tapes are on another; and their increasingly fractious relationship with the nearby town, where they have found themselves local pariahs following the unexplained shooting death of young woman on their property.

Folk hero, or deranged terrorist?

Maybe both. I left the movie even less certain than before as to who’s to blame and what actually happened. While a bit slow-moving, Wiebo’s War gives a first hand look at a legendary Canadian figure (who was sadly diagnosed with cancer just a few days ago), his family and co-religionists, and the unusual junction between Christian fundamentalism and environmental extremism. …an inside look at the calm before the storm.

50/50
Dir: Jonathan Levine

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a shy, quiet, polite and passive guy, with a boorish and boisterous friend named Kyle, a smothering, worrying mom, and a beautiful but shallow girlfriend named Rachael. He’s in his twenties, no car, lives in a tiny red house far from the city of Seattle, and cubicle job at a beautiful public radio station (Support CIUT!) where he’s working on a story about a soon-to-erupt volcano.

But when Adam gets a pain in his belly, his doctor (a man with possibly the worst bedside manner ever) does some tests and tells him he has a rare form of cancer, and a 50% chance of living. He’s sent to a therapist (Anne Hendrick) who’s younger than he is, and is still at the student-teacher stage.

So, how is Adam going to face his situation? How will he deal with his casual girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is suddenly his caregiver? His best friend (Seth Rogen) who just wants to use his cancer buddy as a wing-man chick magnet? And his intrusive worry-wort mother, who is already taking care of his Alzheimer stricken dad? Or even his bumbling but sincere therapist, Katie? What will he do? Can he accept the possibility of death? Who is really important to him?

50/50, based on a true story, is not a bad movie – it’s sweet — but, beware, it’s not the comedy it’s billed as. It’s a drama — even a bit of a weeper — with some needed comic relief. Gordon-Levitt is perfect as Adam, as is Hendrick as Katie, while Seth Rogen – not so funny, a bit too much. But Angelica Huston as the Mother was shockingly good. I mean, she plays to stereotypes, but does it so well, I didn’t figure out it was her playing the part until the final credits!

50/50 is now playing, Wiebo’s War opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Restoration is playing one show only next week, on Sunday afternoon, October 30th, as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series. Go to tjff.com for details.

Also on right now in Toronto is the wonderful ImagineNATIVE, the world’s largest aboriginal film festival, that explores native film, art and music from Canada and abroad. Great stuff! Many events are free and they’re all open to everyone — go to ImagineNATIVE.org for details.

Next week: Hallowe’en!

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

August 12, 2011. Temperatures Rising. Movies reviewed: Devil’s Double, The Help, Rise of the Planet Of The Apes, Final Destination, Gun to the Head

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.

It’s getting into high August, and there are tons of movies playing now, so let me just dive right in and tell you about a few of them. I’m talking about two stories about servants who have good reason not to like their bosses, one where an employee is forced to challenge his boss or die, one where a whole class could challenge the people in power, and one where a group of people attempt to challenge… fate itself.

Devil’s Double

Dir: Lee Tamahori

It’s the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq war, when Latif, a scruffy, young soldier from a good family in Bagdad, is brought into a palatial mansion. He’s asked whether he wants to work for Uday, Saddam Hussein’s son. Well, not exactly asked: He’s told. If he says no, he, his family and friends will all be tortured and killed. If he says yes, though, he will move into this luxurious palace, wear tailored suits and Rolex watches, drink champagne, drive sportscars, have his pick of the most beautiful women, and hang out at the most exclusive nightclubs in Iraq.

What’s the catch? He’s a near exact double of Uday in height, weight, body-type, and facial features. So he’ll be taking his place at public appearances with the constant risk of being shot at by assassins. So, the movie, (partially based on Latif’s memoir) shows his bizarre double life… as a professional double. This is a violent, scarface-y story with shootouts, coke sniffing, disco dancing, and backstage intrigue.

It’s also a chance for an actor to be or the screen about 140% of the time in the dual roles – when Dominic Cooper isn’t playing the humble, honest Yatif, he’s acting as the profligate, decadent and cruel Uday, and often both at the same time. He does it well enough that the audience immediately knows whether it’s the conceited, aggressive, strutting, whiny-voiced Uday, or Yatif imitating him. They walk differently, think differently and have a different look in their eyes.

Can Yatif find a way out of this crazy life? And can he and his secret love – one of Uday’s mistresses – escape the country?

This is quite a violent movie. And while it paints a generally negative view of a whole country, and gives an inaccurate view of women’s status in Baathist Iraq,  it can be enjoyed as an apolitical drama and as an actor’s tour de force.

Next, another movie about badly treated servants.

The Help

Dir: Tate Taylor

Smart but frowsy Skeeter (Emma Stone) comes home from University to the high-society of heavily segregated Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s. She wants to get herself a job as a writer, see her old debutante friends, and take care of her mother who’s dying of cancer. But she soon sees the world is changing, and is disgusted by how black servants are treated by their rich white employers: demeaned, disrespected, badly paid. They essentially raise the white kids from birth, but rarely get to spend time with their own children.

When Skeeter’s friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), the reigning top woman in her set, attempts to pass a bylaw making it illegal for blacks even to use a bathroom inside the homes where they work all day, Skeeter decides something must be done.

She befriends Aibilene (Viola Davis) and asks her to tell her own inside story about life in the south. When another maid, Minnie (a comical Octavia Spencer) — known for her cooking skills — joins her project, it looks like their stories might be published as a book.

This is a richly plotted, multi-charactered, story about life in the deep south, and the subtle and overt racism in every aspect of the lives of the people who lived in this era. This isn’t a movie about KKK lynchings or good ol’ boys with rifles. It gives a calmer view of the segregated, Jim Crow days, right when the civil rights movement was taking off. It’s also a richly moving women’s story – not a chick flick — with terrific acting all around, especially Viola Davis, and Jessica Chastain as Celia, a suddenly rich blonde bombshell from dirt poor origins who seeks help from Minnie. It also has great actresses like Cicily Tyson, Cissie Spacek and Alison Janney in the side roles.

Only quibble? Though some of the black characters slip in and out of dialect, the younger white women’s accents don’t sound much like they would have in Mississippi in the 1960s. But The Help is definitely worth seeing if you like complicated dramas, family secrets, frequent plot turns and funny surprises.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Dir: Rupert Wyatt

Will (James Franco) is a scientist who works for a multinational pharmaceutical corporation who is developing a new medicine that can repair brain functions. They test it on chimpanzees, and he takes home a newborn one when his mother dies in the lab. But he soon discover his ape, Caesar, is special: he’s somehow inherited the new brain skills his mother had gained from the drug testing, and he’s quickly getting better and better. He learns art, sign language, and better motor skills than any human. Will and Caroline (Frieda Pinto) treat him almost like a son… except for the collar and leash they force him to wear outside. But when Caesar tries to rescue Will’s senile father (John Lithgow) from a mean neighbour, he is taken away by the authorities and thrown into an animal shelter that looks more like a federal prison run by cruel guards.

There he interacts with his own kind and discovers he’s not a human but an ape. Caesar has to decide who he can trust and whether he should wait for his former human father to rescue him or strike out on his own.

This is a really enjoyable movie, with fantastic camera work, a great story, and — though largely animated – believable characters with sympathetic faces. (I’m talking the apes here.) Which is why I was surprised at how awful the CGI’s were in some scenes – jerky toy monkey’s bounding up trees like a bad outtake from a third-rate videogame intro – and how excellent in others. In any case, if you want a fun exciting story, this is the one to see. A thousand times better than the awful Planet of the Apes remake.

Final Destination 5

Dir: Steven Quale

A group of eight coworkers on their way to a retreat, manage to escape from an enormous collapsing bridge when one of them, Sam, has a premonition and gets them away in time. But they soon discover they were destined to perish, so are being killed off, one by one, in a series of gruesome Rube Goldberg-esque accidents. Who will live and who will die? And will they succeed in cheating death a second time?

What can I say – this is one of my favourite genres of horror movies: bloody gore but without an identifiable villain. Instead, the danger is everywhere — in a leaky pipe, a dropped match, a speck of dust or a misplaced screw. A restaurant kitchen is filled with potentially dangerous flames, knives, and shish kebab skewers. Ordinary life is fraught with danger!

The lines stink, the characters are predictable, the music is corny, and the acting ranges from humorous to forgettable, to excruciatingly awful. But the special effects are flawless, and the pace is just right. It pulls you forward with stress, fear and tension, then lets you back down again, never knowing for sure whether the next shot is a real danger or just a red herring. And the 3D, especially in the multi-leveled scenes on the bridge and on a factory floor, is amazing. This is a great, super-cheezy “B” or “C” summer movie.

It also has the best non-trailer trailer ever, that shows what Final Destination would look like if it were a pop music video recorded on the set of Saved by the Bell — complete with laugh track.

Gun to the Head

Dir: Blaine Thurier

Trevor (Tygh Runyan) gets away from his own dinner party (complete with creepy, Japanophile swinger guests wearing sleazy kimonos) to pick up a bottle of white wine and talk to his drug dealer cousin, Darren (Paul Anthony). He just wants to give him a bit of help, but he’s soon dragged into this underworld of strip bars, guns and lines of coke. He has to deal with a fickle small-town drug potentate, his deranged guard, and his sexually adventurous, skeezy girlfriend. Can Trevor outsmart the gangsters, rescue his sleazy cousin, and ever get back home to his wife? Or will everything fall apart?

This is a funny very low-budget Canadian thriller. Though not perfect, it has great characters, and some manic — but not hammy — performances, especially Paul Anthony channelling the spirit of Don Knotts, dressed as a Vancouver hood.

Devil’s Double and The Rise of the Planet of the Apes are now playing, check your local listings, The Help just opened in Toronto, and Final Destination and Gun to the Head open tonight in Toronto (Friday, Aug 12, 2011). Also look out for You Are Here, opening today at the TIFF Lightbox.

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

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