Old-school Heroes. Films Reviewed: Gleason, Anthropoid PLUS #TIFF16

Posted in 1940s, Cultural Mining, Czechoslovakia, Disabilities, documentary, Espionage, Football, Movies, Resistance, Romance, WWII by CulturalMining.com on August 12, 2016

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

The Toronto International Film Festival, opening in September, has announced some of its big ticket premiers. And a running theme is heroism. TIFF opens with Antoine Fuqua’s 13735682_260091707716632_4902776212232250389_o(Training Day) remake of the classic spaghetti western The Magnificent Seven (based, of course, on Kurusawa’s Seven Samurai). Another movie filled with heroes is Oliver Stone’s biopic Snowden. It’s about everyone’s favourite whistleblower queen of katweEdward Snowden who revealed the chilling fact that the NSA is spying on all of us.

India’s great director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) is bringing us Queen of Katwe about a young girl in Uganda who is sent to Russia to become a chess champion. This one looks so good, and co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. And then there’s a political documentary about IF Stone’s investigative journalism. The theme is in the title: All All Governments LieGovernments Lie. I haven’t seen any of these movies yet, but they do sound interesting.

But there’s no need to wait a month for your share of heroes. This week I’m looking at two new movies with old fashioned heroes. There’s a wartime thriller about two men fighting for their country, and a documentary about an NFL running back fighting for his life.

5f83d981-4835-420b-bbb4-34b5bff7db92Gleason

Dir: Clay Tweel

Steve Gleason is a running back. Smaller than the average football player, he makes up for it with his lightning speed. He plays for the New Orleans Saints. Just a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he sets the crowd wild with a legendary play at the Superdome. It’s labelled a symbol of the city’s rebirth. Steve is the antithesis of the stereotypical football player: long-haired, adventurous, smart and articulate. He’s like a punk hippy. He’s a great guy, a free spirit, a local hero. He meets Michel – a wonderful woman, equally unusual and 3b9bacf2-12f6-4f5c-bb5c-35b491530832independent. They get married enjoying the fun and laughter of young love.

He retires from football and just a couple years later, he notices a physical change. It’s just a small change, but he goes to a naturopath and then to a doctor to check it out. And in January, 2011, he is diagnosed with a neurological condition: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease, is a View More: http://keridoolittle.pass.us/gleason-hall-of-famedegenerative condition where you gradually lose your ability to walk, talk, move and eventually even to breathe – your awareness and perception of the outside world doesn’t change, but your ability to move and express yourself does. And just a few weeks after his diagnosis Michel discovers she’s pregnant.

This film is a record of his life with ALS. It shows the very rapid decline in his abilities over the course of just a year. But during that time he and Michel decide to devote their lives to raising awareness of ALS. He makes appearances at football games, and becomes friends with musician Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. And he raises lots of money so that all people with ALS are provided with devoices to give them a voice after they stop talking. This film is also a video letter to their son Rivers so he won’t grow up 44741754-b1ea-45c4-877a-a2766e62b5b2never hearing his Dad’s voice.

This is a touching personal movie about faith, disabilities and family relations. It chronicles the day-to-day difficulty and drudgery of living with ALS, including lots of scenes you may not want to think about: like surgery, bowel movements, food chewing and marital difficulties. There’s also Michel caring for two people at once – her husband and her baby. And his Dad, an evangelical Christian who believes in faith healing. Steve’s faith is very different.

While not an easy film, I think it raises awareness of ALS a lot more than dumping buckets of ice water on your head.

L1007758.jpgAnthropoid

Dir: Sean Ellis

It’s WWII in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Jan and Josef (Cillian Murphy, James Dornan) are two members of the resistance. They are based in London with the government in exile, but are parachuted back into their country late at night. Along with a handful of others, they are there on a mission known as Operation Anthropoid. Their goal? To assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich is considered the third most powerful man L1007978.DNGin Nazi Germany, after Hitler and Himmler, and is in charge of the SS in occupied Czechoslavakia. Because of his infamous cruelty and mass killings, he is known as the Butcher of Prague.

The two men make their way into the city to carry out their assignment. But when they meet up with what remains of the local resistance fighters, they discover broken men. They have completely lost their moxie. They don’t want to fight;

L1010105.DNGtheir only goal is to stay alive. They warn Jan and Josef that their mission is impossible and will lead to torture and death.

They meet two young women to pose as girlfriends so as ot to raise suspicion. Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) is beautiful with pale skin and raven hair. Her friend Lenka (Anna Geislerová), is an elegant redhead. Together they plot a complex plan to ambush the anthropoid-ANTH_00619_rgbheavily-guarded Heydrich at a city intersection. Can false relationships turn to real love? Will their plan succeed? And if they do succeed who will survive the wrath of the occupying forces?

Anthropoid is a classic wartime thriller, based on real events. I liked this movie, though parts of it bothered me. Why do the main characters all speak English but with fake Czech accents?

L1008450.DNGAnd for a thriller, it starts out slow, with lots of waiting around… though it picks up handily later on, with a gripping and exciting battle scene. The main cast – the men are Irish, the women Canadian and Czech – is very attractive, almost more like models than actors. The period costumes, sets, and locations are beautifully done. So all in all, Anthropoid is an enjoyable espionage thriller.

Gleason and Anthropoid 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

Zaniness. Movies reviewed: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, God Help the Girl PLUS October Film Festivals!

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Movies, Music, Musical, Scotland, Screwball Comedy, Sex, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 9, 2014

estdocs14_program_coverHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking site_brafft_2404_02at 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.

Get ready: it’s fall film festival season in Toronto. Coming next week are: BRAFFTV, the Brazilian festival of film and television; Estdocs, the Estonian 10694407_10152448582230345_7331007994192021518_oDocumentary Festival; and RIFF, the Reel Indie Film Festival – featuring music-themed films. These festivals are packed with hidden treasures. Followed by Toronto after Dark for horror, sci-fi, action and cult: perfect for October. And ImagineNative, the film and media arts festival celebrating works by indigenous artists and filmmakers from toronto after darkaround the world.

Lots of festivals – don’t they make you want to get out, see the world? (Lame segue?) Well, this week I’m looking at two movies about people who climb out their windows! One’s a musical drama about a beautiful, young woman in Glasgow, Scotland who just wants to make music; the other’s a screwball comedy about an extremely old man in Sweden who just wants to blow something up.

b48f5837-54f2-45dd-a3b0-fac80378d0e4The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)
Dir: Felix Herngren

It’s Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday at his old-age home in small-town Sweden, but Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) isn’t interested. So he climbs out his 1st floor window and buys a bus ticket to the nearest town (population:1). But before he leaves he is ambushed by 95d73836-4233-4b79-b1b7-24cbda8a2bb8a motorcycle gang skinhead carrying a large metal suitcase. Somehow, Karlsson ends up on the bus with the suitcase… but no skinhead. And so begins his journey ec907bb3-1c24-414f-9ba5-fa36be388d40with the guy in the next village, a perpetual student they meet hitchhiking, an animal rights activist, and the circus elephant she liberated. And they’re being chased by the local police who think Karlsson was kidnapped, and the gangsters who want that suitcase back – and the millions of krona stuffed inside it. But that’s just half the story.444ba775-568a-4cae-b037-a2a4410500cf

The other half is all about how the 100-year-old man has lived his life: as a demolition expert – a guy who blows things up. You may be thinking: Bombs? In Sweden? But yeah! The Swede’s seem to have a knack for it, what with Alfred Nobel’s dynamite, Ivar Kreuger (the Match King), and the country’s enormous weapon industry. Karlsson’s expertise leads him to repeated brushes with famous leaders. From Franco to Stalin, from Truman to Reagan, somehow he’s there (like a Zelig or a Forrest Gump) at all the crucial moments.

Not a deep movie, but a totally zany, screwball-comedy look at the 20th century through the eyes of a hapless demolition expert. The 100-Year-Old Man is engaging, very entertaining and great fun.

GodHelptheGirlFestivalStill1God Help the Girl
Dir: Stuart Murdoch

Eve (Emily Browning) is a young Australian woman who lives in a Glasgow mental hospital. She spends her time lying in bed listening to radio DJs. She is waif-like with pale skin, auburn hair and huge eyes. Quite beautiful but quite depressed. She has songs to sing and GHTG_Tartan1words to express, but no one to hear them. So, one day she just climbs out the window and walks away, singing.

She wanders into a Glasgow concert hall and there she meets James, a guitarist in a fistfight with his obnoxious drummer. Glasgow is run by NEDs (non-educated delinquents) he says. James (Olly Alexander) is a skinny, wimpy guitar player with curly hair and glasses – a Scottish Michael Cera.

He works as a lifeguard but has “the constitution of an abandoned rabbit.” Eve tells him she’ll find him again at the pool. Could it be love?

Back at the mental hospital, her doctor tells her that she needs support – a home, food, a job and friends – and good health before she can worry about less important things like her music. But for Eve, music is everything. She sneaks out GHTGfilmstillto play the piano and compose songs. And she manages to record her music on a cassette tape.

She gives the tape to Anton (Pierre Boulanger), a tall, dark and handsome French rock musician she meets. They make out and she instructs him to pass it on to the radio DJs. He is impressed by her beauty. “You have exquisite breasts” he tells her.

James, meanwhile, is impressed by her talent – Eve can compose GHTG_glassessongs spontaneously, based on the thoughts in her head. And she has such a pleasing and rich voice that she could sing a diner menu and people would still listen. (In fact, Eve gets a job as a waitress.)

He takes her meet to Cassie, his music student. Cassie (Hannah Murray – who also played a Cassie in Skins) is a free spirit who wants to learn to play the guitar and write songs. Eve wants people to hear her music. James wants to cut a record. Hey, let’s form a band!  So they do.

They write some catchy tunes – in the style of sixties pop — and sing and dance and pose. But what will the future bring?

Will the DJs ever listen to her tape? Will Eve and James ever realize their true love? Will James ever see his dream of recording a record? And will the band ever perform?

This is a cute refreshing musical written and composed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian fame. It’s full of songs and dances that pop up after each serious event. But it leaves you thinking: is the movie a series of music videos linked by a storyline? Or a drama with a bunch of highly-stylized musical performances popping up? Either way, I enjoyed it a lot.

The Hundred Year Old Man and God Help the Girl both open today. Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5

Oscar Time! Movies reviewed: Omar, The Great Beauty

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Italy, Morality, Movies, Palestine, Romance, Suspicion, Torture by CulturalMining.com on February 28, 2014

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.

Oscars 2014It’s time for my Oscar picks. Warning – I’m almost always wrong.

Best Actor. Should win: Matt McConoughey. Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor.

WINNER: Matt McConoughey X

Best Actress. Should win: Judy Dench. Will win: Cate Blanchett.

WINNER: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor. (No idea… Jared Leto?)

WINNER: Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress. Should win: Lupita Lyongo. Will win: Jennifer Lawrence.

WINNER: Lupita Lyongo X

Best Documentary. Should win: Act of Killing. Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom.

WINNER: 20 Feet from Stardom

Best Director. Should win — Steve McQueen. Will win:  Russell or Cuaron

WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron

Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave (Should win and will win.)

WINNER: 12 Years a Slave

Best Movie in a Foreign Language. Should win: The Hunt. Will win: The Great Beauty.

WINNER: The Great Beauty

Sunday, March 2, 2014 ,  midnight. Oscars Results: My predictions weren’t bad this year — I got 6 or 7 out of 9 correct. The two I got wrong were winners I labeled “should win” not “will win”: Lupita Lyongo, and Matthew McConoughey.  And I gave myself two “will win” options for best director (Russell or Cuaron).

So, in keeping with this theme, this week I’m looking at two movies nominated for best foreign language picture. One’s a dramatic thriller from the Palestinian Territories about a young man caught between a rock and a hard place; the other is a nostalgic look at contemporary Rome.

Omar_ Adam BakriOmar

Dir: Hany Abu-Assad

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian who works in a one-man pita bakery. He’s a clean-scrubbed guy with an indefatigable spirit. Nimble on his feet, Omar can climb a three-storey wall — and back again — in a few seconds. And climb he does, over the Separation Wall that runs along the long border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Because walls mean nothing to Omar — the border is porous, an arbitrary line.

Why does he cross the wall? Ostensibly to visit Tarek – serious, stern (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad, a teller of jokes (Samar Bisharat).

But his real motivation is Nadia (Leem Lubany) Tarek’s younger sister, who lives on the other side of the wall. Omar is as tall dark and handsome as Nadia is kind, witty and beautiful with tousled black hair. Omar, Bakri, Lubany

One day he’s stopped by a particularly cruel unit of the border patrol. The Israelis are about his age, but they beat him up and publically humiliate him. A shift in Omar’s thinking?

So he joins Tarek and Amjad for a planned action. They are all prospective members of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. Their initiation? A shooting. Omar doesn’t personally kill anyone but he’s the one arrested.

Omar, Zuaiter, BakriIn prison, he’s tortured and interrogated. Finally he’s approached by a member of Al Aqsa. He warns Omar that spies are everywhere – they’ll pretend to make friends with him to get him to confess. The only way out is to collaborate with the Israelis – and any collaboration will last forever. His words are prophetic.

Soon enough, he’s out again, working to marry his love, trying to find the traitor who gave up his name, and, meanwhile, regularly speaking from a phone booth with his Israeli contact Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) an Arabic-speaking agent.

Whose side is he on? Which side does he really support? Can he even trust his friends, his love, his fellow militants?

Omar is a dramatic thriller about the Israel/Palestine conflict told decidedly from the Palestinian point of view. As a drama, it shows the psychologically draining toll non-stop surveillance takes on the lives of Omar BakriPalestinians. The movie’s done like a chess game: each side makes a move, countered by his opponent. But you soon see there are multiple chessboards, operating simultaneously, with countless players, alliances and betrayals until it’s hard to figure out who is black and who is white.

The acting is great, especially Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany as the young lovers, and Waleed F. Zuaiter as Omar’s handler. While not perfect, this is a thoughtful, informative and disturbing film, one that makes you think… and then rethink.

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoA Great Beauty

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

Jep (Toni Servillo) is a bon vivant living in the floating world of contemporary Rome. It’s still the Dolce Vita. Ostensibly, he’s a novelist, but hasn’t done anything great in decades. He coasts along, living off his reputation, and partying with faded royalty, vapid models and the ultra-rich. He is a camera, experiencing and recording all of this in mind.

His Rome is one filled with gilded palaces, rococo night clubs and 13_Giovanna_Vignola_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_01893velveteen Vatican chambers. His editor at a popular magazine, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola), is a little person, given to wearing electric-blue dresses. As his 65th birthday approaches he confides in her: he needs to find something or someone important, genuine – the “great beauty” of the movie’s title.

Slowly, the movie chugs along, heading toward his dinner party, with an elusive guest. Will he be touched by God? Or will it all prove as superficial as the rest of his life?

06_Sabrina_Ferilli_Toni_Servillo_Giorgio_Pasotti_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoThe Great Beauty is a nostalgic look at Rome’s faded glory, the cool elegance of old Fellini movies. Wonderfully acted, carefully shot. But does it add up to anything new?

I found this movie hollow at the core.

And, aside from a few minutes of genuine beauty, it’s not attractive at all. It’s drenched in a 1970s aesthetic of awful opulence, far from the coolness of 50s and 60s Italian cinema. And both its story and its look exists more as a tribute (or a rehash) of older Italian movies than as a new one all its own.

The Great Beauty is now playing and Omar 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

Movie Movies. Films Reviewed: Pompeii, 3 Days to Kill PLUS AKP Job 27

Posted in 3-D, CGI, CIA, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Gladiator, Rome, Serbian, Silent Movie, Toronto, Uncategorized, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2014

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.

Do you ever get tired of movies with deep meanings and avant-garde styles? Do you ever just want to see a “movie” movie? Well this week I’m looking at some movie movies, each with a bit of a twist. There’s a sword- and-sandal romance that’s also a disaster movie, an action-thriller that’s a family comedy, and a Yakuza movie… that has no lines!

Pompeii HarringtonPompeii (in 3D)

Dir: Paul W.S. Anderson

The Roman empire is reaching its apex, planting the golden eagle on Brittainia.  A particularly cruel general named Corvus battles the Celts. When it’s over he says to his henchman: Kill them all! But one little boy survives.

Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones) grows up to be a champion fighter, with stringy hair, a wispy beard and killer abs. He’s sent to Rome to compete as a fighter-slave. But on the way he comes to the aid of a beautiful, upper-class woman with porcelain features named Cassia (Emily Browning) Her horse has an accident, and Milo has a way with horses. He was “born on horseback”, he says. But will they ever meet again? You can count on it.

Pompeii Kit Harrington, Emily Browning

Now, Milo is sent to Pompeii (a holiday spot outside of Rome) to fight to the death in the arena there (Cassia’s dad controls Pompeii’s stadium). The ultimate fight will be between Milo and his rival Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Pompeii, Kit Harrington, Atticus Adewale Akinnuoye-AgbajeAgbaje) an African gladiator about to win his freedom.

Who comes to town, but a suitor, a senator from Rome. He says he’ll approve the new stadium, if — and only if — Cassia marries him. But she hates him (they had an earlier run-in in Rome) and she has a thing for Milo. And who is this Pompeii Sutherlandsenator? Why it’s Corvus (Keiffer Sutherland) who, along with his henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz) massacred Milo’s family as a child!

So all of these plots are going on right at the base of Mt Vesuvius. And as we all know now, the volcano is about to blow, pouring lava and volcanic ash over Pompeii, Sasha Roizeveryone, rich and poor, who doesn’t get out of there soon.

This movie has three things going on. There’s the frequent action scenes – lots of fights, great gladiator matches, chase scenes; then there are the romantic parts: Cassia and Milo are constantly risking their own lives to rescue each other from death and danger; and there’s the inevitable disaster part: ground rumbling, buildings crumbling, spectacular collapses… The movie uses way, way, way too many CGIs. It makes everything look dark. You long for some blue skies. Nevertheless, I totally enjoyed this movie. Excitement, interesting plot, fights, romance, tears… it’s got everything.

And believe it or not, this movie about ancient Rome was shot in Toronto’s west end, all in enormous  soundstages and backlots.

Costner, 3 Days to KillThree Days to Kill

Dir: McG (The O.C.)

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is just a regular guy who wears Dockers and roots for the Pittsburg steelers. He’s been away from his wife and daughter for five years. Why? Because he’s also a CIA assassin. He is in Belgrade to kill a sadistic criminal named the Albino (played by Icelandic actor Tómas Lemarquis as a James Bond-type super-villain). He’s known for chopping off the heads of his enemies. A young CIA agent named Vivi (Amber Heard) is there at the same time to kill another criminal known only as the Wolf. But something goes wrong.

Ethan collapses to the ground just when he should have shot the Albino.

Turns out he has inoperable brain cancer. He decides to spend his last days with his estranged wife and resentful teenaged daughter Zooey (Haillee Steinfeld, True Grit) in Paris.  This is where the action is supposed to turn to laughs.

Back in Paris, his apartment has squatters: an extended family from Mali. (He’s white, they’re black… Get it?) And his teenaged daughter Zooey is angry because he neglected her. (She’s young, he’s old… Get it?) Well, somehow, he convinces his wife he can be trusted to take care of their daughter for three days while she’s away on a business trip. But then Vivi reappears to say: I’ll cure your cancer with some secret drugs if you murder the Wolf (Ethan’s the only one who saw his face in Belgrade.) So now he has to juggle bonding with Zooey, with dying of cancer, and torturing suspects and killing alleged criminals.3 Days to Kill Amber Heard

This is such a craptastically messed-up movie. Believe it or not, the script was originally co-written by Luc Besson, the notorious French action movie director. So it does have some good chase scenes and shootouts.

But the humour? So lame, it’s absolutely devoid of laughs. Costner is a terrible comic actor, and Amber Heard is embarrassingly bad as the multi-wigged Vivi. The script feels like it was written in French, rewritten in Serbo-Croation with the English version courtesy of Google Translate, alpha edition. Just dreadful.

A016_C094_11139EAKP Job 27

Dir: Michael Suan

And in a tribute to the old Luc Besson comes a silent gangster pic from Toronto. A Yakuza hit man travels to on assignment in Canada and falls for a beautiful woman in the sex trade… who reminds him of a long lost love. This is a purely visual movie with a smorgasbord of images: gunshots in a field of air A007_C076_1102PN3turbines, sex scenes in red and blue. There is too much slo-mo and choppy jump cuts for my taste —  at times it feels like an extended 1980s music video. But it’s commendable as a first film, with Suan re-imagining a noir-ish Toronto as a city full of dark allies, rainy streets, neon lights, and strip bars.

Pompeii, Three Days to Kill and AKP Job 27 all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The glorious Chilean film Gloria continues, and also opening this week is Tim’s Vermeer.

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

 

Rom not Com. Films Reviewed: Gloria, Tim’s Vermeer, For No Eyes Only

Posted in Art, Chile, Computers, Cultural Mining, documentary, Espionage, Germany, Inventions, Science, Sex, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 14, 2014

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.

It’s Valentine’s Day. For some reason, romance in movies has been inexorably tied to comedy. You’re in love? It must be a joke. Well, today I’m forsaking the romcoms and the soppy romances. I want to talk about some unusual movies about love, sex, and obsession. A Chilean movie about a divorced woman’s search for love, an American doc about a man’s search for proof, and German flick about a kid’s search for secrets.

GLORIA - FILM STILL 1Gloria

Dir: Sebastien Lelio

Gloria (Paulina Garcia) is an average, middle-aged divorcee in downtown Santiago. Her life is stale, worn-out. She lives alone in an apartment, with just a noisy neighbour and a hideous, hairless cat intruding on her privacy. Her home life is depressing, her office job is stultifying. And her kids are adults now. But she’s not willing to give up. She’s still full of energy – she wants to enjoy life, sing songs, fall in love, be in a one-on-one relationship. And, well, she wants to get laid.

So she starts hanging out in discos that play seventies music. (The people there all look like they went to this club back when those songs were new.) She goes there to pick up men – much older men. Ideally, she wants a man who is honest, who respects and desires her.

After some misfires, she falls for Rodolfo, a very conservative, rich, elderly ?????????????????????????man. He takes her for a drive to show her his wealth, his power. At first their relationship seems solid… but can she trust him? He interrupts their lunches with extended calls on his cel. And he’ll drop everything to run home whenever his daughters say they need him (He’s divorced – he says — but he’s still responsible for his girls.)

She wants him to meet her family and friends. Will he commit? And will he fit in with her lifestyle? (Gloria’s a free-thinking Chilean, Rodolfo’s roots are with Pinochet’s right-wing military.)

Although this movie is told in an everyday manner, this is a fantastic, bittersweet look at one woman’s life. The actress, Paulina Garcia, completely embodies and embraces Gloria – flaws and all. She convey’s what she’s thinking; not through words, but in her eyes. The whole movie is told from her point of view, and she exposes everything – body and soul —  for the camera. This is a fantastic movie, and Garcia’s performance is flawless and unforgettable.

Tim Jenison discovers a mistake in Vermeer’s original painting of “The Music Lesson.” Photo by Shane F. Kelly, © 2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights ReservedTim’s Vermeer

A Penn and Teller film; directed by Teller, narrated by Penn.

Tim Jenison is a tremendously successful Texan inventor of devices gadgets and software. Somehow, he became fascinated by the paintings of Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.  How could they be so perfectly Tim Jenison’s daughters, Natalie, Luren, and Claire, fitting Claire’s costume so Tim can paint her as the female model in his “Music Lesson.” © 2013 Tim Jenison. Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.lit, so realistically focused, so uncannily lifelike? He embarks on a mission – an obsession really – to discover the mechanical basis behind Vermeer’s art. He is convinced that Vermeer used a camera obscura – a dark room that projects inverted light images against a wall – long before photography and electric light was discovered. To his theory he adds the element of dentist’s mirrors, little discs on sticks.

Next he sets out to prove it – by rebuilding an exact replica of all the things portrayed in one of Vermeer’s paintings! Why? He recreates the furniture, the windows, the musical Tim Jenison in Delft, the Netherlands, where Johannes Vermeer lived. Photo by Shane F. Kelly, © 2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.instruments, everything… then sets up his camera obscura and dentist mirrors and begins to paint. Can he do it? Told by the team of magic debunkers Penn and Teller, this is a strange but fascinating story of a rich man who has the time and money to pursue his obsession. The strangest thing about his painting is the complete and total absence of any artistic feeling or aesthetic sense.

fornoeyesonly_06For No Eyes Only

Wri/Dir:  Tali Barde

This is a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In that movie, Jimmy Stewart is stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg but – through his apartment’s rear window he can see into the windows of the apartment behind him. And he thinks he witnesses a crime.

In this movie, Sam (Benedict Sieverding) is a high school student in Germany.fornoeyesonly_04 He’s the star field hockey player but has a broken leg. He was mowed down by the new kid, a tall and intense guy named Aaron (directorTali Barde). Sam is sure Aaron is up to no good. With too much time at home, Sam discovers a hacking system that allows him access to his classmates’ computer cameras – his personal rear window. This gives him an inside view of all his friends’ bedrooms – everything they don’t want anyone else to see. Including Livia (Luisa Gross), his secret crush.

Luisa is mature confident and sophisticated, while Sam loses all his bravado and stumbles when talking to her. She takes the lead and invites herself to his home for some “computer lessons”. She’s figured out Sam’s been watching.

fornoeyesonly_01At first she’s angry, but, soon she’s joining in on his intramural spy-project. That’s when they notice something strange is going on with Aaron. Where’s his dad? Why does he hide a kitchen knife in his bedroom? What’s he carrying to the basement? Is fornoeyesonly_02there really a crime? Or is it just their overactive imaginations?

It’s a fun movie but with an after-school-special feel to it – it’s a little too cute for a thriller. But if you consider it was made for just a fistful of Euros (less than 4000) by a recent college grad… Incredible! Though made in 2012, with Snowden’s recent revelations about NSA spying on ordinary people, this film is even more relevant today.

Pussy_Riot_A_Punk_Prayer_1.470x264Gloria opens today in Toronto and Tim’s Vermeer opens next week: check your local listings. For No Eyes Only is playing this weekend at the TIFF Next Wave festival. Go to tiff.net/. Also opening today is the fun Paraguayan thriller 7 Boxes, and the amazing courtroom documentary Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer about the Moscow trial of Russian activists/musicians Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich.

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

Mid-July Popcorn Movies. Films Reviewed: Pacific Rim, Red 2, The Conjuring

Posted in 1970s, CGI, Cold War, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Horror, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 18, 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.

It’s hot. It’s so hot the city sucked up the most energy ever recorded recorded in one day. There are rolling blackout across the town. How to beat the heat? You guessed it. Movies. I was in an IMAX theatre on Monday in flip-flops and shorts and I had to keep moving my fingers and toes to avoid freezer burn. So this week I’m talking about popcorn movies, the kind that keep you interested as you decompress in your seat. One’s a violent action/comedy that’s spy vs spy; one’s an action/fantasy of robots vs sea monsters; and there’s a chiller/horror that’s ghost busters vs evil spirits.

RED 2Red 2

Dir: Dean Parisot

Frank and Sarah (Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker) live a quiet suburban life. He’s retired from his days as a CIA killer. But he finds himself pulled back into it – and Sarah, a civilian, insists on coming too. Soon enough, they’re flying off to Paris, London and Moscow in a private jet, searching for a forgotten relic of the cold war. It’s unclear if it’s a person, an item or a sleeper cell. Whatever it is, there could be a major world disaster if it’s not neutralized. But even while he’s searching, he’s also being sought by two assassins who are hired to kill him. Han (Lee Byung-hun) a Korean killer, and Victoria (Helen Mirren) an MI6 assassin, are both his former friends and colleagues.

Frank puts together a team. He joins forces with various cold war colleagues and former Red 2 Zeta-Jones Parker Willisenemies. Sarah is just along for the ride… but she soon becomes an amateur spy, herself. The group must avoid a ruthless American operative (who is trying to cover-up the whole operation), locate a missing British scientist, and save the world… without being killed themselves.

This movie’s not bad – it’s actually quite entertaining. Cute, even. There’s a huge cast of very skilled actors playing simple, cookie-cutter roles, but they do it well, and seem to be having fun. There’s Anthony Red 2 MirrenHopkins, John Malkovich, David Thewlis and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Lots of really good chase scenes, shoot outs, loads of gratuitous death and violence, and cool, improvised hand-to-hand combat – like in Die Hard. There are also lots of split-second visual gags, (like an elderly woman playing a double bass.)

On the other hand, there’s nothing particularly original or surprising about the story – the plot’s completely predictable. One of the catch phrases the characters keep repeating is “I didn’t see that one coming”.

Really? ‘Cause I sure did.

Charlie Hunnam Pacific RimPacific Rim

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s the near future, and giant sea monsters from outer space are terrorizing port cities all around the Pacific Ocean. So the various governments build giant robots (known as Jaegers) to go up against the Godzilla-like creatures. But since they’re so big, they need two people to control one robot. They merge their minds and memories in a “neural handshake” and together battle the bad guys. Teams usually consist of siblings, lovers or best friends. But when the robot teams fail to stop the monsters (known as Kaiju) from attacking, the governments decide to scrap the robot plan and build giant walls instead. Big mistake!Pacific Rim Kikuchi

Only a few of the Jaegers are still around. It’s up to their trained drivers – the Jaegermeisters, if you will — and their commander, to try to defeat the monsters, once and for all.

This was another entertaining movie. Excellent special-effect CGIs – better than Transformers 3 Pacific Rim Jaeger(and that says a lot) — and a fun story. It has a very complicated plot, with a huge cast. Mako and Raleigh (Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Hunnam) are good as the dedicated robot riders, as is Idris Elba as their commander Pentecost. And a comic sub-plot (involving the non-combatant scientists who are trying to defeat the sea monsters through research, not war) helps to counter the relentless fighting. To tell the truth, I was a little bit disappointed in the script, since I like the director, del Toro, a lot, and was hoping for something more like Pan’s Labyrinth than Hellboy. But it was still a hell a lot of fun for an action movie.

The Conjuring Lili TaylorThe Conjuring (based on a true story)

Dir: James Wan

It’s 1971. Demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) give lectures on how to detect or debunk reports of haunted houses and possessed dolls. Lorraine is particularly sensitive to otherworldly beings. Most of their investigations turn out to be just scaredpeople hearing the wind. But when they are contacted by a family from Rhode Island, they sense this is the real deal.

Carolyn (Lili Taylor), her trucker-husband Roger, and their five daughters, have recently moved PATRICK WILSON, VERA FARMIGA, LILI TAYLOR, RON LIVINGSTON, photo Michael Tackett THE CONJURING Warner Brosinto a beautiful old house set in a bucolic garden with a big tree and a still pond. But the family soon begins to notice strange things, every night at 3:07 AM. One daughter feels a hand pulling her leg when she’s fast asleep. The youngest has an imaginary friend, Rory, who appears whenever she plays a music box with a spinning spiral on a round mirror. A sleep-walker is drawn to an old wardrobe that came with the house. And mom wakes up each morning with strange bruises on her body.

So the Warrens set up shop inside the house, with cameras and microphones, to record paranormal activity. And, soon enough, real, scary things start to happen, culminating in a battle to exorcise evil from their immortal souls.

The Conjuring Vera FarmigaThis is a very scary ghost movie. I’ve gotten used to cheap, found-footage movies, like the Paranormal Activity series (which I liked), so it was nice to see a classic-style, well-made-movie movie that scares your socks off. Sure, a lot of the scenes were snatched from films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist. You also have to wonder: who buys their kids hideously ugly dolls, or music boxes with hypnotic powers? Come on.

But it also had some totally new kinds of scary scenes involving cubby-holes, dusty basements, tunnels and crawl spaces. They provided some new claustrophobic images to be terrified by late at night. The hide and clap game, the dusty basement, the scene in the wardrobe: these are all super chilling scenes. And while the male actors were both milquetoasts, it’s the women — stoic Vera Farmiga and especially Lili Taylor as the mom in a cosmic meltdown mode — who steal the show.

Pacific Rim is playing now, and Red 2 and The Conjuring both open today (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

Getaways! Movies Reviewed: Mud, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Star Trek Into Darkness

JH Wingfield_1966_DetailHi, 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.

What does it mean to get away for a while? You’re probably thinking, beach, a drive, a cottage, camping trip, maybe a weekend in another city across the border… But what about a real getaway, one where you might have no plan to go back home?

This week I’m going to look at three dramas opening this weekend, all by very good directors, about people trying to get away. There’s a man on the lam hiding out on an island in the Mississippi; a Wall Street financier who flees to Lahore, Pakistan; and some explorers who embark on a long trip to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Mud 2Mud

Dir: Jeff Nichols

Two boys, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland), live right on the Mississippi river in Arkansas. They’re not townies – they live off the water where their families catch fish for a living. So one day they head off to an island down the river where Ellis says he saw a boat… up in a tree! But they soon discover it’s occupied by a man nicknamed MudMud 3. Mud (Matt McConaughey) was a homeless orphan when he grew up in the area, and now he’s come back home. He’s on the lam after committing a crime in Texas. But he wants to send a message to the love of his life, a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). He’s been in love with her since they were teenagers. But a whole posse has come up from Texas to hunt him down – and they might even kill him.

He tells the boys if they help him skip town with Juniper he’ll let them keep the boat. Neckbone is suspicious, but Ellis agrees to be his Mud 1inbetweener and contact Juniper. He’s doing it in the name of true love.

Ellis, meanwhile, is also trying to find to find his own true love. He’s only 14 but punches out a much older and bigger and meaner boy for the way he’s treating a young woman. Will she be his girlfriend? Or does she still think of him as just a kid? Maybe a girlfriend will bring some stability to Ellis’s life — his parents fight every day. If they split up that would mean the end of the family home, the end of their boat, and the end of their life on the river.

Mud is a really great movie, a drama about crime and how it affects the lives of poor, white rural families. It’s in the vein of Winter’s Bone and Frozen River. It’s also a tender coming-of-age story, and a family drama with action, mystery, guns and chases. It’s also an examination of true love and disappointment. It’s directed by Jeff Nichol who did the fantastic movie Take Shelter a couple years ago. Mud is really good – I recommend it.

IMG_7661.CR2The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Dir: Mira Nair

Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a Princeton grad who left Wall Street at the height of his career, trading riches for a quieter professorship in his hometown of Lahore, Pakistan. Why did he do it? asks an American journalist (Liev Schreiber) interviewing Changez at a tea house in Pakistan. Why did he give it all up? That is a long story. And that’s the story the movie tells.

The son of a respected but not rich Pakistani poet, Changez wants to live the American dream. Just out of Princeton, he is hired as an analyst by a financial firm. They grab existing companies and determines their “value” (Changez’s specialty) before chopping them up, firing the workers and closing the less profitable factories. He moves in with a beautiful and privileged girlfriend, an artist (Kate Hudson), and things are looking up. But then comes 9-11. Suddenly he’s being strip-searched at borders, locked up and questioned. His veneer of privilege is stripped away, and his house of cards collapses. He begins to wonder about the real value of things in his life. The path he takes and the decisions he makes are gradually revealed… but where does that leave him? Has he become a radical “Islamist” terrorist? And is he behind a kidnapping at the IMG_1048.JPGuniversity? Or is he just a well-meaning teacher?

The backstory to this whole movie is 9-11. Mira Nair knows it well. I was at a screening at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept 12th (or 13th?) in 2001, just after the incident. She had brought the entire cast of her delightful comedy Monsoon Wedding to its premier at TIFF, and was mortified that her show was being unfairly eclipsed by that nasty business in Manhattan. No one yet knew what was going to happen after that day, or how big a change it would bring to the US and the world. I think that day is omnipresent in Mira Nair’s mind while directing this film.

The story is interesting and relevant. The problem with the Reluctant Fundamentalist is that neither Changez, nor his girlfriend nor his boss (Keiffer Sutherland), are particularly sympathetic or likeable characters. They’re all equally greedy or self-absorbed. It’s hard to feel for people when you don’t really care what happens to them.

HH-00789CStar Trek: Into Darkness

Dir: J.J. Abrams

It’s Earth a few hundred years in the future. Brash Captain Kirk and logical Mr Spock (engagingly played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) are at it again in this Star Trek prequel. The big cities (San Francisco, London) are still there, just with more, fancier buildings. So all the world is shocked when an insider from The Federation (that’s the worldwide and interplanetary government) turns out to be a terrorist, killing countless people — including someone important to Kirk. He flies off in a rage aboard the Starship Enterprise, after some goading from Marcus (Peter Weller) a high placed military hawk. Armed with a new type of missiles, they head toward the dark and mysterious Klingon territory to hunt down the terrorist. But they discover things aren’t what they seem. The man accused of terrorism turns out to be sort of an uber-human, almost unkillable, genetically stronger and smarter than any normal human. But he saves the lives of Kirk and his crew: whose side is he really on?star-trek-into-darkness-benedict-cumberbatch3-600x427

I had a great time with this movie, chock-full of insider jokes about the original Star Trek (things like tribbles, red shirts, the Wrath of Khan). There are wicked scenes of people in rocket suits zooming through outer space. Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series) is especially good as this scary superman. Yes, all the actors are just imitating the looks and voices from the original series, but so what? It works. Zoe Soldana, as a newly sexualized Uhura, and Simon Pegg as a funnier Scotty stand out. The 3-D effects are impressive for the first 15 minutes then you forget about them, but the action, laughs and, yes, excitement, keep you glued to the screen the whole time.

Mud, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Star Trek Into Darkness all open today: check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival (insideout.ca); and the Monsters and Martians science fiction film festival is screening the original Manchurian Candidate next week at the Big Pictures Cinema, which is always worth seeing.

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

October 12, 2012. Revisionist History? Films reviewed: Argo, Stories We Tell

Posted in 1980s, Canada, CIA, Clash of Cultures, Diplomacy, documentary, Drama, Espionage, Family, Iran, Thriller, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 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.

History is always changing: it depends a lot on who the storyteller is. And, often, the most recent storyteller owns the story, for the moment at least, and controls that history. This week I’m looking at two movies that retell events in Canadian history. One’s a thriller that retools a famous story of Canadian heroism in Iran; the other is a personal story about a woman who wants to find out what happened when her mother went to Montreal… in order to be in Toronto.

Argo

Dir: Ben Affleck

It’s late 1979 – the Shah of Iran who fled the country, has been allowed into the US, and, because of this, back in Tehran, angry, anti-American demos are in full swing. Furious students storm the walls of the American Embassy even while the staff on the inside are busy shredding all the files. A few manage to escape through a side street and are secretly rescued by Ken Taylor, the Canadian Ambassador, but the rest are all held as hostages inside the occupied US Embassy. The escaped six are safe in the basement of the Canadian diplomat’s home, but for how long? Meanwhile, those darn hostage-takers are sorting through the shredded documents and will eventually discover that there are six missing diplos hiding somewhere, and what they look like.

Meanwhile, back in the States, a young CIA agent named Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) comes up with a plan to get them out of Iran – he’ll pretend they are Canadian filmmakers! So he goes to Hollywood and arranges the whole thing with the help of funny and obnoxious industry-types (John Goodman and Alan Arkin), then flies off to Iran with Canadian passports to save his countrymen. Will they pass as Canadians? Will they be able to leave the country? And will the whole Hollywood back-story hold up before the Revolutionary Guards?

Argo is a fun, exciting movie with a cool, unbelievable plot, and lots of thrills and suspense to keep you captive. Audiences were cheering when I saw it at TIFF, and I left feeling good. The acting is fine, the early 80’s look of the film is cool (though I doubt conservative diplomats were dressed like San Franciscans) and the story is exciting.

(Personal connection: in an earlier TV version of the Canadian Caper starring Gordon Pinsent as Ken Taylor they used Toronto’s Polish Cultural Centre on Beverley Street — just down the street from where I lived at the time — as the stand-in for the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.)

It has a few problems though. It makes the CIA into the heroes! Remember, they’re the ones who overthrew the democratically-elected PM Mossadegh in the 50’s when he nationalized their oil industry. They also helped found the Shah’s dreaded SAVAK – whose torturous methods was one of the biggest reasons for the demonstrations and hostage-taking. The movie never makes clear the CIA the skullduggery that led to this crisis.

Second, it falsely makes Ken Taylor and Canada in general into a funny side-kick to the supposed heroism of a low ranked CIA agent (though I understand they’ve changed the very offensive final titles from the version I saw.) Anyway, I shrugged that off when I saw it – it’s just a movie.

But most of all I was disturbed by the way it made all Iranians in 1979 look like evil villains out to destroy a besieged America – a hell of an image to present in an election year when there’s a big political push to bomb that country.

But… whatever, it’s a good movie anyway, well worth seeing.

A very different kind of revisionist history is

Stories We Tell

Dir: Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s wild, blonde actress mother Diane died when she was a child, so she was raised by her kindly, stiff-upper-lip dad, Michael. So to find out more about her past and that of her mother, she enlists her brothers, sisters, family friends and relations to tell their versions of their past, and illustrates it all with found Super-8 footage from her dad’s collection. He narrates the story from a recording booth and Sarah documents her own search for history. But… during this search she discovers that, not long before she was conceived, her mother went away to Montreal to act in a play there called “Toronto” (by David Fennario). And while she was there, rumour has it, had an affair with someone from the cast – maybe Sarah’s father isn’t her biological parent!

I am not going to give away Sarah Polley’s family secrets – but, that’s just part of what makes the film so fascinating.

This is an amazing family story told by an unreliable narrator and with lots of misleading half-truths, myths, lies and legends. One of the characters produced the classic Canadian film “Lies My Father Told Me” which sort of sets the tone for this doc. What’s real? What’s a trick? You discover that the big happy family you assume you’re watching at first never really exists as a single unit. Off-the-cuff narration is gently exposed as scripted and directed. And even the found footage is revealed as part genuine, part manufactured.

This is a fantastic blend of truth and re-creation that Sarah Polley keeps small. She does everything right: stays largely off-camera and concentrates on the story. And she’s carefully to occasionally expose the artifice of filmmaking, including docs. This isn’t one of those awful celeb stories with teary revelations and maudlin music. It’s a clever and funny — but still very touching — meditation on Canada, Sarah’s history and the meaning of family.

Great doc!

Argo and Stories We Tell both played at TIFF and are opening tonight in Toronto. Also opening this week is Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, an epic drama of love, addiction and gay life in Manhattan.

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

December 23, 2011 Christmas Flicks. Movies Reviewed: The Adventures of Tintin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

Posted in 1970s, Drama, Espionage, Family, Horses, Steven Spielberg, Tintin, UK, Uncategorized, US, WWI by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 2011

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

It’s holiday time once again, and there are lots of good movies out there to see. I’m just going to tell you about three of them, all period movies – one set in the 1910’s, one in the fifties, or thereabouts, and one In the 70’s — all with mainly British casts, and two out of three, directed by the same guy – Steven Spielberg.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Dir: Tomas Alfredson

It’s the 1970’s, in the middle of the Cold War between the Soviet Bloc and the West, when a British agent is shot in Budapest in a failed mission. Why? Because, says a young agent, there’s a mole somewhere in the highest ranks of The Circus (as the agents refer to MI6 headquarters). The wife of an enemy general told him. So they let the disgraced spy, George Smiley — John Le Carre’s most famous character — to come back in to find the leak.

This is an amazingly complex spy movie, with three or four plots going on simultaneously, along with various flashbacks gradually filling in the missing details. (I gave only the most bare-bones details, so as not to spoil the film.) Some of the scenes are fantastic – like an insiders’ view of the spy division’s office Christmas party, where the agents sing out songs from the various nations they are spying on as they guzzle vodka-stoked punch. It’s also a visually stupendous movie, with period costumes, and lighting that somehow makes all the sombre faces look like chiseled (or grizzled!) stone statues.

The acting is all-around amazing, with Gary Oldman as Smiley, and especially the less well-known actors like Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, and Tom Hardy. Warning – this is not a high-concept film like a 007 action movie. It’s not so easy film to absorb: you have to think about it as you watch. But it’s very satisfying to see.

The Adventures of Tintin

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Based on comics by Herge

Tintin is a young journalist who travels around the world with his dog Snowy. When his model ship is stolen, he discovers a secret message left behind, and vows to track down the other clues. But he’s being chased by a mean man with a sweet-sounding name — Sakharine. Tintin is shanghaied, and on board the cargo ship he meets Captain Haddock, a drunk who also has a connection to the missing model ship, the Unicorn. Together, they set out on an orientalist journey to a North African sheikhdom – travelling by plane, boat and on foot — to find the secret message, solve the mystery, and catch the evil villain. Part of the puzzle is written down, but part is lost somewhere in Haddock’s hazy memory – the only way to find the treasure of the villainous pirate Red Rackham is for Captan Haddock to remember the story. Billions of blue bilious blistering Barnacles!

Tintin and Snowy are Herge’s beloved characters who travelled around the world, speaking the same language as everyone he met, and always doing the right thing. I loved reading those comics. Never mind that Herge continued to publish during the Nazi occupation, affably drawing his villains evil Jews; never mind that he used racist caricatures in depictions of the Congo (where, ironically, it was Belgium’s King Leopold who had slaughtered millions as he plundered their wealth). These things are all Herge’s faults, not Tintin’s. He is always true, brave, clever, kind hearted, and adventurous.

I always loved the clear detailed lines, the amazing adventures, and the exotic locales of Herge’s comics. But some of it’s lost on the big screen. The 3-D movie version is shot in my least favourite type of animation: Motion Capture. This is the type where actors move around with little cameras hanging all over them, to give a combination of live action but animated characters and background. But it’s uglier and less elegant than the original, simpler versions. This one gives Tintin a sort of a globe head with fuzzy hair (could you imagine someone doing a motion capture movie, of, say Charlie Brown and giving him a bulbous head and one giant curled hair?) And the clips of ocean waves and fire look totally out if place – they don’t match the rest of the images. Some scenes are perfect – like Haddock drinking blobs of floating alcohol on board a prop plane. But the sword fights are way too long; the opera singer, Bianca Castafiore, is given a beautiful voice (instead of a terrible one). And worst of all, they hijacked a Tintin story and almost turned it into a Haddock story. Great Snakes! Tintin and a sidekick? You can’t do that…

The voices – Andy Bell and Andrew Sirkis as Tintin and Cap’t Haddock – are great, no problems there. Anyway, it’s a fun adventurous drama… but it left me hollow — not with the great thrill I felt reading the comics gave me.

War Horse

Dir: by Steven Spielberg

Albie, a poor farmer’s kid in the rolling hills of Devon, trains and raises his beautiful colt Joey. They grow up together, but when his father is close to losing the farm on the eve of WWI, he sells the horse to an officer to use in the war. Albie is heartbroken, but ties his dad’s regimental flag from the Boer War to Joey’s bridle to remember him.

This is where the focus shifts from the kid, to the horse himself! Horses played a vital part in WWI, and Joey the horse finds itself drifting across battle lines in France, between the British and the Germans. He’s taken in by German soldiers who also recognize his strength and beauty. Later he’s found by a young French girl who wants to hide him from the soldiers. And he makes friends with a bigger, black horse. But it’s a war, and Joey is sent back to the front lines, back to the trenches, facing death as a dray horse. Will he make it through the war? And will he ever get back to Albert and his peaceful farm in Devon?

When I heard about this movie, I put a giant X across it, and said BLLLLEEEEAAAAAAGGGHHH! I am not watching a movie about a horse! NO WAY! That’s a definite. But you know what? I went, I saw it, and… oh my God! It turned out to be an amazingly touching movie: Sentimental but not smarmy, unorthodox, exciting, unusual, and a total tear-jerker – at least three genuine sob-scenes. OK, it’s partly formulaic – everyone likes kids and animals – but it’s so much more than that. It avoids anthropomorphizing the animals – they are horses not people. Spielberg also shows war as a cruel and bad place, with the Germans and the British equally suffering.

Acting was great, the cinematography looks like an old Hollywood western, and even the somewhat cloying music rarely spoiled the feel.

I thought they couldn’t make great G-rated movies anymore, just Chipmunk Squeakquels… but they can. This is a wonderful, beautiful, tear-wrenching, and exciting movie.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is now playing, The Adventures of Tintin just opened, and War Horse on Christmas Day. Check you local listings.

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

Movies for Grown-ups. Films reviewed: Of Gods and Men, Nora’s Will, Unknown. Plus upcoming film festivals

Well, if you ever need a break from standard Hollywood fare, I’ve got a few movies that are watchable but slightly outside expected norms.

This week I’m going to talk about three movies notable for having mature characters (meaning they’re over 14); movies that deal with questions of identity, religion, and the concepts of alienation and acceptance; and movies that take place in small communities within larger ones. They also take place outside the United States: one in Berlin, one in Mexico City, and one in a small village in Algeria. And these movies all feature great actors, even in the smaller roles.

Nora’s Will

Dir: Mariana Chenillo

Jose shows up at his ex-wife Nora’s apartment one morning to find the coffee being made, fresh food in the fridge, everything arranged for the day, but with Nora in her bedroom, dead. They’ve been divorced for 20 years, but he still lives right across the street.

Jose (Fernando Luján) is shocked by her death, but even more surprised when he discovers her plans are still unfolding. Nora is a Jewish, Mexican woman, and it appears she arranged for her funeral to coincide with a final Passover dinner. She has left little post it notes all around her apartment, and the calls start coming in as planned – her eccentric cousin from Guadalajara is on her way, their children are returning from their vacations, and her doctor is also showing up, and so is her Rabbi.

Jose bristles at both his ex-wife’s religious beliefs and her arrangements, so he makes it his unspoken goal to mess up all her plans. He suspects she had a lover, and wants to find evidence of that in her apartment. Even after her death he is still obsessed with his ex-wife. And in order to do what he can to disrupt the funeral he offers pepperoni pizza to the kosher rabbi, festoons the apartment with giant floral crosses, and tries to hide all the post-it notes about her planned last supper. And once the rumour escapes that Nora may have committed suicide, Jose’s disruptive plans spin out of control, with a possibility that there will be no where at all to bury her. His daughter in law is pissed-off, her housekeeper is suspicious, and the various other characters all seem ready to explode. Can JOse pull everything back together again? And does he want to?

This is a pretty funny movie, sort of a gentle, drawing-room comedy about middle-class, urban life in Mexico – something I’ve rarely seen in a movie before. And it reveals (in flashbacks) some unexpected secrets of the family – or at least secret to the movie viewer – so it keeps your interest as the stories unfold, and the plot gains more depth. Nora’s Will is a good, funny and, in the end, poignant portrayal of a damaged relationship, and their need for closure. And it won eight awards from the Mexican Academy of Film, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

Of Gods and Men

Dir: Xavier Beauvois

This is a movie about a peaceful monastery of Trappist monks in Algeria in the 1990s. They don’t proselytize or evangelize; instead they just make honey, tend to the sick and the poor, and spend the rest of their time in prayer and meditation. But civil war tensions enter into their lives, when Islamist extremists are getting closer, and start attacking nearby villages, and the equally violent — though ardently secular — military wants to place armed gunmen inside the monastery.

This is based on the true story, (made clear even in the ads) of their tragic massacre, so their fates are not a surprise, but the movie is about the period before then when they debate whether to stay in Algeria or go back to France.

The movie itself is constructed in a very formalistic way – scenes of their uneventful daily routines are contrasted with the increasingly violent events encroaching on their lives. Each short section is concluded with a silent tableau of the white-robed monks praying. Their feelings are subtly reflected by their postures at prayer: standing tall, or hunched in a circle, or reclining at rest, or collapsing in despair… a silent visual commentary on the events in their lives.

They start out as an undifferentiated mass, unidentifiable one from the next, but gradually their identities, names and personalities are made clear. Well, sort of… I thought the director made them more into a real-life version of the seven dwarves: Doc, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy… They seemed more like allegorical figures than real people, with only Christian, the Abbot (Lambert Wilson), the leader among the brothers, and Luc (Michael Lonsdale), a doctor who spends much of his time in native dress, as fully-formed characters.

Of Gods and Men is a slow-moving, but not boring, beautifully constructed look at monks’ lives as religious martyrs, proto-saints, and nearly-flawless examples. Is there anyone who doesn’t like monks?

But it left me feeling slightly duped by the religiosity of it all, with its story and characters made less real, and more like a sunday school lesson, by their hagiographic portrayals. The whole movie felt like a parent or a priest wagging his finger at the collective movie goers, as a lesson in religious purity and peity.

And you had to wonder about the film’s point of view.

Remember, Algeria was a colony, annexed and ruled as an integral part of France up until the end of their bloody war of independence in 1962. So you have to wonder about a French movie portraying the Algerian soldiers as the bad guys, and the Islamist extremist as the other bad guys, with the only good guys being the French monks (and the local villagers) still in Algeria. Sketchy, n’est-ce pas? While I feel nothing but sympathy for the massacred trappist monks, this movie really seems to be shedding a tear for France’s whole lost empire.

Unknown

Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

Dr Martin Harris, a scientist, arrives in Berlin with his wife Elizabeth to give a presentation on agricultural biology. But at the doors of their luxury hotel he realizes he left his briefcase at the airport. So he hails a cab and rushes back. But there’s an accident on the way that plunges the car into a river, with the pretty cabby risking her life to save his. Four days later, he comes to in a hospital bed with a brain injury, his mind confused. He rushes back to the hotel to find his wife, but when he gets there, she denies knowing him, and, stranger still, she has checked in with another man, also claiming to be Dr Martin Harris! Whoa…!

So here he is, with a bandaged head, no ID, no money, in a strange city he’s never been to, and he knows nobody there. His identity has even been wiped clean on the Internet – he doesn’t exist. And he starts to have paranoid thoughts – is that guy in a parked car waiting for him. Is that other guy with round glasses following him? And how about the man on the subway? Is he losing his mind? But, as they say, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

So Martin teams up with some locals to try to solve the mystery – the nice illegal immigrant cabby, and a blandly sinister detective who used to be in the Stasi, the East German secret service. What’s going on? What happened to his wife? And is he in danger? Unknown is a not-bad mystery/thriller with a Catalan Director, and a really good , largely European cast – Liam Neeson as the confused yet violent Martin, the great Bruno Ganz as the Stasi agent, Sebastian Koch as the German scientist, and Diane Kruger as the cabby; as well as Americans like January Jones as his wife, Aiden Quinn as the man pretending to be him.

I thought the mysterious set-up of the first half was more satisfying than the car chases, shoot-outs and fights of the second half (when the secrets are revealed and the plot chugs along its way) but it’s not a bad, mystery/thriller.

In Toronto, festival season is starting up soon. Here are some of the lesser known festivals.

Look out for the Toronto Silent Film Festival starting on March 30th, with bog stars of the silent era like Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, and Harold Lloyd, and great directors like FW Murnau, Hal Roach and King Vidor. Look online at http://www.ebk-ink.com/tsff/home.html

The Female Eye Film Festival features movies directed by women, including a Canadian psychological drama, The High Cost of Living directed by Deborah Chow. Check out listings at http://www.femaleeyefilmfestival.com/

And the Images Festival, North America’s largest collection of art and culture in the form of moving images on videos and in film, starts on March 31. Go to imagesfestival.com.

Nora’s Will opens today in Toronto, and Unknown and Of Gods and Men are now playing. Check your local listings.

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