Seeking his Fortune. Films Reviewed: Lean on Pete, Sheikh Jackson, Valley of Shadows

Posted in Coming of Age, Drama, Egypt, Fairytales, Islam, Kids, Movies, Music, Norway by CulturalMining.com on September 15, 2017

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

Whether it’s Jack or Hans or Esben or Ivan, many fairytales start with a young man leaving home to seek his fortune. This week I’m looking at three new movies premiering at TIFF17 about young men heading off into the unknown. There’s Khaled, a young man in Egypt, Charley, a 15-year-old in Oregon, and Aslak a six-year-old boy in northern Norway.

Sheikh Jackson

Dir: Amr Salama

Khaled (Ahmad Alfishawy) is an imam at a mosque in Cairo who is having strange dreams and hallucination. He cries during prayers and keeps seeing a strange man dressed in black with pale skin and a glittering glove. Is family is very religious — his wife wears a niqab scolds their daughter for watching Beyoncé videos on youtube. And his uncle is his mentor and spiritual advisor. And everyone notices something is not right. He sees a psychiatrist and after many false starts he finally opens up and tells his story.

In his youth, Khaled (Ahmed Malek) lived with a loving family in Alexandria. His father is a body-builder entrepreneur, his mother stays at home.And he is entranced by a strange figure he sees on TV — it’s michael Jackson. His mother approves, but his father says “don’t watch that transvestite”. When his mother dies, he becomes obsessed with Michael Jackson, changing his hairstyle, buying new clothes, and going to nightclubs to hear his music. He also wants to impress another fan, a beautiful girl in his music class. But things with his father get worse and worse, until everything explodes. He runs to his uncle for help, who says he can,ove inwith his family as long as he gives up his current life and studies the Koran. But, back in the present, Michael Jacksons death turns his life upside down. Can he reconcile his moonwalking past with his religious present?

Sheikh Jackson is a delightfully cute look at the conflicts of contemporary Egypt. Religious vs secular, western pop culture vs more traditional ways. It’s also a bittersweet coming of age story about a non-conformist looking fir his place in the world. And — no spoiler – it includes a dance number to the tune of Thriller!

Valley of Shadows

Dir: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen

Aslak (Adam Akeli) is a 6 year old boy who lives his mom on a farm in remote northern Norway. His older brother is in some kidn of trouble, so he theres no one to play with. And when an older kid tells him there are monsters in the woods and werewolves killing sheep, his imagination goes wild. And when his dog runs away, he realizes he is the only one who can save him. So he packs some sandwiches in a bag and heads out up the mountain and into the forest. This starts a long journey, through trees, down slopes, across rivers, encountering, huge beasts, wild animals and a magical hermit as he travels all around. Will he find his dog, survive alone in the forest, avoid the werewolves and somehow make his way home again?

Valley of Shadows is a beautiful look at a journey through the eyes of a little boy. Fantastic scenery and wildlife seen in a dark and mystical light. With very little dialogue, it shows instead what Aslak sees in his journey. It feels like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are… but real.

Lean on Pete

Wri/Dir: Andrew Haigh

Charley (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year old kid who moved with his dad to Portland Oregon. His dad is a heavy drinker who picks up women and takes them home. Charley’s mom left when he was just a kid. Back home he would go running in the mornig and played on the Varsity football team. But he doesn’t know anyone here. One day on a monring run he meets a grizzly old man named Del (Steve Buschemi) who handles race horses. Charley knows nothing about horses, but Del needs someone willing to work hard and shovel manure. He hires charley on the spot. That’s where he meets a female jockey named Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) and a 5 year old quarter horse named Lean On Pete. Bonnie warns him it’s a business, and never treat racehorses like pets, but Charley loves Pete and tells him all his secrets. And when something happens to his dad, and Pete’s life is threatened, he takes the only path he can think of. He sets off across the sagebrush and deserts to save the horse and maybe find a relative who can help him.

Lean on Pete is a wonderful and very moving story of a kid on his own crossing Oregon and Wyoming. It’s not an idealized version, it’s a realistic look at someone trying to eat, drink and stay alive while broke and homeless, and with no one to turn to. It’s a bit of a tearjerker but never maudlin, and kept me riveted to the screen all the way through. And Charley Plummer is great in the title role, telling his story aloud as he travels across country.

Valley of Shadows and Lean on Pete are both playing now at TIFF with Sheikh Jackson having its world prenier tonight as the closing film of Special Presentations. And on Sunday you can see the People’s Choice award winner for free at Roy Thomson Hall; tickets are handed out at 4 pm. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

 

 

Greek Myths and Fables. Films Reviewed: Boris sans Béatrice, Chi-Raq, The Lobster

Posted in African-Americans, Canada, Chicago, comedy, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Greece, Movies, Musical, Quebec, Sex, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2016

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

Greek myths are not just kids’ stories; they’re full of sex, violence and magical transformations. This week I’m looking at plays, myths and fables from Ancient Greece interpreted by three great filmmakers. We’ve got two films — set in Chicago and Quebec – based on ancient Greek themes; and a futuristic fable by a modern Greek director.

nZlmp5_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_1_o3_8976749_1456938988Boris sans Béatrice

Wri/Dir: Denis Côté

Boris Malinovsky (James Hyndman) is a self-made man. He owns a factory in Montreal, a beautiful country house, and his wife, Béatrice (Simone-Élise Girard) is an M.P. He’s tall, fit, rich and successful. He’s also self-centred, stubborn and arrogant. He can’t stand incompetence and lets everyone know it. Things are k5gjE6_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_4_o3_8976802_1456938983going well until Beatrice climbs into her bed and succumbs to melancholia. (Sounds like a 19th century novel.) Now she’s catatonic and requires Klara (Isolda Dychauk) a ginger-haired young Russian woman, to take care of her 24/7. Boris loves Beatrice, but what can he do to help her?

GZAX4J_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_5_o3_8976819_1456938986Enter a Deus Ex Machina: a mysterious man (Denis Lavant) dressed in gold brocade, who speaks an especially eloquent French. He arrives in an expensive black car, in a grassy field backlit by floodlights. He tells Boris that Beatrice’s illness is his fault. He must change his ways.

Boris changes his ways all right. He is sleeping with Helga, a work colleague (Dounia Sichov), and even flirts with young MjXKpm_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_2_o3_8976767_1456938963Klara. Beatrice continues to decline, until the Prime Minister (Bruce Labruce) drops by to check up on his member if Parliament; and even his estranged, left-wing daughter – who lives with toga-clad young men – tries to help. Will Boris ever change? Or will he end up like Tantalus, the demigod permanently punished for his hubris? And are his worries real or imaginary?

Boris sans Beatrice is a satirical look at life in a Quebec – a multicultural place where ambitious people can get ahead, but where success is always precarious. The cast, especially Hyndman, Girard and Lavant, are all terrific. I like this movie.

Chi-Raq PosterChi-Raq

Dir: Spike Lee

It’s present day Chicago, a city wracked with gun violence that has killed more people than American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. There’s a real war going on between two gangs, the Trojans and the Spartans. Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) lives with Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) who wears the gang’s colours, while Irene (Jennifer Hudson) hangs with Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) their rivals. Fighting escalates until two things happen. An innocent schoolgirl is gunned down by a stray bullet and Lysistrata’s home is firebombed. Her neighbor, Miss Helen (the amazing Angela Bassett), grudgingly offers shelter and someChi-Raq sage advice. Stop all this killing. The plan is for all the women in both gangs, in fact all the women in Chicago — even the sex workers — to say no more sex until you lose the guns. Or as they say in the movie:

No Peace, No Pussy.

This becomes an all-out protest that grinds the city to a halt, with women occupying a military base. But can they teach the men to put down their guns, take responsibility and do the right thing?

Chi-RaqDoes this story sound familiar? It should. It’s based on 2,400-year-old drama by Aristophenes. And like the original, it’s spoken in rhyme (this time in rap or in song with elaborate dance numbers) And there’s an omniscient, anansi-like narrator (Samuel L Jackson). It’s also a bit antediluvian. Is a woman’s primary role to provide sex for their male partners? Really? This is 2016.  And the film could use an edit – it’s too long. Still, I quite liked Chi-Raq. A first-rate cast, with the spark of Spike Lee’s earlier films, missing for years.

IMG_0214.CR2The Lobster

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

It’s the future. Things are a lot like now except in this world two is good, one is bad. Loners – single people — are sent to an austere sanitorium where they have 45 days to couple up. Couples are given special privileges while singles are punished and humiliated. Anyone caught having “loner sex” must wear a chastity belt. And anyone still single 97e790bc-95e5-46c5-8fe1-2911423c562dafter 45 days is transformed into an animal and let loose in the nearby forest. But the forest is also filled with runaway loner, humans who have escaped.

The movie follows the latest batch of woebegone singles all frantically searching for their perfect mate. It’s speed-dating hell. And they’re all insecure. The women are bossy or shy, the men walk with a limp IMG_3703.CR2or talk with a lisp. And everyone behaves like 12-year-old wallflowers at their first school dance. David (Colin Farrell) is a typical desperate single – he goes so far as to pretend he’s an A-type sadist just to attract a certain woman.

Things go wrong, and later he finds himself in the woods (as a human, not a lobster). He meets another runaway, a nearsighted woman (Rachel Weisz). The laws in the forest, laid down by their leader (Lea Seydoux), are a topsy-turvy version of the IMG_2135.CR2mainstream: only singles allowed with couples are absolutely forbidden. But what happens if you fall in love?

Lobster is a terrific off-beat comedy. I’ve been following Yorgos Lanthimos since meeting him when his second film, Dogtooth played at TIFF. His films are all highly stylized and uncomfortable satires. Characters speak like they’re reciting lines in a school play, and dress in dated and awkward clothes and hair. I loved his Greek movies but wondered if they would work in English. Not to worry. The Lobster is weird and quirky but totally accessible. You don’t need training in avant garde film to appreciate it. I recommend this movie.

Boris sans Beatrice and Chi-Raq open today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Lobster starts next Friday.

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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Saul Pincus and actor Knickoy Robinson about their film Nocturne

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Movies, Romantic Comedy by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Cindy is a shy woman on meds who works at a cubical job at her aunt’s company. Her parents had high hopes for her when she published a kids’ book at age 8, but now she’s fallen on hard times and can barely take care of herself. At work she encounters Armen, a much younger man, with a strange condition. When he falls into a deep sleep he can walk, eat, use the bathroom — perhaps even drive a car. All with no memory of anything he does. Armen may be just the sort of boyfriend Cindy needs. Talk about a dysfunctional cast---Knickoy-RobinsonBackrelationship; he doesn’t even know who she is. And neither of them realizes theres a criminal conspiracy going on all around them. Will they ever meet for real? Or will they forever be separated by a nocturnal divide? Nocturne-Poster-Small-SizeNocturne is the name of an unusual, new Canadian movie showing in Toronto as part of the Canadian Film Fest. It was co-written and directed by Saul Pincus and stars Mary Krohnert as Cindy and Knickoy Robinson as the sleepwalking Armen. I spoke to Saul and Knickoy in Toronto. They talked about Australia,  introversion vs extroversion, film editing, acting, consciousness, souvlaki, sleepwalking, “blindness”, animation, dreaming, Niagara Falls, Toronto, co-writer Mitch Magonet, international appeal… and more! Nocturne premiers at the Canadian Film Fest on Saturday, March 28th at 6 pm.

Strange Sons. Movies Reviewed: The Boxtrolls, The Guest, The Notebook

Posted in 1940s, 3-D, Animation, Coming of Age, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, Drama, Fairytales, Family, Morality, Movies, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on September 26, 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.

This week I’m looking at movies about strange sons. There’s an action-thriller about an American soldier-son replaced by a stranger; an animated film about a son raised by strange creatures; and a wartime drama about twin brothers sent to a strange place.

Boxtrolls Eggs  (Isaac Hempstead Wright) surrounded by Boxtroll friends. Courtesy of eOne Films 64811-1400.0900.fin.001._L.0184_CCThe Box Trolls (in 3D)
Dir: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi

What are boxtrolls? They’re trolls who live in cardboard boxes. Well, they don’t actually live in them; they wear them. And, like box turtles, whenever there’s danger, they retract their heads, arms and legs until they look like an ordinary cardboard box. Trolls have pointy ears and crooked teeth, and, oh yeah – they kill babies and eat them!

Or at least that’s what the people in the faraway town of Cheesebridge believe. Because it’s what the boxtroll exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) tells them. But Archibald – who bears an uncanny resemblance to the child snatcher in Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang – has an ulterior motive. Though poor and uncouth, he longs to wearchildcatcher-300x138 the white hats of the ruling class, an effete coterie of millionaires – led by Lord Portly Rind – who meet in closed chambers to sample exotic cheeses. The boxtroll killer will do or say anything to become a white hat.

Winnie (Elle Fanning) and Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) Courtesy eOne Films 64814-1750.0360.fin.001.L.0106In fact, not only do the boxtrolls not eat babies, but they actually have one hidden away in their underground headquarters, a steam-punk paradise of spinning wheels, gears, pumps and pulleys. The boy, named Eggs (the boxtrolls’ names correspond with the words on their cardboard box) grows up among the boxtrolls, never realizing he’s human. He depends on them, especially the long-headed Fish. But when the trolls begin to disappear, he realizes its time to act. Only Winnie, Lord Portly Rind’s privileged daughter, can help Eggs pass as a normal boy and expose Archibald’s nefarious scheme. Can they save the boxtrolls? Or are their efforts for naught?

Though clearly aimed at small children, I found Boxtrolls totally enjoyable, and was especially impressed by the art and wonderful stop-motion photography.

THE GUESTThe Guest
Dir: Adam Wingard

David, a soldier (Dan Stevens) shows up, uninvited to spend the night at the family home of another member his unit who was killed in combat. While initially surprised and a bit uncomfortable, the Peterson family – Mom, Dad, and kids Anna and Lucas – agree to let him stay. Soon enough he integrates himself into the family, literally taking the dead son’s place, sleeping in his bedroom, sharing meals with the family. When young Luke (Brendan Meyer) gets bullied, David teaches him to stand up for himself. And he goes to parties with older sister Anna (Maika Monroe) and greatly impresses the locals. David has a military bearing but seems somehow quicker, more precise, than the average grunt. Mom and Dad start to notice unusual changes in their lives since David moved in with them. Things are working out well, it’s better for all of them.

But when Anna follows her suspicions and calls veteran affairs, everything changes. There’s a red flag attached to David’s name and events snowball as government agents zoom in on the small town. Is David a good guy or a bad guy? A defender or a terrible danger to the Peterson Family? Why is he there and why does he act the way he does? And who is he, really?

The Guest (which premiered TIFF’s Midnight Madness) is a good, tight action thriller, sprinkled with dark humour and some unexpected plot turns. This includes camp references to classical slasher/horror movies, complete with dry ice. The action takes place in a small town around Halloween. So if you’re looking for a gripping violent story, with unusual characters, told with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility, this one’s a good choice.

The Notebook courtesy Sony Pictures Classics a9b0f912-da11-4387-ac89-ef8ea0fde720The Notebook
Dir: János Szász (Based on the novel Le Grand Cahier by Agota Kristof)

A soldier and his wife live in 1944 Budapest with their twin boys (András and László Gyémánt). Life is beautiful. Then, suddenly, the Germans are moving into Hungary. So they send the twins off to stay with the wife’s estranged mother in a remote farm, to keep them safe. It’s wartime, their dad says, everything’s different. He gives them a big black ledger – the notebook of the title – and they promise to record everything that happens.

Grandmother – fat, gruff, unmannered – is known by the locals as the Witch. She has no friends, and takes care of the farm all by herself. She puts the boys to work – nobody eats for free. The twins – dressed in navy peacoats and clean white shirts — are terrified by the evil witch. They turn to their one book – the The Notebook. László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker, Piroska Molnár as Nagyanya and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 51ca02d5-4dc1-49df-bfcd-96a40b8ee3f2bible – for help, but only to improve their memorization skills.

They decide to make themselves impervious to pain, hunger, and remorse – the only way to survive the war. They refuse food from Grandmother, and take turns punching and hitting each other to see who can endure the most pain.

They start to meet people and learn things. There’s a destitute girl they call harelip (Orsolya Tóth) — who László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker, András Gyémánt as Masik Iker and Gyöngyver Bognar as Anya. Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 44324922-c4cc-4461-9051-b6d529202f57teaches them how to steal. A kindly Jewish shoemaker gives them boots. And the corrupt deacon at the church and his lascivious secretary – she introduces them to the adult world… but they recoil from her black heart. And a gay Nazi officer, fascinated when he sees the twins punching each other. The twins record it all, good and bad.

They witness wartime atrocities and gradually start to kill: first insects, then bigger, working their way up the food chain. Will they become killers, just like the people around them? Or will they retain a sense of Ulrich Thomsen as Tiszt, László Gyémánt as Egyik Iker and András Gyémánt as Masik Iker. Photo by Christian Berger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics b1979b52-735e-44f5-9963-8854e4b69eb5morality?

The Notebook is an amazing, rich, and disturbing coming-of-age story, told through the unnamed twins’ eyes. The boys lend a mythical, novelistic view of life under Nazi occupation. I saw this movie over a year ago at TIFF, but I still remember it, vividly. This is a great movie, don’t miss it.

moebius_01The Guest, Box Trolls, and the Notebook all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also playing is a fourth movie about strange sons: Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius. It’s a bizarre movie with no dialogue about  a crazed mother who chops off her son’s dick and runs away with it! Not for the faint of heart.

And the Palestine International Film Festival opens tomorrow, showing exciting movies like the hit Omar. Go to tpff.ca for 41details.

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

Putting Together, Tearing Apart. Movies Reviewed: Earth to Echo, It’s only Make Believe, Borgman

Posted in Belgium, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, Fairytales, Horror, Movies, Norway, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 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.

Does your life ever feel like a never ending battle between order and chaos? This week I’m looking at three movies that explore this theme. There’s an American sci-fi adventure about kids trying to put the metal pieces of an extraterrestrial back together; a Norwegian drama about an ex-con trying to put her family life back together; and a Flemish movie about a mysterious visitor trying to tear a family apart.

Earth To EchoEarth to Echo
Dir: Dave Green

Three best friends — Munch, Tuck and Alex — go to Junior High together in Nevada. Munch (Reese Hartwig) is a chubby blond kid with with glasses. He’s the kind of boy who has to line up his ketchup packets, just so. He’s OCD. He’s also an electronics whiz. Alex (Teo Halm) is a tough talking foster child whose worst nightmare is being abandoned by his family. And Tuck (TV rapper Astro) is the leader of the group – he’s smart, but ignored by his parents and cooler, Earth To Echoolder brother.

They’re about to tear down their neighbourhood to build a freeway, so it’s the three boys’ last day together.. That’s when they discover something strange – cryptic messages coming through their cellphones that point to a place in the desert. They hop on their bikes and head out on an adventure.

Earth To EchoThis leads them to find a rusty hunk of junk… which turns out to be a living, sentient being of some kind. It’s a palm-sized metallic ET: an owl with awesome magnetic powers. Joined by a smart girl, they name the metal thing Echo and decide to help him find his spaceship to take him back to… well, wherever he came from. But can they EARTH TO ECHOoutsmart all the meddling grown-ups, and scary government agents, who might mess it all up?

Earth to Echo is a fun, kids’ movie, totally enjoyable by adults. It’s all about found footage and jiggly, handheld cellphone cameras. Obviously it harkens back to ET, with its Spielbergian feel, but it’s very much a contemporary story. More Super 8 than ET. No stars, simple dialogue, but very engaging characters, and awesome special effects involving pieces of metal coming together in midair. I liked this one.

1897928_707411882624939_320300712_nIt’s Only Make Believe
Dir: Arild Østin Ommundsen

Frank and Jenny are young lovers who do casual work together in small town Norway. That work involves petty crime, and they dress the part, with matching leather jackets and blonde hair. On their way to a small job, Jenny (Silje Solomonsen) tells him she’s pregnant. He’s elated, gives her a stolen engagement ring, and vows to stay together forever. But the simple job goes wrong and someone is killed. Ten years later, Jenny is out of prison, ready to start a new life. A childhood schoolmate, Gary, who works at a bank, wants to date her. But she has no money, just an old, broken down 14703_504149072951222_172066000_nhome. Fiance Frank is quadriplegic and comatose. Their daughter, Marete, born after Jenny was in prison, has a stepmother of her own. She’s into crazy dancing and horse riding. And, to 1239409_625710790795049_1287033371_nJenny’s dismay, the dark figures from her past – drug dealers and thugs — start to pop up again, trying to drag her back to a life of crime. Can she shrug off the old and start anew?

This movie is hard to categorize. One scene is a happy montage of playing with her 10-year-old daughter, and renovating her house. The next will be sinister encounters with violent criminals. Then more happy montage with pop/folk music… then more violence. Is it a family drama or a crime thriller? I have no idea. But the acting is good, the main star, Solomonsen, is easy to watch, and the story keeps you interested.

Borgman Poster236Borgman
Dir: Alex Van Warmerdam

Richard and Marina (Jeroen Perceval and Hadewych Minis) are a successful couple who live in a mansion surrounded by woods. He’s an arrogant but successful executive,
while Marina is a compassionate but bored and naïve housewife. A Danish nanny named Stine cares for their three perfect children.

But into this world comes Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) a borgman_20000188_st_4_s-highcombination magician, tramp, fantabulist, storyteller and demon. . He has long hair, a beard, and looks like he just stepped out of a Rembrandt painting. He, and his confreres Ludwig and Pascal, live like hobbits in borgman_20000188_st_1_s-highunderground houses connected by twisted tunnels. Rounding out their team are two deadly, female hitmen, and a pair of elegant race dogs.

They gradually work their way into the family and strange things begin to happen. Camiel tells strange old fairytales to the kids, indicting them into his view of the world. People start dying and disappearing. Richard notices an X mark tattooed onto his shoulder. And at night Camiel climbs onto Marina’s sleeping body like a succubus, implanting scary dreams into her thoughts.
Borgman_still_01-1
Borgman is a very strange, dark comedy, a combination fairytale, fantasy, horror movie and family drama. It remind me of French director Leos Carax, but with that distinctively cold northern European deadpan feel. Really weird, cool movie.

Earth to Echo is now playing and Borgman, and It’s Only Make Believe open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. Also opening today is Gerontophilia, from director Bruce La Bruce.

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

Daniel Garber talks with AHARON KESHALES about his new movie BIG BAD WOLVES

Posted in Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Israel, Morality, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Torture, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 17, 2014
7Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
A frail, soft-spoken school teacher is spotted with a bicycle near where a girl has disappeared: he’s arrested and beaten up by police in an abandoned warehouse.
But when the violent police interrogation is posted on youtube, the suspect is freed. The demoted cop (Lior Ashkenazi) decides to teach the suspect a lesson.
But soon enough, both the cop and the suspect find themselves locked up in a basement in a cabin in the woods. A vigilante — the victim’s father — decides to get revenge for what happened to his daughter. To find out the truth he turns to excruciating torture.
The cop, the suspect, the vigilante: Which of these men is the biggest wolf of all?
A new Israeli horror movie looks at the rise in torture and violence Big Bad Wolves 3supposedly being used for good causes. The film is Big Bad Wolves — Quentin Tarantino calls it his favourite film of 2013.  It follows Israeli co-directors Aharon Keshales and  Navot Papushado’s previous horror film RABIES.

Big Bad Wolves is opening today in Toronto and across Canada. I speak with the film’s co-director AHARON KESHALES (by telephone) about comedy, revenge, torture, fear,  the military, police corruption, fairytales… and more.

It’s a Monster Mash (-up)! Movies Reviewed: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cockneys vs Zombies, Warm Bodies

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.

philebrityMonster movies used to have one monster, like the mummy, the vampire (Dracula), Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, the wicked witch. Always just one. The, the, the. But somewhere along the way monsters have become a quantity, a generic substance, a tradable commodity, like pork-belly futures. There’s never just one, there are always lots and lots of them. And because it’s a commodity, they can be traded and mashed together with other genres in an endless search for that one hit movie. As big a hit as that vampire teen romance, which shall remain nameless.

So this week I’m looking at three such attempts: a fairytale revenge action thriller, a zom-com, and a zom-rom-com-dram.

560.6hans.gret.ls.1413Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Dir: (Tommy Wirkola)

The name says it all. Hansel and Gretel are the kids in that fairytale who are lured through a rainbow-coloured, anus-shaped doorway and into a gingerbread house by a wicked witch who wants to eat them… but they escape. They’re grown up now, and live somewhere in medieval Germany. People have dirty faces, live in wooden huts and ride horses and accuse pretty girls of witchcraft. But it’s Fairytale-land, so hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-gemma-arterton-600x399they also have things like record-players, double-barreled shotguns, and tasers.

So now the brother and sister team (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton) want revenge on all witches, because one killed their mother. So they brutally shoot, maim and bludgeon these old ladies with sticks as they hang upside-down from trees. They may be old women, but they have scaly skin and they’re wicked and canniballistic and talk like monsters and deserve to die, you see… So, with the help of some good allies (including Thomas Mann as Ben, a hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-600x398teenaged fan of the Witch Hunters’ exploits, and a sympathetic troll) they all set out to stop a witches’ Cabal. If they don’t stop them before the next full moon, witches will become indestructible and take over the world. But will Hansel and Gretel also uncover some hidden secrets from their own past?

Hansel and Gretel is a gun-toting, shoot-em-up action-thriller with a fairytale theme and a mittel-europa feel. I think it’s too “gunny” for kids – there’s even a scene where they bless their bullets, bringing God and guns together again. And it’s a bit too retro in its outlook, with women as victims who ultimately need to be rescued by men. But, most of all, it’s really just a fast-moving, violent revenge pic.

Cockneys-vs-ZombiesCockneys vs Zombies

Dir: Matthias Hoene

A big developer wants to put up a huge complex in the East End of London, right on top of an old-age home. So dodgy brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Tasmus Hardiker) along with their eastender cuz Katy (Michelle Ryan) decide to derail the project by stealing the builder’s cash in a bank hold up. You see, their irascible Cockney Wanker granddad (Alan Ford) raised the two boys, and he lives in that very cockney-wankersame soon-to-be-demolished seniors home. He’s a genuine Cockney, this one is – you can tell because he likes nothing better than gathering around a piano with his mates in pearly vests to sing a lusty round of Knees Up Mother Brown. But little do any of them know that the builders have accidentally opened a vault, letting loose an epidemic of slow-moving zombies, groaning and dragging all over the east end. Will the two groups ever meet up again? Will their working class moxie outwit the undead?

cockneys vs zombiesOK, this Zom Com is pure cheese. Dying scenes are dragged out to include every last mugging for the camera, the dialogue sucks, and the special effects consist of red rubber drippy thingies stuck to people’s arms to represent the blood and gore. And then there’s the bargain-basement zombies in every scene… and they all made the credits at the end. I think they corralled a few Zombie Walks and put them to work one afternoon for free. The pace was pretty slow, including the world’s slowest chase scene with old Hamish (the late Richard Briers, in one of his last roles) in a walker sloooowly keeping ahead of all the lethargic zombos.

Nice try, but this ain’t no Attack The Block. Still, I liked it for what it was, a cheap, campy zombie comedy. It’s stupid-funny. And as a bonus, you get Honor Blackman (the original James Bond Pussy Galore as well as an Avenger) as a gun-toting oldster, fighting zombies beside foul mouthed Granddad. All the acting was quite good, especially a whack psycho with a metal plate in his head from the Iraq War. So if you like cockneys and you like zombies well, there you go. Cockneys. Zombies. Together in one movie.

Warm BodiesWARM BODIES

Dir: Jonathan Levine

It’s a post-apocalyptic world in an uneasy truce between two sides divided by a wall. The zombies (called corpses) are on the outside, the living beings on the inside. But when some humans venture out to fight the zombies, a young woman, Julie (Teresa Palmer) is rescued and taken home by one of the zombies, “R” (UK actor Nicholas Hoult, Tony on Skins).

The story is told from the point of view of a young guy, R. He collects music, lives in an abandoned airplane, and likes hanging with his pal M (Rob Corddry) He just happens to eat brains. So inside his head it’s all, does she like me? Oh awkward moment… Jesus these clothes make me look awful. But on the outside, he’s just Rrrrrr…

But when he eats Julie’s boyfriend’s brains he takes over his memories of Julie – he becomes almost human.WARM BODIES Gradually, the crush he has on Julie begins to warm the cockles of his heart, and, on her part, she realizes that zombies are just like you and me, only dead. And that the real enemies are not the corpses, but the boneys, the ones who have turned into walking skeletons. But will her militaristic Dad (John Malkovich) ever accept a corpse within his family home? He only wants Capulets, not Corpsulets. (I apologize to Wm Shakespeare.) Can their love overcome the cultural divide? Or will it end in tragedy?

I liked this movie. Fun story, good script, lots of new stuff to keep you interested. Hoult  — and Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend — are both great; Teresa Palmer less so.

Warm Bodies is a very cute, Shakespearean Zom-rom-com-dram with lots of visual references thrown in – otto or up with dead peopleeverything from Bruce LaBruce’s Otto, to Edward Scissorshands. This would make a good pre-Valentine’s-Day horror date movie.

Hansel and Gretel is now playing, Warm Bodies opens today in Toronto, and Cockney’s vs Zombies is showing as part of the Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival, big screen classics — including the usual films by Kubrick and Spielberg, plus the seldom seen An American Werewolf in London — for six bucks!. Check your local listings for details.

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

September 14, 2012. “This is a BIG festival…” Movies reviewed: Spring Breakers, Kon-Tiki, Blancanieves

Posted in 1920s, Adventure, Cultural Mining, drugs, Fairytales, Movies, Norway, Polynesia, Spain, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 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.

Spring Breakers photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is monumental, vast and confusing. Three critics I spoke to this week – onefrom NY, one from L.A. and one from Australia – all said Toronto isn’t like the other film festivals they go to – it’s a “really big one”. And all the huge-ness that goes with it.

Let me give you an example: a weird thing that happened to me. Picture a floor-to-ceiling, black-velvet curtain. At TIFF they have a photo-op area right beside the press conference area, but they’re separated by that black curtain. I was on the press side, so I could hear everything happening but not see it. Basically, when the celebs show up there’s a frenzy of rabid shouting photographers snapping pics like crazy and shouting out their names. So you can see a non-stop barrage of flashes on the ceiling above the curtain and hear what sounds like vicious digs tearing a famous actor apart and then eating him alive. Very weird. Then, one minute later, they cross to the press side, and quietly sit down at the table on the stage.

The press conference where I witnessed this was for Harmony Korine’s new movie called Spring Breakers as in SPRING BREAK FOREVAH… Bitches! (the movie’s catchphrase)

It’s an impressionistic look at a fantasy version of the annual florida bacchanalia where college students get drink, have sex, and gather in huge numbers. It’s full of the glowing neon and pastels, jiggling bodies, vespa scooters, red camaros and white baby grands. Into this fiesta are three blond university students — Candy, Cotty and Brittney (Ashley Benson, Vannessa Hudgons, Rachel Korine) who want to go wild, and their God-fearing friend Faith (Selena Gomez) who tries to stay the path to the straight and narrow. Then Candy and Brit rob a chicken shack to pay for their trip, and soon the four of them fall under the sway of Alien (James Franco) a white stoner gangsta rapper living the life of riley with his club-kid, identical twin sidekicks in his drug fueled beach-side mansion. The three bad girls take to him like honey, don matching pink balaclavas and wave their heavy-duty machine guns in the air in Pussy-Riotous triumph.

The movie is less about story than impression, with lots of improvised lines, repetition, and a constant background beat. It’s mainly about bodies in the sun and guns at night… a satirical, fantastical college collage. I love this like I love all of Harmony Korine’s movies. This is his most accessible one and feels like lying in the sand while reading a glossy fashion magazine with a great ipod mix in your ears. Spring Break…!

Anyway, there are hundreds of movies at TIFF this year, but I thought I’d tell you about a few that really struck my fancy, for very different reasons. One’s about a boat trip to the South Pacific, another about  fighting bulls in Seville.

Kon-Tiki

Dir: Joachim Rønning

It’s after WWII and Thor Heyerdahl wants to test his theories about Polynesia where he had lived for a decade with his wife, Liv. The polynesians say their ancesters followed the winds and the tides from the east (South America), not from the West (Asia). So he vows to make the crossing in the same way to prove it was possible. Without funding or academic backing, he gathers together four more men — an anthropologist with a movie camera, an engineer who was a fridge salesman, a sexton operator who knows his directions, and a morse code radio operator — and they all set off from Peru.

The movie follows the adventurers across an ocean, their encounters with glowing creatures, dangerous sharks, and whales, all beneath their balsa-wood raft and moved by Tiki himself, the god’s image painted on the canvas sail. They set out in suits and ties, but gradually pare down to saggy long underwear. These five sun-burned and blonde-bearded buddies are always growling on the verge of a fight, but without a hint of macho. It’s up to Thor to keep the faith, follow the sun god’s path and be true to Tiki. Will they all survive and can they make it all the way?

This is a really fantastic family movie, thrilling, funny, scary and exciting. It’s by the director of Max Manus, another Boy’s Own style adventure about WWII resistance fighters. Joachim Rønning is the Norwegian Spielberg and gets all the cliff-hangers, shocks, and special effects dead-on. There must be some CGIs involved but it really felt like you were out in the Pacific ocean with them battling the elements. I loved this movie, too.

Blancanieves

Dir: Pablo Berger

It’s Seville in the 1920’s, a city of long narrow alleys and whitewashed houses, black-laced flamenco dancers and massive crowds at the bullfights. But when the great Matador Antonio is felled by a satanic bull just as his wife Carmen is giving birth to their child, Carmencita, the baby, loses her parents. A sinister nurse Encana connives to take over the matador’s wealth, power and riches. When young Carmen finally moves in with her pet chicken Pepe, she is made into a Cinderella and only sees her father on the sly. He teaches her how to be a matadora from his wheelchair, careful to avoid the wrath of the evil stepmother. Will she escape from her evil clutches? Later, she is found in the woods by a handsome dwarf who takes her in with his travelling circus troupe. She has amnesia and can only remember how to raise the cape and to keep her eye on a bull. So they rename her Blancanieves — Snow White. Will she ever remember her past? Will she become a Matadora in the ring? What about Encana? Who will triumph – the innocent Snow White or the closet dominatrix? And who will be her handsome prince?

This is an unbelievably beautiful retelling of the Snow White story in glorious black and white. It’s done in the old style of a silent movie, with lush music and occasional cards to show dialogue. Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan’s Labarynth) is fantastic as always, this time with a pale face,  black hair, dark lips, and the high collar of the Walt Disney Queen. Newcomer Macarena Garcia is just as beautiful and steals the screen. Even though I knew (more or less) what would happen in this dark retelling of a well-known fairytale in a 1920’s Seville, it didn’t matter; it left me feeling shocked, thrilled and passionately moved. It’s a magnificent-looking film.

All of these films are playing at TIFF. Log on to tiff.net at 7 am to get new tickets on sale for the day.

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

How Women see the World. Films reviewed: Beeswax, Littlerock, Hanna, Born to be Wild PLUS Rivers and my Father, Images Festival, Sprockets Festival

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s still true. The Hollywood star system has made a huge shift over the past few decades across the gender line. The biggest stars are now male, not female; most movies are about men, not women, and most stories are told from a man’s point of view. Even in movies with a female star, all the other main characters are often male. Most, but not all… there’s actually a bumper crop of movies opening today that buck this trend.

So, this week, I’m looking at four very different new movies, two realistic dramas, an action thriller, and a kids documentary, all told from the point of view of women, and, interestingly, all touching on family relationships. (All of these films were directed by men.)

Two of them, Beeswax and Littlerock, are part of a new trend in indie filmmaking (sometimes called New Realism or Mumblecore), using non-actors — often using their own names — ordinary situations, improvisational scenes, locations not studios, no special effects, and without the usual obvious plotlines and clichés. (Last year, I enjoyed Modra, and No Heart Feelings, two Toronto movies that fit into this category.) It’s always fun watching new types of movies, but some work better than others.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

Jeannie and Lauren (Tillie and Maggie Hatcher) are adult twin sisters who live together. Jeannie owns a vintage store in an American college town. She gets around in a car or using her wheelchair. She’s having problems with her business partner who’s always flying off overseas, while Jeannie’s always working at the store. She’s faced with the question of what to do with her business and whether her partner is suing her. Meanwhile, her sister Lauren is also deciding whether or not to take a big step in her life. And Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), a law student writing his bar exams, is Jeannie’s on again off again bed-partner, and her potential lawyer, if he passes the bar.

The movie starts and ends very suddenly, as if we’re allowed to spend a few days with these characters — as if it were a documentary — and then they’re gone again. The story itself is about normal everyday events: people living their lives, having sex, going to work, talking with friends and family members. The parts are played by non-actors, who are appealing, and pretty funny, but still just regular people.

I like the fact that it has one main character with a physical disability, without making it the main story, and dealt with in a very matter-of-fact way — not ignoring the very real accommodations she has to be aware of to live her life, but without making it the central point, morphing into some weeper where she stands up out of her wheelchair in triumph saying “I can walk again!” It’s sort of like casting a black Hamlet or a male Ophelia. This movie also deals with same-sex-couples in the same unremarkable way.

It’s not a big and exciting movie, but has a comfortable, familial feel about it, along with the underlying competitiveness and rivalry among family members. Beeswax (as in mind your own?) is a realistic look at a few days of the secrets and tensions in two sisters’ lives.

Littlerock

Dir: Mike Ott

Atsuko (Atsuko Okatsuka), and her brother Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) are visiting from Japan. They’re driving from Los Angeles to the San Francisco area (to visit a place related to their past) when their rented car breaks down in Littlerock, a small town in LA county. They’re forced to stay in a motel until they send them a new one. But when they go to the room next door, to complain about a loud drunken party, they end up meeting some locals and hanging out.

Atsuko likes Cory (Cory Zacharia) – who wants to be an actor/model, but owes too much money to his father and his drug dealer – but they don’t speak the same language. They pretend to understand what each other are saying, but once Rintaro takes off, they are left without a translator. Atsuko meets some other people, and jealousy and duplicity ensues.

The problem with the movie is that most of the characters seem bland or uninteresting. It’s realistic, but maybe too realistic. Atsuko and Cory never figure how to communicate – but most of the things they want the other to hear are just standard chatter anyway – aside from a very touching scene toward the end of the movie. It really needed more interesting dialogue to go with the nice scenes of a pensive young Japanese woman coming of age in smalltown USA.

Hanna

Dir: Joe Wright

Hanna (Saoirise Ronan) is brought up by her dad, Erik (Eric Bana) — a spy and assassin who’s gone rogue — in an all-natural setting somewhere in the far north. She learns everything from a stack of old encyclopedias, dictionaries, and grimm’s fairytales. He teaches her how to shoot a deer with a bow and arrow from far away, skin it and cook it. “Always be alert” he tells her. She has to be ready to fend off any attacker — even when she’s asleep. But when she can beat her father at a fight, she realizes it’s time to “come in from the cold” to use the old spy term. She’s ready to face her father’s old foe and handler: the icy, prada-clad CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett).

From there, the movie races on, with the three competing killers – Erik, Hanna, and Marrissa — trying to out-do, capture or kill one another. It’s purposely kept unclear who is the hunter and who is the prey, who is running and who is chasing as power dynamics shift. Marissa and her henchmen – an effeminate German man in white tracksuit and his two skinhead fighters – pursue the 14 year old through various unexpected exotic settings. Hanna just wants to make a friend, find her father again, revisit the brothers Grimm, and listen to music for the very first time. She falls in with a family of British hippies who are driving their van around on a camping trip, and begins to understand the complex rules of social interaction.

The plot is extremely simple, a more-or-less non-stop series of chases and fights – but it’s visually sumptuous movie, with a terrific driving soundtrack, constantly surprising cultural references, stunning scenery, great comic relief, and amazing camera work. There are scenes where the camera spins around and around in a full 360, and others where it flips or rolls or turns upside down. Cate Blanchett is great as the super-villainess, Erik Bana good as a troubled spy, and Saoirise Ronan really great as Hanna, a new type of super hero.

Born to Be Wild

Dir: David Lickley

Wild animals? Aww… Cute, baby wild animals? Cute little baby wild animal… orphans? Awwwww….

How about cute little orphaned baby elephants in Kenya, and baby orangutans living in the rain forests of Borneo… in IMAX 3D???

Yeah, this is one really cute G-rated movie, the kind that makes you

say to hell with my carbon footprint — I wanna hop on a jet-fuel guzzling airplane and fly off to the jungles of Borneo to commune with the Orangutans who look a lot like Homer Simpson…

Actually, the movies about how the rainforests that make up the wild habitat of many the great apes are rapidly disappearing. And in Africa, there are still poachers killing elephants for their ivory tusks. And when the young are left without their mothers they have no one to feed them. These are the orphans – meaning motherless orangutans and elephants — that the movie is about. Narrator Morgan Freeman shows two women — Birute in Indonesia and Daphne in Kenya — who adopt and raise these animal orphans until they’re old enough to gradually be set free again. The extremely short movie (it’s 40 min long) also has some of the best live 3-D footage I’ve seen since Avatar. An enjoyable film (though maybe a bit cloying for adults) it’s perfect for kids who want to see wild animals up close.

Canadian director and artist Luo Li’s newest film premiered at the Images Festival, North America’s largest experimental art and moving images festival, that combines gallery exhibitions with screenings at movie theatres.

Rivers and My Father

Dir: Luo Li

In this movie, he takes his father’s collected memoirs of old China, and sews them together in a black and white patchwork quilt of repeated disjointed scenes, narrations, titles and subtitles, centering around people in and around water. His own relatives play some of the parts (but not all).

So you see a man in a bathing cap bobbing up and down in a river; kids playing in the woods; a formally dressed woman leading a child up an outdoor staircase; a boy on a boat; and some older people talking to each other about their childhood memories, and about shooting this movie.

I was a bit put off by his use of obvious anachronisms that don’t match the year given in a scene’s title; and the frequent repetition of certain odd scenes, but I love his images of a wet road scene looking down in a moving bicycle in the rain; of the slow, grey waters of the Yangtse river; of a distant shore across water.

It’s funny — I’m dismissing various “errors” in the movie as artistic license, but grumbling to myself just the same… when the last third of the movie begins: his own father’s critique (represented by moving, plain and bold chinese fonts on the screen, over english subtitles) of the film I’m watching, as I watch it, and the filmmaker’s response! That was the most surprising and interesting section of this movie.

Beeswax and Littlerock are at the Royal, Born to be Wild at AMC in IMAX 3-D, and Hanna in wide release, all opening today, April 8, 2011. Check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Images Festival, which is playing right now, both on-screen in theatres and off-screen in art galleries. Look online at imagesfestival.com . And Sprockets, the festival of movies for kids and young adults opens this weekend: www.tiff.ca/sprockets

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

War and Filmic Vocabulary. Movies Reviewed: The Christening, Essential Killing. PLUS Cold Fish, Images Festival

It’s funny how current events can change our whole filmic vocabulary, adding new concepts and words to make images that would have made no sense a decade ago instantly recognizable on today’s movie screens.

Most people immediately think of technology — ipods, digital pics, texting, on-line dates — as the biggest recognizable changes. But,  unfortunately, some of the biggest stretches of our visual vocabulary is in images of war, violence and death.

During one of the darkest periods in American history, that started less than a decade ago following 9/11 (and doesn’t seem to have finished), the Bush/Cheney administration started a “war on terror”. Countries were invaded, bombs dropped, and a huge number of suspects were arrested, jailed, tortured or killed. In general, these horrific events were kept away from American soil, but done by Americans under direct orders from the government. They also introduced new words and concepts into our vocabulary, that previously might only have been used in horror novels.

Clandestine prison camps, known as “Black Sites”, were set up across Europe and the Middle East. Undocumented suspects, who were sent there to be tortured or interrogated, were called “Ghost Detainees”. One of the torture techniques, in which detainees were made to repeatedly suffer the sensation of death by drowning, is now widely known as “Water Boarding”. And the black hoods put over prisoners (used in Abu Ghraib) are also instantly recognizable.

Canada has also morphed into a nation at war, without consciously deciding to make the change from peacekeeper to bomber. We’re fighting on two fronts now. So today I’m looking at some new movies from Poland (a country that has certainly seen more than its fair share of wars) that examine how war and violence has infiltrated daily lives.

The Christening
Dir: Marcin Wrona

The movie opens with a soldier, face covered, being chased down by cops who beat him up, and arrest him for unknown reasons. Then flash forward – Janek (Tomasz Schuchardt) is visiting his army buddy and best fishing friend, Michal (Wojciech Zielinski). They’re together again to guzzle vodka and do Maori war chants. When they go fishing, they use their old military experience – throwing grenades into a lake — to blow up as many fish as they can. Nice guys!

Everything seems great for Michal: he has a good job, a beautiful wife, Magda (Natalia Rybicka) – he says they met in a hospital when she stitched up a cut on his brow — and a little baby. He’s gone straight: he even offers to help his friend out. But Janek, he’s happy just getting drunk, carousing with his buddies. He doesn’t want an office job – he makes good cash stealing cars and stripping them down for parts.

But there’s a problem — Michal seems to be hiding something. Someone’s putting pressure on him, and he’s showing up with a black eye, or beaten-up body. Janek doesn’t understand what’s happening — if there’s a problem he should tell him – he’ll just beat the guy up. Janek still likes a good brawl. Meanwhile, Magda is sure everything is Janek’s fault. He’s dragging her husband into the gutter. Maybe Michal owed something to his army buddies, but she doesn’t owe Janek anything. But her husband’s dark secret – one of betrayal and duplicity – makes Michal feel both guilty and trapped.

So he sets up a scheme to exit from his problems after the baby’s christening. He thinks he’s doomed there, but maybe his best friend can replace him in his home.

Will Janek stick by him? Who’s the criminal here? The cops or the thugs? Where does a person’s loyalty really lie? And how far will you let it go?

The Christening is an extremely – I’d say excessively — violent movie. I get the feeling the director was influenced by directors like Quentin Tarantino, but in all the wrong ways. Characters, like the gangsters’ boss, Fatman, who behaves like a sadistic killer, seem to be there just for titillation. So lots of horrible, gory, senseless, over-the-top fighting, but almost no humour (only melodrama) to lighten the mood.

Essential Killing
Dir: Jerzy Skolimowski

Mohamed (Vincent Gallo), a militant hiding out in the smooth caves of a lunar landscape (Afghanistan?), is startled to hear two American marines approaching in desert storm camouflage and beige burnooses. He pulls out his weapon and Boom! Ratatatatat! He ambushes the soldiers. Mohamed runs out into the sun to escape, but is taken down by helicopters and more special ops soldiers.

So now he’s taken away to some unidentified place (a black site) where he’s placed on his back, screamed at in English (he can’t hear after the explosions) and then waterboarded. Next, he’s off with other prisoners on some snowy forest road – looks like Canada – and there’s an accident. He gets out of the truck, grabs a gun and starts a long, painful, and violent trek trough the woods of rural Poland, pursued by US Special Ops and helicopters.

It becomes almost like a fairy tale or a picaresque novel, but with a violent streak running through it. He encounters a stream of characters — like a huge-breasted woman on a bike with a baby, a friendly black and white dog, some drunken wood cutters,  a deaf-mute woman who lives in a cottage in the forest who tends to his wounds, and a pale white, broken horse — as he tries to escape, survive, and get away. He climbs snow covered banks, slides off cliffs into rivers, hallucinates after eating poison berries, and conceals himself using the changing costumes he finds or steals on his journey.

Essential Killing was directed by Skolimowski, who was one of the dialogue writers on Polanski’s Knife in the Water, but this movie has almost lines at all. It’s not silent, but with both Mohammed and the US soldiers far from their own homes, they can’t understand each other. The locals around the Dark Site talk a bit but about nothing in particular. This is an aesthetically beautiful, though bloody, art movie – one of very few “action/art” films. I’m not a big fan of Vincent Gallo, but he is fantastic in this as a silent pilgrim, alternately Christ-like and psychotic.

This is an unexpectedly amazing movie — just be aware it’s not a conventional, Hollywood-style film.

And, just in case this isn’t enough violence for one weekend, the Japanese horror film Cold Fish also opens today. You can read my whole review but just let me say, it is the most hellaciously bloody, gory, horrifyingly abusrdist exploitation movie I’ve ever seen. And it left me physically shaking by the time I walked out of the theatre, after its orgyistic tsunami of sex, blood, serial killing and cannibalistic outrages that In a few days transform the life of a mild-mannered tropical fish salesman, to a victim and potential participant in this ultimate sex blood flic.

The Christening played last year’s TIFF, Essential Killing and Cold Fish are opening today, April 1, 2011 in Toronto. Check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Images Festival, which is on right now. Toronto’s Images Festival — an exhibition of film and art, experimental and independent — is the largest one in North America to feature moving images and media art both on the big screen and in gallery installations.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM and CulturalMining.com.

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