Daniel Garber talks with director Jamie Kastner about A Skyjacker’s Tale

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, African-Americans, Crime, Cuba, documentary, FBI, Interview, Politics, Torture, Trial, US by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-taleHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the 1980s. Ishmael Ali is on a commercial flight to the US. Virgin Islands. But not to lie on the beaches of St Croix. He’s being transferred to another maximum security prison. He’s serving time for the Fountain Valley Massacre – the infamous killing at a golf course owned by the theskyjackerstale_01Rockefellers… a crime, he says, he did not commit. And on this flight he manages to hijack the plane to Cuba. But there’s much, much more to this skyjacker’s tale.

A Skyjacker’s Tale is a new feature documentary that interviews the skyjacker himself in Cuba. It tells his story, and that of all the jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-talepeople he affected: at the skyjacking, and at the trial. These interviews shed new light on a controversial case – with a dramatic finish — that left the public polarized. A Skyjackers Tale is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamie Kastner, who brought us films like Kike Like Me, and The Secret Disco Revolution. (Here’s the interview from 2012).

A Skyjacker’s Tale opens today at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

I spoke to Jamie in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM..

 

Revolution vs Devolution. Movies Reviewed: Zoolander 2, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 2000s, African-Americans, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Fashion, FBI, Movies, Politics, Protest, Resistance, Rome by CulturalMining.com on February 12, 2016

fonds1244item71womenhatsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

February is Toronto’s Black History Month, because Canada has a history all its own, both good and bad. There’s the black Empire Loyalists and the Underground Railroad. But there was also slavery in Canada, and the demolition of Africville in Halifax, and the rioting at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. So this weekend is a good time to catch up on some of this history at the Black Film Festival in Toronto.

This week, I’m looking at a documentary about 50 years of revolution by an African American party, and a comedy about 15 years of devolution by male models at parties.

1451590015Zoolander 2

Dir: Ben Stiller

Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a vapid former supermodel who lives in a log cabin in the Alps of northern New Jersey. His wife is dead and his son, Derek Jr, has been taken away by social services. Zoolander has been a hermit (or “hermit crab” as he says) since 2001. His former best friend and supermodel Hansel (Owen Wilson) lives in a tent in the middle of a vast desert near Palm Springs. He has non-stop orgies – involving sumo wrestlers, babushkas and goats — relieved only by intermittent yoga sessions. The two men hate each other’s guts. But they find themselves together 12694567_1126067307412867_853856684406049756_oagain in Rome relaunching their respective careers.

Together with former swimsuit model Valentina (Penelope Cruz), now part of Interpol’s fashion police, they join forces to fight an evil cabal of supervillains who have infiltrated the fashion industry. Why? Because the bad guys, including Mugatu (Will Farrell), want to get their hands on the fountain of youth guarded by the Chosen One. He is a direct 12742598_1126574614028803_3503656508624870388_ndescendent of an unbroken line of vapid male supermodels dating back to the Garden of Eden. (Apparently there was an Adam and Steve). But who is the Chosen One and how can they save him?

I like comedies, they just have to be funny. This one’s not. it has a few very hilarious moments, but a stand-up comic with only one laugh for every 20 jokes would be booed off the stage. It’s also weirdly outdated. I can accept that Zoolander and Hansel have hidden away for 15 years, but why is the rest of the movie in a time warp, too? It’s filled with Calvin Klein perfume ads from the 1990s, titans of the fashion avant garde like Tommy Hilfiger,  “hipsters” wearing dreadlocks,  and Al Qaeda as the most dangerous terrorists. Even the plot is a take-off of a Dan Brown novel. Everything in the movie just seems so old. There’s no satire, and very little humour. The funniest moments come from the tickle of recognition that accompanies the countless celebrities — Bieber, Kardashian, Sarandon, Sutherland — who make cameo appearances. But it’s not enough to rescue this dud.

20150804_152141_8000991-women-drilling-with-panther-flags-photo-courtesy-of-pirkle-jones.jpg.1280x720_q85The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Dir: Stanley Nelson

It’s 1966. The US is fighting in Vietnam and anti-war protests are springing up around the world. The civil rights movement is in full swing in the southern states. But in northern cities, in places like Oakland California, the police are still arresting, frisking and beating black men with impunity. So two young leaders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, found a black nationalist movement there to counter police brutality and 20150804_152141_8233072-charles-bursey-hands-plate-of-food-to-a-child-seated-at-free-bre.jpg.1280x720_q85racial oppression and to express black pride and solidarity. And if attacked by the police, they vowed to fight back by any means necessary (in the words of Malcolm X). They named it the Black Panther Party. Members cut a mean profile: natural hairstyles, shades, black leather jackets, and military-style black berets. And, most shocking of all, they carried long guns — in the name of the Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms — 20150804_152141_8093234-panthers-on-parade-at-free-huey-rally-in-defermery-park-oakland-.jpg.1280x720_q85with leather straps of bullets across their chests. They were later joined by Eldridge Cleaver whose book Soul on Ice, written in prison, captured the nation’s mood.

Lyndon B Johnson, the president, and FBI chief J Edgar Hoover were shocked. They considered a black nationalist movement the biggest danger of them all — bigger than communism. They swung into action using the notorious COINTELPRO — counter-intelligence program — to infiltrate and spy on the group. They sent letters and ohone calls to women saying their husbands were cheating on them. The police were called into action to break up meetings and arrest its 20150804_152143_3153609-eldridge-cleaver-berkeley-photo-courtesy-of-jeffrey-blankfort.jpg.1280x720_q85members. Dozens were arrested on trumped-up charges, and many killed in raids across the country. Some are still in prison to this day. At an infamous Chicago trial, the judge actually had Bobby Seale chained to a chair, bound and gagged, in the courtroom, making him the perfect symbol of state oppression. Eldridge Cleaver fled to Algeria. Later many of the top members changed their beliefs, leaving the party divided among warring factions.

This is a fascinating history of the movement, with tons of still photos, archival footage, and new interviews with members that tell you lots you’ve probably never heard of. Did you know they started a successful school breakfast program? And published a newspaper that was their main source of income? Their standard image is of armed black men, but the majority of rank-and20150804_152141_8192973-black-panthers-from-sacramento-free-huey-rally-bobby-hutton-memo.jpg.1280x720_q85-file members were actually women, fighting for women’s rights within the party. The film doesn’t go deeply into the more controversial aspects of The Black Panthers. Some thought it undermined the non-violent civil rights movement. Or that it was big on image, weak on politics. But whatever your point of view, the Panthers made a huge mark on American history beginning 50 years ago, and this film explains it all.

Zoolander 2 opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is playing on Saturday at 11:00 AM at the Carlton Cinema as part of Toronto’s Black Film Festival. Go to torontoblackfilm.com for more info. And the Next Wave Film Festival is on all weekend long for 14-18 year-olds who love movies. Check out tiff.net for details — especially its great closing film Sing Street.

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

Big Ticket TIFF. Movies reviewed: Sicario, The Martian

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, FBI, Mars, Movies, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2015

6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3fHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Fall festival season is gearing up right now. Toronto’s Russian Film Festival is featuring actor Alexey Serebryakov, who starred in last year’s stunning Leviathan. Now’s your chance to see him on the big screen and in person. ImagineNATIVE, the international The_Last_Saint1indigenous film and media arts festival is showing award-winning, Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk’s newest movie Angirattut (Coming Home). estdocs_logoEstDocs – the Estonian film festival — has amazing animation, documentaries and short films from that tiny Baltic nation. Next comes Planet in Focus looking at environmental films. And pif31Toronto After Dark brings horror, action and science fiction logomovies to get you ready for Halloween. This week I’m looking at films that played at TIFF that are opening today across the country. Ones about a female cop pushed into the war in drugs; the other’s about a male astronaut who wants to be pulled out of his life on Mars.

SICARIO Day 16Sicario
Dir: Denis Villeneuve

Kate (Emily Blunt) is an FBI agent investigating a kidnapping near the Mexican border. She shoots the bad guys, but uncovers a grisly scene: countless murder- victims’ bodies packed into the walls of a drug-smuggler’s house in the desert. Shocking and revolting. So she agrees to join Matt (Josh Brolin) and his special team of agents (not part of the FBI) in order to bring down the Mexican kingpin responsible for all these deaths.

They fly her out to El Paso Texas where she meets the rest of the team, including a mysterious man named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). Soon she’s being ferried across the border into Juarez, playing a small part in a big confusing raid. She used to save kidnap victims, now she’s helping kidnap people (albeit accusedS_D037_09788.NEF criminals)? What’s going on?

She tries to piece it all together. What’s her role in this exactly? Is this above board or is she being pulled into a nasty scheme run by crooked cops? Why are they doing this and who’s really in charge. She stays with the group, but finds herself involved in or witnessing a world of robbery, murder, drug smuggling, and undocumented migrants. Is she stopping it or part of it?

S_D045_11529.NEFWhat’s going on is a total shift in the movie’s point of view. It’s not about Kate at all, it’s actually about Alejandro, his role and his goals. Huh? What? Wait a minute…

Sicario is a beautifully shot, suspense drama set in the world of organized crime around Juarez. It’s also a total mess. It starts like a horror/ police investigation, but turns into something completely different. It’s hard to follow, hard to understand, and really boring in parts. There are exciting chase scenes, but there are also driving scenes: long sequences just about people driving along highways. (Zzzzz….). Characters are introduced with long build-ups… and then prove to be unimportant. Even Kate, the ostensible star of the movie, seems peripheral to most of the plot. And Mexicans seem to be there just to die. Denis Villeneuve is usually an excellent director (Incendie, Polytechnique) and the movie does make sense in the end (no spoilers), but even so, at two hours, Sicario is just not very interesting.

THE MARTIANThe Martian
Dir: Ridley Scott

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is an astronaut collecting soil samples on Mars, the windy and dusty red planet. He’s a botanist, part of a NASA team. When a storm hits the planet, the crew all rush for shelter in the space ship. But Mark gets struck down by a satellite dish and presumed dead. The rest of the team, headed by Mellissa (Jessica Chastain), fly off on their long trip back to earth. But wait… he’s not dead, just hurt. He patches himself up and takes stock of his situation, recording it all on a video log. Limited oxygen, water, and food, and no way to communicate with earth, and no way to get off the planet, with the next space ship coming four years down the road. And only 70s disco music to keep him company. So he makes do with what he has: rusty soil, a shovel, some potatoes and his own excrement. Can he grow enough to feed himself?

12010715_902892753131439_6023652552739710341_oMeanwhile back on earth, a woman at NASA spots movement on Mars. How can that be? It’s him – he’s alive! The various players spring into action. Teddy (Jeff Daniels) the stuffed-shirt head of NASA, is more concerned about budgets and public image than saving Mark’s life. Vince (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants things to work, Mitch (Sean Bean) wants to save him, and Annie (Kristen Wiig)12079790_905407586213289_8367337197547907182_o wants the news to be released in the best possible way. And a whole bunch of others trying to build things, and calculate the math. Now Mark can communicate with earth… but how will he ever make it back?

I liked the Martian. It’s about pluck, ingenuity, improvisation and perseverance, with lots of science, math and IT geekiness thrown in along the way. One goofy guy (Matt Damon is totally likeable in this role) with thousands of people rooting for him. It’s not 11807373_879652648788783_3514176622830470311_oreally a science fiction movie, though. No space battles, no aliens, no Klingons. It’s also far from the pristine, antiseptic world of space travel – instead Mars is plastic tarps, dirt, duct tape and shovels. This is a movie for guys who like tinkering in their toolsheds. Making do with what you’ve got. Remember, this is a Ridley Scott movie – the guy who made Blade Runner and Alien.The Martian And while this one is much more mainstream, with absolutely no sex – the only kiss is through a glass space helmet — it’s still got dirt, blood, 4-letter words.

The Martian and Sicario both open today in Toronto. Also opening is Zhang Yimou’s Coming Home; and a weird and wonderful documentary about mould – yes, mould, slime mould to be exact – called the Creeping Garden.

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

60s, 70s and 80s. Movies Reviewed: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Good Vibrations

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Cultural Mining, FBI, Folk, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Northern Ireland, Punk, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 19, 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.

New Year’s Day (coming soon!) is when you declare your resolutions and your goals. And sometimes, you find you’re overly ambitious. I’m looking at three great movies this week, all about men with ambitions they can’t always meet. They’re all loosely based on true stories and take place in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I’m reviewing them chronologically. First a folk musician, then a con man, and then a promoter of punk.

Inside Llewyn Davis

ILD_00756_ctDir/Wri: Coen Brothers

It’s 1961. Llewyn’s a Welsh-Italian-American folk singer who performs at the Gaslight café in Greenwich Village (brilliantly played by actor and musician Oscar Isaac). He’s recorded his first solo album (his folk duo is no more) but it’s not doing well. He’s broke. He’s homeless. And it’s cold out — and he doesn’t even have a winter coat; just a corduroy jacket. With a guitar on his back and a runaway cat in his arms… he’s just blowin’ in the wind. He’s couch surfing between a Columbia prof’s apartment in the upper west side (that’s where the cat lives), and a married couple Jean and Jim’s place in the Village (that’s where his guitar lives). Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) are a happy young couple, who also sing in a folk duet. Also at the Gaslight.

All is not well for poor Llewyn. His agent is crooked, his not-girlfriend girlfriend is pregnant, his dad is ILD_01359_ctcomatose, and a stranger in a cowboy hat has a hate-on. Llewyn keeps making the wrong decisions. But he refuses to sell out. He doesn’t want to wear a white turtleneck. He doesn’t want to sing in a trio. He’s on the verge of making it big… or packing it all in and joining the Merchant Marines. So as a last ditched effort, he hitches a ride out to Chicago with a mean and nasty blues singer (marvelously played by John Goodman) to get a famous folk promoter to sign him.

ILD_05466_ctIt sounds like a so-so story… but it’s not. This is a fantastic drama tracing a couple days in the life of this urban troubador. It’s loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s story. (He was a pretty famous folksinger from New York that you may have heard of.) The movie’s ordinary, and yet extraordinary. It gradually reveals surprising secrets, even while it dangles red herrings. Watching the movie, you get tossed around, clueless, just like Llewyn Davis, until things gradually start to become clear. This movie captures the feeling of the era, before JFK’s assassination, between 50s conformity and 60s mass protest and counterculture. And about a third of the movie is wonderful music performed by the actors. I think it’s one of the the Coen Brothers’ best.

American Hustle Adams BaleAmerican Hustle

Dir: David O. Russell

Irv is a con man. He pulls off low-level jobs — art forgeries, bank fraud – in New York. Sydney is originally from Albuquerque, but she dresses like a Cosmo cover model. She creates a new self – an aristocratic Englishwoman. They meet at a party, fall in love, and become power-team of scammers. But when a con flops, Irv and Sydney (an uglified Christian Bale, lovely Amy Adams) find themselves working for the FBI. If they can bring the FBI four crooks, they get immunity. Richie (Bradley Cooper) the fed who catches them has big ambitions. He wants to run a con to catch crooked businessmen, politicians … the sky’s the limit! To pull it off, they need the bigwigs to accept a briefcase of cash from an agent dressed as a Sheikh from the Emirates.

Irv is cautious. He doesn’t want to take it that high: respect your limits. When Richie tries to rope in the American Hustle Adams Cooper Renner Bale Lawrencemob, Irv sees nothing but trouble. As Irv says, you can’t con a con. Well, Irv gets all palsy-walsy with a potential mark, a popular Jersey mayor named Carmine (Jeremy Renner). But to be friends with Carmine family he has to bring his real wife, Rosalyn, into the mix. Yes, Irv is married, and not to Sydney. And Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, stealing every scene she’s in) is a bleach blonde homebody who talks like a gangster’s moll. She’s the fly in his ointment. Sydney, in retaliation, starts coming on to the vain (yet douche-y) FBI-man, Richie. Will they pull off the scams or go to jail? Will Irving choose Roz or Sydney? (And why are all the characters obsessed with their hair?)

This movie’s not deep, driven or meaningful – except, maybe, that we’re all vain and self-centred – but it does it so well. It’s funny, quirky and fast moving. I liked it a lot.

Good Vibrations 2  Richard DormerGood Vibrations

Dir: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

It’s Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Troubles. Bombs are exploding, people beaten or killed by paramilitary groups. In the middle of all this is Terri Hooley (played by the terrific Richard Dormer). His friends once were anarchists, pacifists, feminists. Now they’re just Catholics or Protestants. But Terri opts out of sectarian conflict and opens a record store, Good Vibrations, right in the thick of it. And, against all expectations, this bearded, smiley and spontaneous leftist is suddenly drawn into the local punk scene. New York has its haircuts, he Good Vibrations1  Richard Dormer centresays, and London its trousers, but Belfast is the only place with a real reason for punk. As thousands are killed, he sets up a punk club in a strip bar and starts up a record label. But will anyone outside of the city ever hear them?

Interspersed with period BBC news footage, Good Vibrations is a fun biopic about one man’s attempt to reclaim a no-man’s land using punk rock.

Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle and Good Vibrations all open today in Toronto. (Check your local listings.)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

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

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

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

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

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fighters! Hotdocs Documentaries Reviewed, 2011. Better This World, Fightville, Open Secret, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Recessionize! For Fun and Profit! PLUS Alan Zweig

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

Toronto’s Hotdocs, which starts today, is one of the best documentary festivals in the world.

It features recent docs, including Canadian and world premiers, as well as exceptional films from the past. This year the festival is running a retrospective of Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig’s work, including favourites like I, Curmudgeon and Vinyl, as well as the excellent and moving A Hard Name which follows the difficult lives of seven ex-cons released back into the city.

Many documentaries are about people facing a conflict; they choose either to fight it or to learn to accept it. Today I’m going to talk about movies playing at Hotdocs — films about fighters, people who like to fight, and people who are fighting the Powers That Be; and others who take the opposite route, the path of least resistance.

Better this World

Dir: Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega

When I read about stories like the seven guys in Miami who were arrested for conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago for Osama bin Laden – even though they’ve never even been to Chicago and have no connection with Al Qaeda; or the Somali-American  kid in Portland Oregon labeled as a Christmas Tree Bomber; or the Toronto 18 who were accused of plotting to blow up the Parliament building, I start to wonder how big a role did the government informants play in these stories, and whether anything at all would have happened had it not been for the government instigator.

Two young, idealistic best friends David McKay and Brad Crowder, who grew up in Midland, Texas, went to Minneapolis to protest the Republican Convention two years ago. You might have seen the footage of the police there clubbing, tear gassing and arresting hundreds of protestors, students and even journalists, while, inside the buildings, people like Sarah Palin were talking to sea of middle-aged, white, soon-to-be tea-partiers. Well, within the crowd outside were three guys – the two young best friends, and a supposed radical, Brandon Darby. The two friends were arrested by the FBI and called criminals and anarchist-terrorists, mainly by the much older FBI informant, Darby, who claimed they were there to blow up people – including sleeping policemen – using Molotov cocktails as part of their anti-war demonstrations.

This movie explores the events leading up to Brad and David’s arrests and the subsequent trials, including the use of government informants to create the supposed conspiracy, push it toward some yet-to-happen act of violence, and to entrap them into saying aloud some hypothetical phrase of intention.

This is an excellent — though at times extremely disheartening – documentary about how governments manufacture to order “criminals” where none previously existed, merely to fit into their quota of “War on Terror” political prisoners. Makes you want to cry…

Another type of fighter are the ones featured in the movie

Fightville

Dir: Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker

Directors of the fantastic Iraq War documentary Gunner Palace and its good sequel How to Fold a Flag are again dealing with young, poor American men; in this case, aspiring Mixed Martial Arts fighters from Lousiana.

Also called cage fighting or Ultimate Fighting, MMA has a reputation as an extremely violent sport akin to pro wrestling, without any referees, where the two fighters kick, punch, and beat each other up until one is nearly dead. This is its mythology, but none of it’s true. It’s actually safer than heavyweight boxing – the fighters wear smaller, lighter gloves, though because of the nature of the sport, does lead to small cuts and bruises, but not to the head injuries you get in boxing. It’s played in closely refereed rounds, with a match ending with a knockout, one player’s submission, or by a judgement. It looks like a combination of boxing, grappling, Brazilian jujitsu, muai thai kick boxing, and traditional wrestling down on the mat. In my opinion it’s the most interesting kind of fighting to watch, since it involves so many skills and so much training and strategy on the parts of the fighters.

This beautifully shot movie dispels the myths about Mixed martial arts, as it follows two amateur fighters, Dustin and Albert, as they try to make it from an amateur farm team to professional status. Will either of them make it to the pros? While not that dramatic a sports story, Fightville takes you behind the scenes, through all the stages of training and preparation for a fight, and shows Dustin and Albert both in their ordinary lives, and within the ring, with all the glamour and excitement that comes from an actual match.

Open Secret

Dir: Steve Lickteig

Steve Lickteig, an NPR brodcaster, grew up on a Kansas farm and lived his whole life knowing that he was adopted… but not knowing the open secret about his birth parents. The movie investigates his search for the truth that he was never told about as a child.

His oldest brothers and sisters were sworn to secrecy, and the younger ones were kept in the dark. The movie reveals part of the open secret in the first few minutes of the movie, so it’s no spoiler to say that he was actually an older sister’s child, and his parents were really his grandparents.

The movie follows him returning to his family – his sister/mother, and his parents aka grandparents. He also wants to know the truth about who his father was, what the reasons were for the strange arrangement, and more about his actual birth parents, his background, and whether he has other relatives.

Open Secret is above all a family memoir with the various members fighting and arguing, holding grudges, or reconciling, meeting or refusing to meet. If you’re into these types of daytime TV family stories, or if you’re familiar with the NPR personality who made it, then this is a good movie for you, but I have to say it didn’t do much for me.

Let’s move away now from fighting, resisting, and quarrelling and toward the opposite spectrum, to movies about buying into the system and going with the flow.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Dir: Morgan Spurlock

I can’t stand product placement on TV or in movies – it’s a pet peeve. Whether it’s as banal as working a brand name into an answer on Jeopardy!, or the ubiquitous Mac laptop magically appearing in most movies, it’s annoying, obnoxious, and intrusive. So Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock decided to make a movie in which every scene, every shot, and even the movie’s title itself, would have at least one product placement in it – and he would use product placement both to pay for the movie, and to provide its plot. It’s a very amusing, fast paced, and light comic take on advertising. Some of its cleverest moments is where he interviews people like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader about product placement, without them realizing there’s a brand name – a shoe, an underarm deodorant, a soft drink – appearing right beside them. And just because you know it’s there, it doesn’t mean it’s not working. Honest to God, I walked out of this movie with a strange desire to buy a bottle of pomegranate juice!

In a similar vein, and just as entertaining, is the Canadian documentary

Recessionize! For Fun and Profit!

Dir: Jaime Kastner

In a tongue-in-cheek look at the present-day grim effects of the economic meltdown and the recession that followed it, Kastner decides to look at the bright side instead. There’s money to be made out there, even in bad times, so he tracks down some unusual people adapting to the new economic realities. One of the more clever ones include a smartly dressed and perfectly coiffed woman who lives in a deluxe mansion with her family. The catch? She’s only there to make it look lived-in for potential real-estate buyers, and will have t move out the moment it’s sold. What does her teenaged son think about living in a place that has to be kept spotless? He says it’s major OCD territory!

And there’s also a great French guest house where people who feel their career is a rat-race can live for a weekend like a hamster, running in a giant wheel! Recessionize! is a lot of fun – an amusing, up-beat and fast-paced, TV style variety documentary.

The Hotdocs festival runs from Thursday April 28th to May 8th, and is free – no charge! – for rush seats during the day for anyone with a Student or Senior ID. Check this out online hotdocs.ca I think everyone should try to see at least one documentary, and Hotdocs is the best place to see them.

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

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