Village People. Films reviewed: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Silence, 20th Century Women

Posted in 1970s, Art, Christianity, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Family, Feminism, Gay, Japan, Punk, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 13, 2017

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

Everyone lives in a neighbourhood, whether it’s a city or a small town. This week I’m looking at movies about village people. There’s a photographer in the East Village, a priest in a Japanese village, and a woman who believes it takes a village.

MapplethorpeMapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Dir: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Robert Mapplethorpe was a major 20th century artist who rose to fame just as four major changes were taking place: the gay liberation movement, the Aids crisis, the socially conservative backlash under Ronald Reagan, and the sudden rise in value of contemporary art and photography. Born in Queens NY he went to Pratt art college and moved in with 201605317_1_img_fix_700x700underground poet and musician Patti Smith. He smoked acid and boiled a dead monkey. Mapplethorpe fell in with the jet-set of the ultra-rich in Mustique, in the Caribbean, creating a demand for his black and white photos. And his second life was spent in a legendary S&M gay bar called the Mineshaft in the meatpacking district. Likewise, he divided his work docs_mapplethorpe02-296x300into three categories: X, Y and Z. Explicit gay S&M imagery (X); flowers (Y); and nude portraits of African-American men, focusing on their genitals (Z). He died of Aids in the late 80s at the height of his career, just as conservative Jesse Helms blocked his art from a Washington museum, plus a court case labelling his art as obscene.

This documentary covers his life and career, and most of all reveals his work. It’s a great introduction to his art and its history, but I was bothered by its stance: venerate the art – as significant and valuable; but denigrate the artist – as vain, selfish, ambitious and petty.

15137495_1333188413378658_1730090754012238611_oSilence

Dir: Martin Scorsese (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel)

Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfiield and Adam Driver) are Jesuit priests in 17th century Portugal. The Jesuit mission to convert the Japanese under Frances Xavier has failed: the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, and closed off the country to all outside contact. Japanese Christians have reverted back to Buddhists or else practice their religion underground. Worst of all, their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is missing. So they sneak into Japan with the help of a shady fisherman named Kichijiro (Kubozuka Yousuke). Once there to their surprise, they discover hidden Christians everywhere, who call them Padre and rush to confess. But behind the scenes lurks the grand inquisitor Inoue (Ogata Issei), a samurai whose sole job is to flush out hidden Christians, and convert them to Buddhism. When he finally meets 15168802_1341247705906062_2844253298776036664_oRodrigues the two embark on an extended religious debate. Who will triumph? The Christlike Rodrigues or the cunning Inoue?

Silence is a beautiful looking movie. For Rodrigues, Japan is witnessed mainly through cracks in wooden walls, either hiding from the authorities or imprisoned by them. The islands are lush and green shrouded in a mist that surrounds the padres and their followers. But 15235447_1344428582254641_1724759706567928024_oonce the action shifts to a battle of minds on government land, it becomes sharp and austere.

The original novel is by Shusaku Endo, a Catholic Japanese novelist (a rare thing). Andrew Garfield (who plays Rodrigues) is becoming a poster child for Christian philosophy in a Japanese setting – he’s also starring in Hacksaw Ridge about a conscientious objector fighting in Okinawa in WWII. Garfield is great, as is the entire Japanese cast, filled with top actors and a surprising number of directors. (You can tell they all want to appear in a Scorsese film). To name just two, Kubozuka is fascinating as the Judas character Kichijiro, and Ogata is amazing as Inoue (he starred in Aleksandr Sokurov’s masterpiece The Sun). Silence is a long and intense movie, filled with philosophical debate, and punctuated by disturbing death and torture. This is not an easy movie to take in but it’s well worth seeing.

_DSC1289.NEF20th Century Women

Wri/Dir: Mike Mills

It’s 1979. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom in small town California who works as a designer in a canning factory. She’s a 20th century woman who wears Birkenstocks and smokes menthol cigarettes. She was the first female pilot in the Air Force in WWII. Now she lives in a big house with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Jamie is 15, rides a skateboard and just hangs out. But when he nearly dies after a silly game, Dorothea realizes they aren’t connecting anymore. So she asks for help from the younger women in her life. Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s childhood crush. She likes riding her bike and _TND7063.NEFattending her mom’s psychotherapy encounters. She’s exploring sex and will sleep with any guy she likes…except Jamie. Well she’ll sleep with him and share his bed, just no sex. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) rents a room in their house, recovering from cervical cancer. She’s a punk _DSC4067.tifphotographer who dyes her hair red. She introduces Jamie to feminism with a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. He gets in his first fist fight at school in an argument about clitoral orgasm. And then there’s William (Billy Crudup) a hippy handyman drifter who repairs the house in lieu of rent. Mom is loving and giving and wants to share it all with Jamie and the rest, but fears the effects of feminism, and the sexual revolution on his development as a man. And Jamie? He just wants to live life and make sense of it all.

Twentieth Century Women is a funny and fascinating ensemble piece. It’s narrated by an omniscient version of Dorothea in some future incarnation. There are a few jarring anachronisms:  would a 15 year old in 1979 receiving a gift of recorded music exclaim “It’s a Mixtape!”? But that doesn’t detract from this excellent coming-of-age story within an impromptu family. Great movie.

Silence is now playing, 20th Century Women opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures opens on January 13th,  with a special screening at the AGO. 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 Avi Nesher about Past Life at #TIFF16

Posted in 1970s, Berlin, Biopic, Drama, Feminism, Israel, Music, Mystery, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 6, 2017

avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-1-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sephi and Nana Milch are Israeli sisters in the late 1970s. Sephi is the beautiful one – she’s a student of music and wants to become a composer. Nana is the smart one, an intellectual who writes for a pastlife_06radical leftist newspaper. They were both raised by strict parents who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a Polish farmer’s house. But on a musical visit to Berlin, Sephi has a strange encounter: a woman shouting that her father is a murderer. A murderer? Her own father? This sends both sisters on a search across two continents to find out what really happened and to confront their avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-2-jeff-harrisown hidden past. But can they handle the truth of their parents’ past life?

Past Life is the name of a new movie, based on a bestselling memoir. It was written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. Nesher is a longtime favourite at TIFF, bringing us heady romances like The pastlife_04Secrets and brilliant period dramas like The Matchmaker (a personal favourite). Nesher is a consumate storyteller. His absorbing films combine intellectual rigour with vivid characters, all placed within stories reminiscent of classic Hollywood movies. This film premiered at the Toronto international film festival. I spoke with Avi Nesher on location at the TIFF Bell Lightbox during TIFF16.

Past Life screens in Toronto at 1:00pm and 4:00pm on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Go to TJFF for details.

Photos of Avi Nesher by Jeff Harris.

 

Return of the Western? Movies reviewed: The Magnificent Seven, Brimstone #TIFF16

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Feminism, Movies, Western by CulturalMining.com on September 30, 2016

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

Is the Hollywood Western dead? Or is it back from the dead? As a genre, I thought old-fashioned westerns faded away in the 1960s and 70s, despite a few last-gasp efforts to revive it.

So imagine my surprise when the first public screening I saw at TIFF — as well as the last one — were Westerns. They were superficially similar, but very different in substance. So this week I’m looking at those two westerns: a multi-ethnic reboot about a shoot’em-up posse, and a feminist rewrite about a fire-and-brimstone preacher.

magnificentseven_01_mustuseThe Magnificent Seven

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Rose Creek is a god-fearing mining town in the old west, complete with sheriff, church, and saloon. One day a church meeting is interrupted by frightening incident. A bad man – accompanied mean by gunmen – declares the town now belongs to a robber barren named Pogue. They have one week to hand it all over or leave town. And to drive his point home, he unceremoniously shoots anyone who objects.

The people are in despair until a lawman arrives on horseback. Chisolm (Denzel Washington) says he can put together a team that will defend the town for its rightful owners. He just needs to be paid. They agree, and he sets out to find his Denzel Washington;Chris Prattsoldiers. And what a colourful group they are. First is Faraday, a card shark (Chris Pratt) already in town. He’s a smooth-talking swindler but quick on the trigger. Vasquez is a criminal on the run. Goodnight Robichaud (Ethan Hawke) is a sharpshooter from the confederate army with PTSD. He works the rodeo circuit with Billy, a Korean knife thrower. They’re joined by Jack, a bearlike bounty hunter who lives in a log cabin, and Red Harvest, a warrior armed with bow, arrow and spear, but far from his people. Together they are the “Magnificent Seven”.

Denzel WashingtonTo counter them, robber baron Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Saarsgard) recruits a hundred heavily armed men, complete with horses, rifles, and a Gatling gun. They line up on a hillside waiting for the attack. Can seven men defeat 100 bad guys and save the town? And which of them will survive this battle royale?

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of a remake – the 1960 spaghetti western based on Kurusawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954) – and it shows its age. There were very few surprises in this movie and it had a mechanical feel. Here’s the shoot out, Denzel Washington;Chris Prattthere’s the recruiting scenes, and here comes the big battle. I like the multiracial cast – diversity on the screen is always a good thing– but aside from their looks and their weapons their background never really enters the storyline.  (Apparently the director considers women an ethnic group, too, so there’s one token woman shooting alongside the rest.) The movie has an all-star cast, but you can tell they’re doing it for the fun of it (and the money) not to stretch their acting chops. Neither does director Antoine Fuqua – known for films like Training Day. This one does not measure up.

Even so, I can enjoy a movies for its good shootouts, explosions and mayhem. Take it for what it is – an entertaining, though instantly forgettable, western. It’s OK, but nothing special.

brimstoneBrimstone

Wri/Dir: Martin Koolhoven

Elizabeth (Dakota Fanning) is a young woman who lives in a small California town in the old west, complete with sheriff, church and saloon.

She’s a respected midwife, but mute, so her 5-year-old daughter serves as her translator, her tiny voice conveying her mom’s very adult messages. But things go wrong when a fire-and-brimstone preacher enters town. The Reverend (Guy Pierce) says there are sinners among us, and they will be punished. Soon after, Elizabeth is forced to deliver a premature infant right in brimstonefront of the pulpit. To save the mother’s life she is forced to abort the male baby. This sparks a furor in the town: with an angry man carrying the torch, goaded on by the preacher’s words. How dare she save the life of a woman over that of a baby boy? That’s God’s decision, not hers.

But it soon becomes clear that this is a small battle in a much bigger fight. The preacher is out to get Elizabeth, and only the two of them know why. The preacher is willing to torture — or even murder — anyone who gets gets in his way. She refuses to give in and proves a powerful opponent. What is their connection, their history? Why is she mute? What brought her to this town? And what secrets do they hide?

brimstone_04Brimstone is told in an unusual way, in a series of biblical chapters, like Revelations and Exodus. Each successive chapter takes place before the previous one, so you only understand the meaning of the last scene until you see the next one. The story follows her homelife as a girl with a strict father and an abused mother (Carice van Houten). She learns the facts of life from two wounded gunslingers she keeps hidden in her barn. We also find about her life as a young woman in another town’s cathouse, and how and why she left there.

Dakota Fanning plays the lead as teenager, young woman and mother, and she’s completely brimstone_07believable in all three.  Guy Pearce is chilling as the horribly malevalent preacher. The movie is a scathing indictment of the treatment of women in America, by religion, by society, and by men in general.

Brimstone is troubling, disturbing and shocking, especially for a western. It doesn’t shy away from hard-to-handle issues. I had to turn my head from the screen, it was so horrific in a few scenes. It is violent in a way the Magnificent Seven isn’t, even though Seven has a huge amount of killing, while death is rarer in Brimstone. I don’t want to give the details away, since it depends on the revelations of the story, but let me just say it is not for the faint of heart. Brimstone is a fantastic, heart-wrenching drama with a lot to say.

The Magnificent Seven is playing now, check you local listings; and hopefully Brimstone will be released later this year. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Daniel Garber talks to burlesque stars Judith Stein and Camille 2000 and director Rama Rau about The League of Exotique Dancers

Posted in Breasts, Burlesque, Canada, Dance, documentary, Feminism, Sex Trade, Strippers, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 20, 2016

Judith Stein, Camille 2000Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In the days before pole dancing and pornhub, ecdysiasts plied their trade in show palaces across North America. These women performed their acts on stage with live music, costumes, and comedians. It was known as burlesque and Camille 2000, Rama Rau, Judith Steinproduced stars of its own, known for their songs, dances and looks. Burlesque reached its heyday in the 1950s and 60s before taking its last bows.

Now the original dancers are performing together again at a special Las Vegas show honoring inductees into the Burlesque Hall of Fame. A veritable League of Exotic Dancers.

The League of Exotique DancersThe League of Exotique Dancers is also the name of a new documentary that had its world premier at Hot Docs. It’s directed by award-winning Toronto-based filmmaker Rama Rau and features the original burlesque stars. I spoke with Rama Rau and burlesque artists Canadian Grand Beaver Judith Stein and Camille 2000.

They told me about the glamour and costumes of burlesque, Judith and Camille’s early days, burlesque vs neo-burlesque, burlesque and Bollywood, why strip bars pushed burlesque out of the picture… and more!

The League of Exotique Dancers opens today at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

Daniel Garber talks to Elisa Paloschi about her new documentary Driving with Selvi premiering at the ReelAsian Film Festival

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Human Rights, India, Movies, Poverty, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2015

Elisa Paloschi, 1, Driving with SelviHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining,com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Selvi was a 14-year-old child bride in Southern India. Her husband was so abusive she contemplated suicide, but instead ran away. She made her way toElisa Paloschi, Driving with Selvi photo 2 home for young women where she learned to be a driver, and after a ten-year journey, she became South India’s first female taxi driver. How did she reach that stage? And what’s it like to go driving with Selvi?

Driving with Selvi is also the name of a new Canadian documentary that tells her story. It’s directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Elisa Paloschi, known for her documentaries dealing with social issues around the world.  Her film is having its  premier at Driving with Selvi 2Toronto’s ReelAsian film festival. I spoke with Elisa in studio about visiting India as a tourist, how she first met Selvi, 10 years of shooting the film, making a film in a developing nation, why Indian women in smaller cities rarely drive, Selvi’s motivation, human trafficking, child brides, poverty, feminism, women as second-class citizens, dowries, divorce, motivation, how to share her story …and more! The film has its Toronto premier on November 5, 2015, at the ReelAsian Film Festival.

Sentimental. Films Reviewed: Summertime, Brooklyn, Room at #TIFF15

Posted in 1950s, 1970s, Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Ireland, Kids, Romance by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2015

#TIFF15 logoHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Guys aren’t supposed to like sentimental movies – they’re not tough enough. But a sentimental tear-jerker that’s done right makes for a great movie. This week I’m looking at sentimental films I like that are playing at TIFF — Toronto International Film Festival — right now. There’s a French woman tied to her family farm, an Irish emigree tied to her hometown, and a young mother (involuntarily) tied to her home.

1j34lo_SUMMERTIME_04_o3_8703578_1438094923Summertime (La Belle Saison)

Dir: Catherine Corsini

It’s 1972. Delphine (played by rock star Izïa Higelin) is a fresh, young, but naïve farm girl in northern France. She milks cows and bales hay, and hangs out with Antoine, her childhood friend (who has a crush on her). She’s vibrant and full of life. When her secret, long-time female lover dumps her, she packs up and moves to Paris. Right away she witnesses a feminist action: young women running down a street while pinching the bums of all the men1j34A0_SUMMERTIME_05_o3_8703634_1438094883 they pass.

She is surprised by what she sees, but likes it. When a man reacts violently, she steps in to fight back. She’s a heroine to the group. She’s found a home, a cause and new friends. Soon enough she’s joining raids on a mental hospital to liberate a young gay man locked up by his family; and participating in a flash-mob action to disrupt an anti-abortion meeting. She loves it 3lVwmr_SUMMERTIME_01_o3_8703436_1438094892all – it’s totally different from her life on the family farm. She becomes close friends with one woman in particular: the tall, beautiful and educated Carole (Cécile De France). Carole teaches Spanish and lives with her boyfriend. Delphine is crushed when her advances are rebuffed. Was it all in her mind? Doesn’t Carole loved her…? Soon enough, though, Carole comes around and lets loose. They visit pgL2Dr_SUMMERTIME_03_o3_8703507_1438094908Delphine’s farm when her parents are away, for a passionate weekend of splendor in the grass.

Back in Paris they live blissful lives. But when Delphine’s dad has a stroke, she has to rush home or lose the family farm. And Carole follows her there like a puppy, expecting many more rolls in the hay. But the open and uninhibited Delphine of Paris turns into the tense and secretive Delphine of the farm. Can their love prevail under the watchful gaze of a conservative village? Or will they flee, together, back to the city?

Summertime is a wonderful coming-of-age movie about how two women try to extend a season of love. I like this one a lot – it’s sexy, surprising and sad all at once.

nZJWN7_brooklyn_05_o3_8822849_1441138268Brooklyn

Dir: John Crowley

It’s post-WWII small town Ireland and there are no jobs. Eilis (Saorise Ronan) lives with her widowed mother and sister Rose. She works part time in a general store under a cruel and vindictive boss with no chance of advancement. So her sister talks with a local priest who pulls strings and helps her emigrate to America; Brooklyn to be exact. She lives in a rooming house filled with gossipy young Irishwomen trying to become more American, all under the eagle eye of their opinionated landlady Mrs mw83vp_brooklyn_02_o3_8667104_1441138255Kehoe (wonderfully played by Julie Walters). Giddiness is the eighth deadly sin! she warns the girls. Eilis works as a clerk in a high-end department store (complete with pneumatic tubes), and takes classes at Brooklyn College at night. Almost everyone in her life is Irish. It’s almost like she never left home. But one night VmoEB1_brooklyn_01_o3_8667029_1441138255at a dance she meets a real live Brooklynite, Tony (Emory Cohen). Sparks fly when he admits he’s not Irish, he’s Italian. Eilis is fine with that. True love blossoms in Brooklyn, and they privately vow to stay together for life. But Eilis is called back to Ireland after a tragic event.

And things there aren’t as bad as she LgBm5r_brooklyn_06_o3_8822866_1441138269remembers. She’s offered work as a bookkeeper, and a rich young man named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) sets out to woo her. Will she honour her agreement with Tony and return to America? Or stay with Jim in Ireland for good?

On the surface, Brooklyn is a conventional, sentimental look at love, seen through the immigrant experience. Big deal. What makes the movie really good are the dozens of eccentric characters, pithy dialogue (written by Nick Hornby based on Colm Toibin’s novel),  the beautiful cinematography, period costumes… the whole deal. And Saorise Ronan who carries the entire film.

DRWYAk_room_01_o3_8707117_1438094905Room

Dir: Lenny Abrahamson

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is a happy five-year-old who lives in a small but comfy room. He has long hair like his mom. He runs, plays, has an imaginary dog, watches TV, reads and talks with his Ma (Brie Larson). This is his world and he likes it, but he’s never been outside of it. You see his mom was abducted as a teenager 7 years ago, and she still lives in the windowless Rm_D22-_GK_0113.NEFcell. The kidnapper uses her sexually once a week – and that’s where Jack came from. He was born in Room. But Ma made a deal. She doesn’t fight off her tormenter and in exchange he’s allowed no contact with her son; during the weekly visits Jack waits quietly in the wardrobe.

What for Ma is a cell, for Jack it’s his entire universe. She told him there is nothing but outer space outside Room. Everything he sees on TV is just for fun – it’s not real. But when their lives drastically change – and Jack sees the outside world for the first time – he is overwhelmed. Can he ever adjust to life outside Room?

Rm_D40_GK_0197.NEFRoom is not a psychological thriller – though it has thrilling parts – and not a horror movie. It’s a mind-blowing drama about a boy, his mom, kinship, coping and privacy. The screenplay is by Canadian writer Emma Donoghue based on her own novel – and it’s superb. Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay (I hate to say it so early, but it’s true) are both Oscar material. Room is another fantastic movie by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (who brought us Frank last year). Touching, strange and very surprising, I strongly recommend this one. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Room, Brooklyn, and Summertime are all playing now at TIFF. For tickets and times go to tiff.net. Also look out for CTFF, RIFF and TUFF: Caribbean Tales Film Festival is featuring Queer Caribbean programming this year; RIFF is Real Indie Film Festival, coming in October; and TUFF, Toronto Urban Film Festival, shows one-minute movies in subways across the city.

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

 

Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

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

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com for details.

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

New Rules. Films Reviewed: Wild, Félix and Meira, Regarding Susan Sontag

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Queer, Romance, TIFF, Wilderness, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 13, 2014

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

Do rules restrict us? Or set us free? This week, I’m looking at three new films about women. A religious woman who longs to be free of the rules that restrict her; a woman in crisis who, to save her own life, follows strict rules to hike and cam; and an intellectual who applied academic strictures to new topics like high camp.

FOX_3558.psdWild

Dir: Jean-Marc Vallée (Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir)

It’s the mid-late 20th century. Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) is a young college student in Minneapolis. Her single mom (Laura Dern) wants to educate herself, too, so they’re in the same lecture halls doing English lit and women’s studies. Her mom asks her help understanding concepts like Erica Jong’s “zipless F*cks” (F-words.) Aw, Ma! So Cheryl reads her Adriene Rich, falls in love with a nice guy named Paul, and marries him. But then something terrible happens. And before you know it, Cheryl is taking tons of serious drugs and having countless Zipless Fs with strangers. I want to live like a man, she tells herself. But is what she really wants?

Her daily life spirals toward oblivion, until she’s rescued and brought back to reality by her husband and her best friend. She decides to start her life anew by doing something dramatic. So she decides to head out on a walk up the Pacific Crest Trail or PCT from the Mexican border to Canada.

Aside from her over-packed backpack, and too-tight boots, she has to overcomek5oMn6__wild_02_o3__8207946__1406599560 the potential dangers of wild animals and skeezy men, rednecks and deadheads. She interacts with the hikers along the way, people who have read the quotations she leaves in the record books. Cheryl passes through dried out deserts and snow-filled valleys, hiking ever-northward in a quest to find herself, and to learn to live by her mother’s optimistic words: always look for the kinder way of doing things.

Wild is worth seeing. It’s full of beautiful scenery and assorted unexpected characters. The movie itself is fairly flat, with no real suspense, conflict or climax. Which is fine… but doesn’t move you to tears. It’s an on-foot road movie. I enjoy her chronicling of what happens along the way (as well as the flashbacks that explain why she’s there.) Most of all, it’s a chance for Reese Witherspoon to show off her acting skills. But does she? I can accept her as a woman recovering from drugs and emotional loss. But what I don’t feel is her soul. She seems opaque, superficial. I haven’t read the memoirs it’s based on, but Movie Cheryl just seems like a woman facing hard times. She’s not Book Cheryl: a poet  a writer, a feminist or a thinker; just a character that things happen to.

Actress: Hadas YaronFélix et Meira

Dir: Maxime Giroux

Young, pretty and quirky, Meira (Hadas Yaron) lives with her stern husband Shulem (Luzer Twersky) and their baby. She comes from an insular, Chassidic community in Montreal, where her first language isn’t French or English, it’s Yiddish. She likes drawing pictures and listening to reggae music…but only when her husband’s out of the house. He’s strict and conservative, and quick to tell her what she’s doing wrong. In response, she’s as likely to listen as to drop dead, on the spot. Well, at least pretend to. She’s depressed. When the men burst into joyous songs at the Sabbath dinner table, she just fiddles with her matzo balls. She doesn’t like the headband or the wig she has to wear; she doesn’t like the dullness and tedium; she doesn’t like any of it anymore.

A couple of blocks away, but in a separate solitude, lives Félix (Martin Dubreuil). Actor: Martin DubreuilHe’s single and carefree, likes painting and music. He tends to his dying father suffering from Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t care about money, and supports himself by selling the tapestries off the walls of his father‘s mansion. But when he dies, Felix is at a loss. Religion plays no part in his life, so he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do, what he’s supposed to feel. On an impulse, he asks the woman he sees at the local pizza parlour. She studiously ignores him, and tells him to leave her alone. but eventually he wins her attention. Je m’appelle Meira she says.

Though reticent at first, she starts to appear at his doorstep, so she can listen to some music, she says. Something clicks. Meira longs to be a single woman, to wear blue jeans, to do as she wants. She looks with dread at the 14-kid families around her. One’s enough. Alienated Felix admires her calm, her grounded-ness, her Actor: Luzer Twerskytraditions. He finds her exotic, shy… different. She’s not like the women he usually meets. To her, Felix represents an unseen world. Shulem suspects something is up and sends her off to Brooklyn. But Felix and Meira vow to meet again someday, to experience each other’s lives. But are their cultures too distant to bridge their differences? And is what they’re doing morally right? Can she give up everything just to be with him? And…are they even compatible?

Felix and Meira is a sweet, gentle drama of tolerance and coexistence with the Other. It jumps neatly between the two sides, gradually revealing their hidden truths and desires. Most interesting is the unexpected shifts in its portrayals of the three characters, especially Shulem. Hadas Yaron (Fill the Void) is fantastic as Meira, again playing an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman, and Martin Dubreuil – who I’ve never seen before, is a sympathetic face to watch. I liked this understated drama.

85573_1416507737Regarding Susan Sontag

Dir: Nancy D. Kates

The late Susan Sontag was one of the most prominent American intellectuals, widely known for her essays On Camp, On Photography and Illness as a metaphor. But she kept her personal life under wraps. This new documentary reveals all. Did you know she was considered a pin-up girl for young lesbian women? Or that she read Kant and Proust at age 15, before she even know how to pronounce their names? Or that she appeared as an actress in an early French New Wave film. This doc chronicles her first visit to a San Francisco lesbian bar, her life in Paris, Oxford and Manhattan, her friends and lovers. And the controversies she faced — both in intellectual culture and in the mass media. Loaded with new interviews, and childhood photographs, film clips, TV footage, it’s informative and fascinating.

Wild is now playing in Toronto: check your local listings. Félix and Meira was selected for TIFF’s Canada Top Ten. It’s playing on Sunday, December 14th at 1 and 4 pm at the Empress Walk cinema as part of Toronto Jewish Film Festival’s Chai Tea and Movie series. Got to tjff.com for details. And you can see Regarding Susan Sontag on HBO Canada.

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

 

 

 

Art House Dramas. Films Reviewed: We are the Best, Things the Way They Are, Eastern Boys

Posted in 1980s, Chile, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Gay, Movies, Protest, Punk, Sex Trade, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 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.

With spring comes blockbusters, superheroes and giant atomic lizards. But it’s also spring festival season. Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT festival runs through the weekend, and coming soon are NXNE, with some great movies, spectacular Luminato, the Italian Contemporary Film Fest, and NIFF, a new, integrated festival in Niagara Falls combining movies, food and wine. This week, I’m looking at great festival-type movies: realistic, low-budget, art-house dramas. There are punk girls in Stockholm, a culture clash in Santiago; and, from Paris, a gang of eastern European boys.

Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST! a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
Dir: Lukas Moodysson (Based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson)

It’s Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) are two young girls who are mad at the world. Grown-ups are idiots without a clue. Other kids are into aerobics and spandex, or long hair, metal, and prog-rock. So they chop off their hair, make it into spikes or a Mohawk and declare themselves punk. Punk not dead! They embrace punk ideology, clothes and politics, not just the music – everything from questioning authority to garbage picking. They are firmly against nukes, organized religion, and consumerism.

Conformist kids pick on them, and they miss out on school sports and clubs. Jonathan Salomonsson, Mira Grosin and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST!So they start off on their own, spontaneously, with a band. Without any music skill. Soon, it’s Bobo on drums and Klara on bass. They’re awful. At the fall talent show, they see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), the school pariah and a fundamentalist Christian. Because she plays classical guitar and dresses conservatively she gets booed off the stage. But Bobo and Klara can see she really knows music. So they make her a deal: she teaches them how to play and they’ll be her friend and let her join their band. Though labeled a “girl band” these punks set out to prove they are the best.

This is great movie that captures the early 80s dead-on. The best part? These girls are 10-13 year olds, yet they play the punks flawlessly and carry-off the movie.

poster las cosas como sonThings the Way They Are (Los Cosas Como Son)
Dir: Fernando Lavanderos

Jeronimo (Cristobal Palma) is an ordinary guy who quietly lives in a huge crumbling house in Santiago, Chile. He makes his money renting rooms to foreigners, and spends all day painting, plastering, and trying to bring the place into livable condition. Jeronimo has a helluva black beard, looking like a cross between an urban hipster and a 19th century anarchist. But his politics are anything but. He wants things to stay exactly the way they are.

Into his life comes the beautiful, young Sanna, a blonde woman from Norway. She’s there to teach drama classes to kids in a poor part of town. But Jeronimo can’t understand why. What does she get out of it? What’s in it for her? And he’s baffled by Scandinavian attitudes toward sex. Women have sex with whomever they want? In Chile, we call them prostitutes.

Sanna’s for openness, trust, change, being free. Jeronimo is suspicious, THINGS-Website-Photoclass-conscious, homebound. Still, there’s something happening between them. Will love follow? But when Jeronimo, who likes snooping around his tenants rooms, discovers a surprise under Sanna’s bed, that totally changes their situation.

I liked this movie. It’s attractive to watch, though not exciting. It’s more about contrasting characters, cultures and personal philosophies, giving an intimate slice of life in contemporary Santiago.

easternboysEastern Boys
Wri/Dir: Robin Campillo

Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a blank- faced businessman who regularly passes through the Gare du Nord in Paris. He meets a handsome young prostitute there named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and gives him his address for an upcoming tryst. What he doesn’t realize is that Marek is part of a closely-knit gang of guys from Eastern Europe who practically live at the station. They’re hustlers, thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and prostitutes. And the next day, to his horror, they show up, en masse, at his condo door for a “party”. Their leader, known only as “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov), is the sinister but seductive alpha dog. He puts on music, pulls off his shirt and starts dancing in front of the businessman. Daniel’s non-plussed, but eventually just says to hell with it. easternboys_01_mediumHe dances with thieves wearing a paper crown, while they strip his apartment bare. His art, his computer, his TV… everything is loaded onto a white van.

C’est la vie, right? No. Who shows up the next day at his empty apartment but Marek, the sex worker who started it all. He says it wasn’t his fault, and he’s still willing to do what he was hired for. Sex is cold and perfunctory, but he begins to show up regularly, on the sly. He’s emphatic that Boss can’t know. Marek spends his weekends at a remote suburban refugee hotel with the gang, where they hold his passport. Daniel’s life is opaque. But we slowly find out more about Marek. He’s from a war zone and still hears the bombers, gunshots and explosions in the distance. Cold Daniel starts to show some backbone and compassion. Gradually they change from buyer/seller, to lovers, to roommates, to friends… to something very different and unexpected. Can Marek escape Boss’s control and leave the gang for a future in France?

This is a disconcerting and disturbing film, but quite good. What’s remarkable though is the ensemble of Eastern European actors, working perfectly together like Oliver Twist performed by Cirque de Soleil. Though moralistic at times, it works both as a crime thriller (with minimal violence), and as a social drama.

Eastern Boys played at Inside-Out, We Are the Best and Things the Way They Are both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Kitty Green about her new documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Posted in Breasts, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, France, Hotdocs, Protest, Resistance, Sex Trade, Ukraine, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2014

Kitty Green at CIUT 89.5 FMHi, 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.

Ukraine is at the top of the news. Beginning in November last year, Euromaidan street protests drove President Yanukovych out of office Kitty Green 2and out of the country. Soon after, Russia took control of Crimea, with sites in Eastern Ukraine facing further unrest. But long before any of this, a different form of protest, one you could call unique, was taking root in that country. The group is called Sasha Shevchenko (right) and Inna Shevchenko (left) from "Ukraine is Not a Brothel". Photograph by Ozan Kose.Femen. It’s a self-proclaimed feminist protest group. What’s unusual is the form of their protests: to oppose the oppression and sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women… they expose their slogan-covered breasts for the cameras!

A great new documentary that played at Toronto’s Hot Docs gives an inside view of the Femen protestors and exposes their contradictions. The film is called UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL and I spoke with its Australian director, Kitty Green, on April 29th, 2014 in Toronto. Kitty talks about protests in Ukraine, the sex trade, feminism, Femen, its members, the languages spoken, and the meaning of the word “girl”.

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