Daniel Garber talks with Sherwan Haji about The Other Side of Hope

Posted in Clash of Cultures, comedy, Drama, Finland, Kurds, Refugees, Syria by CulturalMining.com on December 8, 2017

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

Photos 1,3 by Jeff Harris

Khaled is a mechanic in Aleppo when the bombs start to fall, killing most of his family. He flees Syria and makes his way through Europe until he finds sanctuary in Helsinki, Finland. But when he applies for refugee status he is turned down, and threatened with deportation. He ends up living on the streets… until he is given a job in an unusual restaurant, recently bought by an eccentric, older man looking for a career change. Khaled is searching for his lost sister even as he runs from police, government agents and neo-Nazis. Can his new job show him the Other Side of Hope?

The Other Side of Hope is filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki’s latest film. It shows the plight of refugees in Finland as well as the endearing — if oddball — characters, live musicians and an ineffable aesthetic unique to Kaurismäki’s films. It stars Sherwan Haji as Khaled. Sherwan himself is originally from Syria, where he acted on TV. He now continues his accomplished career of acting and filmmaking in Europe.

I spoke to Sherwan on site at Films We Like in Toronto in September 2017, during TIFF.

The Other Side of Hope opens today in Toronto.

Finished. Movies Reviewed: Amy, Self/Less, Big Game

dd21159d-2ec4-4d3b-9897-8ee5302d052bHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

People talk about closure as if finishing is always a good thing. But is it? This week I’m looking three movies. There’s a documentary about a young singer whose life came to an untimely finish; an action/thriller about a rich man who wants to delay his ultimate finish; and an action/adventure about a President in trouble who seeks help from a boy… who is Finnish.


Dir: Asif Kapadia

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1 born in North London and dead by the age of 27. This was just four years ago. A new documentary fills in the missing years of her heartbreaking story. It concentrates on her music, her family, her friends and her lovers.

Amy was the daughter of a cabby and a pharmacist who divorced when she was still young. Extremely talented, she was sent to a prestigious music academy but was kicked out by age 16. She recorded her first album by age 20. Her voice was a throwback to some of the great American Jazz singers. Her look was also retro – dramatic and sensuous, with big hair, heavy black eyeliner. And she had an outspoken manner and working class accent, which set her apart from the carefully groomed and managed commercial bands.

33063f6d-9987-4fc2-806b-518679da09cbAccording to the film, she behaved sexually “like a man” – had lots of lovers and did it for the pleasure of it. She experimented with drugs while hanging in Camden nightclubs. At one of these clubs – prophetically called “Trash” — she first met Blake. He became her on-again, off-again lover and future husband, and many blame him for her growing dependence on drugs. . And while all this was going on her career was taking off. Her albums went multi-platinum in the UK and around the world.

Her instant stardom brought the bad side, too. The London press is notorious for its voracious appetite; it chews up the newly famous, and spits out their husks. The paparazzi follow their every move pasting lurid and intensely personal pics on the front pages of tabloids. She was in and out of ef490e32-30fb-44cc-b875-0b93ceca52d6rehab clinics, after collapsing onstage. And eventually it all proved too much and her body just gave out. (Doctors blame bulimia with excessive alcohol.)

This is a great, heartbreaking and extremely intimate documentary, shot with cel phones, voice mail recordings and tons of archival grainy photos and footage. And it features her music, along with the lyrics projected on the screen. It’s accessible both to die-hard fans and the merely curious. But is this film as exploitative as the tabloids it documents? No. Even though it shows Amy’s good and bad sides, it is sympathetic not accusatory..


Dir: Tarsem Singh

Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a self-made real estate kingpin in New York City. He thinks money can buy anything, and he lives a life of luxury: a penthouse suite with elaborate, gold-inlaid doors and massive wooden furniture. When there’s a difficult situation, he just pulls out a wad of cash. But he has a problem that money can’t solve: he’s dying. And then he discovers a secret corporation where a Still7scientist, Dr Albright (Matthew Goode: “Finn” from The Good Wife) promises him immortality, in exchange for Big Bucks. The only catch? He has to pretend to die, leaving his old life behind. In exchange, they’ll give him a brand new – and much younger – body, freshly-made in a laboratory tank.

He agrees, and before you know it, Ben Kingskey’s soul passes into Ryan Reynolds’ body. And his past self — his heavy New York accent, his mannerisms, his personality — all disappear. Now he has a new home in

S_05989-2.cr2New Orleans, flashy clothes, a new best friend, and more beautiful women than he can shake a stick at. But there’s a problem.  Turns out, his body wasn’t made in a laboratory at all, it’s a real person! And the body’s memories keep coming back to life. So Damian investigates, and meets up with his body’s wife Marguerite  (Natalie Martinez) and a daughter.

But as soon as the lab folks find out he knows their secret — despite the millions Damian paid them — they all have to die. Luckily his body still remembers its special ops fight skills — it’s up to him to fight for strangers Still9who knew the body he’s living in. Who will win the ultimate  showdown – Damian? Or the laboratory?

This movie makes no sense at all. It starts out good, but soon loses its point, and reports to shootouts and showdowns to keep you interested.

I love the “body swap” genre – films like Freaky Friday, All of Me and  Face/Off. Even The Change Up, (Reynolds’ comedy from last year) wasn’t bad. Alas, in this one, Reynolds is bland, generic and unadventurous. He doesn’t even pretend to show the enormous gaps between Ben Kingsley’s Damian and himself.

He may be nice-looking and likeable, but he’s just a meat puppet.

Big Game_00200.NEFBig Game

Dir: Jalmari Helander

Oskari (Onni Tommila) is a 13-year-old in Northern Finland. As part of the Sami coming-of-age ritual (the Sami are an indigenous people living in Europe’s Far North) he has 24 hours to prove his manhood as a hunter and bring back a reindeer. He’s a brave kid but he’s unskilled with his bow and arrow and doubts his own self-worth.

But in the woods after an explosion he comes across a metal space pod. And inside is the US president (Samuel L Jackson)! An evil billionaire terrorist, with the help of some White House insiders, has shot down Air Force 1. He did it as a lark, not for any ideological reason. And now he’s Big Game_00181.NEFout hunting “big game” — the President himself. So young Oskari has to prove his mettle by guiding him to safety and fending off all the bad guys in the process.

Believe it or not, this kids’ movie is really good. It’s quirky, surprising and funny. I had zero expectations coming in, but something clicked when I realized this is another film by Finnish Director Helander (Rare Exports about Santa Big Game - Onni Tommila (Oskari) and Samuel L. Jackson (the President) in Big GameClause as a primeval demon), which also starred Tommila). It’s not disneyish at all. Big Game has blood and guts, a gritty feel and a twisted sensibility, all of which make it delightful.

Self/Less, Big Game and Amy all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening tonight is Tangerine with a special screening with Trans Pride activist Christin Milloy and sex work activist Catherine Brockhurst to lead a discussion. Also  on now is the Buster Keaton festival, with a live piano player. Go to robertbrucemusic.com for more information.

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

Queer parents, straight kids. Movies Reviewed: 52 Tuesdays, My Straight Son, Open Up To Me PLUS Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

Posted in Australia, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Finland, Inside Out, LGBT, Movies, Trans, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on May 23, 2014

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

Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT film festival — known for its innovative programming and great movies – starts today. One traditional sub-genre is the Coming Out movie: a young man or woman finds freedom and love but also faces bullying and depression, when he comes out publicly as gay, bi or lesbian. Usually there are cruel homophobic parents who don’t understand what they’re going through. This always makes for a good movie, but it’s been done a lot. So here’s a reversal: how about movies where the LGBT character is the parent, not the kid? This week I’m looking at three such movies (with an emphasis on trans characters) – from Australia, Venezuela and Finland — all serious dramas, but with good comic relief mixed in.

52 Tuesdays Poster52 Tuesdays

Dir: Sophie Hyde

Billie is a well-adjusted teenager with a great relationship with her parents. She lives with her mom, but regularly sees her motorcycle-riding dad. But one day, she comes home to a big surprise. Her mom has cut her hair, bound her breasts, and is changing her name to James. Starting today, her mom is becoming her dad! James will be undergoing testosterone treatments in a gender transformation. It’s a big change that will take a year. And during that year, James will need his detail_52tuesdaysspace – Billie has to live with her dad (her other dad). Billie is gobsmacked, but doesn’t want to lose contact with her parent. So they agree: she’ll visit after school, each Tuesday, until 10 pm. Over the course of the year, Billie records these weekly visits with her video camera. She also begins to explore gender identity, sexuality… and sex.

At school, she falls in with a passionate couple – Josh and Jasmine (Sam Althuizen and Imogen Archer) – when she spies them making out. They’re in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (where Viola dresses as a man). And, courtesy of Billie’s 52 Tuesdays pic with mustacheuncle, the three of them get their own private time in his empty apartment: Tuesdays from 10 to midnight, when both of Billie’s dads think she’s with the other. And Billie also records these meetings – including their sexual explorations – on her video camera.

So 52 Tuesdays is just as it sounds: 52 short scenes, from Billie’s point of view, tracing the changes – and setbacks – of James’s transformation and her own coming of age. It has a few too many divergent plotlines – school censorship, medical problems, accidents, family rivalries, hidden relationships — extraneous to the main story. But that doesn’t detract from the movie’s elegant structure. Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie is a joy to watch – she’s the next Carey Mulligan – and Del Herbert-Jane gives a fascinating and realistic portrayal of James’ transformation.

detail_mystraightsonMy Straight Son (Azul y no Tan Rosa)

Dir: Miguel Ferrari

Diego (Guillermo García) is a professional photographer in Caracas in his thirties. Life is great. He has a successful career, and a boyfriend, Fabrizio, who is a doctor. Fabrizio pops the question one night at dinner in a fancy restaurant. Do you want to live together? Diego’s surprised but inwardly happy. He says he’ll tell him his decision the next day. He plans to say yes, but two big things happen. Diego’s teenaged son Armando (Ignacio Montes) — who he hasn’t seen for five years since he moved to Europe with his mother — arrives at his Azul y tan rosa galeria-19doorstep. Armando feels neglected by his dad and baffled by his lifestyle. He retreats to online relationships. He’s good-looking but insecure. He uses a celebrity photo his dad took to create a new, online personality and along-distance relationship with Laura, a small town tango enthusiast.

The second thing that happens is Fabrizio is brutally attacked outside a gay bar by three young men who beat him Azul y tan rosa galeria-18senseless. And now he lies in a coma in his hospital bed. Diego identified the gay-bashers, but gets no help from the police – so he buys a gun.

Diego loves his son but doesn’t know what to do. He turns for help from his working class family, and his bar friends – a comic entourage with soap opera names like Dolores Del Rio and Perla Marina. Can Armando connect with his dad? And will he reveal his real face to his online girlfriend? Will Fabrizio come out of his coma? And will the attacking teens ever be brought to justice?

My Straight Son is a very enjoyable melodrama that mixes telenovela plots with pop culture tropes, all with a gay twist.

Kerron sinulle kaiken posterOpen Up To Me

Dir: Simo Halinen

Maarit (Leea Klemola) lives in Helsinki, where she works as a cleaning woman in an office building. She used to work as a guidance counselor in a small town, but left her spouse and teenaged daughter following sex-reassignment surgery. While cleaning an office one day, a psychologist tells Maarit to lock up when she’s done — she’s going to Spain for a few weeks. Two weeks! Hmm… So she tries on her make up and perfume and lounges about the office. Into the psychologist’s office walks Sami (Peter Franzén), a gym teacher and soccer coach. Sami has an appointment to talk about sex problems with his wife, also a school teacher. He detail_openuptomemistakes Maarit for a therapist. After a moment’s pause she slips easily into the role – and they both notice a spark between them. They arrange to meet again.

Soon, Maarit comes clean: she’s a cleaner not as a counseler. She reveals that they met, 20 years ago. Maarit, as a man, was on a professional soccer team (as was Sami) and he bested Sami at the national championships. Sami is taken aback, but Kerron sinulle kaiken Leea Klemola ja Peter Franzén (Kuvaaja Alisa Javits, © Edith Filmintrigued. Is this a budding relationship?

Maarit goes back to her home town where vicious rumours are spreading about her, and her daughter is being picked on in school. Can she rebuild trust with her daughter and restore her reputation? Back in Helsinki, she faces daily abuse and cruelties, ranging from shouted slurs, job discrimination – even propositions from men who assume she’s a prostitute. Through it all, Maarit learns to be a woman who can stand up for herself. Part love story, part family drama, Open Up to Me is an excellent movie, with Leea Klemola and Peter Frantzén — the two leads —  giving strong but subtle performances.

All of these films – and more – are playing now through June 1st at Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival. For more info, go to insideout.ca.

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

Phantasmagorical! Movies Reviewed: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale; The Tourist; The Tempest; plus Movie phone-in Contest!

This time of year, when the nights grow longer and the days grow darker, when the icy winds whistle through bare branches of the trees, when Christmas is coming, and New Year’s not far behind, thoughts turn to things fantastical, impossible and even supernatural. So today I’m going to talk about three, very different movies, but all of them far outside of the grip of what people call realism. Also, keep listening, because I’m having a real ticket giveaway at the end of my reviews

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Dir: Jalmari Helander

In the extreme north of Finland, where the Sami people hunt reindeer, something’s wrong. A big multinational mining company has come in to the area, and they’re digging something up, under an ancient mountain – or is it a burial ground? But the reindeer are disappearing, and so is the main source of income. Children are also disappearing, with creepy, sewn cloth dolls left in their beds. And so are the burlap sacks in a potato warehouse. What’s going on?

Then they discover a mass slaughter. All the local reindeer herdsman, bearded and wearing toques, think it must be the Russians‘ fault, just over the fence, across the border. Or maybe it’s the wolves? Or that multi national headed by the weird Englishman who keeps warning them “Shhh.. don’t say bad words… don’t do anything naughty…!”

And a great horned beast has been dug up by the miners what is it? What does it all mean?

But little Pietari has done some reading. All those old fairytales? They’re true! It’s Coca-cola that played the con-job in the 19th century and painted a new picture. You know that jolly laughing bearded man in red? Ho, ho, ho… Pietari has discovered the truth about Santa:

He sees you when you’re sleeping,
he knows when you’re awake,
he knows if you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!

Santa’s actually… the boogie man! He grabs little kids and spanks them to death…

It’s up to little Pietari to save all the kids, get rid of the sinister creature, and restore the ruined local economy. Will he do it? Can he do it?

This fast-paced film from Finland is one of the strangest Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. It’s cute, and surreal, and spooky, all at once, like a lot of Finnish movies. Although there are some scary scenes and a little bit of gore, I think most kids (and adults) who are struggling with their own parents’ Santa myths might find this just the thing to clear away the saccharine, commercial images we get bombarded with every year, right about now…

The Tourist
Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
(Starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp)

Elise is a mysterious glamorous woman, who sits in open-air cafes and reads cryptic notes delivered to her on the sly. She’s trying to find her boy-friend who robbed a gangster of billions of dollars and then disappeared. And she’s being tracked by countless European men from Italy, France, Germany, and the UK who whisper into hidden microphones and observe her every step. She’s told to meet someone and pretend he’s her boyfriend. She gets on a train, and chooses a man at random, a hapless math teacher from Wisconson – Frank (played by Johnny Depp). He is soon trapped in her machinations as she tries to escape all these men pursuing her as they chase her (and him!) through the canals of Venice. Can he help her escape? And will she ever find her real boyfriend? Will he show up at the ball? (Yes she goes to a ball). And what about all the money he stole?

This movie was a total disappointment. Athough it sounds like fun, it barely makes sense, and as the plot turns, it makes even less sense. And does Angelina Jolie hate other women? It’s like the thought of another woman competing with her for screen space is so anathema to her that she’s banned any and all potential rivals from her films. The cast of 40 has 39 men, including Johnny Depp, Paul Bettany, and Timothy Dalton, Steven Berkoff (as the villain) – along with a legion of Euro-spies and gangsters with carefully groomed, three-day cheek-stubble, designer suits, and Zoolander poses.

What’s with her? I liked Wanted, (even though it was dumb), thought Salt, last summer was even dumber, and now there’s this one. It’s starting to grate. Johnny Depp was totally wasted as a a puffy-faced, ineffectual milquetoast.

Angelina’s accent was atrocious, and the two of them looked ridiculous posturing in evening wear in the admittedly beautiful European scenery. It looked like a Hollywood movie from the early sixties, but without real glamour – it felt out of synch. The whole movie was embarrassing, and the story, though it started out good, had so many twists it no longer made any sense.

It’s especially disappointing because the director was the one who made that really great movie the Lives of Others, about the Stasi spy in East Germany. This spy fantasy is only his second film, and it’s a real clunker.

The Tempest
Dir: Julie Taymor

Many of you already know the story, it’s about Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda who are exiled to an island, inhabited only by the local creature Caliban, he uses his magic powers (and that of his spirit Ariel) to cause a shipwreck, wand strand his enemies and allies on the island, cast a spells to bring back justice and regain his power in Northern Italy. It’s also Miranda’s first time seeing other humans, so she falls in love with a handsome prince, the good King’s son. Meanwhile the bad guys try out their plots along with Caliban.

So this version, directed by the very talented and original stage director Julie Taymor, tries a few changes, but keeps largely to Shakespeare’s original story. She keeps it in the period – doesn’t modernize it, but she fools around a bit with sex and gender. She casts Helen Mirren as Prospero (Prospera), Miranda’s mother now, and a witch not a sorcerer. That works fine. And she has the sprite Ariel (expertly played by Ben Whishall) do some shape-shifting, turning from man to woman and back again.

The cast is quite amazing – with Alfred Molina, Tom Conti, Chris Cooper, Allan Cumming – and others, who can handle Shakespeare without trouble. It’s shot in Hawai’i so you get these fantastical moonscapes, and volcanic cliffs and weird jungles for characters to wander around in.

It just didn’t seem movie-like to me, there was a disconnect. It was more of a play captured on film, so it was harder to connect with the characters, to really feel their emotions. It felt like a virtual proscenium arch between you and the screen, so it was doubly removed (or distanced) from the viewer. So there were stage sets in the movie – that say: look at the beautiful sets! And stage costumes that shout out look at these fancy costumes. And some of the acting, like Russel Brand (as Trinculo) was saying, Looooook! I’m a comeeeeedian! (yeah, you’re really funny).

So it’s an interesting movie, with some neat effects. And things like Ariel doing butoh dance poses, chalked in white, were quite arresting (but why?). I found the background sound and music was terrible, and too overpowering at times, it smothered a lot of the lines, and dragged the pace. Made it lethargic. Shakespeare didn’t write throw-away dialogue – it’s kind of important to be able to hear exactly what they’re saying. So it didn’t all hold together for me, but hey, Shakespeare on the big screen? Another movie Tempest? I say, keep ‘em coming!

Finally, here’s a contest: I’m giving away length of run movie tickets to the first five correct who can answer this question:

Which one of these four Scandinavian directors is from Finland?:

Lars Von Trier
Aki Kaurismaki
Lasse Halstrom
Joachim Rønning

The first 5 correct emails will win a length of engagement ticket for two persons for:
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.


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