Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Twelve to twenty-four-year-olds make up the biggest chunk of frequent moviegoers in North America, but what are they given to watch? Superheroes, spaceships, slashers and rom-coms. Rare is the serious movie about people their age, people they can identify with. So this week, I’m looking at movies about youth. There are two guys in Ireland searching for cocaine, Germans in Denmark digging up landmines, and an aboriginal man in Quebec facing up to his past.
Land of Mine (Academy Award nominee: Best Foreign Language Picture)
Wri/Dir: Martin Zandvliet
It’s Denmark, May, 1945, Victory in Europe and the hated German soldiers are force- marched back across the border. But they left a gift: thousands of landmines planted across pristine Denmark’s beaches. (They thought the allies would invade there, not in Normandy) Hard-ass Sgt Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is called in to supervise a cleanup of the beaches using German POWs. They put them there — they should be the ones to get rid of them. It’s a simple process: sweep off the sand, unscrew a bolt, defuse the mine, then move on to the next one. Do it wrong you get blown up. Do it right you get sent back home… once the entire beach is clear. And that’s when you’ll get to eat again – no point wasting food on Nazi POWs.
What Rasmussen doesn’t expect is that these so-called soldiers are just boys, pulled off farms and remote villages at the end of the war. Kids like innocent identical twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oscar Belton) who still hold hands to feel safe; the earnest Sebastien who always wears a paisley scarf (Louis Hofmann); and even the bitter Helmut (Joel Basman) who considers himself in charge of this ragtag unit. Can these teenagers keep up their morale even as they see their friends exploding all around them? And can hard-hearted Sgt Rasmussen ever feel for these boys that are his prisoners?
Land of Mine is a touching, high-tension war drama based on true events. And you can’t help but feel for these poor kids forced into a horrible situation. I cried. It’s a real tear-jerker, and it addresses long-hidden war guilt on the part of the allies — stories that must be told. But it’s also very manipulative, painting Germans as the innocent victims and Danes as their cruel oppressors… just days after the end of WWII!
The Young Offenders
Wri/Dir: Peter Foott
It’s 2007 in Cork, Ireland. Two 15 year olds, Conor and Jock (Alex Murphy, Chris Walley) are schoolmates. They’re inseparable, with the same tracksuits, the same haircuts, the same zits. They even share the same underwear.
The shorter one, Conor, works in a fish shop with his single mum. Jock’s lives with his dad an abusive drunk. The taller Jock earns money as a bike thief known as Fake Billy: he commits his crimes wearing a realistic rubber mask that looks just like the real Billy, a dangerous local hood. Jock and Conor aren’t particular smart or good looking or rich, but at least they have each other. Then fortune smiles on them – they hear about a shipwreck of 61 bales of contraband cocaine, worth 7 million Euros each, off the coast of Ireland. This is their chance. Even if they get caught, as 15-year-olds they’d avoid doing hard time.
So they set off across the country on two stolen bikes to find their one bale of coke. But they don’t realize they’re being chased by a vengeful cop, a deranged drug dealer, and a vicious hood. Will their friendship – and their lives – survive this great road trip?
This is a fun, laddish road movie about life as working-class teens in Ireland. Cute.
Before the Streets
Wri/Dir: Chloé Leriche
Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare) lives a nice life in his Atikamekw community, with his little sister and her baby, their mom and stepdad. He hangs with his best friend, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He playing a drums, singing,, smokes grass and exploring the land. But things started to go bad when his stepdad, a cop on the reserve, takes away his bingo winnings. Now he’s broke so he agrees to act as a guide for Thomas (Martin Dubreuil), a Québécois he meets at the liquor dealer’s house. Thomas says he’ll just take the stuff rich city folk leave behind in their summer cottages. But the very first burglary ends in disaster, and Shawnouk flees into the woods in horror. He is taken in by strangers, an elder and her granddaughter who nurse him back to health. Reading his face she tells him he must talk with someone about what happened. She wraps tobacco in a piece of red cloth and tells him to go to a sweatlodge on a nearby island.
He takes her offering but stows it always and returns home as if nothing happened. But his cop stepdad is investigating Shawnouk’s crime and is covering it up.
But far from relieved he is wracked with guilt and self loathing for what he did, and his bad feelings spread to the rest of his family. His stepdad takes it out on him, forcing him into a horrible job killing stray dogs. He can’t take it anymore. He heads off to his last hope, the sweatlodge, though he knows it won’t help.
Before the Streets is a first film, different from anything I’ve seen. The roles are played by non-actors from the director’s community and all dialogue is in their own language. It’s shot entirely from an aboriginal point of view, incorporating the director’s culture, language, customs and music. It covers sweat lodges, smudging, gift giving and healing, as well as negative issues like suicide, depression, and domestic violence. A touching and informative first feature.
Land of Mine opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Young Offenders and Before the Streets are both playing at the Next Wave Film Festival right now showing movies and events for free if you’re 25 or younger. Go to tiff.net for details.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Your life may seem to follow a straight path, but at some point we all face a crossroads. This week I’m looking at movies about points of change. There’s a man in Minnesota heading to prison, a boy from the Bronx heading to Hollywood, and a flying boy with cancer heading toward the stars.
The Seventh Fire
Dir: Jack Pettibone-Riccobono
Rob is an Anishnaabe man in his 30s who lives near Pine Point. It’s a small town on a reserve in rural Minnesota. He’s spending his last week as a free man, before he is sent back to prison. He turned himself in. He is giving up a thriving business with lots of eager customers. He makes a dry pink powder, adding things like laxatives to his meth to add a more dramatic finish, he says.
It’s a life of bingo games and gang tats, burning sofas and leach traps. House parties turn to coke fests and fistfights. But, Pine Point is his home. Now he has to leave it pay for his past and live with his legacy – and what it did to his community.
This film follows three people: Rob, a young man looking to leave the state, and a young pregnant woman, as they decide where to take their lives. Their voices, on- and off-screen, narrate the story. This verite documentary shows a bleak — if realistic – slice of life on an impoverished reserve (and in a prison). But it’s visualized amidst striking scenic beauty, along with occasional whimsy and hope.
Wri/Dir: Woody Allen
It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression. Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is nebbishy kid who lives with his parents in the Bronx. He has two older brothers. One is a communist intellectual, the other, Ben (Corey Stoll) is a gangster. Bobby heads west to find his own fortune. He shows up at his uncle’s office. Phil (Steve Carell) is a Hollywood bigwig, a shaker and mover. An agent to the stars, he is seen with his wife at all the best pool parties and cocktail lounges in town. Bobby is pasty and pale, dressed in a woolen suit amidst suntanned beauties — a real greenhorn. He gets to meet socialites by the dozen, including Rad Taylor (Parker Posey) who promises to show him the highlife if he ever goes back to NY. But when Bobby asks his uncle for an actual job, Phil balks. He says there aren’t any. Instead he gets his secretary, Vonnie, to show Bobby around.
Vonnie (Kristin Stewart) is a charming, plainspoken woman from Nebraska. She doesn’t mince words. When Bobby senses some mutual attraction, Vonnie nips it in the bud. I have a boyfriend, she says. Little does Bobby know, her boyfriend is his Uncle Phil – and Vonnie is his mistress. Which one will she choose? Young Bobby or established (but married) Phil?
Years later, Bobby finds great success in Manhattan. He hosts a popular nightclub – that’s the café society of the title – that his gangster brother snatched from a competitor. Bobby hobnobs with the in crowd, but he still seems lonely. Has he made the right decisions in his life?
Woody Allen narrates Café Society as a bittersweet look back to the 1930s, loaded with period costumes and music. Even so, it felt like a mishmash more than a movie. In only 90 minutes, it goes off on side plots and tangents about crime and family differences, high society and black jazz clubs, NY and LA. There’s even a painfully laborious scene about Bobby’s misadventures with a Hollywood prostitute – but why? Is it even from the same movie? What does it have to do with the love of Vonnie and Bobby?
Jesse Eisenberg and Christen Stewart also co-starred in last year’s American Ultra, (a stoner-comedy/action-thriller) but don’t have nearly the chemistry as they had in that one. Eisenberg is excellent as a surrogate Woody Allen, he has the accent and hesitation down pat, while Kristen seems honest and likeable as Vonnie. While Cafe Society does have a good finish, it’s clearly not one of his best.
Dir: Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol
Leo lives in New York with his parents and little sister. He’s a gawky kid in a baseball cap and a smiley-face shirt who is crazy about mysteries, especially detective stories. He’s in hospital now, undergoing chemotherapy. But he has a secret power: while he sleeps his phantom self can leave his body and float through walls, high in the sky, all around the city.
Detective Tanner is a great cop, singlehandedly stopping criminals, solving crimes and saving lives. He meets Mary Delaney, a prize-winning investigative journalist, when he stops two men robbing a grocery store they’re both shopping at. But his captain regards him as a pain in the ass — too much paperwork. So he gets assigned to a crime-free zone, patrolling the docks.
Meanwhile, an ingenious master criminal is terrorizing the city. He looks like a Picasso painting… but from his cubist period. His face is a patchwork of bright colours. He plunges the city into darkness, until he’s thwarted by Detective Tanner who spots him on the docks. But he escapes capture and Tanner ends up in hospital with a broken leg. While unconscious he encounters Leo, or Phantom Boy. Phantom Leo is only visible to injured or dying people while they are dreaming.
But somehow, the detective remembers his dream and recognizes Leo when he’s awake. But he can’t leave the hospital with his broken leg. Leo says he can help him catch the criminal. Here’s how: when Leo is semi-conscious his phantom self can float around the city, while the corporeal Leo, though asleep, can murmur to the cop what he sees. And Mary the journalist can investigate it all on foot.
But can they beat the master criminal, or will he kill them all.
This is a terrific animated kids movie. I saw this one last year – the original French version – last year and I loved it. Beautiful, classic animation, simple lines, elegant design. The one opening today is the English dubbed version, also great, but sounds a bit cornier to my English speaking ear. In any case, it still brought tears to my eyes. Wonderful music, great story, beautifully done.
The Seventh Fire, Café Society, and Phantom Boy 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
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at how it treats its most vulnerable members. This week I’m looking at two dramas, one from the US, another from the U.K. There’s a teenaged bootlegger in a pickup truck in a badlands state; and an old lady in a van in Camden in a bad state of mind.
Songs My Brother Taught Me
Dir: Chloe Zhao
Johnny Winters (John Reddy) is a teenager living in a Sioux Nation reserve in the Badlands, Northwestern US. He helps care for his sister Jashaun (Jashaun St John) and their mom (Irene Bedard) who stays in bed all day. She’s depressed. And there’s an older brother in prison.
Johnny’s still in high school, but he plans to cut out as soon as he graduates. He’s saving money so he can buy a pickup truck and drive to LA with his girlfriend. She’s going to University in the fall, and he hopes to make it as a boxer. So he turns to a bootlegging as a source of income. The reserve he lives on is officially dry, but there’s still a black market for beer and alcohol. He meets with an older woman who brings in the bottles and he distributes them for cash. But he faces trouble and potential violence from rivals who think he’s poaching on their territory.
His little sister knows all and sees all. She likes to draw, paint and dance. She begins to follow a tattoo artist to study his crafts and learn about her culture.
Jashawn looks at her brother almost like a father. Then their real father, Carl, dies in a fire, and Jashawn and Johnny realize they don’t know who he was. They get to know their extended family. Carl was a champion bull rider who followed the rodeo circuit. They all share Carl’s last name, along with lots of others at the reserve, but Johnny and Jashawn barely knew him. So they are jealous of his “real” family. Will knowing his relatives help him get a job? Or will he move to the big city and leave his mom and sister behind?
Songs my Brother Taught Me is a realistic look at life on a Lakota reserve, and pulls no punches. It’s not a Hollywood feel-good movie. It has a low-key, almost documentary feel to it, and shows a lot of sad and depressing scenes about scraping by with not enough money or jobs. But the realistic acting — especially the appealing performances of John Reddy and Jashawn St. John — help mitigate its downer feel. And the scenery — the dramatic crumbling white cliffs of the badlands — give it a stark and timeless immediacy.
The Lady in the Van
Dir: Nicholas Hytner
Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) is a writer living on a quaint, middle-class street in Camdentown, north London. His life is a quiet one until an eccentric old woman enters the scene. Miss Sheppard (Maggie Smith) is a nearly homeless woman who lives in a VW van. She’s ornery and smells bad. And she doesn’t mince words: she needs a place to park her home so she can live in peace. And after some deliberation with nosy neighbours, Alan agrees it’s his turn to help Miss Sheppard. So she moves into his driveway takes up residence and lives there for the next 15 years.
For Alan Bennett the character, Miss Sheppard is a pain in the ass: a disputatious, mentally ill old lady who gets in the way. She infringes on his private space, interferes with visiting sex partners, and interrupts his writing. And the smell! Plastic bags serve as her toilet. But for Alan Bennett the writer, she’s a fascinating character, dying to be explored and studied.
Turns out Miss Sheppard has a hidden past. The reason she lives in London is to escape a witness to a possible hit-and-run incident decades earlier. Alan also discovers she was once a concert pianist, and later joined a French convent. She’s a bullying, difficult woman with a “derelict nobility”.
Ironically, the more time he spends trying to learn about Miss Sheppard, the less he spends with the other old woman in his life – his own mother. She is neither glamorous nor mysterious not frightening, and he can’t bring himself to visit her. He’d rather think about the woman in the van in his driveway.
This is a great movie. Maggie Smith is just fantastic, not given to grandiose gestures. She plays it straight as a homeless woman with a strong personality. And Jennings plays Alan Bennett as two characters: the man and the narrator, who appear on the screen together to debate what to do about the woman in the driveway. It’s a theatrical conceit but it works really well. Alan Bennett’s books and memoirs often have internal dialogue that doesn’t work in plays or on the big screen.
He’s a really witty and fun writer and playwright – he writes books like Smut and plays like History Boys – so it’s neat to see him as a character. The Lady in the Van is part memoir (it’s a true story) and part imagined drama. It’s a difficult comedy, one that makes you think and squirm while you laugh. Great movie.
The Lady in the Van opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Songs my Brother Taught Me is showing next weekend at Toronto’s Next Wave festival. Next Wave shows films by, for and about young adults, including many free screenings. Go to tiff.net for details. Also playing now is the sometimes hilarious parody 50 Shades of Black. If you like the Wayans’ style of comedy, this one’s for you.
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 Adam Garnet Jones about Fire Song having its World Premier at #TIFF15
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Shane lives on an isolated First Nations reserve in northwestern Ontario. He’s polite, smart, good-looking, hardworking and respectful – everything a teenage boy should be. He even has a pretty girlfriend, Tara. Shane’s moving to Toronto in the fall to start his first year at University. Everything seems perfect… but it’s not. His mother has been severely depressed since his sister’s suicide. And his family has money problems: they’re deeply in debt. Can he even afford to move to Toronto? And then there’s his relationship with another boy named David that he keeps on the down low. Sometimes Shane wishes it would all just go away.
I’m talking about Fire Song, a new film having its world premier at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. The powerful drama is written and directed by filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones, and this is his debut feature. I spoke to him at CIUT. Adam talked about his background, hopelessness, suicide, coming out, the lives of gay youth in an isolated community, Native Child and Family Services, two-spirited people, traditional ideas, Christianity, life on a reserve vs. life in a city, talking circles, healing, his future work… and more!
UPDATE: Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song is the winner of imagineNATIVE’s 2015 Air Canada Audience Choice Award.
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Centuries of treaties — legal documents all — between First Nations and the Crown set aside land in perpetuity along with promises to protect and provide for its peoples. But what about the minerals, and the oil, gas and shale just beneath the surface? What about the forests that grow on their land, the rivers that run through them, and the fish and animals that live there and that they eat? Can the government and corporations be trusted to look out for the best interests of indigenous groups? Or are they better off with one of their own making sure their rights aren’t abrogated, their water despoiled and their land sequestered? Pipelines, fracking, clear cutting, export terminals, climate change… is there still time to stop their water, land and people from being torn apart?
Fractured Land is the title of a new documentary, by first-time directors Fiona Rayher and Damien Gillis, that premiered at Hot Docs, Toronto’s international documentary film festival. It tells the story of a young, native man from Northern BC, who can throw a hatchet and skin a bear, but is also lawyer bound to uphold her majesty’s laws. His name is Caleb Behn from the Fort Nelson and West Moberley First Nations, lawyer, activist, and spokesman.
He told me about learning from his family, being an advocate for his people, the future impact of fracking, environmental and aboriginal law, protests, long-term strategies, his mother and father, post-colonial perspectives, language and ceremony; residential schools and the truth and reconciliation commission; respectful hunting; how fracking affects aquifers… and more!
For more information, go to keepersofthewater.ca.
Daniel Garber talks with Alanis Obomsawin about her new NFB documentary Trick or Treaty? premiering at TIFF14
In 1905, Treaty No. 9 was signed by representatives of the Canadian government and Cree and Ojibway first nations. Newly elected chiefs draped the Union Jack over their shoulders in a gesture of acceptance. The treaty said, on paper, that the people there would cede the land around James Bay, in perpetuity, to the crown in exchange for their protection and well-being. It’s there on paper… but is this what both sides actually agreed to? A new documentary from the National Film Board of Canada says No.
The film is called TRICK OR TREATY? It examines, in depth, the issue of treaty rights, whether the Canadian government lives up to its end of the bargain, and whether the treaties themselves were legal documents. It brings the story up-to- date with footage and interviews with the IDLE NO MORE movement, the status of first nations’ women, and other current issues. It’s filmmaker, Alanis Obomsawin is the doyenne of documentaries at the NFB who for 40 years has recorded the issues and past and current history of the indigenous peoples in Canada. Trick or Treaty premiers at TIFF14, the Toronto International Film Festival and I reached Alanis Obomsawin by telephone, at NFB headquarters in Montreal. Producer, writer, director and narrator, Alanis talks about treaty rights, Crazy Horse, David Kawapit, Bill C-45, Idle No More, Tina Fontaine, Chief Theresa Spence, and more!
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Something’s wrong with Lina. She’s sure she’s dying. So she heads due north, up the frozen roads and raw nature of Oxbow Lake. There’s a cottage up there, surrounded by a curved body of water — a retreat from big city life. Will she find a cure or come face-to-face with death itself?
It’s a minimal, impressionistic and passionate look at one woman’s retreat — a journey back to the land — in an attempt to clear her mind and body. Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, the filmmakers of The Oxbow Cure, tell us more.
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.
The slow movie months of January and February are finally over, so get ready for a blast of this year’s newest movies with the coming spring Film Festival season. This week I’m looking at some new films, opening soon in Toronto. One’s a Canadian action-drama about a native guy trying to stay alive, the other’s a screwball action-drama from Northern Ireland about a woman pondering death on New Year’s Eve.
Dir: Kieron J. Walsh
It’s New Year’s eve in Derry, Northern Ireland, so now’s the time for dressing up in strange costumes, watching fireworks, contemplating the universe and the meaning of life… and getting plastered, not necessarily in that order. So the movie starts with a young woman, Greta (Nichola Burley) with angel’s wings on her back, all forlorn, about to jump off a bridge. But there she meets the tattered-and-torn Pearce, who just got beaten up by some thugs on the same bridge, and nearly thrown to his death. Love is kindled, sparks fly, and they are drawn together. But, what neither of them quite realize yet, Greta’s father is a local crime boss, and Pearce is one of his antagonists. Mutual friends, as well as their enemies, are also tied up in this strange situation as they drive around town that night. Will Pearce find the missing brother he’s searching for? Will Greta discover her own family’s secrets? And what about the large bundle of cash missing from the crime boss’s safe? Who took it, who has it now, and whose fault is it anyway? How did two girlfriends, just out for a fun night, somehow end up with a possibly dead body locked in the trunk of their car? And whose body is it that turns up under the Derry Peace Bridge? There’s an ethical hitman, grungy gangsters, shady bartenders, and dismayed partiers to round out the story. Lots and lots of questions in this plot-driven, screwball action movie (if there is such a category.)
We soon find out this is a cut-up type film, with the complicated plot gradually revealed by flashbacks, and omissions. It jumps all over the place (as the title suggests), with scenes repeated two or three times until the true story is revealed.
It’s rare to see a story about young people in Northern Ireland just going out, nothing to do with “the Troubles” – I like that. But this is a very confusing, mainstream movie that drags a bit. And it’s hard to know who to sympathize with, except maybe Pearce, and a side plot with two young women — one ethical, one self-centred — caught up in this muddle. But rest assured, all of the dozens of loose ends get neatly tied up by the end.
Dir: Michael Melski
Avery (Glen Gould) is the strong silent-type, a tough Native guy who did time and never shies from a fistfight. Now he just wants to earn some good money so he takes on a sketchy job. He has to find a young woman in Montreal, abduct her, and drive her back to her parents. Easy, no?
She’s an angry junkie who doesn’t trust anyone, and will do anything not to go home again – ever. Turns out, Jan (Amanda Crew) was adopted and now feels adrift – she doesn’t even know who she really is. It’s up to Avery to get her there safely. But things start to change.
There’s an extremely violent Quebec biker gang chasing the two of them, two young gangsters who think of Jan as their property, and a shady, secretive businesswoman orchestrating the whole deal by telephone for unstated reasons. And Avery is stuck in the middle of it — a thug magnet – but won’t give up on her. Are Jan and Avery enemies or allies? And will either of them ever connect with the people they really want to find?
Charlie Zone is partly an action-packed violent crime movie about the seedier side, partly a heartfelt drama about rural life, loves lost and families torn apart. Glen Gould and Amanda Crew make a good pair, (though without any sexual spark between them) and the plot-driven story keeps you guessing till the end.
Jump is the closing film next weekend at the Toronto Irish Film Festival, playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. And Charlie Zone which won this year’s Best Dramatic Feature award at ImagineNative, opens today. Check you local listings
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com .
October 20, 2011. The Calm Before the Storm. Movies Reviewed: Restoration, Wiebo’s War, 50/50 PLUS ImagineNATIVE
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
There’s a term “The Calm Before the Storm”, and I’m getting the sensation that we’re there right now. Have you ever felt what it’s like before a tornado hits? It’s uncomfortably still, with a heavy weight in the pit of your stomach, and a strange feeling in the air. No wind. Weird feeling. Last weekend I stopped by the Occupy Toronto protest, where people are talking about how the middle class and poor — in countries like Canada, the US, Germany — have had their incomes go down or stay stangant over the past two decades, while a tiny percentage, that “1%”, have had the biggest increase in their wealth in a century. Our national wellbeing is not keeping up to the constant rise in GDP.
Before the march, they pointed out the medics, in case people got clubbed or shot, and asked everyone to write down a number to call in case you’re thrown into prison. So there was that nervous sensation, not knowing how the police would react, would they be violent?, and what the potential risks were for marching, even in a democratic country. It turned out to be totally peaceful with a friendly police escort and no bad incidents whatsoever… but you never know.
So, knowing that some countries are on the brink of self-destruction, and (not that the two are comparable) knowing that next week – Hallowe’en – will be marked with deliberate mayhem and confusion, I’ve decided to talk about three movies where people face potential chaos, calamity, and collapse, and the different ways they choose to confront the coming storm.
First is a movie, which played at TIFF, about people confronting personal change and relationships, and trying to avoid a collapse.
Anton (Henry David), a young man and almost a drifter is looking for work in a run-down section of Tel Aviv. He stumbles into an old-school furniture-restoring shop and gets hired immediately by the grizzled and grumpy old carpenter Fidelman (Sasson Gabai). But the childless co-owner of the place dies the next day, and leaves his half not to the carpenter, but to his son.
Fidelman’s broke. And his son, a lawyer, is a bit of a douche, who is glad to be removed from his father’s life as a tradesman. He calls the place a junkyard, and wants to sell the property to build a condo, destroying his own father’s livelihood and forcing him into retirement. But musical Anton, (who has family troubles of his own) vows to learn the trade and tries to find the golden egg that will save the store. If he can only locate the missing piece of a rare antique piano, it will change from a piece of junk to a treasure worth enough money to keep the place open, and evade the impending doom. Anton becomes almost a surrogate son to the carpenter… almost. But it’s complicated when he realizes he may be falling in love with the real son’s pregnant wife.
This movie had great acting from the two main characters. On the surface, it’s a “let’s work hard to fix the piano and save the shop!”-type story, but that’s just its superficial structure. It’s actually much more sophisticated. Though drab-looking, Restoration is a bitter-sweet examination of love, duty, families, allegiances, death and inheritance.
Next, a movie, which played at Hotdocs, about a man, his family, and his supporters who take drastic moves to confront what he thinks is a coming disaster.
Wiebo Ludwig is a devout Christian who lives in a remote, isolated colony with his fellow religious settlers in BC, near Alberta. Their lives are food and energy self-sufficient, but, in the 90’s, things began to go wrong. Goats started having frequent stillbirths, and, when a woman also miscarried, they realized their watershed had been contaminated by natural gas wells built right at the edge of their property.
He was later arrested, tried, and jailed for bombs he had set off at wells and pipelines in that energy-rich Alberta area. This movie follows filmmaker David York who was allowed to film inside their compound.
Is Wiebo a religious nut or a devoted social activist? Well, he’s certainly religious, but he’s crazy like a fox. The movie documents some of Wiebo’s (and those of his fellow settlers’) frequent brushes with the law and the big energy companies. There are run-ins with outwardly conciliatory execs from Encana; pointless, intimidating, and relentless police raids of their homes to test things like how many ball point there are on one floor, and how many cassette tapes are on another; and their increasingly fractious relationship with the nearby town, where they have found themselves local pariahs following the unexplained shooting death of young woman on their property.
Maybe both. I left the movie even less certain than before as to who’s to blame and what actually happened. While a bit slow-moving, Wiebo’s War gives a first hand look at a legendary Canadian figure (who was sadly diagnosed with cancer just a few days ago), his family and co-religionists, and the unusual junction between Christian fundamentalism and environmental extremism. …an inside look at the calm before the storm.
Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a shy, quiet, polite and passive guy, with a boorish and boisterous friend named Kyle, a smothering, worrying mom, and a beautiful but shallow girlfriend named Rachael. He’s in his twenties, no car, lives in a tiny red house far from the city of Seattle, and cubicle job at a beautiful public radio station (Support CIUT!) where he’s working on a story about a soon-to-erupt volcano.
But when Adam gets a pain in his belly, his doctor (a man with possibly the worst bedside manner ever) does some tests and tells him he has a rare form of cancer, and a 50% chance of living. He’s sent to a therapist (Anne Hendrick) who’s younger than he is, and is still at the student-teacher stage.
So, how is Adam going to face his situation? How will he deal with his casual girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is suddenly his caregiver? His best friend (Seth Rogen) who just wants to use his cancer buddy as a wing-man chick magnet? And his intrusive worry-wort mother, who is already taking care of his Alzheimer stricken dad? Or even his bumbling but sincere therapist, Katie? What will he do? Can he accept the possibility of death? Who is really important to him?
50/50, based on a true story, is not a bad movie – it’s sweet — but, beware, it’s not the comedy it’s billed as. It’s a drama — even a bit of a weeper — with some needed comic relief. Gordon-Levitt is perfect as Adam, as is Hendrick as Katie, while Seth Rogen – not so funny, a bit too much. But Angelica Huston as the Mother was shockingly good. I mean, she plays to stereotypes, but does it so well, I didn’t figure out it was her playing the part until the final credits!
50/50 is now playing, Wiebo’s War opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Restoration is playing one show only next week, on Sunday afternoon, October 30th, as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series. Go to tjff.com for details.
Also on right now in Toronto is the wonderful ImagineNATIVE, the world’s largest aboriginal film festival, that explores native film, art and music from Canada and abroad. Great stuff! Many events are free and they’re all open to everyone — go to ImagineNATIVE.org for details.
Next week: Hallowe’en!
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.
August 4, 2011. Things Inside Other Things. Movies Reviewed: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Change-Up, Cowboys and Aliens
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.
Have you ever wondered whether what you’re looking at is something with something inside of it? Or if it’s something that’s inside something (or someone) else? Let me give you an example.
I went to Toronto’s annual Night Market – a huge outdoor street fair full of Asian food stalls, held on Cherry Street near the lakefront – and amidst all the deep-friend stinky tofu, the Xinjiang lamb kebobs, and the bacon ice cream – something caught my eye.
What was it? Was it garlicky Korean bulgogi served on a crusty baguette? Or was it a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich with grilled beef filling? Was its essence the container or the content? Well, in any case, it tasted great, and the makers described it as a Vietnamese sandwich (with something in it.)
A big part of reviewing movies is determining the categories — the taxonomy — of a given film and its characters, trying to find an easy-to-understand label that encapsulates its true essence. So, to make a long story short, this week I’m talking about three movies, all about things with other things inside them: a documentary about a cave with paintings in it, a traditional western with some space ships in it, and two men who end up trapped inside one another’s bodies.
Dir: Jon Favreau
A stranger (Daniel Craig) rides into an old, run-down mining town wearing a strange metallic bracelet. He doesn’t know who he is, what he’s doing there, where he came from, or even his own name. he may have lost his memory, but he’s still a crackshot straight shooter with his six gun, and a good puncher in a dust-up. He knows right from wrong and good from bad, and is liked by dogs and small children. He just wants to remember what happened to his wife. But when the spoiled son of the town boss — an ornery cattle baron (Harrison Ford) — starts shaking down the locals for cash, the stranger steps in on behalf of the town folk.
All just an ordinary western, until, out of left field, comes a bunch of flashing alien spacecraft, plucking up all the people in some alien abductions, and taking them off somewhere (probably for some microchip implants, anal probes or brainwashing!)
So now it’s not the white hats vs the black hats, the people vs the bosses, or the cowboys vs the indians. Now it’s the humans vs the aliens, scary identical-looking monsters who are up to no good and probably want to take over the world. So they all band together, along with a beautiful woman (Olivia Wilde) who wears a flowered dress and knows something she’s not telling us.
It’s good there’s some native actors (Adam Beach and Raoul Trujillo) and fun to see a twist on old themes, but the movie, even with some scary 3-D effects, is fun enough to watch, but pretty hollow and predictable in its plot.
Much nicer is another summer 3-D pic:
Dir: Werner Herzog
Some tens of thousands of years ago a cliff collapsed in a French river valley, hiding the entrance to a series of caverns. The great German director and documentary maker Herzog is allowed into the restricted areas and shows us the amazing animal paintings on the walls: lions, rhinos, horses, and bulls; leopards, cave bears, and strange fertility totems. He leads us in three-d through the stalactites and stalgmites, and the glossy, drippy calcium deposits covering everything, from jawbones, to the charcoal they may have used to paint on their walls.
It shows shadows and firelight and the echoey music they might have played on tiny bone flutes.
And, because it’s a Herzog movie, he populates the documentary with all the eccentric types who end up showing their quirks before the camera. An archaeologist admits he used to be a unicycle-riding juggler in the circus. A master French perfumer sniffs his way around the caves to try to find any primeval odours that might still be there. And an eccentric scientist demonstrates spear-hurling techniques in a vineyard.
Though I thought the movie drags a bit in the long lingering shots of the wall paintings, it does give you both the forgotten dreams inside the narrow caves, and the people and world all around, emanating down rivers and through valleys across Europe, ending with some fantastic albino crocodiles.
Dir: David Dobkin
Dave and Mitch (Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds) have been best buddies since grade six. Dave’s married with three kids, a diligent, conservative careerist on the verge of a promotion if he can pull off a big corporate merger with a Japanese conglomerate. Mitch is a handsome hedonist, a foul-mouthed, struggling actor who lives the Life of Reilly: sleeping-in, smoking pot, hanging out, and having more casual sex than you can shake a stick at. Mitch envies the stability and symbols of success that Dave has, while Dave wishes he could go back to the freedom and fun of his college years.
Through some magical wishing they accidentally end up in each other’s bodies, having to live their buddies’ lives.
The rest of the movie is funny scenes of them trying to cope with the nightmarish situations they find themselves in, wearing the wrong clothes, saying the wrong things, and wracked by guilt once they see how others view them. Dave in Mitch’s body goes to shoot a movie without realizing he’ll be asked to perform sexually in a soft-core porn movie with a 70-year old women made entirely of botox, collagen, and silicon. Mitch has to take up all the responsibilities of an intense, stressful workplace, and an equally hard home life, with a neglected wife, and twin ADHD toddlers from hell. Will they get their old lives back? And do they really want to go back?
The movie’s funniness ranges from extremely funny (especially with the babies and kids, and the misbegotten sex scenes) to gross funny (with the explicit potty jokes and dick jokes) to cute funny, to… barely funny at all. Reynolds and Bateman get to play out of character which is fun. I think it all balances out with enough shocking and hilarious scenes to make it a worthwhile, if generally predictable, “guy” comedy.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is playing at the TIFF Bell Light Box, Cowboys and Aliens is also now playing, and the Change-up opens today: check your local listings.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.