Dec 2, 2011 Fox Movies vs Hedgehog Movies. Films Reviewed: Surviving Progress, The Descendants PLUS VTape

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Death, Denial, Drama, Environmentalism, Gas, Hawaii, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2011

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.

Have you ever heard of “Foxes vs Hedgehogs”? Isaiah Berlin (in a famous essay about Tolstoy) wrote that writers and intellectuals were all either foxes or hedgehogs. Hedgehogs know one big thing, while foxes know many things. (He’s talking about expertise in a field versus generalists.) But I wonder if this can be applied to movies? Are their fox movies and hedgehog movies? I don’t know — all movies are collaborations of dozens or even hundreds of people… but they usual seem to be about one big thing. Fox movies (I don’t mean 20th Century Fox) might be ones like Enter the Void, or You are Here, or Magnolia; while hedgehogs are Remains of the Day or Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Then there are most movies which have a concept but where there’s no idea at all. I guess they’re neither foxes nor hedgehogs.

So this week I’m talking about two movies, a documentary about everything, and a humorous drama about a family facing a whole lot of problems all at once.

Surviving Progress

Dir: Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks

You’ve probably heard of “peak oil”: that’s the point where the oil yet to come out of the ground is less than what we’ve already extracted, so we’ve already used most of it up. People say we reached peak oil about 8 years ago, most of the found reserves are drying out, and that’s why they’re trying to get oil out of the tar sands and digging in remote areas to find whatever’s left.

But what if it’s not just peak oil? What if it’s peak everything? What if we’re using up all the credit we possibly could in the drive toward over- consumption; all the forests, the water, arable land is approaching point zero; what if the financial sector, with its rapacious, slash-and-burn attitude toward company takeovers in search of the next 10% profit rate…

This new documentary (based on Ronald Wright’s book “A short history of progress) poses a really interesting situation. Progress is defined as a technological advance that takes us out of each successive crisis and saves us. But what if these advances in technology or progress are the cause of these crises?

It uses the example of the mammoth. When the cavemen – who are basically us, genetically – used to go out and chase after woolly elephants, they’d kill one ot two every so often and eat them. But when someone came up with the new idea, the technology, that let them round up a whole herd and chase them off a cliff… well that was that. Peak Mammoth.

So the current financial crisis, the environmental crisis, the water, oil, shortages… maybe all our new ideas aren’t progress at all, but the start of disaster?

This is a really interesting idea, and a fascinating documentary. The movie consists mainly of talking head interviews by lots of famous experts like Vaclav Smil, Jane Goodall and Steven Hawking taking all sides of the argument. Personally, I would have liked more shots of apes playing with blocks or wooly mammoths falling off cliffs, and less long, talking-head interviews… but it’s still a really interesting topic.

(Definitely a fox movie, not a hedgehog, though, talking about everything and its opposite, to cover all points of view – it left me a bit overwhelmed by all it covered, and at a loss as to what the movie says we should do to solve the problem.)

The Descendants

Dir: Alexander Payne

Matt King (George Clooney) is a middle aged corporate lawyer in Hawai’i, who, along with all his cousins, is apparently descended way back from a Hawaiian princess, but looks, sounds and acts like a rich white guy, a haoli. He’s in charge of the family trust for a land grant of untouched beaches and forests left by that Hawaiian royal family a century ago, and suddenly they have to sell it off to developers to make condos and golf courses before they lose it. Then, all of the sudden, everything hits him all at once. His wife is in hospital in a coma, so, for the first time he has to take care of his two daughters, Scottie and Alex (Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley), who are a handful. And if that’s not enough, the doctors say his wife may not survive – her friends, his in-laws, and everyone close need to be told. And his daughter Alex chooses this point to tell him some shocking news about his wife – something he never knew. So now it’s up to the three of them, plus Alex’s boyfriend Sid the pool boy, to journey around the islands to try to tie up the loose ends, and face their upcoming losses.

So it deals with a load of plot lines that are all over the place, like the scattered Hawaiian islands, but it’s held together with traditional Hawaiian music, scenery and style. This is a very sweet and interesting movie about a father and his family facing up to a whole bunch of problems all at once. The cast is great, the acting, the look and feel, the story too. I didn’t leave the theatre thinking “this is a deep movie” – it’s not – but it’s a good movie. It felt like the pilot for a really good HBO TV series. What’s this family’s next adventure? I want to find out!

Surviving Progress opens today in Toronto, and The Descendants is playing now, check your local listings.

Also check out VTape’s program this Saturday, a very foxy movie program, where the staff at this experimental art-video space has selected a special, eclectic program, CARRIED AWAY, which they describe as “a sampler box of chocolates” including “mash-ups, tender meditations, and animations, both precise and apocalyptic”. That’s on this Saturday, Dec 9. Go to www.vtape.org for more information

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

June 17, 2011. Indie Enough for You? Movies reviewed: Hip Hop Mom, Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard, 6 Ft Hick , You Can’t Sing it for Them, Below New York, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hawaii, Movies, Music, NXNE, Pop Art, Spirituality, tattoos, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2011

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

You may have noticed the sudden influx of caterpillar mustaches and black T-shirts on guys, women with pig tails, or Betty Page hairdos and half-sleeve tattoos; a net increase in the per capita level of skinny jeans and Raybans; or the preponderance of Mohawks, no-hawks, and even a few faux-hocks…

You may have felt a change in the air and wondered what was exactly going on – is it a detox convention? A hairstyle and denim expo? The answer is, no, none of the above. It’s NXNE, the huge indie music and film festival that’s going on all over downtown Toronto right now.

That’s right, music and film – aside from the huge number of great groups, there are movies – mainly documentaries about music, musicians, subcultures, genres, and peripheral topics – that are playing alongside a lot of the musical sets, and they are worth checking out. If you buy a bracelet that lets you wander in and out of clubs for a day, I suggest you try a detour to some of the movies. So here are a few of the movies playing at NXNE.

Hip Hop Mom

Dir: Mina Shum

In this short, funny film, a mother who’s trying to calm her baby over her cel while she’s driving her car gets in a bit of a parking tussle with another mom. She jumps out of her car, her posse in brightly coloured sweatsuits appears out of nowhere, and they start a parking lot soccer mom showdown.

In another short movie,

Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard

Dir by David Eng and Katarina Soukup

the composer plays a concerto on both an old Underwood manual typewriter and on a piano, where music and words combine to make visible pithy comments on the notes the piano produces.

6 Ft Hick

Dir:Marty Moynihan

…is a feature length documentary that follows this Aussie garage punk band on a tour of Europe. What’s remarkable about the group are the two main musicians — Geoff and Ben, brothers who were brought up on a rural chicken farm — who violently break glass, pull their underwear elastics up to their shoulders, throw themselves at spectators, and often end up making out with each other on stage. And to think it used to be enough just to smash a few guitars into a speaker…

You Can’t Sing it for Them

Dir: Jacqueline Richard & Margot Fassler

…is a fascinating, almost academic, documentary both about the history of traditional African-American music — including spirituals, gospel, and other contemporary forms as sung by choirs in black churches — and a new choir director Jonathon Berryman who arrives at the venerable Messiah Baptist Church in Connecticut to save its choir.

The movie discusses the fading away of the traditional black church choir and how he attempts to pull it back together. While churches traditionally would follow their own liturgy and the songs associated with their particular denomination, Berryman, a trained musicilogist, tries to gather a whole variety of songs and styles, before they all, like many traditional cultures, just disappear. He does all this while a famous, elderly church member doles out her criticism. Although mainly about music and the people at this particular church, the movie also touches upon crucial historical aspects from slavery, to the civil rights movement and beyond. A few of the scenes with interviews and footage of rehearsals are a bit to languorous for my taste, but these are alternated with amazing short clips like a line of red robed children doing this unbelievable jumping and turning entrance to the church – like nothing Ive ever seen before. In general, the performances plus the story, make this is a fascinating and excellently researched story.

Below New York

Dir: Matt Finlin

Below New York is a neat, B&W short documentary showing the buskers and performers who operate in the stations and inside the subway cars of NY City. Do wop a capella singers, a blues guitarists and harmonica player, and a team of busker acrobatic dancers show how they do their short performances in the amount of time it takes a car to pull into a station and end it.

There are few other movies which I haven’t seen but which look good. I spoke with director Noel Lawrence about his new film JX Williams’ Cabinet of Curiosities about a seminal director who turned to the LA punk movement in the 70’s. He compared his work to Kenneth Anger’s satanic topics, and that alone should make it worth seeing. I’m looking forward to this one.

And Ivory Tower, Directed by Adam Traynor – not sure what it is, exactly, but it’s got the Toronto/Berlin axis of Peaches, Feist, Chillie Gonzales and German Hiphop group the Puppetmasters, so it could be really surprising – and I love surprises.

Finally, I caught a movie called:

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Dir: Erich Weiss

This is a movie about the current explosion of tattoo art, and where it came from. It does this by focusing on one guy, Norman Collins, a strange, irreverent, right-wing tattoo master who incorporated Japanese motifs and techniques (traditionally worn only by members of the Yakuza in Japan) into the more standard America styles.

Tattoos have the image of being louche, skid, skeezy, underground, transient, rebellious, and vaguely illegal. Parlours were located on the wrong side of the tracks, in ports like San Francisco, Shanghai, Yokohama, Bora-bora. Often they shared their quarters with brothels, VD clinics, fortune tellers, or abortionists. Far from the mainstream, part of what gives them their current appeal.

In WWII, a million sailors and marines passed through Hawaii, and it became a rite of passage to visit Hotel Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown where men got drunk gambled, lost their virginity and inscribed the event it on the arms. This was and is a red-light district, and where Sailor Jerry set up shop. He drilled countless anchors, Hula dancers, geisha girls, sad sack sailors, broken hearts, grinning chimps, Chinese characters, palm trees, bald eagles, and mermaids onn men’s bodies.

Although it slips occasionally into what looks like a promotion for Ed Hardy, this is a fun movie, where most of the tattooers they interviewed look like retired Hells Angels, especially one old salt from Phillie. Everytime this foul mouthed codger comes on the screen with this woman in a strange black wig seated beside him, the whole audience cracks up even before he talks.

The guy is Popeye incarnate.

I really liked this movie, but unfortunately, I saw it under the influence, so my judgement could be flawed. There was a pre-screening party promotion for a spiced rum named after the tattoo artist, so the cola-rum-and-stout mixtures were flowing fast and furious. I guzzled a few of those, and there must have been something special about them, because I woke up the next morning in a dark alley with a splitting headache and the words dude and sweet tattooed across my back.

The films I reviewed are all playing at NXNE, which runs through the weekend. Pick up a free program, buy a bracelet, or just catch some of the free shows at Dundas square and free movies at the Hyatt Regency screening room. Look on line at NXNE.com .

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

%d bloggers like this: