Unexpected combinations. Films reviewed: Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite, Hitchcock/Truffaut

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Dreams, France, Hitchcock, Hollywood, Horror, Russia, Supernatural, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 15, 2016

cockneys-vs-zombiesHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

What do these movies have in common? Cockneys vs Zombies, Cowboys cowboysandaliens_1280x1024_3and Aliens, Bambi Meets Godzilla. Obviously, they’re all movies with unexpected combinations. So this week I’m looking at two new movies (though nothing like the ones I mentioned) that combine things in unexpected ways. There’s a documentary about the historic meeting of two very different directors, and a ghostly horror movie… set in Russia.

Queen-of-Spades-The-Dark-Rite_poster_goldposter_com_3Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite

Wri/Dir: Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy

It’s a snowy day in a Russian city. Four teenagers – Anya, Matya, Matvey and Seryozha – are playing a game. Matyev is a jock, Seryozha (Sergey Pokhodaev, Leviathin) is a nerd with glasses, Katya is an older redhead (Valeriya Dmitrieva), and Anya (Alina Babak) while tough is still just a 12-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mom.There’s an urban myth that says you can summon the Queen of Spades, a dead spirit, if you draw a door on a mirror in lipstick by candlelight, and repeat her name three times — Queen of Spades, Queen of Spades Queen of Spades. (Don’t try this at home, kids…) Naturally, nothing happens – well not right away.

After the game, the four friends go back to their respective apartments, as usual, but at night queen_of_spades_the_dark_rite-HD— that’s when the scary stuff begins. Turns out the Queen of Spades was a Russian aristocrat who murdered kids for their money. She was caught and the cut out her tongue and shaved he head, left to roam the streets in black rags – hence the Queen of Spades. But her spirit, if that’s what it maxresdefaultis, will come to you by night with a scissors to snip off your hair, and kill you.

When the kids start dying, one by one, Anya’s and her divorced parents (Igor Khripunov, Evgeniya Loza) flee the father’s apartment. Will the ghost follow them there? Eventually they track down a former doctor (Vladimir Seleznyov) in a dacha in the woods.He’s an expert at getting rid of 2QwUuFdP6P8wgoWmvWxoxdHzbAgghosts — and holds a grudge against this o ne in particular. But can anyone defeat the Queen of Spades?

This is a good scary horror movie. It feels like those creepy Japanese movies from the 90s like Ring and Dark Water (Hideo Nakata), with a good dose of the Exorcist thrown in. The plot is very conventional, but what I found so interesting was the look of the film. So that’s what a Russian funeral looks like. Or a hospital, or even a public toilet with curved tiled walls inside. And I never knew people upholster their front doors. Great austerity and cold creepiness.

The acting is generally good, and the suspense keeps you watching, but it’s the look I really like from this ghostly Russian pic.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Dir: Kent Jones

Francois Truffaut is today known as a great French Director and one of the founders of the nouvelle vague, the French New Wave. But before he was a director he was a film critic. As a young movie enthusiast, he was taken under the wing of andre Bazin, and brought into the fold of an extremely influential magazine, the Cahier du Cinema. It’s the Cahier du Cinema (and Truffaut himself) that changed the way we look at films as a body of work of a single artist. Directors became oYmq0j_hitchcocktruffaut_03_o3_9009094_1463581659“auteurs”, the authors of a series of films. Before that, they were employees of the huge factory mentality of Hollywood —   important and well paid, for sure, but a cog in the wheel.

In the 1960s, the fledgling French director wrote to the incredibly successful Alfred Hitchcock. He asked if they could meet for a week in Hollywood for a series of detailed interviews for a book. Now, Hitchcock was rich and successful and his qjov52_hitchcocktruffaut_01_o3_9009008_1463581640movies were often hits. But what he didn’t have was critical praise, He was dismissed as unimportant, popular entertainment. And he never received an Oscar.

So Hitchcock said yes.

The result was Hitchcock/ Truffaut an incredibly influential book that served as a bible for future directors. This film, with the same name, shows the original recordings and photos those interviews. It’s illustrated with crucial stills and clips from the two directors’ works. And many of the directors they influenced — Scorsese, Fincher, Linklater, Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and many others — appear to talk about these movies.pgn062_hitchcocktruffaut_02_o3_9009051_1463581649

You find out Hitchcock didn’t have a great relationship with his actors — he said they were cattle that had to be moved around.

It turns out Hitchcock was a total perv and so were most his characters! He calls Scottie (the Jimmie Stewart character in Vertigo) a necrophiliac.

If you’re into movies, film criticism, cinema studies, or if you’re a filmmaker yourself, this one is a must-see. Fascinating documentary.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite opens today in Toronto: check your local listings; Hitchcock/Truffaut is part of a TIFF Cinematheque retrospective Hitchcock/Truffaut: Maginificent Obsessions running all summer long, with films by those two great directors. (Stay tuned, I’ll be covering some of the films later on this summer.) Go to tiff.net for showtimes.  

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 director Sean Garrity about his new film BLOOD PRESSURE

Posted in Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Guy Maddin, Hitchcock, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Suburbs, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2013

directorWhat would you do if you lived in house with your husband and two kids… and you suddenly started getting letters from a secret admirer?

Letters from someone who seems to know you better than your own family… And what would you do if they could almost read your mind? If they cared about you? And what if they asked you to do something that might be taboo, or maybe immoral, or possibly… illegal?

Would you be thrilled? Intrigued? Scared? Indifferent?

An unusual new movie, a dramatic, psychological thriller asks just these questions. It’s called Blood Pressure, and it’s directed by a well-known Canadian filmmaker from Winnipeg. (The movie opens today in Toronto.)

Director Sean Garrity talks about how the film’s story developed, whether it’s a thriller or a family drama, an identifiable Winnipeg style, his run-in with government censorship… and more!wall

Valentines Day Date Movies. The Roommate, Gnomeo and Juliet, Modra

Do you long for the good old days of your youth, when people gave holiday gifts purely out of love, and commercialization had yet to permeate all our rituals and celebrations?

I want to say that I’m bothered by the ever increasing commercialization of holidays, but I’d be lying. I’ve been handing out store-bought candy and valentines since I was a little kid, so I have no memory of a non-commercial Valentine’s Day, if there ever was one. So, in keeping with spending money to say I love you (or I lust for you), here are some potential date movies for next week, that explore themes of romance, passion or love.

The Roommate

Dir: Christian E. Christiansen

… gives us a not-so-typical relationship of sorts, a story of a poor little rich girl who just want to be friends, but takes it to a new level.

Sarah (Minka Kelly) is from Des Moines, Iowa, but loves studying fashion in Southern California. She may not be rich, but she has a sense of style that can’t be taught. She has a tattoo of her dead sister’s name above her left breast. She has a funky Lesbian pal, and dorm mates who know how to drink and dance. At a frat house with her party-girl friend, Tracy, she meets a frat boy and they fall in like.

But when her new roommate, a rich and sophisticated, but somehow troubled, Rebecca (Leighton Meester), moves in, things begin to change. Rebecca has lots of expensive clothes, but Sarah dresses her up to be cool. “What are you a label whore?” Sarah asks. “I got this vintage jacket for 20 bucks at a garage sale!” Sarah also lends her a pair of earrings, not noticing that Rebecca doesn’t have pierced ears… Rebecca takes then anyway — cause Sarah’s her friend! — and pokes them through her earlobes drawing blood. And when she licks the blood from her fingers she gets a little evil smile on her face… Uh oh. (Don’t worry, this is a psychological thriller, not a vampire flick.) Things go downhill from there.

Rebecca likes drawing, but will not show Sarah what’s in her sketchbook. She becomes fixated on her roommate, and intensely jealous whenever Sarah’s friends seem to intrude on their lives. Party girl, ex-boy friend, frat boy, fluffy kitten… they are all potential targets of Rebecca’s increasingly warped mind. It’s not a romance; Rebecca just wants to be her (only) friend.

This is a weird movie, that varies from a few good spooky scenes, to lots of incredibly predictable TV style pap. Rebecca’s the stalker and Sarah the stalked, but the actress playing the victim character forgot to learn how to do scared. She’s better at “I like you!” “this is fun!” and “That’s OK!” (as she brushes back her hair from her pretty face) than at looking stressed or terrified. Leighton Meester is better, but she just looks deranged, and not nearly evil enough. And maybe its me but the whole movie seems too tame. If there’s a potentially crazed killer, you want to see at least some graphic splatter and gore, right? No…? This movie wasn’t scary.

This is a very forgettable (but fun enough), cable TV-grade, B-movie. I had a good time, the actresses are all attractive, and there were some neat aerial-view shots from the ceiling, like in a Hitchcock or De Palma horror movie. But the unintentionally funny scenes — like a montage of double-exposures of lips and eyes in a phone- sex scene; or Billy Zane as a supposed fashion expert, but wearing ridiculously clownish clothes as he teaches his university students about true fashion and style — were more interesting than the rest of the movie.

Leaving the theatre I overheard one girl repeating, “I’m never having a roommate… ever!” Which I guess sums up this not-very-thrilling, dumb thriller.

Gnomeo and Juliet (in 3D)

Dir: Kelly Asbury

This is a reworking of Shakespeare’s play about the star-crossed lovers of Verona, Romeo and Juliet, and their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. This version is unusual in that it’s told using plaster lawn ornaments in the main roles. Yes, you heard me: Plaster lawn ornaments.

Like garden gnomes — those little germanic-looking statues — cute lawn bunnies, plastic pink flamingoes, and ceramic frog. They live in a parallel universe, where, in the world of quaint suburban, English homes, they decorate the gardens, whenever the humans are around, but live their own lives when they are alone. Their one unbreakable rule is they have to switch back to immobile statues whenever a person comes near. And they all wear pointy hats.

This version is aimed at the pre-teen set, so, to make it easier to follow, they’ve turned Juliet’s Capulets into the red-hats, (who live in the garden ruled by Lord Redbrick) and Romeo’s Montagues into blue hats from the yard of Lady Bluebury next door. And instead of duels with sword fights, competitions take place in the back lanes involving drag races using old-school, chugging lawn mowers. The gnome statues are not allowed to go in each other’s yards, but when cute adventuress Juliet in disguise, meets equally rambunctious Romeo in a neutral area, they soon fall in love, without realizing they are from opposing clans. Juliet (with the voice of Emily Blunt) dresses in mittel-European clothes, while Gnomeo (James McAvoy), like all the male gnomes, has a graying neck beard, but otherwise acts like a teenager.

Meanwhile the feud between the two families, including the bullying Tybalt, escalates, even risking intruding on the human’s lives. Vicious gnomes attempt to symbolically castrate their rivals by smashing their point hats. Peacekeepers, like Featherstone, a flamboyant lawn flamingo looking for his long lost mate, and Juliet’s Nurse/Frog, proffer advice and warn against potential ruin, but death and destruction seem inevitable, as in the classic tragedy. Will this version end up with the death and suicide of the romantic lovers? While it’s true to Shakespeare’s original, keep in mind this is a Disney cartoon aimed at little kids.

It’s a cute, fun, cartoon romance, suitable for young kids, accompanied by a soundtrack (for some reason) of Elton John’s 70’s pop hits. While it does occasionally verge upon Disney’s old standby theme of the helpless girl needing to be rescued by the brave prince, they have mainly moved on, and give the modern Juliet her own strength and courage, so both boys and girls can have their requisite positive role models.

Good for an afterschool group date.

Modra

Dir: Ingrid Veninger

For a very beautiful, subtle, and gentle semi-romance of two teenagers from Toronto visiting Slovakia in the summer, you really should see Modra.

Modra is about a 17 year old girl named Lina (Hallie Switzer). She breaks up with her boyfriend just before they were supposed to fly to visit her relatives in Slovakia. On an impulse she invites a guy, Leco (Alexander Gammal) from her high school to go with her instead. So they land in this very small town, with orange rooftiles in a green valley. And Leco, who speaks no Slovakian, is introduced as her boyfriend – they’re given a room to share.

Lina and Leco’s – who make a very cute couple – relationship shifts gradually from non-existent to estranged, to warm, and back again over the course of their week long visit. This is not a conventional, mainstream boy-meets-girl drama, with revealed secrets, and big plot turns. And the European locations aren’t there to evoke glamour, The Slovakian town is isolated and rustic. The locals wear their traditional costumes for special occasions – embroidered dresses, men with black feather plumes on their hats as they sing or dance folk songs. There’s the town mute, the local ranch, the local hood who hits on Lina. Loudspeakers on poles make echoey announcements harkening back to its Stalinist precedents.

“Modra” is a very sweet, low-key, naturalistic film, with first-time actors – and non-actors – experiencing things on camera at the same time as the audience. It’s a gentle, verite travelogue of two kids on the cusp of adulthood. I like this kind of almost-documentary film when it works — and in Modra, it really works.

It was voted one of the Top Ten Canadian movies of the year, and I couldn’t agree more. It has that new Toronto feel to it, that I also saw in No Heart Feelings and This Movie is Broken. It would make a great Valentine’s Day date movie.

Rommates is now playing, Modra opens today in Toronto at the Royal Cinema, and Gnomeo and Juliet also starts today, across North America. Check your local listings.

Next: The Eagle,  Ong Bak 3

Late Teens, Early Twenties. Films Reviewed: Heartbeats, Bran Nue Dae, Never Let Me Go, Catfish

There’s a surprising variety in the films about people in their teens and early twenties that played at the Toronto Film Festival. I’m looking at a few of them, plus one odd duck from outside TIFF that fits the category too. Like most coming-of-age or college movies, these have love, crushes, and passions; followed by some big revelation or shock that shakes their hopes and beliefs to their very foundations.

Each of these movies, though, has a twist that makes it just a little different from the usual teen or college movie. One has a gay element; one involves indigenous people as the main characters; one takes place in an alternate reality from the one we live in; and one is based mainly on the difficulties of using facebook – and, no, unfortunately, I’m not reviewing that Social Network movie that’s opening today – I’m reviewing the other facebook movie.

Heartbeats

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Quebecois Xavier Dolan, who directed, wrote, and starred in his great debut film, J’ai tue ma mere / I killed my mother,

(about a gay teenager and the problems he has with his mother) is back with his second triple-threat movie, called Heartbeats or Les Amours Imaginaire. In this one best friends Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri), both become infatuated with a good-looking, intelligent, rich, and personable newcomer to Montreal, Nicolas (Niels Schneider). Neither wants to admit they like him, but each of them secretly schemes how to win him over. Nicolas, in the meantime, flirts with them both — he loves being the centre of attention and adulation. The tension and competition between the two friends grows until it explodes during a trip the three of them take to a house in rural Quebec.

It’s not a bad movie — it’s a light-hearted farce, well acted, and interesting. It just felt like a bit of a let-down after his much more dramatic, entertaining, and moving first film. If only Dolan could have kept it as just the three-character story. But instead he adds very long scenes of people shopping, of long pillow conversations in dim light with their various sex partners; and periodic scenes of talking heads of unidentified montrealers giving their views on sex, relationships, and break-ups.

To me it seemed like a good 45 minute film, but with lots of filler to stretch it out into a feature film. OK maybe that’s not fair. Dolan may be 21, but he puts in as many cultural, literary, and filmic allusions as a well-established filmmaker. He’s not playing around, I assume, and there must be some reason for all the less interesting scenes. But still, the movie could have used more of the story – which was great! – and less of all that extra stuff, which was… just not very interesting. It broke up the flow, it didn’t add to it.

The characters were all fun to watch, and the acting was great by all three, plus a hilarious cameo by Anne Dorval – she’s amazing. (She was the mother in J’ai tue ma mere.) Enjoy Heartbeats as a light, pleasant comedy, and leave it at that.

Bran Nue Dae

Dir: Rachel Perkins

Another pleasant diversion is this Australian musical – yes, a musical – that played last year’s Toronto Film Festival. 50 years ago: Willie, an aboriginal kid who lives in a shack with his deeply religious mom in Broome – a small town in Western Australia — likes a cute girl with a great voice who sings in the local bar. But she’s hanging with a greaser. He gets sent to a residential school, where kids wear uniforms and learn religion. He rebels much to the dismay of a priest, Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush). Willie makes his way back to Broome, chased by the priest, and falls in with a hobo, who says he’s his Uncle Tadpole; but he’s a trickster, who does things like throwing himself in front of a car to get money or maybe a free ride. They encounter a tough floozie in a roadhouse, a German guy and his Aussie hippie girlfriend looking for his Dad for some reason, in a VW bus in the outback. They all set out to reach Broome. The movie traces all the characters’ adventures, punctuated by songs and dances, as Willie makes his way back home to see the girl he longs for.

It’s not bad for a low budget movie… its very distinctly Australian, cute, funny, with a cast that’s largely made up of indigenous people and pacific islanders. Some of the songs are better than others. Interestingly, the young woman with the great voice apparently won Australian Idol a couple years ago. It takes place in the past but the whole movie also has a bit of a dated feel to it – it could be because it toured the country as a play for 20 years before it was made into a movie. But if you like musical comedies, or want to learn about a very different, yet oddly similar, culture; or if you just want to a good old fashioned-type story with all the hidden identities and plot turns, and you approach this without grand expectations, you just might enjoy Bran Nue Dae.

Never Let Me Go

Dir: Mark Romanek

It’s 1983 somewhere in England. So you expect to see skinheads marauding on the streets, people in bright colours and funny haircuts listening to the latest Duran Duran album, pop culture everywhere. But no. This is a different England than the one you’re used to. Three kids at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham, grow up as close friends. Tommy (Andrew Garfield) gets bullied because he’s easy to tease – he’s got an anger problem. Kathy (Carey Mulligan) is kind and mature but a bit plain, while tall, beautiful black-haired Ruth (Keira Knightley) is a bit selfish.

They, and the other kids, live an isolated, sheltered existence, never really seeing the world outside the experimental school. No fighting. No bad manners. They’re raised from a young age to be Carers and Donors (wonder what that means… hmmmm…). The movie shows them realize what their purpose is in life, in their duty toward the country that takes care of them. They are there to provide medical help – their whole existence, once they graduate, is to care for the ill and elderly, who often live to be well over a hundred. But Hailsham grads are a special case, and it is said, that some can break loose from their inevitable fate. The three friends, Kathie, Ruth and Tommy decide to try.

This one is not a light diversion. It’s a depressing, demoralizing downer of a movie. It’s pretty interesting, an adaptation of the British writer Kazuo Ishiguro (the author Remains of the Day) ‘s disturbing science fiction novel. It’s a tender, moving film, showing the trade-offs a society goes through for the greater good, a sort of an alternate reality set in the past. Great acting, kinda creepy story.

Catfish

A “documentary”

Nev, a photographer in NYC discovers that a little girl, Abby, in small-town Michigan is making paintings of his photos – and sending them to him. He communicates with her, her mother, and her beautiful older sister Megan.

Nev and Megan’s long distance relationshipm via facebook, telephone and texting, takes on a sexual dimension. Although they’ve never met face to face, they feel like they’re together. But when she emails him some obviously pirated music tapes, and claimed she was the singer, Nev begins to suspect something is not right. So he and his buddies, the so-called documentary makers, drive out to Michigan to confront her.

I felt really misled by the advertising for this movie – they claimed it was a Hitchcockian thriller. Well it ain’t. It’s a not-very-good low-budget pseudo-documentary about social networking, I’d rank it slightly above “Bridezilla” (the notorious youtube forgery about a bride whose hair goes bad on her wedding day) that might work online, but feels like a rip-off on the big screen. Instead of Catfish, this movie should be called Red Herring… or maybe Shaggy Dog.

And, finally, starting this weekend and running for one week is the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. It’s playing a wide variety of films, like “The Time that Remains”, a semi-autobiographical story by the well-known director Elia Suleiman, about the fate of Palestinians who remained in Israel, from 1948 to the present; two films on the noted poet Mahmoud Darwish; and “Aisheen: Still alive in Gaza”, a documentary shot just two weeks after the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009. There is also a panel discussion with Palestinian filmmakers, as well as a traditional Palestinian breakfast, catered by a Toronto chef. Lots going on from October 2nd to the 8th at the Toronto Palestine Film Festival – check out details, tickets, prices, and times, at tpff.ca.

The Demise of the Velvet Curtain

Posted in 3-D, Action, Avatar, Crank: High Voltage, Hitchcock, Movie Theatre Trends, Movies, Uncategorized, US, Velvet Curtain by CulturalMining.com on February 13, 2010

Everyone says that movies are going through a major change these days. I’m not so sure. Some people think that the big change is in their speed. The pace of movies is much more frenetic – and viewers have a lower attention span than they used to. So you get movies like Crank: High Voltage, a comic action movie from last summer about a British gangster who has to keep recharging the batteries in his artificial heart. Older action movies don’t have the speed and the special effects of newer ones. Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest — with airplane chases in corn fields and fight scenes on Mt Rushmore — are just not as impressive as they used to be. It’s simple enough now to have a herd of CGI elephants run across the screen, even for a cheap laugh.

But whether or not chase scenes are gradually speeding up their space, and are flashier, speedier, noisier, they’re still more or less the same. It’s just a matter of degree.

Other people point to the new technology available to audiences, saying: “After Avatar, all movies are going to be 3-D… And using video-game style animation!” I can safely say, that ain’t gonna happen. These kind of movies may become more frequent — as long as 3-D movies make money they’ll keep making them — but I doubt this will amount to a fundamental change in the nature of movies.

But I’d like to talk about one small detail that seems to be completely disappearing from the “movie experience” after 90 or 100 years, something that outlived silent movies, black and white movies, movies on film. But I’m not talking about something in the movie itself, but something outside the movie, in front of the movie.

There has been a subtle change in the past few years. One, seemingly superficial part of the movies is fading away. I’m speaking of the Velvet Curtain.

The what?

Traditionally, after the trailers, but before the movie begins, a curtain is lowered or pulled shut, only to reopen after the film starts to roll. So the first image of any film is the luxuriousness of curtains distorting the projected image, soon replaced by the crisper look of film directly on the screen.

You know when a movie is starting by the opening of the curtain, and when it’s over by its closing.

I don’t know for sure why it started. Perhaps a curtain was needed to replicate the vaudeville or stage theatres that were their main competition. In fact, many movie theatres used to share their screens with newsreels, cartoons, shorts, and B-movies in double features – so the opening of the curtain before the main movie gave it a sense of majesty.

Many theatres are now inserting a metaphorical curtain before the movie, a 3-D -looking commercial celebrating the magic and adventure of that chain’s cinemas – plants growing around the seats, shooting stars and rainbows in the sky, teenagers excitedly drinking cups of cola – but it doesn’t do it for me. And they haven’t even tried to find a replacement for the equally important closure at the end of a movie.

I’m not nostalgic, but I do regret the slow demise of this cinematic gesture, this "Amen", now in its death throes.

– Daniel Garber, February 12, 2010.

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