Good genres. Films reviewed: Ishtar, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Hereditary

Posted in 1980s, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Family, Horror, Japan, Movies, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

As I frequently say, don’t confuse highbrow cinema with good movies, and genre films with bad movies. Good and bad exist in both worlds. This week I’m looking at three entertaining, genre movies: a comedy thriller, a horror movie and a horror/comedy. We’ve got lounge singers in a hotel in war-torn North Africa, a singles retreat in a hotel run by vampires, and a family living in a dollhouse-like home… that might be haunted.

Ishtar (1987)

Wri/Dir: Elaine May

Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) is a gullible rube from the sticks; while Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) is a fast-talking pickup artist from Queens. Together they’re Rogers and Clarke a musical duo of singer-songwriters in New York. They think they’re going to be the next Lennon and McCartney or Simon and Garfunkel, but they are missing one key element: talent! Needless to say, they’re going nowhere fast. Their savings are gone, and their girlfriends have left them, and their agent is far from helpful. But he does have a gig for them at a hotel in Morocco. Sounds good! So they fly, off via the remote (fictional) kingdom of Ishtar.

But Ishtar is on the brink of revolution. And an ancient map that a local archaeologists has just found is the only spark needed to light that fire. Lyle and Chuck are clueless, of course, and just want to perform their act. But the hapless Americans are quickly drawn into this intrigue.

There’s a shifty American CIA agent (Charles Grodin) who convinces Chuck he can help their career; and a fiery revolutionary named Shirra (Isabelle Adjani) disguised as a young man who seduces Lyle to get him to help her cause. Will Rogers and Clarke split up? As fate would have it they end up in a camel caravan in the Sahara desert, pursued by militants, mercenaries, gun runners, nomads and US bombers, all convinced they have that crucial map.

When Ishtar came out in 1987 it was a collasal flop with many critics calling it the worst movie ever made. I disagree. I finally watched it and I think it’s a hoot. It’s funny and politically astute; when was the last mainstream comedy you saw with the CIA and US military as the bad guys? OK, its cultural impressions are rather obtuse, but it’s making fun of the American characters’ disguises not the locals. And it takes place before the “regime change” wars yet to come.

More than that, here are Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman — former icons — making fun of the whole generation of baby boomers, saying how did they all end up so uncool? Even their improvisational songs are bad-funny. If you’re yearning to see a forgotten piece of 80s culture, check out Ishtar.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Wri/Dir: Sion Sono

It’s 2022 in Tokyo, Japan, and something big is about to happen. Manami (Tomite Ami) can feel it. She’s about to turn 22 and is having strange thoughts. Like buzzing away at her hair until she looks like Eleven on Stranger Things. But when she witnesses a mass shooting inside a restaurant that kills everyone but her she really freaks. She barely escapes and owes her life to a mysterious woman named K (Kaho). That’s when Manami discovers the killings were committed by rival gangs searching for her. She is crucial to their plans, but she doesn’t know why.

Meanwhile, a major Tokyo hotel has invited singles to a special event – a dating weekend for coupling up. What the guests don’t know is the hotel is run by vampires. And they’re the main course. Add a rivalry between two vampire lineages, the Draculs and the Corvins, fighting for power; a Transylvania/Japan connection, and a Prime Minister who might destroy the world, and there you have it: a bloody, non-stop battle royale fought by rival vampires and hotel guests in a Tokyo hotel.

If you think that’s a lot of plot for one movie, you’re right. It’s actually a condensed version of a TV series, edited to fit into a single film. There are love affairs, Romanian castles, hidden rivers, a female killer dressed in pink, and sinister royal matriarchs, one of whom runs a secret world of blood orgies involving thousands of slaves… hidden inside her vagina! Tokyo Vampire Hotel isn’t for everyone, but I found it shocking, disgusting, sexy and hilarious.

Director Sion Sono is one of my favourite Japanese directors, a master schlockmeister unmatched when it comes to rivers of blood. Every frame uses saturated colours, and lightning-fast editing.

He treats blood as an art form, spilling it everywhere in a grotesquely beautiful way.

Heriditary

Wri/Dir: Ari Aster

Annie and Steve (Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne) are a happy middle aged couple with two kids. Peter (Alex Wolff) is a pothead in high school crushing on a girl from class. Charlie (MIllly Shapiro) is younger and a bit tetched in the head. She draws strange pictures and puts scraps of wood and metal together to make little dolls. She must have got that from her mom, an artist, who builds intricate doll houses that recreate important aspects of her own family’s lives. They live in a beautiful if isolated wooden home filled with her doll houses.

But ever since Annie’s own mother died, strange things keep happening in her house. Things like doors opening by themselves, and nonsense words found scrawled on walls. Charlie wanders off when she should be at home, Peter awakens from hideous nightmares, and mom finds herself sleepwalking holding a knife in a fugue state. What can it all mean? But when decapitated birds lead to human deaths, Annie feels she has to stop this. But what is she fighting aganst? And is she too late?

Hereditary is a chilling thriller/horror, beautifully made. You’re never quite sure if your watching Peter’s pot-fueled nightmares, Annie’s sleepwalking visions, life inside her intricate dollhouse dioramas, or real life. And by “real life” I mean supernatural goings on.

Scene changes are so skillfully done, it shifts seamlessly through these conflicting realities. This is director Ari Aster’s first feature but the acting, art direction and camera work turns a conventional story into a remarkable film.

Great movie.

Hereditary opens today in Toronto; Ishtar is at TIFF Cinematheque as part of Funny Girl: The Films of Elaine May; and Tokyo Vampire Club is playing at Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival.

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

Christoph Schlingensief: Approach those you fear. Films discussed: The German Chainsaw Massacre, The 120 Days of Bottrop, Foreigners Out! Schliegensief’s Container

Posted in Art, Austria, Berlin, Experimental Film, Germany, Horror, Nazi, Theatre by CulturalMining.com on May 11, 2018

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

Christoph Schlingensief was a performance artist, TV producer and filmmaker known for his pranks. A Till Eulenspiegel for the new millenium. He was born in 1960 in Oberhausen, Germany and made his first film while still a kid. He became a devotee of avant garde film, music videos, mainstream Hollywood, and the New German Cinema.

His work incorporates Brechtian theatre techniques and its exaggerated, in-your-face style. In any given film you can find contemporary art, TV clips, historical footage, and even samples of his own past work, edited into the project. He became widely known in German-speaking Europe — though not outside it — for his TV shows, especially an impromptu talk show shot on Berlin’s U-Bahn. Sadly, he died of cancer in 2010 at the age of 49.

You’ve probably never seen his work, so this week, I’m going to talk about a special series of three movies now playing in Toronto, sponsored by the Goethe Institut (and co-presented by the Laser Blast Film Society and KinoVortex). There’s a look at German unification using cannibal serial killers, an epitaph to New German Cinema in the form of naked people running rampant, and a take on rightwing politcs and xenophobia using a mock reality show… that “deports” undocumented immigrants! 

The German Chainsaw Massacre (1990) (Das deutsche Kettensägen Massaker a.k.a. Blackest Heart)

It’s Germany just after the reunification of East and West. Almost everyone has moved westward, but a tiny few remain in the East. This includes the beautiful but downtrodden Clara (Karina Fallenstein) who is repeatedly abused by her drunk husband. She fights him off with a kitchen knife, jumps into her Trabant and heads for greener pastures. But little does she know, she’s going from bad… to wurst.

She meets up with her boyfriend Artur only to see a stranger slash up poor Artur’s body. And when she seeks help at roadside inn, she’s accosted by a sex-craazed lesbian dressed in black (Sussanne Bredehöft, who also plays Clara’s husband), and her equally weird colleagues. Behind closed doors they put rubber masks on anyone who stays there and brutally chops them up before grinding them into sausage. Can Clara defeat these evil cannibals? Or will she end up on someone’s BBQ?

The German Chainsaw Massacre is the second chapter of Schlingensief’s German Trilogy. It’s a genuine horror movie, but so over-the-top that you can’t take it seriously. Its actually very funny, in a disgusting sort of way, mimicking American slasher movies while also satirizing German fears of reunification. (I think it’s also a comment on how ordinary people in the East were treated like pack animals — or sausages! — to feed the hungry West German labour market.)

The 120 Days of Bottrop (1997)

Whatever happened to German Cinema? Schlingensief wants to know. Where are the great directors like Fassbinder, the stars like the beautiful Romy Schneider and 70s heartthrob Helmut Berger? So he decides to get Fassbinder’s stars back together again to film a remake of Pasolini’s most controversial movie: Salo or 120 days of Sodom.

The original film was about Nazi occupied northern Italy, where they conducted horrific S&M orgies using people as sex slaves for their entertainment. This new version, though, is a low budget German art film, and the actors only agree to come out of retirement for the chance of working with Helmut Berger (or maybe sex with the nude models.)

But professional jealousy and rivalry soon takes over, and everything falls apart. The “director” is a mock-Fassbinder complete with fake moustache, while the cast is composed of leches and divas who are going crazy, entering dementia or attempting suicide.

Can this film ever be made? And will Helmut ever show up?

This film is a panoply of meta-references to other movies. Schlingensief is there as Jesus on the cross (who a Klansman tries to set on fire) alongside medieval nuns (Pasolini-style), New York pop-art fashion (Warhol-style), with cameo performances ranging from the omnipresent Udo Kier, to Roland Emerich, Germany’s big-budget schlockmeister. Bottrop is a funny (if ridiculous) satirical look at the last gasp of New German Cinema.

Foreigners Out! Schliegensief’s Container (2002)

Dir: Paul Poet

It’s June 2000 in peaceful, culture-loving Vienna, when something unheard of happens. The conservative party forms a coalition with the ÖVP, Austria’s extreme rightwing Freedom party, headed by Nazi apologist Jörg Haider. The ÖVP is populist and xenophobic, portraying asylum seekers as drug dealers and killers (sound familiar?). That’s when Christoph Schlingensief set up a display – inside a shipping container – right beside Vienna’s Opera house, called Please Love Austria, to commemorate this coalition.

He brought in a dozen people of varied ethnicities, dressed them in fright wigs and let them live there for a week on display, in person and online, 24/7. And like the reality show Big Brother, viewers are asked to vote to evict two contestants each day. The catch is, these evicted contestants, whom he says are illegal immigrants, are led off by security guards and (supposedly) deported! And just in case you didn’t get the message, a huge white banner on the container’s roof says: Ausländer Raus! (Foreigners Out!) And Schlingensief gleefully announces the colour of the people Austrians vote to deport – dark skin first, light skin later.

Naturally, this art installation triggers extreme reactions. On the far right, people began to shout and demonstrate to deport all foreigners. Some leftists take it at face value, and attempt to storm the container to “rescue” the so-called foreigners and tear down the sign. And many in the middle hate the negative attention it brought to Austria… though it’s Austria that voted Haider in.

This documentary covers the art installation and the public reaction to it over its week-long run. And punctuated it with the media coverage it received, notably from the Krone group of wildly popular tabloids, who many blame for Haider’s election.

The show never overtly takes the standpoint of the immigrants. They’re just props in his sideshow. Rather it exposes society’s creepiest undercurrents that are usually kept hidden. And it illustrates Schlingensief’s theory that the best way to expose the worst beliefs is to repeat them out loud where everyone can hear them. The louder the better.

It’s only through exaggeration that we can show reality. This exhibit ran almost twenty years ago, but I think anyone can see that it’s more relevant now than ever.

The German Chainsaw Massacre, 120 Days of Bottrop, and Foreigners Out! Schliegensief’s Container are playing on May 10th, 15th and 17th at the Tiff Bell Lightbox as part of Goethe Institiute’s three-part tribute to avant garde filmmaker Christoph Schlingensief.

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

Source: Christof Schlingensief: art without borders, (c) 2010, Tara Forrest and Anna Teresa Scheer, editors, with a foreward by Alexander Kluge.

Big Changes, Big Trouble. Films reviewed: Every Day, The Party, Annihilation

Posted in Army, comedy, Fantasy, High School, Horror, Movies, Politics, Romance, Science Fiction, UK, Y.A. by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2018

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

Everybody knows change is good, but big changes can lead to big trouble. This week I’m looking at three good movies about women facing big changes. There’s a British politician with a once-in-a-lifetime career change; a biologist investigating changes that are scientifically impossible; and a high school student whose boyfriend changes bodies once a day.

Every Day

Dir: Michael Sucsy

Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) is a highschool student in Maryland. Her mom’s a careerist, while her dad, since his breakdown, stays at home painting pictures. Her boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith) is a popular athlete… and a bit of a jerk. So she is surprised when he agrees to play hooky and spend the day just with her. It’s the perfect date: They explore downtown Baltimore, he pays attention to her, stops smoking, they share intimate personal stories, find their special song, and for the first time, they actually have fun together. Is this true love? But the next day he’s acting like a douche again, with only vague memories of the day before. It’s like he’s a different person. What’s going on?

What’s going on is he was a different person that day, someone named “A”. “A” is a bodyless being who inhabits a different person each day and — like Cinderella — departs that body at exactly midnight. “A” has no choice of who they’ll wake up as, except that it will be someone their age who lives nearby. “A” could be a boy that day, or a girl, could be black, white or asian, could be straight, gay or trans. Could be ugly or attractive. Rhiannon and “A” have to find each other each day to carry on their relationship. Hint: “A” knowing Rhiannon’s phone number helps a lot. Can their love overcome “A”’s ever-shifting identity?

Every Day is a cool, young adult fantasy/romance that works. It’s set in Maryland, but was shot in Toronto, and it has a Degrassi feel to it, where the multiracial, multigender nature of the cast is omnipresent but not central to the plot. Instead it deals with questions of identity, look-ism, and mental illness.

I liked this movie.

The Party

Wri/Dir: Sally Potter

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a politician in the UK celebrating her promotion, the pinnacle of her career. Starting tomorrow, she’ll be the Shadow Minister of Health for the opposition Labour Party. So she’s throwing a party for her nearest and dearest. They arrive two- by two . There’s Martha (Cherry Jones) – a lesbian feminist university prof with her earnest partner Jinny.   Cynical April comes with her flaky boyfriend Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz), a self-professed healer. And Tom — a nervous and brittle financier (Cillian Murphy) — comes without his wife Marianne, Janet’s closest friend and workmate. Janet’s husband the grey-bearded Bill (Timothy Spall) sits alone in the parlour spinning vinyl as she bakes her vol-au-vents, to show that a woman can feel at home both in Westminster and in her kitchen. Problem is, her hors d’oeuvres are burning even as her party is collapsing like a house of cards, as each guest reveals a big secret. There’s cocaine, champagne, a fire, broken glass, face slaps… even a handgun.

The Party is a drawing room comedy that pokes fun at the social conceits of a generation of middle-class, leftist baby boomers. It’s the work of Sally Potter, director of Orlando and Ginger and Rosa. Shot in black and white with a wicked musical soundtrack that shifts the mood from scene to scene, it clocks in at just over 70 minutes, as a short-but-sweet English comedy.

Annihilation

Dir: Alex Garland

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology prof at Johns Hopkins who specializes in mutating cancer cells. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) – a soldier she met when she was in the army – is missing and presumed dead. But when he shows up at her bedroom door, seemingly with no memory of what happened and how he got there, she decides to investigate. She’s valuable to the military, a woman as comfortable with a petri dish as she is with a submachine gun. She joins a crack team of scientists, all women, headed by the laconic psychologist Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their goal is to explore unknown territory within a swampy National Park.

It’s encased in something called “the Shimmer”, a phenomenon eminating from a lighthouse on the coastline.  No one who goes into the Shimmer comes out alive (except for her husband Kane) and it’s getting bigger and bigger each day. From the outside it looks like a giant rainbow-coloured, plastic shower curtain that’s melting upwards. On the inside it’s even stranger, a world where distinctions like “animal/vegetable/mineral” cease to exist. It’s both beautiful and grotesque, filled with Chihuly crystals, human topiary and brightly-coloured tree fungi. Unrelated species are combining and mutating at a rapid rate, into a cancerous growth — just like the cells Lena studies, only prettier. And they’re affecting the five women too, both their minds and their bodies. Video messages they find (left by previous soldiers) only make things worse. Can Lena survive the hideous creatures and her deranged and suspicious teammates before she faces the scariest entity of all?

Annihilation is a terrifying exercise in horror sci-fi psychedelia. It references everything from Arrival, to The Wizard of Oz to Apocalypse Now, as the team paddles their way though a Heart of Darkness in their search for emerald city. Natalie Portman is great as the elegant soldier-scientist, and director Alex Garland brings us a different take on post-apocalyptic images. Annihilation is the kind of psychedelic fantasy that keeps you guessing.

This movie is scary-pretty… and pretty scary.

The Party comes to Toronto next week (check your local listings);  Every Day and Annihilation open today. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

A plastic medium. Films reviewed: Luk’Luk’I, Happy End, Les Affamés

Posted in Canada, Family, France, Horror, Indonesia, Movies, Poverty, Quebec, Vancouver, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on January 12, 2018

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

Film is a very plastic medium, with filmmakers free to do just about anything as long as it ends up looking like a movie. This week, I’m looking at three new movies where characters (or actors) shift their roles in unexpected ways. There’s horror from Quebec where friendly characters turn into monsters; a Vancouver drama where real people play themselves; and a dark comedy where actors repeat characters they played in other movies… though not exactly.

Luk’Luk’I

Dir: Wayne Wapeemukwa

It’s 2010 in Vancouver, and the world’s best athletes are streaming into town for the winter Olympics. Crowds of rowdy yahoos in red and white hockey sweaters fill the streets. Scalped tickets are selling for hundreds of dollars, and downtown houses for millions. This is a city oozing with wealth.

But the people on Hastings in the rundown east end are still struggling to get by. Ken (Ken Harrower) is a soft-spoken gay guy who gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He likes playing bingo and meeting new friends. He has a wad of cash set aside to buy tickets to a big Olympic event. He runs into Rollergirl (Angela Dawson), an outspoken transwoman who performs fancy skate manoeuvres on her roller blades. She wants to share in the excitement. There’s Angel (Angel Gates) a buxom, indigenous sex worker all dressed in pink and black, who sees the Olympics as a good source of potential business. Eric (Eric Buurman) is an older drug user, always looking for his next hit. But he has a son out there he hasn’t seen in many years. And Mark (Joe Buffalo) has a close encounter of the third kind.

Luck’Luk’I is an experimental look at the overlooked side of Vancouver, the homeless and disenfranchised, the street walkers, drug users and local characters. It tells five loosely linked stories. The film wavers in an unexplored zone somewhere between documentary and drama. Most of the parts are played by actors playing themselves, and retelling their own stories. The director gives them writing credits. Sometimes he even hands them the camera with mixed results. At the same time, the film always seems a bit stilted because it emphasizes realism over drama. There are some genuinely moving parts, but I had to keep asking myself – is this a real event or a reenactment I’m witnessing? Or did it happen at all? Well worth seeing, but view it like a work of art, a Jeff Wall photo come to life.

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch of a Laurent enterprises a huge corporation based in Calais France. It’s run by his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) a no-nonsense business woman. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a successful surgeon, lives on the family estate with his young wife Anaïs. Then there’s the third generation. Pierre (Franz Rogowski) Anne’s son, knows how to wear a hard hat, but that’s about it. He’s responsible for a disaster that happens at a construction site. And Thomas’s daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) from a previous marriage re-enters his life when his ex-wife suddenly gets sick. This cute and innocent little girl is not as nice as she seems. She’s a tiny psychopath who does horrible things just for the lulz – and to share them anonymously on Snapchat. And Georges, the patriarch, desperately wants to end it all.

Happy End is a very dark comedy about a rich, dysfunctional family. Haneke its great director, does something really unusual: He recreates characters from a previous film, but with an entirely different back story. Amour, Which won an Oscar in 2013, was about an elderly musician man, Georges, facing his wife’s dementia. In Happy End, Georges (and his daughter) are back again played by the same actors, but this time not as musicians but as corporate leaders. And this time it’s a comedy not a tragic romance. Another great movie.

Les Affamés

Wri/Dir: Robin Aubert

It’s present-day rural Quebec, bucolic pastures where cows chew their cud and inchworms travel along twigs. There’s an F1 racetrack nearby., Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) runs a hunting club, and likes telling dirty jokes with his buddy Vezina. Pauline and Therese run a gas station, and are into home canning. And kids like Ti-cul and Zoe (Charlotte St-Martin) live ordinary lives with their families on farms. But something strange is happening. People stand in their fields staring off into the distance. Others carry wooden chairs to build a strange tower. A woman sits in the grass playing with a doll. What’s going on?

It’s a strange disease like leprosy that turns your fingers black and makes you split dark blood. And then suddenly you’re a zombie starving for human flesh. These zombies don’t grunt and drag their feet; they communicate using shouts and screams and run at breakneck speed to capture unchanged humans to eat. It’s up to the ones still alive – plus Tania (Monia Chokri) who says she was bitten by a dog, and a former “perfect wife” who now wields a machete – to band together and survive the onslaught. They share food and set up hundreds of mousetraps all around their house as a low-tech early-warning system. Who will survive? And can they stop the zombie-pocalypse?

Les Affamés (or The Hungry Ones) is a neat take on the zombie flic. It doesn’t differ too much from a Romero movie or TV shows like the Walking Dead, just enough to keep you guessing.  Beautiful images (like Tania ducking down in a field of low ferns to hide from the hungry ones), are a pleasure to watch. Great acting — the cast has some big Quebec names — and the combination of humour and terror works well.

If you like zombie movies, this is a good one to watch.

Happy End starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Les Affamés and Luk’ Luk’I are now playing at Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. Also at TIFF, Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here – maybe the strangest movie you’ve ever seen – is playing on the free screen. 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.

Daniel Garber talks with Michael Melski about The Child Remains

Posted in 1970s, Canada, Ghosts, Gothic, Horror, Nova Scotia by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2017

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

Rae and Liam are a happily married couple, the only guests at a quaint, private hotel. They drove to this out-of-the-way location for a quiet weekend together. Rae – an investigative journalist – is convalescing after a mental breakdown – and Liam, an aspiring musician, just wants to help his wife. Little do they know, this bed and breakfast was once a maternity hospital for unwed mothers, where terrible things took place. Some of the babies — and their mothers — were buried on the premises. Rae is troubled by strange dreams and visions all around the hotel. And a baby’s cry keeps her up at night. The bad days are long gone… but the child remains.

The Child Remains is a new and very scary movie. Set in small-town Nova Scotia, it’s inspired by true events, but with a supernatural twist. The film had it’s Toronto debut at Blood in the Snow, the Canadian horror film fest. The film is written and directed by award-winning Nova Scotia filmmaker Michael Melski whose movies I’ve followed for half a decade.

I spoke with Michael Melski in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

The Child Remains will be relased in 2018.

They’re just movies. TIFF 17 Tips plus Blood Honey

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Don McKellar, Family, Horror, Movies, Psychological Thriller, TIFF by CulturalMining.com on September 1, 2017

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

TIFF — The Toronto International Film Festival — opens next week, and if you’ve never been there, I think it’s a good time to check it out. There are hundreds of movies from all over, many having their world premier, attended by directors and actors. There are feature length films, shorts, animation, documentaries, art films and more. Midnight Madness has late-night screenings of horror, action and the kind of movies that won’t you won’t see at the cineplex. Today I’m going to calm your fears and address your reservations about the film festival. And I’m also going to talk about a Canadian psychological horror/thriller about bees opening today.

How to survive TIFF

Photos by Jeff Harris

Standing in line.

A lot of people don’t want to go to TIFF because they hate standing in long lines. I feel the same way. But if you have a ticket – individual tickets go on sale Monday – you don’t have to stand in line. Just show up on time and you’re guaranteed a seat. But what if you don’t have a ticket? If the movie is sold out you can stand in the rush line, which lets you buy a ticket at the door. If there are less than say 30 people, and it’s a big theatre like the Princess of Wales, you’ll have no trouble getting in. And standing in line is the best way to meet people. Normally reserved Torontonians open up to the strangers standing beside them during TIFF.

It’s expensive.

This is true (if you didn’t buy ticket packages back in June or July). But don’t give up. They’re trying to attract those fabled “millenials”. So if you’re 25 or younger you can get tickets to world premiers for the price of an ordinary 3-D movie.

It’s hard to get tickets

If you’re not hung up on seeing gala hollywood movies and big stars, there are many tickets still available. Your best bet is to try for a daytime ticket on a weekday. You can look online. And on the last day, Sunday, Sept 17, they have a free showing of the movie that wins People’s Choice.

What to bring

If you’re seeing many movies, treat it like going on a trip. Be sure to hydrate yourself, bring food and drinks. Because the weather is constantly changing I recommend layers and an umbrella. You might go from blistering heat outside, to freezing cold inside.

Don’t care about movies but want to feel the excitement

Make your way down to King St W — between University and Spadina — to soak it all in. In the first weekend the street is closed to traffic, so you can stand in line for corporate samples, gawk at celebs or just hang out with the tens of thousands of others who come to show off their stuff. Maybe you’ll be discovered. There’s a carnival atmosphere that’s a lot of fun to soak in.

Next weekend is the best time to check it out.

Blood Honey

Dir: Jeff Kopas

When Jenibel (Shenae Grimes-Beech) was a little girl she lived in a tiny community in Northern Ontario. Reachable only by boat or byplane, it sits among lakes and trees torn straight out of a Tom Thompson painting. But when her disturbed mother committed suicide she was sent away to boarding schoo. And now she’s back at the Hive, as the people who live on the island refer to it. Her family lives in a beautiful old mansion, but makes most of its money selling their prized honey.

There’s her belligerent brother Neil (Kenneth Mitchell), her deranged Dad (Gil Bellows) and her loving sister Linda, who has Down Syndrome (Krystal Hope Nausbaum). Also on the island are acquisitive land developers, a demented old lady and other assorted locals. They all get together in Jennibel’s living room to sing old favourites by the rinckity piano she still remembers how to play. Things are tense, but at least her childhood friend Bruce is there to keep her company – in and out of bed.

But things get worse when dad commits suicide by bee. (He throws himself into the honeycombs until swarmed to death.) And in his last breath he makes Jenny promise to sell the island so the family can get a fresh start. Family friend Bert (Don McKellar) is the estate executor — he will enforce the will. But family bickering is rising to a fevered pitch. And—I forget to mention – Jennibel suffers from “waking dreams” where she can see dead people and communicate with her late Dad and Mom. Is she delusional or psychic? When she begins to suspect the others are all gradually poisoning her with the dreaded red honey harvested on the island, she knows she has to escape from the Hive. But how?

Blood Honey is an over-the-top psychological thriller shot on location in beautiful northern Ontario. The acting and script ranges from very good to not very good at all — sometimes from scene to scene. But it’s never jarring enough to lose interest. It’s more weird and creepy than scary or gory, though there are a few shocking parts. This movie is not believable in any way, but it doesn’t have to be. And there are a few plot turns that I never expected.

Blood Honey opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And for more information on tiff 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.

Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

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

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel 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

 

Fighting Monsters. Films Reviewed: Tickling Giants, The Void, The Zookeeper’s Wife

Posted in 1940s, Animals, Arab Spring, Cultural Mining, Horror, Human Rights, Journalism, Poland, Psychological Thriller, WWII by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

If relationship, family, work or school problems are too hard to handle, a movie is a good place to escape it. Especially if the people on the screen are fighting real monsters. This week I’m looking at movies bout people facing monsters. There’s a Polish zookeeper facing the Nazis, a political comic facing a military government, and a smalltown sheriff facing something scary… he’s just not sure what.

Tickling Giants

Dir: Sara Taksler

Bassem Youssef is a heart surgeon in Cairo. In the heady days of the Arab Spring, he heads to Tahrir Square to help support protesters as best he can. Many of them are beaten and need medical attention. But what he really wants to be is a comedian – specifically a political comic like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. Under Mubarek, outright criticism of the government was not permitted. But with the newfound freedom that came with the popular uprising, he is able to launch a TV show, known simply as the show. With a team of writers and producers it brings political satire to the masses. The show is wildly popular, but the newly elected president Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t like him one bit. So he takes him to court and loses! Baassem Youssef is a free man. Until… Morsi is overthrown in a military coup, putting General Sisi in charge of Egypt. Sisi is popular and dictators don’t like criticism. SomeoPro-Sisi protesters declare Youssef a traitor for criticizing the army, while others fear he will disrupt the relative calm the military coup brought. Is Bassem Youssef just what Egyptians need? Or is he too much, too soon?

Tickling Giants is a funny and informative documentary about how US style political humour fares in Egypt’s. Illustrated with political cartoons by a young man Andeel, it offers behind the scene look at TV production and how it influences and is affected by politicians. One criticism: it could have been a bit shorter; it doesn’t take almost two hours to tell this simple story.

The Void

Wri/Dir: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski

Daniel (Aaron Poole) is a police sheriff in a small town – a place with very little crime. So he’s startled to see a bloodied young man, under the influence, come stumbling out of the woods. But when he takes him to the nearby hospital where his wife Alison (Kathleen Munroe) is a doctor in the ER, things get strange. Patients behave erratically, and two heavily armed men show up at the gate threatening to kill the kid. Stranger still, a group of identically-dressed men appear outside the hospital brandishing large knives. They are wearing white sheets and hoods, sort of like flat-topped Klansmen, but with a mysterious triangle painted on the front their faces.

And otherworldly visions appear in Daniel’s mind, full of dark clouds roiling over a lunar landscape. Has the town been invaded by satanic worshippers, drug fiends or sex-crazed maniacs? Nobody knows for sure. It’s up to the people trapped in the hospital — including a pregnant woman, a kindly doctor (Kenneth Welsh) a young intern, and a state trooper (Art Hindle) – have to settle their differences and fight the mysterious powers before they tear each other apart.

The Zone is a horror and psychological thriller about ordinary people driven to extremes in there resistance to unknown killers. There are some fun scenes and a few shocking parts — and I loved the weird images that appear in Daniel’s head — but on the whole, it’s more unintentionally funny that genuinely scary. Some of they dialogue is atrocious, and much of the movie left me scratching my heads as to what exactly is going on. (For example, when two characters are fighting in an imaginary landscape, you don’t know which of them is hallucinating.) I kept waiting for the robot commentators from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to appear on the screen to explain it all to me.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Dir: Niki Caro

It’s 1939 in Warsaw. Husband and wife Antonina and Jan Zabinsky (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) run the zoo as if the amimals are family members. Especially Antonina. She’s a female Doctor Doolittle, who really does talk to the animals. She goes for daily runs around the park with a dromedary and sleeps with a white lion cub. And at a party, everyone sees her save an elephant calf from choking. Especially impressed is Lutz Heck, a leading German zoologist (Daniel Brühl). But when the Germans invade, their world is turned upside down. The zoo is bombed and wild animals run rampant across the city. Afterwards Lutz offers to help save the zoo animals by sending the best ones – the purest breeds – to Berlin. (Purest breeds? Sounds a bit Nazi…)  Sure enough, the next time she sees him, he’s dressed in full Nazi  regalia. He’s a high-ranked officer. And he has his eye on the beautiful Antonina. But she and Jan have a plan of their own: to help save their Jewish friends and colleagues from certain death in the Warsaw Ghetto, and help move guns to the resistance. The concoct a complex plan to smuggle people out of the ghetto inside a garbage truck holding slop to feed their pigs. (They’ve turned their beloved zoo into a pig farm.) They are hidden in plain sight, inside the Zabinsky villa even while Lutz is operating an army base on the same premises. Will there plan succeed? Or will they and their rescued friends be sent to their deaths?

Based on a true story, the Zookeeper’s Wife is a romantic drama set in war-torn Warsaw, where a zoo serves as a secret sanctuary for Jews escaping the Nazi death machine. It’s also a Holocaust rescue story… with furry animals. As such, it abbreviates familiar images that have been shown in movies so often: broken windows, Nazi banners covering public buildings, ashes falling like snowflakes, children loaded onto cattle cars… At the same time, it avoids most of the blood, death and gore — the camera always turns away. There are some devestatingly sad parts, like a young girl, Urszula (Shira Haas) who is raped by two German soldiers before she is rescued.  Still the movie didn’t show me much I haven’t already seen, aside from the zoo  — which had new, haunting images.

Good as a tearjerker.

The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Void both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Tickling Giants is playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this weekend. Go to tiff.net/human-rights-watch/.

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

Flashback. Films Reviewed: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Rings, Shepherds and Butchers

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Coming of Age, Horror, Montreal, Movies, Prison, Seattle, South Africa, Trial by CulturalMining.com on February 3, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUTflashback-film-fest 89.5 FM.

If the 1970s was Hollywood’s golden age then the 80s and 90s were its tin foil age —when a series of corporate takeovers placed short-term profits over creativity, and the Oscars celebrated forgettable, middle-brow pap. Even so, there were some fun and popular movies from 80s and 90s. Films like Alien, Shallow Grave, and Starship Troupers are playing at Cineplex’s Flashback Film Festival (FBFF) across Canada starting today, giving you a chance to revisit favourites on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at flashbacks. There’s a rerelease of a Canadian coming-of-age classic from the 70s, a flashback to a courtroom drama set in apartheid South Africa in the 80s; and a new sequel to a Japanese horror movie from the 90s.

duddy_kravitz_4colThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)

Dir: Ted Kotcheff Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

It’s the 1940s in a poor, Jewish section of Montreal. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a teenager recently graduated from Fletcher’s Field (a.k.a. Baron Byng) High School. MBDAPOF EC001He lives with his widowed father Max (Jack Warden) who works as a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his big brother Lennie. Lennie is a smart and sophisticated med student at McGill. But Duddy has neither the brains nor the inclination to study.

He’s a boorish and loud, nervous and uncouth, always sweating and scratching, jumping MBDAPOF EC008and cussing. He has a filthy mouth and an intrusive manner. With no friends or admirers he just wants to get rich quick. His idol is a gangster known as The Boy Wonder (Henry Ramer), and his favourite retort is kiss my Royal Canadian Ass.

He gets a summer job at a holiday resort in the Laurentiens, but is relentlessly put down by rich kids from Westmount and Outrement. He makes friend with a pretty waitress named Yvette (Micheline Lanctot). They fall for each other and she takes him to a secret spot beside a pristine lake. He’s struck by its beauty and vows to buy it, but is blocked by Québécois farmers who never sell property to jewish people. And Yvette is turned off by his constant drive for profits and MBDAPOF EC006wealth.

Duddy sets off on a series of impossible ventures he thinks will make enough money to buy the land: Importing Pinball machines with his friend Virgil, an American he meets on a train (Randy Quaid); and producing films with an alcoholic British communist (Denholm Elliot). But in his quest for success, he risks alienates his friends, his lover and his family. What will he learn from his apprenticeship with the real world?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a hilarious and audacious drama from the 70s which deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a dark slice of Canadian life, a world full of bigotry, snobbery, selfishness and deceit, tempered with the glorious freedom of a young man pursuing his dreams.

15871828_1198279710249685_2066179248684362877_nRings

Dir: F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia (Matilda Lutz ) is a high school grad in small town USA. She’s sad because her pretty, but dumb-as-a-post boyfriend (Alex Roe) is heading off to university in Seattle. Don’t worry, Holt says, I’ll skype you every night. But when the calls stop coming and he doesn’t answer her texts, brave Julia heads off to Seattle to investigate. And she finds something strange: there’s an old black-and-white video everyone tells her to watch. What she doesn’t know is that anyone who watches this video will be dead in seven days. But if you trick someone else into15844158_1196804380397218_3255840937653140664_o watching it, you get another seven days added to your life.

Like Orpheus in the Underworld, Julia decides to forge ahead, rescuing her boyfriend from Hell. She intentionally watches the dreaded video, and using her powers of second sight – she’s clairvoyant — she decides to follow a ghost to its point of origin. But first she has to deal with a secretive professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) and a blind graveyard custodian (Vincent d’Onofrio).

Can Julia rescue Holt, defeat a ghost with long black hair, and figure out the meaning behind the cursed video tape?

Rings is a reboot of the scary Japanese movie Ring and its sequels. Last week I interviewed two ghosts from that era, Sadako vs Kayako. In the American films, Sadako is called Samara, and urban Japan becomes a village somewhere in Washington State. More than that, Rings trades the chill feel of video static for a more conventional American ghost story.

Is it scary? A little, especially towards the end as Julie’s visions start to pay off. But the story is so ridiculously disjointed it’s laughable. It treats the original Ring as just a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made that film so scary.

29_img_8235Shepherds and Butchers

Dir: Oliver Schmitz

It’s 1987 in Apartheid-era South Africa. Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) a white Afrikaner, is arrested for murdering seven black African members of a soccer club in a quarry. The seven bodies were found neatly lined up in a row. The accused refuses to defend himself or even to say anything about what he did; he says he can’t remember. It’s an open 08_img_6438and shut case. Or is it?

In walks the famed jurist Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), a staunch opponent to the death penalty. While not contesting the actual crime, instead he says it is the brutal South African justice system that led to the crime. A shy, church-going kid turned into a mass murderer in just a few years? Preposterous!

It turns out Leon, since age 17, has been forced to work on death row in a maximum security prison. His work is like a shepherd, tending to the needs — food, showers, and prayers — of  men  “on the rope” (waiting to be hanged). But he’s also a butcher, forced to 32_img_6718kill — en masse, often seven at a time — the same men he takes care of.

His story is told at his trial in a series of gruesome and realistic flashbacks. Johan goads him into recounting what he – and the prisoners — has been through. This film shows the horrors of capital punishment, and particularly 47_img_9027the mass executions held in South Africa, in graphic detail. It is horrifying and extremely hard to watch, because it brings you, the viewer, right into the gallows itself. Shepherds and Butchers is a touching story about an important topic, but believe me, it is not for the faint of heart.

Rings and Shepherds and Butchers both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is playing for free this Sunday as part of the Canada on Screen series. 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

Daniel Garber talks with Japanese ghouls Sadako and Kayako at #TIFF16

Posted in Cultural Mining, Horror, Japan, Movies, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 27, 2017
2-svsk4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Do you remember those scary Japanese movies from the late 1990s and early 2000s? The Ring had a cursed videotape that killed anyone who watched it and received a phone call from a girl named Sadako. And in Ju-on (aka the Grudge) anyone entering an old house was haunted by the spirits of a drowned little boy and an 1-sadakovs-kayako_01-brightened-rep-stillangry mother named Kayako. Well, they’re both back again — but with a twist.
Two art students, Yuri and Natsumi, are infected by the videotape and could be dead in two days, while a schoolgirl named Suzuka is strangely drawn to the haunted house nearby with hazardous results. The only way to save them? Somehow provoke a fight between the two ghosts, Sadako and Kayako. But who will win?
Sadako v Kayako is a new horror movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is viewable now on shudder.com. It features Minami Elly as Sadako and Endo Runa as Kayako.
I spoke with them at TIFF16.
%d bloggers like this: