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. Everyone she meets tell 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 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 just as a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made the original 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 church-going shy 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.

Out of Sight. Movies reviewed: The Unseen, Castle in the Sky

Posted in Animation, Canada, Horror, Japan, Kids, Levitation, steampunk by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2016

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

Not everything you see is the plain truth. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to see what’s really there. This week I’m looking at movies about things kept out of sight. There’s a classic Japanese anime about a city that can’t be found, and a new Canadian thriller/horror about a man who’s not all there.

14088468_1656718961215506_4090497205890860405_nThe Unseen

Wri/Dir: Geoff Redknap

Bobby Langmore (Aden Young) was an NHL golden boy, a wizard on the ice. He was happily married to Darlene (Camille Sullivan) with a young daughter, Eva, when something happened. He still felt healthy and normal, but his skin and flesh 10984228_1493728920847845_3341519512764863931_nappeared to be rotting away. This was a secret he had to keep hidden. He climbed into a truck and never looked back. Now, eight years later, he still works in a saw mill in northern BC. His only family contact is the monthly cheques he sends them. His life up north is drab and desolate, his only friend the joint he smokes after a hard day.

Bob is equal parts gruff, tough, and scruff.

Meanwhile, in the lower mainland, his daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) is 16 now and barely remembers her dad. 11755062_1517963381757732_8659678087913732529_nShe’s a cute non-conformist with a chip on her shoulder. She lives a comfortable life with her mom and her mom’s wife. But she is increasingly troubled and alienated from family and friends, and threatens to just take off and never come back. Darlene sees something of 12002323_1535433453344058_8264690283193874598_nBob in her, so she gives him a call:” I think you need to talk to Eva.”

He walks off his job the next day… but needs help getting there. He makes a deal with Crisby (Ben Cotton), a sketchy local drug dealer, to pay for truck repairs. But soon after he reaches his former family, Eva disappears. You see, she has the same mysterious affliction, but no one has 10599521_1533738020180268_2559640461075319616_ntold her what it means. So she explores a boarded-up mental hospital with hopes of finding her grandfather’s files. He committed suicide their years before and Eva wonders if she’s headed down the same path. But then she disappears. Can Bob find his missing daughter and tells her what’s what? Or will history repeat itself for another generation?

The Unseen is a creepy look at a working class family with a strange condition in small town BC. It’s dark and misanthropic, with only family loyalty – and a few kind strangers – to counter its dark and grumpy view of humanity. The acting is angry but good, and the film has a raw realistic feel to it, from the scenic sawmill to the ramshackle houses everyone seems to live in. It’s a good strong dramatic horror film.

And the special effects that finally appear – or disappear! – toward the end of the film are fantastic.

castle_in_the_sky_movie_posterCastle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) 1986

Dir: Miyazaki Hayao

Pazu is an orphan who lives in a hillside mining town. He sleeps in a crumbling stone home with a dovecot on the roof, and starts each morning with a trumpet to rouse the all the people in the town below. All that he has from his parents are photos and drawings of a mythical place called Laputa. But one day while working at the complex machinery above the mineshaft, he sees something falling from the skies. It’s a little girl, 6087_1unconscious, drifting slowly down to earth. He catches her and brings her home. Who is she and where did she come from?

Her name is Sheeta, raised in an alpine town north of there. She’s an orphan like Pazu, her only possession a glowing crystal she wears around her neck. And it’s that jewel that keeps her on the run. She was kidnapped by miyazaki-castle_in_the_sky__1__shetapazuf_soldiers — and a haughty government agent named Muska – who flew her away in mechanical blimp. But hey were attacked by a gang of air pirates who attacked the ship. Both groups are after one thing – Sheeta’s crystal. It’s made from a rare stone with special properties – it can counteract gravity. But it can only be activated by the incantations Sheeta knows. But their real aim is to locate Laputa, the mythical island in the sky mentioned in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Dola and the pirates crave the treasure, the military its potential weapons, while Muska has far more sinister plans.

Sheeta and Pazu have only their wits, stamina and each other to depend on. So they embark on a series of highspeed train rides, car chases, and flying machines Dola, Castle in the Skybattles, making odd alliances on the way. There are even long armed metallic robots. But which of them will find that castle in the sky?

This film is 30 years old, and was the first made by Japan’s famed Ghibli studios. It’s filled with kid-pop references. Pazu’s moustachioed uncle looks like Super Mario, Sheeta was raised in Heidi country near the Alps, and Dola — the head pirate with her giant red pigtails — is a grown-up Anne of Green Gables gone to seed. It has vaguely subversive views, anti-military and anti-government, with strong female role models.. Replete with steampunk exploits and amazing views from the sky, I just had a chance to see this kids’ cartoon on the big screen for the first time and it really grabbed me. Great movie.

The Unseen played at last week’s Blood in the Snow Canadian film festival (Winner: Best Feature: The Unseen, Dir. Geoff Redknap, Katie Weekley, Producer; Best Actor: Aden Young, The Unseen) and The Castle in the Sky is opening as part of Spirited Away: the Films of Studio Ghibli at TIFF; go to tiff.net for showtimes. It’s playing on Christmas Eve.

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

 

Back to School. The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea #TIFF16

Posted in Animation, Coming of Age, Games, High School, Horror, School, Science Fiction, Uganda, UK, US, Women, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016

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

It’s mid-September as TIFF enters its final weekend with lots left to see. It’s also the start of an academic year. So this week I’m looking TIFF movies about going back to school. We’ve got an American school sinking into the sea, smart African kids who can’t afford the school fee, and British kids kept under lock and key.

thegirlwithallthegifts_02The Girl with all the Gifts

Dir: Colm McCarthy

It’s a military camp in a dystopian, future UK. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a bright and friendly girl who gets along well with others. She goes to school each morning and is the best kid in the class. But she – like the rest of the kids – is kept locked up in a dingy prison cell, fed raw worms, and derided thegirlwithallthegifts_04by heavily armed soldiers as a monster abortion. Only her teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Atherton), sticks up for Melanie. But Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) a sinister scientist, also has her eye on Melanie.

You see, all of England has been infected by a fungal virus that turns you into a flesh-eating zombie who never dies. But these kids are second generation — infected in utero — who think and act like humans but carry a craving for raw flesh. thegirlwithallthegifts_01Caldwell wants to carve up Melanie’s brain to find a cure. But when the camp is overrun by zombies, the three of them (along with a troupe of soldiers) are forced to escape in a military vehicle to find another base. Can Melanie – the girl with all the gifts – be trusted to stay moral and not eat the humans? Can trigger-happy soldiers and heartless scientists be trusted not to kill her? This is a great science fiction drama in the form of a zombie flic. Glenn Close goes a bit overboard in her evil rants, but Atherton and Manua are amazing as the good guys.

queen-of-katweQueen of Katwe

Dir: Mira Nair

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl who lives in Katwe, a desperately poor slum in Uganda. By day she sells corn to passing motorists. By night she sleeps in an unlit shack with her brother, her sister and her stern mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who always sticks up for her kids. Is there no way out of this desperate life.

Enter Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). He has an engineering degree but works at a community centre for underprivileged kids, teaching them chess. Phiona and her brother take to the game almost immediately, despite kids deriding their unwashed clothes. She’s illiterate but learns to play strategically, plotting out future moves in her head. Robert sees a chess prodigy and his wife helps her learn to read. But Phiona is still penniless, playing chess with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. Her mother tries to Queen of Katwepull her away from that gambling den. But Coach Robert convinces her that only by becoming a chess master can Phiona make it out of Katwe. Mom finally understands, selling her only possessions to pay for paraffin candles so Phiona can study at night. But can a girl from the ghetto become a Chess Master?

Queen of Katwe is a wonderful traditional family story, about hard work and tenacity. It says never give up, believe in yourself. At the same it shows a realistic portrait of desperate lives, their constant search for money, and the terrible prejudice they face. The story is told in a simple way but it’s very moving. It’s shot in Africa by the great Indian director Mira Nair, an expert at showing class differences. The actors portray their roles well, from grumpy Nyong’o, to optimistic Oyelowo and especially the wonderful Nalwanga as Phiona.

myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea

Wri/Dir Dash Shaw

Dash is starting a new year with high hopes. A junior at Tides High, he’s a cynical news geek who writes for the school paper, the Tides Gazette, with best friend Assaf and Verti the editor. He wants to find the big story. He’s sure his school is about to collapse due to bad maintenance. But no one reads the paper’s turgid prose and his warnings are ignored. Assaf and Verti are dating now so he’s left all alone. When he is caught looking through school files for hard evidence, he ends up in detention. But that’s when disaster strikes — an earthquake starts fires and sends the shoddily built school sinking into the sea. It’s also on fire, with sharks in the water and rats on land. It’s up to Dash and his friends — along with a courageous lunch lady — to lead his schoolmates to safety. But they must face the school myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_01snitch, drug dealers, the devious principal, popular kids and the school quarterback who reigns from a golden throne in only his jockstrap. But who will survive and who will be torn to bloody pieces before their very eyes?

This is a fantastic animated feature, one of the best movies at TIFF. It’s the Poseidon Adventure set in a high school. The art and animation takes unexpected forms. No pixar 3-D or complex cell animation here. Instead it’s broad splashes of tempera paint behind the thick black lines that make up character faces. There are cutouts and fingerpaint, boy scout illustrations, pop art and trippy half-tone dots from newspaper sunday comics.

Great voices are provided by Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon as Lunch Lady Lorraine. But the art of Dash Shaw — and his fellow cartoonists and artists — is what makes this so great.

The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, and My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea, are all playing now at TIFF. And you can line up at Roy Thompson Hall around 4 pm on Sunday to get a free ticket to the people’s choice award movie. Always worth watching, always free. Details are posted at tiff.net.

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

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

Blend in, fight back or run away? Movies reviewed: Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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

When faced with a monolithic system, do you fight back, try to blend in or run away? This week, I’m looking at movies about people trying to make the land their own. We’ve got soldiers and slaves heading into the swamp; a boy and his uncle heading into the bush; and a teenaged girl heading into the jungle… of modelling.

13502538_1122801797742983_2500767010940376674_oNeon Demon

Wri/Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives)

Jesse (Elle Fanning, Ginger and Rosa) is a small-town girl recently arrived in L.A. She’s there to make it big as a fashion model. But to do that you need connections. Right away, she meets Dean an earnest young photographer (Karl Glusman, Love). He takes some photos for her portfolio. Then, at a nightclub filled with neon she meets three women ready to lend a hand. Two blonde supermodels named Sara and Gigi (American Abby Lee and Aussie Bella Heathcote) and a makeup artist. Red-haired Ruby (Jena Malone) says she knows all the right people.

Almost immediately, Jesse starts her dizzying rise to the top. She signs with a major agency, lands a gig with a famous photographer, and is chosen as the lead 13115958_1092780254078471_5268238841686621476_omodel in a runway show. A star is born.

But beneath its shiny veneer this world is rotten to the core. She still sleeps in a super-seedy motel room. Hank, her skeezy landlord (Keanu Reeves) is a serial predator always on the lookout for victims. Jesse is startled to find wild animals animals climbing through her window. Other models she encounters are just bitter vipers waiting to strike. And her makeup artist friend, Ruby? She’s a makeup artist all right — for corpses. Only Dean seems genuine…but he’s not famous, so he doesn’t fit in her new world.

13445279_1117929004896929_5538370989361420723_nWhen her so-called friends witness Jesse’s triumph at an audition they are consumed by jealousy and rage. In despair, one model smashes a mirror in the washroom. At first Jesse tries to comfort her. When she cuts her hand on the broken glass, something horrible happens. The model literally tries to suck up Jesse’s blood to gain some of her beauty and youth!

Neon Demon is a surreal fable set in the world of modeling. Danish director Refn Wilding is known for his dark, stylized urban dramas like Drive (starring Ryan Gosling). Like his other films, it has great music, pretty people and arresting images, both beautiful and hideous. I liked it, but it’s not your usual narrative. It’s strictly art-house horror, so it’s never clear whether it’s a dream, a fantasy or real life – it’s left up to you to decide.

unnamedFree State of Jones

Dir: Gary Ross

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a Confederate soldier from Mississippi. He’s a medic, so he sees his fair share of death at the frontlines. But when he sees a young boy (Jacob Lofland, Mud), a draftee from his home town, killed on his first day, he’s FREE STATE OF JONEShad enough. Newt takes his body back for a proper funeral. Which makes him a deserter.

Back in Jones County he discovers the problems aren’t just at the front – they’re behind the lines too. All the men and boys are being sent to die defending slavery, but the actual slave owners – anyone with more than 20 slaves – is exempt from serving. This war is being fought for rich people, the cotton plantation owners, not for the poor farmers like him and all his neighbours. Not just that. The army is stealing all the food, FREE STATE OF JONESclothing, practically anything of value from the poor farmers in what they called taxation. They need it to feed the troops they say. But they leave the plantations untaxed and untouched. The raids are all led by the villanous Lt Barbour (Bill Tangradi) with his foppish blond curls.

Newt has had enough — he flees to the swamps, attacked by a vicious army dog on the way. Runaway slaves there nurse him back to health and become his new family. In particular, beautiful Rachel (the wonderful British/South African actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a house slave who serves as a secret go-FREE STATE OF JONESbetween for the runaways and slaves still on the plantation. And the self-named Moses (Mahershala Ali) a righteous leader who escaped with a hideous iron contraption still locked around his neck.

Word spreads and poor white farmers join Newt’s makeshift army. He declares a free state in Jones and FREE STATE OF JONESneighbouring counties. He deems them all free men, both black and white, says farmers can reap what they sow, and that no one will ever go to war again for the rich. They start like Robin Hood, taking back food the army is stealing. But end up going to battle against the Confederate government from deep within Mississippi.

This is a fascinating, true story. It’s timely too. with the rise of populism in American politics. Warning – it’s a very long movie (almost feels like a mini-series). It continues long after the civil war, covering things like lynching, post-war slavery and KKK terror, rarely mentioned in mainstream movies. It’s the first time I’ve heard about this slice of history — a genuine civil rights movement born deep in Mississippi, in the midst of civil wat.

HUNTTHD-01_KeyArt_FMtrimHunt for the Wilderpeople

Dir: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows)

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a chubby 12 year old city kid, into hip hop and gangsta movies. He’s a “bad egg” says Paula his tough-as-nails social worker (Rachel House). He’s surly, unresponsive and a frequent runaway. Given up for adoption as an infant he’s reached his final foster home – if he doesn’t fit in here, he’ll be sent to juvie. His new 12541048_771498859649965_4286703744334521458_nhome is out in the middle of nowhere at an isolated farmhouse in the green-covered hills of New Zealand. He’s immediately welcomed by the warm and giving Bella (Rima Te Wiata). She decorates his room, makes him special food, even gives him a hot water bottle to snuggle up with at night. Her husband HFTW 1 Julian Dennison (Ricky), Sam Neill (Hec) CreditHec (Sam Neill), on the other hand won’t even give him the time of day. He’s reclusive and anti-social, but he does know his way around the woods. Ricky runs away a few times but soon realizes this is his real home with a loving mom, a new dog, he calls Tupac, and a place to write haiku.

But then disaster strikes, and his new life is imperiled. He flees into the bush to live off the land. Like the South African wildebeest he plans to walk a thousand miles. Unfortunately, he V1-0071_150525HFTWP23_620hasn’t a clue what to do. Luckily, Hec comes to his rescue to help him out. But unbeknownst to them both they become famous – in a bad way: the object of a nationwide manhunt. Can they survive in the bush without driving each other crazy?

This world is full of strange people. Like Psycho Sam, a tin-foil hat devotees and idiot city hunters who want to turn them in and collect the reward.

V1-0046_150521HFTWP17_93474This movie is told from an indigenous point of view. The director and most of the actors – though not the characters they play – are of Maori descent. The story incorporates indigenous culture. Ironically, it’s Uncle Hec, the white character, who passes on the indigenous learning that Ricky was never taught. And Ricky who shares contemporary culture and basic literacy with the isolated Hec.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good, light, family comedy. I like this movie — it’s cute and a lot of fun.

Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople 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

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma. Movies reviewed: De Palma, Sisters, Obsession, Carrie, Blowout

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Crime, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Horror, Mental Illness, Psychological Thriller, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on June 17, 2016

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

A new documentary is opening today called simply De Palma (directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow). And that’s what it is: an interview with director Brian De Palma (director of Carrie and Scarface.) He talks directly to the camera about his career and the films he made, complete with clips. De Palma was part of the small Brian De Palma and Al Pacino on set of SCARFACE as seen in DE PALMAgroup of New Hollywood directors who broke loose in the 1970s: I’m talking Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas. He was the first one to cast Robert De Niro, who he discovered straight out of acting school.

Brian De Palma started as an experimental art-house director in NY. Then he became a genre director, specializing in horror, suspense and crime movies. Eventually, by the early 1990s, he Brian De Palma and John Travolta on set of BLOW OUT as seen in DE PALMAmoved on to big budget hits, but his movies lost their original or interesting elements.

His movies are easy to spot. He pioneered the use of the split screen. He took parallel montage – meaning to alternate simultaneous scenes — and tossed it out the window. He replaced it with split screens, a remarkably successful technique that shows two points of view at the same time, side by side.

De Palma uses split screen like an exclamation point. He’s saying: pay attention and look at this — it’s important!

Another trademark are his soft-core scenes of naked women caressing themselves in the shower, surrounded by clouds of billowing steam. Immediately followed by lots of blood. This was very controversial at the time, for combining highly sexualized images of women with scenes of violence directed toward the same characters. It led to widespread protests and boycotts of his movies (especially Body Double and Dressed to Kill).

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma is a retrospective now playing at TIFF. This week, I’m looking at some of his lesser-known films from what I call his Golden Age: the 1970s and 1980s.

mwk4wA_106_006_o3_9000592_1463580929Sisters and Obsession are two of De Palma’s earliest – and not that well-known – Hitchcock-type movies. They both star Canadian actresses.

Sisters (1973) is about a pair of beautiful twins, Dominique and Danielle (Margot Kidder, with a solid Quebecoise accent). These sisters’ lives are closely bound,  to say the least. When one of them stabs a man to death in her own qjo47D_106_007_o3_9000652_1463580940apartment, her greasy ex-husband steps to in to cover-up the crime. The body and the blood all disappear, but not before Grace, a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who lives in an adjacent building, witnesses it all. But she is hampered by a corrupt and sexist police force (a common, subversive theme in many of his movies). This film is a combination of The Lady Vanishes and Rear sisters.003Window, where it’s up to a single person not just to catch the criminal but to prove the crime even took place. While far from a masterpiece, it has Margot Kidder in one of her first feature roles (she was strictly a TV actress before this). There’s also an incredible, drug-infused, surreal scene in black and white (using a camera’s iris) set in a mental ward. The film is worth seeing just for that.

OBSESSION-SPTI-08.tifObsession (1976) is more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Michael (Cliff Robertson) is a business tycoon in New Orleans. He works with his smarmy partner Bob (John Lithgow, De Palma’s go-to villain). But when his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and his two kids are kidnapped and murdered Mike falls into a deep depression. Decades later, on a business trip to Italy, he spots a beautiful woman restoring art in a cathedral – the same church where he had met his wife. Sandra looks just like OBSESSION-SPTI-07.tifher – like time stood still. He becomes obsessed with her. They travel back to New Orleans and plan to marry. Sandra explores the house including what she finds in a sealed room. And that’s when their lives starts to unravel and deep secrets are revealed in a shocking ending.

The Hitchcock feel of these two movies was not coincidental. The story, look and sound of these movies evokes him in many scenes. De Palma intentionally hired the same composer Bernard Herrmann, that Alfred Hitchcock used in movies like North by Northwest and Psycho. Prophetically, like Hitchcock, he’s never won an Oscar.

oYmo3N_Carrie_2_o3_8998306_1463581372Carrie (1976) is much more famous – it was a big hit based on a Stephen King novel. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, the daughter of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical mother (Piper Laurie) who thinks anything sexual is a sin. So Carrie panics when she has her first period at school, not knowing what was happening. Instead of being helped, she is horribly bullied in the girls’ locker room. They throw tampons at her. Sue (Amy Irving) feels guilty so she sets Carrie up with a date for the senior prom. But Chris (Nancy Allen) takes the opposite path and plans to inflict a humiliating practical joke on her. But no pgnpEr_Carrie_10_o3_8998395_1463580862one knows that Carrie is telekinetic: she can move things with her mind.

All of this leads to the iconic prom scene, the climax of the movie, which makes use of extensive split screen 58Mkjq_Carrie_43_o3_8998438_1463580881to great effect. And I should warn you here, if you haven’t seen Carrie, watch it first, before the documentary, which is filled with spoilers. Carrie is both a heartbreaking story of adolescence and (for when it was made) scary as hell.

vgwy65_5006903_o3_8997710_1463581179Blowout (1981) is about Jack Terry (John Travolta), a sound guy. He used to wire cops, hiding microphones on their bodies to help with corruption investigations. Now he works at a two-bit recording studio in Philadelphia, recording and mixing sound effects for schlocky slasher films. One night he heads out to record wind sounds in a park, but, coincidentally, he catches the sounds of a chappaquidick-style accident: a tire blows out, and a car goes off a bridge. He dives into the river and saves a young woman trapped inside… but not the driver. He’s dead.

Turns out the driver was the late State Governor groomed to be the next President. His political X6Pv9v_FRL-42992_Blow-Out_col-slide_002_tmb_o3_8997675_1463581167team wants the whole accident to disappear. But was it an accident? Jack wants Sally, the woman from the accident (Nancy Allen — married to De Palma at the time) to help him prove that this was an assassination. And that the sounds he recorded were of a gunshot followed by a blow out. But a mysterious, murderous political fixer (John Lithgow) is working behind the scenes to make it — and all the people involved — disappear. The police seem to be part of the cover up, and Sally has some secrets of her own (she was in the car as j2BjjP_IMG0087_o3_8997801_1463581207part of a honeypot blackmail scheme.) Can Jack and Sally expose this deep, dark conspiracy?

I saw Blowout as a kid when it first came out, and it blew my mind. It was a flop and largely faded away (until recently). But I’ve always considered Blow Out to be one of De Palma’s best movies.  It’s inspired by Antonioni’s famous Blow Up, but I like it better. John Travolta is fantastic in this. The sounds and pictures in this are amazing – every shot has spectacular depth of field (like a close up of an owl taking up the right side, and Jack on a bridge far off in the distance on the left side.) This movie is made to watch on a wide screen – it feels like split screen, even when it’s not.

If you want to see just one De Palma film, let it be this one.

De Palma (the documentary) and Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma are playing now in Toronto – 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

 

 

 

 

 

Significant Hair. Movies Reviewed: Viva, Green Room, Sing Street

Posted in Cuba, Cultural Mining, Horror, LGBT, Movies, Music, Punk, Skinhead, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2016

Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Can hairstyles hold messages about your job, your politics, your musical preference or your sexuality? This week I’m looking at movies about men with significant haircuts: a family drama from Cuba, a thriller/horror from the US, and a musical from Ireland. There’s a boy in Havana who’s dying to try a wig on; some punks trying to avoid dying when the skinheads are wigging out, and a kid in Dublin who will change his hairstyle for a girl he’s dying to meet.

A017_C001_11119KViva

Dir: Paddy Breathnach

Jesus (Héctor Medina) is a young man who lives alone in Havana. His dad was a prize fighter who ran off when Jesus was three (his picture is still on the wall.) Later, his mom died leaving only her record collection of classic Cuban boleros and torch singers. And her threadbare apartment. Now he’s 18 and all alone, an adult orphan. He earns a meager living cutting the hair of old ladies in his neighbourhood, along with one important client.

Mama (Luis Alberto García) runs a bar popular among foreign tourists. It features travestidos, drag queens who perform on stage in makeup, wigs and gowns, lip-synching and dancing for an appreciative audience. Jesus is there backstage to Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.4clean and style their wigs.

But when one performer suddenly quits and Mama is left with an open space, Jesus volunteers to take her place. He knows all the songs by heart, and he longs to express himself. Mama is dubious. It’s not just the clothes she says, you have to feel it, get inside of it, live it. But after begging and cajoling he’s allowed to try out. His persona is named Viva. At first clumsy and awkward soon Viva dares to get off the stage and walk among the clients. Viva spots a new customer, a rough-looking middle-aged man, and gathers her courage to approach him. But when she sings to him and touches him, he punches her in the face, knocking her to the floor. They kick the man out, and help patch up Jesus’s split lip. He goes home feeling miserable. But who does he find in his apartment? The same man. I’m Angel, he says, and I’m your father.

Jorge Perugorría and Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures2-1Turns out, Angel didn’t exactly run away. He’s been in prison for 15 years, and now he’s home again. He’s a mean, selfish drunk and spends all his money on cigarettes and rot-gut rum. He takes over the apartment: food, coffee and bed. He’s macho and wants his son to harden up. Jesus is self-reliant and tough in his own way, but definitely not macho. Jesus hates this stranger who has taken over his life, but… Angel is his father, and the only family he has. Or is he? Mama says Jesus is welcome to come back to the club, to stay with his new “family” — he’ll even get a room to live in. Angel forbids him from dressing up like a woman and “humiliating” himself on stage. But that is the only place where Jesus finds fulfillment… and his sole source of money. As a gay man in Cuba there are very few jobs open for him. It’s that or the sex trade.

But Angel has a secret of his own — the reason he’s come home to spend time with Jesus. Can the two of them get along? Can they accept each other for who they are? And will Viva ever enter the picture again?

Viva is a moving drama about contemporary gay life in Havana. The cast is all Cuban, and is shot on location. It doesn’t cover up or apologize for the seamier side of Havana, including its poverty. It stars Jorge Perugorría as Angel, one of Cuba’s best-known actors, famous in North America for his role in Strawberry and Chocolate, another Cuban movie with a gay theme. Héctor Medina is a newcomer but also very good. Surprisingly, though, this movie is officially considered an Irish production — its writer and director are both from there. I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m told the dialogue, words and accents are muy authentico.

12642920_1557369967920554_2236015225478540444_nGreen Room

Dir: Jeremy Saulnier

Sam, Pat, Reece and Tiger are hardcore anarcho-punks from the east coast. Their band is touring middle-America, playing at dive bars and roadhouses in Corn Country. They’re musical purists – no social networking or  iTunes. It’s vinyl discs and live performances – or nothing. The r0BLjE_greenroom_01_o3_8676897_1439243368problem is they’re not making any money. And when a promised gig goes south, they have to siphon gas out of parked cars just to keep driving. So when a local punk offers them a paid show at a country roadhouse, they jump at the chance. Just don’t talk politics they’re told. And don’t play zmQWRr_greenroom_03_o3_8677014_1439243414anything political.

The place turns out to be a bar for white-supremicist skinheads. And the green room (that’s where bands wait before they go on stage) is laden with neo-nazi, stickers, confederate battle flags and white power logos. Nice…But a few skins aren’t going to stop them. They start their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s classic Nazi Punks F*ck Off! Dead silence. The skinheads aren’t pleased. Still, once they switch to their heavy loud tunes the crowd is slamming and enjoying the concert. All is good. But just as they head out, Pat (Anton RgkQ20_greenroom_05_o3_8677128_1439243450Yelchin, Chekov on Star Trek, 2009) remembers he left his smart phone in the green room. He busts in only to see something he shouldn’t have seen: a skinhead girl lying dead on the floor with a knife sticking out of her head. Pat dials 911 but they grab his phone.

Soon enough, the whole band is locked into the room with one door and no windows, along with a nasty-looking skinhead guard and Amber (Imogen Poots) a skin who was friends with the dead woman. No telephone. And no one knows they’re there.

O7LNWN_greenroom_02_o3_8676969_1439243390Things take a turn for the worse once Darcy shows up (Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek:The Next Generation). He’s cold, sinister and forboding. A big guy in the Stormfront circuit, Darcy owns the club. He doesn’t want the police there, and he doesn’t want the punks talking about the murder. And he has dozens of True Believers – young neo-nazis who want to make their first kill – at his beck and call.

It turns into a battle between the punks (and a skinhead ally) armed with nothing more than a box-cutter, lightbulbs, a single handgun and a fire-extinguisher; and a gang of skins looking to kill. Once killer dogs enter the battle, people start dying.  Can any of them survive an all-out attack? Or will they disappear in a shallow grave in the woods?

Green Room is a great action/thriller/horror movie. My heart was pounding about a third of the way through, and didn’t let up til the end. It’s a typical house-in-the-woods type horror movie, but without the bikini-clad college students of a typical slasher pic. The women – including Sam (Alia Shawkat)–  are as tough as the men. And Imogen Poots is amazing as the Chelsea who joins the fight; so good, I didn’t recognize her until the closing credits.

12768265_228216354192538_6006492979310558347_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian 12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oBrothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. But all is not pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712lost. Because across the street from the school he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing music. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new.

Green Room and Viva both open on April 29th in Toronto: check your local listings. And starting today in Toronto is the wonderful Irish musical Sing Street.

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

B Movies. Films reviewed: Sisters, Black Christmas (1974), He Never Died, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, comedy, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 18, 2015

 

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

Star Ka'at 1976 A certain movie – which shall remain nameless – is opening today, but I’m not going to cover it. It’s getting more than enough airtime already.  Instead, I’m going to talk about “B” movies and genre movies opening this weekend that might otherwise be neglected. There‘s a comedy about adult sisters, a classic horror movie about sorority sisters, a comedy/horror about a man who can’t die, and a French noir mystery about a woman who can’t remember.

1_lSisters
Dir: Jason Moore

Maura and Kate Ellis (Amy Poehler and Tina Fey) are adult sisters. Maura is the do-gooder – she always behaves responsibly, even excessively so. She just wants people to like her. Kate is the wild, irresponsible one. A single mom, she can’t keep a job, hold onto an apartment or even care for her teenaged daughter. But when the two sisters hear their parents are selling their childhood home, they jump into a car and head on south to Florida, to reclaim their childhoods. And once there, they decide to invite all their old friends to a final bash, complete with dating, drugs, loud music and debauchery. Except this 2_lparty will be different. Maura can go wild while Kate has to be the responsible one. Maura invites James (Ike Barinholtz) a guy she likes who’s renovating a nearby house, while Kate has to deal with her high school nemesis, Brinda (Maya Rudolph).

That’s the story but it’s not really important. The movie is just a series of semi-improvised sketches about grown-ups behaving like teenagers. It also lets female comics – including lots of others in small roles — be the funny ones with the men as sex symbols, foils or goofs. It’s pretty sloppy: for example, the house swimming pool is emptied then full, emptied then full, in the course of a couple scenes… as if the film editor forgot to read the script. But it’s still pretty funny. I laughed a lot, at about 60% of the jokes.

MjBBrA_11B_Black_Christmas_o3_8804423_1442868311Black Christmas (1974)
Dir: Bob Clarke
A group of sorority sisters live together in a shared house in a college town. Most have gone home for Christmas break, but a few are still there. Barb (Margot Kidder) is there for the sex, Phyl (Andrea Martin) is more bookish, Clare (Lynne Griffin) is conservative — called a “professional virgin” by Barb — while Jess (Olivia Hussey) is working things out with her boyfriend, Peter. And then there’s Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman) their alcoholic 76JJ5j_11C_Black_Christmas_o3_8804484_1442868309housemother who spends most of her time trying to keep track of all her hidden whisky bottles.

Then one day they start getting strange, obscene phone calls by someone who uses various voices and seems to know all their secrets. And when they start disappearing, one by one, they realize something is very wrong. But the town police are slow to react, dismissing them all as just silly girls. That is until a search party finds a body. Can they track the phone call and find the killer? And will anybody ever look in the attic?

BLACK-CHRISTMAS-Website-PosterBlack Christmas was made more than 40 years ago, it’s a Canadian film, and was shot right here, in spitting distance from where I’m recording this. And it’s often called the very first slasher-type horror movie. But it’s much better than the flood of slasher movies – ones where the cast members are killed one Black Christmas posterat a time in their home — that followed it. And the cast is amazing. Besides the ones I mentioned, there’s also John Saxon (Enter the Dragon) as the police detective, and Keir Dullea (2001: a Space Odyssey) as Peter, Jess’s confused musician boyfriend. It also deals with big issues of the day: vigilantes with guns, abortion, sexual freedom, and feminism. They’re re-releasing it now on DVD and VOD, and it’s also great chance to see it on the big screen.

He_Never_Died__22349He Never Died
Dir: Jason Krawczyk
Jack (Henry Rollins) is an ordinary, monosylabic guy who lives alone in a dingy, downtown apartment. At the foot of his bed is a wooden chest filled with money. He uses it to pay for meals at the Times Square Diner (where he occasionally talks to a waitress) or for old people bingo games at a local church. He has an intern named Jeremy (Booboo Stewart) who brings him a large, unmarked bundle once a day. He needs it to stop the voices he hears in his head. He likes life to be as simple as possible.

Then things start to get complicated. A gangster (Steven Ogg) that Jack used to work for reappears on the scene. A teenaged girl names Andrea He_Never_Died_Still_03(Jordan Todosey) shows up saying he’s her father. And she tries to get him to date Cara (Kate Greenhouse) the waitress at the diner.  Thugs come to his door demanding he tell them where Jeremy is. They say he owes them money. They hold a gun to his head and threaten him. But they don’t realize that death threats don’t work because Jack can’t die. He’s actually very old. In-the-Bible old. And he doesn’t hesitate to smite people who do bad things.

He_Never_Died__94057Then things get worse. They break the intern’s kneecaps, cutting off Jack’s supply. They kidnap his daughter, enters his domain and messes up the diner he goes to. It’s not like he seeks revenge, or wants to kill dozens of people with his bare hands. He just gets in these bad situations. Where people make him angry.

He Never Died is a funny but violent horror movie with a supernatural dimension. It was shot in an urban, gritty-looking Toronto. This movie is fun. It stars the 1980s hardcore hero Henry Rollins, who plays it very calm and chill… until he explodes. I wonder if I would like this as much as I do if I didn’t like Henry Rollins. Maybe, but it also has a good story, a cool look, and good acting all around.

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_04)The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun
Dir: Joann Sfar
It’s the 1960s. Dany (Freya Mavor) is a young woman with fiery red hair and round glasses who lives in Paris. She’s just a secretary, she tells herself, but has wild fantasies and vivid nightmares. One day her boss (Benjamin Biolay) orders her to type up a 60-page report at his home before he flies off to Switzerland with his wife. The next day he hands her a cash bonus, and lends her his brand new Thunderbird to drive back to Paris from Orly airport. But on a sudden impulse, she turns south instead and drives toward the sea. She buys some new clothes in a seaside resort and examines her The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_01)new self – she’s not just a secretary – she’s a star!. She feels free, glamorous, sexy. People ogle her as if she’s famous. That’s when things get strange. A woman from a café asks if she’s feeling better now. Truckers at a roadside gas station stare at her and a mechanic there swears he fixed her car the night before. At her hotel she finds her name already on the roster. And a cop stops her car and addresses her by name. It’s all so strange!

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun (photo_02)She meets a slick but sketchy man named Georges (Elio Germano) who asks her to drive him to the sea. He has to catch a boat to West Africa. There’s a definite attraction between the two, but can he be trusted? And when a dead body shows up, she wonders if she is losing he mind. Was she a killer and just can’t remember?

I like this movie. Have you heard of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady The_Lady_Vanishes_1938_PosterVanishes? An elderly woman disappears on a train, but everyone except the main character swears she was never there. This film is more like The Lady Reappears. Everyone, except the main character herself, swears she was there the day before. The film is pure eye candy,  and it looks like a graphic novel, with split screens and parallel scenes. Beautiful and stylized. Director Joann Sfar is a great comic artist, so it makes sense his movie looks like this. And I love seeing two non-French actors doing a movie entirely in this lingua franca.

Sisters, He Never Died, and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Black Christmas has a special screening on Saturday at the Royal Cinema with live appearances by Nick Mancuso and Lynn Griffin.

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

Black Friday. Movies reviewed: White Raven, Save Yourself, James White, Trumbo PLUS Blood in the Snow

Posted in 1950s, Canada, Communism, Cultural Mining, Death, Disease, Hollywood, Horror, US by CulturalMining.com on November 27, 2015

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

Today is Black Friday, a bizarre, uniquely American festival that worships the gods of conspicuous consumption. This week no shopping movies, but I’m riffing on the Black Friday colour scheme. There’s a biopic about a Hollywood screenwriter who was blacklisted; a drama about a man named White who gets the blues from taking care of his mom;  and an all-Canadian horror film festival that flies the national colours of red and white in the form of Blood in the Snow.

12194740_546998655454504_1943659944968540950_oWhite Raven
Dir: Andrew Moxham

(Spoiler Alert!) Kevin, Jake, Dan and Pete (Andrew Dunbar, Aaron Brooks, Shane Twerdun, Steve Bradley) are old school buddies. Now they’re grown ups — a business exec, a pilot, a restauranteur, and a guide — but they still go camping together every year. They need to commune with nature and hash it out with their buddies while shot-gunning cans of brewsky. So, all kitted-out in the full lumbersexual regalia of toque, beard and plaid, they turn off their smartphones and march off into the woods. They are heading for White Raven Falls, a place rife with native legends. Sure they have their problems at home — drinking, infidelity, girlfriend troubles — but now’s the time to forget all that. Problem is, one of the four has a screw loose. He hears voices coming from White Raven Falls telling him what he has to do… or whom he has to kill. Who will survive this camping trip into the unknown?

Another horror movie also playing at Blood in the Snow is not a boys’ brewcation, but a girls’ road trip.

12186803_547004278787275_687524279454112931_oSave Yourself
Dir: Ryan M Andrews

(Spoiler Alert!) Kim, Crystal, Sasha, Lizzie and Dawn (Jessica Cameron, horror favourite Tristan Risk, Tiana Nori, Caleigh Le Grand, Lara Mrkoci) are a team of horror filmmakers on the verge of success. They’re riding high from fan adulation at their world premier — and all the parties and sexual opportunities that come with it. So they’re all geared up for their long roadtrip to LA. But after a day on the highway they unwittingly find themselves the guests of an odd family, the Sauters, on an isolated farm. These people are weird. Mom speaks with a sinister German accent, daughter stays locked up in her bedroom, son likes hunting a bit too much and Dad (Ry Barret) is partial to weird medical experiments. The “serial” they serve in this place ain’t breakfast cereal. (Shades of Eli Roth’s Hostel here.) Will they all work together to escape from this real-life horror movie, or is it every woman for herself?

These two movies are similar in plot but quite different in style. White Raven is a slow-moving, realistic psychological thriller, while Save Yourself is much faster, with lots more action, fights, and gore. I preferred the second one. Total over-the-top fantasy, but with the satisfaction of heroines fighting villains that are truly evil.

mwNJYr_JAMESWHITE_01_o3_8754892_1440509998James White
Wri/Dir: Josh Mond

James White (Christopher Abbott) is the prodigal son who returns to his Manhattan home under a cloud. His dad has just died and mom, a retired and divorced schoolteacher, has stage four cancer. James just wants to party with his best friend or stay home with his girlfriend. But he ends up as his mom June’s caregiver.

June (Cynthia Nixon,  Sex in the City) is not an easy patient. She moans and groans and screams and cries under constant pain. She pukes and poops her pants. She wanders off in the middle of the day, getting lost in the supermarket. The police get called, the nurses don’t show up, there’s no room at the cancer hospice. And if James isn’t there, she lays 3lVWwM_JAMESWHITE_02_o3_8754936_1440510010on the guilt trips. James is a total mess himself. So he takes it out on everyone he sees, punching out insipid partygoers who don’t share his grief. Hospital administrators, doctors, and friends of the family are all evil and every conversation is torture for him. Will James and June ever get through this trying time?

James White is a hyper-realistic movie about suffering, illness death and all around miserableness. It makes Still Alice, last year’s dying mom movie, seem like Disneyland in comparison. The acting is OK and the story sad with a few tender moments (with some strange Oedipal undercurrents going on). If you’re in the mood for depression and relentless, vomiting sound-effects, this one’s for you. Otherwise, stay away.

3lE59O_trumbo_FORWEB_o3_8667836_1438728639-1Trumbo
Dir: Jay Roach

It’s the late 1940s and Hollywood is booming. Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad) is a scriptwriter at the top of the heap. He revels in the perqs his success at MGM has brought him: a sprawling ranch home, swank cars and membership at the top clubs. He’s friends with the famous and glamorous. Until he gets a knock on his door from the FBI asking him:  are you now or have you ever been a member if the Communist Party? He and the rest of the Hollywood 10 are summoned to Washington. They are TR_08395.dngordered to appear before HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee and name names. He refuses, of course, and is sent to prison on the dubious charge of “contempt of congress”. But this leaves him blacklisted, unable to sell his scripts to any of the studios. He’s forced to move to a smaller home, enduring rocks through his window and contempt from his former Hollywood so-called friends and allies. He writes B movies under assumed names for the schlockiest studio in town, churning out cheap scripts as fast as he can type. He has a family to support. But is his relentless work alienating the ones he loves – his wife (Diane Lane) and DRWlMY_trumbo_02_o3_8733217_1438728644his kids? And can he stand up to the wrath of rightwing figures like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by a venomous Helen Mirren in a wonderful performance), and will he ever make his way back rot the top of the heap?

Trumbo is a lot of fun. It’s clearly “Oscar Bait” but enjoyable nonetheless. It holds to that weird Hollywood formula they think will win an Oscar: liberal in story but conservative in style, linear, non controversial, vanilla and easily palateable. And it doesn’t deal with the widespread purges and blacklisting of the McCarthy Era, just sticks to what happened in Hollywood. But I liked this movie — it’s a lot of fun, and definitely worth seeing.

James White and Trumbo both open today in Toronto: check your local listings. And White Raven and Save Yourself are playing at B.I.T.S. which runs through the weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.

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

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