Indoors, Outdoors. Films reviewed: The Black Prince, Dunkirk, A Ghost Story

Posted in 1800s, 1940s, Clash of Cultures, Death, India, Movies, Punjab, Supernatural, War, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 21, 2017

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

Summer is the perfect time to see movies outdoors. There are open air screenings in city parks, free Canadian films at Yonge Dundas square, and an Open Roof festival, complete with music at 99 Sudbury, that is showing the amazing documentary Brimstone and Glory next Tuesday.

But sometimes it’s nice just to sit inside. This week I’m looking at three movies opening today to watch inside a theatre. There’s a wartime thriller about an army’s retreat, an historical drama about a royal defeat, and an arthouse ghost story… about a white sheet?

The Black Prince

Wri/Dir: Kavi Raz

It’s the Victorian era. Maharaja Duleep Singh (Satinder Sartaaj) is a proper English gentleman. He lives a life of luxury in a country palace furnished with a retinue of servants, fine clothing and sumptuous meals. He spends his free time hunting on his estate. But something is missing. You see, he is the heir to the throne of the Punjab Empire that once stretched across northern India. But palace intrigue and assassinations left the Sikh kingdom in disarray, and the British swooped in and took control. The young prince was shipped off to England where he now lives under under the benevolent but watchful eyes of Queen Victoria (Amanda Root) and the prince’s surrogate father, Dr Login (Jason Flemyng). He’s a Sikh but wears no turban and carries no kirpan.

But back in Lahore the crowds are clamouring for his return. And when he is reunited with his mother (Shabana Azmi) he realizes he’s more than just Victoria’s “Black Prince” — he’s a Maharaja! He returns to his faith and starts a lifetime of plots and alliances to restore his kingdom with armed insurrections. But can a single man – and his followers – defeat the British Raj?

The Black Prince is a film filled with beautiful scenery and costumes, and a potentially interesting story. Unfortunatly, it moves at a glacial pace. The exciting parts of the movie — the battles and assassinations — are relegated to quick flashbacks, leaving us with endless scenes of talk, talk, talk. While Shabana Azmi adds fun to the scenes she appears in, the star, singer Satinder Sartaaj, is like a Punjabi Keanu Reeves – wooden and emotionless.

Dunkirk

Wri/Dir: Christopher Nolan

It’s 1944 on the northern tip of France near Belgium. The German Army has taken much of Europe, save for this one beach, called Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of British troops, along with French and Belgian allies, are completely surrounded. German bombers fill the skies and U-Boat submarines patrol underwater, shooting torpedoes and dropping bombs on the British ships. It’s time for a massive retreat back to England – but how? The film follows three stories.

Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is a young soldier on the run, after his unit is wiped out. Together with a mute fighter he meets on the beach, they attempt to board departing warships, but with limited success… the boats keep sinking. Meanwhile, back in England, the government has commandeered all private boats, from sailboats to mudskippers, to help rescue the soldiers. Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with two teenaged boys, George and Peter, attempt to cross the channel in a pleasure boat… but meet trouble when they rescue a shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy). And above it all, an RAF pilot (Tom Hardy) flies his Spitfire to keep the skies clear of German bombers while the boats cross.

Dunkirk is an unusual war movie that celebrates not a triumphant battle but a potentially disastrous retreat. The enemy is invisible, faceless and nameless, and we never see a British soldier raise a gun against the Germans. No fighting, just survival. And though there’s lots of people dying, there is little blood or gore in this strangely clean war. Dunkirk is a non-stop action movie that rarely takes a breather. It’s tense, thrilling and kept my eyes riveted to the screen from beginning to end.

A Ghost Story

Wri/Dir: David Lowery

A nameless married couple (Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara) live with their dog and a standup piano in an ordinary bungalow in the American Southwest. She wants to move to a better place but he feels strangely attached to the house. Perhaps it’s the creaks and bumps they hear late at night. Is it haunted? Then disaster strikes. He is killed in a car crash, and she has to identify his body in the hospital morgue. And after she leaves, the sheet covered corpse gets up and walks slowly back to the house. Is he a zombie? No, he’s just a ghost moving back into his home where no one can see him.

When I first heard about this movie – Casey Affleck playing ghost with a sheet over his head – I thought gimme a break. It sounds like a self-conscious bad joke. So I was completely surprised at how emotionally wrenching, how shocking, how wonderful this movie actually is. The silent ghost just stands in the background as time passes, observing all as his sheet tumbles majestically around his feet. It shows the passage of time, in a series of linked tableaux, fading one to the next – his wife’s mourning, new residents, a tear-it-down party. It’s like a dream.

Do you remember the Tree of Life, that extremely long movie about creation and the meaning of life? A Ghost Story does that, more simply, and in just 90 minutes. It’s a beautiful and haunting look at love, death, memory and the passage of time.

I like this one a lot.

The Black Prince, Dunkirk and A Ghost Story 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

 

 

 

Daniel Garber talks to Elisa Paloschi about her new documentary Driving with Selvi premiering at the ReelAsian Film Festival

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Human Rights, India, Movies, Poverty, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2015

Elisa Paloschi, 1, Driving with SelviHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining,com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Selvi was a 14-year-old child bride in Southern India. Her husband was so abusive she contemplated suicide, but instead ran away. She made her way toElisa Paloschi, Driving with Selvi photo 2 home for young women where she learned to be a driver, and after a ten-year journey, she became South India’s first female taxi driver. How did she reach that stage? And what’s it like to go driving with Selvi?

Driving with Selvi is also the name of a new Canadian documentary that tells her story. It’s directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Elisa Paloschi, known for her documentaries dealing with social issues around the world.  Her film is having its  premier at Driving with Selvi 2Toronto’s ReelAsian film festival. I spoke with Elisa in studio about visiting India as a tourist, how she first met Selvi, 10 years of shooting the film, making a film in a developing nation, why Indian women in smaller cities rarely drive, Selvi’s motivation, human trafficking, child brides, poverty, feminism, women as second-class citizens, dowries, divorce, motivation, how to share her story …and more! The film has its Toronto premier on November 5, 2015, at the ReelAsian Film Festival.

Names. Films reviewed: Beeba Boys, Meet the Patels, The Last Saint

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Gangs, India, Indigenous, L.A., Movies, New Zealand, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 16, 2015

12087961_10153304148320345_3900218976445656359_oHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is on right now, with over a hundred works by indigenous artists and filmmakers. Where else could you enjoy tea ‘n’ bannock while checking out virtual reality and video games by First Nations artists? Go to imaginenative.org for info, or, better yet, drop by the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see it in person. Experience indigenous culture and be sure to remember the names of these artists filmmakers.

Names are important, so this week I’m looking at some movies about names and families. There’s a documentary about a man named Patel, a crime drama about a gangster called Jeet, and a coming-of age drama about a Polynesian-Kiwi named Minka.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBeeba Boys
Dir: Deepa Mehta

Jeet (Randeep Hooda) is a charismatic criminal from Vancouver. He lives with his gossipy Mamaji and woebegone Papaji but makes a living trafficking drugs and guns. His underlings dress in garishly-coloured suits, as he carries out his business in a flashy nightclub. And he spends his spare time with Katya (Sarah Allen) 927ebef0-1c64-408d-b8dc-071f838a8b4aan old-skool gangster’s moll he keeps locked away in a luxury condo.

The movie starts with a bang, involving a dead groom and a parking lot shooting. But his rise in power is challenged by a more powerful Sikh gang headed by a man named Grewal. Jeet is sent to a local jail where he meets a petty gangster named Nep (Ali Momen) just in from Toronto. And he wants to join Jeet’s crew. But 6ebfb0be-b20d-44fe-aa5d-a62400ecbca0he has a secret: he’s dating Grewal’s pretty daughter even as he makes his name with the Beeba Boys. Which kingpin will triumph – the upstart Jeet or the powerful Grewal? And where does Nep’s loyalty really lie?

Beeba Boys is a stylized gangster pic typical in every way except for its players – all Desi Canadians – and its locale, Vancouver. Except for a few scenes, it lacks humour (despite a character who insists on telling bad jokes). And the women are all hanger-onners, surprising for a film from a female director. This is a guy’s gangster movie. But the action is good, with plenty of gratuitous violence. It holds your attention, and there are even a few truly surprising plot twist. And the acting is mainly good, including a surprising appearance by Paul Gross as a bad guy. If you’re in the mood for an all-Canadian Sikh gangster pic, this one’s for you.

f07310_6ffd442f4712499c81614a8e1ab773b3.jpg_srz_p_732_1089_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMeet the Patels
Dir: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Ravi Patel is 29 and single. He’s not a doctor, but he’s played one on TV (He’s an actor working in LA). His childhood sweetheart recently dumped him for his fear of commitment. And he foresees a rootless future if he doesn’t do something soon. So he agrees to give in to his parent’s advice and find an Indian woman to marry. Soon he’s plunged into a visit to f07310_ebf8fdfaf18149debdac59e1ef2a06ba.png_srz_p_647_359_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzGujarat and a lesson in his heritage.

The Patel’s are more than just a common last name and a lot of motel owners. It’s a gujarati-speaking caste, not a family, per se. And it has an amazing networks of connections in North America with a registry of singles spanning the globe. Their “bio-data” includes their shade of skin (“wheat-coloured” women — whatever that means — are, apparently, considered more desireable), their education, family f07310_bfd6b3bf34c64d8f984b2e1387b31b17.jpg_srz_p_619_357_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzbackground and ancestry.

Followed by his sister Geeta behind the camera, Ravi begins an amazing series of blind dates, speed dates, and online match-ups. But will he ever find love among the Patels?

Meet the Patels has some cool animated sequences, and it told me a lot I didn’t know about a hidden world in North America. But it gets bogged down by endless family discussions and Ravi’s confessions that felt too much like a reality TV show. It’s not the comedy it’s advertised as, but more of an intimate portrait of an insecure, single man.

The_Last_Saint1The Last Saint
Dir: Rene Naufahu

Minka (Beulah Koale) is a young Polynesian guy who lives with his mum Lia in Aukland, N.Z. He enjoys spinning disks and hanging with his only friend, a nihilistic girl named Xi (Like the Warrior Princess, she says).

Lia (Joy Vaele) is a recovering addict, given to terrifying bouts of insane violence involving sharp knives. Minka pleads with social services to help take care of her but they turn him down. So he’s forced to look elsewhere for money. In walks a shady-looking man in black (Calvin 10562543_684630048257143_34249033864046524_oTuteao) who offers him a job at his nightclub. It’s a seedy joint but he does his work. He refuses his boss’s offers of drugs, alcohol or prostitutes, and shuns all violence.

His boss is impressed and reveals his connection to Minka and his mum: he’s his missing father! Still, he sends him out on a dangerous mission to make a delivery in the middle of the night. Minka encounters a musclebound, tattooed Polynesian dealer named Pinball (Joseph Naufahu). In the midst of 10491062_673180262735455_383628263760875119_n‘roid rage Pinball demands to know Minka’s “real name” and threatens to kill him.

Later, he encounters a gang of intimidating, torturing Tongans and other unexpected strangers. Can he survive the night? And will his family ties save him or drag him deeper into a life of crime.

The Last Saint is an excellent coming-of-age look at a good guy driven to crime. The acting is great, with nearly every portrayal compelling, especially Koale.

Beeba Boys and Meet the Patels both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. The Last Saint screens tonight as part of ImagineNative.

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

Group Efforts. Movies Reviewed: Bombay Talkies, The Great Passage, Broken Circle Breakdown PLUS Reel Asian

Posted in Belgium, Cultural Mining, Drama, India, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on November 7, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I was speaking with a movie producer recently who wonders why do I interview directors. Why are they called the filmmakers, not producers? he wanted to know. They’re the ones who really make the film happen. I said, well, it’s the director who puts his personal stamp on a movie. But he’s right.  It’s never just a one-person show. Ensemble pieces need great actors who work well together. The screenwriter is the one who makes the story: crucial. Never mind the necessities of music, wardrobe, hair and makeup, lighting and sound mixing. – it takes a veritable movie village.

This week I’m talking about group efforts to get things done… and the troubles they face. There’s a film from India about Bollywood that has four directors; a gentle drama from Japan about a man at a publisher who wants to collect every single word; and a passionate romance from Belgium about a man and a woman in a band who are trying to raise a child.

Bombay_Talkies3Bombay Talkies

Dir: Zoya Akhtar, Dibakar Banerjee, Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap

What’s the biggest centre in the world for film production? That’s Bombay not Hollywood. And it’s 100 years old, so they created this tribute to Bollywood which also opened Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival.

Thisis actually four complete short films, all of which touch on the same theme. One follows a gay man who discovers his female boss’s handsome husband shares his passion for old Bollywood singers. But do they share something else too? The second one is about a little boy who wants to dance. Then there’s a dad who fails at all his ventures, whether it’s a get-rich-quick involving emu’s to years of effort to make it as an actor. But fortune smiles on him when he’s pulled onto a set to INDIA-ENTERTAINMENT-BOLLYWOODplay a part in a film. And finally there’s a man sent on a holy pilgrimage from a small town to Bombay. His mission? To get a movie god to take a bite of his mother’s famous sweet. Just a bite.

All four were very different but all cute. They’re followed by a song-and-dance starring the biggest names and faces in Bollywood. I knew they were big because the audience was gasping, laughing and cheering as they appeared one by one, but I only recognized one or two faces.

What’s most interesting is this tribute to Bollywood chooses to use a western-style movie structure. You can see the actors dying to jump up and sing and dance and emote whenever there was a dramatic pause… but they can’t, because of the nature of this film. But it kept the melodrama, the humour, and the acting (and occasional overacting – to my western eyes) distinctive to this genre. A good intro to Bollywood for those – like me – not in the know.

The_Great_PassageThe Great Passage

Dir: Ishii Yuuya

It’s the 1990s. The editor at a major Japanese publishing house wants to produce a new kind of Japanese dictionary, one that includes all words – including ones they hear on the street: slang, contractions, new terms just catching on. It’s a huge, all encompassing project they think will take more than 20 years to complete. And it may not make money in these troubled economic times. And then the editor quits, so the search is on for a new editor, someone young enough to follow it through but with a true love of words. Their ultimate choice is shy, non-communicative young nerd from the sales department. He’s a dreadful salesman… but a traditionalist when it comes to words, definitions and precision. Even his name — Majime — means serious and hard-working. But his personal and home life is dismal. Majime (Matsuda Ryuhei) never talks to women – actually he never talks to anyone except his elderly landlady and his cat named Tora (Japanese for tiger).

But then he meets his pretty neighbor Kaguya (Miyazaki Aoi), a young woman in training as a sushi chef, who is as expressive in speaking as she is with a knife. Will a painful courtship lead to true love?

The film watches him bloom even as the dictionary (called Daidoukai) passes through its great passage. It comes to life from index cards to piles of manuscripts — proofread five times. But will it ever be published in a country turning digital?

The Great Passage is an odd little movie about a huge, multigenerational project and the ordinary but quirky people who make it happen. I love its attention to words, sounds and details. Although the structure is like any movie about a group trying to accomplish something great despite the odds against them, it’s nice to see it not about a baseball game for a change.

Broken Circle Breakdown 6 -topshotonbedBroken Circle Breakdown

Dir: Felix van Groeningen

It’s Bush-era Belgium. Didier and Elise are lovers (Johann Heldenbergh and Veerle Baetens). She’s a tattoo artist, petite with blonde hair and symbolic images of all over her body. They used to be pictures of ex-lovers, but when breaks up she redraws the images into something new. He’s a burly bearded fellow with crooked teeth and a huge beard. He sings and plays the banjo in a bluegrass band filled with other bearded Flemish cowboys… and Elise. Their country life centres on music, their friends, and the great sex. Passionate sex, angry sex, comfort sex, make-up sex.

This also brings them adorable little Maybelle. She likes TV girl superheroes dancing and running around. Maybelle sees a bird die when it crashes into their glass veranda. She’s upset by the unfairness of it all. The parents reveal their fundamentally different philosophies. Didier thinks it’s all part of the long process of evolution: birds as a species must learn about clear glass and adapt. Elise thinks problems should be changedpragmatically, by fixing or covering up past mistakes. Redraw a tattoo. Put a picture of a hawk on the glass. She sees the bird’s sudden appearance as a sign or an omen.

Maybelle develops leukaemia and has to undergo radical chemo with a low chance of survival.the broken circle breakdown _still_03_band

While this sounds like a mainstream sick girl / concerned parents movie, it’s not told that way at all. The plot is cut up style – flashbacks and flashforwards all pasted back together, jumping back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life and trauma, the happy and the sad. The story is subtly narrated by songs sung by the bearded Greek chorus (the band at the bluegrass club). The film touches on death, religion, music, God and politics, punctuated by extended musical and a capella sequences.

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a passionate and moving drama – I really liked this one.

The Great Passage and Bombay Talkies are both playing at the Reel Asian Film Festival (reelasian.com ): and Broken Circle Breakdown opens today at the TIFF Bell Light Box in Toronto (tiff.net) . Rendezvous with Madness starts Monday: go to rwmff.com for details. Also opening soon is Ekran, Toronto’s Polish film festival, and Monsters and Martians festival. And check out another passionate – and highly explicit — three-hour-long sexual romance called Blue is the Warmest Colour.

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

 

TIFF13: Films About Women. Movies Reviewed: Empire of Dirt, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Young and Beautiful, The Lunchbox

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, France, India, Movies, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 6, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

When an entity with the mammoth, the monumental proportions of TIFF comes to town, it cannot help but affect the city. Shopping, books, music, art, parties… It bleeds far beyond the boundaries of the cinema screens. I’ve noticed pubic libraries cross the city with displays of movie related books. The department stores and boutiques dress up their windows to bring in the movies. There’s a Young Lions Music Club party on Friday all about Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. There’s a major art launch at MOCCA and the TIFF Bell Lightbox show of art related David Cronenberg. The Cronenberg Project that promises a digital-experience extension! And I’d be very surprised not to see a new type of TIIF-themed poutine or burger somewhere in this city.

This week I’m looking at some more movies coming to TIFF. I’m going to concentrate on movies about women from Canada, France and India. One’s a long-distance romance between strangers; one’s a family reunion involving strangers; one’s a passionate coming-of-age drama; and one’s a dispassionate coming-of-age drama

empireofdirt_01Empire of Dirt

Dir: Peter Stebbings

Lena (Cara Gee) is a beautiful young woman with a rebellious teenage daughter in downtown Toronto. A former model, she cleans houses for a living. She devotes herself to the native circle she runs at a community centre. But her own home life is a shambles. She worries when her daughter Peeka (Shay Eyre) gets kicked out of school and starts hanging with a bad crowd. But when Peeka OD’s huffing spray paint, mom is shocked. She grabs her daughter and heads due north. Peeka knows nothing about her mom’s past, but she discovers she’s from a reserve. She has a gruff, widowed grandmother (Jennifer Podemsky) who sells fishing bait, and possibly even a father somewhere.

Will Lena and her mom learn to love one another? Can Peeka adjust to life up north? Will she embrace her native heritage? And will the ghosts of Lena’s past force her out again? Or will three generations of strong stubborn women manage to co-exist? A nice, touching movie, Empire of Dirt is part family drama, part rural romance. It lets three actresses explore and expand on their characters — of kid, mom and grandmother – to make something bigger than the sum of the parts.

blueisthewarmestcolor_01Blue is the Warmest Colour

Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche

Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an ordinary French girl, finishing high school in Lille. She likes spaghetti, reading books and hanging with her friends. She doesn’t know how beautiful she is with strands of hair falling over her face. But on a first date with some guy, it’s a woman –with punky looks and blue hair – who catches her eye in a random glance. She is smitten. Soon enough, she meets gap-toothed Emma (Léa Seydoux), a fine arts student at the local university.  They become first flirty friends, then torrid, romantic lovers. Emma has high ambitions: she aims for success as a realist painter; she sketches Adele’s nude body obsessively. Can working-class Adele survive such a highly sexualized life and Emma’s sometimes cruel, domineering nature?

This is a three-hour-long look at Adele’s transition from highschool to adulthood. It’s full of explicit, extended sex scenes – and I don’t mean rolling around in dark shadows behind lacy curtains. It’s not porn but there is a lot of sex. Their romance is very dramatic: Adele’s passionate and obsessive first love. (I just wish they didn’t have quite so much of the colour blue, blue, blue popping up in every scene; it gets distracting.)

youngandbeautiful_02Jeune et Jolie (Young and Beautiful)

Dir: Francois Ozon

Isabelle (Marine Vacth) is teenaged girl from a middle class family. She loses her virginity to a boy she meets on a summer seaside holiday. But the sex is not good. She feels detached, literally, from the experience. Back in the city, she decides to explore that mental split. In the fall, she creates a nighttime personality – with a different makeup, clothes and hairstyle – and sets up an online presence.  Her nighttime persona secretly works in the sex trade, meeting much older men in posh hotels. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes eye-opening, occasionally an emotional connection. She doesn’t spend the money. Only her gay-ish little brother suspects something is up. Her daytime-self goes to school studies, chats with her friends about dates. But come wintertime, she is shocked by an unexpected turn of events. Can Isabelle’s emotional maturity ever catch up to her sexual maturity?youngandbeautiful_01

Young and Beautiful follows the two sides of the model-like Isabelle as she navigates growing up and her troubled relationship with her own mom. Simple in form – it’s divided into four parts, following the four seasons – the movie is psychologically and emotionally complex.

Finally, I cannot not mention:

The Lunchbox

Dir: Ritesh Batra

lunchbox_02Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a young Bombay housewife whose marriage is not going well – he doesn’t eat her food, and they have little connection in bed. To spark things up, she decides to make her husband a delicious lunch. It’s sent out each day, along with millions of others, by a complex hand-delivery system connecting her kitchen to her husband’s desk. So she gets her upstair’s neighbour “Auntie” to shout down cooking advice based on what spices she smells through the window. (You never actually see her neighbour.) Later, it comes back completely empty – he loves it! But her husband doesn’t mention anything. Didn’t he like it? He says the cauliflower was good. But she didn’t make cauliflower. So begins a complicated relationship long-distance with a Saajan Fernandez (Irrfan Khan), an unknown, older man, somewhere in Bombay, who loves her cooking. They exchange handwritten messages back and forth under the chapattis in the metal stacked lunch box. Will they meet? Are they meant for each other? Or will Ilo’s husband learn to love his young wife?

The Lunch Box is a must-see, a simple, perfect film.

Empire of Dirt, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Young and Beautiful, and the Lunchbox are all showing at TIFF, and will be released in Canada over the next year. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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

 

November 2, 2012. Migration. Films Reviewed: Flight, Midnight’s Children PLUS Dal Puri Diaspora

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, Addiction, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, India, ReelAsian, Spirituality, Supernatural, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

People and populations are constantly shuttled around, from homes, cities and countries, from one airport to the next. A constant migration. At the ReelAsian film festival, starting next week, Toronto filmmaker Richard Fung wonders if the same isn’t true for food, not just people. Fung is originally from Trinidad, and goes on a worldwide quest to trace the origin of what he calls the Dal Puri Diaspora, the exile of that roti unique to the Caribbean. His fascinating voyage takes him from Toronto to Port of Spain, in and out of spice factories, abandoned sugar cane fields, Mauritius (a remote island near Madagascar), and finally to Bihar, a little known (to North Americans) corner of Utar Pradesh in India.

On the way, he gives a politically-informed history of indentured servitude in the British empire as well as some amazing encounters with deliciously specific foods from around the world.

This week I’m talking about two dramas about migration, one following the displacement of people after the Indian Partition, the other about a short but eventful hop by plane from Florida to Atlanta.

Midnight’s Children
Dir: Deepa Mehta

Saleem and Shiva, two of the babies born around midnight in 1947 when India and Pakistan become independent, have their name tags switched in hospital by a nurse named Mary. Wide-eyed Saleem Sinai is now part of a fabulously rich family of power brokers, while Shiva, bitter and angry, is raised by a destitute street performer known as Wee Willie Winkie. As he grows older, Saleem believes he can hear the voices of other kids from somewhere inside his nose. He thinks he can telepathically contact all of the other kids who were born that fateful midnight, and maybe bring them all together. Saleem would have them bring peace to the subcontinent, while his rival Shiva would rather form a gang of evildoers out for personal gain (sort of like a mini X-Men rivalry).

Soon, Saleem is tempest-tossed all around India and Pakistan – from Kashmir to Bombay, Rawalpindi to Karachi, his fate tied to that of India’s and Pakistan’s. He’s there for the military coups, Bangladesh’s independence, war, strife and change. The story culminates in the 1970s when Indira Ghandi declares martial law, and all of Midnight’s Children – the youth of new India – bear the suffering she inflicts.

Midnight’s Children (the screenplay is adapted by Salman Rushdie from his novel) is a huge epic with dozens of characters, cities, and earth-changing events. So plot turns jump quickly from one to the next, and just when you figure out you like a character, you’re already in a new setting and a new era. It felt like an entire mini-series squeezed into one picture, and I’m not sure it quite fit. The acting is pretty good – Seema Biswas as the nurse Mary, Satya Bhabha as sensitive Saleem Sinai, and Siddharth as macho Shiva – and the story beyond rich. It’s a Hollywood (or Bollywood) -sized plot, made on a limited, Canadian budget. I was a bit put off by the threadbare look of parts of the movie along with its frequent anachronisms. But I salute the director for taking on such a monumental story and carrying it through to a dramatic finish.

Flight
Dir: Robert Zemeckis

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a sinner. In the first scene you see him lounging, lying to his ex-wife about child support, drinking and snorting coke with a stunning naked flight attendant. Lust, anger, envy, gluttony, pride, sloth, and greed neatly summed up in 5 minutes. He’s also an amazing pilot: his dad taught him everything he knows. Soon enough, they’re up in the air, heading on a short hop to Atlanta. But the plane experiences mechanical difficulties, starts shaking, and diving into a crash. If not for his unusual flight techniques (he turns the entire plane upside-down) the whole thing would have been destroyed… everyone dead. As it is, he knocks the steeple off a church and sends parishoners in white blouses running for cover, the next of many implied “sins”.

Recovering in hospital, Whip hooks up with Nicole, a beautiful red-headed junkie (Kelly Reilly) there for rehab. Soon enough, his drinking and drugs start to come to light, and the impending clouds of manslaughter-charges — the people who died in the crash -– start looming over his head. He handles this with still more drinking, shunning even his junkie GF’s suggestion of joining a 12-step. Will the dreaded NTSB (the agency holding the inquiry) get him for his drinking? Or will they blame the airline or the manufacturer for what happens?

The movie Flight carries you along, with some funny parts – especially John Goodman as his hippy coke dealer — but it also has a few awful scenes. When Denzel throws a bottle across the room at a ringing telephone it feels like I’m watching a third-rate soap opera.

While it’s an interesting story with largely good acting — and I love the disaster scenes — it mainly seems to function as a sanctimonious lesson on how sin is no good for your soul – and how we all must repent and attend AA… or suffer the consequences.

This director has made lots of very famous movies. On the Zemeckis scale, I’d place this as much better than the execrable Forrest Gump or the unwatchable Polar Express, but not nearly as good as Romancing the Stone or Back to the Future.

Midnight’s Children and Flight open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Dal Puri Diaspora is playing at Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival, which starts next week. And don’t miss the excellent documentary We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists that opens at the Bloor on Monday.

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

Love, Romance and Passion. Movies reviewed: Trishna, My First Wedding PLUS Burlesque Assassins

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

In the heat of the night, Toronto has been boiling over with record hot temperatures and high tempers, tragic shootings and a bizarre machete mugging.

But hot nights can also lead to steamy romance, passion and ultimately to love. So this week I’m looking at two movies that deal with romance. One’s about a wedding that might lead to disaster; another where the lack of a wedding might ruin the relationship.

Trishna

Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Jay (Riz Ahmed) is a confident Oxbridge toff touring India with his buddies. But when they see a young woman performing a dance at their hotel in Rajasthan Jay is smitten and decides to pursue her. And the dancer Trishna (Freida Pinto), notices him too — clearly the feelings are mutual. Jay’s father owns a palatial hotel in Jaipur, and since Trishna’s father’s accident (he was the jeep driver for the travelling Jay and his friends), her extended family has no income. So she takes him up on his offer and goes to work for the hotel, and study at the local college. All’s going well until she is accosted by some tuffs, rescued by her white knight Jay on a motorcycle and then taken back to the hotel, where they succomb to passion. But by the next morning she feels ashamed and what happens and flees home.

If this all feels like a Victorian novel, that’s because it is: it’s an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in modern-day India. Scooters instead of horses, jeeps instead of stagecoaches, but class is still the big divider. Trishna comes from a poor family, and although given a taste of the high life — a Bombay apartment as Jay dabbles as a Bollywood producer, or in Jaipur at the posh hotel — there’s a clear difference between Jay’s status and hers. He moodily shifts from boyfriend to employer, and the dynamics of their relationship also changes. He says in the Kama Sutra there are three types of women you can sleep with: a sophisticated woman, a servant or a courtesan. He doesn’t mention wife. Trishna wonders which one she is. There relationship could be a passing fancy for him, but for a disenfranchised woman it’s all she’s got.

Trishna is a very moving and realistic romantic drama, partly scripted, partly improvised — almost documentary like. Pinto and Ahmed are both great as the lovers, and the director, Michael Winterbottom is as experimental and surprising as ever. His movies range from 24 Hour Party People to A Cock and Bull Story (a comic adaptation of another British novel — in this case Sterne’s Tristram Shandy)

While he has no specific style – his style can change drastically from film to film — Winterbottom’s always an interesting director who constantly expands the boundaries of what you can call a movie. Trishna follows a traditional story, but by shifting the culture and language from 19th century England to 21st century India Winterbottom can take the age old story of poor girl meets rich boy and turn it into an entirely new type of film.

My First Wedding

Dir: Ariel Winograd

Adrian and Leonora are a happy couple, dressed up and ready for their country club wedding outside Buenos Aries. The wedding planner is organizing everything, family and friends are all arriving, and a rabbi and a priest are being driven out there to officiate. Adrian (Daniel Hendler) is Jewish, while Leo (Natalia Oreiro) is Catholic. But as they separately rehearse their wedding vows, Adrian panics when he loses Leo’s wedding band. She’ll kill him if she finds out. so, to postpone the wedding, he must send the Priest and Rabbi off on a wild goose chase, hide the truth from his bride, and find the ring (with help from cousin Fede).

The wedding planner recommends they go through the wedding in reverse order — party, dine, drink, and dance… and say the vows at the end instead of the beginning. Sort of an upside down wedding. But things get even more complicated. Leo’s snobbish mother, herself divorced, is disappointed in her choice, Adrian’s family are all quarrelling, his grandfather wants to smoke pot, and past lovers — Leo’s former professor, the dashing Miguel Angel (Imanol Arias); and Adrian’s second cousin who still likes him — all seem to be working hard to ruin the wedding. Angel announces that marriages are like cities under seige: everyone inside wants to get out, while everyone outside is trying to get in. With the divorces and collapsing relationships all around them, the title (My First Wedding) begins to make sense.

This is a funny, classic screwball comedy about what can go wrong at a wedding. The two leads are great as is the very large supporting cast. It’s a light enjoyable rom-com from Argentina, told from the groom’s perspective.

Trishna and My First Wedding both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Also playing tonight (at the Bloor Cinema) is a neo-burlesque, cabaret style movie called Burlesque Assassins (directed by Jonathan Joffe), about some killer spies (with names like Roxi D’lite) who double as cold-war exotic dancers as they travel the globe to catch the villains. Lots of guns, 1950’s uniforms, and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at. Also on this weekend is the documentary “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” about Burma and its people. It’s showing free at the East Gallery, just across the street from the AGO on Dundas.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

 

Daniel Garber talks to Seema Biswas about her new film Patang (The Kite)

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, India, Movies, Mumblecore, Subtitles, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 23, 2012

India’s superstar character actress Seema Biswas talks about a new, experimental movie from India called PATANG (The Kite) opening today in Toronto (June 22nd) at the Projection Booth.

Seema is famous in both South Asia and North America, for films like Water, the Bandit Queen, Cooking with Stella, Queens: Destiny of Dance, the upcoming Midnight’s Children, and many others.

In this feature interview, Seema tells a great story about an unusual experience she had with American border officials, her challenging roles, her opinion of “controversial” parts, her true character, her “Canadian connection”,  her work with Deepa Mehta, the difficulties in playing an Indian transsexual, her other roles, and more!

April 7, 2012. Interview. Filmmaker Nisha Pahuja talks to Daniel Garber about her new documentary The World Before Her

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, India, Movies, Spirituality, TV, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on April 16, 2012

Religious fundamentalism is triggering violence, riots and even wars across the globe, and is frequently in the news. But what about Hindu fundamentalism?

A new Canadian documentary takes you inside a bootcamp where teenaged girls are trained and indoctrinated into the violent Durgha Vahini movement. The documentary, The World Before Her, Directed by Nisha Pahuja, will have its Canadian premier at HotDocs in Toronto and opens on April 19th at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

It follows two young women. Ruhi is a westernized contestant in the MIss India beauty pageant in Bombay; Prachi Trivedi is a hardline, Hindu fundamentalist and rising political activist who has attended these camps since she was a small child.

We talk about making her new film; westernization vs modernization; the causes and dangers of fundamentalism and extreme nationalism; and the state of women in contemporary India.

UPDATE: Nisha Pahuja’s new film The World Before Her has just won the BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE award at the Tribeca Film festival! Congratulations, Nisha!

Awards Announced: 2012 Tribeca Film Festival:

By Kristin McCracken

“Winner receives $25,000 and the art award “An Unpeopled Land in Uncharted Waters, 2010” by Kara Walker; courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York.

“Jury Comments: “With unprecedented access, great compassion, and a keen eye for the universal, this year’s winner takes a hard and clear-eyed look at the trials of growing up female in today’s fast-changing world. Following young women who have taken diametrically opposed decisions on how to tackle the influence of global forces in their communities, the filmmaker takes us on a journey to examine how the pressures of faith, fashion, and family are bringing up a generation of women who are desperately searching for meaning amidst a reality of few real choices.”

WWII Communists as Rebels and Prison Guards. Movies Reviewed: The Army of Crime, The Way Back, The Edge

This week I’m talking about three European movies that look at the people out of power during and right after WWII.

Some of the best historical movies are about WWII. There’s something more monumental and profound about this huge, all- encompassing war that can’t be matched in movies about, say, the Americans’ war in Vietnam, or France’s in Algeria. And a lot of the fighting boils down to the two prevalent ideologies of the time: right-wing Fascism, and left wing Communism. So this week I’m going to talk about three movies that take very different perspectives on the role of the Communists in eastern and western Europe in WWII.

A few years ago, Western Europe started to examine its own role under the Nazi occupation, both as collaborators and as victims. The resistance – those who fought against the occupiers, often through violent actions – was facing not just the enemy but their own countrymen who sided with the occupiers.

Released in 2006, the Dutch movie, The Black Book, (directed by the fantastic Paul Verhoeven) is a great fictional story of a beautiful Jewish Dutch woman, Rachel (Carice Van Houten) a cabaret singer, who joins the resistance by infiltrating the Nazi’s as a spy—but she ends up being the mistress of a high-ranked, but kind-hearted and handsome Nazi officer (Sebastian Koch). Although fictional, this is a major rethinking of Dutch attitudes toward their German occupiers.

After this, other Western Europeans countries, one by one, made their own dramas about the occupation. The Danes made Flame and Citron, a retelling of two young heroes of the Danish resistance, one a redhead, one blonde, who blew up bridges and carried out espionage. It’s a good, tense drama.

Max Manus (2008), the Norwegian story, is an old-school adventure movie about a brave young man (Aksel Hennie) and his confreres who, on behalf of the Norwegian government in exile, fought against the Nazi’s and their own Quisling government by jumping out of windows and engaging in acts of sabotage against the enemy’s military ships around the Oslo harbour.

Germany had it’s own resistance, as portrayed in the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) , a true historical drama about an upper-class Munich university student, and her friends, who plotted against the Nazis by distributing anonymous leaflets in a movement known as the White Rose.

There were others as well, including the awful American drama Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise as one of the aristocratic military officers who plotted to assassinate Hitler. Quentin Tarantino made a much better American movie. An exaggerated but enjoyable spectacle, Inglorious Basterds, was simultaneously a melodramatic love story, a war-time comic-but-violent action flic, and a tense, espionage thriller.

Well, just when I thought this sub-genre was all played out, comes another very watchable and moving drama called…

The Army of Crime (2009)
Dir: Robert Guédiguian

This is a true story. It’s 1941 in Paris, and the Germans have moved in, the government has fallen, but day-to-day life hasn’t been affected much yet. The policemen are still French, and the shops, schools and institutions still operate the way they always have. But, for immigrants and minorities, things are getting worse. The police are cracking-down, searching homes, and the axe feels like it’s about to drop.

A group of young people who are already doing clandestine protests, independently of one another – communist grafitti, paper flyers dropped from buildings, street scuffles – are brought together under the French poet, Missak Abkarian (Simon Abkarian), who had survived the Armenian Holocaust as a child.

It’s interesting: in the past, the French resistance was shown on TV and in movies as the brave and noble Frenchmen who fought off their Nazi occupiers. In this movie, it’s mainly the French themselves who are collaborating with the Germans, ratting on their neighbours, and zealously joining the police force to catch all the vandals and resistance members that are upsetting their peaceful, occupied lives. And the ones fighting hard against the occupation are immigrants or their children – Armenians, Communists, Jews from Poland, Hungary and Romania; Italian radicals, and Spanish Republicans.

Some are using hidden printers in backrooms, and practice the piano in the front to cover the noise. One teenaged boy continues to compete in swim meets (under a false French name) while he secretly shoots German officers. A shadowy hierarchy — unidentified, but looking like eastern European Communists — impose order and planning on the individual firebrands. The story follows four or five plotlines as the diverse resistance members gradually converge into one unit with the plan to do a dramatic action… or die trying.

This is a good, gripping WWII dramatic thriller of the French resistance as de facto terrorists battling the complacent, majority collaborators who were aiding the occupiers in their nefarious schemes of deportation and death. Their various love stories, families, and historical events are all woven together in this dense, fascinating movie.

But what about the opposite side of the coin? What happened to the Eastern Europeans who opposed the Soviet Union’s occupation, or fell out of favour with the communist party? A new movie, by a very well-known Australian director, looks a group in some ways diametrically opposed to the ones in The Army of Crime.

The Way Back
Dir: Peter Weir

… depicts life in a Siberian gulag, a great escape, and an epic journey (by a few of the survivors) all the way south to India.

Januzs, a Polish man, is sent to Siberia for being “anti-Stalin” when his wife “confesses” his crimes after being interrogated and tortured. He finds himself in an isolated prison camp where the harsh snow and winter itself is the toughest guard. The other prisoners are petty criminals, purged party members, actors, intellectuals, bureaucrats, and anti-communists. The criminals are the highest-ranked ones, and therest cower from them. They move logs and some are sent to work in the mines.

But a group manages to escape, including Januzs, a shady American known only as Mr Smith (Ed Harris) and a rough criminal, Valka (Colin Farrell). An innocent young girl (Saoirse Ronan) they meet outside the prison helps the suspicious and cautious men to get to know one another. They set off on great walk, and here the movie makes a strange shift — from a prison movie to a human travelogue, pitting man against the great outdoors. The scenery is really beautiful, as they travel from the Siberians steppes, the plains of Mongolia, the Gobi desert, Tibet, and the Himalayas.

Cliffs, dunes, lakes, plains, forests, temples – all truly breathtaking and spectacular. I found the story itself, though, less interesting. Their main drives — to go on, to survive, to reach India — seemed incidental to the trip. What was their motivation? And it had a bit – just a bit — of the feel of a cold war-era propaganda flic: We must escape iron curtain and reach free world!

I don’t want to downplay those sentiments, and Stalin’s very real war crimes, but the movie seemed oddly out of date in its fuzzy-religious, anti-communist tone.

I think it’s almost worth seeing it just for the outstanding scenery – almost, but not quite.

Finally, a very different view of Siberian prison camps.

The Edge
Dir: Aleksei Uchitel

…which played at this year’s TIFF, and is the Russian entry for the Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category.

Ignat (Vladimir Mashkov) is a decorated war vet who is sent, in uniform, to Siberia just after WWII. There he hooks up with Sofia (Yulia Peresild) to become a sort of a husband/sex partner and a father to her baby. Sofia is surviving, by hook or by crook, having been a servant in Nazi Germany during the war, and then punished by the Soviets. Ignat is obsessed by trains, and wants to get them up and running again. He hears there’s an engine still out there in the forest somewhere, so he decides to bring it back. This is where the story gets really interesting. He finds it, but it’s being guarded by a mysterious, violent creature, whom he has to vanquish in order to get to the steam engine. (I don’t want to give this away, since that character becomes important to the plot).

Ignat becomes obsessed with getting the train across a fallen bridge and over a river so they can all get away. His rival – the mysterious Fishman – represents the authorities he wants to overthrow. Will his train ever work? Will he get away? Will he win over the hearts of the locals?

The Edge is a good, old-school Hollywood-type drama/adventure, laced with the  Russian irony and absurdity that was largely missing from Peter Weir’s movie.

It’s also strangely nostalgic, for the “good old days” just after WWII, despite the bitter losses (war, poverty, death) that went with it. Believe it or not, The Edge is a sort of a feel-good movie about Siberian gulags, told Russian-style.

The Way Back opens in Toronto on January 21st, (check your listings), The Army of Crime is showing in Thornhill, one screening only on Sunday, January 23rd , as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series, (go to www.tjff.com for details), and The Edge played at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

Also check out a rare chance to see Spike Lee in Toronto, in conversation with Toronto filmmaker Clement Virgo in celebration of Black History Month. They’re appearing at the Varsity Cinema, Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at 7pm.

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