Youth. Films reviewed: Land of Mine, The Young Offenders, Before the Streets

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Denmark, Depression, Drama, drugs, First Nations, Germany, Indigenous, Ireland, Movies, WWII by CulturalMining.com on February 17, 2017

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

Twelve to twenty-four-year-olds make up the biggest chunk of frequent moviegoers in North America, but what are they given to watch? Superheroes, spaceships, slashers and rom-coms. Rare is the serious movie about people their age, people they can identify with. So this week, I’m looking at movies about youth. There are two guys in Ireland searching for cocaine, Germans in Denmark digging up landmines, and an aboriginal man in Quebec facing up to his past.

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Land of Mine (Academy Award nominee: Best Foreign Language Picture)

Wri/Dir: Martin Zandvliet

It’s Denmark, May, 1945, Victory in Europe and the hated German soldiers are force- marched back across the border. But they left a gift: thousands of landmines planted across pristine Denmark’s beaches. (They thought the allies would invade there, not in Normandy) Hard-ass Sgt Rasmussen (Roland Møller) is called in to supervise a cleanup of the beaches using German POWs. They put them there — they should be the ones to get rid of 8e2649d8-61de-447e-894b-6dbd2abd2cd4them. It’s a simple process: sweep off the sand, unscrew a bolt, defuse the mine, then move on to the next one. Do it wrong you get blown up. Do it right you get sent back home… once the entire beach is clear. And that’s when you’ll get to eat again – no point wasting food on Nazi POWs.

97abadb7-b7bc-47f5-839f-d1216540b6d0What Rasmussen doesn’t expect is that these so-called soldiers are just boys, pulled off farms and remote villages at the end of the war. Kids like innocent identical twins Ernst and Werner (Emil and Oscar Belton) who still hold hands to feel safe; the earnest Sebastien who always wears a paisley scarf (Louis Hofmann); and even the bitter Helmut (Joel Basman) who considers himself in charge of this ragtag unit. Can these teenagers keep up their morale even as they see 25579aa2-36b8-4321-9219-c9e677cfa6bctheir friends exploding all around them? And can hard-hearted Sgt Rasmussen ever feel for these boys that are his prisoners?

Land of Mine is a touching, high-tension war drama based on true events. And you can’t help but feel for these poor kids forced into a horrible situation. I cried. It’s a real tear-jerker, and it addresses long-hidden war guilt on the part of the allies — stories that must be told. But it’s also very manipulative, painting Germans as the innocent victims and Danes as their cruel oppressors… just days after the end of WWII!

youngoffenders_06The Young Offenders

Wri/Dir: Peter Foott

It’s 2007 in Cork, Ireland. Two 15 year olds, Conor and Jock (Alex Murphy, Chris Walley) are schoolmates. They’re inseparable, with the same tracksuits, the same haircuts, the same zits. They even share the same underwear.

The shorter one, Conor, works in a fish shop with his single mum. Jock’s lives with his dad an abusive drunk. The taller Jock earns money as a bike thief known as Fake Billy: he commits his crimes wearing a realistic rubber mask that looks just like the real Billy, a dangerous local hood. Jock and Conor aren’t particular smart or youngoffenders_02good looking or rich, but at least they have each other. Then fortune smiles on them – they hear about a shipwreck of 61 bales of contraband cocaine, worth 7 million Euros each, off the coast of Ireland. This is their chance. Even if they get caught, as 15-year-olds they’d avoid doing hard time.

So they set off across the country on two stolen bikes to find their one bale of coke. But they don’t realize they’re being chased by a vengeful cop, a deranged drug dealer, and a vicious hood. Will their friendship – and their lives – survive this great road trip?

This is a fun, laddish road movie about life as working-class teens in Ireland. Cute.

beforethestreets_03Before the Streets

Wri/Dir: Chloé Leriche

Shawnouk (Rykko Bellemare) lives a nice life in his Atikamekw community, with his little sister and her baby, their mom and stepdad. He hangs with his best friend, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend. He playing a drums, singing,, smokes grass and exploring the land. But things started to go bad when his stepdad, a cop on the reserve, takes away his bingo winnings. Now he’s broke so he agrees to act as a guide for Thomas (Martin Dubreuil), a Québécois he meets at the liquor dealer’s house. Thomas says he’ll just take the stuff rich city folk leave behind in their summer cottages. But the very first burglary ends in disaster, and Shawnouk flees into the woods in horror. He is beforethestreets_04taken in by strangers, an elder and her granddaughter who nurse him back to health. Reading his face she tells him he must talk with someone about what happened. She wraps tobacco in a piece of red cloth and tells him to go to a sweatlodge on a nearby island.

He takes her offering but stows it always and returns home as if nothing happened. But his cop stepdad is investigating Shawnouk’s crime and is covering it up.

beforethestreets_02But far from relieved he is wracked with guilt and self loathing for what he did, and his bad feelings spread to the rest of his family. His stepdad takes it out on him, forcing him into a horrible job killing stray dogs. He can’t take it anymore. He heads off to his last hope, the sweatlodge, though he knows it won’t help.

Before the Streets is a first film, different from anything I’ve seen. The roles are played by non-actors from the director’s community and all dialogue is in their own language. It’s shot entirely from an aboriginal point of view, incorporating the director’s culture, language, customs and music. It covers sweat lodges, smudging, gift giving and healing, as well as negative issues like suicide, depression, and domestic violence. A touching and informative first feature.

Land of Mine opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Young Offenders and Before the Streets are both playing at the Next Wave Film Festival right now showing movies and events for free if you’re 25 or younger. 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

O Canada. Films reviewed: Hello Destroyer, Maliglutit

Posted in 1910s, Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, violence by CulturalMining.com on January 7, 2017

the-true-north-the-story-of-capt-joseph-bernier-tc-fairley-charles-e-israel-illus-james-hill-1957Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Happy New Year! It’s the sesquicentennial. You’ll be hearing that word a lot. It means it’s been 150 years since Canada’s Confederation in 1867.

CRTC chief Jean Pierre Blais thinks Canadian TV should be designed to appeal on the world stage – we shouldn’t worry about Canadian culture. Writer Charles Foran, in the Guardian, calls Canada the world’s first post-national country. He’s quoting Justin Trudeau, but I think they’re missing the point. There is a strong the-rivers-end-by-james-oliver-curwood-triangle-press-circa-1946national identity. It’s just not an ethnic-based nationalism. It’s not a jingoistic nationalism. It’s not an exclusive identity, it’s an inclusive one that is welcoming and tolerant and multifaceted. But we do have a distinctive Canadian culture.

And part of our identity is Canadian literature, art, music and film. In this Sesquicentennial year look out for lots of chances to consume Canadian culture. The NFB has put thousands of films and documentaries online. And there’s Canada on Screen, a nationwide retrospective running all year with 150 of the best docs, animation, features and TV. All screenings are free!

This week I’m looking at Canadian movies playing as part of the annual Canada’s Top Ten series. We’ve got a hockey drama out of the far west, and a western from the extreme north.

hellodestroyer_still_05Hello Destroyer

Wri/Dir: Kevan Funk

Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson) is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job. He’s welcomed by a hazing where the players hold down the newbies while they forcibly shave their heads and pummel them. It helps them feel “part of the team”. Violence builds manhood and comradery. He’s known as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay – fighting on the ice is just another part of the game. Tyson is at his physical peak and on top of the world. But he admits to another rookie that he has doubts and fears of hishellodestroyer_still_09 own.

The coach (Kurt Max Runte) tells the team they should aim to be heroes. You’ve got to hammer your steel into excalibur! We are fighters, brawlers, men! That’s when they’re winning. But when they are losing he bawls them out and tells them to fight back – aggressively. Tyson does just that, and sends a player to hospital.

hellodestroyer_still_07The coach and team lawyers, rather than reaching out to him, throw Tyson beneath the proverbial bus. They make him read a prepared statement talking all the blame, all the responsibility. Suddenly he plummets from hero to pariah. He gets kicked out of his home, suspended – temporarily they say – from the team, and is forced to move back in with his parents.

He’s also plagued with guilt – he wants to apologize to the guy he hurt, to tellhellodestroyer_still_04 him he didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t fit with the league’s plans. From beating players on the ice, his new job at a slaughter house, hacking at bloody carcasses in the cold.

He seeks solace and solitude with another guy who has fallen on hard times, and doesn’t hold it against him as they salvage an old shack. Can Tyson face his hellodestroyer_04doubts and regain his self-respect, or will he continue in a downward spiral of loss and self-destruction?

Hello Destroyer is a moving look at violence and self doubt in the world of professional sports. But don’t expect to see a conventional, movie of the week type drama. This is an impressionistic, introspective art-house movie. No slow-mo punch fights or zooms at key moments. No reaction shots. The camera hellodestroyer_02always stands back, following Tyson from behind, or capturing a conversation through a half-open doorway. Dialogue might be muffled or turned off entirely. Jared Abrahamson carries the whole movie – the frustration, anger and self-loathing – on his shoulders, and pulls it off admirably. This is a good first film.

maliglutitsearchers_02Maliglutit (Searchers)

Dir: Zacharias Kunuk

It’s 1913, in Igloolik. There’s a party going on in a large igloo with singing, storytelling and all around good times. But there’s friction as well. A couple of foul mouthed men are openly groping The father’s wife and not sharing the food they caught. Those are both against Inuit law. The offenders are kicked out, and ride off on their dog sleds. But they haven’t seen the last of them.

Following a spiritual forecast, the hunters – father and son – head out to catch caribou, leaving the kids, women and elderly behind. And while the hunters are away they hear dogs barking and strange noises outside. Is it a bear attack? No it’s something worse. The bad men are back, breaking down the walls of their home, attacking and killing almost everyone. They rope up the mother and maliglutitsearchers_04daughter and tie them to their sleds, as bounty. But the women refuse to cooperate and “be nice”. They fight back.

Our heroes spot their home through a telescope and know something is terribly wrong. There’s a gaping wound in its side. In the igloo, dying grandfather passes him a bird talisman. He summons the bird’s call to help him track the attackers. Who will survive this life and death battle?

maliglutitsearchers_01Maliglutit is a great movie — part mystery, part western, part historical drama — with information you might only get in a documentary. It captures an era after western contact and technology – they use a telescopes and rifles, and drink tea – but before Christianity, snowmobiles, forced resettlement and the killing of dog teams. It loosely follows the classic John Wayne The Searchers, a so-called Cowboy and Indian movie, but this time from the indigenous point if view. Like all of Kunuk’s movies it is stunning to watch with its arctic vistas and intense whites, blacks and blues, punctuated with the occasional splash of red blood or the glow of fire.

See NFB movies at nfb.ca; Canada’s Top Ten starts on January 13th – go to tiff.net/seethenorth for details;  and for information about the year-long, sesquicentennial retrospective go to tiff.net/canadaonscreen.

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 We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice director Alanis Obomsawin

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Indigenous, Interview, Protest by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

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

Should all children in Canada be treated the same and receive the same quality of social services? Of course they should. Then why are the services provided to aboriginal Canadians alanis-obomsawin2living on reserves underfunded, understaffed, or completely unavailable? A documentary film looks at the years-long struggle to get the government to address this problem. It took the form of a human rights complaint filed by the Child wecantmakethesamemistakestwice_02and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations.

This challenge was led by Cindy Blackstock.

A new film called We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice looks at this challenge and the seemingly endless delays, tactics and subterfuge on the part of the federal government, including spying on Blackstock. The movie is the work of thealanis-obomsawin doyenne of Canadian documentary filmmaking, Alanis Obomsawin. Working through the National Film Board, Alanis has pioneered exploring and explaining the ongoing history of First Nations in Canada.

We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival.  I spoke with Alanis Obomsawin during TIFF in September, 2016, at NFB’s Toronto studios. Her documentary is now playing at the ImagineNative Film Festival.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Journeys. Movies reviewed: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping, Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq

Posted in Action, comedy, documentary, Drama, Environmentalism, Greenland, Indigenous, Inuit, Movies, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on October 21, 2016

1462999738736Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

ImagineNative, the world’s biggest indigenous film festival, is showing 96 fantastic movies including 27 world premiers right now through the weekend. Daytime screenings are free for students, seniors or underemployed. And native elders are available for counselling and smudging. Also on this weekend is Planet in Focus showingnew_pif_logo_gotham docs with an environmental theme.

This week I’m looking at three very different movies about journeys. There are container ships floating around the globe, a fighting hobo hitchhiking across America, and four teens in Greenland who begin their journey in a pile of dirt.

14712970_1102503856464872_860908545792174766_oJack Reacher: Never Go Back

Dir: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is an itinerant army vet, hitching around America carrying just a toothbrush, armed with just his fists. He’s heading to DC to take a woman to dinner. Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) sits at Jack’s old desk, MP in the same division where he once worked. They’ve never met but he likes her voice — she helped him solve a crime by telephone. But things change fast in the army. Today, Turner is in the brig charged with murder, a young woman named Sam claims she’s his daughter, and a professional hitman (Patrick Heusinger) is trying to kill him. He doesn’t knowjack-reacher-gallery-02 why any of this is happening.

He decides to tackle all his problems at once. First he helps Turner escape from prison. She’s a smart but stern woman with straight black hair pulled back. She wants to find out who is behind the case she’s investigating about the unexplained death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Clearly some sort of conspiracy at work. Sam (Danika Yarosh), his purported daughter, is a lot like Jack – she’s anti-authority and given to petty crime, yet analytic in nature. And she can think on her feet, solving problems on the fly. But Jack has no recollection of ever meeting her mother, never mind sleeping with her. The three of them form a make-shift family jack-reacher-gallery-01as they chase and are chased by armed killers. But who will survive the ultimate showdown?

This is a good action thriller, the latest in a series based on Lee Child’s novels. It has a complex plot, salted with lots of chases, explosions, and shootouts. And interesting characters, at least the good guys. The villains, though, are basically robotic, dull killers, dangerous but entirely unsympathetic. To enjoy a Jack Reacher novel you have to suspend your moral disbelief, and embrace his caveman-like brutality: Kill the bad guys, save the good guys and maim any neutrals who get in your way. The character depends on his intimidating looks. And there lies the problem: Tom Cruise can’t do intimidating. He’s too nice.

But despite all this — and the extreme violence — I still enjoyed the movie.

poster-91816Freightened: The Real Price of Shipping

Dir: Denis Delestrac

You know that cool H&M T-shirt you just bought on sale for three bucks? It may say Made in Bangladesh on the label, but it’s actually been around the world a few times, with buttons from Vietnam, plastic from Europe, American cotton, and Indian dye. And it travels in uniform containers aboard one of the 60,000 ships plying freightened4the seas. This documentary looks at the underside of the shipping industry and the hidden environmental damage it inflicts in exchange for the low, low prices we all enjoy.

For example, the stinky sodium oxide belched from a freightenedsingle ship is equivalent to that of fifty million cars. (There are no international emission standards at sea.) And the ballast — the water a ship might take on in one ocean and expel in another — is a leading cause of invasive species, the displaced plants and animals that are killing off native sea life. Flying flags of convenience, ship owners are rarely fined for their frequent accidents and spills, while international environmental organizations largely ignore shipping altogether.

Freightened is an information-packed documentary, with lots of stuff I didn’t know. It alternates between talking-head experts and beautiful, Burtynsky-like vistas of mammoth container ships in port and at sea.

tikeq1Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger)

Dir: Ujarneq Fleischer

Four teenaged boys live in Sisimiut, western Greenland. Their mission? To be the coolest crew in town. They excel at skating, biking, playing cards and goofing off to imported pop music. In the community centre they rule. But then a stranger shows up from Nuuk who says he’ll show them things they’ve never seen, and reveal secrets they’ve never heard. He leads them to a pile of dirt with a tiny wooden door. Inside is an enormous world almost exactly like the one they came from.

Next they go on a journey in the mountains searching for a white box with a tupilaq — a monster totem – lying on top. Inside is a message written in the old language telling them what to do. It’s up to them to find love, honesty, and politeness, in this coming-of-age drama.

Fingers is a comedy adventure about preserving traditional culture in modern Inuit tikeq-qiterleq-mikileraq-eqeqqoqGreenland. It’s also the first feature film ever coming out of Greenland. Made on a micro-budget with a DIY feel, it’s basically four guys with a video camera, with no costumes and just plastic bags as props. It’s also my first exposure to indigenous culture from Greenland… and it’s really good. It incorporates traditional storytelling with contemporary pop culture and all-around goofiness.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Tikeq, Qiterleq, Mikileraq, Eqeqqoq (Fore Finger, Middle Finger, Ring Finger, Little Finger) is playing today at 2:00 pm at ImagineNATIVE at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Go to Imaginenative.org for details. And for Freightened showtimes, go to planetinfocus.org.

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

Multiple stories. Films reviewed: The Debt, Wiener-Dog

Posted in Animals, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Morality, Peru, Resistance, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 8, 2016

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

Although every movie is different, most tell a single story. But there are exceptions. This week I’m looking at two new movies that tell a whole bunch of stories, stories that are somehow tied. There’s a dark comedy with a dog-related plot, and a drama related to a plot of land.

thedebtThe Debt

Dir: Barney Elliot

This movie is made up of three or four linked stories all set in Peru.

Oliver (Stephen Dorff) is a successful financier who works for a multinational bank. He specializes in vulture funds with debt bonds from distressed economies. His current goal? To corner the market in Peruvian real estate debt. He works with his idealistic Peruvian friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) to snap up debt at deep discount. But will Ricardo agree to business that might hurt his country?

Maria (Elsa Olivero) is a nurse at a Lima hospital. She’s trying to arrange an 13497864_592914470881753_5287121575246588419_ooperation for her mother who suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get surgery scheduled for her mom. Will she have to resort to illegal methods?

Meanwhile in a remote mountainous area, a slick real estate developer named Caravedo (Carlos Bardem) is promising the sky to gullible farmers. Health clinics, electricity, telephones… They are quick to sell, except one die-hard farmer named Florentino (Amiel Cayo). He is angry and will never give in.

13433132_592914790881721_5890480114800983280_oAnd on Florentino’s farm, his son, Diego (Marco Antonio Ramírez) is fascinated by the helicopters he sees. They carry wealthy investors from far away. But they also wreak havoc with his llamas, whom he depends on..

The Debt is a complex story, that brings the diverse plot together by the end. It’s done in the style of movies like Paul Haggis’s Crash – lots of interrelated characters who interact in unexpected ways. It deals with big issues – multinational economies, farmers driven from their land – but in a rather ponderous way. Lots of guilt, responsibility, betrayal, selfishness – things like that. Not my favourite type of movie, but it held my interest and I liked all the Peruvian actors.

88e6a62f-e132-4aed-af9b-694ce3559c7bWiener-Dog

Wri/Dir: Todd Solondz

This movie also has four stories, but told in a linea way, and only peripherally connected. They are all set present day New York City and the suburbs and towns around it.

Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is a young boy recovering from chemotherapy. He’s a survivor. His rich but uptight parents (Tracy Letts and Julie WD-7-20-15-125.CR2Delpy) They buy him a short haired dachshund at a puppy mill. But they don’t realize it will open a whole lot of hard-to answer questions. Like do dogs have feelings? What happens if they get sick? Why should she get spayed. — what if she wants to have kids? His mother is forced to concoct more and more outlandish stories to answer the boy’s questions.

In the second story the depressed and friendless Dawn WD-6-19-15-111.CR2Wiener (Greta Gerwig) meets her old teenage crush, the bully Brandon (Kieren Culkin). Brandon is passing through town and sees the girl he used to call Wiener Dog with her very own Wiener dog. On a whim, she agrees to join him on a mysterious road trip to Ohio. What’s in Ohio? She asks. Crystal meth. On the way they meet a band of mariachi hitchhikers and Brandon’s Down syndrome brother.

WD-7-6-15-88.CR2The third story is about Schmertz (Danny Devito) an over-the-hill scriptwriter with only a wiener dog to keep him company. He is forced to teach self-centred rich kids at a Manhattan film school. His students all write plotless scripts based on their gender-studies relevance not their stories. Where’s the What If? He always asks them. “You gotta have a what if.” But if he doesn’t come up with a what if for his life, he risks being fired.

In the final story, we see an angry depressed grandmother WD-7-8-15-144.CR2(Ellen Burstyne), cared for by another old woman. They never speak, except the occasional requests: Yvette — Kaopectate! Her new pet — wiener-dog of course – she names Cancer. It just seems appropriate. But she has to to come to terms with her own past and precarious future when a visiting granddaughter drops by.

I love Todd Solondz’s movies, even the ones that don’t quite work. They’re all fascinating, funny and deeply depressing. HeWD-6-19-15-589.CR2 creates complex, reflexive stories often with repeated plotlines. The Wiener Family has also appeared in his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse as well as Palindoromes, so if you follow his movies, it’s gratifying to see what happens to those characters. I love his painfully sad comedies, including this one. The acting is fantastic, especially Ellen Burstyn.

Wiener-dog is great.

The Debt and Wiener-dog both 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

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

Daniel Garber talks with Angry Inuk director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril at Hot Docs

Posted in Animals, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Inuit, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2016

0A7A2420Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

We’ve all seen the photos: a white-furred harp seal pup looking up at the camera with tears in its eyes, almost saying won’t you please save me from those evil, greedy hunters who want to skin me 0A7A2403alive just for my fur? Images like these have been seen worldwide and raised millions of dollars for animal rights and environmental groups, from Greenpeace to IFAW.

What is wrong with that picture? A lot, say Inuit activists, and it’s making them angry.

553283_4080Angry Inuk is a new documentary from the NFB, that’s having its world premier at Hot Doc’s documentary festival. It looks at the role of the seal hunt in Inuit culture, and the terrible consequences the well-meaning EU ban on seal products has had on Inuit lives. It also follows a group of Inuit people trying to change minds. Their stories — and her own — are told by filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

I spoke to Alethea at CIUT during Hot Docs.

 

Religion in remote places. Films reviewed: The Witch, the Club, Embrace of the Serpent

Posted in Anthropology, Catholicism, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Dreams, Indigenous, Movies, Mysticism, Supernatural, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 19, 2016

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

Religion can take a strange turn in remote places; this week I’m looking at three such movies. There are defrocked priests in a tiny fishing town in Chile, a shaman in the Columbian rainforest, and a preacher’s family in the woods near Salem village.

12357191_658718044294625_522435059894350027_oThe Witch
Dir: Robert Eggers

“A New England Folktale.”

It’s the 1630s in the New England colonies. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is a firebrand preacher in Salem Village. He doesn’t like the way things are going there, with all the suspicion, accusations and trials about witchcraft. So he packs up his wife and kids and settles in a clearing near the woods. But witchcraft may have followed them there.

It starts with little things. A wild boar destroying crops and the farm animals behaving in a strange way. Pretty teen Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is annoyed by the bratty little twins – they look like devilish imps. So to scare them she pretends to be a witch. But her brother takes it all very seriously. He goes looking for an old witch in the woods. And now he’s gone.xGjG7n_witch_01_o3_8778312_1439860966

Caleb is baffled by the events, but goaded on by his shrewish, pregnant wife, he looks deeper into the troubles. What does that satanic goat want? What’s happening to the milk cow? And is there a devil’s child on its way? Are there witches in the woods? Is Thomasin one of them? Or is it all just paranoia brought on by their isolation?

This is not your average horror movie. It’s an art house flic that’s more strange and creepy than scary. The images are spooky but beautiful/grotesque, and the music is great. Apparently the script is based on actual diaries from that era. So the dialogue is full of thees and thous… but don’t expect Shakespeare.  Just first-hand accounts of witchery 400 years ago.

The_Club_-_4The Club
Dir: Pablo Larraín

Four priests and a nun live in a house together in La Boca, a remote fishing village in Chile. The men are there by order of the Vatican in penance for their suspected crimes and misdemeaners. Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers: No) is their de facto jailer. But in fact they live comfortable lives. The gamble, they drink, they cuss. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro: Desde allá, No) even has a hobby:  a greyhound he bets on at dog races.

But then something happens. A new priest arrives at their sanctuary, pursued by a strange young man named Sandokan (Roberto Farías).

Sandokan parks himself by their front gate and begins reciting things in a sing-song voice. He tells in graphic detail all the horrible sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy by a Catholic priest. This leads to a shocking incident.

The Vatican sends an investigator – with a handful The_Club_-_6of secret files – in the person of Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso). Garcia is a hard-ass Jesuit stickler who demands the truth from the priests. This is not a spa, he says. They must confess everything.

But the priests and the nun are no pushovers. So it becomes a tug of warThe_Club_-_5 between the stubborn but suspect priests, and their powerful interloper. What are their secrets? Which of them is really guilty? And what will become of the mentally damaged Sandokan?

The Club is another excellent – but disturbing — movie from the great Chilean director who brought us “No”. He uses many actors from his previous films. This one’s a dark comedy but with a very serious undertone about the intersection of politics and religion, crime and punishment.

EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_01_o3_8681619_1439859054Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Dir: Ciro Guerra

It’s the early 20th Century. Theo Koch-Grunberg is a German Ethnologist living among the indigenous peoples of the northern Amazon rainforest. Theo (Jan Bijvoet: Borgman) is scraggly-looking man with a bony face and a long white beard who speaks the local language. He’s trying to find a shaman to show him the way to find a rare flower with mystical and medicinal properties. So with the help pf his student Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) he turns to Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) of the Arekuna nation to be his guide. Karamakate is a strong proud man who is one of the last of his people still living free in the traditional way. He walks through the forest basically naked except for a Embrace of the Serpentceremonial necklace. He carries no possessions. Everything he needs — the history, laws, medicine, geography, and stories of his people – are in his head. And he imposes strict rules that Theo has to follow if he wants Karamakate to lead him in canoe and on foot to the secret plant. He must starve himself in order to experience its power.

Flash forward half a century. Another foreign ethnographer, Evan (Brionne Davis) is back on the same path with the same goal: find pgBEVm_EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_04_o3_8681707_1439859084that flower! And he turns again to a much older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) to guide him. But Karamakate now says he’s forgotten everything.

The movie jumps back and forth between the two journeys, 40 years apart. And what they see and experience is amazing, stunning, frightening and spectacular. There are missionaries who dress up indigenous kids as altar boys and forbid them to speak their own language (shades of Canada’s residential schools.) Adults are turned into slaves to fuel the short-lived Amazon rubber boom in Manaus. And the jungle is full of false messiahs, drug addicts, jaguars and boas, marching soldiers and fleeing crowds… They see it all.

The whole movie is shot in some of the most spectacular black and white footage you’ve ever seen. This is an amazingly breathtaking film. It’s emotional, tragic, absurd and realistic. It’s based on the notebooks of those two explorers, which contain some of the only recorded records of indigenous people of the North Amazon. I recommend this movie

The Club, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent 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.

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.

America, America. Films reviewed: Charlie’s Country, Mistress America, American Ultra

Posted in Australia, CIA, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, drugs, Indigenous, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 21, 2015

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

American Graffiti, American Gigolo, American Psycho, American Beauty… notice a pattern here? Hollywood is loathe to give up a trend as long as it’s still profitable. This week I’m looking at two new “America” movies and one from Northern Australia. There’s a drama about an Aboriginal hunter tied to the land, a comedy about two sisters not tied by blood, and an action thriller about a small town couple tied to their vaporizer.

P1Wr2A_charliescountry_01_o3_8713870_1438270187Charlie’s Country

Dir: Rolf de Heer

Charlie (David Gulpilil) is a hunter who lives on Aboriginal lands in Australia’s Northern Territory. All he wants is a job, a home and a place to practice the traditional ways: to take his spear and rifle into the bush, shoot a bird… and eat it. Sounds like a simple request. But the “whitefellas” (or “white bastards” as he sometimes calls them) seem to do everything they can to ruin his life.

While nominally still his land, it is strictly administered by govertnment agents who intrude into every aspect of his life. oYX82X_charliescountry_04_o3_8713994_1438270186They drive police cars and check anyone entering or leaving the Aboriginal lands. Charlie prefers to live-and-let-live, an existence not ruled by borders and fences. But when the government confiscates even his gun and spear… how is he supposed to hunt?

Meanwhile, the elders expect him to pass his knowledge on to the kids. It’s all too much for him so, remembering his earlier trips into the bush, Charlie sets off carrying nothing but his experience to guide him. But his beard is grey now… can he survive? Or will he brought to his knees by the government and police in Darwin?

vgLRg0_charliescountry_05_o3_8714054_1438270195Charlie’s Country is a casually paced film but one that packs a powerful punch. It’s told from Charlie’s point of view and in his language. Gulpilil co-wrote the script. He is fantastic in this movie, as is all the cast. He is also a legendary actor in Australia. I first saw him in the title role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout when I was just a kid. It disturbed meWalkabout poster at the time to see another boy die in a movie; maybe that’s why I remember it so well. It’s almost as if this movie continues that story and brings it up to date.

Though at times funny, it’s a moving look at the devastating effects of the government’s superficially well-meaning but ultimately destructive intrusions into the lives of its Aboriginal people.

image-cd5747c9-33fe-46ef-b347-3f0934d056ecMistress America

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college student in New York City. She’s smart, funny and drop-dead gorgeous. But school life is not kind to her. She has a crabby dorm-mate, no friends, no sex life… no life, period. An aspiring writer, her short story gets firmly rejected by the school’s literary club. Tracy’s mom is divorced, so she feels a bit uncomfortable to hear her mother is marrying some new guy she’s never met. But then she finds out her stepfather-to-be has a image-8b8d0511-0e6d-4bc2-9be7-5418ec1c4d2cdaughter living not far away in New York City. That means she has a sister – a fully-grown sister – that she can meet.

Her new sister Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is a blonde whirling dervish with ADHD. She’s in a band, she’s opening a restaurant, she has a boyfriend in Greece, everyone knows her, everyone loves her. She’s flashy, she’s trashy, she’s wordy but in an odd sort of way. And everything she image-e1cde435-260b-4fb2-9085-e834e858494ctouches turns to gold. That’s Tracy’s first impression. She wants either to be with her or become her. Meanwhile, ever the aspiring writer, she records everything Brook says or does… and turns it into a short story.

But as she gets to know her better she realizes Brook is teetering on the brink – a step away from bankruptcy and homelessness. So the two of them (plus two of Tracy’s non-friends) pile into a image-ee6ce8c2-edad-4e9b-bb05-5a0283bda293car for a field trip to Greenwich Connecticut. Brook figures it’s time to call in some favours from her former best friend. But how strong are the bonds tying these two non-sister together?

I liked this movie. Mistress America has an unusual structure. Tracy narrates the movie. The first part is life on campus and her fast-moving nights on the town with Brooke. The second part is more like a drawing-room comedy, with various characters playing out their parts at the Greenwich home. This makes the film feel a bit disjointed or unbalanced. But since I liked the two parts, I liked the whole movie a lot, too.

IH7A9142.CR2American Ultra

Dir: Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) Wri: Max Landis (Chronicle)

Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) lives in a small town in West Virginia where he works in a roadside convenience store. He lives in a shack with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), and the two of them spend most of their time totally baked on weed. He suffers from unexplained panic attacks but Phoebe is always there to talk him down. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he’s being watched, via satellite, by hidden cameras. And who is doing the watching? The CIA, a.k.a. “TheBL5U2102.CR2

Company”.

Yates (Topher Grace) is a pencil-pushing popinjay at The Company, who is drunk on power. He says he’s going to “terminate an asset”. By “asset” he means Mike, and by “terminate” he means kill. But Mike has an advocate of his own, a field agent named Lassiter (Connie BL5U8500.CR2Britton). She visits Mike on the sly to tell him what to expect – and possibly save his life. The thing is, Mike hasn’t a clue what she’s talking about. So either the CIA has made a big error, or Mike has a very poor memory. Or maybe some combination of both.

Whichever it is, Mike and Phoebe must somehow fight off a squadron of special-op psycho-killers who descend on the small town to get him. Can a lazy stoner and his girlfriend fight off the most dangerous killers in the world?

American Ultra is an unusual genre movie: it’s a Stoner Comedy Action Thriller. A S.C.A.T. And I think it’s the best S.C.A.T. so far. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s (intentionally) stoopid. Maybe not for everyone, but I liked it a lot.

American Ultra, Mistress America and Charlie’s Country 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

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