Daniel Garber talks with director Sarah Fodey about The Fruit Machine at Inside Out

Posted in Canada, documentary, Inside Out, LGBT, Politics, RCMP by CulturalMining.com on June 1, 2018

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

Canada finished WWII riding high as the fourth biggest military power in the world. Then came the Cold War and the red scare it inspired — a widespread panic about communist infiltration.

They look just like you and me, and might be hiding in plain sight... In the ensuing crackdown, another group was also labeled insidious, morally corrupt, and unpatriotic.

Who were these potential spies? And how could they be detected?

These “spies” were actually just ordinary lesbian, gay or bisexual Canadians, “detected” using a device the RCMP jokingly named the fruit machine. Suspects were locked in rooms, interrogated, forced to confess and expose friends and lovers. They were fired from their jobs, humiliated and ostracized.

A new documentary called The Fruit Machine looks at this terrible period and the effect it had on generations of Canadians. It tells about a dark side of history: over half a century of relentless persecution of gays and lesbians in the civil service and military.

The films was written, directed and produced by Sarah Fodey for TVO Docs. It has its world premier today at 4 pm at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT film festival.

I spoke to Sarah about The Fruit Machine by telephone at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Queer parents, straight kids. Movies Reviewed: 52 Tuesdays, My Straight Son, Open Up To Me PLUS Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

Posted in Australia, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Finland, Inside Out, LGBT, Movies, Trans, Venezuela by CulturalMining.com on May 23, 2014

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.

Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT film festival — known for its innovative programming and great movies – starts today. One traditional sub-genre is the Coming Out movie: a young man or woman finds freedom and love but also faces bullying and depression, when he comes out publicly as gay, bi or lesbian. Usually there are cruel homophobic parents who don’t understand what they’re going through. This always makes for a good movie, but it’s been done a lot. So here’s a reversal: how about movies where the LGBT character is the parent, not the kid? This week I’m looking at three such movies (with an emphasis on trans characters) – from Australia, Venezuela and Finland — all serious dramas, but with good comic relief mixed in.

52 Tuesdays Poster52 Tuesdays

Dir: Sophie Hyde

Billie is a well-adjusted teenager with a great relationship with her parents. She lives with her mom, but regularly sees her motorcycle-riding dad. But one day, she comes home to a big surprise. Her mom has cut her hair, bound her breasts, and is changing her name to James. Starting today, her mom is becoming her dad! James will be undergoing testosterone treatments in a gender transformation. It’s a big change that will take a year. And during that year, James will need his detail_52tuesdaysspace – Billie has to live with her dad (her other dad). Billie is gobsmacked, but doesn’t want to lose contact with her parent. So they agree: she’ll visit after school, each Tuesday, until 10 pm. Over the course of the year, Billie records these weekly visits with her video camera. She also begins to explore gender identity, sexuality… and sex.

At school, she falls in with a passionate couple – Josh and Jasmine (Sam Althuizen and Imogen Archer) – when she spies them making out. They’re in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (where Viola dresses as a man). And, courtesy of Billie’s 52 Tuesdays pic with mustacheuncle, the three of them get their own private time in his empty apartment: Tuesdays from 10 to midnight, when both of Billie’s dads think she’s with the other. And Billie also records these meetings – including their sexual explorations – on her video camera.

So 52 Tuesdays is just as it sounds: 52 short scenes, from Billie’s point of view, tracing the changes – and setbacks – of James’s transformation and her own coming of age. It has a few too many divergent plotlines – school censorship, medical problems, accidents, family rivalries, hidden relationships — extraneous to the main story. But that doesn’t detract from the movie’s elegant structure. Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Billie is a joy to watch – she’s the next Carey Mulligan – and Del Herbert-Jane gives a fascinating and realistic portrayal of James’ transformation.

detail_mystraightsonMy Straight Son (Azul y no Tan Rosa)

Dir: Miguel Ferrari

Diego (Guillermo García) is a professional photographer in Caracas in his thirties. Life is great. He has a successful career, and a boyfriend, Fabrizio, who is a doctor. Fabrizio pops the question one night at dinner in a fancy restaurant. Do you want to live together? Diego’s surprised but inwardly happy. He says he’ll tell him his decision the next day. He plans to say yes, but two big things happen. Diego’s teenaged son Armando (Ignacio Montes) — who he hasn’t seen for five years since he moved to Europe with his mother — arrives at his Azul y tan rosa galeria-19doorstep. Armando feels neglected by his dad and baffled by his lifestyle. He retreats to online relationships. He’s good-looking but insecure. He uses a celebrity photo his dad took to create a new, online personality and along-distance relationship with Laura, a small town tango enthusiast.

The second thing that happens is Fabrizio is brutally attacked outside a gay bar by three young men who beat him Azul y tan rosa galeria-18senseless. And now he lies in a coma in his hospital bed. Diego identified the gay-bashers, but gets no help from the police – so he buys a gun.

Diego loves his son but doesn’t know what to do. He turns for help from his working class family, and his bar friends – a comic entourage with soap opera names like Dolores Del Rio and Perla Marina. Can Armando connect with his dad? And will he reveal his real face to his online girlfriend? Will Fabrizio come out of his coma? And will the attacking teens ever be brought to justice?

My Straight Son is a very enjoyable melodrama that mixes telenovela plots with pop culture tropes, all with a gay twist.

Kerron sinulle kaiken posterOpen Up To Me

Dir: Simo Halinen

Maarit (Leea Klemola) lives in Helsinki, where she works as a cleaning woman in an office building. She used to work as a guidance counselor in a small town, but left her spouse and teenaged daughter following sex-reassignment surgery. While cleaning an office one day, a psychologist tells Maarit to lock up when she’s done — she’s going to Spain for a few weeks. Two weeks! Hmm… So she tries on her make up and perfume and lounges about the office. Into the psychologist’s office walks Sami (Peter Franzén), a gym teacher and soccer coach. Sami has an appointment to talk about sex problems with his wife, also a school teacher. He detail_openuptomemistakes Maarit for a therapist. After a moment’s pause she slips easily into the role – and they both notice a spark between them. They arrange to meet again.

Soon, Maarit comes clean: she’s a cleaner not as a counseler. She reveals that they met, 20 years ago. Maarit, as a man, was on a professional soccer team (as was Sami) and he bested Sami at the national championships. Sami is taken aback, but Kerron sinulle kaiken Leea Klemola ja Peter Franzén (Kuvaaja Alisa Javits, © Edith Filmintrigued. Is this a budding relationship?

Maarit goes back to her home town where vicious rumours are spreading about her, and her daughter is being picked on in school. Can she rebuild trust with her daughter and restore her reputation? Back in Helsinki, she faces daily abuse and cruelties, ranging from shouted slurs, job discrimination – even propositions from men who assume she’s a prostitute. Through it all, Maarit learns to be a woman who can stand up for herself. Part love story, part family drama, Open Up to Me is an excellent movie, with Leea Klemola and Peter Frantzén — the two leads —  giving strong but subtle performances.

All of these films – and more – are playing now through June 1st at Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival. For more info, go to insideout.ca.

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

Movies about Sex and Disabilities. Films reviewed: Hyde Park on the Hudson, Rust and Bone PLUS Morgan, Beeswax.

Posted in 1930s, Action, Cultural Mining, Depression, Disabilities, Drama, Fighting, France, Inside Out, Marineland, Movies, Orca, Sex, TIFF, UFC, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on December 17, 2012

rust and bone audiard directs cotillardHi, 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.

In movies, disabilities were traditionally there to provide tragedy and pathos. People have an accident and end up in a wheelchair or a bed… my life is over, I will never work again, so sad. Or else they were a signal of great personal triumph. Look ma, I survived! Occasionally, you’d have the villain in horror movie, bitter, evil, deformed, taking out his pain on other people. Witches with canes, super-villains in wheelchairs…

Then came the movie-of-the-week disabled person as the frail victim, the pitied, while their counterpart character is the strong, powerful, and privileged one. They either die or “get better”.

We haven’t even reached the point where disabled people become the equivalent of the token black neighbour or gay best degrassifriend. (exceptions: Drake on Degrassi).

That’s why it’s neat to have two new movies with normal, fascinating, multidimensional, central characters who have, but aren’t defined by, their disability. The disability is part of the plot but not the central reason for the character. And, most important, people with disabilities are shown to be sexual.

This week I’m looking at two new movies, both romantic dramas, one light, one powerful — where one of the two main characters – the one with more education, wealth and power – has a disability.

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Bill Murray as FDR in a wheelchair

Hyde Park on the Hudson

Dir: Andrew Michel

It’s the 1930s, the Great Depression, and Daisy (Laura Linney) has fallen into hard times. So she likes it when she gets summoned to visit a distant relative Franklin (Bill Murray) who is doing much better. He’s a stamp collector — he’s staying at his mother’s estate in the Hudson Valley in Western NY. Oh yeah… and he’s the President. FDR to be exact. Well they get along famously and one day he takes her for a drive into the hills, leaving his Secret Service agents behind. And what happens at the top of the hill? (Cover your ears, kiddies…) She gives him a handjob.

And so begins their long-term relationship. He builds a secret house for their trysts – he’s married to Eleanor Roosevelt – and they form a warm and loving special relationship. But the movie also focuses on another special relationship: One crucial weekend, when King George and Queen Elizabeth – in sort of a prequel to The King’s Speech – are visiting the states to get them to get on board in the soon-to-come war against Hitler.

The Queen (the current Queen’s mother) is portrayed as a shrewish manipulator with the young, stammering George as a weakling, prey to her machinations. What are hot dogs and why are they asking us to eat? Why did they put political cartoons of George III on the wall? They’re insulting us!

Then there’s Roosevelt — he had polio as a kid. At the time, in official photos, his disability was always hidden, never hyde park on the hudsonspoken of, never photographed. But as this a backstage view of his life, he’s constantly being lifted from room to room or moving about in a specially-designed wheelchair. The same is true of their relationship:

I liked it. It feels like a PBS Masterpiece Theatre episode, complete with stately homes and royalty, but with stupendous acting and subtle writing. This is actually a good, touching movie, an historical drama based on newly discovered material about a person – Daisy – who is largely unknown. Some historical details seem questionable – were his servants really white not black? – and some are surprising – The Canadian PM William Lyon Mackenzie King was the one who brought George and Elizabeth to meet FDR that weekend, yet he was nowhere to be seen. (As usual, Canada is erased from the picture.)

The acting is great, both Bill Murray and Laura Linney are fantastic. The casting didn’t worry too much about looking like the real thing – Eleanor Roosevelt as a very beautiful woman? She was known for her inner beauty more than her movie-star good looks – it was more about conveying their personalities. While the characters’ feelings are kept largely opaque, it still conveys the story.

rust and bone schoenaerts and cotillardRust and Bone

Dir: Jacques Audiard

Ali is a ne’er-do-well single dad and fighter from Belgium. He has to take his cute kid Sam to the south of France to stay with his sister when his wife, a junkie, ends up in jail. He’s a terrible father, self-centred and irresponsible, a negative role-model. His sister, and her husband, a trucker are responsible and take on the child-rearing responsibilities.

But Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is Sam’s dad, so he takes care of him as much as he can, which isn‘t much.

He’s irresponsible but also totally spontaneous. He sees a woman he likes, sleeps with her, moves on, no strings. If they’re free – they text they’re “OP” (operational) and they meet.

He has no job experience but is good fighter, so he lands a job as a bouncer at a nightclub. There he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) an older woman, very beautiful, who works as an orca trainer (!) at Marineland. She’s not there for a rust and bone cotillard schoenaertspick-up; she just wants to be the object of desire by others.

Ali helps her when a fight breaks out and treats her with respect… even though he always says the wrong thing (he’s a Flemish speaker.)

Then Stephanie has a serious accident at work with the orcas, and her life changes. She’s caught in a funk of self-pity and hatred. Ali, meanwhile is moving up to sketchy work as a security guard and open air Mixed martial arts fights where he gets a cut of the bets in the fight.

So depressed Steph calls him up – maybe this odd couple can get together and help each other survive? Will he bring her back to life? Will she teach him to behave in a civilized way? Will he take responsibility as a father? Will they ever have an actual relationship?

rust and bone schoenaertsI don’t want to give away any more of the story – and it’s a terrific story! – but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply moving romance, a drama, a family story, a boxing movie, and lots more. The director, Audiard – he made A Prophet, another great movie — is fantastic, all the supporting actors (especially Corrinne Maseiro as Ali’s sister and Armand Verdure as Sam, his son) are amazing. But the two main leads Schoenaerts and Cotillard – are powerfully perfect in their roles.

Morgan

Dir: Michael D. Akers

Also worth mentioning is the low-budget drama Morgan (Dir: Michael D. Akers) that was screened at this year’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto. In this film, Morgan (Leo Minaya), a competitive bike racer is disabled in an accident on a steep hill in Central Park, which is on the very path of the tournament he wants to win. After a struggle, and with the help of a caring boyfriend Dean (Jack Kesy) who he first meets on a basketball court, he Morgandecides to tackle the race once again, this time using a bike adjusted to fit his disability. This movie sensitively shows how partners can learn to treat a disability as a normal, erotic part of their sex lives.

Beeswax

Dir: Andrew Bujalski

And the realistic film Beeswax, from two years ago, also doesn’t shy away from sex involving a person with a disability. A nice, comfortable film, Beeswax is about the secrets and tensions shared by two sisters (played by real-life twins Tilly Hatcher, Maggie Hatcher), one of whom uses a wheelchair.

beeswaxHyde Park on the Hudson opens today, and Rust and Bone opens next Friday, Dec 21st. I don’t reveal my top ten movies of the year until the end of the month, but I guarantee Rust and Bone will be in that list. Also now playing is the very cute Korean romance A Werewolf Boy, which played at TIFF this year, about a boy raised by wolves, the girl who dog-trained him to behave like a person, and the romance that grew between them.

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

June 16, 2012. Indie Music, Indie Films. Movies Reviewed: Jobriath A.D., My Father and the Man in Black, KMS: Jewish Negroes, Safety Not Guaranteed

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.

Gruff, screech, pitta-patta, swoosh, grind, boom, buzz, scratch… (thank God I’m not a music writer) these are some of the sounds you hear at a club, on stage or under the open sky. And it’s what NXNE brings to you.

NXNE is Toronto’s monumental indie music festival, but it’s also a film festival, playing movies, videos, documentaries and feature films — all with a musical element to them: this means the good movies always have amazing soundtracks.

So this week I’m talking about two documentaries on famous musicians and their managers; another one about a hiphop team with zero turntables and a microphone; and an indie comic-drama about a would-be journalist meeting a would-be time-traveller.

Jobriath A.D.
Dir: Kieran Turner

Who the hell is Jobriath? I vaguely remember seeing the name on covers in record delete bins, but that’s it. But it turns out he was this openly gay pop-rock performer in the 60’s and 70’s, who had a tumultuous rise and fall. This amazing documentary — with a wicked glam-rock soundtrack – delves into his history as a small town boy, who moves to LA, stars as the sexual character Woof in the famous hippie musical HAIR, records orchestral folk/pop songs, composes music, and then, under the wing of bigtime promoter Jerry Brandt, launches as a glam rock superstar. He imagines a Parisian extravaganza with him climbing the empire state building on stage in a King Kong suit, fighting off airplanes and transforming into Marlene Dietricht. His rise and fall and rise again – as a moustachioed Cole Porter-like piano player in Manhattan – is documented in this very cool biography of a little-known musician ahead of his time. Maybe there are too many clips of other musicians giving their opinions on hiom, but its more than made up for with vintage TV and film recordings and very cool animation sequences that illustrate each stage of his life.

While there are a few too many talking heads for my taste, this is a really great documentary about an otherwise forgotten pop/rock legend.

My Father and the Man in Black
Dir: Jonathan Holiff

When London, Ontario promoter / manager Saul Holiff committed suicide, he left behind a storage locker packed with transcripts and recordings of his day-to-day life with Johnny Cash. He was the guy who got the singer out of jail, who booked him to play in Folsom prison, who introduced him to June Carter – who made him a superstar and turned his life around.

But he’s also the guy who more or less abandoned his wife and kids as he travelled around North America with the C&W singer. This fascinating and unusual documentary was made by his son Jonathan, and it delves into the strange and sometimes bitter relationship between the drug-addicted and later born-again Johnny and the hard-driven, pragmatic Saul. The film uses beautifully-shot, silent re-enactments with recorded voice-overs, along with period footage, snapshots and documents, and filmclips taken from the director’s dad’s collection, to give a behind-the-scenes perspective on Johnny Cash.

KMS: Jewish Negroes
Dir: Moran Ifergan

In the news a lot these days is the plight of East African migrants and refugees living in Israel, some of who are facing discrimination, violent attacks or forcible removal.

This movie is about a different group, a largely ignored population – Israeli-born citizens of Ethiopean background who have fallen by the wayside. It concentrates on three hiphop artists, “KMS” band, rappers living in a grim, run-down housing project in Rehovot. This is a raw documentary that follows the three of them through impromptu performances with just an ipod and a microphone, their travels to the big city, and encounters with police, and their largely hostile neighbours. Very interesting movie.

Safety Not Guaranteed
Dir: Colin Trevorrow

Darius (Aubrey Plaza) is fairly miserable. Her dad says she’s carried a black cloud around with her since her mom died when she was 14. Now she’s in her 20s, struggling with her unpaid internship at a Seattle magazine. Then she gets her big chance to follow a story – a newspaper classified ad asking for a companion to travel through time: “This is not a joke!”

So Jeff (Jake M Johnson), a douche-y magazine writer, Darius, and the other intern Arnau — a meek, sexually repressed nerd – climb into a car and drive out to the small town to find the guy who placed the ad and write a story about him.

Darius poses as the companion but soon becomes a real friend with the paranoid conspiracy-theorist Kenneth (Mark Duplass). He works in a Big Box store, but claims he has found the secret to time travel – and that’s why the feds are chasing him. Well, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you: turns out there really are men in trench coats following him around!

The story wavers between adventure/comedy and simple romance: Kenneth and Darius may become more than just time travelers; obnoxious Jeff may find love with a woman he had sex with in highschool; and meek Arnau might come out of his shell when he meets some small-town Goths looking for fun. And what about the time travel? Is this science fiction or the newly popular genre faux-science fiction? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Aubrey Plaza and Marc Duplass are a great team. Safety Not Guarateed is a good, cute very low-budget film – much more fun than the average rom-com.

Safety Not Guaranteed, and the great art documentary I reviewed last week, Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present both open today, check your local listings; Jobriath, My Father and the Man in Black, and KMS: Jewish Negroes, (plus the wonderful Slaughter Nick for President) are all playing at NXNE straight through the weekend and are included with festival passes or bracelets – go to NXNE.com for details. And Ingrid Veninger, the Toronto director of the sweet romance Modra and the biting art satire I am a good person I am a bad person, is showing her films at the Royal, and is holding a $1000 dollar feature film challenge for prospective low-budget filmmakers! Go to punkfilms.ca for details.

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.

September 30, 2011. Palestine. Films Reviewed: (No) Laughing Matter, Children of the Revolution, Pomegranates and Myrrh PLUS TPFF, We Were Here, Resurrect Dead

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

It’s fall now — the days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder, and the leaves are starting to turn yellow and red. And the governments might be changing soon, too. There are provincial elections happening across the country, with the Ontario elections happening on October 6th – that’s next Thursday. On a larger scale, there’s another vote coming up in the United Nations’ General Assembly – whether to admit Palestine as a full member state. Well, if you’re curious about the issue and want to know what is being discussed, there’s a film festival on, starting tonight, called the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. The TPFF presents a largely secular, political look at the Israel/Palestine conflict from the Palestinian point of view in a series of movies.

So this week I’m going to look at three movies from that festival – two documentaries and one drama – about terrorism, humour and love; and also talk briefly about two more docs opening in Toronto.

(No) Laughing Matter

Dir: Vanessa Rousselot

Rousselot, a French-Palestinian filmmaker, wants to know if the people in Palestine ever smile, laugh or tell jokes. So she sets out in a car with a camera to try to capture some of the humour — mainly dark humour — that Palestinians (in the West Bank in Jenin, Hebron, Bethlehem, and in Israel In Haifa) use. Is there a particularly style of joke that could be called distinctly Palestinian?

She discovers a few interesting things. First, that the people of Hebron seems to serve as their Newfies or Belgians — the naïve, butt-ends of local jokes. Second, she discovers an elderly man who, at the time of the First Intifada, set about recording and categorizing thousands of local jokes on index cards, which he produces and reads for the camera. The hour-long TV documentary gives a glimpse of everyday people — laughing school girls, a stand-up comic, a shop keeper, a Catholic priest, some angry young men in a coffee house — and how they express themselves, and sometimes use humour as a survival tactic.

Here’s a typical joke from the movie:

A world leader dies and goes to heaven. He is matched up with an old and plain woman. Then he sees Yassir Arafat cuddling a beautiful Marilyn Monroe. He tells God, “Hey that’s not fair! How come you rewarded Arafat over me?” God says, “I’m not rewarding Arafat… I’m punishing Marilyn Monroe.”

Children of the Revolution

Dir: Shane O’Sullivan

This documentary traces the lives of two hugely important radical terrorists/ activists/ revolutionaries – whichever way you choose to label them – who grew up in the two defeated nations from WWII: Japan and Germany. These two notorious figures – Ulrike Meinhof, of the German “Red Army Faction”, and Shigenobu Fusako of the “Japan Red Army” – were even more remarkable in that they were both women. This movie tells their history, as seen through the eyes of their young daughters. The kids were pulled into this turbulent world by their mothers, giving an immediacy rarely seen in movies about such highly-charged controversial figures.

In the late 60’s, their conservative, middle-class societies were suddenly turned upside down. With the convergence of the US Vietnam war and the anti-war movement, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and unrest in Latin American countries, the new heroes became Mao, Marx and Che. Meinhof worked for a communist-funded tabloid called Konkret and became a part of the radical society that was shaking up Europe. Shigenobu, the granddaughter of a radical right-wing activist, joined the leftist student uprisings that totally changed the power-dynamic in Japanese society (at least temporarily).

Both of these figures fled to Beirut and from there to Syria after meeting with a Palestinian revolutionary. From there, these two women and their contemporaries, on behalf of the Peoples’ Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), committed a series of hijackings, kidnappings, shootings, bank robberies and bombings, that held the world rapt in the late sixties and seventies. They hijacked planes to North Korea, bombed a jet in Cairo, and led a horrific attack shooting dozens of civilians at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv. It also brought the causes they were advocating to the front page. Markedly different from today’s terrorists, they said they committed their acts for a worldwide revolution, not for their own nation’s or group’s interests.

Through a kid’s eyes their situation was both fascinating and scary. Meinhof’s daughter talks of seeing kids playing on the street when she was little — their game wasn’t Cops and Robbers, but Bader and Meinhof.

Shigenobu’s daughter remembers that kids she knew in the Palestinian refugee camps all wanted to grow up as either doctors, nurses, or fedayeen (guerrillas).

This is a fascinating story, illustrated with countless, vivid B&W snapshots, TV and news clips. Although portrayed in dramatic form in two recent movies (The Bader-Meinhof Complex — about the RAF and United Japan Army about the JRA), this is the first documentary I’ve seen that combines the two. Equally surprising is that it takes a largely sympathetic stance toward the hijackers.

And opening the festival with a screening tonight is:

Pomegranates and Myrrh

Dir: Najwar Najjar

A good-looking, young Christian couple, Kamar and Zaid (Yasmine Elmasri and Ashraf Farah), travel from the West Bank to Jerusalem for a happy wedding party. Zaid’s family are farmers who have an olive grove, and it’s time for the harvest and olive oil press. Meanwhile, Kamar is a modern dancer, whose group is preparing to meet a Palestinian choreographer, Kais (Ali Suliman), who is visiting from Lebanon. They’re preparing a performance of traditional (stomp, stomp, clap, clap) folk dances called Pomegranates and Myrrh.

But things start to go wrong when a happy nighttime picnic in the olive grove is interrupted by Israeli helicopters carrying young soldiers. Zaid is put into a detention center, ostensibly for hitting a soldier, and his family’s olive farm is in danger of being confiscated for “security reasons”.

Now it’s up to the new bride to try to free her husband and at the same time, to stand up to the authorities and hold onto the family land. They hire a sympathetic Israeli lawyer to help them keep the army and encroaching settlers away. But for how long? Will Zaid admit to a lesser charge so he can save his land? Will they manage to get the olive harvest in and pressed on time? And what is Kamar up to with that scarf-wearing choreographer and his trust exercises – does he have designs on her while her husband is in jail?

Pommegranites and Myrrh is a bittersweet drama about love in a time of conflict, beautifully shot, with (sometimes) poetic dialogue. With warm and loving families resisting shadowy settler-terrorists, and faceless, shouting Israeli soldiers chasing after playful children, I thought the movie comes across as somewhat heavy-handed, but it does give a largely unseen look at life — with its very real crises and dangers — through Palestinian eyes.

Also playing this weekend are the great documentaries We Were Here, and Resurrect Dead. We Were Here is a very moving oral history of the AIDS outbreak in the 80’s remembered by some of the people in San Francisco who lived through it. That opens today.

Ressurect Dead is a really unusual documentary about the strange unidentified man who has been leaving tiled messages in the tarmac of city streets across the continent, with a crypto-religious message about the planet Jupiter, historian Toynbee, and Stanley Kubrick. What makes the movie so unique, is that it was made on zero budget by a group of marginal detectives and conspiracy theorists who use things like ham radio to try to find out the messages’ origins, but who are as fascinating as the man they’re trying to find. That’s called Resurrect Dead.

Check local listings for We Were Here and Resurrect Dead, and for more information about the Toronto Palestine Film Festival go to tpff.ca.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

June 2, 2011. Inside-Out Festival: The “L” Word. Films Reviewed: Circumstance, The Evening Dress, PLUS L’Amour Fou

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival, which just finished last weekend, is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about Lesbians Gays, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals. Like every year, it attracted large, enthusiastic crowds, but with the added glamour this year of the films being shown at the epicentre of Toronto film festivals, the Light Box on King St W. This week, I’m going to look at a couple great movies that touch upon the L-Word in LGBT; and a documentary about Yves St Laurent. Two of the movies are directed, written by, and about women. The third is about a man who made things for women.

Also on right now and through the weekend, is the CFC Short Film Festival which is showing a whopping 275 short films this week, at places like the National Film Board on Richmond Street, and at the CN Tower. – to find out more, go to worldwideshortfilmfest.com .

Circumstance

Dir: Maryam Keshavarz

Audience Award Winner, Sundance 2011

This is a movie about two best friends in Teheran, the beautiful Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who lives with her traditional, conservative relatives after her parents were killed; and sophisticated Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), who comes from a very rich, western-style, permissive family. As expected, they fall in love, in and out of bed – they’re friends, adventurers in the big city, and lovers. Iran has an ultra- conservative, religious government that forbids certain types of music, flashy clothes, and western films.

So they meet behind closed doors to wear shiny sequined dresses, do classical dancing, or just to watch TV.

Their dream? To go on American Idol and sing Total Eclipse of the Heart. When things get bad, they fantasize about a lesbian paradise with bars where women can dance on tables wearing flashy clothes, or sit in a beach house and gaze in one anothers’ eyes. If things get bad, they say, they can always go to Dubai.

They spend their days at school, but nights in a vibrant, underground Iran, filled with secret discos, drug parties, and clandestine studios hidden behind innocuous barber shops.

But their way of life is threatened when Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai), Atafeh’s musician brother, returns from detox, and finds God. He gradually becomes a more and more devout Musilim, and falls in with the thuggish morality cops, who harass and arrest people, especially women, for crimes like playing loud music in their car, smoking, or not wearing hijab. Will the two young women find happiness together? Or will Mehran, and the conservativism he represents, ruin their lives and loves, and crush their creativity?

Circumstance is an excellent drama that gives a view of the parallel lives of contemporary Iran — sort of a live-action version of cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s great animated film Persepolis (2007), only newer… and darker.

The Evening Dress (La Robe du Soir)

Dir: Myriam Aziza

Juliette, is a smart and confident tiny French 12 year old girl who lives with her mom. Her older brother picks on her, but she gets to wear his old clothes. She, like the rest of her class, idolize their very beautiful and free-thinking teacher Madame Solenska.

Madame Solenska (Lio) doesn’t shy away from adult words, and sends them right back to the bratty kids who are trying to shock her. She wears beautiful dresses and distinctive perfume. She plays special attention to kids in the class who need it, especially Juliette (Alba Gaïa Kraghede Bellugi) and

When the teacher gives her a paperback book to read that she says was very important to her, Juliette starts to think she has a special connection to the teacher. She saves a hair between to pages, and inhales the teachers scent. She decides to remake herself into something like her teacher – she starts to wear women’s hairstyles, clothes, makeup, and follows her around secretly at night. But she’s shocked to see that some of her teacher’s attention is being “stolen” by Antoine (Leo Legrand), a smart, but rebellious boy who is failing his courses. Is Juliette’s life over? Can she be loved by, or be, like her teacher?

The Evening Dress is more than just a coming-of-age story about a pre-pubsecent school girl – it’s a really moving adult drama about obsession, bullying, conformity, and ostracism. And the acting – especially by the little girl and the teacher – is fantastic.

L’Amour Fou

Dir: Pierre Thoroton

A documentary about an auction that’s selling off all the possessions — paintings, sculptures, and objects d’arts — of a designer after he dies? Isn’t that cruel and incredibly commercial amd superficial?

Oscar Wilde once said it’s only superficial people who don’t judge by appearances. So to say that this is a movie about surfaces is not meant to be a negative review. Actually, it’s about both the outward appearances and some of the things that happened behind the scenes in the lives and careers of French Haut Couture fashion designer Yves St Laurent, and his lover and business partner Pierre Berge.

Yves St Laurent when still a very young man, was fired by Christian Dior partly because of a conservative journalist’s criticism of his sexuality. With the help of his new lover Berge, he established his own fashion house where he hand drew every one of the hundreds of the new designs, twice a year. His intense life — filled with drugs, alcohol, and debauchery — shares the screen with his contributions to mode, design and popular culture.

The movie uses photos, fashion show clips — including the wedding march which he used to end all his collections — and perfectly composed new looks at his homes and villas in Morocco and rural France. Every shot In this movie is planned, framed and mounted like a painting on the wall.  And all of the interviews and narration — by Berge, their entourage, and YSL himself — is unusually eloquent — no airheads here. This is not fashion TV chatter; it’s a testament to innovation and a life spent only on the here and now, removed from guilt and worries about the hereafter.

The eloquent documentary about Yves St Laurent, L’Amour Fou, is playing now: check your local listings. Circumstance and The Evening Gown are two great movies that also played at Inside Out — keep an eye out for these movies. To become a member of Inside Out contact here.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.

May 25, 2011. Inside Out Festival. Renee, Lost in the Crowd, Gun Hill Road, Black Field, Harvest, We Were Here

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

Toronto Inside-Out festival is one of the world’s biggest LGBT film festivals, that shows movies and documentaries from around the world by and about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Or queers for short. The festival is continuing through this weekend, mainly at Toronto’s Light Box, and I hear there are still some tickets available, so now’s your chance to catch some of these very varied and interesting movies.

So this week I’m going to look at a cross-section of movies and docs at this festival with a special emphasis on some good movies about the too often neglected “T” in LGBT. Next week: more on the “L” word.

Renee

Dir: Eric Drath

“I’m getting the message across that you can be a transsexual… and yet be a nice, normal, socially acceptable and productive member of society.” – Renee Richards.

Renee Richards was born as Richard Raskin, who grew up as an aggressive alpha male, served in the navy, became a tennis champ, a young man with dating prowess, a surgeon, a husband and a father.

But in the early seventies, after years of agonizing, and (after first chickening out on her first attempt, when she went to Morocco for sex-reassignment surgery) she took the plunge and became a woman. She named herself Renee (French for reborn) and started a new life. She became a sensation on the women’s tennis circuit until the past came out. She was ostracized, alienated by many tennis players, and splashed across the mass media.

They attempted to force Renee Richards to take a DNA test to prove her sex – this despite surgery, hormones, her day-to-day identity, clothes, body, voice and name. So she took them to court.

This is a very good, sympathetic documentary, that uses TV sports footage, home movies, newspaper articles and present- day interviews with family members, and famous tennis players (like Billie Jean King and Martina Navritolova). The most emotionally trying part of the documentary is about her difficult relationship with her son Rick.

Lost in The Crowd

Dir: Susi Graf

…is another documentary, also touching on problems faced by transsexuals and others. But if Renee is about rich and famous celebrities, Lost in the Crowd is about the other side of things. It’s about Queer youth who migrate to new York City to escape homophobia and other dangers in their hometowns, only to find themselves penniless, homeless and alone on the streets of Manhattan. It shows a few of these kids and young adults, many latina, and gay or trans, who seek shelter but end up in prison, on the streets, or dead.

While a very important issue, I was a bit disappointed by the movie, since it mainly just showed the victimization of the runaways by drugs, prostitution, and crime. It didn’t really offer any new viewpoint on the standard risks that face all runaways. One exception were the scenes shot in a prison, where one person (who had been arrested for low-level drug dealing) said he felt more free in the jail than he had in his midwestern small town.

Much more moving was a fictionalized drama about many of the same issues, a movie called

Gun Hill Road

Dir: Rasheed Ernesto Green

This tells about Enrique, and ex-con out on parole going back home. He’s an ultra-macho Puerto Rican-American who was known for attacking any “maricon” in prison who might have looked at him the wrong way. What’s a few months of solitary if he’s defending his own masculinity? He arrives back with his street corner pals to see his much missed son Michael (Harmony Santana). But something about Michael has changed.

He’s living his life as a girl in school, but like a boy at home. He hangs out with his friends at school but faces widespread bullying in the hallways. As pretty and strong Vanessa, she meets a boyfriend at a poetry slam, but he’s less friendly once he discovers Vanessa is a pre-op transsexual. He doesn’t want to see her as a boy – she has to cover up anything that might turn him off. But Michaels’s father doesn’t want to see his son as in any way feminine. He attacks him with a scissors and hacks off his long hair.

Gun Hill Road is a good, moving drama of the trials and tribulations of being trans in a public school, and how both a father and a son have to learn how to understand each other. The actor playing Vanessa/Michael is excellent, and you feel for all the characters. And it has a great latino hiphop soundtrack.

Black Field

Dir: Vardis Marinakis

In the middle ages, at its height,  the Ottoman empire used a special unit in their military known as the Janissaries. This was a division consisting entirely of paid, trained soldiers who were also slaves. They had no outside friends or families because they were kidnapped as small boys from outlying villages in the Balkans. Eventually, they converted to Islam and enlisted in this all-male, elite part of the army — the Janissaries.  In this movie, a wounded janissary (Hristos Passalis) is found outside a Christian convent in a remote, mountainous region of Greece. The black-hooded nuns take him in, chain him up, while they tend to his wounds. A young nun, Anthi  is sent to heal him, but there she makes a surprising discovery  — his genitals are like hers. She is actually a boy, who had been taken in as an infant and raised there, so that the Mother Superior could save him from being kidnapped and made into… a janissary!

The movie follows – literally follows, the camera holds back behind the two as they walk through the lush forest, a green-covered swamp, and a dark rocky area –  the tough, mean, AWOL soldier and the timid, whispering nun, as he forces the newly discovered boy to reclaim his male identity, and eventually become his partner. To make matters even more ambiguous, the boy who was raised as a girl is played by a very good actress (Sofia Georgovassili). It’s a slow-paced, challenging, sometimes violent, and at other times sensuous and exquisitely beautiful,  first film. Very interesting to watch and should be seen on the big screen.

Harvest

Dir: Benjamin Cantu

Marco is a young man who lives and works at an internship program on what used to be an East German communal farm. He wears overalls and a T-Shirt as he sorts carrots, bales hay, and clips the ears off cattle, along with the other interns. But he’s resisting committing himself to a lifetime of farm work. He doesn’t want to write the exam he has to take, mainly because he can’t write well. And he’s a bit of a loner – he won’t go out drinking with the other trainees, and they tease him for it.

But he enters into a silent friendship with a newby, Jacob. Things start to heat up in an abandoned old car (a Trabant?) and they realize they have something in common when Jacob finds the keys and drives them both into Berlin for an evening.

Harvest is another one of these hyper-realistic films –  made on real locations, usually with non-actors, without a complicated plots, and often without a written script. There aren’t that many lines in this movie, and the budding relationship between Marco and Jacob is never really talked about – it just happens. But you totally understand and identify with all the characters, and the farm footage is fantastic – I’d never actually seen an enormous carrot-sorting mill. Harvetst is a very good, understated, realistic drama.

We Were Here

Dir: David Weissman

This is a documentary about San Francisco from the late 70’s until the early nineties. That was the period when the city was transformed from a gay mecca into the epicentre of a worldwide epidemic. I’m speaking about AIDS and HIV, then called the gay plague for the sudden, massive death toll of that community.

This movie is heart-wrenchingly moving because of the way it was made. They found a handful of people who lived there at that time and were somehow involved in that disaster, to tell the story of themselves and their friends directly to the camera.

The movie shows the face of one speaker’s friend and then close-ups, ten days later. So happily galavanting at a Castro street party one day, and then, suddenly, the same man infected with Karposi Sarcoma (cancerous, but painless black spots on the skin) and then, a few days after that, just dropping dead.

No one knew what was going on or what to do about it. Panic set in. The movie shows the quick progression of events — the protests, the medical advances, the set-backs — all told through the eyes of real, sympathetic men and women.

This is a very important, living oral history, illustrated by ample newspaper clips, snapshots and still photos.

These movies and more are part of Inside-Out, continuing on this weekend: you can check times atinsideout.ca . Also opening is the terrific documentary Bobby Fischer against the World, and the Canadian low-budget spooky, post-apocalyptic horror thriller The Collapsed, both of which I reviewed last week, and Little White Lies, a very funny, if long, French social comedy about the secrets and conflicts of a group of friends who vacation together; I reviewed that last year.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

Geek Appeal! Movies reviewed: It Came from Kuchar; Splice; Micmacs.

It Came from Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer Kroot

George and Mike Kuchar are a pair of twins from New York City, who have been making strange, low-budget kitsch-y exploitation movies since they were 12 years old. Together — and separately — they have directed hundreds and hundreds of these things. They’re interviewed in this documentary, along with some of their actors, and many of their famous admirers.

The Kuchar brothers started making 8 mm shorts as kids in their parents’ basement in the Bronx. They got their neighbours and family members to play the parts. They combined melodramatic, campy stories and extremely broad amateur acting, within the world of B movies: the land of serious exploitation genre movies – horror, monster, thriller, murder, sex… and all the rest. Their filmography reads like a haiku written in Mad Magazine:

Hold me when I’m naked
Color me shameless, Thundercrack
Boulevard kishka

The Kuchars make-up and costume their actors in unusual ways — painting enormous, dramatic black eyebrows on all their female characters. (Maybe they were influenced by the old silent movies – Valentino, Theda Bara with their heavy make up and melodrama – keep in mind, in the early 1960’s those old silent movies were not ancient and forgotten at all – they were as omnipresent and as recent as 80’s movies are to filmmakers today.)

The Kuchar brothers were also known for integrating all the “organic” aspects of life that were not previously shown in movies – such as toilet functions, throwing up, blood and guts — that were intentionally left out of mainstream films… because they’re gross, and also because they were banned by the Hays Code – you couldn’t show it. “Low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil” topics were “subject to the dictates of good taste”. But the Kuchars made underground movies. They existed outside the Code (though still subject to the law) as a crucial part of the underground film movement that really took off in the sixties. Later the Kuchars moved to San Francisco where they also participated in the 1970’s underground comics movement based there.

In this fun documentary (which was screened at the Inside-Out festival in Toronto), you see the big names of today – John Waters, Guy Madden, Atom Egoyan – talking about how the Kuchar films influenced them. It shows some of their signature techniques, and captures them shooting their latest production, It’s a hilarious documentary, because you get to see little clips of some of their films – things like cheesy UFO’s, a guy with three foot dangling testicles, a haunting, melodramatic scene of a woman taking out the trash, lots of god-awful rubber puppet monsters – without needing to sit through a whole Kuchar movie.

Splice
Dir: Vincenzo Natali

Vincenzo Natali, is not all that famous, but I think he’s one of the most successful Canadian directors there is. He directed the science fiction movie Cube – about a bunch of people stuck inside an elevator-like cube who want to get out – which was extremely popular in many countries, while largely overlooked in Canada. (Cool story, so-so acting.) His latest movie, “Splice” – starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody – is his first big name, bigger budget movie.

Elsa and Clive are scientists who work in a research lab for the N.E.R.D. (as in nerd) corporation. They’re trying novel ways to combine the DNA — the genetic information — of various animals. But their big breakthrough – a new life form, a sort of walking lump of flesh, that can mate and reproduce – has a rather dramatic failure. So it’s back to the old drawing board.

But Elsa wants to take it even further.

Their next project has human DNA spliced, on the sly, into the mix to create a new sort of animal. Sort of like the Island of Dr Moreau.

It’s totally illegal, but Elsa wants to hang on to her new, rapidly growing flesh lump. She becomes its protector. She even names her: “Dren” — that’s nerd spelled backwards. But as she grows up, Dren’s human and animal parts begin to appear. First scary, then cute (with a rabbit-y cleft pallet), and later, as something else again.

Elsa and Clive are forced to smuggle her out of the lab and up to their cottage – for some home schooling. And there, out in the woods, the rapidly growing and maturing Dren, adds a third wheel to the young scientific couple’s relationship.

Splice is a good (if sometimes unintentionally funny) horror movie. There are some groaners, but the story itself is interesting and creepy and scary enough (with good special effects) to keep you watching. It’s an unapologetically B movie with the feel of early Cronenberg — like Scanners and the Brood – and with Guillermo del Toro adding his blessing as an executive producer. What more could you ask for?

Micmacs

Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring Dany Boon (who made the phenomenally successful “Welcome to the Sticks” / “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”) “Micmacs” is the most captivating movie by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in a long time. He’s best known for Amelie, but I liked Delicatessen, and City of the Lost Children better.

In Micmacs, Bazil, (Dany Boon) is a video store clerk who wants nothing more than to lipsynch all the lines from “Casablanca” while squeezing the goop out of La Vache Qui Rit foil triangles. But when he’s hit in the head with a stray bullet, his life collapses. He becomes a homeless busker on the streets of Paris. He’s rescued and adopted by a family of circus-like oddballs who live in a hidden lair inside an old junkyard. Each of them has a special ability – an inventor, a contortionist, someone who can calculate and estimate – who, cobbled together, form a sort of a salvaged material X-men team.

One day Bazil discovers that the headquarters of the company that made the bullet lodged in his brain is across the street from the company that made the land mine that blew up his father when he was a boy. So he vows revenge on both their houses, and his new family agrees to help him out. Rejecting high-tech surveillance, to find out their secrets, he bugs the offices of the two industrialists by dangling telephone receivers down their chimneys. With the new info, his plan goes into high gear.

This beautiful, retro-looking movie is made up of lots and lots of short funny vignettes strung together. Puns, pantomime, gags, gibberish talking, contraptions, fake sign language, fake accents and dialects, combined with multi-part stings, rube-goldberg-style contraptions and steampunk machinery pulled together from savaged materials. It’s like old Jaqques Tati movies, but rebooted to run at the speed of a TV cartoon. I definitely missed some of the jokes, and didn’t get all the French political references to Sarkozy and company. But that didn’t matter. You can appreciate this movie without a word of French, without even reading the subtitles.

It’s a very funny, cute, enjoyable, fast moving slapstick comedy, intricately made, starring lots of the same faces from previous Jeunet movies, along with some new ones. It’s a great geek flic with something for everyone: good romantic comedy, with chase scenes and explosions, too.

Inside Out Festival, 2010. Movies Reviewed: Leo’s Room, The OWLs, Brotherhood, Oy Vey My Son is Gay, Joan Rivers, a Piece of Work, Undertow

Today I’m going to take a look at some of the movies playing at this year’s Inside Out festival, Toronto’s LGBT Film and Video Festival.

Inside Out is good and friendly film festival, with a wide, and extremely varied itinerary, ranging from Ryan Trecartin’s excellent art videos, to movies and documentaries including a very good selection of first-run foreign films, from France, Scandinavia, Israel, Latin America, Korea and, of course, the US. They deal with themes like aging, coming out, secrecy, discrimination, violence, tolerance, and of course, love and sex.

“Leo’s Room”, a gentle, low-key drama from Uruguay (Directed by Enrique Buchichio), is a coming-of -age story about a graduate student, Leo. Leo breaks up with his girlfriend to try to pursue something he’s not getting from her. Something one character says is all men think about, even though it only totals about ten minutes of their life each year: he was referring to the orgasm. Leo turns to the internet to secretly meet other men, whom he takes home to his small, dingy unpainted room. He makes his new friend sneak out past his couch potato pothead roommate, lest he suspect what was going on. But when he runs into a childhood crush in a supermarket, Caro, a sad but pretty woman, he finds a new friend. His life is still full of bleached-out faded colours and enclosed spaces. Caro ends up bedridden for an unknown reason, while Leo doesn’t want to leave his own room and face the world. Will they ever be able to voice their troubles and free themselves?

“Leo’s Room” (set in a rarely-seen, urban Uruguay), is a nice, if simple, look at how a man and a woman in a non-sexual relationship can help one another rid themselves of their secrets.

In the Danish dramatic thriller “Brotherhood” (Directed by Nicolo Donato) Lars starts going to clandestine meetings of a political group, partly to spite his liberal parents. He quickly rises up in the organization – it’s a neo-nazi, white supremacist party – and proves his mettle by attacking and beating up a Muslim refugee. In order to become a member for life of the sinister group, Lars is sent to a country house where Jimmy, a longtime Nazi skinhead, will instruct him in the ways of the order: Masculinity, worship of nature, extreme nationalism and so-called racial purity. All couched in the highly-charged homo-erotic atmosphere of male bonding. But the two men — Jimmy with giant swastikas and the number 88 (code for Heil Hitler) tattooed all over his body; and upper-class, rebellious Lars – take the step from homo-eroticism to homo sex. They become lovers. This complicates things. Even more so when Lars discovers that his new friends don’t just beat up immigrants, but also gay men. “Hey– that’s not fair…!”

This is a troubling, difficult movie; it’s hard to sympathize with members of a repugnant group who enthusiastically study Hitlerian theory and put it to work in thuggish attacks on innocent strangers, just to further their political causes… but I think it does manage to show this unlikely, doomed-from-the-start relationship as a compassionate one in the oddest of places. A very problematic movie to reconcile, morally, but an emotional one, none the less.

The OWLs (Directed by Cheryl Dunye of the Parliament Collective) is an extremely low budget (12 thousand dollars!) look at the lives of a group of aging women living together in a sprawling home in southwestern US. These OWLs – meaning Older Wiser Lesbians – were involved in an incident at a pool party where a young woman, Cricket, was killed. Their relationships are grouping and regrouping, they’re trying to sell the house and move on, and they’re terrified that someone might find the body. But their already tenuous equilibrium is upset with the arrival at their door of Skye, a much younger, muscular, masculine and aggressive woman. Skye dismisses their politics, their relationships, their beliefs, and inserts herself between couples. An even bigger shock is when the actors step out of their roles and discuss politics, identity, collaboration, sexuality, gender and the changing attitudes of younger lesbians.

At first I was put off by this meta-movie spoiling the storyline, but by the end their discussions are even more interesting than the plot, and somehow (not sure why) they provided both the content and the glue to hold this unusual collaborative movie together.

Oy Vey, My Son is Gay (Directed by Evgeny Afineefsky) is a comedy about the Hirsches, a middle-aged Jewish couple, (played by Lainie Kazan and Saul Rubinek) who are looking for a bride for their unmarried son, Nelson, a real estate agent. But, as the title says, he’s gay (they don’t know it) and is living with Angelo, an interior decorator. Shirley, the mother, is led to believe that he’s going out with a female porn star (played by Carmen Electra) and that Angelo is just there to tastefully decorate his apartment.

I was all set for a gay re-take of the old-school screwball comedy– you know, where there are lots of mistaken identities, witty dialogue, sharp-tongued innuendo, and all the characters running around trying to make sense of all the confusion. Well, it’s a little bit screwball, but mainly lame movie-of-the-week about parents struggling trying to understand and accept their gay son.

But, ¡ay, caramba! Mama mia! Was this ever a bad comedy. Painfully bad. Oy vey is right. The witty repartee, the mistaken identities, the disguises – they were all sparse indeed. No double entendres in this movie – you’re lucky to find a single entendre… There are some OK parts – especially the few times when Saul Rubinek and Lainie Kazan get into some energetic discussions, and stop walking through their lines – but they’re counterbalanced by awful, unfunny scenes. Like the father trying to get the porn star to date his son, to turn him straight again, but ends up making a glacially slow pass at her instead, and falls onto her, on a sofa with his bum sticking up in the air. And then stays like for two minutes.

I seriously think the movie needed a laugh track, to fill in the enormous gaps between punchlines; at least I’d know when it was supposed to be funny.

One movie that actually is funny is “Joan Rivers: a Piece of Work” (directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg), a tell-all documentary about the famous stand-up comic and talk-show host. When I say she’s famous, I mean I’d heard of her name, but never actually seen her perform as a stand-up comic, anywhere, even on TV. The documentary follows her career as a funny woman, when female comics were few and far between, and her catch line was: “My name is Joan Rivers – and I put out!”

Now, I’ve been told she’s been using the same one-liners for half a century, but my ears were virgin territory. So her jokes were funny, and still just offensive enough to surprise a laugh out of the listener. Equally shocking were candid scenes of her face without makeup: puffed, sewn, reconstructed and botoxed. I was like – Wow! Who’s that ventriloquist dummy, (and what happened to that smooth-cheeked blond woman who was there a minute ago)?

But you can see she’s still on the ball as a comedian by the way she deftly handles an angry heckler who objected to her Helen Keller jokes.

Finally, “Undertow”, (Directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon) a beautiful, intriguing movie about a macho Peruvian fisherman in love with a rich painter and tourist from Colombia.

Miguel, the fisherman, starts the movie by welcoming his new son, even as he “offers” a villager’s dead body to the harsh waters. The villagers believe if that’s not done, his soul will never rest. But macho Miguel is also having a love affair with Sebastien, a rich, gay Columbian painter (played by Manolo Cardona). They secretly meet in an abandoned building on the beach. But after a fight he disappears into the waves… and then comes back as a ghost. His dead body was never offered, so his corporeal self remains there but visible only to Miguel. He is elated – he can spend time with his lover without any threat to his machismo. But things soon go awry. His relationship is exposed. He must choose between his loves – his wife and son, his fellow villagers, and the memory of his male lover. Undertow is a great movie, beautifully shot.

Heroes, Anti-heroes, and their followers. Films Reviewed: The Trotsky, Ryan Trecartin, Leslie, My Name is Evil, MacGruber.

Today I’m going to look at movies with different kinds of heroes, or anti-heroes, and the movements that some of them inspire. The hero or heroine might be misguided, but if their aims are true (in movies) good will surely triumph.

The Trotsky
Dir: Jacob Tierney

Jay Baruchel plays a boy, Leon, in anglo, West Montreal who, although from a rich family himself, is upset by, and wants to overthrow the entire capitalist system. When he unsuccessfully tries to organize his father’s factory workers into a union, for the first time he is placed into the public school system. Once there, though oddly dated in his speech and behavior and clothing, he gradually gets a following: his apathetic classmates who want change in the system. Sorta. When they’re not smoking or texting or gossiping.

Oh – and did I mention he actually believes he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, and that he’ll meet an older woman named Alexandra who will fall in love with him? Yeah, Leon’s a bit nutty, with his little round glasses, scrunched up forehead and gesticulating arms.

The movie takes a cute look at Old Left politics in a modern-day Montreal setting, seen through the eyes of a misunderstood, neurotic kid, who, though he espouses century-old slogans, is media savvy enough to call up reporters in his fights against the school board. He wants to gain supporters to achieve his goal of organizing his fellow students. Will Leon’s goal be realized? As a vanguard leader of the proletariat can he organize them to shake off the chains of inequality by overthrowing the land-owning bourgeoisie, and their running dog lackeys (personified by his school principal — Colm Feore — and his Miss Grundy)? Hmmm… Or is this movie more like a season finale to a Degrassi episode? No – it’s better than that.

A simple premise, with a well-written, dense plot, good Canadian cast (Genevieve Bujold, Saul Rubinek), and lots of visual references — spanning Maoism, black panthers, the Spanish civil war, Che Guevera, bolshevism, anarchism, The Battleship Potemkin, and Vietnam war resisters. It’s a good, cute, low budget movie with a very Canadian feel.

Any Ever; and In Short

Various art videos by Ryan Treacartin

OK, I have to admit, the first time I saw a Ryan Trecartin video, an hour long monstrosity of jarring flash editing with self-centred teenagers shrieking like characters from “Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel”, I have to admit, I haven’t been that pissed off at a so-called work of art in a long time. Who can watch this crap? Who wants to see people in grotesque make up and fright wigs randomly shouting nonsense in distorted voices, while tired, corporate logos drift endlessly across a laptop screen. Incomprehensibly bland video titles, jarring cuts and zooms, post-structuralist posturing… It’s insulting! Bleaaaagh!

Then something happened.

It started to look… pretty. It started to look nice. Some of the words started to be funny. Some even made sense. I began to love the sound of breaking glass.

Then I went to the Power Plant, where his one-man show, Any Ever, is now finishing its run. Seen projected on huge screens, in small rooms, with comfortable chairs and beds and earphones provided, where you can walk in and out, it all becomes pleasant, hypnotic, hilarious… fun.

I started watching his stuff on youtube.What is this? What’s going on? It’s weird… it’s… it’s.. Gay. It’s ghey. (It is gay). But it’s not the “gay” you see on TV sitcoms. Nothing so safe.

Picture a whole field of gay, in say, southern Manitoba, that have these little purple flowers. And each purple flower has a little stamen in it. And they pick them, and pile them all together, and crush them, and boil them, and distill them, and refine that into a potent substance — a gay reduction. Where you can detect a single drop a mile away.

Well, Ryan Trecartin has jugs of this in his storage room, and he splashes it on everything, saturating it. His work is drenched in gay, dripping with it. It’s overwhelming. It’s the gayest art, the gayest videos on the face of the earth. And his films are amazing.

It turns out, the lines aren’t random at all – they’re composed. The editing, the costumes, even the hiring of Mickey Mouse club audition rejects who vent on camera in annoyingly arch voices… all planned. And those strangely recurring images of twelve year old girls, the Avon ladies, the post-mastectomy yoga enthusiasts… some of these people are him, Ryan, in a wig, in make up, crying.

And the stuff that made me angry, because there were no real stories? There are stories in most of his videos. Epic stories.

Anyway, it’s not all comfortable stuff, not the kind of thing you can sit through for too long, but in small doses, it’s a heady experience.

And on Saturday, May 22, he’s showing some of is earlier work– as part of the Inside Out Festival, Toronto’s LGBT film and video festival, and in collaboration with Power Plant and Pleasure Dome — “In Short”, in person.

“Leslie, My Name is Evil”, (Directed by Reginald Harkema), is about a boy, Perry, a born again Christian, who is placed on the jury for the trial of Charles Manson and his female followers, where he has to figure out if his passion for the beautiful, accused murderess Leslie is real, or if he’s being fooled by her seductive ways.

In a crucial early scene, Perry and his girlfriend look through a Chick publications comic book. (Ever seen those weird fundamentalist comic book pamphlets where the ordinary people – led astray by marijuana, sexuality, abortion, devil worship, the Pope, rock and roll – are saved from the pool of fire when they accept Jesus into their heart?)

After Perry sees the comic, Leslie and Perry (played by Canadian actors Kristen Hager and Gregory Smith) find themselves sucked into a meta-world, a dreamy vortex, where the evil forces of Charles Manson fight against the light of God beaming out from the born-again contingent. This little comic book sets the tone for a large part of the movie, a chunk of the plot filtered through a Chick comic motif. All of the cultural extremes of the sixties — moralistic sermons mixed with pop culture, surreal dreams with news footage and newspaper headlines, a fundamentalist view of politics vs the nihilistic evil of Charles Manson’s death cult – are seen by Perry (and the audience) deep inside his head.

At times this movie resembles William Klein’s pop art film Mr Freedom (from 1969), with its bold images. And I loved the psychedelic, rock soundtrack. The thing is, sometimes “Leslie, my name is Evil” — with its highly stylized scenes, scripted dialogue, and intentionally artificial, almost camp acting — feels more like a live play than a movie. It doesn’t always hold together: the movie feels a bit disjointed, and the acting is inconsistent, sometimes realistic and moving, other times just silly.

Lines like: “What kind of pinko commie nonsense is that!” and “Don’t fret Dorothy, God will protect us” were too much for me. (But could this just be the comic book swirling in Perry’s head…?)

This made it harder to sympathize with the main characters, or, especially, to believe that the young women were really mesmerized by a svengali figure like Charles Manson – he just didn’t seem as hypnotic and compelling as he’s supposed to be. But the bold, pop-art feel and the great soundtrack helps the movie hold together its complicated, original take on the Manson Girls.

MacGruber

MacGruber is a new movie based on a repeated 15-second-long skit from Saturday Night Live, where MacGruber, Vickie, and a third person, watch the hero MacGruber fail to defuse a bomb and they all blow up. “MACGRUUU-BER!” In the movie version, (which takes about 5,895 seconds longer to get to the final punchline) he’s known as a ridiculously accomplished hero, and the only one who can defeat Val Kilmer’s villainous character, Dieter von Cunth, from using his nuclear weapon.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, isn’t very important. Neither are the lines. Just the characters and the premise. The real question is: Can a single, ten-second gag survive an hour and a half long movie? No, it can’t.

So they added a few more jokes, about MacGruber tearing out people’s throats and sticking pieces of celery up his bum. Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!

Ok I laughed at some of it. And a few parts were really funny (like MacGruber in bed with his girlfriend). It wasn’t exactly boring, just pretty stupid. Like Saturday Night Live has always been. Don’t mess with the proven formula: find a mildly funny premise or punchline, drag that joke out into an eight-minute scene, then repeat it over and over and over again, season after season. That’s Saturday Night Live.

Will Forte as MacGruber, works well with Kristen Wiig as Vickie St Elmo, and Ryan Philippe as the special guest star. If you like SNL, you might just like this movie. But do you really want to watch a whole movie based on a so-so joke?

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