Lions and Lambs. Films reviewed: Handsome Devil, Before I Fall, Bitter Harvest, Table 19

Posted in 1930s, Bullying, comedy, Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Gay, Ireland, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2017

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

March came in like a lamb, followed by a pride of lions, roaring at the gate. I’m talking about the spring film festival season, which is on now with films from Ireland and more.

This week I’m looking at movies with lions and lambs: a few comedies plus one tragedy. There’s friendship in Ireland, tragedy in Ukraine, fantasy in the northwest and a wedding in the midwest.

handsome devilHandsome Devil

Wri/Dir: John Butler

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is a skinny redhead at a boy’s boarding school in Ireland. He likes reading and indie music, and dresses in hip rocker gear. Popular kid, right? Wrong. He’s bullied, reviled and labeled as gay just because he’s not into rugby. and rugby is the school handsomedevil_04sport.

Enter Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) his new roommate. Conor was kicked out of his last school for fighting. Is he an outcast? Just the opposite. He’s handsome, athletic and on the pitch he’s both nimble and brutal. He quickly becomes the king of rugby, a handsomedevil_05veritable idol at his new school. He’s even nice to Ned, and stops the bullies — especially one called Weasel — from beating him up. Has Ned found a friend?

Things get even better when a new English teacher, Mr Sherry (Andrew Scott) encourages the kids to broaden their interests beyond just rugger, to include music and literature. But that’s sacrilege, and the coach won’t have it. He decides to break up Ned and Conor’s friendship whatever it takes.

Handsome devil is a funny and moving coming-of-age story about an unexpected friendship. I like this one.

before-i-fallBefore I Fall

Dir: Ry Russo-Young

It’s a big day for Sam (Zoey Deutch), a teenaged girl in the Pacific northwest. It’s Valentine’s day and she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. Her dad and mom (Jennifer Beals), and her cute little sister who likes origami, are all nice but they just don’t get it. It’s her posse, her three best friends, that she shares everything with: Ally – rich but insecure; Elody – sexually halston-sage-medalion-rahimi-cynthy-wu-zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallaudacious; and Lindsay (Halston Sage). She’s the alpha dog, the honey badger: she always keeps her cool; just don’t get on her bad side.

Her school has special traditions for Cupid Day. All the girls (except the class lesbian) receive messages from their admirers. While the teacher drones on about the myth of Sisyphus, Sam gets baskets of roses delivered to her desk… including one _X6A7999.JPGfrom Kent (Logan Miller), a geeky poet in her class that she ignores. In the café, the four friends relentlessly mock Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) a blonde woman with frizzy hair. She’s the school pariah… are Sam and her friends bullies? That night at the party, things spiral out if control, with a breakup, a drunken fight and a terrible car crash.

But the next morning it’s a new day and everything’s back to normal. Until Sam realizes… it’s the same day as yesterday! Her little sister’s origami, the rose from Kent, Juliet in the cafeteria, and the fight at the party. Like Sysiphus, she’s caught in a cosmic, karmic loop, and she can’t escape. No zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallmatter what she tries to change, she still wakes up each morning on Valentine’s Day. Can Sam right all her wrongs in a single day, or will she be stuck to repeat them forever?

Before I Fall, is a fantasy set in the present day. There have been others about people caught in a repeating loop – Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code – but this is the first I’ve seen from a female point of view. Like the Twilight series, it’s set in the Pacific North West but without its unbearable soppiness. This is a good YA movie.

15194340_949283011838918_4071947400932947185_oBitter Harvest

Dir: George Mendeluk

It’s the 1930s in a small village in Ukraine. Yuri (Max Irons) is a young farmer who is also a skilled artist. He’s the grandson of a great swordsman named Ivan (Terrence Stamp), and is in love with his childhood sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks). They paint, frolic in the woods and attend church regularly. All is going well until the Russian Bolsheviks come to town, led by a man with a scar across his cheek. Sinister 15895153_988096897957529_6383476820894374352_nSergei (Tamer Hassan) is dressed in black leather from head to toe and carries a whip. Sign this paper, he orders, and collectivize those farms! Your farm, your wheat, even you belong to the state now! The people refuse and chase Sergei out of the village. But he will return.

After hiding the treasured town icon of St Yuri, his namesake sets off to Kiev carrying his grandfathers prized knife. In the city, he studies art and spends time with his best friend, Mykola. Mykola also happens to be the head of the Ukrainian Communist 15319318_967538840013335_3644678351628886805_nParty, uniting Ukrainian nationalism with socialism. But he doesn’t realize that in Moscow, Stalin has other plans at work. Stalin despises Ukrainians and vows to kill them all. Party members are purged, Yuri is sent to prison, and Stalin, with evil subordinates like Sergei, send all the wheat to Mother Russia, leaving Ukraine with a terrible 15941277_990987597668459_5998812033080133428_nfamine killing millions. A Bitter Harvest indeed.

Bitter Harvest is the story of a Ukraine village during the Holodomor, the horrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. It’s an important part of history, rarely portrayed, that deserves to be shown on the big screen. This movie, unfortunately, doesn’t quite cut it. While it includes authentic-looking Ukrainian costumes, locations and folklore, the rollicking story is just not told very well. The movie is clunky and Kludgy, unintentionally campy and melodramatic, and full of comic-book villains. It lacks the gravity it deserves. Bitter Harvest isn’t bitter enough.

table-19-posterTable 19

Dir: Jeffrey Blitz

Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is a grudging guest at her best friend’s wedding party at a lakeside hotel in Michigan. Grudging because her boyfriend Teddy – the bride’s brother – dumped her. Blonde, bearded Teddy (played by Wyatt Russell, looking like a younger and dumber Owen Wilson), is best man but Eloise has been demoted from maid of honour at the centre table to the dreaded table 19.

Table 19 is a veritable land of Lost Toys, the cast offs of the wedding party. Bina and Jerry (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) a bickering middle aged couple; Rezno (Tony Revolori) a socially-awkward adolescent; elderly Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny; and gangly ex-con 13123270_780360932099535_7819038637567418602_oWalter (Stephen Merchant). Eloise is mortified by her table mates and just plain depressed. But things start to look up when a suave and handsome stranger, named Huck, arrives. They dance and kiss before disappearing into the mist like a male Cinderella. But when jealous Teddy confronts her, mayhem ensues, resulting in a ruined wedding cake. The Table 19ers, retreat to their hotel rooms to clean up, and their they learn that they’re a lot more fun than they expected. Together they vow to find love for Eloise, a first date for Rezno, a reunion between Jo the Nanny and the bride, and more.

Table 19 is a gentle social comedy that shows that, once you get to know them, even outcasts are real human beings with foibles of their own. The script is co-written by the Duplass brothers, known for their indie movies about quirky oddballs. It’s tame for a comedy, with a few too many pratfalls, but it’s also touching, with a cute, romantic ending. Hendricks is terrific as Eloise, and the rest of Table 19 all keep their characters from falling into dumb stereotypes.

Table 19, Before I Fall, and Bitter Harvest all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Handsome Devil is playing this weekend at Toronto Irish film fest. Go to toirishfilmfest.com for info.

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

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

Eurasia. Movies reviewed: Mountains May Depart, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Sing Street

Posted in 1980s, Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Journalism, Musical, Romance, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

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

Europe and Asia, despite what some people think, are part of the same continent: Eurasia. This week I’m looking at movies set on the Eurasian landmass, from the far east to the extreme west. There’s a love triangle set in a rapidly westernizing China, a true story about expat journalists in Afghanistan, and a coming-of-age musical set in Ireland.

48V7xJ_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_03_o3_8667537_1438094807Mountains May Depart

Wri/Dir: Jia Zhangke

It’s 1999 and a mining town China prepares for the new millennium. Especially Tao (Zhao Tao) who is a pretty, young performer. She’s being courted by two men. Liangzi (Liang Jingdong) is a brash but nice guy, brimming with confidence. He works in the mine store. Equally confident, but self-centred and vengeful, is Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi). He’s rich and Liangzi isn’t. She wants to be friends with both of them. But she has to choose, and she chooses the one with money over vgRA2n_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_04_o3_8667554_1438094737the one she loves.

They have one son they name Daole or “Dollar”, named after the US dollar, what Zhang desires most. Tao stays in the mining town, while her husband moves to the city to rule his burgeoning financial empire and satisfy his perverse obsession with guns. And their son, Dollar, is sent off to a private English-language boarding school in far-off Shanghai.

GZzj65_MOUNTAINSMAYDEPART_01_o3_8667519_1438094794The second part of the movie jumps to the near future. Dollar lives in Australia now and only speaks English. He has distant memories of his country and his mother and transfers his feelings onto a rootless, Chinese-Canadian teacher named Mia (Sylvia Chang).

The movie then reveals what has become of Liangzi, Jinsheng and Tao – the original three characters.

Jia Zhangke is one of the best filmmakers in China, and a personal favourite. He has a unique style and feel that exposes the flaws and idiosycracies of modern China. But always in a funny satirical or shocking way. What other Chinese director would start his movie with people dancing on a stage to the Village People? It looks like one of his first movies Platform (2000). That said, this isn’t his best work. The first half is a good classic Chinese melodrama, but the second half, with its prediction of China’s future, feels empty in comparison.

12803308_192044051164344_2982674369886159417_nWhiskey, Tango, Foxtrot

Dir: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa (based on Kim Barker’s memoirs)

It’s the early 2000s. Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is a network TV newswriter whose career is going nowhere fast. So she jumps at the chance to relocate to a place grabbing all the headlines: Kabul, Afghanistan. She says goodbye to her boyfriend and takes off. But as soon as she arrives she sees it’s not what she expected. She’s shocked by the unvarnished crudity of the other expats. But she also exalts in her new status. She has, at her disposal, a buff kiwi bodyguard, a smart Afghan translator, and a local fixer, to name just a few. A blonde Aussie reporter named Tanya (Margot Robbie) takes her under her wing.  She says, “In New York City you’re a 6 or a 7, but here you’re a borderline ten.” Tanya also tells her who to get to know, and who to avoid. And above all, to watch out for12362989_139342373101179_5125622253715911362_o the womanizing lush Iain (Martin Freeman: The Hobbit) a Scottish journalist.

Aside from drinkin’, dancin’, cussin’, and screwing around, she also has to file stories. She’s embedded with a Marine battalion, under the misogynistic General Hollanek (Billy-Bob Thornton.) But she manages to find some real news, even venturing out of the insular, foreign enclave in Kabul (or “Ka-bubble” as Tanya calls it). Will her new digs bring her fame and fortune? Or is it a bottomless pit that swallows journalists whole?

This movie is a fictionalized account of print journalist Kim Barker’s stint as an expat in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s an enjoyable movie and Tina Fey and company give a good sense of what it’s like to live there as a foreigner. What it doesn’t give is what it’s like to be an Afghan. There are some good scenes of an Afghan wedding, and she has a bit of professional contact with locals like Sadiq (Alfred Molina) a sleazy government minister, but nothing that challenges existing stereotypes.

And the Afghan women in burqas? Completely silent.

12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian Brothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. They make it their goal to crush every hint of non-conformity. Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. But all is not lost. Because across the street he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model who just stepped out of a Duran Duran video. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly, he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it all happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing songs. Soon, they turn into new wave rock stars complete with appropriate make-up and frosted hair. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom and before Raphena leaves for London?

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

Sing Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Mountains May Depart 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

Sentimental. Films Reviewed: Summertime, Brooklyn, Room at #TIFF15

Posted in 1950s, 1970s, Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Ireland, Kids, Romance by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2015

#TIFF15 logoHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Guys aren’t supposed to like sentimental movies – they’re not tough enough. But a sentimental tear-jerker that’s done right makes for a great movie. This week I’m looking at sentimental films I like that are playing at TIFF — Toronto International Film Festival — right now. There’s a French woman tied to her family farm, an Irish emigree tied to her hometown, and a young mother (involuntarily) tied to her home.

1j34lo_SUMMERTIME_04_o3_8703578_1438094923Summertime (La Belle Saison)

Dir: Catherine Corsini

It’s 1972. Delphine (played by rock star Izïa Higelin) is a fresh, young, but naïve farm girl in northern France. She milks cows and bales hay, and hangs out with Antoine, her childhood friend (who has a crush on her). She’s vibrant and full of life. When her secret, long-time female lover dumps her, she packs up and moves to Paris. Right away she witnesses a feminist action: young women running down a street while pinching the bums of all the men1j34A0_SUMMERTIME_05_o3_8703634_1438094883 they pass.

She is surprised by what she sees, but likes it. When a man reacts violently, she steps in to fight back. She’s a heroine to the group. She’s found a home, a cause and new friends. Soon enough she’s joining raids on a mental hospital to liberate a young gay man locked up by his family; and participating in a flash-mob action to disrupt an anti-abortion meeting. She loves it 3lVwmr_SUMMERTIME_01_o3_8703436_1438094892all – it’s totally different from her life on the family farm. She becomes close friends with one woman in particular: the tall, beautiful and educated Carole (Cécile De France). Carole teaches Spanish and lives with her boyfriend. Delphine is crushed when her advances are rebuffed. Was it all in her mind? Doesn’t Carole loved her…? Soon enough, though, Carole comes around and lets loose. They visit pgL2Dr_SUMMERTIME_03_o3_8703507_1438094908Delphine’s farm when her parents are away, for a passionate weekend of splendor in the grass.

Back in Paris they live blissful lives. But when Delphine’s dad has a stroke, she has to rush home or lose the family farm. And Carole follows her there like a puppy, expecting many more rolls in the hay. But the open and uninhibited Delphine of Paris turns into the tense and secretive Delphine of the farm. Can their love prevail under the watchful gaze of a conservative village? Or will they flee, together, back to the city?

Summertime is a wonderful coming-of-age movie about how two women try to extend a season of love. I like this one a lot – it’s sexy, surprising and sad all at once.

nZJWN7_brooklyn_05_o3_8822849_1441138268Brooklyn

Dir: John Crowley

It’s post-WWII small town Ireland and there are no jobs. Eilis (Saorise Ronan) lives with her widowed mother and sister Rose. She works part time in a general store under a cruel and vindictive boss with no chance of advancement. So her sister talks with a local priest who pulls strings and helps her emigrate to America; Brooklyn to be exact. She lives in a rooming house filled with gossipy young Irishwomen trying to become more American, all under the eagle eye of their opinionated landlady Mrs mw83vp_brooklyn_02_o3_8667104_1441138255Kehoe (wonderfully played by Julie Walters). Giddiness is the eighth deadly sin! she warns the girls. Eilis works as a clerk in a high-end department store (complete with pneumatic tubes), and takes classes at Brooklyn College at night. Almost everyone in her life is Irish. It’s almost like she never left home. But one night VmoEB1_brooklyn_01_o3_8667029_1441138255at a dance she meets a real live Brooklynite, Tony (Emory Cohen). Sparks fly when he admits he’s not Irish, he’s Italian. Eilis is fine with that. True love blossoms in Brooklyn, and they privately vow to stay together for life. But Eilis is called back to Ireland after a tragic event.

And things there aren’t as bad as she LgBm5r_brooklyn_06_o3_8822866_1441138269remembers. She’s offered work as a bookkeeper, and a rich young man named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) sets out to woo her. Will she honour her agreement with Tony and return to America? Or stay with Jim in Ireland for good?

On the surface, Brooklyn is a conventional, sentimental look at love, seen through the immigrant experience. Big deal. What makes the movie really good are the dozens of eccentric characters, pithy dialogue (written by Nick Hornby based on Colm Toibin’s novel),  the beautiful cinematography, period costumes… the whole deal. And Saorise Ronan who carries the entire film.

DRWYAk_room_01_o3_8707117_1438094905Room

Dir: Lenny Abrahamson

Jack (Jacob Tremblay) is a happy five-year-old who lives in a small but comfy room. He has long hair like his mom. He runs, plays, has an imaginary dog, watches TV, reads and talks with his Ma (Brie Larson). This is his world and he likes it, but he’s never been outside of it. You see his mom was abducted as a teenager 7 years ago, and she still lives in the windowless Rm_D22-_GK_0113.NEFcell. The kidnapper uses her sexually once a week – and that’s where Jack came from. He was born in Room. But Ma made a deal. She doesn’t fight off her tormenter and in exchange he’s allowed no contact with her son; during the weekly visits Jack waits quietly in the wardrobe.

What for Ma is a cell, for Jack it’s his entire universe. She told him there is nothing but outer space outside Room. Everything he sees on TV is just for fun – it’s not real. But when their lives drastically change – and Jack sees the outside world for the first time – he is overwhelmed. Can he ever adjust to life outside Room?

Rm_D40_GK_0197.NEFRoom is not a psychological thriller – though it has thrilling parts – and not a horror movie. It’s a mind-blowing drama about a boy, his mom, kinship, coping and privacy. The screenplay is by Canadian writer Emma Donoghue based on her own novel – and it’s superb. Brie Larsen and Jacob Tremblay (I hate to say it so early, but it’s true) are both Oscar material. Room is another fantastic movie by Irish director Lenny Abrahamson (who brought us Frank last year). Touching, strange and very surprising, I strongly recommend this one. I left the theatre emotionally drained.

Room, Brooklyn, and Summertime are all playing now at TIFF. For tickets and times go to tiff.net. Also look out for CTFF, RIFF and TUFF: Caribbean Tales Film Festival is featuring Queer Caribbean programming this year; RIFF is Real Indie Film Festival, coming in October; and TUFF, Toronto Urban Film Festival, shows one-minute movies in subways across the city.

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

 

Commitment. Movies reviewed: Jimmy’s Hall, The Tribe, PLUS It Comes in Waves

Posted in Canada, Catholicism, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Ireland, Politics, Sign Language, UK, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2015

Stephen O’Connell in It Comes in Waves. Photo by Jeremy MimnaghHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most forms of entertainment ask for little commitment from their viewers: just sit there and take it all in. But sometimes they demand a little bit more.

I just saw a production — a combination of theatrical drama, 11709591_1024415027582463_3885855130064308103_nmusic, modern dance and exercise — called It Comes in Waves (Jordan Tannahill, bluemouth inc., and Necessary Angel). The audience actually rows canoes to a remote part of Toronto Island, in a Heart of Darkness journey past wild egrets and tame swans. Once there, expect to catch a trumpet 11745530_1024414667582499_268456507655648282_nand snare drum drifting past in a rowboat, Naked Guy running across a field, voices singing in the woods, campfires, Celtic dances and a Waiting for Godot-style surprise party (where the audience — us — are the guests). You walk down the beach carrying lanterns as an ethereal angel dances half a mile away. It’s a play that completely eliminates the proscenium arch, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

But what about movies? This week I’m looking at two films that require if not participation, at least commitment. There’s a historical political drama from Ireland that stimulates intellectual rigour, and a crime drama from the Ukraine that activates creative vigour.

Jimmy’s Hall
Dir: Ken Loach

Jimmys HallJames Gralton (Barry Ward) witnessed the roaring twenties in NY. 10 years later, it’s the Great Depression and he’s back home in County Leitrim, Ireland. He’s there to take care of his aging mother (Aileen Henry). He’s keeping a low profile, having been kicked out after the Irish Civil War. He’s back to work digging up peat. But no sooner does he get there than he sees kids from the town dancing the jig on a country road. Is this a local custom? No. They just have nowhere else to go. A decade earlier he had built and opened a community centre on his land, where people would sing songs, write poetry, draw, study literature, dance to jazz music, practice boxing… but the hall was closed and he was kicked out.

Now that he’s back, he’s surrounded by locals imploring him toJimmys Hall reopen Jimmy’s Hall, a place where they can enjoy life. Is there anyone, anywhere who could oppose such a thing? You bet there is. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) the top local priest. If it isn’t run by the church, it is, by definition, no good. “He’s a communist and plays jungle music!” says the good Father.

And a high-ranked official also loathes Jimmy for his left-wing politics. His daughter, though, can’t wait to join the club. And Jimmys HallJimmy’s lost love Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is glad to see him back

But local incidents can lead to national repercussions. With Catholic and Protestant labourers striking together in Belfast the Powers That Be feared what James Gralton might inspire. As tensions escalate, who will triumph? Father Sheridan and his supporters? Or Jimmy?

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall is a typical Ken Loach movie. Its politics are decidedly left-wing, but the characters and the ideologies they espouse are never cut-and-dry. For every right-wing Father Sheridan, there’s a younger priest urging compromise. And like Loach’s other historical dramas (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom), it has scenes with long  — though never boring — political discussions. Not for everyone, but I liked this film a lot. Well-acted and nicely shot, it filled in a period of Irish history — leftist politics in the 1930s — that I knew nothing about.

THETRIBE_PressPhoto_04The Tribe (Plemya)
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

It’s present-day Ukraine. A nondescript kid named Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at his new home, a boarding school for deaf kids. It’s a typical school, the classrooms and dorms flavoured by drab Soviet austerity.

Sergey is honest, polite and naïve. And he suffers like any newbie: he’s at the bottom of every possible totem pole at the school. Even a boy with Down Syndrome nonchalantly steals his lunch. Almost immediately, he’s guided by a weasely fast-talker to meet his new boss, a no-nonsense older student. Higher-ranked bullies confiscate his money, and he’s put right THETRIBE_PressPhoto_03to work.

He’s thrown out of bed on his first night and sent out to a truck stop along with two young women from the school. Anna (Yana Novikova) is a flirty, pale blond, her dark haired coworker is bigger and bossier. They ply their trade by knocking on parked truck windows, and Sergey pimps them out and collects the money. This is just part of a complex criminal gang operating out of the school.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyThey sneak out at night to mug pensioners and steal their groceries. They also send young kids to ply ugly little plush toys on commuter trains, a front for unlawful behavior. They’re looking for charity donations but are just as willing to beat up reluctant donors.

His status begins to rise when he fends off four guys in a no-rules fight. He becomes a tough enforcer: he shakes down little kids for their pocket change. Literally! He holds them upside-down by their feet until their money falls out of their pockets.

Eventually he hooks up with Anna in a paid encounter, and they become a couple. But her main goal is to get the hell out of there with an exit visa to Western Europe. And as he becomes more experienced his personality is transformed.Will the moral Sergey ever come back to the surface?

The Tribe is a fantastic movie. And – get this — all dialogue is THETRIBE_PressPhoto_01in sign language – with not a word spoken in the entire movie… and no subtitles either. But it’s completely clear what they are saying. The actors are all hearing-impaired and express themselves beautifully. Each scene is shot in a single take, with one camera constantly moving down halls, around corners, and into rooms. Explicit sex scenes, violent fights… everything happens right in your face.

The Tribe and Jimmy’s Hall open today in Toronto; check your local listings. It Comes in Waves is now playing as part of Panamania, the cultural side of the Pan Am games. For more information go to toronto2015.org/panamania.

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

Real / Not Real. Movies Reviewed: Frank, The Trip to Italy PLUS The Dog

Posted in Brooklyn, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Ireland, Movies, Music, Travel by CulturalMining.com on August 15, 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.

Ever heard of “native advertising”? Well, you should. It’s when newspapers or websites – like the Globe and Mail and the New York Times – plant advertisements disguised as journalism right alongside real news articles. So it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish between what’s real and what’s made up. Well, this week, I’m looking at movies that cross the line between fiction and reality. There’s a comedy from the UK about actors on a trip who play themselves, a comedy from Ireland about a musician who hides his face, and a documentary about a bank robber who inspired a movie.

Domhnall Gleeson in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Frank
Dir: Leonard Abrahamson (based on an article by Jon Ronson)

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a ginger-haired nerd in his twenties who still lives with his parents. He lives in a seaside English town and works at a boring desk job. But he imagines himself as a successful singer-songwriter and keyboardist. He spends his free time recording feeble, unfinished verses on his computer… He’s of the Twitter generation and can’t think longer than 140 characters. But one day he witnesses an attempted suicide on a beach by an actual deranged musician – a keyboardist. And just because Jon is in the wrong place at the right time he is asked, spontaneously, to take his Michael Fassbender in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.place at a gig.

The show is a disaster. He’s terrible, the band can’t play, and the performance generates an on-stage fight. But Jon is mesmerized by the lead singer, Frank (Michael Fassbender). Frank is a charismatic man, with huge blue eyes, neat black hair and enigmatic features. He has a friendly, enthusiastic style that everyone likes. He’s everything Jon would want to be.

The thing is, his features are enigmatic because they never change. His big blue eyes are entrancing because they are enormous. In fact, Frank wears a gigantic, painted papier-mache globe over his real head. What does his face look like? Nobody knows. He never takes it off and eats his food through a straw.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in FRANK, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.John invited to join them in a cabin in the woods to record an album. But he soon discovers this group is a strange bunch. Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) plays the Theramin ad looks like a smouldering heroin addict, with her pale skin and art-school hair. She’s outright hostile to John. She thinks he’s the Yoko Ono, tearing the group apart. The rest of them include a sneering Frenchman, a burnt-out American, and others, who come and go. Days turns to weeks, then months. They’re broke. Will they ever finish it? But without telling the others, John posts clips on youtube and reports their progress on Twitter. Soon they have a solid fanbase without ever performing beyond the cabin. Newfound success draws them to SXSW in Texas. Will they have a hit? Will the people adore them? And will Frank ever take off his fake head?

Frank is a great movie, strange quirky and funny. It’s a new look at sex and fame and rock and roll. As Frank, Fassbender is a combination Jim Morrison and Mr Dressup, with his music morphing from prog rock to silly electric piano pop. Maggie Gyllenhall is terrific as the brooding musician and love interest and Gleeson is a new Michael Cera. This is a good movie to watch.

Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon 63718-trip to italy_01The Trip to Italy
Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Steve Coogan is an English movie actor, at a slow point in his career. So he sets out with his travel companion, Welsh comedian Rob Brydon, for a drive down the coast of Italy. You see, they’ve been hired to relax at exclusive resorts, putter around on yachts, and enjoy meals at 3-star restaurants. All they have to do is comment on the experience. And along the way they retrace the steps places visited centuries earlier by British poets (and early tourists) Keats, Shelley and Byron. Steve is divorced with a teenaged son and considers himself a bit of a womanizer, while Rob is happily married with two small children, who he talks to by phone each day. But who will pick up the most beautiful women for casual sex? This is a sequel to an almost identical movie set in England a few years back.

This sounds awful and boring as hell, right? No! it’s absolutely hilarious. Basically, the two Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan Trip to Italy 2 63721-_CRX6989actors play exaggerated, fictional version of themselves, while, the rest of the cast – the photographer, tour guide, family members – are all other actors cast in the roles. Aside from views of gorgeous scenery and delicious looking cooking scenes for foodies, what this movie is really about is two guys in a car, singing along to songs from the 90s by Alanis Morisette. And they re-enact entire scenes from The Godfather, Part II (another sequel), reciting every line in the voices of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Arguing about who was the best James Bond. Commenting about people at the next table at a restaurant in Rome or amongst the ruins of Pompeii. Not every joke hits the mark – I’m at a loss when it comes to comments about, say, European sportscasters – but there’s a cumulative effect, with all the jokes, comments, plays on words, competitive punning and imitations of Michael Caine, each building on the one before, until it’s just wipe-the-tears-from-your-eyes hilarious. It’s a particular style of improvized, spoken humour. There’s no pratfalls, no racial jokes, no gross-outs, no silly comments on “those crazy foreigners”, no stand-up comedy humour that depends on a punchline… It’s just two guys engaging in caustically funny conversations. It’s just great.

The Dog stacks_image_236And finally, I want to recommend The Dog, a great documentary by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren. It’s the true story of folk hero / criminal John Wojtowicz. A self-described pervert, John is the guy who robbed a bank and took hostages in Manhattan in the early 1970s to pay for his girlfriend’s sex change. They were soon surrounded by cops but he entranced the crowd – and the news media — by talking to them, to his mom, and to his wife Carmen. It’s one of the earliest TV as-it-happens news stories, with a twist. It inspired Dog Day Afternoon, but his story is even wilder, encompassing his bisexuality and his early role in queer politics. This funny-looking guy is an amazing, absurd character, filled with Brooklyn bravado. And his story is amazing and well-worth seeing.

Frank, The Trip To Italy and The Dog all open today in Toronto: check your local listings for details.

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

Acts of God. Movies reviewed: Into the Storm, Calvary PLUS TIFF Canadian Films

Posted in Action, Adventure, Catholicism, Christianity, Cultural Mining, Death, Disaster, Drama, Ireland, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2014

TIFF14 Rising Stars © Jeff Harris Sophie Desmarais, Alexandre LandryHi, 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.

The names of the Canadian films opening this fall at the Toronto International Film Festival were announced this week, and they look really good. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. From Quebec, there’s a drama about a young man in Montreal who joins the nascent FLQ in the 1960s. It’s called Corbo, directed by TIFF14 CorboMatthieu Denis. Xavier Dolan’s movies are always worth seeing. His fifth one, called, simply, Mommy, revisits the themes of his first film (J’ai tue ma mere) about a mother/son relationship and all its perils. With Anne Dorval back as the mom. And Master filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin is bringing another NFB TIFF14  Alanis Obomsawin, NFB director of Trick or Treatydoc on First Nations issues. This one, Trick or Treaty, covers the battle for treaty rights. There are many other too, including a new one from Cronenberg, a remastered film by Atom Egoyan, and movies from Jean Marc Valee, and Phillipe Felardeau, both starring Reese Witherspoon for some reason. Go to tiff.net for more info.

This week, I’m looking at two movies about The Imp and the Angels Sally de Frehn 1946brave people facing “acts of God”. One’s an American disaster-adventure about the danger brought to a family by unstoppable winds; the other’s an Irish drama about the dangers brought to a priest by an emotional loose cannon.

INTO THE STORM afficheInto the Storm
Dir: Steven Quale

On graduation day in Silverton, a single dad (Richard Armitage) and his two sons, Donnie and Trey (Max Deacon, Nathan Kress), are making a time capsule on video. 25 years from now they’ll look back in wonder — or so they think. Instead, a series of unusually powerful, super – tornadoes strike their town during the graduation ceremony, wreaking havoc in its path. Donnie is trapped with a classmate in an abandoned paper mill on the outskirts of town. (He skipped graduation to help a girl he has a crush on get some footage for her Into the Storm 1environmental film.)

Dad and Trey set out to find them but encounter another group on the way. It’s a team of storm chasers — people who make their living by pursuing tornadoes and capturing it all on video. Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) is a scientist, while Pete (Matt Walsh) is her boss. It’s Pete’s dream to pass through the eye of a tornado and live to tell the tale — and this is the biggest twister he’s ever seen. With the help of his tank-like car (called Titus) he treats the storm as his great white whale.

But when Dad rescues Allison from blowing away – literally! A manly man relying on the brute strength of his handgrip to overcome the tornado and save her from blowing away like a leaf — she decides to help him. They drive off to save his son; she chooses people’s lives over fame and fortune.

Into the Storm 2But can anyone beat this Grandmother of a superstorm? While there are some nice shots of huge objects bring blown away, and some wicked “flame-nadoes”, it wasn’t enough. Where are the sharks?

Terrific special effects don’t excuse the mediocre plot and script, and ho-hum acting. And it’s dripping with Tea Party subtexts: The school principal is an Obama surrogate. A good speech-maker but it’s the Paul Ryan-type Dad who can save the day. It’s also a movie about irregular weather systems that never talks about climate change. But the biggest problem is you can’t have a disaster movie that’s also an adventure flick; the two types are diametrically opposed. Disaster movies are all about sadness and braveness in the face of terrible disaster. Adventure movies are all about fun and excitement. This movie doesn’t know which way to turn. Into The Storm, while diverting, will disappear as fast as a tornado.

62996-Calvary_001Calvary
Wri/Dir: John Michael McDonagh

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is a priest in a small, isolated village in Ireland. A husky bearded man in his 60s, he still wears the traditional black cassock. He’s attended by a novice priest and a Machievellian altar boy who steals bottles of sacramental wine. The movie begins in confession where a disembodied man’s voice says he was savagely raped as a child – repeatedly, over many years – by a priest. That priest is now dead, but the man declares he will kill this good priest, Father James, in his stead. And he tells him he has one week to make peace with the world, and to show up next Sunday on the beach outside town to die. Quelle Calvaire!

From there the movie follows Father James as he visits his parishioners to make amends, offer forgiveness, and maybe discover who plans to kill him. But the people’s problems are not what might be expected in small-town Ireland. There’s a woman who cheats on her husband (Chris O’Dowd) with a Senegalese mechanic. The local policeman is gay, the priest’s novice is a toady, a local lad says he wants to join the army so he can murder people, and the arrogant local millionaire tosses his money around like toilet paper.62997-Calvary_013

Father James also has a beautiful grown daughter. (Not what you think – he joined the priesthood after his wife died.) They were estranged can they get along again? Everyone knows he’s a good man, but not many of them still carries the faith like he does. He’s a combination social worker, therapist, enforcer and drinking buddy, and, well, priest. Surrounded by such unrelenting cynicism, he’s beginning to question it all, too. Does he have the strength to face his upcoming Calvary?

This is a very good movie from Ireland. It has a large cast, but each character, each part seems perfectly played. Visually, it’s fantastic, with huge, aerial shots of mammoth, grass-covered rocky plateaus and beaches. And jarring images, like a discussion inside the grocer’s freezer played against an oddly beautiful background of cow carcasses. Father James is a tough, Jesus-y character facing a troubling fate even as he tries to do good and forgive the worst sins of others. Calvary challenges our perceptions of traditional Irish life and the role of the Catholic Church there — warts and all.

Into the Storm and Calvary 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

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