Dancing. Films reviewed: Nang by Nang, Dancehall’s Asian Ambassadors, Saturday Church at #CaribbeanTales

Posted in African-Americans, Dance, documentary, Drama, Jamaica, Japan, LGBT, Music by CulturalMining.com on August 31, 2018

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

Toronto’s Fall Film Festival Season has begun, people, bringing you a first look at the best movies you’ll be watching over the next year. TIFF is the grandmother of all Toronto festivals – and you’ll be hearing a lot more about that one in weeks to come – but you shouldn’t miss the smaller festivals that come right before and after TIFF. September 20-23 is TPFF, Toronto Palestine Film Festival celebrates Arab cinema at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. And before TIFF is Caribbean Tales, showing films and docs from Trinidad to Jamaica to Barbados and Haiti, as well as the US, Canada and South Africa. Caribbean Tales starts Wednesday (running Sept 5 – 20) with a sneak preview of HERO, about the legendary Ulric Cross.

This week I’m talking about three movies at Caribbean Tales. There’s a one-time dancer in Trinidad, Japanese dancehall DJs in Jamaica, and a boy in New York who is yearning to dance.

Nang by Nang

Dir: Richard Fung

Nang is a 90 year old woman in Trinidad with a remarkable history. She was illegitmate – didn’t meet her father, a playboy, until she was in her 20s, but she knows her background well. Her ancestry reads like a Caribbean history lesson: she’s part Chinese, part Black, but also descended from Indian indentured servants and indigenous peoples as well. Her names range from Dorothy to Mavis to Russel to Anang, constantly changing and morphing throughout her life. . As a young woman she joined a dance troup headed by brothers Geoffrey and Bosco Holder. (Choreographer Geoffrey Holder is most famous in North America for The Wiz and his role in James Bond movies.) Though not a trained dancer they loved her beautiful face and natural skills and she embraced the behemian lifestyle.

In this documentary filmmaker Richard Fung meets his aunt for the first time and uncovers her story. They journey back to her former houses spread across the islands and all the way to New Mexico. She has married many times, and she shares stories and photos of men long dead. She has outlived everyone, from a loving husband, to a professional, to a playboy and to a scoundrel. Nang by Nang is a personal history that serves as a fascinating look at a women with in a multifaceted and polyglot culture.

Dancehall’s Asian Ambassadors

Dir: Kaneal Gayle

For such a small island, Jamaica has a huge influence on music around the world. Ska, rocksteady, reggae and dancehall are adored by listeners who have never been to the caribbean. But there’s one place you might not immediately associate with Jamaican music… and that’s Japan! But did you know they’ve had a huge underground reggae scene there since the 1970s? And now Dancehall has landed in Japan and is growing in popularity.

Dancehall’s Asian Ambasaadors follows four Japanese women who fell in love with genre and moved to Jamaica to be nearer to its pulse. With names like Rankin Pumpkin, and Kiss Kiss, they they are music organizers, DJs, dancers and singers, competing on TV and attracting international audiences on youtube. The English they speak is Jamaican, and they earn a living by driving cabs, exporting local music and parephernalia, and importing fans from back home who want to explore the scene.

As one woman says: life in Japan is easier, and more comfortable than Jamaica, but no vibes.

Saturday Church

Wri/Dir: Damon Cardasis

Ulysses (Luka Cain) is a high school kid in New York. He lives with his mom and little brother Abe. His soldier-dad recently died in action, so his mother has invited stern Aunt Rose (Regina Taylor) to help take care of the kids. Ulysses is an altar boy, a good kid with a face as angelic as the saints on the stained glass windows. But he has a forbidden secret: He likes his to try on his mom’s shoes and clothes.

No one at school has seen this, but the locker room jocks can sense something anyway, and constantly bully him. Homelife is equally perilous, with Abe threatening to tell mean Aunt Rose. Is there no escape? One weekend, he hops on the subway to Greenwich village to explore, and ends up on the Christopher Street Pier. There he meets some women like he’s never seen before. With exotic names like Dijon, Ebony and Heaven (Indya Moore, Mj Rodriguez, Alexia Garcia), they exude confidence and attitude. One of them, Amara (Margot Bingham) takes him under her wing and leads him to a sanctuary. Saturday Church offers him food shelter and a space to feel free.

It’s also where he is first exposed to vogueing, the life blood of the women he met. And a boy named Raymond (Marquis Rodriguez) – his first boyfriend? But when things explode at home between him and aunt Rose, he runs away. And he discovers his church sanctuary is only open on Saturdays. He’s left homeless, lost and vulnerable. Can he survive life on the streets?

Saturday Church sounds like another sensitive coming-out story about a black teen in New York. What’s remarkable, though, is that throughout the movie, the characters burst into intricately-choreographed dances and songs. From locker rooms to homeless shelters to locker rooms, characters suddenly switch to impromptu, modern-dance-inspired musical numbers and torch songs. Luka Cain is great as Ulysses, and Saturday Church is an inspiring and unusual musical.

Saturday Church, Nang by Nang and Dancehall’s Asian Ambassadors and many others are all playing at CaribbeanTales film festival, which opens next Wednesday with Hero.

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

 

 

 

Quests. Films reviewed: Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Let the Sunshine In, First Reformed

Posted in Christianity, Death, Drama, France, Jamaica, Movies, Music, Reggae, Religion, Sex by CulturalMining.com on June 1, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

Toronto’s spring festival season continues. Inside Out finishes this weekend, and look out for the Japanese Film Fest and True Crime Film Festival both opening next weekend.

But this week I’m looking at three new movies by three great directors about people on quests. There’s a musician driven by fame, a woman searching for love, and a clergyman holding on to his immortal soul.

Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

Dir: Sophie Fiennes

Grace Jones is a multi-talented artist and performer. Known for her distinctive voice, looks and style, she has left a mark on everything from fashion to pop music. Originally from Spanish Town in Jamaica, she made it big as a model in France, capturing the fashion world with her androgynous body and striking features. Later she shifted to music, recording first dance hits like La Vie en Rose, followed by the punk sounds of Warm Leatherette, and pop songs with a drum-and-bass reggae theme provided by Sly and Robbie. And as an actress she perfected the look of a crazed, cold villain in movies like James Bond’s View to a Kill.

This movie strips her bare physically and emotionally as she returns to Jamaica to visit her family and record a new album. The camera follows her as she digs up her family’s past, tries to record songs, and goes on a concert tour. It also includes a stopover in Paris to record a TV music video; and her performances on stage. This is an intimate portrayal of the underground superstar – who turned 70 this year, still dancing, changing clothes, arguing on the phone, and putting on the elaborate headddresses and costumes she’s known for. It also makes her seem a bit crazy – her accent shifts from Jamaican to American to british depending on whom she’s talking to, even shifting to a sort of french when she’s in Paris.

This no-holds-barred portrait is not always pretty but always fascinating.

First Reformed

Wri/Dir: Paul Schrader

Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a lonely reverend at an old church with a long history. He carries heavy baggage of his own: a dead son and memories of war. The church itself – First Reformed – has been there for centuries and is approaching its historical anniversary. For the Church administrators this is a PR goldmine and chance for big corporate donations. But Toller is an old-school preacher with traditional ideas. He feels like he’s losing his calling, and isn’t comfortable playing a pretend minister for tourists at a historical site. Luckily, there is a parishioner with real problems who needs his help.

Mary (Amanda Seyfried) is going through a crisis with her husband Michael, an environmental activist. She’s worried about him losing it. And the environmentalists are diametrically opposed to the very corporate donors that are keeping the church on its feet. As Toller gets involved in their lives, he re finds his calling. But things take a shocking turn with one unexpected death and the possibility of more. What path will Toller take, what is the church’s future, and what will become of Mary?

I’m not saying anything more about the plot, but let me just say that what starts as a simple and almost boring story slowly builds to an intense and shocking finish. Paul Schrader is a great director — he did Cat People, American Gigolo and Mishima — and an even better scriptwriter: Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.

I don’t always like Ethan Hawke’s acting, but I do here – this might be his best performance ever.

Let The Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur)

Dir: Claire Denis

Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) is a middle aged artist at the peak of her career. She expresses her art using big brushes on huge canvases nailed to her studio floor. She’s signing with a new art dealer, and is financially secure, a great house, and her ex husband is taking care of their daughter. She is beautiful with a sparkling personality. The world is her oyster… so why is she having so much trouble finding a pearl? The problem is it takes two to tango and the men she meets aren’t playing their parts correctly.

She has carried on multiple relationships since her divorce. There’s a married banker who thinks she’s loves him, when it’s actually her repulsion toward him that turns her on. A handsome and famous but vapid actor thinks he’s great with the women, but despite the great sex, he does courtship all wrong. She wants the seduction, the passion and the ongoing interplay a relationship needs. He just wants a director to give him his lines.

Then there’s a mysterious and passionate man she meets while dancing, but who doesn’t fit in with her friends. Even her ex-husband sometimes spends the night when he’s in Paris.

Can she find her life partner, the best man out there? Or will she settle?

Ignore the pedestrian title, Let the Sunshine In is sophisticated and subtle movie. Juliette Binoche shines in every scene, she funny, clever and quirky. Claire Denis is one of best directors in France who is vastly underrated. This story is told purely from the female gaze – that of Isabelle.

It pokes fun at men – and at the women who fall for their tricks.

Grace Jones, Let the Sunshine In and First Reformed 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.

Not Safe at Home. Movies Reviewed: Home Again, Olympus Has Fallen

Posted in Action, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, drugs, Jamaica, Korea, Movies, Politics, Poverty, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 23, 2013

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

OHF_04104.NEFFestival season is gearing up now, with Hot Docs, Images, and Cinefranco announcing this year’s line-up – fantastic stuff to come. But in the meantime, here are some non-festival releases. Today I’m looking at an action/thriller about one man inside a big house who wants to save the world; and a drama about three people stranded on an island who just want to survive.

Olympus Has Fallen

Dir: Antoine Fuqua

Mike Banning (played by perpetually gruff and surly Scot, Gerard Butler) was once a big man in the Secret Service. But when the First Lady is killed in an accident, he loses his status as a presidential guard. So he’s not at the White House when strange things start happening one morning. An errant gunner pilot flies a plane over the mall in Washington DC, mowing down random tourists, and knocking down OHF_09772.NEFAmerica’s most famous penis, the Washington monument. Then, a group of tubby but ruthless terrorists manage to capture the White House, including the president and hold him captive. The American Empire is teetering on the brink…

Who are these bad guys? Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Iraq? Iran? No! It’s the Zeppo of Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – the North Koreans!

The other Secret Service agents all look like part-time tenors in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Boy are they white!) But only tough-as-nails Mike is qualified for disasters like this. He gets to the White House on his own and OHF_13131.NEFopens up communication with his boss (Angela Bassett) and the grumpy, southern Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman).

The chief bad guy, Kang (Rick Yune), holds all the cards. He is determined to learn the Cerberus defence code (known only to a few top officials). And he demands the DMZ be taken down and the Korean peninsula unified. With his crack team of super-shooters (inexplicably wearing silly Gilligan hats and bandanas over their faces) and computer experts, along with some American traitors, he’s unbeatable. Or is he?

It’s up to Banning to single-handedly beat all the bad guys, rescue the President (Aaron Eckhardt who is much more a Romney than an Obama), his young son, Connor, and the feisty Secretary of State (Melissa Leo). And, while he’s at it, free the White House, and save the world from an imminent disaster. He accomplishes this with old fashioned American know-how, brutal fighting skills, and brutish come-back lines. (Best line: “Kang, let’sOHF_10923.NEF play a round of f*ck off — you go first.”) He improvises, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, using things he finds on the way. Like smashing in a terrorist’s head using a marble bust of Lincoln. As a Secret Service agent Banning knows every cubbyhole, every secret passageway in the White House.

Antoine Fuqua made the very good movie Training Day, but this is absolutely nothing like that one in style or plot. None of the movie is even vaguely plausible, but it doesn’t need a deep read to understand it. It’s hilariously awful at times, but tense and exciting at others. It’s a classic action movie, complete with explosions, shoot-outs and a virtually unwatchable close-up fight scene with a hand-held camera jiggly enough to make you lose your chili nachos in the lap of the guy in the next seat.

Watch it, laugh at it, and then forget it.

0134_lqxemynyGoing Home

Dir: Sudz Sutherland

Due to a change of laws, the US, Canada and the UK are now in the habit of deporting people — landed immigrants who moved to these countries as small children – back to their birthplaces after being convicted even of relatively minor crimes. This drama follows the different paths the three of them take as they are unceremoniously dumped in Jamaica with just a suitcase.

Dunstan (Canadian actor Lyric Bent) is a likeable, big guy from New York. His cousin helps set him up as security at a meth lab in Greenwich Farms, (a tough part of Kingston). He’s working for The Don, a hairy-eyeball young gangster who operates like a high court judge in his neighbourhood, punishing or helping the people there, as he sees fit. Soon he meets the pretty but stand-offish Cherry C. (pop star Fefe Dobson) and likes her a lot. Wants to get to know her much better. But she wants nothing to do with a Deportee.

0024_vysosif1Everton (played by Torontonian Stephan James) is a clean-cut and naïve, upper-middle-class student from London. He arrives in Kingston like a fish just waiting to be caught. His uncle Sam, who he’s supposed to meet in Trenchtown, isn’t there. He meets up with a cute high school girl, but things just get worse and worse. He soon finds himself homeless and penniless waiting for his mother to rescue him. But she’s a continent away and he can only reach her by long distant phone calls.

And finally Marva from Toronto (Tatyana Ali) was separated from her two young children when she was deported. She can’t find work because no one will trust a deportee. Forced to live with her relatives — a cruel aunt and a skeezy uncle (very well played by Paul Campbell) — Marva feels trapped in an untenable situation. If she can somehow get her kids to join her in Jamaica things will get better.

Will Everton be able to pull himself together and return to England once his court appeal goes through? Can Home Again. Tatyana AliDunston earn enough to buy a forged passport and get back to his little brother in NY? And can Marva get together again with her kids?

The three deportees have their own separate sub-plots with only minimal contact among them. But they are all set in a very real-looking, fascinating Caribbean city (it was shot in Trinidad), with its colourful scenes and dancehalls, marketplaces and homes. And the movie takes place during a growing gang war affecting all of their lives.

I thought there were enough sub plots and sub-sub plots to fill a miniseries, with dozens of different side characters and twists — too much stuff going on for one movie. But by the end it all starts to coalesce, and you really feel for the characters. Great soundtrack – reggae mixed with dance. The acting is also great – especially Tatyana Ali, but also all the small roles, and there are many — and most of the (subtitled Jamaican) dialogue was fun too. As movies go, it’s a depressing plot, one I wouldn’t normally want to rush to see, and Canadian movies are prone to the overly earnest. But this didn’t happen: I liked it! It gives you lots to think about. Home Again is a good, plot-heavy drama that never leaves you bored.

Olympus has Fallen, and Home Again both open today, as does the film Yossi: 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 .

July 28, 2011 Multiculturalism Not Dead! Movies Reviewed: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Rocksteady: the Roots of Reggae

Posted in Canada, China, Cultural Mining, documentary, Foot Binding, Jamaica, Movies, Queer, Reggae, Romance, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 31, 2011

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.

Last week — when the biggest worry seemed to be how hot the weather is, where to go for summer vacation, or how to fill one’s time without school – came a piece of news out of Europe shattering the calm and quiet. Someone had set off a car bomb outside government buildings on the ordinarily peaceful streets of Oslo, Norway. And, as the story developed, there was someone shooting people – kids! – at a summer camp nearby.

Who could it be? The usual suspects? Must be those “Islamists”! the newswires were saying. Immigrants were angry about being deported, online sites said. Or it must be because of those political cartoons: Denmark and Norway are both Scandinavian, after all. But why were they bombing buildings of the current left-of-centre government? And why had the chosen a summer camp for the same youth wing of the very same party?

It turns out, it wasn’t Al Qaeda after all. It wasn’t a home-grown muslim sleeper cell. It wasn’t an eco-terrorist, or a black bloc anarchist.

It’s a self-described conservative Christian Norwegian man who is trying to foment a right-wing revolution across Europe. Shocking! And what is his enemy, what is it he’s fighting against? Listen closely, Canadians, because this is for us: The ideology he says he fighting is…

Multiculturalism.

WHAT?

He chooses the most innocuous of all things Canadian as his bete noir? That’s like saying he’s setting off bombs because he doesn’t like poutine, or butter tarts, or Hockey Night in Canada, or dragon boat races or double-doubles, or smoked meat, or two-fours. He’s murdering children to protest against puppies, or mittens, or Banff, or the smell of coriander.

He claims multiculturalism is to blame for all the world’s problems. I strongly disagree: it’s what makes Canada a great country.

So, this week — in part to protest against right-wing villains like Anders Behring Breivik and their xenophobic hatred and fear of all things different or foreign — I’m looking at a couple movies about important aspects of Canada’s diverse culture: a drama about Chinese women, and a documentary about Jamaican music.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Dir: Wayne Wang

Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) is a young girl in 19th century Hunan, China whose mother binds her feet in order to marry her out to a good husband. You can hear the bones of her toes breaking, one by one. Tiny feet were the only path to class mobility, for a poor girl. And her feet make her suitable for a rich husband. But she’s surprised when her matchmaker also sets her up with a young woman as her Laotong – her BFF in modern language. She signs a contract and is more-or-less married to her as well, as a lifelong friend and confidant.

She and Lily (Li Bingbing) learn a secret language written in a Chinese script called “Nvshu” or women’s writing. Even after they are married – poor Lily weds a rich but loveless foot-fetishist, the formerly wealthy Snow Flower meets a boorish butcher – they continue to communicate via secret messages written in poetry on folding fans.

Flashforward to present day, sophisticated Shanghai. Now Lily’s descendent, Nina, lies in a coma after an accident, and her modern day laotong, Sophia, wants to find out what happened to her, and why they were no longer the best friends they were as teenagers.

The movie cuts back and forth between the parallel stories, as women’s past and present-day lives (played by the same two actresses) and status are compared. Nina’s fan-messages, that were saved over the centuries, provide Sophia the clues as to what really happened back then, and possibly what was happening between the two friends now.

The acting was good, and I thought the movie was pretty interesting and told me a lot that I wouldn’t otherwise know. But it was also sort of messy and confusing and meandering. The weaker, modern day scenes were less interesting than the hostrical ones, except for the scenes with the always entertaining Vivian Wu as a tragic Shanghai Auntie.

While not perfect, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a very rare thing: a Hollywood-style movie, with an all-Asian cast (from China and Korea), in Chinese, about a relationship between two women.

Now another movie about an important part of Canadian culture.

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae
Dir: Stascha Bader

What is rocksteady music? Where did it come from? And what does it mean?

Rocksteady is ska… slowed down; it comes Jamaica, from an island of 2 1/2 million people that has recorded over 300,000 songs; and there’s a movie that explains it all for you.

The movie documents the big Rocksteady reunion that took place recently in Kingston, Jamaica when all the legendary musicians, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in 4 decades, got together to recreate the sixties sound. Sly Dunbar, Rita Marley, Leroy Sibbles, the Tamlins, U-Roy, Marcia Griffiths all talk to the camera and perform their music in studio.

This movie gives brief biographies of all the men and women in the rocksteady movement in Jamaica in the 60’s. Better than that is the rerecording of all the great songs from that era that every Canadian would recognize, songs like The Tide is High, You Don’t Love Me, No No No, By the Rivers of Babylon, and others.

What’s really interesting about the movie is the way the musicians explain the meanings of the songs, their contexts. I grew up hearing a lot of these songs — especially the soundtracks of The Harder They Come, and Rockers – liking the music without knowing what they were singing about. This documentary lets the songs original musicians explain what they meant.

For example, when Jamaica got its independence from Britain in 1962, it started to boom, with lots of construction, investment and industry in Kingston. But along with the economic boom there was a big influx of people from small towns into the capital, and not everyone got jobs. So some of the young men, jobless in the shantytowns and cut off from their families, became rude boys – the gangsters that terrorized the rest of Kingston. Hence Desmond Decker’s song Shanty Town.

And the people pouring into the city by train looking for jobs? Stop That Train….

Historical scenes are illustrated by black and white newspaper photos, record covers, and film and TV clips from the period, accompanied by new recordings by the original artists. Rocksteady is an enjoyable, nostalgic look at the golden age of reggae music in Jamaica.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is playing now, and Rocksteady is playing for free as part of this weekend’s Irie Music Festival. It’s playing under the stars on Sunday, July 31st at 9:30 p.m. There are also sound stages set up for concerts at Queens Park and Dundas square. For more information look at http://www.iriemusicfestival.com

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

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