Make up and dance. Films Reviewed: Like a Boss, Cunningham

Posted in Art, comedy, Dance, documentary, Feminism, Friendship, LGBT, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 10, 2020

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

Sometimes I wonder if I should be talking about movies when the planet is on fire as we head toward environmental catastrophe, even as an erratic leader — like a James Bond villain — is carrying out drone assassinations willy-nilly and pushing us all to the brink of war and back again, depending on his mood.

Are we fiddling while Rome burns?

Luckilly, the United States is still full of innovative and creative people. So this week I’m looking at two new American movies, a comedy and a performance/doc. There are two women entrepreneurs who challenge contemporary makeup; and a man who challenged the makeup of contemporary dance.

Like a Boss

Dir: Miguel Arteta

Mia and Mel (Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne) are single girlfriends who live in Atlanta Georgia. They have been besties since junior high. They go to bars together to pick up younger guys (I don’t care if they can’t read, butthey better still have their teeth, says Mia). They live in the same house – Mia’s mom left it to the two of them in  her will. And they even work together. They founded a cosmetics company that they jointly run – Mia is the creative side while Mel handles the finances.

They specialize in innovative goods, like their best selling One Night Stand packs for a woman on the go. And tell all types of women to use makeup to embrace their own good looks rather than trying to change or hide them. And they work closely with their two employees: a flamboyant gay man in the workshop (Billy Porter) and a quirky woman handling the front (Jennifer Coolidge). Everything seems to be going well, but behind the scenes they are facing serious financial trouble. Luckilly, a stranger arrives with an offer they can’t refuse. His boss, he says, wants to buy their business.

The offer comes from Claire Luna (Salma Hayek) a ruthless business mogul. Claire has dramatic orange hair, platform shoes and impossibly white teeth. Her office looks like the Guggenheim but with small killer drones flying around everywhere. She is the head of a huge cosmetics empire and she covets their niche market. Mel and Mia are intimidated by her, but stand firm – they want to keep majority interest – 51% -in their own company. Claire Luna agrees… but with a catch. If either of them leaves the company, she takes over Like a Bossthe company. Can Mel and Mia stay best friends with a new boss in the picture? Or will they fight and lose their friendship, their home and their company?

Like a Boss is an extremely simple — I would even say simplistic — movie about female best friends. It spoonfeeds you all the expected plot turns as it moves to its totally predictable conclusion. I love Haddish and Byrne, and their sidekicks Porter and Coolidge are even funnier. Hayek is a cartoon villain — she’d be twirling her moustache if she had one. I like the female-centred story, and the sexually- and racially-diverse cast. It’s also short… under 90 minutes, so it’s never boring.

The problem is the script: it’s mediocre at best, forcing talented comic actors to make do with crappy material. A real shame. The funny parts are used up in the first half, as the movie dwells on the babyish plot through the second half.

Like a Boss is not awful, it just isn’t as good as it should be.

Cunningham (in 3D)

Dir: Alla Kovgan

Merce Cunningham is born in 1919 in Washington state and begins dancing at a young age. He joins Martha Graham’s dance company as a principal dancer in the 1940s, originating many roles before turning to choreography. He leaves Graham to set up a studio in a New York tenament, with a room at the back to live in. Working with composer John Cage (the two are lovers) he pioneers a new form of experimental dance. It combines how ballet uses feet with how modern dance handles the torso. Instead of playing music with dancers moving in synch with the notes and rhythms, Cunningham decides dancers should move independent of the sound, the two art forms coexisting. He rejects the autocratic culture of traditional dance — a dictator ordering around his puppet-like dancers, while they claw their way to the top as Prima Ballerina — to a more democractic and cooperative company. He likes to call himself a dancer not a choreographer, though that is what he does. The dancers move as individual units coexiting in the same space, but often without interacting in traditional ways.

He combines music and dance to create works of art. He works with visual artists, like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol to design the costumes and sets, incorporating things like pointillism backdrops and mylar balloons with designed the complimentary costumes and backdrops so a dancer could almost disappear into the set, as in Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist designs. The dance company drives across a country not quite ready to accept their advances in dance. A European tour leads to terrible reviews until he starts to build  appreciative audiences in the UK.

I have to admit, before seeing this film I was only vaguely aware of Merce Cunningham’s work, as opposed to his more famous collaborators – Rauschenberg, Cage, and Andy Warhol. But having watched it, I can say I get him now. It’s like a “best of” version, showcasing segments of some of his most famous works. And it’s done in 3D. You might ask, who needs 3D for dance? Well, the use of innovative filming and staging techniques gives you – in the theatre – a chance to see aspects and angles of his work previously unexplored. For example, one excerpt is shot on the roof of a skyscraper lit by searchlights projected from a nearby building… and it’s filmed using drone cameras cruising up the side of the roof and hovering overhead looking down as the dancers across the elevated stage. Just spectacular!

So if you’re one of those people who’s heard about opera, dance or Shakespearean plays, but are squeamish about actually watching a live performance (because you’re afraid you might fall asleep or squirm in your seat) this movie makes modern dance accessible. Sequences are short, varied, and beautifully done, while staying true to Cunningham’s aesthetic ideals. The movie also uses classic photos, scripts and footage of his early work to make it part documentary and part performance.

Cunningham is a beautiful movie, a tribute to an underapppreciated artist and a joy to watch.

Cunningham and Like a Boss both open today in Toronto.

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

Time. Films reviewed: Anthem of a Teenage Prophet, Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger, Pain and Glory

Posted in Canada, documentary, Indigenous, LGBT, Movies, Romance, Spain, Suburbs, Supernatural, Theatre by CulturalMining.com on October 25, 2019

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

Time is malleable. This week I’m looking at three examinations of time. There’s a Spanish drama about a director reclaiming his past, a YA drama about a teen who can see the future, and a documentary about the present-day problems of indigenous, special-needs kids.

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet

Dir: Robin Hays

It’s 1997 in small-town Stokum, Michigan. Luke (Cameron Monaghan) is a highschooler in small town. He’s into skating, music and art. He lives with his straightlaced dad and flaky mom (Juliette Lewis). He used to climb towers with the tall and wiry Fang (Grayson Gabriel) his best friend since kindergarten, but they had a falling out. Now he’s hanging with Stan, a popular B-ball jock, and Stan’s girlfriend Faith (Peyton List). But everything changes when he follows Stan to a party at Fang’s place. After lots of drinking and smoking, Luke has a vision: Someone will be killed in the morning in a hit-and-run just outside their school. They dismiss this as a stoner daydream, but record it on video, just for fun. And sure enough, best friend Stan winds up dead, exactly as predicted.

Eyewitness news picks up the story and soon there are media trucks parked out on his front lawn. He’s stared at at school, and somehow blamed for Stan’s death. Only Faith stands up for him. Will his prophetic dreams continue and can he use it to save people from dying? Are Faith and Luke just mourning Stan or is their something more between them? And what happened between Luke and Fang that soured their friendship, and will they ever make up?

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet is based on a popular YA novel, and holds many of its standard features: rudderless youth looking for meaning, potential love story, friendship, bullying, and prejudice; and a hint of the supernatural. And it’s set in the late 90s, a world of Thrasher, Mortal Combat, white rap and ironic T-shirts. Beautiful scenery (it was actually shot in BC) nice soundtrack and credible acting, Anthem is a good, though not great, teen movie.

Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

Dir: Alanis Obomsawin

Norway House is a beautiful Cree community in northern Manitoba. But, due to pregnancy complications, little Jordan River Anderson was born in a Winnipeg Children’s Hospital. There he received constant attention from doctors, therapists and experts helping the boy communicate and understand what was going on around him. He was partially paralyzed, could not speak and breathed using a respirator. But he could only spend limited time with his parents and family since he needed constant care. Most special-needs kids are eventually sent from hospital to their parents home or a halfway house with caregivers near to their family. But Jordan never left the hospital – he died there. Neither the province nor the federal government would put up the funds it required for the move, care and refurbishing.

Why? Because he’s indigenous.

Enter Cindy Blackstock, a lawyer and social worker specializing in indigenous cases. She crafts a bill, The Jordan Principle, to ensure no child would be left unfunded to to intergovernmental disputes. It is passed unanimously in the House of Commons. Jordan’s Principle says that a child of need will be cared for by the first level of governmental contacted. All is well. Sadly no. Not a single kid is helped since it’s passage. The government budgets the funds to fight Jordans Principle in court, but not a penny more in its budget to pay for care needed for indigenous special needs kids.

Jordan River Anderson The Messenger is the sixth in a series of documentaries by Alanis Obomsawin, outlining the struggles between First Nations and the Canadian government since the founding of this country. It follows Blackstocks legal battles and the very personal stories, captured in photos and home videos, by Jordan and other indigenous families with special needs kids. This is a one-hour documentary that deals with a heartbreaking story, but one that ends on a hopeful note.

Photo of Alanis Obomsawin by Jeff Harris.

Pain and Glory

Wri/Dir: Pedro Almodovar

It’s present day Madrid. Salvador (Antonio Banderas) is a celebrated Spanish director at the peak of his career. He is looking back at his old notebooks, and letters, taking stock of his life. And he finds it miserable. His body is failing him, his creative well has gone dry. No sex, no love, no pleasure aside from swimming. But as he looks at his life two periods come back to him. As a child he lives with his mother (Penelope Cruz), who takes in laundry, and his father. They are forced to make their home in whitewashed caves, underground. But young Salvador (Asier Flores) is a precocious lad, singled out for his talent by a priest at his school. He teaches a handsome teenaged bricklayer Eduardo (César Vicente) how to read and write. In return poses for a painting by Eduardo. Little Salvador idolizes Eduardo but doesn’t understand his feelings. With his parents now gone, what remains from his childhood?

The other period he reflects on is making his first movie in the early 1980s. It is being shown at the Cinematheque in Madrid, and they want him to appear alongside that films lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia). The problem is Alberto is a heroin addict, hates Salvadors guts and they haven’t seen each other for more than thirty years, What was the scandal that led to such a long lasting grudge? Can it be mended? And who is the missing piece in that puzzle?

Pain and Glory is a fantastic and fascinating autobiographical film by Pedro Almodover. It is ostensibly fictional, the names have been changed, but is clearly based largely on Almodovars life. It plays with time, character and genre, flashing back to early times, and repeating short scenes with subtle differences. It starts with Salvador writing a book, but somewhere, secretly turns into him crafting a film, leaving the viewer to piece it together. Lush and colorful, moving and funny, Pain and Glory is an intricate recreation of Almodovars own life andwork.

Pain and Glory starts today, and Anthem of a Teenage Prophet starts next Friday in Toronto; check your local listings; and Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger is one of many movies at ImagineNATIVE through Sunday.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Matt Tyrnauer about Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Communism, Conservativism, Crime, documentary, LGBT, New York City, Super Villains by CulturalMining.com on October 4, 2019

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

Roy Cohn is a historical phenomenon, despised by many and feared by more. In his lifetime, he sent Ethel and Julius Rosenberg to the electric chair, worked beside Joe McCarthy in the massive government purge of the left; persecuted homosexuals, defended right-wing causes, mentored Donald Trump, and defended the mob. Behind the scenes he lived a decadent gay life. He was a devious, ruthless and powerful lawyer who ruled NY City… prompting more than one to ask: Where’s my Roy Cohn?

Where’s my Roy Cohn? is also the name of a new documentary that chronicles the notorious man’s life. It shares photos, recordings, period news footage and new interviews with some of his closest friends, family and past lovers. The film was directed by Matt Tyrnauer, known for his documentaries on the folk heroes and villains of our age, from Scotty Bowers to Jane Jacobs to Robert Moses.

I spoke to Matt Tyrnauer via telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

Where’s my Roy Cohn? opens on November 4 in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Photo of Matt Tyrnauer by Jeff Harris.

First loves. Films reviewed: Yesterday, Genesis

Posted in Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, Fantasy, LGBT, Music, Quebec, Romance, UK by CulturalMining.com on June 28, 2019

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

This week I’m looking at two movies – a fantasy musical and a coming-of-age drama. There are three adolescents in Quebec wondering where their loves will go; and one man in England wondering where She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah went.

Yesterday

Dir: Danny Boyle

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a singer songwriter trying to make a career in a tiny seaside town near Suffolk, England. His diehard manager Ellie (Lily James), whom he’s known since his school days is always on the lookout for new gigs. He left his teaching job to make it big, but he can count his fan base on his fingers. He just never gets a break. In fact he’s ready to pack it in when something unusual happens: a massive, worldwide electrical meltdown.

When it’s over, everything seems slightly different in unfamothable ways. The biggest of all is he discovers “The Beatles” never existed:  none of their songs were ever written or recorded. Jack is the only one who remembers their words and lyrics.

He makes no secret that these songs are famous and he didn’t write them, but since he’s the only one who knows them, it’s up to him to correct that imbalance. He sets out writing down everything he can remember, sticking them to his wall using post-it notes. And when Ellie lands him a spot on a local TV show, his song goes viral. He is approached by ginger-haired pop sensation Ed Sheeran (Ed Sheeran) who signs him up as his opening act. Soon Jack is headed for international fame, fortune and glory. A bitter manager takes over his account when Ellie retreats to her school teaching job, and the money starts pouring in. But is this what he really wants? And will he ever get the nerve to tell Ellie… what he really wants?

Yesterday is an enjoyable movie with an appealing, though largely unknown cast. Patel (from the UK soap Eastenders) actually sings his songs, and the supporting roles – like his foot-in-mouth assistant Rocky (Joel Fry) – are fun. The thing is, Yesterday seems like a typical netflix-type movie, the plot as an excuse to bolster a single flimsy “what if” premise (what if only one man remembered the Beatles?). The story just plays out. And Kate McKinnon is painfully miscast as the greedy LA manager: she treats a quasi-realistic movie like a Saturday Night Live skit, spoiling the tone of every scene she appears in. Even so, while Yesterday is overly simplistic, it’s still cute.

Genesis (Genèse)

Wri/Dir: Philippe Lesage (The Demons)

Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) is a 16 year old at an all boys school in Montreal. He’s known for his sharp tongue and witty remarks. He’s the clear class leader, as likely to challenge an unfair teacher as he is to burst into old Québécois camp songs. He serves as a mentor to younger kids and a friend to all. But his status, reputation and friendship are all threatened when he drunkenly kisses his best friend, Nicholas, after a school party.

His older sister Charlotte (Noée Abita) is 18 and deeply in love. She’s dating Maxime, a smart kid from a well-to-do family. But all her feelings are shattered when he suggests they (meaning he) have sexual flings with other people. What the hell? She takes his words at face value and soon picks up Theo, a much older guy she meets at a dance club. She begins to realize she’s attractive and desirable – the world is her oyster, she can have whoever she chooses. But what should her limits be and what does she really want?

Felix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) is a kid with braces at a boys’ summer camp. They’re located just across from the girls camp, and the two sides get together for bonfires and music. He really likes a particular girl, Beatrice, but he doesn’t know how to approach her. So he asks his counsellor for advice. Is this true live or just a crush? And will Felix have a chance to spend time with her before they all go home?

Genèse is a beautiful, tender, realistic and funny coming-of-age story about three sets of teenagers at different stages of their lives. It delves into the meaning of first love at 13, 16 and 18… and the very-real dangers it might bring. The first two stories – involving brother and sister Guillaume and Charlotte – are told simultaneously, while the third, seemingly unrelated chapter is told seperately at the end of the film. (But they are all connected.)

The acting is superb and passionate, the music and images inviting. This is a great movie.

Yesterday opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Genesis is playing next week, July 5-7, in Toronto at the Royal Cinema as part of the Quebec on Screen series. (It’s also a chance to see Une Colonie, another Quebec film I reviewed here.)

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

Dogs and toys. Films reviewed: Child’s Play, Paris is Burning, Dogman

Posted in 1980s, Animals, Crime, documentary, Drama, Horror, Italy, Kids, LGBT, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 21, 2019

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

Pets, toys and dressing up are the innocent parts of childhood that supply endless bouts if nostalgic memories. That’s also what makes them useful fodder for shocking or surprising scenes in adult movies. This week I’m looking at three movies – a horror, a doc and a drama. There are drag balls run by fashion houses, a dog kennel run inside a house, and a kid’s toy ruining another kid’s home.

Child’s Play

Dir: Lars Klevberg

Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a hearing-impaired kid who has just moved into a low-rent apartment. No dad, no friends, no one to keep him company except a mean old cat. His mom (the hilarious Aubrey Plaza) is trying her best to raise him, but her thankless job in a big box store takes up most of her time. So when a disgruntled customer returns a defective new toy – a first-generation robot named Buddi – she sneaks it home and gives it to Andy as an early birthday present. Buddi – who calls himself Chucky – is the ultimate high tech best friend. Like Siri or Alexa, Chucky records everything Andy says or does and adjusts his personality to suit it. Problem is, this particular toy has a defect – it’s missing the digital safeguards that stop it from things like using foul language.

Andy starts to make friends with people in his building, like Detective Mike (a hapless cop who visits his elderly mother down the hall) and juvenile delinquents Pugg and Falyn. Together, they watch campy slasher movies on TV, laughing at the gory parts. But what they don’t realize is Chucky takes in everything at face value. Lacking a moral compass, the robotic toy sees that violence makes Andy happy, so he begins to replicate the actions just to please his best friend.

And as the unexplained dead bodies start to pile up, it’s up to Andy to stop the toy from killing everyone around him. Will anyone believe Andy that a kid’s toy is actually a homicidal maniac? And is Andy strong enough to stop him?

Child’s Play is an updated remake of the classic horror movie from the 1980s and its many sequels… and I think this version is even better. In the original, a voodoo spell puts an adult criminal’s evil soul into a kid’s inanimate doll who cynically manipulates the hapless child. But in this version Chucky is an actual robotic kid who genuinely wants to please his best friend, but is missing the parts that tell right from wrong. It’s also a cautionary tale about the dangers of the rampant technology, surveillance, and artificial intelligence controlled by huge corporations. It is also hilarious, with great acting, and horrifically grotesque scenes used for comic effect. It includes constant pop culture references, from Tupac to driverless cars. Child’s Play is a perfect dose of schlock for a Saturday night.

I liked this one a lot.

Paris is Burning

Dir: Jennie Livingston

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate LGBTTQQIAAP Pride Day with a movie, you cannot do better than watching the documentary Paris is Burning. Shot in the late 1980s when HiV was decimating the gay community, this movie shows the drag balls run in NY City by various competitive houses. It is shot from the inside, not as exploitation but as celebration of the players. It features the queens and kings of drag, mainly black and brown people, back when their world was kept down low. Since this film was made, many of its subjects have died of plague or were murdered on the streets (black and brown transwomen are  particularly vulnerable to violence.) These are people who have had an enormous influence on mainstream TV, music, fashion, language and culture.

Paris is Burning is definitely one of the ten best documentaries ever made, so if you have a chance, be sure to check out this newly-restored 4K version.

Dogman

Dir: Matteo Garrone

Marcello (Marcello Fonte) is a hardworking, dimunitive man in his thirties who lives in a run-down section of Naples. He is dark, wiry and scruffy. Marcelo is own as the Dogman, also the kennel where he cares for and grooms dogs. He is a respected member of the local business association and shares drinks with the other men in the piazza. And he hangs out with his best friend Simone (Eduardo Pesce). But friend ship doesn’t clearly describe their relationship.

Simone is a musclebound bruiser, a competitive boxer and cokehead twice Marcelo’s size. He bullies him, steals from him and forces him into embarrassing and often dangerous situations. Marcelo regards him with equal parts fear and awe. Simone is a selfstyled gangsta who needs a constant flow of cash to fuel his extravagent tastes and drug habit. Marcelo plays along, lending a hand for petty burglary in expensive mansions. But when Simone wants him to rob a shop in his own neighbourhood, he has to take a stand. Can Marcelo use his skill with animals to stop Simone from ruining his life? Or will this alpha dog prove to be too big to tame?

Dogman is a terrific drama, Matteo Garrone’s latest, about the period of unequal friendship of two men and tied to local loyalty. It’s funny tender, surprising and moving. Like all of Garrone’s movies, it’s shot on location in the same poor Naples neighbourhood, and with lots of local faces and dialect. Many of the roles are played by non-actors which gives it a gritty realism you can’t always get with movie stars. This is a great film.

Paris is Burning is now playing with Dogman at the Tiff Bell Lightbox. Child’s Play also opens 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.

Media. Films reviewed: Late Night, Fly Me to the Saitama

Posted in comedy, Japan, LGBT, Manga, TV, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 14, 2019

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

Spring film festival season continues in Toronto. The Japanese film fest is showing great movies at the JCCC (Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre), and the ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Fest) which started just last night is showing films in Toronto and across Canada.

This week I’m talking about two new comedies, one that closed Inside Out, and another that’s opening at Toronto Japanese Film Fest. There’s a talk show host in New York who might lose her job, and a suburban freedom fighter in Tokyo who might lose his life.

Late Night

Dir: NIsha Ganatra

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a late night talk show host on Network TV. She’s known for her erudite interviews, highbrow topics and funny monologues. She sticks to the tried and true, steering clear of gossip, pop culture and social networks. She’s a highly respected host and the only woman on late night TV.

She’s also tired, boring and tanking in the ratings. So much so, the network chief gives her an ultimatum: get with times or we’ll replace you. An offensive fratboy standup is already being groomed to take her place. What can she do?

In walks Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), fresh from a chemical plant in Pennsylvania. She has no experience as a writer, but happens to be in the right place at the right time, and is hired to add some spark to a moribund, all-male writers’ room. But she faces a wall of sexist, priveleged white guys, who resent her intrusion. This has been a bastion of male writers for so long they have even co-opted women’s washroom!

And their boss, Katherine – the show’s host – is a petty dictator, who never talks to her writers but demands long hours and absolute obedience. Only the newly-hired Molly is naïve enough to flout the rules. Can Molly fit into an all-male workplace? And can she change Katherine’s mindset enough to set theshow on a new course… before she gets gets fired or the show gets canned?

Late Night is a clever look at late-night TV. While not a slapstick comedy, it does have a enough character jokes, awkward situations and one-liners (some work, some don’t) which keep you smiling if not always rolling on the floor. It follows the dynamics of a cruel but insecure boss trying to change, and the newby who keeps getting herself in trouble.

It also follows the two main characters’ lovelifes. Katherine has a faithful but reclusive husband (John Lithgow). Molly is initially hit on by writers from the show: the womanizer Charlie (Hugh Dancy) and the snobbish Tom (Reid Scott) who both think a woman writer is there to date, but not to take seriously.

Emma Thompson is believable as the talk show host and Mindy Kaling (she’s also the movie’s writer) is fun as the small-town, fish out of water.

I liked this movie.

Fly me to the Saitama (翔んで埼玉)

Dir: Hideki Takeuchi

It’s present-day Tokyo (sort of). It’s actually a feudal version dressed in modern garb, patrolled by violent Robocop storm troopers dressed in clingy, white bodysuits who capture and expell any “outsiders” from beyond the city’s borders. The most reviled place of all is Saitama, a suburban prefecture just to the city’s north. It’s known as Dasai-tama, Urusai-tama, Mendokusai-tama, Ahokusai-tama (meaning out of fashion, inconvenient, noisy… and worse.) Your status is determined by your Urban Index Rating.

Momomi (Nikaido Fumi) is the Student Council President at the prestigious Hakuhodo Academy. He’s an arrogant snob who dresses like Little Lord Fauntleroy with a blonde pageboy haircut. He is the son of the deeply corrupt, hereditary governor of Metropolitan Tokyo and next in line to take the throne. And he is served by his mysterious butler Akutsu (Iseya Yusuke) who anticipates his every move.

But order is threatened by the arrival of an unknown wealthy aristocrat named Rei (Gackt). Rei spent many years in America and can distinguish the various neighbourhoods of Tokyo merely by sense of smell. And his urban rating is higher even than Momomi’s. Momomi is furious and wants to have him killed… until their first kiss. Momomi is swept away in his arms. But Rei has a secret…

He’s actually from Saitama! If the secret is revealed he will be humiliated, expelled from Tokyo, or maybe even killed. Can Momomi accept Rei’s true identity? And can Rei overthrow the powers that be and free the people of Saitama forever?

That’s a very quick and simple sketch of this movie, but it’s actually about so much more. Fly Me to the Saitama is an absolutely bizarre, over-the-top satire of urban culture, based on a gag-style manga from the 1980s. The characters all wear elaborate rococo costumes and multi-coloured, enormous hairstyles. Like in many girls comics (aka shojo manga) both of the main romantic characters are boys, in this one Momomi is played by a woman. And the whole movie is loaded with plays on words, and references to old Japan. Still, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, I think it’s totally understandable.

It’s directed by Takeuchi Hideki, who brought us Thermae Romae, about a Roman centurian who is magically transported through time from a Roman bath to a Japanese sento. This movie is also fantastical and bizarre, and will keep you shaking your head in bewildered wonder. Fly Me to the Saitama is already smash hit in Japan, one of the few local film successes so far this year, grossing over a billion yen. If you’re into Japanese pop culture, this movie is a must-see.

Late Night opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Fly me to the Saitama is playing at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival.

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

Women in the Arts. Films reviewed: Wild Nights with Emily, The Souvenir, Mouthpiece

Posted in 1800s, 1980s, Addiction, Drama, drugs, LGBT, Movies, Poetry, Romance, Toronto, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 7, 2019

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

Spring festival season continues with the Toronto Japanese Film Festival which starts today and the Italian Contemporary Film Festival beginning on Thursday.

This week I’m looking at three new movies about women in the arts. There’s a poet in New England who can’t get published, a filmmaker in Sunderland who can’t finish her movie, and a writer in Toronto whose mind is torn asunder.

Wild Nights with Emily

Wri/Dir: Madeleine Olnek

It’s the 1860s in Amherst Massachusetts. Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon) is an unmarried woman who rarely ventures outside. She has everything she needs her big wooden home. She can wear the same white dress every day, listen to piano music, and bake shortbread, which she gives to the local kids who gather outside her window. And whenever a thought occurs to her she scribbles it down on a scrap of paper. But these are more than random thoughts, they are poems, and ones that flout conventional writing. They don’t have titles, they don’t rhyme and they’re written in free verse (before that term even existed).

That’s what she does during the day. Night time is whole other ball game. You see, far from reclusive and repressed, Emily Dickinson has a passionate ongoing relationship with her sister in law, Susan. Susan (Susan Ziegler) is a childhood friend who married her brother Austin, but has a sexless marriage. Instead she shares her bed with Emily. And much of Emily’s poetry consists of love letters sent to Susan. But despite all her efforts, just a handful of her poems were published during her lifetime. Instead they were gathered together by her brother’s mistress Mabel (Amy Seimetz).

Wild Nights with Emily is a historical comedy, but it’s far from a spoof. It’s a meticulously reworked view of Emily Dickinson. It restores her same-sex relationship that had previously been expunged and erased – literally – from her original manuscripts. The actual handwritten poems appear on the screen in this movue, at times word by word. While at times the film has an academic, PBS feel to it, and the acting is somewhat mannered, I liked it anyway.

It manages to render her wonderful poetry to the big screen while keeping a light and irreverent tone.

The Souvenir

Wri/Dir: Joanna Hogg

It’s the early 1980s in England.

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is a well-to-do young filmmaker in her early twenties. She’s smart and cute with an asymmetrical boyish haircut. She’s trying to shoot her first movie in the northern port of Sunderland. She observes all, quietly taking snapshots and recording film footage all around her, presenting her plans to the profs and producers she has to deal with. And she rents out space in her beautifully mirrored whitewalled apartment. But when she meets Anthony (Tom Burke) her world changes.

Anthony is older and more worldly than Julie, a louche dandy into velvet robes and pocket squares. He’s tall, pale and speaks in a blasé, elongated drawl. He gives her gifts of scanty lingerie and garters that fit his fantasies. They escape by train to Venice for sexy romps among renaissance frescos. She’s in his thrall.

But something is not quite right. She comes home early one day to find a stranger wandering around her home. Anthony is in constant need of cash. And unknown burglars ransacked her apartment stealing her jewelry and movie camera. Something’s off about Anthony. Hmm… worldly, pale, intense, elaborate clothing, secretive. Is Anthony a vampire? Nothing so exotic. He’s just a run-of-the-mill junkie, and threatens to pull her into that world. What will happen to their relationship? And will Julie ever complete her film?

The Souvenir is a beautifully shot, well-acted, semi-autobiographical drama. It incorporates long takes of natural scenes, uses mirrors and reflections, great period costumes and a nice eighties soundtrack. It combines Joana Hogg’s older film work and photos with new footage. So why don’t I like it?

It could be the genre – I’m not a great fan of addiction movies. Or it could be the endless conversations about nothing in particular. Or the lack of humour. Or the overly-restrained dialogue. But my main problem is it’s boring. While I can sympathize with the main character, there just isn’t enough going on. The filmmaking scenes and cuts to the movie-within-the-movie detract from the main story… which isn’t all that interesting to begin with. Two hours of nothing, however well executed, is just too long.

Mouthpiece

Dir: Patricia Rozema

It’s winter in downtown Toronto. Casandra (Amy Nostbakken, Nora Sadava) is a 30-year-old punk. Her idea of dressing up is a black sweater without moth holes. She greets her dates with a snarl and tells sex partners she isn’t into comitment. She works as a writer/bartender. But when her mother (Maev Beaty) dies suddenly from a stroke she is faced with her hardest piece ever… She has two days to write a eulogy for her mother’s funeral. Can she overcome her guilt, anger and self doubt in time to give a sweet heartfelt eulogy? Or will the upcoming funeral turn into the fiasco that everyone dreads?

Mouthpiece sounds like a conventional drama, but it’s anything but. Cass is played by two women simultaneously, noticeable only to themselves and the audience. The two halves of Cassandra’s soul sleep together in spoon fashion, share a bath and keep each other in check. But when there’s a crisis or internal debate all breaks loose, with the two Casses wrestling, punching and shouting, doing practically anything to get the other side to shut up. It’s a constant pas de deux, at times moving in absolute symmetry, or scrambling and climbing over each other like puppies.

Mouthpiece was originally a stage play written and performed by the two Cassandras, Nostbakken and Sadava. This explains their flawless fluidity of movement, their perfect give and take as the two sides compete and coalesce into one soul, movement that only comes from repeated performances. And as a movie, Rozema manages to capture a closeup intimacy you might not catch on stage. Mouthpiece works perfectly on the screen as a beautiful, funny and moving film.

Mouthpiece and Wild Nights with Emily all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And The Souvenir playing as part of a Joanna Hogg retrospective with TIFF Cinematheque.

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

Light on their feet. Dykes in the Street, We are the Radical Monarchs, Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind, Diamantino

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, documentary, Fantasy, Feminism, Folk, LGBT, Movies, Music, Portugal, Protest, Refugees, Sports, Toronto, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 24, 2019

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

Spring festival season continues in Toronto with Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. It premiers queer movies and docs from around the world. This week I’m talking about films at InsideOut and some general releases.There’s a musician who’s a light foot, a soccer player who is light on his feet, and some women marching in solidarity, boots on the ground.

Inside Out LGBT Film Festival

Inside Out opened last night and runs for the next 10 days. It features some major releases, like the Elton John Biopic Rocketman, Mindy Kaling’s Late Night, and the latest chapters in Armistead Maupin’s amazing serial Tales of the City.

I’m not allowed to talk about any of those films yet, but let me tell you about a couple of great new docs on radical lesbians.

Dykes in the Street

Dir: Almerinda Travassos

…looks at the evolution of the dyke march in Toronto over the past 35 years. It started in 1981 with 300 women matching down Yonge and Bay streets organized by Lesbians Aganst the Right. This informative documentary combines talking heads with historical footage from the period. It talks to women who were there then and at subsequent marches ten, fifteen and thirty-five years later, as it becomes more inclusive and diverse.

Another radical lesbian documentary is shot in Oakland California:

We Are the Radical Monarchs

Dir: Linda Goldstein Knowlton

…tells about a new alternative to scouts and girl guides. Founded by Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest the Radical Monarchs go camping, learn fun songs and chants and earn badges. But they also wear berets reminiscent of the Black Panther Party, and learn about social justice activism and black and brown history in Oakland.  There’s even a Black Lives Matter badge! Adorable kids working for a good cause.

These are just a few of the dozens of great movies playing at InsideOut.

Diamantino

Wri/Dir: Gabriel Abrantes, Daniel Schmidt

Diamantino (Carloto Cotta) is a Portuguese soccer player at the top of his game. Like no other player, he can weave his way through a crowded field as if he’s all alone. His secret power? he sees other players as enormous fluffy pink dogs frolicking in the grass. That’s the source of his success. Diamantino is fit, popular and incredibly rich. He owns a mansion and a yacht. He’s also naïve, gullible and very stupid. Which makes him vulnerable to adversaries and villains alike.

When he first encouters refugees he is so upset he decides to adopt a teenaged boy from Africa who loves soccer. What he doesn’t realize is the “teenaged refugee” is actually the much older Aisha (Cleo Tavares) a gorgeous, lesbian secret agent. She is working undercover to find evidence of fraud and corruption in Diamantino’s many businesses.

Diamantino also has twin sisters, Sonia and Natasha (Anabela and Margarida Moreira), the real villains. They depend on their brother to finance their lavish lifestyle and don’t want to lose it… so they start spying on the spy. Something seems suspicious about that boy. Throw in some right-wing nationalists who want Diamantino to endorse their cause, and an evil scientist named Dr Lamborghini (Carla Maciel) – who drives a Lamborghini! –  and you can see all the obstacles our hero has to face. Can Diamantino survive a cruel world and remain a soccer great?

Diamantino is a bizarre and fantastical comedy, an explosion of pastel eye-candy across the screen. It’s told in an exaggerated storybook style, but deals with important issues. I can’t keep calling every movie “like nothing you’ve ever seen” but it’s safe to say this one really is.

I liked this one a lot.

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind

Wri/Dir: Martha Kehoe, Joan Tosoni

Like many Canadians I’ve heard of Gordon Lightfoot and vaguely familiar with some of his songs. But before watching this documentary I knew little about his life. Originally from Orillia Ontario, he worked his way through the folk scene in Toronto’s Yorkville and NY City’s Greenwich Village. He studied music in LA and learned to compose and arrange at an early stage, and began writing his poetic lyrics even earlier. His widely covered songs range from traditional folk melodies, to country and western, pop, rock and even the long neglected ballad genre. (The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – a six-and-a-half minute retelling of a shipwreck the year before, became an unexpected smash hit in the 1970s.)

This movie fills in a lot of gaps about his music, his career, personal problems (like alcoholism) and the meaning behind many of his lyrics. It shows him composing, recording and performing his hits, giving an inside perspective rarely seen. My only criticism is it didn’t need the overwrought ass-kissery, celebrity musicians gushing about how great Lightfoot is. (He knows it, and we know it – it feels like a eulogy, and he’s very much alive.) Luckily, that only takes up about 10-15 minutes. The rest of the documentary is outstanding, with unequalled visual and sound research. They found a recording of him singing in the church choir as a teenager, and footage of him chatting with Alex Trebec in the 1960s. There are countless family photos and films and period shots of Toronto streets meticulously covering sixty years. Just amazing. And all his best songs and performances spread out from beginning to end, getting better and better as it goes.

I went in expecting nothing, and was blown away by this great music doc.

Gordon Lightfoot and Diamantino both open today in Toronto at Hot Docs cinema and theTiff Bell Lightbox, respectively. Check your local listings. Dykes in the Street and We are the Radical Monarchs are two of many fine movies at Inside Out over the next 10 days.

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

Daniel Garber talks with fimmaker Laurie Lynd about Killing Patient Zero

Posted in 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Death, Disease, documentary, H.I.V., LGBT, Movies, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on May 3, 2019

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

It’s the early 1980s, with gay liberation, culture and sexual freedom at its peak, when an unknown disease infects gay men. It’s called gay cancer, GRID or AIDS. And people start to die in large numbers. Scientists trace its spread across North America by a single, promiscuous Canadian flight attendant, known as Patient Zero. This selfish, sexual predator is to blame for the epidemic. Or is he…?

Killing Patient Zero is a new documentary that traces the origins of the AIDS epidemic while debunking its myths. Through vintage footage and new interviews with scientists and researchers, this film takes a new look at widely-held ideas about the spread of the HIV virus. It also talks with friends and colleagues of Gaetan Dugas – the so-called patient zero – and rescues his undeserved reputation.

It’s written and directed by Toronto’s Laurie Lynd, based on Richard McKay’s book Patient Zero and the Making of the Aids Epidemic. Laurie is an award-wining TV and film director whose work ranges from Degrassi, to Queer as Folk, to Breakfast with Scot.

I spoke with Laurie Lynd in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Killing Patient Zero had its world premier at Hot Docs 19. It’s opening soon in Toronto.

Daniel Garber talks with Jamie Kastner about There Are No Fakes

Posted in Art, Canada, Crime, documentary, Indigenous, LGBT, Ojibway, Organized Crime by CulturalMining.com on April 19, 2019

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

Norval Morrisseau was one of Canada’s most celebrated painters, whose brightly-coloured images, surrounded by thick, black outlines are instantly recognizeable. An Ojibwe shaman from an area north of Thunder Bay, Morrisseau incorporated Anishinaabe culture and storytelling into his work. His paintings hang in top galleries and are highly prized by art collectors. So musician Kevin Hearn, of the group Barenaked Ladies, was  pleased to buy a large green Morrisseau canvas from a Toronto Gallery. Until, that is, he discovers it’s a fake.

There Are No Fakes is a new documentary that looks at the roots of Canada’s biggest case of art fraud ever uncovered. It also looks in depth at the dark underworld of fine art, filled with deception, organized crime, money laundering, and terrible violence.

It’s written and directed by award-winning Toronto filmmaker Jamie Kastner and is having its world premier at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. He’s known for his quirky, funny, shocking and highly original documentaries on a wide range of topics. I’ve spoken to Jamie twice before on this show, once about the Great Disco Revolution (2012) and again, in 2016, about the Highjacker’s Tale.

I talked with Jamie Kastner in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

There Are No Fakes will have its world premier on April 29th at 6:00 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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