Disruptions. Films reviewed: Marlina the Murderer, Darken, North Mountain

Posted in Canada, Darkness, Feminism, Indigenous, Indonesia, LGBT, Nova Scotia, violence, Western, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 29, 2018

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

It’s Canada Day weekend – a good time for fireworks, beer, and maybe a movie. So I’ve been looking around for films not from south of the border — and three unusual ones caught my eye. Two are from Canada — and one from Indonesia — and two of the three are directed by and feature women.

This week I’m looking at three movies about people whose lives are disrupted by unexpected visitors. There’s a Mi’kmaq trapper fighting off thieves in eastern Canada, a widow fighting off rapists in eastern Indonesia, and a Toronto nurse fighting medieval soldiers… in a parallel universe.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Dir: Mouly Surya

It’s present day Sumba, an island in Eastern Indonesia near Flores and Timor Leste. Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a sad and lonely widow. Her only child died years ago, and her husband’s body sits beside her in her home, wrapped in traditional cloth, awaiting his funeral. All she has left are her cattle, chickens and pigs. But her sad relections are interrupted one day by a visitor on a motorbike. It’s Marcus (Egy Fedly) an evil, long-haired outlaw from a nearby town. He heard she’s alone and comes there to take advantage. I have a gang of six more men on their way, he says. You’re a woman all alone, so we own you now. You’re going to cook us a meal. We will steal your cattle and anything else you own. And — if you’re lucky — we’ll rape you, but not kill you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Marlina is sickened and terrified… but not helpless. She poisons four of the men with her chicken soup, and when Marcus sexually assaults her, Marlina, in a moment of desperation, grabs a machete and chops off his head! Not knowing what else to do, she decides to turn herself in to the local police.

At the truck-taxi stop she meets a neighbour named Novi (Dea Panendra) who reacts rather mildly to the dead man’s head she’s carrying.  Novi is more concerned with her own problems. She’s ten months pregnant but the baby just won’t come out! So they set off down the long and twisting road to the nearest town.

But two of the killers are still after her. Will Novi ever give birth? Should Marlina turn herself in? And what will she do with Marcus’s head?

Marlina the Murderer is a genre-busting drama, part revenge pic, part feminist western, part art house dark comedy. It has an amazingly calm tone in the midst of horrible crime. There are horses, and posses, and road trips and fights. I haven’t seen many Indonesian movies, so I’m far from an expert, but the two stars were both in great action movies I actually have seen: Headshot and The Raid 2 – which is a good sign. And it introduces the music, customs and amazing scenery and people of Sumba, a place I had never heard of before this film, but now at least have experienced a taste of it.

Marlina the Murderer is a brilliant, rich and baffling movie.

Darken

Dir: Audrey Cummings

Eve (Bea Santos) is a Toronto nurse who’s feeling down. She’s depressed and her life has lost its point. Until one day she runs into a woman on a sidewalk calling for help. The woman is dressed in a strange medieval leather outfit and is bleeding from a knife wound. She asks Eve to rescue her friends. But when Eve opens a door to a nearby building, she finds herself, like Alice in Wonderland, in a whole other world.

It’s a land called Darken, composed of a series of linked rooms and hallways, It’s always indoors in Darken and always nighttime. It’s governed by a goddess who provides life through her blood and is ruled by an autocratic priestess named Clarity (Christine Horne). It serves as a refuge for outcasts from different eras, all of whom live peacefully together. That is, until now.

The Mother Goddess is out of the picture, and Clarity has declared war on all dissidents. Her spear-wielding guards – all decked out in Game of Thrones gear – provide her the muscle; and a lackey (Ari Millen) — who reminds me of the young Penguin on Gotham — defends her legal rulings.

But Eve falls in with the rebels, including the fierce Kali (Olunike Adeliyi) and the kindly Mercy (Zöe Belkin) who communicates using sign language. Which side will win? And can Eve ever get back to her normal world?

Darken is a science fiction/fantasy set in a parallel universe. It ranges from unexpected plot twists to absolute cheese. Above all, this feature shouts TV, from the set design, to the lighting, to the acting and the script. There are even scenes that fade to black as if they’re saying: Insert Ad Here. And I find shows shot entirely on dark blue sets claustrophobic. But that’s just me.

On the other hand, women-centred science fiction or fantasy movies are rarer than an affordable apartment in Toronto. And this one has a a goddess, an evil priestess, a heroine, and noble fighters — all played by women. The men are there as peripheral characters or arm candy.

And for that reason alone it might be worth seeing.

North Mountain

Dir: Bretten Hannam

Wolf (Justin Rain) is a young hunter/trapper in a Nova Scotia forest. He knows every rock and tree on North Mountain: where to set the snares, where to hunt the deer. He lives a traditional Mi’kmaq life in his Grandmother’s wooden cabin, a life still lit by candlelight. He uses a bow and arrow to kill the animals he eats, and honours and respects each life he sacrifices. It’s a simple, quiet existence, punctuated by monthly visits to the town store where he catches up with Mona (Meredith MacNeil), a long time friend.

Nothing changes except the seasons, until… he finds an older man’s body leaning against a tree. He’s bleeding, barely alive, and is holding a leather satchel filled with cold, hard American cash. Wolf tends to his wounds until Crane (Glenn Gould) comes back to life. Turns out he’s from this place and speaks the same language.

Their first conversations are fraught with violence and fistfights and filled with suspicion. But at some point their initial violent antipathy shifts to something very different: they become lovers! And just as they’re making sense of it, a group of strangers comes to the mountain. A posse of crooked cops and organized criminals. They want the cash and don’t care who they kill to get it. Can a pair of indigenous lovers wielding bow, arrow and tomahawk overcome a heavily-armed contingent?

North Mountain is half violent thriller, half passionate, aboriginal gay love story. Rain and Gould (of Plains Cree and Mi’kmaq heritage, respectively) are excellent as the two lovers, and the action – including references to Peckinpaw’s ultra-violent Straw Dogs – is as heart-pounding as any good thriller.

North Mountain, Darken and Marlina the Murderer 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.

Big plans. Films reviewed: Octavio is Dead, American Animals, Hearts Beat Loud

Posted in Brooklyn, Canada, College, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Dreams, Ghosts, LGBT, Music, Romance by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2018

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

It’s Pride weekend in Toronto, so this week I’m looking at three indie movies, two of which fall somewhere with in the LGBTQ2 spectrum – can you guess which two? I’ve got four Kentucky fratboys with a secret plan; a Brooklyn daughter and dad forming a band; and a young woman in Hamilton… dressed like a man!

Octavio is Dead

Wri/Dir: Sook-yin Lee

Tyler (Sarah Gadon: Indignation) is a young woman who lives with her shrewish single mom (Rosanna Arquette) in suburban Toronto. But a knock on their door changes everything. It seems her father Octavio, a latino poet and teacher she never met has died. And he left her his condo and all his possessions. So she heads out to Hamilton to try to find out he was, exactly.

What she finds there is surprising. His flat is an Old Curiosity Shop, filled with persian rugs, oil paintings, tapestries and floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. (She loves books.) There’s a sunroom with withering plants and eccentric neighbours all around. And strangest of all, Octavio himself, or at least his ghost, appears every so often to proffer advice. Later, she sees a young man in a hoodie who has some connection to her dad. She follows him to a burlesque club but is barred from entering: Men Only!

So she cuts off her hair, puts on one of Octavio’s suits and tries again. This time she meets the young man and he opens up to her. Apostolis (Dimitris Kitsos), is a poet who learned about art and literature at Octavio’s knee. He also knew him… intimately. Apostolis likes posing in bathtubs dressed in a toga. He also seems to like Tyler – a lot – and she likes him, too. The problem is he desires her thinking she’s Octavio’s son, while she’s attracted to him as a woman to a man. What to do?

Octavio is Dead is a quirky, indie movie by Sook-yin Lee, best known for CBC’s DNTO, Definitely Not The Opera. This film is also not an opera, but it is full of classical themes projected against a grittty, downtown Hamilton. Cross-dressing Riley feels more Shakespearean than non-binary queer, but the performances — especially laid back Kitsos and intense Gadon — are pleasing to watch.

American Animals

Wri/Dir: Bart Layton

It’s Lexington, Kentucky in 2004. Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is at university studying art, when he notices something strange at Transylvania University. No, not vampires, this is a actual place. A library there holds priceless artworks – like Audubon’s famous bird paintings – in the form of rare books. And these volumes – worth over 10 million dollars – are watched over by a single librarian (Ann Down). He tells this to a friend Warren, (Evan Peters) and a scheme begins to hatch. Warren’s at school on a sports scholarship but is bored by college life. He wants to do something big, something exciting.

His plan is simple: We enter the library disguised as old men, disable the librarian, open the glass case, take out the books and walk straight out the basement door without anyone knowing what we did! The perfect heist.

But they also need a driver and a lookout. So they enlist two friends they can trust: Eric (Jared Abrahamson) a contrarian genius; and Chas (Blake Jenner) a jock / entrepreneur whose also a great driver. Together they just might pull it off.

American Animals is a story of simple plans gone astray and their potential moral consequences. It’s a true story, and the real people involved – the four guys plus the librarian – bring a real-life element as they narrate the story, documentary-style. This stylish true crime drama has some thrilling parts, but it’s mainly good for the characters and the

LA Times: American Animals actors and real counterparts

actors that portray them. Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, Killing of a Sacred Deer) is great as a bored art student, and Canadian Jared Abrahamson (Hello Destroyer, Hollow in the Land, Sweet Virginia) who normally plays angry young men is unrecognizeable as the fuzzy-bearded smart kid. And at times the real people interviewed are even more fascinating than the actors who play them.

Hearts Beat Loud

Dir: Brett Haley

Frank (Nick Offerman) is a former musician who lives in Red Hook, a waterside Brooklyn neighbourhood, with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons). Frank owns a record store, while Sam is preparing for college: she leaves for UCLA in the fall. For Sam, everything’s coming up roses. She’s going to be a doctor, and meets a pretty young artist Rose (Sasha Lane). Is it true love?

For Frank, on the other hand, times are tough. He’s a musician who has raised his biracial daughter alone since his wife (and former band mate) died in an accident. Now he’s closing his record store and his eccentric lounge singer mom (Blythe Danner) has been arrested for shoplifting. And he’s getting mixed signals from his landlady/prospective girlfriend Leslie (Toni Collette) Is she just a friend… or something more?

The one thing he still has is his jam sessions with Sam. And a particularly good one yields some potential hit singles. When he posts them online, they start picking up listeners. Will the record store be saved? Can Sam take a year off to record and tour with her two-member band? Or will she leave the band, her family and her girlfriend to go to UCLA?

Hearts Beat Loud – which is also the name of one of their songs – is a sweet and gentle story of family and first love. Offerman is believable as a midlife crisis dad trying to hold on to his authenticity, and Kiersey Clemons is wonderful as Sam. She performs her own music, and luckily, she’s really good at it… since about a third of the movie is about people making music.

This film leaves you with a warm feeling inside.

Octavio is Dead, American Animals, and Hearts Beat Loud 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.

Unrequited Lust. Films reviewed: On Chesil Beach, Hurley, M/M

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, Berlin, Cars, documentary, Drama, Dreams, LGBT, melodrama, Sex, UK by CulturalMining.com on May 25, 2018

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

Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT film fest is on now, premiering movies from around the world, from Thailand to South Africa and showcasing innovative short films by new directors.

Unrequited love is a common theme, but what about unrequited lust? This week I’m looking at three movies — two dramas and a doc. There’s a honeymoon couple whose marital bliss isn’t; a racing car driver with a need for speed, and a guy in Berlin who lusts after a lookalike… in a coma.

On Chesil Beach

Dir: Dominic Cooke, based on Ian McEwan’s novel

It’s England in 1962. Florence (Saorise Ronan) is a confident musician who leads a string quintet in Oxford. She comes from an uptight, stuck up, and upper class Tory family. Edward (Billie Howle) is a country bumpkin from a rural home a bus ride away. He’s emotionally raw and quick to anger. He can’t tell a baguette from a croissant but can identify a bird just from its call.

He comes from an eccentric family, with pre-raphaelite twin sisters, a kindly father, and an artist mother suffering from a brain injury. She can’t remember new names and takes off her clothes in public. Florence and Edward meet at random at a nuclear disarmament meeting (CND) and it’s love at first sight. She loves his realness and disdain for money and social conventions. And he is stricken by her beauty, her musical skills, and most of all her kindness – she can even pull his mother out of her shell. They marry.

But the honeymoon at a second rate hotel on a pebble-strewn beach starts bad and gets worse. The closer they get to the marital bed, the farther they get from sex. And after a disastrous attempt, they flee the bedroom for the rocky beach. Can true love rescue an awful honeymoon? Or will this be the end?

On Chesil Beach is a moving look at relationships, and a bit of a tear jerker, too. Though the beach scenes are at its centre, the film flashes back in time to reveal crucial secrets — and into a possible future — as the two lovers have it out. While not a perfect movie, I’ve seen it twice now and I liked it better the second time… which is a good sign.

Hurley

Wri/Dir Derek Dodge

Daytona, Florida is the site of a renowned race car competition, where teams speed along a circuit keeping their cars running for 24 hours without stopping. The drivers too have to continue functioning at high speeds negotiating perilous turns while fighting exhaustion. Even a momentary break in concentration could lead to a crash.

Machismo rules, and winners flaunt their masculinity and sense of cool. It’s a world filled with photo-ops beside bikini-clad penthouse models, aboard expansive yachts. It’s also a big-money professional sport, whose champions land lucrative endorsements, prize money, sponsorships and cushy positions at car dealerships. Image is everything.

The kings of Daytona have long been the Brumos Porsche team, who drove to victory in the 1970s under Peter Gregg. He was arrogant and successful. He was later joined by Hurley Haywood, a shy but highly skilled racer. Together they were known as Batman and Robin. Eventually Haywood headed the team himself in Daytona and La Mans, chalking up countless wins. This new documentary chronicals Haywood’s career and his personal life.

So why is a movie about race cars playing at Inside Out?

SPOILER ALERT!

Because Hurley Haywood is the first race car champ to publicly come out as gay… which makes this film a historic record.

Hurley is a squeaky-clean documentary about the famous race car driver, and is mainly of interest to fans of that sport, whom, I am told, are legion. I’m not one of them, but could still appreciate the cool cars and vintage pics. I felt like I was playing with hot wheels again.

M/M

Wri/Dir: Drew Lint

Matthieu (Antoine Lahaie) is a Montrealer living in a small apartment in Berlin. During the day he works as a lifeguard at a local swimming pool (or does he?). At night he’s clubbing to flashing lights and dark shadows. And then there are his dreams – realistic visions of interactions with stone statues and human flesh. (He rarely meets living people.)

One day he encounter Matthias (Nicolas Maxim Endlicher) online and follows him into the swimming pool showers. Matthias has a thin moustache, a buzz cut and a perfectly symmetrical body and face. The words Sodom and Gomorrah are tattooed on his torso. He works as a fashion model and poses for a digital sculpture created using a 3-D printer. Matthieu is infatuated with Matthias, mimics his style, and stalks him to his apartment window. It’s a minimalist palace of white walls, blown-up black and white photos and a chin-up bar. Matthieu longs to meet him, but there’s no real connection. But when Matthias falls into a coma after a crash, Matthieu — like Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley — moves into his home and takes over his life. Soon he has a parade of sex partners visiting him who thinks he’s the other guy. But what will happen to Matthew when Matthias comes home? And how far will one M go to duplicate, or replace, the other M?

M/M is a highly stylized, dreamlike and surreal look at superficial relationships and the dangers they pose. This Berlin is inhabited only by gay fashion plates in their twenties, posing against shiny white surfaces or pausing for sexual release in washrooms or saunas. Most dialogue is disjointed telephone conversations or short texts sent on gay dating sites; and the sex scenes fall somewhere between MMA and interpretive dance.

The story is intentionally ambiguous, so you never know if you’re seeing dreams, fantasies or actual events, nor even which M is dreaming what. Still, this dazzling art-house fest of image and music manages to hold together.

This is the best movie I’ve seen at Inside Out, but if you miss it there, it opens commercially on June 1.

On Chesil Beach opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hurley and M/M are both playing at the Inside Out Film Fest.

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

Changes. Films reviewed: Venus, RBG, Boom for Real

Posted in 1970s, Art, Canada, documentary, Hiphop, LGBT, Montreal, Movies, Punk, Trans, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 18, 2018

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

Spring Film Festival Season is going strong in Toronto with world premiers, features and short films to reflect every taste. Inside Out is one of the world’s largest LGBT film festivals; ICFF, the Italian Contemporary film festival, has parallel screenings in eight cities across Canada; and Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival features great movies and a special appearance by Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient Setsuko Thurlow. And brand new this year is Toronto’s True Crime Film Festival – the title says it all. They’re all coming soon.

This week I’m looking at three new movies – a dramedy ad two documentaries – opening today, which (coincidentally) are all directed by women. There’s a teenaged boy who changes New York’s art scene, a diminutive judge who changes US laws, and a woman in her thirties who just wants to change herself.

Venus

Dir: Eisha Marjara

Sid (DeBargo Sanyal) is a Montrealer in her thirties going through some major changes. Her longtime boyfriend Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal: Tom at the Farm) dumped her, and a strange, 14-year-old kid has been following her around. But the biggest change of all is her gender – she’s transitioning from male to female, and is about to appear as a woman, in public, for the very first time. That’s when Ralph (Jamie Mayers) the 14 year old skate kid who’s been following her around finally tells her why: Sid, he says, you’re my dad!

What?! First of all, she says, I only have sex with men, second of all I’m brown – Sid is of a Punjabi ancestry – and you’re white. But doesn’t she remember Kristin from high school? (Kristin is Ralph’s mom and Ralph read in her diary that she had a fling with Sid as a teenager).

When she gets over the shock Sid takes a crash course in Parenting for Dummies, and starts to bond with Ralph. Her ex-partner Daniel reappears in her life, and accepts her change of gender. And her estranged parents, her transphobic Mamaji (Zena Darawalla) and  laid-back Papaji (Gordon Warnecke: My Beautiful Launderette), welcome her back with open arms when they discover they’re grandparents. But trouble lurks. Will Daniel come out publicly as her partner? Will Ralph tell his Mom he found his birth parent? And will Sid survive the stress of transition?

Venus is a very cute dramedy, one that shows pathos without too much treacle, and keeps you interested. And the cast is uniformly believable and endearing, especially the principals: Sanyal, Mayers and Cardinal.

RBG

Dir: Julie Cohen, Betsy West

In 1970s America it was not illegal to refuse women bank loans without a man’s signature, to fire them for being pregnant, to pay them less than men, to bar them from public schools, private clubs and other institutions… even for husbands to rape their own wives.

Enter noted lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born in Brooklyn, she is one of few female students at Harvard Law in the 1950s which helps shape her legal outlook. She observes the oppression and panic of the Red Scare. She also experiences discrimination first hand, as she and other women are ignored by professors and barred from accessing archives. Later, she works for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)  and begins to challenge laws that discriminate against women, one at a time, through lawsuits. Many of her cases make it to the all-male Supreme Court, whose members understand civil rights on the basis of race, but can’t yet conceive of it on the basis of sex.

She teaches them what’s what.

Later this diminutive, shy woman becomes a law professor, a circuit judge in the Washington, D.C. Appeals Court and eventually a Supreme Court justice herself, often leading dissenting positions on the increasingly conservative court. More recently, in her eighties, she has been adopted by young feminist activists as a “rock star” or celebrity of sorts; an unusual role model for a youth-obsessed culture.

RBG is an interesting and informative – if conventional – look at her policies, her home life, her late husband, and her love of opera.

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Dir: Sara Driver

It’s 1978 and New York is a bombed out city. Crime rates are soaring, the government is bankrupt, and poor neighbourhoods like the Lower East side are abandoned and crumbling. With hard times come big changes. Both Punk rock and hip hop culture are developing side by side, and into this incubator steps a 16 year old boy named Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Born in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian Dad and a Puerto Rican mom, Jean Michel is homeless, kicked out for dropping out of high school. Now he’s couch-surfing in the lower east side, and becoming an artist. He expresses himself as SAMO, a graffiti artist. But instead of the bold, chunky murals and tags that cover the subways Jean-Michel scrawls pensive poetry and enigmatic thoughts using plain – though distinctive — letters. He later develops his images – childlike hearts, crosses, three pointed crowns, Batman and science books – and applies them to diverse media: everything from walls, to clothing, to refrigerator doors. He targets walls near Soho, so galleries will notice. He already thinks of himself as a superstar, just one who is not famous yet.

But Soho galleries don’t care much about youth, punk, hip hop or black culture in general. So the artists create their own spaces in a DIY mode. Still a teenager he attends seminal art happenings and events around the city, whether or not he is actually invited, spontaneously adding his art directly to gallery walls And he refines his distinctive look, with short dreads and a partly shaved skull.

Boom for Real is a brilliant documentary about an artist life before his incredible fame in the art boom of the 1980s and his untimely death. It situates him within an era: of Fab 5 Freddy and Planet Rock; Club 57 and the Mudd Club; Grafitti art, Jim Jarmusch, club kids and Quaaludes, fashion, music, rap and art. It’s the best sort of documentary, one that functions as a constantly-flowing oral history told by the people who were there. It shows a fantastic array of period photos, videos and images documenting Basquiat’s teenaged years. Even the closing credits are thoughtfully laid out.

Beautiful movie.

Venus, RBG, and Boom for Real 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.

Serious. Films reviewed: Beirut, Abu, Indian Horse

Posted in Canada, Canadian Literature, documentary, Dreams, Espionage, Indigenous, Islam, Lebanon, LGBT, Ojibway, Racism, Residential Schools by CulturalMining.com on April 13, 2018

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

Spring film festival season is on now. Look out for Cinefranco featuring films from Québec; Human Rights Watch Film Fest with films from around the world, and here’s a new one: The Toronto International Porn Film Festival! This week, though, I’m looking at some serious movies. There’s a spy thriller set in Lebanon, a family memoir in Pakistan and Canada, and a drama about Canada’s residential schools.

Beirut

Dir: Brad Anderson

It’s 1972 at the US Embassy in Beirut. Mason (Jon Hamm) and his wife are hosting a party for bigwigs from Washington. Helping out is Karim, an earnest 12-year-old Palestinian kid who they treat like a son. But all is not well. His best friend, Cal, a CIA agent tells him something’s up with that cute little boy so they’re just going to take him away to a dark cell somewhere for awhile.

What–? Mason objects, but just then, gunmen enter the embassy, kill his wife, and drive off with the boy. Mason’s life is ruined. Ten years later he’s back in the States, staying just sober enough to keep his job as a labour negotiator… when out of the blue comes an urgent call: top government officials wants him back in Beirut, but they won’t say why.

He is met by Sandy (Rosamund Pike) in the now wartorn city, who fills him in. Militants have kidnapped an American and have asked Mason to negotiate. Turns out the kidnappee is his old friend Cal, and the kidnapper? Little Karim, now all grown up. Can Mason defuse the tensions, negotatiate a trade between the CIA, the Mossad, the PLO, the Lebanese government, splinter groups and corrupt officials? Or will the intrigue and subterfuge prove too much for him to handle?

Beirut is a neat and taut action thriller with lots of suspense amidst the twists and turns. (The script is by Tony Gilroy who did the Bourne trilogy.) Poltically, though, it’s a total mess. The film is loaded with visual “shorthand”, so 1982 Lebanon is represented by a woman in a niqab beside a camel on the beach! Really??  This isn’t Saudi Arabia in 2018, it’s Lebanon in 1982.  The movie also implies that every Arab child is a potential terrorist in the making.

Still the acting is good, the pace brisk and the game-theory-fuelled plot is fascinating to watch.

Abu

Wri/Dir: Arshad Khan

Arshad is a little kid growing up in Pakistan to an Army engineer dad and an upper-class mom. He likes dancing to disco music and being flamboyant. And by his teenaged years he’s secretly dating another boy. The parents find out and he is deeply humiliated.

Later, the family moves to Canada, where he stands out for a different reason. Suddenly, he’s Pakistani, he’s an immigrant, he’s a person of colour – with all the racism that comes with his new identity. Arshad gradually feels his way through an unfamiliar, racialized setting, as a South Asian, as a Canadian, as a gay man, and as a political activist. His parents veer in the opposite direction. They gradually turn to fundamentalist Islam, which they learn about in their new home. Can this family stay together?

Abu is deeply personal film, that serves as both a tribute to Arshad’s parents (Abu means father) and a look at his own life. It’s filled with family photos, videos, and interviews – his parents were movie enthusiasts who recorded everything. These random vignettes are strung together with an unusual plot device – an animated version of a dream he has that proves prophetic. Though the story is routine, much like what countless other new immigrants to Canada experience,  I love the way the film puts everything – history, pop culture, music – into a larger context.

Indian Horse

Dir: Stephen S. Campanelli

Based on the novel by Richard Wagamese

It’s the 1950s in Northern Ontario. Saul Indian Horse (Sladen Peltier as young Saul; Forrest Goodluck as teen Saul; Ajuawak Kapashesit as adult Saul) is a young boy  raised by his grandmother (Edna Manitowabi) who teaches him the Ojibway ways. Until the day government officials arrive in a fancy car who literally pull him out of his grandmother’s arms. They leave him at St Jerome’s a Catholic residential school where they can “kill the Indian in him”. Right away they cut off his hair, forbid him from speaking his language. The school is run by cruel priests and nuns, who abuse the kids physically and psychologically. Some are tortured, even locked up in a cage in the basement. Saul is a survivor and stays out of trouble, unlike his best friend who can’t hack it… and suffers terribly.

Saul comes up with a way to get out of the place: hockey. He’s seen it on B&W TV at school and it speaks to him. He’s sure if he learns to skate and practices on his own every morning, hockey will save him. He’s helped by way of a deal he makes with Father Gaston (Michiel Huisman), a friendly priest who takes a liking to him. It turns out Saul’s right – he is a fantastic player. He joins a native hockey team up north and slowly climbs his way up the ladder. He faces racism and discrimination at every step but he keeps his identity and sense of self. Eventually he gets drafted to the NHL and sent to Toronto – their first indigenous player. But deep inside, something from his past is eating away at him. What will become of Saul? Will he succeed in his dreams? Or will his experiences at the residential school drag him down?

Indian Horse is a deeply moving story, starring indigenous actors playing Saul at each stage of his life. It exposes a recent, shameful part of Canadian history, and one that’s still being felt today. The movie is not perfect or without flaws — it was made with a limited budget, and isn’t a Hollywood-style pic with a feel-good ending. But I think it’s a really good drama about an important topic, and one that should be required viewing across this country.

Beirut, Abu and Indian Horse all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening is the fantastic, realistic drama Lean on Pete which I reviewed here last September and is also on my New Year’s list of best movies of the year.

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

Meandering Movies. Films reviewed: A Date for Mad Mary, Nostalgia, Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia, PLUS Oscar Predictions!

Posted in Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Experimental Film, Feminism, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Lesbian, LGBT by CulturalMining.com on March 2, 2018

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

Some movies have linear narratives – stories that move in a straight line from start to finish — but occasionally you can find movies that take a more circuitous route. This week I’m looking at some meandering movies. There’s a path to a wedding in Ireland, a journey to Asia from Germany, and a search for keepsakes in America.

But first…

Oscar Predictions, 2018

Here’s a list of who I think should win, and who I think will win.

A few caveats: I’m usually wrong, though this year my choices of the best movies of 2017 (published in December) is very close to the Oscar nominations (including Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, Three Billiards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and The Shape of Water — all nominated for Best Picture; plus Loveless and A Fantastic Woman, both nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.) Does this mean I’ve been a movie critic for too long and my taste is getting worse? Or that the Academy’s choices are getting better?

I haven’t seen three of the nominated movies, so for these I can only go by what I’ve been told:

Darkest Hour – I couldn’t bring myself to watch this; I’m all Churchilled out. No more Churchill, please.

Phantom Thread is probably great but you have to be in the mood to watch a Paul Thomas Anderson movie. And I haven’t been in that mood yet.

And I Tonya – I just haven’t seen it yet, but plan to soon.

Adapted screenplay

James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name). Should win and will win.

Original screenplay

Should win: That’s a real toughie, I have no idea which should win; there are too many good ones to choose just one.

Will win: I’m guessing Greta Gerwig (Ladybird). ✘ (Jordan Peele won for Get Out)

Best foreign film:

I loved Loveless, but I think A Fantastic Woman should win and will win.

Best Actor

Should win: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)

Will win: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Best Actress

Should win and will win

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Best Supporting Actor

Should win: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

Will win: Willem Dafoe (Florida Project) ✘ (Sam Rockwell won.)

Best Supporting Actress

Should win: Laura Metcalfe (Ladybird)

…but everyone tells me Allison Janney will win for I, Tonya

Best Director

I think Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water) should win and will win.

Best Film

Again, I think The Shape of Water should win and will win.

 

A Date for Mad Mary

Dir: Darren Thornton

Mary (Seána Kerslake) is a pretty young woman who lives at home with her mom and grandmother. She likes Tank Girl, Hello Kitty and her best mate Charlene (Charleigh Bailey) They used to be inseparable but things have changed. Charlene’s getting married, and Mary is the maid of honour but she can’t find anyone to be her date to the wedding. She enlists a Polish matchmaker to set her up with a series of men. Problem is she’s a foul-mouthed heavy drinker who is quick to anger. Her last brawl led to six months in the clink. And now she’s finding it hard to find a guy she likes who also likes her. As her grandma said, even a sniper wouldn’t take her out.

But things get better when she meets Jess (Tara Lee), the videographer for Charlene’s wedding. Jess is a singer in a band and Mary likes her style. And she’s a good influence too: Mary feels comfortable around Jess and maybe… there’s something deeper.

I really enjoyed A Date for Mad Mary, a coming-of-age drama about a misfit who is trying to fit in. Very well-acted, especially Seána Kerslake as Mary. It’s a touching drama loaded with salty oneliners.

Nostalgia

Wri/Dir: Mark Pellington

Daniel (John Ortiz) is a reserved, middle aged man who works for an insurance firm. He helps asses the monetary value of possessions, so clients can decide what’s valuable to them. This can range from a lifetime of accumulated detritus, to a single possession. Helen (Ellen Burstyn) for example only has a few pieces of jewelry and an autographed baseball she grabbed as her entire house burnt to the ground. Brother-and-sister Donna and Will (Catherine Keener and Jon Hamm) are forced to look through endless boxes in their late parents’ attic to decide what to keep and what to give away. These are just a few of the stories in a loosely-linked chain of vignettes about possessions and keepsakes.

Nostalgia is a nicely-photographed film with a stellar cast whose characters segue from scene to unrelated scene. The problem is the movie has no plot, the stories don’t follow any particular order, and the only thing that connects them all is the theme. Worse than that, a third of the movie is taken up by characters weeping, a third with them bitterly sniping at one other, and a third pondering the meaning of life in painfully drawn-out voiceovers.

This is like a Hallmark movie if they only printed the kind of cards you give to people at funerals.

Ugh. Avoid this movie at all costs.

Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia

Ulrike Ottinger is a lesser-known German filmmaker who emerged in the 1970s alongside Von Trotta, Herzog and Fassbinder. Born by the Alpen city of Lake Constance, she studied art in Paris around the time of the riots of 1968. She ran a bar in her home town, a welcome place for men with long hair and women who smoke cigars. She started as a visual artist before deciding on film as her ideal medium.

By the early 1970s she moved to Berlin, establishing herself as a lesbian feminist director, pioneering avante-garde film. Her work was highly stylized, combining over-the-top expressionistic acting with a pop-art aesthetic. Full of bright blues and reds, Ottinger incorporated medieval motifs, bare-breasted Wagnerian women, leaping pigs and crashing waves. Her interests range from food preparation to textiles, her characters from luxurious femininity to militant and radical feminists. And keeping true to her avant garde roots, she eschews strictly linear narratives, choosing instead the more realistic “meandering” style.

One running theme is her reverent and deferential view of the foreign, especially of East Asia. These films in particular — plus a biographical documentary about her life’s work, called Nomad from the Lake (directed by Brigitte Kramer) — are being shown as a mini-retrospective by Toronto Goethe Institute. This includes Under Snow, a combination kabuki-style drama and documentary. It shows life in Japan’s snow country around New Year’s day at a hot spring onsen. From there it takes viewers to Sado island, a land of exile, seemingly populated by clockwork automatons working in the gold mines. In Exile Shanghai she looks at Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany to that Chinese city in the 1930s and 40s. And Johanna D’Arc of Mongolia about European women encountering that country.

Ottinger’s unique and often-imitated style of filmmaking gives viewers an aesthetically pleasing look at the odd, freakish and mysterious.

Nostalgia opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. A Date for Mad Mary is tonight’s opening film at TIRFF, the Toronto Irish Film Festival; and the mini-retrospective Goethe Films: Ulrike Ottinger in Asia is also playing now. Both festivals are screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Canadian sex and violence. Films Reviewed: Hollow in the Land, Birdland, Badsville PLUS Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Posted in British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Literature, Fetish, Gangs, LGBT, Mystery, Sex, Thriller, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on January 26, 2018

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

Who said Canada is “nice but dull”? I’ve got three new indie Canadian movies this week, chock full of sex and violence. There’s torrid sex among the towers of Toronto, a bludgeoned body in the mountains of BC, and a gang war in the steamy southwest. …plus a UK romance set in Liverpool.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Dir: Paul McGuigan

It’s 1980 in Liverpool. Peter (Jamie Bell) is an aspiring actor who gets a surprise call from an older actress. She’s in the UK performing on stage in The Glass Menagerie and wonders if she can come by. Gloria Graham (Annette Bening) is a former movie star who won an Oscar in the 1950s. She talks like Marilyn Monroe and looks like Gloria Swanson. She was once known for “playing the tart” in Hollywood dramas. Now she wears large sunglasses and silk scarves over her hair.

Peter is surprised to hear from her again. He met her a year ago at a London rooming house which led to a torrid affair spanning two continents. He visited her at her beach house in California and followed her to New York. But she dumped him unceremoniously at her Manhattan apartment and he never understood why. And now she’s back again asking to stay with him in his working class home with his dowdy mother Bella (Julie Walters). Is it because film stars don’t die in Liverpool?

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a wonderful romance based on Peter Turner’s memoirs about his encounters with a once famous actress twice his age. Bening is perfect as an over-the-hill diva who still sees herself as a Shakespearean teenaged Juliet while rejecting aging and her own mortality. And Bell is endearing as the starstruck Peter.

The story is straightforward but the director experiments with style. Peter has flashbacks while walking through a door signalled by a subtle change in lighting and music. And surprising results come from identical scenes which are shown twice but with very different points of view.

Definitely worth seeing.

Hollow in the Land

Wri/Dir: Scooter Corkle

It’s nowadays in the BC interior, a land of mountains, pulp mills and grow-ops. Ally (Dianna Agron) is a pretty but tough woman in her twenties, blonde hair beneath her hardhat. By day, she works at the town pulp mill, and at night looks after her 17-year-old brother Brandon (Jared Abrahamson). And every so often she spends the night with her lover Char (Rachelle Lefevre). Ally may be Brandon’s sister but she acts like his mother, warning him to stay out of  trouble with the cops – or they’ll throw him in jail, just like their dad. He’s in prison for running down a teenager while drunk. And the kid he killed happenis to be the son of the family that owns the pulp mill. Which is very bad news in a company town.

The two cops – friendly Darryll (Shawn Ashmore) and hard-ass Chief (Michael Rogers) – never let them forget it. So when a dead body turns up, and Brandon is the chief suspect, only Ally believes in her brother. It’s up to her to play detective, follow the clues, uncover the motive, track down the killer and find her brother who ran away into he woods. And she has to do all this before the killer kills her.

Hollow in the Land is a pretty good detective mystery/thriller, but with a few problems. I get that it’s noir so most of the scenes are at night, but you’d think they’d light up people’s faces properly so you can see who’s who. But the BC locations are amazing. The movie starts out very confusing, with dozens of characters and a foggy plot, but as it develops, it gets much more interesting. And Diana Agron is great as Ally – tough but tender — who carries it through to a satisfying end.

Birdland

Dir: Peter Lynch

It’s present-day Toronto. Shiela (Kathleen Munroe) is a tough as nails former cop with her own security firm. She’s a whiz with surveillance cameras and disguises. Her mild-mannered husband Tom (David Alpay) works at a museum cataloguing bird carcasses. But when she discovers he’s having an affair with a mysterious woman in a blue kimono, she decided to investigate. But when the affair leads to murder she realizes it’s all much bigger than she suspects. And someone is trying to cover it up. There’s an oil magnate pulling strings, a protester, a femme fatale, a nightclub entrepreneur, and a cop — her ex-partner — investigating the crime. And they all seem to share the same hobby — BDSM sex parties. Who is the killer? Who is having sex with whom? And who’s behind the conspiracy?

Birdland is full of politics, Big Oil, the police, museums, nightclubs, detectives, and kinky sex. And everything is projected against a fabricated bird metaphor:  there’s a man named Starling, an ornithologist, a nightclub with a bird concept, characters who sing Lullaby in Birdland, a bird rescue team… But what’s the point? The “bird” themes don’t come from the characters, it’s superimposed on them. There are some cool concepts and images in Birdland, but it just doesn’t work. I was never sure if I was watching a messy story to justify the not-so-sexy, softcore porn, or if the sex was there to justify an extremely confusing plot. It might work as a miniseries but it packs in too much stuff for a single movie.

Badsville

Dir: April Mullen (Written by Benjamin Barrett and Ian McLaren)

It’s a dead-end town in the southwest in the 1950s (or 60s?). Wink and Benny (Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barrett) are lifelong friends and members of the Kings, a local gang. Wink works in a greasy spoon and hangs with his buddies in the seedy bar or bowling alley. He serves as a mentor for Lil’ Cat (Gregory Kasyan), a local kid with a junkie for a mom. Wink wants him to “stay gold”. The Kings are mainly Latino while their rivals, the Aces, are white. They regularly meet to rumble, meaning big fistfights supplemented with metal pipes and pieces of wood, all lit up by blazing oil drums.

Sounds like fun.

But when he falls for Suzy (Tamara Duarte) a newcomer with a secret past, it looks like things are going to change. Wink might finally achieve his dream – escaping Badsville for a better life in Colorado. And this is what pushes Benny over the edge. He loves Daddio – that’s what he calls Wink – and not just as a friend. So he sets in motion a series of events that he hopes will stop Wink from leaving, but that end up putting all their lives in jeopardy.

Badsville is a new take on classic exploitation gang movies and SE Hinton novels. We’re talking Jets and Sharks here, not Crips and Bloods. And they’re not in high school either, they’re much older. The film looks at masculinity and friendship with a bit of racial politics in the mix. Directed by April Mullen, it’s a first effort by the two non-actors who play Benny and Wink, and also wrote the script. It’s low budget and not perfect – but it works.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Hollow in the Land, Birdland and Badsville all start today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Scotty Bowers and Matt Tyrnauer about Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, documentary, Hollywood, LGBT, Movies, Scandal, Secrets, Sex, Sex Trade by CulturalMining.com on December 29, 2017

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

It’s the early 1950s. Scotty Bowers is a former Marine working as a gas jockey on Hollywood blvd. who stumbles on an untapped market: sex with the stars. They wanted young men and they were willing to pay for it: 20 bucks a pop. Soon he was turning tricks, invited into the mansions of the biggest stars in Hollywood: Spencer Tracy, Catherine Hepburn, Charles Laughton, George Cukor, Lana Turner, Cary Grant. But Scotty was also discreet, and kept Hollywood’s secrets safe from the gossip rags… until the stars were long gone. Then he wrote it down in a tell-all book.

Scottty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a new feature documentary which had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by noted documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer, and starring Scotty Bowers it probes Scotty’s history, tells his secrets, and brings it up-to-date in present day LA.

I spoke with Matt Tyrnauer and the legendary Scotty Bowers at TIFF17.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood will open in April.

 

Dynamic duos. Films reviewed: Dim the Fluorescents, Call Me By Your Name

Posted in Acting, Art, Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, First Love, Italy, LGBT, Movies, Romance by CulturalMining.com on December 15, 2017

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

I like movies with two strong central characters… as long as they have good chemistry. This week I’m looking at two new movies featuring dynamic duos that work well together. One’s a romantic drama about two young men set in northern Italy; and the other is a comedy drama about two women set in downtown Toronto.

Dim the Fluorescents

Dir: Daniel Warth

Audrey (Claire Armstrong) is a struggling actress in Toronto. She’s passionate and tempestuous, with rosy cheeks and curly hair, a statuesque figure and a pierced nose. She takes anti-depressants daily so she pour her everything into her work. She goes to frequent readings and auditions, but still hasn’t landed her big break. She lives with Lillian (Naomi Skwarna), her friend and fellow theatre person. Lillian acts too, but she she devotes herself to writing scripts and screenplays, and to helping Audrey’s career. Lillian has a severe demeanor, with glasses and black hair pulled back. The two see all their friends moving up the ladder while they’re stuck at the bottom. And not earning any money from it, either.

So, instead of taking a day job, sitting in a cubicle between auditions, they decide to stick to the craft but in an unusual form and location. They take their acting to the offices, performing short pieces or worker safety on sexual harassment to add some life and excitement to the incredibly dull powerpoint lectures. They manage to turn each corporate banality into a scene from King Lear.

And their efforts are noticed, at least within the offices. One young exec, Bradley (Brendan Hobin), shows up after a show like a stage door groupie to heap praises on Audrey’s fine performance. Instead of asking for her autograph he asks her to dinner.

Meanwhile Lillian is trying hard to make her dramatic business plan pay off. Their big break, at least financially, finally arrives in the form of a contract: an eight minute show before 300 conventioneers. There are a few conditions – they have to include an executive’s niece, Fiona (Andreana Callegarini-Gradzik) in the show, and they have to end on a positive note. But as art reflects life, the drama of the characters spills onto Audrey and Lillian’s own lives, ending in an explosive crisis. Will they get it back together in time for the big show?

Dim the Fluorescents starts as an ordinary Canadian comedy: I get it, I thought, it’s about artists sacrificing their ideals to meet corporate demands. But after the first half hour it really takes off and just gets better and better. By the end it’s Wow – this is a surprisingly powerful movie! The cast is all new faces, all great. Especially Claire Armstrong – man, that woman can act her ass off!

Check this one out.

Call Me by Your Name

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

Wri: James Ivory (based on the novel by Andre Aciman)

It’s 1982. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is a 17 year old Italian American who spends his summers and Christmas vacation at his family home in Northern Italy. It’s a beautiful villa located in a lush orchard beside a slow-moving river. His parents are academics with a passion for the arts. Mom (Amira Casar) translates medieval poetry, while Dad (Michael Stuhlbarg) is into ancient Greek and Roman bronze statues. Elio spends most of his time transcribing classical music on guitar and piano. He also hangs with Marzia (Esther Garrel), his longtime friend and semi-girlfriend, reading poetry and exploring sex. Elio speaks French to his mother, English to his father and Italian to everyone else. It’s a polyglot family.

Each year, Elio’s dad chooses a gifted American grad student, to come stay with them for the summer. They help catalogue his father’s writings and, presumably, provide a role model for Elio. This year, it’s Oliver (Armie Hammer) a grad student from small town New England. He’s handsome, athletic, preppy and arrogant. And smart as a whip. He dominates any room he enters, and will leave whenever he wants with a simple “later”.

Eliot is put off by Oliveer’s manner but impressed by his confidence. And as he gets to know him better – at a village dance, a family dinner, and bike rides in the country – his interest runs into attraction. Are the feelings mutual? Both have girlfriends from the town, but this seems new. They begin a delicate pas de deux, simultaneously flirting, arguing and testing their limits, each trying to determine the other one’s feelings. Are they friends, or something more? Will this turn into a summer bromance or a lasting love?

Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful and clever romantic drama. It’s as interesting for what it has as it is for what it leaves out. The usual gay themes — coming out, bullying, abusive parents, fear, religious guilt, gay bashing, homophobia and HIV AIDS – aren’t part of this movie. It’s also not a typical boy-meets-girl (or boy meets boy) romance. What it does have is fantastic acting, a great screenplay, beautiful location, music and art. From the beautiful calligraphy of the opening credits, to the devestating, single-shot finish, this movie is flawless.

Dim the Fluorescents is now playing. Call Me By Your Name 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.

Daniel Garber talks with director Boris Ivanov and activist Justin Romanov about Putin’s Blacklist

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, LGBT, Movies, Politics, Protest, Russia by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2017

Boris Ivanov (l), Justin Romanov (r)

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

Since Donald Trump was elected US President we hear new news stories each day about possible Russian involvement in that election. But rarely do we hear anything about Russian politics, it’s government and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Why is he so popular? What are his politics? Who opposes him? And what does it mean to be on Putin’s blacklist?

On Putin’s Blacklist is a new documentary that tries to make sense of it all. It looks at diverse topics like the politicization of the foreign adoption of Russian orphans; political dissidents, propaganda, nationalism and LGBT rights. Using extensive media clips, new political commentary and documentary footage, On Putin’s Blacklist provides an insider’s look at Russia today. The film is written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Boris Ivanov. It features Justin Romanov, the well-known Russian-Canadian LGBT activist.

I spoke with Boris and Justin in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

On Putin’s Blacklist is now playing in Toronto.

%d bloggers like this: