Clandestine, Intimate. Movies Reviewed: Suitcase of Love and Shame, Your Day is My Night, The Place Beyond the Pines

Posted in Art, China, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Linked Stories, Movies, Secrets, Suspicion, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on April 14, 2013

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

Film festivals continue in Toronto. Cinefranco is on through the weekend, with two new ones starting today. The Toronto Jewish Film Festival is bringing comedies, dramas, documentaries and musicals from around the world. Images is a festival of art, moving images and sound –projected on movie and video screens in theatres and art galleries. This week I’m looking at three films, all from the US, that are both clandestine and intensely intimate and personal. Two films at Images: one’s about a long-distance sexual relationship, the other about people who share the same bed… just not at the same time. And the third movie is about how family rivalries can carry on over generations.

LoveShame_Hers1Suitcase of Love and Shame

Dir: Jane Gillooly

It’s the 1960s in middle-America. A married man and a single woman are having a secret, sexual affair. They meet in hotels, a hospital, a planetarium, and record their sexual encounters and fantasies. He promises her he’ll leave his wife so they can be together – but someone else may be listening in. Sounds like a Hollywood movie, but it’s not.

This highly unusual film uses a suitcase of reel-to-reel tapes from the 60’s that someone bought on eBay. It’s the story of two nameless, faceless people who recorded their affair on two tape-recorders, words they LoveandShame-Postcardnotext-5x5.5-300dpi-938x1024believed would only be heard by the two of them.

(Here’s a clip: on podcast)

The audio is accompanied by simple, images of period artifacts – tape boxes, matchbooks – and filmed “still lifes” of suburban homes, dogs, cars. The sexually-charged, explicit dialogue is paired with simple, non-sexual but private-seeming visuals. As a viewer, you’re an audio-voyeur, hearing things you’re not supposed to know about. Jane Gillooly has made a haunting, very intimate film, out of material from long before the days of youtube.

Your_Day_Is_My_Night_Two_Men_sing-800x450Your Day is My Night

Dir: Lynne Sachs

This movie is about Chinese immigrants, documented and otherwise, living in close quarters in Manhattan’s Chinatown. By close quarters, I mean so close that people actually share their beds – half of the tenants work day shifts, half at night. It’s a very diverse crowd, speaking mutually unintelligible dialects. They each tell their own stories. Some do it in casual conversations. Others in a grand manner: like a classic Chinese storyteller, enunciating each word.

Your_Day_Is_My_Night_Tsui_Face2-800x450This sort of dwelling is not unique to New York. I remember spending time at the notorious Chunking Mansions, an apartment and flophouse high-rise in Kowloon, which had people sleeping in beds so close that the next stranger’s bed was just a curtain away. But I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

I’d call it a scripted documentary.

There’s a wedding singer, a poorly paid worker, a grandmother, a masseur. They each have their say, either in the kitchen, on one of the mattresses they sleep on, or outside on the streets of New York Chinatown. They talk about lost ancestors, about fear of the subway, about Ai Weiwei, about sweet potato varieties.

This is an art piece – so it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s staged. But the content seems real enough, as do the people – identified by name. And the stories are fascinating.

Gosling Place Beyond Pines circus cageThe Place Beyond the Pines

Dir Derek Cianfrance

This is another unusually structured movie, made of three sequential parts. The first part is about Luke (Ryan Gosling).

Luke is a travelling carnie who is in Schenectady, NY for the annual fair there. He’s a bleach-blond, tattooed, motorcycle stunt rider, a darling of the pre-teen set. He’s just passing through when he discovers last year’s fling with Romina (Eva Mendes) brought her a bouncing baby boy named Jason. He’s a father! Romina has a home and a boyfriend now, but Luke wants to be with his son and support him. So he quits his job with the circus, stays in town, and turns to robbing banks on his motorcycle to raise the necessary cash. He ends up in a shootout with a rookie cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Like Luke, Avery also has a one-year old boy, named A.J.

Place Beyond Pines Bradley Cooper Evidence RoomThe second part is about Avery, who is forced either to confront the corrupt local police force or to join in.

And the third part, is about the two grown-up sons, now 16-year-olds, who are brought together for the first time, as discover how their fathers once crossed paths.

Fortunately, this movie starts with an amazing scene which has Luke on his cycle entering a spinning metal circus globe and zooming around and around inside it – like a human hotwheels car driver. Cool. Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. That’s the happiest scene in the movie. There are chases and shootouts and love and loss, but the whole movie has a fatalistic feel. Society, class, fatal decisions and Place Beyond the Pines Emory Cohen Dane De Haancircumstance try to push us all in certain predetermined directions It’s up to us to make the right decisions.

Visually it’s a very nice movie, and the acting is good, but I found the story rather pat. Cianfrance’s last film, Blue Valentine, was all sex – this one is mainly violence. I enjoyed it, but the blatant story manipulation left me with a meh feeling.

Your Day is My Night is playing on the 19th and Suitcase of Love and Shame is playing tonight at 9 pm, both at Images; go to imagesfestival.com for more information; and The Place Beyond the Pines also opens tonight. 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 .

October 26, 2012. Halloween Costumes and Disguises. Movies Reviewed: Cloud Atlas, Fun Size

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

Hallowe’en is here. Traditionally, it’s a time of scariness, when the undead walk the earth, and lost souls are the ones in charge after the witching hour. But Hallowe’en has changed. Now it’s more about dressing up in funny costumes, going to wild parties and eating bags full of candy.

So this week, instead if my usual scary hallowe’en pics, I’m talking about two movies about dressing up: one is about teenagers who dress in funny costumes at a Hallowe’en party; the other about actors who dress up in funny costumes to tell a story.

Cloud Atlas

Dir: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

Based on the novel by David Mitchell

When Cloud Atlas had its world premier at TIFF, I thought it was going to be awful – it has all the hallmarks of shameless Oscar-bait (Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant) and bad movies (multiple directors). But it was actually surprisingly interesting (though completely confusing). It jumps back and forth among six completely unrelated genres and just barely-related stories, ranging from historical epic, a period drama, a political thriller, contemporary comedy, and two futuristic space stories. Brace yourself, and let me try to explain them without any spoilers:

A 19th century American is in the South Pacific to broker a deal, but is forced to confront a stowaway slave as he sails home; a young, gay composer with a hidden past in 1930s England confronts a famous composer who may be stealing his music; a black, female investigative journalist in San Francisco in the 1970s wants to uncover a nuclear energy scandal; a present-day publisher finds himself a prisoner overnight, locked up in an old folk’s home; identical-looking female cyborg slaves foment a revolution in neo-Seoul, a futuristic Korea 200 years in the future; and a future world where people in Star Trek jump suits try to communicate with cave men speaking unaccented pidgin English like Jar-Jar Binks.

Did you get all that? No, I didn’t think so.

What’s really interesting is that the same actors play multiple roles, changing race, age, and gender from story to story. So you have famous actors in unrecognizable bit parts in one segment who star as the main character in another. Some work some don’t. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are not known for their skills at accents – they’re not Meryl Streep — so they end up looking ridiculous when they try. But groaners don’t spoil a movie. Even those two end up acting in scenes when you don’t even know they’re there. And much more interesting actors, (people like Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae, among others) more than make up for the missteps.

Cloud Atlas feels like you’re watching six movies at once on TV, but someone else is in charge of the remote control and they keep switching channels.

Is it perfect movie? No, definitely not. But is it worth seeing? Yes, definitely.

Fun Size

Dir: Josh Schwartz

Wren (Victoria Justice) is a high school student with outspoken feminist views — she plans to dress as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween — but turns to awkward mush whenever she thinks about the most popular boy in school – a Johnny Depp lookalike. Wren lives with her chubby six-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) who never talks but is fond of practical jokes like cutting out breast holes in her favourite sweaters; and her mom, Joy, who is back in the dating pool since their dad died. So Wren and her best friend April are thrilled when they’re invited to the big party. But mom (Chelsea Handler) tells her that Keevan, the 26 year-old frat boy she’s dating, wants her at his party. (She’s going as Britney Spears.) So Wren is stuck keeping track of the rambunctious little one. But that’s easier said than done.

Little Albert, dressed in a Spidey-suit with a fake arm, ends up leaving a trail of destruction as he travels from party to bar to fast food joint. And it’s up to Wren and her pals – including nerdy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann from Project X) and Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) a convenience store clerk who looks a lot like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo — to try to track him down and save him. Will little Albert escape from those meddlesome grown-ups? Will Mom ever act her age? And will Wren find happiness with the most handsome and popular guy in school, or will she choose the earnest but awkward Roosevelt?

Fun Size is a mild, cute screwball comedy, full of disguises, mistaken identities, generational mismatches, bullies, love crushes, and sort-of funny characters. There are lots of lame gags and laff-lines that fall flat, at least to my adult ears. It wavers between Home Alone and Adventures in Babysitting, but is not as funny as either one. Still it’s a fun-ish and cute-ish, if forgettable, kids movie.

Cloud Atlas and Fun Size open today in Toronto, check your local listings. For scary found footage movies, check out Paranormal Activity 4, now playing, and V/H/S which played at Toronto After Dark and opens tonight. Festivals going strong in the city this weekend Ekran.ca the new Polish film festival showing avant- garde and mainstream movies from Europe.

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

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August 3, 2012. Movies Reviewed: 360, Blue Like Jazz. PLUS Queen of Versailles, The Invisible War

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

Countless fairytales about travellers include a scene where a character comes to a fork in the road, and has to decide which way to go. One direction could bring happiness and good fortune; the other way – danger. This week I’m looking at two movies about people making life decisions and where that path takes them. One’s a low-budget American movie about a young, conservative Texan who ends up in liberal Portand, Oregan; the other’s a multi-lingual drama with an international cast about people facing life-changing decisions that end up affecting dozens of strangers they’ll never meet.

360
Dir: Fernando Meirelles

In a series of apparently unrelated stories in Vienna, Paris and London, we see men and women falling in love, and falling out of it, having illicit affairs, purchasing sexual acts, stalking strange women, resisting temptation, breaking up and starting all over again.

(This is a difficult movie to describe without giving away the stories and relationships which provide the main reason for watching this movie… but I’ll try) In just one of the linked stories, a
middle-class, somewhat selfish London couple, (Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) have a fragile relationship but, depending on which direction they each decide to take it, they will affect lots of people – a sex trade worker in Eastern Europe, a Brazilian woman stranded in a US airport (alongside an old man seeking his daughter’s dead body, and a sex offender recently released from prison) as she heads home to Rio.

These and many other stories come looping back in a 360 degree turn, just like the ring roads in the grand European capitals – Vienna, London and Paris. Since these are all strangers who meet at random, we see the characters in hotel bars, airport lobbies, cafes, internet sites, and AA meetings, the sorts of places strangers meet. We get a glimpse of their problems and decisions, then — zoom! — it’s on to the next city.

All the individual stories are loosely woven together, but not in the neat circle the title suggests. It’s not even like the hub in a wheel with lots of spokes heading out. It’s more like throwing a bunch of shoes into a bag, shaking them up, and then wondering how all the laces got so tangled and knotted. It’s definitely interesting, and neat, and the plot is never predictable (lots of the characters don’t take the paths you expect them to)… but I was left wondering if I was duped by complicated junk or had just witnessed a masterpiece. Or more simply: is it a good movie?

A movie doesn’t have to be great and perfect, but this one seems to be a smaller film than the grandiose themes it’s tackling. On the positive side, it’s not encumbered with a weepy, Hollywood violin soundtrack; instead it skips from city to city with old local pop songs. And it does have a great international cast (Jamel Debbouze, etc), a well-known Brazilian director who did City of God, and the UK writer Peter Morgan.

Hmm… is it just pandering, “Oscar Bait”? No, that’s not quite fair, although it does have that grave, sombre tone of too many film festival movies. But it’s also fascinating, a bit thrilling and tense, with a bit if ironic humour. Even if the movie as a whole left me feeling cold and devoid of satisfaction (that 1960’s, angsty European feel) it’s still a unique piece of work.

OK, I give in. I liked it. It wasn’t bad. Go see it.

Blue Like Jazz
Dir: Steve Taylor

Donny (Marshall Allman) is a good Texan. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t cuss. He tucks in his short-sleeved shirt, and goes to Baptist church every Sunday, and does whatever his divorced mother tells him to. But right when he’s about to go off to Baptist College he discovers two things: his layabout Dad who lives in a trailer park is ready to bankroll his tuition at a liberal arts school in Portland(ia); and his bible-ready Mom isn’t quite the goody-goody church lady he thought she was. He decides the church has betrayed him, so he heads off to open his mind to new ideas.

So the movie follows his experiences as a Fresher at college, as he gradually adjusts to student life. He falls in with Lauren (Tania Raymonde), a genuine lesbian who looks like Amy Winehouse; The Pope, an older college rabble-rouser given to dressing in a robe and mitre; and Penny, an earnest politically active blonde woman
who is fighting plastic water bottles. His shirts get untucked, then he switches to T-shirts, stops shaving and soon enough he’s throwing beer bottles out of windows and popping MDMA at outdoor raves. Portland is not without its rules. Umbrellas are considered “uncool” and Penny warns him that, in these parts, Christians are expected to stay in their religious closets – they don’t “come out” as born again.

It’s up to Donny to decide if he should permanently ditch the church in favour of new ideas, or to fall back on his childhood upbringing.

Blue like Jazz is an extremely low-budget drama, paid for through crowd-sourcing. It’s actually a fun, coming-of-age college movie, with interesting characters, a nice story and good acting. Worth watching.

Also opening this weekend are the two documentaries The Invisible War, and The Queen of Versailles.

The Invisible War (Dir: Kirby Dick) tells about the estimated one million rapes or sexual assaults that have happened within the US armed forces over the past half century, how the perpetrators are let off even as the victims face punishment. It’s an important look at a shocking subject. (Listen to my interview with director Kirby Dick)

And on a much lighter note, is the Queen of Versailles, a hilarious documentary by Lauren Greenfield about a pneumatically equipped compulsive shopper with many children and little yappy dogs; and her husband, an elderly time-share mogul, who, together, attempt to build themselves a replica of the Palace of Versailles in the Florida everglades — the biggest home in the world — but are caught in a lurch by the sudden bursting of the real estate bubble. (Read my Hotdocs review here.)

The dramas 360 and Blue Like Jazz, and the documentaries The Invisible War and the Queen of Versailles 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 .

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