Are the 90s back? Films reviewed: Brigsby Bear, Landline

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Manhattan, Movies, Sex by CulturalMining.com on August 4, 2017

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

What’s with the nineties? Is it a thing now? Are the nineties back? It’s recent enough that we don’t yet know how to abbreviate it. Is it what was there? Grunge, flannel, ecstasy, glow sticks, drum and bass, Roxette, gangsta rap. Or is it what wasn’t there any more (the Berlin Wall, the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact). Or is it what hasn’t happened yet: 9/11, cell phones, texting, facebook, google.

I guess it is possible to be nostalgic for the 90s. This week I’m looking at two indie movies, dramatic comedies that played at Sundance this year. There’s a Manhattan family living in the 90s and a 25-year-old guy who is stuck in the 90s.

Brigsby Bear

Dir: Dave McCary

It’s present-day America. James (Kyle Mooney) is 25 but still lives with his dad (Mark Hamill) and mom. He was homeschooled and has never left his house – an underground bunker – because poison gas has flooded the planet. At least that’s his parents tell him. His only contact with the outside world is a TV show called Brigsby Bear, a low-budgets kids’ show. The highlight of his week is when his dad, wearing a gas mask, comes home with the latest episode recorded on VHS. Life never changes, until…

Until the day when there’s a police raid on their home. They arrest his parents and interrogate him. Turns out, everything James thought he knew was wrong. His parents? Actually kidnappers who snatched him from his real family as an infant and raised him as their own. Poison gas? Another lie to keep him from leaving. But the biggest shock of all was his hero and best friend Brigsby Bear, the foundation of his entire universe. No one else has heard of him.

James is reunited with his birth parents and a 16 year old sister sister named Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins.) But he sticks out like a sore thumb. His clothes and bad haircut are stuck in the 90s and the only thing he talks about is Brigsby Bear. He knows nothing about sex drugs and rock and roll. The ultimate fish out of water. He learns about a few things at his first party, from his new best friend — a teenager named Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) — and his first potential girlfriend. He’s a bit of a celebrity, the kidnapped guy, so people like to gawk at him.

James’ therapist (Claire Danes) wants him to forget about Brigsby Bear and enter the real world. But that would leave him rudderless with nothing familiar to him. Until Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) tells him a secret. He knows where Brigsby Bear is – the costumes the props, the whole thing. Will James – and his friends – recreate the TV show so he can achieve closure? Or will his parents and his therapist gang up to destroy his Brigsby universe… for his own good?

Brigsby Bear is a cute, gentle comedy drama. There’s no real villain, just James trying to adjust. Unfortunately, it relies a lot on Saturday Night Live-style humour: grown ups who act like children, are socially inept, or out of fashion; people who look like us but talk strange. The problem is, James is both the sympathetic main character and also the butt of most of the jokes. The movie just isn’t that funny, but it is entertaining and watchable.

Landline

Dir: Gillian Robespierre

It’s summertime in the 1990s and the Jacobs family is returning from their cottage to Manhattan. Ali (Abby Quinn) is the foul-mouthed teenaged sister. She’s a rebel, into raves, recreational drugs and, she hopes, sex at some point with her current non-boyfriend Jed. Dana (Jenny Slate) works at Paper magazine and is engaged to her affable fiance Ben (Jay Duplass). Then there’s Dad and Mom (John Turturro and Edie Falco). Dad’s an advertising copywriter – but wants to be a playright — and Mom’s involved in municipal politics. Her inspirations are Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits and Jennifer Aniston hairstyles. (It’s the 90s). They’re a happy family, though they never stop fighting.

But everything changes when Ali picks up a random floppy disc and puts it into her dad’s grey computer. She discovers a file, filled with erotic poetry he wrote, not for her mom but for someone named “C”. Is her father having an affair?

Dana, meanwhile, is in a comfortable relationship with her fiance, one that involves kinky sex in the shower and watching movies on TV. But at a party she runs into Nate, an old flame from college (Finn Wittrock). He’s clearly interested in her, despite the engagement ring. Which way will Dana go?

When Dana runs into Ali in an unexpected encounter the two sisters are forced to come clean, talk to each other and work out their family’s growing problems.

Landline is a good, funny and sometimes moving look back at family life in NY city in the 1990s. Characters are not caricatures, they’re quirky and realistic, and the acting is uniformly spot on. The 90s aspect is there as a gimmick, not central to the plot. The soundtrack is mainly from the songs from the 70s and 80s. What’s with the trench coats? And correct me if I’m wrong, but the NY City skyline seems already missing the Twin Towers. But other details — things like using a pay phone to check voice messages — are very realistic. Who knows …Maybe the 90s were kinda cool.

Brigsby Bear and Landline both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

 

Secrets. Films reviewed: Two Men in Manhattan, Army of Shadows, Rumble: Indians Rock the World

Posted in 1940s, 1950s, African-Americans, documentary, Drama, France, Indigenous, Manhattan, Music, WWII by CulturalMining.com on July 28, 2017

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

Is there anything you wouldn’t tell your partner, best friend or parents? This week I’m looking at movies about secrets: two classic French thrillers by Jean-Pierre Melville, and a new Canadian documentary. There’s French resistance fighters with secret identities, a journalist in Manhattan chasing a secret story, and the secret, indigenous roots of rock and roll.

Two Men in Manhattan (1959)

Wri/Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville

It’s the late 1950s. Moreau (Jean Pierre Melville) is a reporter for AFP (Agence France-Presse), based in Manhattan, who receives a strange assignment. A top diplomat at the United Nations didn’t show up at the General Assembly… he has completely disappeared. The missing man is a French diplomat, and a war hero with a sterling reputation. Moreau has to track him down and find out what’s going on.

So Moreau turns to a freelance photographer Delmas (Pierre Grasset) for help. Delmas is a notorious alcoholic and a womanizer, but one who knows what’s going on behind the scenes in downtown manhattan. Moreau has to drag him out of bed with his latest pickup to get him to come along.

Turns out Grasset was the right one to turn to – he knows how to find the diplomat by who he’s been scene with late at night. But while Moreau is a respected journalist, Grasset will do anything for a buck. Their search takes them to a series of meeting with exotic women: a jazz singer in her recording studio, an actress backstage at intermission, a stripper in her change room and a sex worker in her boudoir. And, unbeknownst to them, they’re being followed by a mysterious woman in a car. Will they find the diplomat, and if they do will the story be suppressed or sold to the highest bidder?

This is neat noirish movie with a moral dilemma on the ethics of journalism. It’s also the only time Melville appears in one of his own movies.

Army of Shadows (1969)

Wri/Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville (Based on the novel by)

It’s 1942 in Vichy France. Most of France is occupied by Germany, but for most people life hasn’t changed. But not for Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) a middle-class engineer. He is arrested by gendarmes, not by Nazis,  and sent to a relocation camp, built by the French to hold prisoners of war from Germany. Now it’s the other way around.

The camp holds a ragtag assortment of Russians, Poles, Jews, Algerians, Communists, as well as random Frenchmen arrested for no known reason. He has plans to escape with a young communist but is suddenly sent to the Gestapo headquarters for interrogation. After a daring escape, he joins a Resistance cell in Marseille consisting of tight knit group of men and one woman:

There’s handsome Jean Francois (Jean Pierre Cassel) who is in awe of his older brother, a philosopher. Mathilde (Simone Signoret) is a tactical genius, inventing fantastical ways to break into enemy headquarters without being noticed (Signoret convincingly switches from French to German). Other members are known only by their code names: La Masque, Le Bison, Felix. Together they smuggle allied forces to safety in England, relay messages sent by radio, and keep one another out of the hands of the enemy. Army of Shadows is a realistic thriller, based on a novel by a member of the French resistance( as was the director himself – in fact Melville was his nom de guerre)

It’s full of dark episodes and plot twists, that doesn’t portray the French, including the Resistance, in the best light. It’s full of secrets and lies, and the cold-blooded executions of their own comrades and closest friends who may have divulged secrets.

The movie bombed when it was first released – perhaps it was still too close to the events it portrayed, or maybe its politics didn’t jibe with Paris in 1969 – but decades later, after it was finally released on North America, it was a critical success. It is now considered a masterpiece.  Ventura, Cassel, and especially Signoret are all fantastic.

A must-see.

Rumble: The Indians who Rocked the World

Dir: Catherine Bainbridge, Alfonso Maiorana

When people talk about rock and roll they’re sure to mention its influences: jazz, blues, folk and country. It uses tunes from Europe, rhythms from West Africa but with words and feelings that are purely American. But what about aboriginal North Americans – First Nations, Metis and Native Americans? This documentary looks at both the musicological influences and the genetics of the musicians themselves – the drummers, guitarists and singers most people took for white, black or hispanic.

Link Wray pioneered the use of guitar feedback (his hit Rumble was a huge influence on bands from Led Zeppelin to the Who). He was Shawnee. Robbie Robertson, founding member of The Band, is Mohawk and learnt his music on the Six Nations reserve. Early blues great Charley Patton was Choctaw, and singer Mildred Bailey was Couer d’Alene.

The film covers territory from centuries past to present-day struggles, like activist and folk singer Buffy Ste Marie who performed at Standing Rock. And many of the black musicians who still perform at the New Orleans Mardi Gras dressed in “tribal” costume are descended from indigenous ancestors.

Music styles covered in the movie range from heavy metal to pop rock, country to folk, and soul to R&B. The musicians point out the singing styles, the drums from their childhoods.

Rumble is a really great music doc.

Rumble opens today in Toronto at the Hot Docs cinema; check your local listings. Two Men in Manhattan and Army of Shadows are part of the Jean Pierre Melville retrospective, Army of Shadows: The Cinema of Jean-Pierre Melville, which continues through August. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Cities. Films reviewed: The Lost City of Z, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Colossal

Posted in Addiction, Adventure, Brazil, documentary, Drama, Manhattan, Protest, UK by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2017

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

Cities. People around the globe are urbanizing at an alarming rate, with tens of millions leaving their farms, villages and small towns each year. So this week I’m looking at movies about cities. There’s a man who wants to find a city, a woman who wants to save a city, and another woman who is trying not to destroy a city.

The Lost City of Z

Dir: James Gray

It’s 1905. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a major in His Majesty’s Army but an undecorated one – no medals, because he has never seen battle. He’s a modern thinker, not bogged down by religion and bigotry, and believes in equal rights for women, including for his wife Nina (Sienna Miller). His father — a drinker and gambler – had ruined the family name, so he jumps at the chance to restore it. The offer: to lead an expedition to “Amazonia” sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society. A skilled cartographer, Fawcett must map an uncharted river running between Bolivia and Brazil. He also wants to find a legendary, advanced civilization he calls the city of “Z”.

On the ship heading to South America he meets a dismissive man with a bushy beard, round glasses and a big hat. Turns out it’s his aide-de-camp, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). They make an odd couple, Costin kitted out for the jungle with Fawcett still in European mode. But soon they learn to get along. First they journey to a pop-up city in the jungle, complete with an opera house. It’s run by filthy- rich robber barons riding the Amazon rubber boom. Fawcett assembles a small team to travel down the river on a raft, further than any European has gone so far. A former slave serves as their guide. Along the way, they are attacked by locals with spears and arrows, encounter black jaguars and make it as far as a waterfall – the river’s source? There Fawcett finds artifacts he says are from the lost city he seeks. Back in London, he raises money for a second trip. His wife asks to go too, but he says it’s “no place for a woman”. Instead he takes a portly millionaire named Mr. Murray – an armchair explorer – as his sponsor. But this leads to more trouble. This time they encounter cannibals and travel even further than the first trip, but not as far as “Z”. Can Fawcett earn the respect of his family, the confidence of the Royal Geographers, and the backing of the press? Can he survive a third trip through the jungle? Or is his passion — finding the lost city of Z — just based on his own fantasies?

This is a fascinating adventure based on real historical figures. It’s also very similar to a fantastic black-and-white arthouse film from a few years back called Embrace of the Serpent, also about a European travelling down the Amazon during the rubber boom. This one is more traditional, told solely from a European point of view, with dashing explorers out to discover things lost to the locals. The indigenous people are “things” they encounter on their journey, and almost never speak. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the movie anyway. Charlie Hunnam is great as Fawcett, and Robert Pattinson (the heartthrob vampire from the execrable Twilight series) is completely unrecognizable in this role. If you’re in the mood for an exciting colonial trek through the jungle, this long movie is made for you.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Wri/Dir: Matt Tyrnauer

It’s postwar America, where the car is king and freshly-built houses in the suburbs the ideal home. Jane Jacobs is a young writer in Manhattan who publishes pieces on manhole covers and city streets for magazines like Vogue and Architectural Forum. Robert Moses is the immensely powerful, urban planning and highway czar, building enormous parkways through cities to let people commute to their far off homes. He subscribes to the visions of Swiss architect le Corbusier: Cities are best viewed from an airplane — clean, pristine and devoid of pesky things like small shops, loitering people and peculiar neighbourhoods. Cities are old and ugly cesspools filled with cancerous slums that can only be saved by wiping them out.

Robert Moses views cities from above looking down; Jane Jacobs (in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities) looks at cities from ground level. She loves the confusion and excitement of neighbourhoods and the people who live there. Moses wants to extend Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue down through Washington Square park, and turn it into a highway, destroying Canal St, Soho, and Little Italy on the way. And no one ever defies his grand plans… until Jane Jacobs. She’s the one responsible for a new look at urban landscapes and city planning. She saved Greenwich village from destruction and changed people’s views about what a city should look like and feel like.

This is a superb documentary chronicling her battle with Moses. It also shows how people like Jacobs can challenge the orthodoxy of so-called urban renewal (what James Baldwin called “negro removal”) and its destruction of neighbourhoods.

This documentary doesn’t deal with Jane Jacobs before she moved to New York City or afterwards when she moved to Toronto (where she helped save the city from the Spadina Expressway). It’s specifically about Jacobs’ battle with Moses. And it does so in a very informative and absorbing way.

Colossal

Wri/Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has it made: an English boyfriend with a beautiful apartment, and lots of cool hipster friends who show her the highlife. She’s loose with the bottle and free with the pills. But after an especially horrific incident he gives her the boot until she dries out. So she is forced to relocate to her childhood home in a small town. She is taken under the wing of Oscar (Jason Sudeikas) a local entrepreneur who offers her a job at his roadhouse bar. (Turns out he had a crush on her as a kid and wants to renew their friendship).

She takes the job but turns down his sexual advances. Though depressed and lonely, she gradually adjusts to the slow paced rhythm of life there: working late at the bar, sharing drinks with her new friends and waking up the next morning on a park bench feeling like hell warmed over. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a giant monster is trampling through Seoul Korea, toppling buildings and terrorizing the populous. And Gloria notices something very strange: the monster only appears in Seoul whenever she wakes up in the park, drunk to the gills. Stranger still, the colossal monster she sees on the news shares her nervous tics and habits. What is the connection?

Colossal is a unique film that doesn’t fall easily into any single genre. It starts out like a sophisticated chick flick or a recovery movie, but it’s also a disaster and monster movie, a comedy and a social drama. Hathaway is good as a young alcoholic forced to deal with her addiction, and Sudeikas is equally good as a conflicted (and sometimes vengeful) friend. The Korean aspect of the movie is superficial, with locals mainly there to get stepped on. Still, Colossal is weird and surprisingly entertaining — it’s different from any movie you’ve  seen before.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, The Lost City of Z and Colossal 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

Boys will be boys. Films Reviewed: Weiner, Swiss Army Man

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, documentary, Manhattan, Meltdown, Mental Illness, Morality, Politics, Scandal, US by CulturalMining.com on July 1, 2016

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

Boys will be boys. By boys I mean men, and a lot of us behave like idiots, get caught, and then end up doing it all over again. Because boys will be boys. This week I’m looking at two American movies about guys being guys. There’s a documentary about a politician trying to revive his moribund career; and a comedy/drama about a guy trying to revive his expired buddy.

e45efdca-1789-4f65-a222-f879fac82d5eWeiner

Dir: Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Anthony Weiner was a rising young politician representing part of Brooklyn in the US congress. He was a progressive Democrat, tried and true, and a popular politician – he even appeared as a guest on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. He was outgoing, friendly, smart and funny. But he was 248dd2e3-708d-4c8d-b3db-36534ed5d9a2forced to resign his seat following a so-called scandal. Basically, he did some sexting – sending sexual selfies by email – to a woman he met online, but never encountered in person. He flirted with a woman online, sent a picture, Weiner shows his wiener – there’s the entire scandal. But it was enough to bring him 1a1956f2-dd46-4d59-8781-b3a8098727b2down.

So, a few years later he thinks, maybe I should try again. Maybe, I don’t want to live my life as a guy with a funny name that the punchline of a joke. Maybe the people have forgiven me, and they like what I’m saying. So he decides to run for Mayor of New York City – his hometown.

He travels around the five boroughs, he shakes hands, kisses babies, tries local food. He marches in parades. And he gives speeches ff8d5107-d4eb-4cd9-aa44-72c98eacef26everywhere – in person, on TV, on the radio. And his popularity grows. But then, remember those selfies, those sexts he sent? Turns out he sent more than one. Scandal!!

Weiner is a fantastic fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows the spectacle of an American political campaign. The cameras are allowed into his home, behind 6cf67874-1a86-4e85-a24d-665a2fb32a7fthe scenes in his headquarters, his phone calls, everything. And you see his campaign crumble before your very eyes… it’s painful. Most of all for his wife, Huma Abedin. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a smart, beautiful, high-powered political staffer for the Democratic party. She’s also Hillary Clinton’s top aid. And in this movie, she’s the long suffering wife of Anthony Weiner who causes her so much trouble. Great documentary.

SWAST_89_M2.0V4.0Swiss Army Man

Dir: Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert

Hank (Paul Dano) lives the life of a beachcomber on a remote island in the Pacific. He camps out there, living on the flotsam and jetsam that washes up on shore. But he’s no happy camper: No luck with girls, his dad doesn’t like him, no friends. It’s not clear how he washed up on this beach, but, however he got here he’s clearly lonely, misunderstood and depressed. In fact the movie begins with him hanging himself. That is until something new washes up on shore. A person!

Well, a dead body, actually. Hank tries to revive him but he’s clearly just a fully-dressed corpse. But this is no ordinary dead man – this one is full of gas – he loudly farts into the sand. Using this expelled gas, Hank manages to climb on top of him, like a skidoo, and ride him across the ocean.

And when they touch land again, Hank decides to keep him around as a new friend. He calls him Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Manny’s very useful. When it rains his body fills with water, and Hank can use him like a water fountain – punch him in the stomach and water shoots out his mouth.

But he’s not just a human “Swiss Army Knife”. After a few days, he begins to _02_9440 small jpegspeak. Manny is a tabula rasa, like a newborn babe who knows nothing. It’s up to Hank to educate him about the birds and the bees, truth and lies, and the meaning of life. Finally, Hank has found a real friend. Someone he can share his deepest secrets with. Someone he can share his stale Cheetos with! And as Manny slowly comes back to life, the two of them decide it’s time to look for civilization and move back into the real world.

But is the real world ready for a talking corpse and an oddball loner?

Swiss Army Man is a weird movie. It’s a fantasy seen through the eyes of someone not quite right in the head. It has big stars but with a low-budget indie feel. It’s funny, stupid, weird, cute, quirky and actually sort of touching. I kinda liked it. On the surface it seems like a reboot of Cast Away, where Tom Hanks makes friends with a volleyball. But it’s not. This one doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously – that’s it’s best point.

Weiner and Swiss Army Man both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Schocken and Scribner’s. Films reviewed: Vita Activa — The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, Genius

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, Biopic, Books, Cultural Mining, Germany, Manhattan, Nazi, US, WWII by CulturalMining.com on June 10, 2016

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

Movies based on books are a dime a dozen: there’s a movie option for every bestseller. But what about movies about the books and writers themselves? This week I’m looking at movies set in the mid-20th century when books really were important. There’s a documentary about a philosopher who pulls her observations together; and a biopic about an editor who cuts lengthy manuscripts apart.

Vita Activa PosterVita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt

Dir: Ada Ushpiz

It’s 1963 in Jerusalem. Adolph Eichmann is on trial there as the primary architect of the mass murder perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Covering the trial for the New Yorker  is Hanna Arendt noted German-Jewish philosopher. She observes the ultimate bland bureaucrat in a glass box who claims he has no hatred of the Jews he slaughtered and says he is not an ideologue. Arendt observes it all, and coins the term the Banality of Evil to describe it. This sets off a huge controversy. Critics accuse her of minimizing the enormity of Nazi crimes, humanizing the criminal and even partially blaming the victims.

How did she go from a girl from Hanover to a philosopher/journalist inHannah Arendt 1 Jerusalem? The path was not direct. This documentary covers the history of her life, both academic and personal, and her philosophy and writings.

Arendt lived through what she wrote about. Born in Hanover, Arendt was raised by her mother. She studied at the University of Marburg under philospher Martin Heidegger (her sometime lover) just before the Nazis came to power in 1933. She was kicked out of  school and suddenly found herself — an ordinary German — as part of a group denounced and dehumanized by government propaganda: the refugees who had fled war and revolution across Europe.  What disheartened her Hannah Arendt 2most was to see German intellectuals (including Heidegger), the very people she revered and was devoting her life to study,  incorporating Nazi rhetoric into their own writing and speeches.

She fled to Paris and continued her work. There she witnessed the rise of extremism and totalitarianism across Europe. Imprisoned in a concentration camp by the French, she escaped and made it to New York, where she wrote about totalitarianism, guilt and responsibility.

This film is a historical document that uses recorded interviews – in English, French and German — to explain her ideas and the events in her Hannah Arendt, Vita Activa, Zeitgeist Filmslife. It’s illustrated by newsreel footage, government propaganda as well as film from the Eichmann trial. Her writing and letters are read by off-screen actors. And both her critics and supporters — including Karl Jaspers and Judith Butler — are given airtime.

This is a rich and beautiful look at the work and life of Hannah Arendt.  It also deals with the debate on her philosophy and the controversies around her coverage of the Eichmann trial. I think this films does a better job than the dramas made about her life.

Genius PosterGenius

Dir: Michael Grandage

Max Perkins (Colin Firth) is a top editor at Scribners and sons, a major New York publisher of fiction. He’s known for championing an unknown writer. He picks up a messy pile of paper, cuts out the unnecessary parts and rewrites it Boom – instant bestseller. Max – known for the fedora he never takes off his head — is the invisible force behind F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway. He’s the one who edited The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

When he’s not at work he’s commuting to the outer suburbs, a bastion of Anglo privilege and conservatism with his wife Louise (Laura Linney) and their five daughters.

But suddenly something upsets the apple cart. A manuscript 7X2A4831.cr2arrives, courtesy of Broadway costume designer Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman). She’s married with children but champion an unknown writer whose work has been rejected across the industry. He reads it it and is blown away. And who appears his door but Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), a youngish man with messy hair and a brown suit with a heavy southern drawl. He shouts and performs rather than converses. As soon as they meet, the older, bookish Max and the young undisciplined Tom become fast friends and devote all their time trying to convert 1000s of messy pages a pile into a coherent readable novel. Cut, cut, cut says Max. But this is my life! 7X2A3167.cr2protests Tom. The book is published to phenomenal success. And then on to the next manuscript to the chagrine of their famileis and livers But will their bromance outlast Tom’s brush with fame?

13416962_1731661510436823_7285708826814410368_oGenius is an interesting film about writing and editing. That’s what I liked about it.

(Full disclosure: when I’m not reviewing movies I’m editing books – that’s my other job.) I love editing… but is it ever exciting? The movie is filled with writers typing and scribbling, and scribbling away passages with a red pencil. But what the movie really needs is a good edit! It’s filled with tons of speechifying and grandstanding (and dare I say overacting?) Do real writers, even famous ones, talk like they write? Of course not. But in this movie they do.

It’s done as a period piece, complete with beautiful interwar cityscapes, 13418669_1732542140348760_2521662994238663257_operiod costumes and cars, and a great cast. But somehow this movie manages to be both bookish and overwrought.

Spring festival season continues with ICFF, the Italian Contemporary Film Festival and the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, and NIFF, the Niagara Integrated Film Festival. Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Genius starts next week in Toronto and Vancouver.

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

Not Forgotten. Movies Reviewed: The Face of Love, Advanced Style, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz PLUS Hot Docs

Posted in Cultural Mining, Death, documentary, Fashion, Internet, L.A., Manhattan, Movies, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on April 18, 2014

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

Things change, people die, time passes… But some things – and some people – are not easily forgotten. This week I’m looking at three movies about people who should be remembered.

There’s a romantic drama about a widow who can’t forget her husband; and I’m looking at two films coming to Hot Docs – Toronto‘s International Documentary Film Festival. One’s about a young man, a hero of the internet; the other’s about some stylish, elderly women becoming famous on-line.

LOL_RN_088.CR2The Face of Love
Wri/Dir: Arie Posen

Nikki (Annette Bening) and her husband (Ed Harris) are still deeply in love after decades of marriage. They live in LA, and go to a beach resort in Mexico every year. But one day his dead body washes up on the beach, and Nikki is devastated. Can she go on without him?

Five years later, things seem normal. Nikki’s working again. She dresses houses for real estate dealers to make them look lived-in, even though they are empty and lifeless. Sort of like Nikki. But she goes through her daily routine: talking with her neighbour Roger (Robin Williams) and skyping with her adult daughter. Roger used to be her husband’s best friend, but now he has feelings for Nikki (she’s not interested).

But one day, at an art museum she used to visit, she catches a glimpse of a man. HeLOL d05 _87.NEF looks exactly like her late husband. He could be an identical twin.

Tom (Ed Harris) is an artist and teacher. And after some clever stalking and faked coincidental meetings, Nikki manages to meet Tom, and date him. She is madly in love with her late husband, and finds what she’s missing in Tom. He sees her adoring eyes and takes it as the sort of passion he never got from his ex-wife. She sees Tom as her actual husband, returned look of love d02_84.NEFto her.

For Nikki it’s like a dream, and she’ll do anything to stop from “waking up”. She hides Tom from her daughter and from Roger next door. And she hides from Tom the fact he’s her late husband’s doppelgänger. And Tom has a deadly secret of his own that he’s not telling her. Is Nikki crazy? Is Tom deluding himself? Is this love or just an illusion? And can it last?

I kind of liked this mysterious romance: it feels like a soft-core Alfred Hitchcock movie: mystery without murder, conspiracy without crime. Ed Harris and Annette Bening make a good couple, simultaneously low-key but also passionate. It’s not an exciting movie, though. Don’t expect a thriller from a movie about relationships.

Advanced_Style_2Advanced Style
Dir: Lina Plioplyte

Ari Cohen is a young man who lives in New York City. He’s a photographer and a blogger. Because of his great respect for his own grandmother he decides to celebrate the many older women he sees decorate that city’s sidewalks. He Advanced_Style_3approaches women over 60 and asks if he can take their picture for his blog (also called Advanced Style). But he’s not looking for just any old lady. They have to have charm, style, and panache. He looks for women who use their clothes, makeup and hats to construct a work of art: themselves.

And these women all have their own stories. One worked as a dancer in Harlem’s famed Apollo Theatre in the Depression. Another was a magazine editor. One is a renowned party hostess, another teaches art. And they each have their own style Advanced_Style_1trade marks, from a woman who constructs elaborately stylized bright orange false eyelashes; to another who owns a vintage clothing shop, to a punk-rocker in her 60s.

It’s not like their lives are perfect. Says one woman, “everything I have two of, one hurts.”But they’re finding a second (or third) wind with their looks on display on posters, on TV, in fashion magazines and now in this great movie. Advanced Style is a hilarious, heart-warming and surprising crowd-pleaser.

The_Internets_Own_Boy_3The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
Dir: Brian Knappenberger

Aaron Swartz might not be a famous name, but it should be. He grew up with the internet, and was lecturing computer scientists and lawyers as a teen. He helped launch crucial features of the Internet, including RSS, Creative Commons. He played an essential role in the social network and news comment site Reddit, and was a millionaire many times over while still a kid. But instead of retiring to an easy life in silicon valley, he decided to devote himself to internet freedom through activism and hacktivism.

You may have heard of SOPA. It was an attempt to give US government control over web content. Basically, if a site was seen by the film and music industries as violating their copyright, the government could just close a site down. It was thought of as an easy, anti-piracy law, and it easily passed in Congress. But thanks to Aaron’s efforts, 115,000 websites – eventually including huge ones like Wikipedia, Google and Facebook – turned opinion around and defeated the very restrictive bill. This film is a biography of all the things Aaron Swartz did, and how he was dragged

Knappenberger_Brian_6down and eventually driven to suicide (not a spoiler) after being relentlessly pursued by the FBI and government prosecutors. The filmmaker directed the excellent We Are Legion a few years ago, and this extremely moving and informative film is even better. I think everyone should see this movie.

The Face of Love opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; And The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz has its international premier on Hot Doc’s opening Night next Thursday, with Advanced style having its world premier the following Tuesday. Go to hotdocs.ca for more information.

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

60s, 70s and 80s. Movies Reviewed: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Good Vibrations

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Cultural Mining, FBI, Folk, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Northern Ireland, Punk, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 19, 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.

New Year’s Day (coming soon!) is when you declare your resolutions and your goals. And sometimes, you find you’re overly ambitious. I’m looking at three great movies this week, all about men with ambitions they can’t always meet. They’re all loosely based on true stories and take place in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I’m reviewing them chronologically. First a folk musician, then a con man, and then a promoter of punk.

Inside Llewyn Davis

ILD_00756_ctDir/Wri: Coen Brothers

It’s 1961. Llewyn’s a Welsh-Italian-American folk singer who performs at the Gaslight café in Greenwich Village (brilliantly played by actor and musician Oscar Isaac). He’s recorded his first solo album (his folk duo is no more) but it’s not doing well. He’s broke. He’s homeless. And it’s cold out — and he doesn’t even have a winter coat; just a corduroy jacket. With a guitar on his back and a runaway cat in his arms… he’s just blowin’ in the wind. He’s couch surfing between a Columbia prof’s apartment in the upper west side (that’s where the cat lives), and a married couple Jean and Jim’s place in the Village (that’s where his guitar lives). Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) are a happy young couple, who also sing in a folk duet. Also at the Gaslight.

All is not well for poor Llewyn. His agent is crooked, his not-girlfriend girlfriend is pregnant, his dad is ILD_01359_ctcomatose, and a stranger in a cowboy hat has a hate-on. Llewyn keeps making the wrong decisions. But he refuses to sell out. He doesn’t want to wear a white turtleneck. He doesn’t want to sing in a trio. He’s on the verge of making it big… or packing it all in and joining the Merchant Marines. So as a last ditched effort, he hitches a ride out to Chicago with a mean and nasty blues singer (marvelously played by John Goodman) to get a famous folk promoter to sign him.

ILD_05466_ctIt sounds like a so-so story… but it’s not. This is a fantastic drama tracing a couple days in the life of this urban troubador. It’s loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s story. (He was a pretty famous folksinger from New York that you may have heard of.) The movie’s ordinary, and yet extraordinary. It gradually reveals surprising secrets, even while it dangles red herrings. Watching the movie, you get tossed around, clueless, just like Llewyn Davis, until things gradually start to become clear. This movie captures the feeling of the era, before JFK’s assassination, between 50s conformity and 60s mass protest and counterculture. And about a third of the movie is wonderful music performed by the actors. I think it’s one of the the Coen Brothers’ best.

American Hustle Adams BaleAmerican Hustle

Dir: David O. Russell

Irv is a con man. He pulls off low-level jobs — art forgeries, bank fraud – in New York. Sydney is originally from Albuquerque, but she dresses like a Cosmo cover model. She creates a new self – an aristocratic Englishwoman. They meet at a party, fall in love, and become power-team of scammers. But when a con flops, Irv and Sydney (an uglified Christian Bale, lovely Amy Adams) find themselves working for the FBI. If they can bring the FBI four crooks, they get immunity. Richie (Bradley Cooper) the fed who catches them has big ambitions. He wants to run a con to catch crooked businessmen, politicians … the sky’s the limit! To pull it off, they need the bigwigs to accept a briefcase of cash from an agent dressed as a Sheikh from the Emirates.

Irv is cautious. He doesn’t want to take it that high: respect your limits. When Richie tries to rope in the American Hustle Adams Cooper Renner Bale Lawrencemob, Irv sees nothing but trouble. As Irv says, you can’t con a con. Well, Irv gets all palsy-walsy with a potential mark, a popular Jersey mayor named Carmine (Jeremy Renner). But to be friends with Carmine family he has to bring his real wife, Rosalyn, into the mix. Yes, Irv is married, and not to Sydney. And Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, stealing every scene she’s in) is a bleach blonde homebody who talks like a gangster’s moll. She’s the fly in his ointment. Sydney, in retaliation, starts coming on to the vain (yet douche-y) FBI-man, Richie. Will they pull off the scams or go to jail? Will Irving choose Roz or Sydney? (And why are all the characters obsessed with their hair?)

This movie’s not deep, driven or meaningful – except, maybe, that we’re all vain and self-centred – but it does it so well. It’s funny, quirky and fast moving. I liked it a lot.

Good Vibrations 2  Richard DormerGood Vibrations

Dir: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

It’s Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Troubles. Bombs are exploding, people beaten or killed by paramilitary groups. In the middle of all this is Terri Hooley (played by the terrific Richard Dormer). His friends once were anarchists, pacifists, feminists. Now they’re just Catholics or Protestants. But Terri opts out of sectarian conflict and opens a record store, Good Vibrations, right in the thick of it. And, against all expectations, this bearded, smiley and spontaneous leftist is suddenly drawn into the local punk scene. New York has its haircuts, he Good Vibrations1  Richard Dormer centresays, and London its trousers, but Belfast is the only place with a real reason for punk. As thousands are killed, he sets up a punk club in a strip bar and starts up a record label. But will anyone outside of the city ever hear them?

Interspersed with period BBC news footage, Good Vibrations is a fun biopic about one man’s attempt to reclaim a no-man’s land using punk rock.

Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle and Good Vibrations 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

 

Love and Other Addictions. Movies Reviewed: Smashed, Keep the Lights On.

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, L.A., LGBT, Manhattan, Movies, Queer, Romance by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, and I’m back with more movie reviews…

I’m going to briefly talk about two new movies about love and addiction.

Smashed

Dir: James Ponsoldt

Kate and Charlie (Mary Elizabeth Winstead: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad) are a married couple in LA who love falling asleep drunk and waking up for some sloppy morning sex. He’s a writer with rich parents in the movie industry, while she’s a school teacher from a less privileged background. One day she shows up drunk for her public school class and ends up puking in the trash can. This starts a rumour that she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want to tell the less dramatic truth. She lies to the weepy Principal (Meghan Mulhally)

Eventually the fit hits the shan and she has to come clean. She loses her job, and succumbs to despair. But when a fellow teacher, Vice-Principal Dave who has a crush on her, brings her to a 12 step group she begins her slow struggle to get rid of her alcoholism. Dependable but jolly sponsors like Jenny (Octavia Spenser) are there to help her recover. Will she make it and can she get her husband to join her in sobriety?

Keep The Lights On

Dir: Ira Sachs

…has a similar theme.

Erik (Thule Lindhardt: Brotherhood) is a Danish filmmaker living in Manhattan in the late 90’s. He likes art and jogging and is prone to making animal sounds when he is surprised. He also enjoys hooking up with other men by telephone for casual sex. He meets the young professional Paul, a lawyer (Zachary Booth), and despite a rocky start, they end up falling for one another. But theirs is a difficult, co-dependant relationship, fraught with trouble. As Erik rises up in the indie film world, the much richer Paul is sliding into an awful chain of crack addiction, isolation, recovery and then back again. Their relationship takes on weird dimensions involving sex and destruction, and despite Erik’s repeated interventions and stints of rehab, Paul keeps going back to drugs. Will they end up together again? Or will Erik go with his friends’ opinions and dump the guy already?

Both of these movies explain the long slog in and out of addictions and how they can be conquered (or not). Smashed is the lighter one, with humour and more engaging characters. But it also has an earnest, lesson-learned, movie-of-the-week feel to it. Leave the Lights On is longer, darker, and harder to take. It’s also given to relentless speeches about what relationships mean and what went wrong, wringing still more lessons out of this endless spiral of trouble with drug addiction. The acting in both movies was good, especially Lindhardt in KTLO and Winstead in Smashed.

Still, I didn’t love either of these movies, possibly because I’m not a fan of the sub-genre: addictions plus relationships. I feel for the suffering people in the relationship, but I don’t want to go to a movie only to end up as the shoulder the filmmaker wants to cry on.

Ira Sach’s Keep the Lights On, (which played at Inside-out) is now playing in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; Smashed (which played at TIFF) opens next week 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 .

The Secret Disco Revolution: Daniel Garber interviews Jamie Kastner about his new tongue-in-cheek documentary, having its world premier at TIFF

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, Canada, Cultural Mining, Dance, Docudrama, documentary, drugs, Manhattan, Music, TIFF, Toronto, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 7, 2012

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

What is it that some people call a movement, others a musical form, a fad, a plastic commercial fraud, or a subversive political revolution? I’m talking about Disco, and a new, tongue-in-cheek documentary having its World Premier at TIFF looks at its history, its origins, and perhaps an aspect of it you never considered. It’s called The Secret Disco Revolution, and its director, well-known Toronto filmmaker Jamie Kastner, tells me all about it.

You’ll hear about disco’s origin, the academic perspective, the musical side of it, why disco doesn’t really suck, and how a love of Pinter’s plays led him to explore disco music. Confused? Listen!

August 24, 2012. Underground economics. Films Reviewed: Lawless, For a Good Time, Call… PLUS Route Irish, TIFF

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Biopic, Cultural Mining, Manhattan, Movies, Sex Trade, TIFF, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 24, 2012

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.

Feeling a bit… unemployed lately? Does it seem like there are just not enough jobs to go around? Well, fear not – there are lots of jobs out there, they’re just not all particularly respectable or legal. But they are out there. Just depends on how underground you’re willing to go.

So, this week I’m looking at two movies about people who stray from the straight and narrow in order to make a decent living. One is a comedy about two roommates who find that talking sexy can make them rich; the other is a depression era biopic about hillbilly moonshiners.

For a Good Time, Call…

Dir: (Torontonian) Jamie Travis

Lauren (Lauren Miller) is an uptight junior editor in Manhattan who is homeless after getting dumped by her dull, yuppie boyfriend, while Katie (Ari Graynor) is about to lose her late Grandma’s beautiful Gramercy Park apartment. But they are brought together by a mutual gay friend Jesse (Justin Long – from the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials). But the two are an odd couple, like Oscar and Felix, who can’t possibly get along. Blond Katie is a gaudily- dressed, pushy, uncouth, heavy drinker, and forthright about her sexuality. Dark-haired careerist Lauren (a Jennifer Love Hewitt-type) is prim, proper, and comes from a rich Long Island family whose mother cuts her sandwiches into neat squares. But when a newly jobless Lauren puts her business acumen to work, the two of them start up a phone sex company out of their apartment, called 1-800-mmm-hmmm. It’s to tide them over until they can find better jobs. They practice kissing noises, play with giant dildos, and relax in the bubble bath with their retro pink, sex-line telephones. They gradually grow to understand each other better, make money, and turn into independent women ready to face the world.

This is a pretty funny, female buddy-pic comedy – not the rom-com it seems to be at first. Watching the movie, I felt like I was secretly intruding on some “girls’ night out”, hearing things no guy should be allowed to hear, but that just made it fun. The two main actresses are endearing and carry their parts well. And the supporting guys – especially Katie’s customer Sean (Mark Webber) are good, too. And while about a third of the jokes sink without a trace and the comedy relies more on character than on sight gags, it manages to be low budget without looking cheap or clumsy, and a humorous movie about sex without resorting to toilet humour, gratuitous nudity, or extreme disgustingness for its laughs.

Lawless

Dir: John Hillcoat

It’s 90 years ago, between the World Wars, in Franklin County, Virginia – the “wettest” county in dry America. (Prohibition, that is.) And the Bondurant brothers – Forrest, Howard and Jack – are the most successful bootleggers around. They make a good living delivering crates of moonshine to speakeasies all around the county, including a payoff to the local police to look the other way. The oldest brother, Forrest (Tom Hardy), is a monosyllabic monolith, given to grunts and mmmggghhs. It’s said he’s indestructible – can’t be killed. He has his eye on the beautiful and sophisticated Maggie (Jessica Chastain), a Chicagoan who recently fled the big city. The youngest one, Jack (Shia Laboeuf) is the runt of the litter, physically smaller and bullied by his brothers, and forced to rely on his wits rather than his strength. He wants to impress shy Bertha, the farmer’s daughter.

But into this happy, bucolic world comes the conceited, corrupt and sadistic villain, Special Agent Charlie Rakes (Guy Pierce), to take over their operation. He wears his hair perfectly parted in the middle and despises the local hillbillies. His gang of thugs are armed with Thompson machine guns and looking to mow down anyone who stops them from getting their cut. The Sherrif switches sides and is now in Charlie Rakes’ pocket. Throw in a gang of city gangsters, headed by a rough, tough Gary Oldman as their kingpin, and you’ve got a big battle waiting to happen.

Will the Bondurant brothers be successful in their underground business and happy in love, or will the corrupt city slickers kill them all and ruin everything?

Lawless is beautiful to look at and listen to. The green hills are covered with irish moss, and the virginal Bertha appears holding a real live bambi in her hands. And in the background there’s classical country, folk and rockabilly. But the beautiful scenery is alternated with extreme violence, rape, and slit throats. This is mentally jarring, and gives the whole movie an unusual dynamic – violent gangsterism set within an authentic historical setting. It’s similar to director Hillcoat’s and writer Nick Cave’s earlier try, The Proposition, also a violent historical movie about three brothers – but Lawless works where The Proposition failed.

Lawless and For a Good Time, Call… are both opening in Toronto next week. Also, coming out soon on DVD (it never made it to the big screen here) is one of the best movies about the Iraq war, Ken Loach’s brilliant dramatic thriller Route Irish, about a British mercenary trying to find out what really happened to his best friend. And TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival is gearing up with some amazing movies to see. I’ll be talking about some of those starting next week.

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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