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 .

December 30, 2011, More Xmas Movies. Movies Reviewed: The Artist, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close PLUS My Choice of 2011 Best Eleven Movies

Posted in Academy Awards, Acting, Cultural Mining, Dance, Death, Denial, Disabilities, Drama, Hollywood, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Terrorism, TIFF, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 31, 2011

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

Well, here it is, a day away from New Year’s eve, so I guess I’d better tell you my choice for the best movies of 2011.

But first, let me tell you about two more Christmas-y movies that opened this week, one about a kid with a key after the fall of the World Trade Centre, the other about an actor and an actress after the fall of the silent movie.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Dir: Stephen Daldry

Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a little kid in Manhattan who’s a bit neurotic, a bit bratty, pretty smart, a little autistic-y, and prone to temper tantrums. Not that different from a lot of kids. Then his dad (Tom Hanks) just happens to be visiting the twin towers on September 11th. So… the kid is left without his dad, and Oskar becomes more and more sketchy. He communicates with his grandmother by walkie-talkie (she’s in the apartment across the courtyard), and ignores his mom. All that’s left of his dad are the voicemail messages he recorded on an answering machine before the towers collapsed. Oskar sets up a secret shrine to his dead father, and, when going through his father’s things, he discovers a key in an envelope with the name “Black” written on it.

Oskar divides the whole city into small quadrants on a paper map and decides to knock on the door of every family named Black in the city to see if they have the lock that his father’s key will open. One day he meets his grandmother’s reclusive tenant (Max von Sydow) for the first time, even though he’s shared her apartment since after WWII. The tenant is an old German man who will not (or cannot) speak, but communicates by writing little notes in his moleskine with a sharpie and tearing out the pages. Oskar sets out with him on a search for his father’s hidden secrets. With the old man‘s help, maybe he can face his worst fears and reach closure with his dad’s death.

Unfortunately, this is a dreadful movie. It rests on the shoulders of a first-time child actor, who is just not very good. (Apparently, they cast him after he enchanted audiences on Kids’ Jeopardy). We’re supposed to find his Asberger-like behaviour fascinating – it’s not – and his precociousness awe-inspiring – also not. Then there’s Sandra Bullock’s awfulness as the weepy, suffering mother. (Go away, Sandra Bullock — I don’t want to watch your movies anymore.) Only the always-dependable Max von Sydow, and Viola Davis (in a small part as one of the hundereds of people named “Black”) partly redeem the scenes they’re in. Other than that, it’s a non-stop yuck-fest of forced-sentimental pseudo-patriotism with the aim of bestowing sainthood on an entire city because of 9-11. Give it a rest… I would avoid this movie at all costs.

The Artist

Dir: Michel Hazanavicius

George Valentin, (Jean Dujardin) is a movie star of the Silent Screen, the darling of his fans, rich, successful. He can do anything, even question the decisions of the Sam Goldwyn–type movie moghul at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman). It’s just him, his stodgy wife, and his cute little doggy. One night at a reception he runs into a pretty young flapper who catches his eye, and gets her face on the cover of Variety: Who’s That Girl? it asks. Why, it’s an unknown, new starlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo)! And just like that, a star is born… but as she rises, he falls. And when talkies are introduced, he soon finds himself poor, jobless, homeless, and single again. Will Peppy Miller make it big? Will Valentin ever have his comeback? And will his cute and faithful dog (Uggie) and his chauffeur (James Cromwell) stay by his side?

What’s the twist? Well, the whole movie is filmed in the style of a silent movie, with no spoken dialogue. So what? you may be thinking. And my answer would be: indeed.

Doing a silent movie that’s also about silent movies shows an incredible lack of imagination. There’s nothing especially new or interesting in this film. I mean, it’s visually pleasing, a fun re-enactment of old movies, a nice diversion… but nothing more. The score – which is so important in silent films — was underwhelming; and the story held almost no surprises, except an especially lame ending. The costumes and the camera work, though, were both incredible; and I thought the acting was great – for what it’s worth (it seemed more like a pantomime to me.)

I mean, people like Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati made great silent movies long after talkies were well established, but they were good because they were original, funny and surprising. This one isn’t – there’s not an original moment in the entire film, just the re-hashing of things that were once original moments in silent movies. (There are a few hahaha parts, but no real gut busters.) They seem to forget that silent movies were actual movies. This one is more concerned with replicating the surface of silent movies – or how people today look back at them — than making a good movie, period. The Artist is a film for movie collectors not for moviegoers.

Here’s my top eleven movies of 2011. I only included movies that played commercially during that year, so I had to leave out terrific ones that only played in festivals – like Hysteria and Himizu at TIFF, and The Evening Dress at Inside-out. And I don’t include the many amazing documentaries, like Resurrect Dead: the Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles that played at HotDocs; or Page One: Inside the New York Times. I also try to include both mainstream and independent or avant-garde movies. And I haven’t seen every movie from this past year, so I may have missed some gems. OK, here goes, in alphabetical order:

Quadraplegic amputee “war god” returns to his Japanese village:

Caterpillar

Lesbian romance in Tehran:

Circumstance

Danish L.A. film noir thriller:

Drive

Bizarre Polish art film about CIA black sites in Europe:

Essential Killing

Poor, black maids and rich white housewives in 1960’s Mississippi:

The Help

Women leading a wagon train through Oregon

Meek’s Cutoff

The apes are revolting:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Kids shooting a super 8 film uncover a dangerous mystery:

Super 8

A mentally ill husband dreams of coming disaster:

Take Shelter

Cold War thriller about a possible mole within the high-ranks of MI6:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

A horse seeks his boy in the trenches of WWI:

War Horse

Runners-up:

Names of Love (le Nom des gens)

Submarine

Incendie

Attack the Block

The Artist and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are now playing in Toronto (check your local listings). War Horse, Tinker Tailor…, Take Shelter and Drive are also playing in some theatres.

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

September 23, 2011. TIFF aftermath. Films reviewed: Where Do We Go Now?, Drive, Limelight

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

With the closing of this year’s TIFF — with all of its orgiastic
excess of filmic stimulation, eye candy, and brain prods — you may be
suffering from withdrawal. But have no fear — there’s no need to go
cold turkey, because Toronto’s Fall festival season is positively
brimming with good smaller film festival to keep your addiction alive.

Coming soon are: Toronto After Dark, the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, Planet in Focus, the Real Asian Film Festival, and the
European Union Film Festival, among others. And TIFF itself continues
on all year, showing their programmed films at the Lightbox. So if you
missed a good movie at TIFF, even if it doesn’t get a wide release,
you may be able to catch it later on in the year.

But first, the awards. Phillipe Felardeau won the Toronto Best
Canadian feature prize for Monsieur Falardeau — and it’s already gone
on to become Canada’s entry for a Best Foreign language Film Oscar.

The People’s Choice Award at TIFF is often used as an indicator of
who’s going to win a Golden Globe and later get nominated for an
Oscar. Past years’ winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s
Speech, and Precious. It’s voted on not by a panel of judges, but by
the moviegoers at the festival themselves. What this also means is
that sometimes a completely unknown movie — one with no “buzz” at all– can come out of left field, and take this award.

This year’s surprise is a film out of Lebanon, called:

Where Do Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va où?)
Dir: Nadine Labaki

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally
between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all
too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the
graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury
the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids
weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV
night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry
movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men
will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the
village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the
village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the
cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and
their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious
miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers –
anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an
incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon?
And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away
from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie had an extremely slow beginning, with a handmade
feel to it – sort of like an even-lower-budget Big Fat Greek Wedding
meets Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s a comedy, but a lot of the
jokes fell flat. And it’s a musical, but some of the songs just don’t
translate well. The ensemble plot, with dozens of characters, leaves
you confused until you can figure out who everyone is.

That said, in the second half, when the pace picks up and the story
gets interesting, it becomes good. And the ending is just great –
clever and imaginative, and leaves you with a much better feeling
than you came with. Nadine Labaki – who is also a member of the cast – is
the first female director to win the TIFF People’s Choice award, and
it’s nice to see her touching story about an important topic given a
boost. I’m curious as to where the movie will go now.

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling plays this guy in a satin jacket who drives cars around,
plain-looking cars but with souped-up engines that can outgun any
police car. He can tumble a car, flip it over on a highway, and
still remain absolutely calm, a Japanese toothpick still in his mouth. He’s the
strong silent type, good at heart. By day, he works in a garage, and
is sent out by his shady boss Shannon (Brian Cranston) to do movie
stunts. (This is LA, so, of course,  it’s always about the movies.) And by night, he
serves as the driver for bank heists and robberies.

He falls into almost a family relationship with pretty waitress Irene
(Carey Mulligan), and her son, little Benicio, and takes them for
drives around the city. But when her husband, Standard, is released
from prison, his good life starts to fall apart and the violence
builds. He becomes embroiled in a scheme involving sinister gangsters
Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and the great, neanderthalic Ron
Perlman). He ends up holding a dufflebag with a million dollars in
stolen money. What should he do with it? Will he settle down as a
champion stock car racer? Or will violence rule the day?

This is a fantastic — though sometimes horrifically violent, and
weird – movie. (Every once in a while you think – what is this? Is
this for real? Who are they trying to kid? You lose the connection for a moment, but then you slip right back into it.) It looks like a rejig of an 80’s movie like Thief,
with the driving bass (bubbadubba dubbadubba bubbadubba…) background music, and the
night scenes with glowing lights all around. The movie titles are
scribbled, Andy Warhol-style, in hot pink, and strange Eurodisco
dominates the soundtrack. The violence is almost comical, though
bloody. This is NOT your usual action thriller, but a clever, Danish
take on LA film noir. Great movie.

Next, another look at the louche underculture, this time in Manhattan
in the 90’s. A documentary

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

Peter Gatien, a Canadian nightclub promoter who lost an eye in a
hockey game as a kid, was known for his black eye patch, his canny
business practices, and how he had his hand on the pulse of all of New
York clublife in the 80’s and 90’s. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,
but he brought in demimonde celebs – the club kids – to bring in the
cool crowd. He opened famous places like Tunnel, the Palladium and
Limelight (not so affectionately known as slimelight by clubgoers) a
club opened inside of a church.

So everything’s going good, until Giuliani, the law and order supreme,
was elected mayor of New York. But when the drug of choice changed

from coke to MDMA to crack cocaine, so did the mood in the clubs, from

selfish and driven, to touchy-feelie, to insane. Giuliani vowed to
“clean up” the city. And he despised nightclubs, sex and dancing as
musch as drugs. Used to be the people in the burrows and New Jersey
would travel into the city on weekends for fun. By the end of his
reign, the term bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to be a better
description of the people in Manhattan who were so desperate they’d
migrate out of the city just to dance all night.

Well, Giuliani chose Peter Gatien, as his nemesis, and launched a
full-scale attack, an elaborate scheme to paint him as a drug dealer
and criminal. This movie traces, in minute detail, all the players
involved in his trial – the rats, the dealers, the feds, the femme
fatale, and the legendary club kids like murderer Michael Alig.

It’s an interesting movie, about a fascinating topic, with a great
segment giving a history of the evolution of music, nightclubs, and
drugs, worth seeing, but it’s just too long. It gets bogged down with way too many
talking heads against acid-green lighting.

Drive is playing now, Limelife opens today, and  Where Do We Go Now?
won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

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


16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

Super Macho Friday! Films reviewed: Love and Other Drugs; Black Swan; Kings of Pastry

I was recently in The States for American Thanksgiving, and at an American chain bookstore, I noticed a whole section – not just a table, not just a shelf, but a whole section — devoted to “paranormal teenage romances”! I’ve seen that ultimate teenaged paranormal romantic vampire trilogy (the eclipse trilogy) – and I have to say, they were awful, I couldn’t find the appeal in any of them. But different people like different things…I guess it’s a matter of taste.

You might think you like things that blow up, crashing cars, scary monsters, blood and guts, and fistfights. Yeah, me too. That’s why I’m calling this week’s reviews Super Macho Friday, so I can talk about some uber-alpha-testosterone-laden action-packed movies. Yes!!! We’re going to see three rough and tough movies about cut-throat competition, nerves of steel, ironman endurance…! One’s a romantic comedy, one’s a film about ballet dancing, and one’s a documentary on… exquisite French sweeties?

OK I lied, they’re not stereotypically masculine as movies go, but, keep listening: some of them are well worth watching.

Love and Other Drugs
Dir: Edward Zwick

Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a retail salesman in the mid-1990s whose aim is to get laid – on the job – as often as possible. But he gets fired for hitting on his boss’s girlfriend. He’s young, handsome, ambitious, and out of work. Meanwhile, his slovenly, obnoxious, unattractive little brother Josh, who has made a fortune in the dot-com bubble, offers to set him up with a sales job at a global pharmaceutical giant. If his sales reach a certain target, he’ll get to move away from the backwater he’s placed in to the big-time: Chicago.

So he trains hard, works hard, and learns the trade, while also sticking to his hobby. Is he trying to pick up women in order to up his sales? Or is he working as a traveling salesman to sleep with the metaphorical farmer’s daughters? Who knows? Either way, he’s being trounced by a more successful, rival salesman: an ex-marine peddling prozac. But, after bribing a doctor to let him dress as an intern, he encounters a beautiful woman, Maggie (Anne Hathaway) a barrista and artist with early onset Parkinson’s. Sounds interesting so far? It is, sort of.

After that, unfortunately, the rest of the movie is just about them jumping in and out of bed, and whether their casual sex will develop into a loving relationship. Granted, there’s lots of gratuitous shots of the two movie stars running around scantily dressed… but the movie itself was pointless and boring. Will Maggie and Jake stay together? Will he get his transferred to Chicago? Will she continue to make coffee and snap photos and buy medications? Who cares? You get the impression even they don’t really care. And when the movie tries to be funny, it usually fails miserably, like the lame scene about Viagra-induced priapism and a three way with a model-like saleswoman in a hot tub (“She’s Thai, and I’m Thai-curious”).

It doesn’t even really deal with the real problems of big pharmaceuticals, aside from the industry’s high prices and competitiveness. Instead, it was more of a non-stop product placement for the drugs themselves. They even have a depressed homeless guy whose life is turned around after garbage-picking Prozac samples. Oliver Platt as his trainer and Hank Azaria as a GP are bth great, but other than that, unless you really love Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, (or have a thing for awful 90’s music, like The Macarena) this is a stupid, pointless romantic movie that goes nowhere.

Black Swan
Dir: Darren Aronofsky

I reviewed this during the Toronto Film festival, and it stayed with me – it’s a haunting, moving film.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina, pure of heart, who wants the lead role in Swan Lake. She’s been raised to reach perfection, en pointe, by her relentless stage mother who was also in the ballet, but never made it big. Nina doesn’t drink or smoke or have sex – she still lives at home, she’s bullemic, plays with stuffed animals, wears a fuzzy pink coat, and listens to her little music box with a dancing ballerina by her bed.

But the ballet director, played Vincent Cassel, wants to put new life into the that cliched old ballet. He pushes her to also play the role of the Black Swan, the sinister evil twin of the Swan Queen. For this, he wants her to abandon her remaining childhood and purity and to become angry, passionate and sexual. He’s exploitative and cruel. Meanwhile, Beth the former diva at this ballet, (Winona Ryder) is forced to retire, and a new competitor, Lily (Mila Kunis) is also trying for the role, and trying everything she can to take it from Nina. Sophisticated Lily is Nina’s opposite – sex, drugs, smoking, and backstabbing all come as second nature to her. Nina has to hold on, both to her role in the ballet, and to her tenuous grip on reality.

The big question is: does Aronofsky’s latest venture work or not. I have to admit, at times, this movie drifted into high camp, and felt like nothing more than a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s “Showgirls”, another movie about backstabbing dancers.

That said, I think it’s a totally watchable classic melodrama and psychological thriller, with great acting by the two main women, plus very enjoyable overacting by Winona Ryder as the former prima donna and Barbara Hershey as the over-the-top stage mom. This movie’s also stunning on the eyes and ears, with amazing production values.

I think Aronofsky knows exactly what he’s doing, neatly alternating three styles: The super-real, documentary-like footage just like in The Wrestler – behind the scenes bone-cracking, massages, rehearsals, warm-ups and make-ups; the scenery-chewing catfights of melodramatic soap opera; and surreal, drug-induced psychological fantasies (like in his great “Requiem for a Dream”). For me, this balance worked.

Kings of Pastry
Dir: Chris Hegedus, and D.A. Pennebaker

The title says it all: this is about the cut-throat competition to be accepted as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France and allowed to wear the coveted collar. The movie follows the competitors from Europe and North America, as they go from stage to stage, constructing elaborate spun sugar sculptures, designing multi-layered chocolate truffles, obscure pastries, and impossibly complex cakes. It’s like a reality show or Iron Chef – except it’s not a TV show competition. It’s the real thing. They all compete, with an olympic-like ethos, to create these monuments of grotesquerie.

Part of the competition is to take these huge, delicate and breakable constructions, lift them up, using their own hands, and carry them all the way to the table where the judges do their judging. And even though this is an unscripted documentary, you just know it, one of the chefs is going to stumble…

When I was a kid, they did the learning numbers sequence on Sesame Street – some of you might remember this – and one film clip that still sticks in my mind is, in each sequence, there would be this guy at the top of a staircase in a white chef’s toque announcing something like “Seven Pumpkin Pies!” And then dropping them all.

Anyway, I don’t get it. I’m not a sweet tooth so I don’t see why you’d breaking your back creating hideous spun-sugar displays and petit fours arangements, but clearly some people live for this stuff. And the chefs, obviously, still value these old-school distinctions. I guess you could say they want to be archaic, and eat it, too. The film starts slowly, with the chefs in their home territories, practicing spinning flawless sugar ribbons; but once they’re at the big competition, it really heats up. Tthis is an excellent documentary, and the ultimate dessert film.

Just to review, today I talked about Love and Other Drugs, now playing, Black Swan opening today, check your local listings, and Kings of Pastry which is playing at The TIFF Lightbox – go to tiff.net for details. Also starting today is Sell Out!, a funny and unusual satirical musical-comedy about Rafflesia, a reality show host whose ambition comes to the rescue when she finds a new way to attract Malaysian audiences – using death as the ultimate draw.

Movie Excuses. Films reviewed: Morning Glory, Sell Out!, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. PLUS EU Film Fest and Best Breast Film Fest

Posted in Acting, Cultural Mining, Drama, Harry Potter, Journalism, Malaysia, Manhattan, Movies, Musical, Romantic Comedy, TV, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on November 21, 2010

I like movies. They can be interesting, thrilling, edifying, moving, romantic, educational, funny, beautiful, cool, and a good way to keep your feet dry if it’s raining out. I don’t need an excuse to see one.

But there are a lot of people who will do just about anything not to see a movie. And believe me, I’ve heard a lot of excuses:

I hate Hollywood!
I already read the book.
I only watch movies with subtitles.
It’s too expensive!
No tits and ass? Then I don’t wanna see it…
Boring… I like TV better.
I’d rather give my money to charity.

So today I’m going to tell you about some movies that address these excuses.

You want to give money to charity? You love movies with lots of naked breasts? Check out the Breast Fest now on at the Royal Ontario Museum. Actually, this is a very real film festival that rethinks breast cancer. It’s showing documentaries about surviving, living with, or confronting breast cancer, along with workshops and discussions. Look online for information at www.breastfestfilmfest.com

Do you think movies are too expensive? Do you hate Hollywood? Or maybe you just love movies with sombre Scandinavians staring pensively at still ponds? Well, be sure to check out the Toronto EU film festival, that started last night and will be on for the next ten days.

This is quite a remarkable film festival, if you’ve never been. It’s a chance to see 22 films from all across the European union, from Finland to Cyprus, Poland to Portugal in addition to the more established film industries like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. It’s always a mixed bag, but some of the movies are always stupendous and with some hidden treasures there, too. And best of all, it’s absolutely free, all week at the Royal Cinema. But be sure to show up at least 45 minutes before the starting time if you want to get a seat. The tickets disappear very quickly. I’ll be reviewing some movies from the festival next week, but you can look at the schedule online at eutorontofilmfest.ca

“I like TV better”. OK, let’s look at two movies about TV.

First,

Morning Glory
Dir: Roger Michell

Becky (played by Rachel McAdams) is a young TV producer from New Jersey, who gets laid off from her local, candy-coloured morning show. But she’s enthusiastic, charming and relentlessly hard working. So she’s thrilled to land a job as executive producer for a national network show broadcasting out of downtown Manhattan.

But, there’s a catch. She soon discovers all is not well. The on-air talent are all boring, vapid, worn-out, lecherous, or entirely lacking in charm. And if she doesn’t fix it up soon, the show might be cancelled. So she brings an eminent news anchorman (Harrison Ford) to be the new cohost. Will she get this crabby journalist to shed his hubris and participate? And will he and the longtime host (Diane Keaton) ever see eye-to-eye? And will Becky – who works 24/7 and is always on the phone — ever find love and romance? Morning Glory is a pretty funny movie about making TV shows. The plot’s totally cookie-cutter, but the setting – behind the scenes at the network – is hilarious and true-to-life. It’s a not-bad, run-of-the-mill, very commercial, light comedy.

Another movie:
Sell Out!
Dir: Yeo Joon Han

…couldn’t be more different. It’s a darkly satirical, comic look at Malaysia, seen through their TV, art, music, film, industry, and daily life, about how two young Malaysians face the dilemma of whether to stay true to their ideals or sell out.

Rafflesia is a Malaysian-Chinese TV host for FONY (as in SONY) TV a big conglomerate’s network. She’s competitive and jealous of an up-and-coming Eurasian hostess. Rafflesia’s attempt at making avant garde “art” for TV audiences – using film and poetry — is a dismal failure. But her ambition comes to the rescue when she finds a new way to attract reality-TV audiences – using death as the ultimate draw.

Meanwhile, Eric, is a brilliant, young engineer who works in the electronics division of FONY corp, has a crush on Rafflesia – but she won’t even look at him twice. Eric comes up with an amazing invention. You pour soybeans into one end, and press one of the buttons, and out comes soya milk, or tofu, or miso, soy sauce, tempeh – you name it. But, according What’s the flaw? It’s too durable – the company can only sell one per family – he didn’t design it so it automatically breaks down as soon as the warranty ends.

So will Rafflesia make it as a Reality TV host? And will Eric stay true to his ideals or sell out? And will they fall in love?

That’s the storyline, but this movie has a lot more to it. It has something I’ve never seen before — its very funny dialogue is in what’s sometimes called “Manglish”, or Malaysian English (with subtitles). Not only that – the characters break into song every so often – it’s a comic Malaysian-Chinese musical! And not only that – the movie also lampoons itself with scenes morphing into a karaoke video, (complete with words) or avant- garde cinema with dialogue spoken behind closed doors. It mocks the styles of Tsai Mingliang and Hou Hsiaohsien but also the stupidity of mainstream pop culture. Some of the jokes are dreadful, but this is a unique, funny satire, unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before.

What about the excuse “I’ve read the book”? Well, you still might want to see the movie version, like this latest, and second-to-the-last installment of the Harry Potter saga

The Deathly Hallows
Dir: David Yates

Just in case you’re one of the few people who has never heard of Harry Potter, it’s the story of a young English orphan with a lightning-bolt mark on his forehead, who discovers he is a wizard. He’s sent to the boarding school Hogwarts to learn his trade, and becomes best friends with fellow students of magic, Ron and Hermione. In this movie, the three of them set off on a journey to find destroy the Horcruxes – hidden items that contain a bit of dark power – before the villainous Voldemort gets a hold of them.

This episode is a bit risky. The series depends on the familiar surroundings of Hogwarts, with all of its quirky, strange, funny characters, and familiar images – the classic school uniforms, the strange magical paraphernalia, the building’s stone walls… but a significat part of this film is devoid of all that – just the three young actors, dressed in beige wooly sweaters, in a natural setting, dealing with their emotions. So that part dragged a bit for me. I wanted to see more magic, less grousing.

Luckily the rest of the movie had all that. There are some amazing scenes inside the Ministry of Magic with lots of clever, visual references to 1930’s fascist Europe — complete with the racist anti-muggle persecution, bad guys wearing black leather Gestapo trench coats, and foreboding, towering walls.

The movie downplays some of the book’s deaths, but is generally pretty close to the story. And though it only covers half the book, it ends in a way that leaves the viewer satisfied and without cheap cliff-hangers. Some great special effects, and the usual parade of virtually every single British movie actor making an appearances. Lot’s of fun, lots of scary parts. I liked this kids’ movie a lot, despite its dragging middle – no excuses needed.

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