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

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma. Movies reviewed: De Palma, Sisters, Obsession, Carrie, Blowout

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Crime, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Horror, Mental Illness, Psychological Thriller, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on June 17, 2016

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

A new documentary is opening today called simply De Palma (directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow). And that’s what it is: an interview with director Brian De Palma (director of Carrie and Scarface.) He talks directly to the camera about his career and the films he made, complete with clips. De Palma was part of the small Brian De Palma and Al Pacino on set of SCARFACE as seen in DE PALMAgroup of New Hollywood directors who broke loose in the 1970s: I’m talking Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas. He was the first one to cast Robert De Niro, who he discovered straight out of acting school.

Brian De Palma started as an experimental art-house director in NY. Then he became a genre director, specializing in horror, suspense and crime movies. Eventually, by the early 1990s, he Brian De Palma and John Travolta on set of BLOW OUT as seen in DE PALMAmoved on to big budget hits, but his movies lost their original or interesting elements.

His movies are easy to spot. He pioneered the use of the split screen. He took parallel montage – meaning to alternate simultaneous scenes — and tossed it out the window. He replaced it with split screens, a remarkably successful technique that shows two points of view at the same time, side by side.

De Palma uses split screen like an exclamation point. He’s saying: pay attention and look at this — it’s important!

Another trademark are his soft-core scenes of naked women caressing themselves in the shower, surrounded by clouds of billowing steam. Immediately followed by lots of blood. This was very controversial at the time, for combining highly sexualized images of women with scenes of violence directed toward the same characters. It led to widespread protests and boycotts of his movies (especially Body Double and Dressed to Kill).

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma is a retrospective now playing at TIFF. This week, I’m looking at some of his lesser-known films from what I call his Golden Age: the 1970s and 1980s.

mwk4wA_106_006_o3_9000592_1463580929Sisters and Obsession are two of De Palma’s earliest – and not that well-known – Hitchcock-type movies. They both star Canadian actresses.

Sisters (1973) is about a pair of beautiful twins, Dominique and Danielle (Margot Kidder, with a solid Quebecoise accent). These sisters’ lives are closely bound,  to say the least. When one of them stabs a man to death in her own qjo47D_106_007_o3_9000652_1463580940apartment, her greasy ex-husband steps to in to cover-up the crime. The body and the blood all disappear, but not before Grace, a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who lives in an adjacent building, witnesses it all. But she is hampered by a corrupt and sexist police force (a common, subversive theme in many of his movies). This film is a combination of The Lady Vanishes and Rear sisters.003Window, where it’s up to a single person not just to catch the criminal but to prove the crime even took place. While far from a masterpiece, it has Margot Kidder in one of her first feature roles (she was strictly a TV actress before this). There’s also an incredible, drug-infused, surreal scene in black and white (using a camera’s iris) set in a mental ward. The film is worth seeing just for that.

OBSESSION-SPTI-08.tifObsession (1976) is more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Michael (Cliff Robertson) is a business tycoon in New Orleans. He works with his smarmy partner Bob (John Lithgow, De Palma’s go-to villain). But when his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and his two kids are kidnapped and murdered Mike falls into a deep depression. Decades later, on a business trip to Italy, he spots a beautiful woman restoring art in a cathedral – the same church where he had met his wife. Sandra looks just like OBSESSION-SPTI-07.tifher – like time stood still. He becomes obsessed with her. They travel back to New Orleans and plan to marry. Sandra explores the house including what she finds in a sealed room. And that’s when their lives starts to unravel and deep secrets are revealed in a shocking ending.

The Hitchcock feel of these two movies was not coincidental. The story, look and sound of these movies evokes him in many scenes. De Palma intentionally hired the same composer Bernard Herrmann, that Alfred Hitchcock used in movies like North by Northwest and Psycho. Prophetically, like Hitchcock, he’s never won an Oscar.

oYmo3N_Carrie_2_o3_8998306_1463581372Carrie (1976) is much more famous – it was a big hit based on a Stephen King novel. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, the daughter of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical mother (Piper Laurie) who thinks anything sexual is a sin. So Carrie panics when she has her first period at school, not knowing what was happening. Instead of being helped, she is horribly bullied in the girls’ locker room. They throw tampons at her. Sue (Amy Irving) feels guilty so she sets Carrie up with a date for the senior prom. But Chris (Nancy Allen) takes the opposite path and plans to inflict a humiliating practical joke on her. But no pgnpEr_Carrie_10_o3_8998395_1463580862one knows that Carrie is telekinetic: she can move things with her mind.

All of this leads to the iconic prom scene, the climax of the movie, which makes use of extensive split screen 58Mkjq_Carrie_43_o3_8998438_1463580881to great effect. And I should warn you here, if you haven’t seen Carrie, watch it first, before the documentary, which is filled with spoilers. Carrie is both a heartbreaking story of adolescence and (for when it was made) scary as hell.

vgwy65_5006903_o3_8997710_1463581179Blowout (1981) is about Jack Terry (John Travolta), a sound guy. He used to wire cops, hiding microphones on their bodies to help with corruption investigations. Now he works at a two-bit recording studio in Philadelphia, recording and mixing sound effects for schlocky slasher films. One night he heads out to record wind sounds in a park, but, coincidentally, he catches the sounds of a chappaquidick-style accident: a tire blows out, and a car goes off a bridge. He dives into the river and saves a young woman trapped inside… but not the driver. He’s dead.

Turns out the driver was the late State Governor groomed to be the next President. His political X6Pv9v_FRL-42992_Blow-Out_col-slide_002_tmb_o3_8997675_1463581167team wants the whole accident to disappear. But was it an accident? Jack wants Sally, the woman from the accident (Nancy Allen — married to De Palma at the time) to help him prove that this was an assassination. And that the sounds he recorded were of a gunshot followed by a blow out. But a mysterious, murderous political fixer (John Lithgow) is working behind the scenes to make it — and all the people involved — disappear. The police seem to be part of the cover up, and Sally has some secrets of her own (she was in the car as j2BjjP_IMG0087_o3_8997801_1463581207part of a honeypot blackmail scheme.) Can Jack and Sally expose this deep, dark conspiracy?

I saw Blowout as a kid when it first came out, and it blew my mind. It was a flop and largely faded away (until recently). But I’ve always considered Blow Out to be one of De Palma’s best movies.  It’s inspired by Antonioni’s famous Blow Up, but I like it better. John Travolta is fantastic in this. The sounds and pictures in this are amazing – every shot has spectacular depth of field (like a close up of an owl taking up the right side, and Jack on a bridge far off in the distance on the left side.) This movie is made to watch on a wide screen – it feels like split screen, even when it’s not.

If you want to see just one De Palma film, let it be this one.

De Palma (the documentary) and Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma are playing now in Toronto – go to tiff.net for showtimes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Divided personalities. Movies reviewed: Al Purdy Was Here, Legend, I Smile Back

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Biopic, Canadian Literature, Cultural Mining, drugs, Mental Illness, Movies, Organized Crime, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 4, 2015

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

People want their friends to be consistent, reliable, regular. But personalities don’t always work this way. This week I’m looking at three movies about people with shifting lives and divided personalities. There’s a US drama about a drug-addicted, bipolar stay-at-home mom; a British biopic about identical twin gangsters, and a Canadian documentary about a poet with a second life.

Purdy-at-typewriterAl Purdy Was Here
Dir: Brian Johnson

Literature once ruled Canadian culture, with poetry at the top of the CanLit heap. Dudek, Layton, Cohen, Atwood, Bowering, MacEwan, Borson… But things change, and names get lost. This documentary looks at one of those poets, a man named Al Purdy. Have you heard of him? There’s a statue of him in Queen’s Park, about 100 metres away from here.

Purdy is born in small-town Ontario and drops out of school. He joins the Air Force, works with dynamite, and rides the rails all the way to Vancouver. In the 1950s he survives on UI and roadkill. AL+&+friends+at+the+A-FramePicture a bigger-than-life man in loud plaid pants with a foghorn voice. He’s imposing, obnoxious, and happiest talking loudly with a beer stubby in his hand. He makes his mark in Montreal among the better-educated English poets, depending on his prose poetry and rough working-class persona to pull him through. But what became of him?

This movie fills in the blanks. It uses amazing old snapshots, recordings and CBC footage, chapbooks, memorial concerts and twitter feeds to memorialize Al Purdy. It concentrates on the A-frame he built by hand with poet Milton Acorn. The house falls into disrepair so a bunch of writers and musicians get together to physically fix it up. The movie also uncovers the fact it was his wife’s work and salary that let him live the life of a poet. And some skeletons in the closet of another forgotten life. For example it was his wife’s income that let him live as a poet. This movie brings musicians and poets together again, and brings Al Purdy’s poetry back to life.

LegendLegend
Wri/Dir: Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential)

Reggie and Ronnie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy) are gangsters in London’s Bethnal Green, in the 1960s. They make their money through extortion and gunrunning. They are well known to the police, but they still go on with their work with impunity. They’re also identical twins: they may look the same, but their personalities are night and day.

Reggie is popular with the ladies, a real charmer, while Ronnie prefers sex with guys. Reg is the shrewd businessman while Ronnie is more of the brawler. Reggie can hold his own in a fight, but Ronnie’s the really scary one, the loose cannon, ready to explode at any moment, guns ablazing.

Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the movie begins with him locked away in a high-security Legendhospital for the criminally insane. Reggie strongarms a psychiatrist to declare his brother sane but the doctor puts it on Reggie to make sure Ronnie always takes his meds. (He doesn’t)

One day Reggie meets Frances (Emily Browning) the younger sister of one of his drivers. She’s 16, a petite, beautiful wide-eyed ingénue. They share a lemon sherbet candy, and bam! they fall in love. (She serves as the movie’s narrator). She likes everything about him… except the gangster stuff. And his brother. But Reg courts her relentlessly, even climbing up a drainpipe to her second story window to avoid her mum’s disapproving glances.

Ronnie, meanwhile, is pursuing his own interests: building a mythical utopian city in far-off Africa. And hanging out with his two boyfriends.

02They join forces with Payne (David Thewlis) a man with a middle class accent, an impressive office and a big moustache. He acts as the frontman, while the Krays lurk behind are the muscle. They sit in the background looking threatening, rarely having to raise a finger. Soon enough they’re taking over nightclubs, moving banknotes on the black market, and even doing jobs for Meyer Lansky the US mafia kingpin (who founded Murder Inc.) And the money is rolling in.

Things seem to be going great, until Reggie spends some time in jail and Ronnie takes charge. Uh oh. LegendTheir businesses start to unravel at a rapid pace. What will happen to them now? Can the Kray twins handle a rival gang, the police, the mafia, the House of Lords, their love interests… and their own sibling rivalry?

I like this movie – the music, the look, the acting are all great. I did have some trouble understanding Ronnies lines (is it his cockney accent or his mumbling voice?) And having Tom Hardy play both the twins is pretty impressive. It really feels like two separate people. They even get in fist fights and end up wrestling on the floor.

But the central love story — Frances and Reg — just didn’t grab me. It didn’t seem quite right, ‘t works well as an action-filled historical biopic, but fizzles as a romance.

oYXOpY_ismileback_03-HIGHRES_o3_8706150_1438094935I Smile Back
Dir: Adam Salky

Laney (Sarah Silverman) lives in a nice middle-class home with her husband Bruce (Josh Charles) and her two kids, Eli and Janey. Bruce is an insurance agent who loves playing basketball with their kids. Laney loves them too but finds even dropping them off at school an almost unbearable chore. So she fills her days popping pills, snorting coke, and getting drunk. Or sleeping with random guys she meets in dive bars. She even has an ongoing fling with her best friend’s husband (and her husband’s best friend), who keeps her supplied with meds. She takes lithium to handle her mood swings, leaving her like a depressed zombie when she takes it. But when she skips her meds she goes wild – irresponsible, extreme, always searching for new sexual adventures. She finds herself waking up in strange motel rooms hungover from extreme drunken excess.

That she can handle. It’s her role as the good stay-at-home mom – and the guilt that comes with it – is almost I Smile Backunbearable. She ends up telling off mothers teachers or anyone who rubs her the wrong way.

Bruce’s patience is almost limitless, but she repays this by getting even more difficult to handle. (Does he suspect she’s sleeping with strangers?) And then there are her kids – some of her worries rub off on Eli who has horrible dreams, turning to weird, nervous habits to keep calm. She realizes she’s hit rock bottom when she goes to check on her sleeping kids and ends up masturbating with his teddy bear. Oh Lanie — get a grip! She checks into rehab to try to get back to normal, But lurking in the background is something from her past involving her dad who she hasn’t spoken to in decades.

I Smile BackCan Lanie handle her spiraling decline? Will rehab save her? Can she learn to see her kids again and just smile back? Or will she end up homeless, drunk and beaten up in a dark alley?

I Smile Back is a hard movie to handle. It’s not fun – it’s disturbing, shocking and depressing. But Sarah Silverman pulls it off. We’re used to seeing her as a comic, pushing the limits with her shocking potty humour and dirty jokes. But what’s really chilling is seeing her doing the things she jokes about but for real, not for laughs. Worth seeing.

Legend, Al Purdy was Here, and I Smiled Back 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.

 

 

 

Daniel Garber talks with director Gaspar Noé about his new film Love (in 3-D) at #TIFF15

Posted in 3-D, Breasts, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, France, Mental Illness, Movies, Penis, psychedelia, Romance, Sex, Suspicion, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 14, 2015

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

Murphy is an American in Paris. On New Year’s Day he awakens from a sexual dream to find himself miserable and hungover. He is married to a woman, Omi, he barely knows and father of Gaspar Noe 2an accidental baby named Gaspar. He retreats to his one private space, an old VHS box. Inside are the only items that still connect him to his one true love, raven-haired Electra: a stack of stereoscopic photos and a piece of opium. And Karl Glusman, Gaspar Noe photo © Jeff Harris cultural mining 2after a desperate, panicky call from Electra’s mother, he lies back, takes the opium, and retraces what happened to their Love.

LOVE is also the name of a new movie about sexual romance, passion and loss, as seen through the eyes of Murphy, a young American filmmaker and two European women, Electra and Omi. The film was made by the legendary GasparLOVE - Still 2 Noé, known for his mind-blowing movies Enter the Void, Irreversible and I Stand Alone. It had its Canadian premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is opening in Toronto today. I spoke with Gaspar on location (some background noise) at TIFF15 in September. He talked about actors Aomi Muyock’s hair colour, Klara Kristin’s electricity, Karl Glusman’s looks, Dustin Hoffman,  Douglas Sirk, Winston Churchill, himself, intimacy, sperm, “Gaspar Julio Noe Murphy”, Wild Bunch, Irreversible,  tunnels, circles, the colour red, psychedelic images, Enter the Void, a fourth dimension, humidity, old movies… and more!

Photos by Jeff Harris

Body Consciousness. Movies reviewed: Body, My Skinny Sister, Kilo Two Bravo

Posted in Drama, Mental Illness, Poland, Sweden, UK, Uncategorized, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 14, 2015

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

North Americans spend over $60 billion a year on gym memberships and diets, obsessing over their weight and fitness. Body image is omnipresent. This week I’m looking at three movies about bodies. There’s a Swedish drama about a girl who envies her sister’s body; a Polish drama about a man who finds bodies, a woman who talks to dead bodies and a young woman who wishes her own body would just go away; and a UK war movie about a squadron of soldiers in Afghanistan just trying to keep their bodies alive.

1j3WjR_BODY_03_o3_8696634_1439859982Body
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) is a psychotherapist who treats teenaged girls with eating disorders. She works at a prestigious medical centre in Warsaw where she uses the latest techniques to make them comfortable with their bodies. She lives alone, and shares her bed with a Great Dane. Janusz (Janusz Gajos) is a lawyer who deals with death on a daily basis. Y6qWpn_BODY_01_o3_8696532_1439859952He prosecutes rapists and murderers, and treats his job as part CSI, part detective sleuth. We always see him at the crime scene, never in court. He lives with his bleached-blonde daughter Olga (Justyna Suwala). Olga has had an eating disorder since her mom died, which she blames on her dad. This dysfunctional family lives a passive 66KX8l_BODY_02_o3_8696583_1439859967aggressive life, with Olga never eating and Januzs always drinking. They coexist uneasily, leaving notes to each other taped around the house, with the spirit of the dead woman hanging over everything. That is until Olga attempts to kill herself. Januzs has her committed to a mental hospital under Anna’s care.

But they don’t know that Anna is not just a therapist, but also a spiritualist who believes she can talk to the dead. It’s up to her to convince Olga and Januzs to accept each other and to reach out to the dead woman’s ghost.8qK16m_BODY_04_o3_8696685_1439859202

Death, murder, suicide, mental illness… this sounds like a depressingly heavy movie, right? Wrong! It’s a delightfully absurdist look at how dysfunctional families cope with death and mourning. The movie consists of dozens of short scenes, many of which have hilarious or shocking details. (For example, the body of a suicide victim who turns out not to be dead.) And it’s peppered with subtle, political digs at contemporary polish society — issues like abortion, anti-semitism, sexism, and alcoholism. Szumowska is a director to look out for. I liked two of her earlier movies from Poland and France (In the Name of, Elles) and this one is even better.

my-skinny-sisterMy Skinny Sister
Wri/Dir: Sanna Lenken

Stella (Rebecka Josephson) is a pudgy, red-haired ten-year-old. She is smart but extremely self-conscious. Her older sister Katja (Amy Diamond) is a prize-winning figure skater. She practices daily with her German athletioc coach Jacob (Maxim Mehmet) and is highly competitive. Stella idolizes her but is also jealous of her. How come Katja gets all her parents’ attention? Why is she so thin and athletic, when Stella is just ordinary? And how come she gets to spend so much time with KO9Ryx_myskinnysister_01_o3_8730465_1440464810Jacob? Stella has a crush on him and is sure he’d feel the same way if he just got to know her.

But then she learns something else about her sister: Katja is eating funny. She won’t eat junk food – athletes in training can’t eat things like that! – but Stella catches her gorging out of a trash can and throwing it all up later. But when Stella confronts her she makes her promise not to tell anyone – especially Jacob or their parents. Stella is torn: anorexia could be killing her sister, so telling their parents might save her life. But deep down she wants to see Katja fail. Maybe that will get Stella the attention she deserves.

My Skinny Sister is a realistic coming-of-age drama about eating disorders, told from Stella’s point of view. It shows how even parents who love their kids — and do everything with their kids in mind — can still do everything exactly wrong.

GZWWMJ_KILOTWOBRAVO_05_o3_8716163_1439859473Kilo Two Bravo
Dir: Paul Katis

Tug (Mark Stanley) is a medic in the British Army, based in Helmand, Afghanistan. He works at an encampment on a hilltop in Kajiki, near a major dam and a big reservoir. Most of his work consists of providing band aids and inspecting grunts’ penises for sexually transmitted diseases. That is until pgLL8Q_KILOTWOBRAVO_02_o3_8716051_1439859431someone spots suspicious activity happening down in the wadi. The Taliban is active in the area and might threaten the dam.

So a few soldiers venture down the rocks to reconoiter. That’s when it happens: one of them steps on a mine blowing of a mine and some fingers. It’s up to Tug to stop the bleeding and get him to a hospital in Kabul. The problem is, where there’s one landmine, there are always more. And as the soldiers climb down they find 1j33rZ_KILOTWOBRAVO_01_o3_8716034_1439859417themselves walking on eggshells in a minefield. Each soldier they try to rescue could lead to more casualties. A false step, a kicked rock, a dropped water bottle… boom! Another deadly explosion. And adding to the danger is an incoming helicopter that could ignite even more mines, imperiling them all.

Kilo Two Bravo is a suspense-filled drama that keeps you tense for most of the film.NxWWL2_KILOTWOBRAVO_03_o3_8716068_1439859445 And it doesn’t skimp on gore: there are long medical sequences – gaping wounds, flying limbs — not for the squeamish. It’s a War is Hell-type story, where there’s no easy enemy, no Taliban soldiers to fight. Just the invisible foe hidden all around you in the minefield. If you’ve heard the term PTSD, and wondered where it comes from, this movie will show you. Kilo is neither a pro-war nor an anti-war film;  rather, it’s a sympathetic look at the soldiers themselves.

Kilo Two Bravo opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; My Skinny Sister is part of Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival featuring movies about addiction and mental health. And Body opened the Ekran Toronto Polish Film Festival and is playing at the EU film festival which starts today. Also opening today is Gaspar Noe’s Love.

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

Sudden changes. Films reviewed: Mountain, Girls Lost, Demolition, My Big Night. #TIFF15

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Israel, Mental Illness, Movies, Spain, Sweden, TV by CulturalMining.com on September 18, 2015

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

TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival is winding to a close but there are still many movies left to see this weekend. With the change of times, I’m going to talk about movies sudden changes. Four very good movies. A woman who lives in an Israeli cemetery discovers a change in her surroundings; three teenage Swedish girls who discover they can temporarily change their sex; a Wall Street investment banker who is left dumfounded by a sudden change in his life; and a group of people locked into a TV studio where nothing ever seems to change.

Nx1RGp_MOUNTAIN_04_o3_8815368_1441410067Mountain

Dir: Yaelle Kayam

Zvia (Shani Klein) is an orthodox Jewish woman who lives with her husband and children in a stone house on a hillside. But not just any hillside, it’s the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the hill that divides east and west. It overlooks the Dome of the Rock, but it’s also a graveyard filled with stone markers. Zvia, who wraps her head in a white- cloth turban, is alone all day when her husband is praying and kids in school. And alone again at night when everyone sleeps. She occasionally talks with the Palestinian grounds keeper, or k5MPK5_MOUNTAIN_05_o3_8815402_1441410070mourners looking for a grave, but otherwise she is all alone, So she ventures out onto the side of the mountain, only to find a different nighttime population. In the bible, the Mount of Olives is where the idolators worshipped the gods Chemosh and Molek. And she looks with wonder and awe at the prostitutes having sex on the gravestones, the drug dealers and homeless lying desolate on tombs. Where she once came to visit a poet’s gravesite, now everything somehow seems defiled. But is she more at home here on the hill or back with her dysfunctional family?

Shani Klein is amazing as Zvia in this dark and troubling first feature. It leaves the viewer with many questions, but little sense of hope.

k5XQkE_GIRLSLOST_01_o3_8689990_1439859122Girls Lost

Dir: Alexandra-Therese Keening

Sweden, present day. 14-year-old girls Momo, Bella and Kim (Louise Nyvall, Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund, Tuva Jagell) are best friends, like the three musketeers. Momo has long brown hair, Bella is a redhead with glasses, and Kim has a dark, boyish haircut. They are bullied relentlessly for being non-conformists. Almost everyday they are attacked in the hallways, the playground and in gym class. Big crowds of people shout nasty j26QrR_GIRLSLOST_05_o3_8690089_1439859164names at them. But they, and their teachers, do little to fight back. Then a odd-looking seed arrives by mail. And when it grows, overnight, into a sticky, black orchid, the girls are intrigued. They decide, as a group, to taste the sap to see what happens. What happens is something big. The three girls, by the light of the moon, become three boys. Though they still have the same coloured hair and eyes, their faces, bodies and voices morph. And the same kids who rejected them as girls welcome them as RgjYGq_GIRLSLOST_04_o3_8690072_1439859150boys.

They turn back into girls in the morning, but with a difference: now they have the confidence to fight back. But for Kim, the change was even more important. As girl-Kim she always feels awkward, but as boy-Kim everything suddenly works. If only he can stay like that forever. But as he asserts his male identity he falls into a troubled relationship with a rebel named Tony, confusing his gender and sexuality even more. Can the three musketeers stay true to one another? Or will the plant and its effects destroy the friendship they once had?

Girls Lost is a very cool look at gender and identity combined with a fantastical body-shift plot.

DEM_9502.psdDemolition

Dir: Jean Marc Vallee

Davis (Jake Gyllenhall) is a rich investment banker who works at his father-in-law’s office (Chris Cooper). But after his wife dies in a car accident (he escapes with barely a scratch) things get strange. He starts compulsively taking things apart — his fridge, bathroom doors at his office — but lacking the compulsion to put things back together. At the same time, little things start to bug him, specifically the fact that the vending machine at the hospital where his wife died, took his money but didn’t drop the candy. So he begins to send 12 page handwritten letters to customer service, pouring out all his troubles and worries. TO his surprise, he gets a response from a real, living person, Karen (Naomi Watts) a single mom with a troubled teenage son (Judah Lewis). They eventually meet, even as his compulsions escalate. Get ready for lots of long scenes of him smashing and demolishing things on an ever bigger scale. Will he ever work through his loss before he destroys everything in his path?

This movie is pretty good, with a few surprises and unusual characters. And lots of breaking glass. The adventures of a rich middle-aged white guy getting to act like a self destructive adolescent with impunity was less palatable. While occasionally irritating, this movie is definitely worth seeing.

KO9Wzz_mybignight_01_o3_8770665_1439314785My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche)

Dir: Alex de la Iglesia

It’s New Year’s Eve in Madrid and there’s excitement in the air. On stage a chorus line whirls in unison, while the audience, in evening gowns and tuxes, sip champaign with uproarious laughter. Heading soon toward the stage are Spain’s biggest stars: Adanne (Mario Casas) a teen idol dressed like a fireman, and superstar singer Alphonse, (played by superstar singer Raphael). Unfortunately, the champagne is plastic, the Bg9KvW_mybignight_05_o3_8770860_1439314797viewers are all paid extras, and it’s not even New Years, it’s mid October! They’re shooting a glitzy, kitschy TV show. Meanwhile, they’re rioting on the streets outside, the set is collapsing inside, with one audience extra already dead; there are two groupies attempting to steal the idol’s sperm… and a psychotic with a gun NxWZn8_mybignight_06_o3_8770924_1439314803— and the lover of Yuri (Carlos Areces) the son of the sadistic superstar — is preparing to assassinate the singer. And yet, the new years fun goes on, with love, sex, injury and death happening all around.

This movie is hilarious, with a high level of excitement. If I were Spanish, the pop songs would mean more to me, but… I get it. And director de la Iglesias doesn’t disappoint — there are enough shocks, gross-outs and over-the-top gags to keep you laughing. I loved this goofy, kitschy, slapstick comedy.

Mountain, Girls Lost, Demolition and My Big Night are all playing at TIFF. 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.

 

The price of dreams. Movies reviewed: Foxcatcher, Heartbeat

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Mental Illness, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Sports by CulturalMining.com on November 28, 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.

A movie can warm your heart or chill your spine. This week I’m looking at one of each. There’s a heavy American drama about a wrestler who learns fame and fortune comes with a price; and a light Canadian drama about a musician who learns that giving up her dreams may not be the best solution.

FOXCATCHERFoxcatcher (based on a true story)
Dir: Bennett Miller

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is a champion wrestler. He and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffallo) both won Olympic gold at the 1984 games in LA. But while his older brother has settled down to a nice family life, Mark is still just scraping by. He plays second-fiddle when his brother can’t make it to low-rent speeches. He lives in a depressing worldFOXCATCHER of peeling paint, empty gyms, fluorescent lights and crushing debt.

So when reclusive zillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites him to train at his vast country estate he is puzzled, but goes to check it out. Middle-class Mark is in awe of the money and power he’s exposed to. And he likes the chance of being his own man, not just under his older brother’s shadow. So he signs up. The estate is called Foxcatcher, because it’s where the aristocratic du Ponts still go fox hunting. And it’s controlled by the elderly, but formidable, matriarch Jean (Vanessa Redgrave in a fantastic performance). Civilized people shoot foxes; plebes wrestle. John, though, doesn’t like horses, or his mother. He sees himself as a coach, and FOXCATCHERwants to be known as a winner, not a sclerotic, talentless 10th generation chemical heir. So, to bolster his claim, Dupont hires a whole bevy of wrestler-type yes-men to train alongside Mark Schultz. But Mark’s life is changing, too. In a series of creepy but funny scenes he gradually morphs from ordinary wrestler to kept boy within a rich sultan’s harem.

So to ground himself, Mark decides he needs his brother Dave there to coach him, and live and train at Foxcatcher. This upsets the insecure and increasingly nutty John’s plans to be alpha male in his tiny world. Will this rivalry lead to an ultimate showdown?

Foxcatcher is getting a lot of attention, but for the life of me, I don’t know why. The director is heavy FOXCATCHERhanded, constantly drawing attention to his style – which is slow-moving, flat, and anodyne. It’s a bland, two-and-a-half-hour movie about a creepy but insecure rich guy and a wrestler. Followed by a very intense final three minutes.  It’s beautifully shot, with nice music. And Tatum is great as the wrestler, with Rufallo  good in his supporting role. But I’m baffled by all the attention given to comedian Carell, with his aging makeup and prostheses. All he does is speak s-l-o-w-l-y and without emotion. Creepy, yes, but great acting? I don’t think so.

But despite the fact that it’s way too long, weird, and not particularly interesting, I can’t say this is a dreadful movie, just one I didn’t like. And wouldn’t wish on you.

31f23bf8-ffc1-449f-a905-2a79e2ad7c02Heartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. She lives in her late grandmother’s house, and though still a young woman, dresses like a retired pensioner in old-school dresses, plastic glasses and a brutal haircut. She gave up her musical ambitions when she fainted on stage. Meanwhile, her social life is falling apart. She still sleeps with her ex-boyfriend Ben since he dumped her, but she has to keep it undercover. Ben’s an artist (Stewart Legere) and doesn’t want 47487869-9e61-491f-8ea9-57de7bc57d42anyone to know. Her best friend is married now and only wants to talk about their new baby. And the boss at work uses her as a sounding board for the minutiae of suburban life. But what about Justine?

Then one day she happens upon a woman named Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) jamming in the window of her favourite music store. There’s a musical attraction. And 0add1c3a-49d3-4e28-8867-b9e8402ff442maybe something more. In the dark of night, with no-one but the two of them around to hear, she picks up her guitar. She finds she can play her beautiful tunes for Ruby, and they jam. Ruby is pretty, sexy and street smart. Justine’s ex has relocated to some distant place, sending her clues he paints on paper postcards. So she is finally motivated to Esty-fy her wardrobe and Arts-and-Crafts her love life.

Exploring Ruby’s world, she finds shared houses, pop-up bands, and cool people. And some unexpected sex… But are they a thing now? Or just a moment’s fancy? Will she ever see Ben again? Is she a musician now? And can she embrace a new future?ba520a3e-8537-4d4d-9d3d-1d35f0b9787d

Heartbeat is a wonderful, low-budget Canadian film. When I say low-budget, I mean even bicycle crashes happen off camera – can’t afford the stuntmen! Instead the money is put into pretty camerawork, great music, and unexpectedly lovely animation that spring from Justine’s thoughts and daydreams. The acting is touching and real and the characters work well together. Director Andrea Dorfman is especially good at inserting assorted ethnicities, transgenders and sexualities without comment, without ever pointing it out to win extra points. They just are.

Heartbeats starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending up strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Foxcatcher and Heartbeat both played at TIFF this year and 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

Limbo. Movies Reviewed: The Homesman, West

Posted in 1970s, Communism, Germany, Mental Illness, Road Movie, Uncategorized, Western by CulturalMining.com on November 21, 2014

The Wonders of Modern Underwater SalvageHi, 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.

Ever been stuck in an elevator between two floors? Or stranded in an airport lounge in a far-off country as you wait to change planes? Well, between departure and arrival, there’s always that strange space, that state of limbo that you’re never quite sure you’ll get out of. This week I’m looking at two movies about that interim area. One’s an American western about a woman in Nebraska Territory trying to bring three women  from West to East. The other’s a German drama set in 1970s Berlin about a woman trying to bring her son from East to West.

H_20130429_0351.tifThe Homesman
Dir: Tommy Lee Jones

Mary Bee Cuddy (Hillary Swank) lives on a big farm in the old west. She spends her time ploughing the fields with her two faithful mules. She’s a hardworking, educated farmer. She’s got money in the bank, and if things work out, she might even start up a pumpkin patch next year. So what’s her problem? She’s a single woman, almost 30, unheard of in these parts. All the men have turned her down. She’s too plain and bossy, they all say.

But who do they turn to when things get rough? Mary Bee. Their young wives H_20130409_4096-2.dnghave all gone mad so they need a homesman to take three women them across the prairies to a big city – somewhere with an insane asylum. And they give her a horse-drawn paddy wagon with barred windows to carry them there. But before she leaves, she runs across an ornery old cuss with a rope around his neck. The posse had caught him squatting in an abandoned shack, and that was grounds for a hanging. His name is George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), and he’s a drunken scofflaw who thinks only of himself. She makes him a deal. If she cuts him loose, he has to navigate her – and the three women – across Indian territory in Nebraska. And she sweetens the pot with a jug of whiskey and the promise of 300 dollars if he guides them safely to the town.

So off they go on their journey, crossing rivers, camping on the plains, and avoiding the natives and various outlaws riding around. Will they make it alive? Can irresponsible Briggs and forthright Cuddy ever see eye to eye? Will opposites attract? And how 05f3b79a-bca6-4bf8-8aa1-0e06380cb996will they handle their unusual human cargo?

This is a beautifully shot, traditional Western, a genre thought dead and gone not too long ago. It’s full of visual quotes, not just from movies, but from old American paintings, like George Caleb Bingham’s Jolly Flatboatmen. And it delves into questions of class, race and gender.

I do have some qualms with this movie. Biggest of all is how it portrays mental illness. The three women are infantilized, The-Jolly-Flatboatmen George Caleb Bingham orgconveniently rendered mute by their illnesses. They never speak to one another and act like three-year-olds. They function more as background scenery or pets than as people. And I’m always suspicious when actors try their hands at writing or directing. They tend to let their own characters steal scenes and hog attention. But Tommy Lee Jones, while  occasionally mugging for the camera, he allowed Swank the screen time to let herself shine. All in all, I enjoyed The Homesman. Although slow paced, it kept me interested until the very end.

poster_imageWest (Westen)
Dir: Christian Schwochow

It’s the 1970s and Germany is divided. Nelly Senff (Jördis Triebel) is a beautiful and successful scientific researcher in East Berlin. She has a long-distance relationship with her Russian lover Vassily, who regularly visits her and their son Alexey (Tristan Göbel) in Berlin. But when he dies in a car crash, her life, and that of Alexey, is changed. She finds the endless interrogations and strip-searches in the DDR humiliating and unbearable. And when she applies for an exit visa, her good job disappears. So when they finally successfully cross over to the West, she expects to find, freedom, privacy and a well-paying job. Instead, they end up stuck in a strange, no-mans-land called the Emergency Refugee Centre.

East Berlin is still held by the Soviets, while West Berlin is occupied by the US, French and British military – a relic of WWII, kept alive by the cold war. She is strip-searched in the west side, too, given cards to punch, and turned down from working. And she is soon called into regular interrogations with John, a black American intelligence officer with a pencil thin moustache (Jacky Ido). She becomes paranoid after he hints that her Russian lover might still be alive, and that Stasi might be spying on her.

Meanwhile, back at the dormitory, her son attaches himself to a new father figure, Hans (Alexander Scheer). Hans was a former Germany West : Westen Toronto EU Film Festivaljailed dissident in the East, but, in spite of this, some people suspect him of being a Stasi informer. Nelly is suspicious too, but she fails to see he’s the only one helping poor Alexey handle the constant bullying. They don’t like the (Easterners) there. Her paranoia grows as her happiness seems unreachable. Nelly is left wondering is the West any different from the East?

This is a fascinating, semi-autobiographical movie that has an historical connection. It was written by a mother and directed by a son who had crossed over from the DDR themselves. I remember meeting refugees from the East living in West Berlin, but never knew what they had gone through. Very illuminating, realistic look at Berlin in the 1970s.

The Homesman opens today in Toronto, check your local listings, and West plays tonight at a free screening at the Royal. It’s part of the EU film festival which runs for another week. Go to eutorontofilmfest.ca for details.

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

Cracks in the Foundation. The Continent, Rocks in my Pockets, Rosewater

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

From far away, porcelain looks smooth, shiny and flawless, but look too close and fine cracks appear. This week, I‘m looking at movies that expose the cracks in faraway Latvia, China and Iran. There’s an Iranian man who wants to leave prison; three Chinese men who want to leave their island, and a Latvian woman who, at times, wants to leave life altogether.

TheContinentThe Continent
Dir: Han Han

Three young men have lived their lives on a tiny, windswept island off the east coast of China. But they decide it’s time to check out the continent. Like in the classic Chinese novel, they set out on a “Journey to the West. They each have a different reason. Jianghe (Chen Bolin  [陈柏霖], who also starred in Buddha Mountain [觀音山] — read my review here) a school teacher an”d eternal optimist, is transferred by the government to a remote location far, far away. Haohan (Feng Shaofeng [冯绍峰]) is a blustering young man dying to see the world. He longs to stand on a determined mountaintop and shout to the world about the size of his dick. And he has a childhood pen-pal Yingying TheContinent_still2(Yolanda Yuan [袁泉]), a pretty girl he’ll finally meet face to face. And true love will soon follow. Their third friend, Hu Sheng, is mentally challenged, and depends on the other two to tell him what to do.

But they soon discover life outside their tiny island is bewildering and confusing. They stumble onto a movie set in WWII. And at their first hotel Jianghe is approached by an escort named Sumi, immediately followed by knocks on the door from aggressive police. Bewildered, he plays the hero, HanHanbusting out through a barred window and “saving” Sumi from a fate worse than death. Or so he thinks. And a sketchy, Cantonese hitchhiker helps them with their navigating – but can he be trusted? Maybe not, in a place where anything that you don’t hold onto with both hands when you gp to sleep will likely be gone by morning. But it’s also a country with stunning and empty vast vistas, rockets flying to outer-space, and cool and savvy people at every turn.

The Continent is writer-director Han Han’s (韩寒) first film, but he’s far from unknown. His blog is the best-known one in China which automatically makes him one of the most famous people in the world. This is not just a simple, picaresque road movie. It’s also a slyly humorous — if bleak — cautionary tale about life in contemporary China.

RocksinMyPockets_Poster_MediumRocks in My Pockets
Wri/Dir Signe Baumane

Signe is a Brooklyn artist, originally from Latvia, with a hidden family past. She wants to find out the truth behind the family matriarch, her late grandmother. On the surface, she was a preternaturally hard-worker, known for her Sisyphean feat of carrying endless buckets of water up a steep mountain. She had retreated to a backwoods cabin with her husband, an eccentric entrepreneur, to escape the difficulties of life in the city. But, after a bit of digging, Signe discovers a streak of depression, suicide and mental illness in her family stretching back three generations. The title refers to her grandmother’s attempted suicide by drowning – she was unsuccessful because she forgot to fill her pocket with rocks. Even if the mind wants to end it all, the body – until the last breath — will fight against dying. At the same time, Signe realizes that the many children and grandchildren managed to survive and succeed despite harsh time. In this film, Riga is imagined as a rocksinmypockets-1024x576place with enormous human faces on their buildings, within a country filled with animistic creatures with long tails, dog ears and goggly eyes that lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

Her odd family history is portrayed in a series of short, animated episodes, using panels of sketched characters moving against brightly-tinted Linda_Sc_080_with_WS_Thumbnailbackgrounds. These are interspersed with super-imposed stop-motion images made of rope and papier-mache figurines. This giuves the whole movie an unusual three-dimensional feel, combining classic drawing with computer-manipulated mixes. And omnipresent is the wry and funny –though at times grating – voice of the narrator telling and commenting on her family history. The director shows the deleterious effects of Soviet era psychiatry – one where cures consist of medicinal corrections to chemical imbalances – and how it makes some people long to “erase themselves” and ceasing to exist. A poignant, fascinating and great animated feature.

RW_LM_20130810_0238.jpgRosewater
Dir: Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist based in London. He lives there with his beautiful (and pregnant) wife. He is assigned to cover the upcoming elections in Iran, but quickly runs unto trouble as soon as he arrives. He quickly makes friends with a politically active and sympathetic taxi driver who takes him to areas fertile with dissent. But after witnessing a potentially explosive event he is arrested. His charge? Spying.

Ironically, a comic TV interview he had given to an American comedian on the Daily Show is used as evidence of his wrong doing. He is quickly thrown into solitary confinement in a notorious prison. He is psychologically tortured until — says the warden — his will is broken and he will lose all hope.

His family, it turns out, is no stranger to death and imprisonment for RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgpolitical views under earlier regimes. Both his father and his sister had gone through it, and appear, in his mind, to convince him to hold on. But will he make it?

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s first film, and it shows it. Stewart is known for the brilliant and funny The Daily Show that skewers mass media from a left-ish perspective. But a feature film is not a three-minute sketch. The movie starts out great with exciting scenes of news-gatering, but it starts to drag, heavily, once it moves to the prison. While it conveys the loneliness and suffering,  solitary confinement does not make for good cinema. Bernal and the supporting actors are fine, but the buffoonish prison guard and the sinister administrator seem too much like the evil twins of  Schultz and Klink to take seriously.

The Continent played at the ReelAsian Film Festival which continues for another week (reelasian.com), Rosewood played at TIFF this year and opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Rocks in my Pockets opened the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (which features films on addiction and mental health – with an additional screening tomorrow: go to rendezvouswithmadness.com for times. Also opening: next week at Hot Docs there’s the great documentary called Point and Shoot about a young American traveler/journalist who, despite being non-religious and non-radicalized, nevertheless joins the rebel armies fighting in Libya (listen to my review here). And a surprising story about the Life of Pigeons on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

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

Mommies and Dollies. Films Reviewed: Mommy, Annabelle

Posted in 1960s, Academy Awards, Acting, Canada, Cultural Mining, Family, Horror, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

ncr_not_criminally_responsible_1Hi, 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.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week – John Kastner’s NFB documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (listen to my interview with John here) is playing at the Bloor Cinema, and Rendezvous the-maze-poster-courtesy-of-nick-youngwith Madness and the Psychiatry Department at U of T is showing William Kurelek’s: the Maze by filmmakers Nick and Zack Young (listen to my interview with Zack Young here), at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This week, though, I’m talking about innocent-sounding movies about mommies and pretty dollies. But they’re not as innocent as you might think. One’s a Quebec drama about a mother trying to control her ADHD son; the other’s an American chiller about a mother trying to save her baby from an evil doll.

64634-MOMMY_Poster_27x39_EnglishMommy
Dir: Xavier Dolan

Diane (Anne Dorval) is enjoying her life as a single woman in suburban Montreal. Her son’s away at boarding school, she has a steady job, and she’s flirting with that rich lawyer who lives around the corner. She dresses for flash-effect, with lots of shiny and pink. But calamity strikes. Her son Steve is kicked out of school after a violent incident and she loses her job.

Steve-o (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He wears his blond hair in a retro style, with a neck chain, T-shirt and jeans. He’s hyper-sexualized with pale skin and rubbery features. The kind of guy who looks as likely to punch you in the face as to kiss you. He’s a foul-mouthed, socially misfit, sexually charged and violent. But you can see where he 62558-000060890018 MOMMY_AOPilon1-CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièregets it from – Diane is as gutter-friendly as he is. It’s up to her to get him to settle down and pass his tests. Trouble is he’s virtually uncontrollable, and she’s not big on parenting skills, so their lessons end up in violent fights.

In walks the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher who lives next door. Kyla (Suzanne Clement) is shy, withdrawn and speaks with a severe stammer due to something bad in her past. Her husband’s a dull computer programmer, her daughter equally reserved. But she soon finds her place as the 65106-ADorval1 MOMMY_ADorval1_CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièrethird element in Diane and Steve’s dysfunctional family. She becomes his teacher and dog trainer. But can the fragile bonds holding them together last?

Mommy is a reworking of Xavier Dolan’s simple, perfect, and highly personal first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, made when he was still a teenager. Four films later, Mommy is far more sophisticated and complex in plot, script and character. Dorval replays the mother, but in a performance that is more three-dimensional, less camp. Dolan was sympathetic playing a bullied gay teen, but, with Pillon as the teenager, we get a kid who is as much misunderstood victim as bully. I get the feeling Dolan the director (necessarily) restrains Dolan the actor, but when he’s just behind the camera, he can let his characters loose. Steve is free to forge forth, like a river bursting a dam. This movie has dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors. It’s a great film.

Mommy is Canada’s choice for Best Foreign Language movie at the Oscars, and I hope it wins — it really deserves it.

Annabelle-movie-posterAnnabelle
Dir: John R. Leonetti

It’s the late 1960s in central California. Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton) are a perfect-looking, church-going blond couple. New home, new car, he’s finishing medical school, she’s expecting their baby really soon. Mia collects antique dolls, so John buys her one to complete her set. And everything is just perfect, until…

…their lives are shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visit by Annabelle, their next door neighbours’ daughter. Anabelle ran away from home and joined a Charles Manson-style satanic cult. After that horrific incident, Mia says she tumblr_naxuq2kn0J1tgg8wlo1_500no longer feels safe there with the new baby. And the huge doll she used to like so much is creeping her out. Strange things start to happen around it, involving a sewing machine, a rocking chair, and a package of jiffy pop. So they move out of the suburbs and into a downtown apartment.

Hubby is away most of the time, so he’s oblivious but accommodating. He thinks his wife’s gone whack from post-partum depression, but Mia knows there’s evil tumblr_nckmr45Wtb1tgg8wlo1_1280around her. And it wants her baby. She sees scary things everywhere: strange noises… the sign of the bull… a girl in a white nightgown… a rocking chair… an old-fashioned elevator… and that damned doll that keeps coming back! It seems to turn everything bad, somehow. So she turns for advice to kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and Evelyn, a mysterious bookstore owner, with a penchant for the occult (Alfre Woodard). But are they all too late? And is Mia strong enough to overcome the evil forces that have invaded her once-happy life?tumblr_ncs2p2jlcH1tgg8wlo1_1280

I saw this movie because it’s a prequel to The Conjuring, a movie that scared my pants off last year. So how does it copmpare? Not as scary, the acting not as compelling, the plot has lots of holes in it, and the script is weak with some unintentionally awful lines. It has few visual effects (though the sound effects are fantastic, one of the scariest things about the movie). And the story is a bit too Jesus-y for my taste. But is Annabelle scary? You bet it is.

Annabel Wallis is good as Mia — picture Madmen, but from Betty Draper’s point-of-view – beautiful but suspicious, lonely, paranoid and petulant. Annabelle is not perfect, but it works as a good and scary chiller-thriller — perfect for a late-night date.

sam-coleman-and-jennifer-grausman-1-art-and-craft-interview-daniel-garber-c2a9-jeff-harrisMommy and Annabelle both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the wonderful documentary Art and Craft about an eccentric art forger who gives his paintings away. (You can listen to my interview with filmmakers Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman here).

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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