Indie movies. Films reviewed: Sundowners, The Only Living Boy in New York, Patti Cake$

Posted in Books, Canada, comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Hiphop, Mexico, Movies, Music by CulturalMining.com on August 25, 2017

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

A soundtrack can make or break an indie movie. This week I’m looking at three independent movies about people in their twenties where music sets the tone. There are two guys from Toronto heading to Mexico fuelled by contemporary Canadian music; a lovestruck guy in Manhattan described in a Simon and Garfunkle song; and a white woman in New Jersey with hip hop in her soul.

Sundowners

Wri/Dir: Pavan Moondi

Alex and Justin are good friends with dead-end jobs. Alex (Phil Hanley) is skinny and tall with a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He’s single, shy and frustrated. He earns a meagre living videotaping weddings, and lets his douche-y boss walk all over him. Justin (Luke Lalonde: Born Ruffians) is smiley and gregarious but, with him, girlfriends rarely stick around. He lives with his demented grandmother, and works long hours on a telemarketing complaint line. They are both a hair’s breadth away from quitting their jobs.

So when Alex’s boss offers to fly him on an all-expense-paid trip to a Mexican resort to film a wedding, he takes it. And he gets free tickets for Justin, too – he just has to pretend he’s a cameraman, even though he’s never lifted a camera in his life. Will the trip prove to be their downfall? Will it change their lives? And will Alex finally meet a woman he’s compatible with, even if it’s just for the weekend?

Sundowners is another feature by Pavan Moondi, and like Diamond Tongues it features Canadian musicians both in the cast and on the soundtrack. It’s a comedy, but isn’t full of one- liners. It’s more about the characters and the odd and awkward social situations they find themselves in. The plot is very basic, and some of the jokes are hit and miss, but the movie itself is still a pleasure to watch.

The Only Living Boy in New York

Dir: Marc Webb

Thomas (Callum Turner) is a college drop out living in the lower east side. He’s tall, thin and pale and wears harry potter glasses. He’s originally from the upper west side where his parents still live. His mom (Cynthia Nixon) is artsie but bipolar and fragile. His Dad (Pierce Brosnan) is a failed novelist but a very successful book publisher. Thomas has literary ambitions, too, but they were quashed when his dad dismissed his writing as just adequate.

Thomas is madly in love with the pretty and smart Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) ever since she told him she loves Nabokov. But Mimi just wants to be friends. What to do?

Then one night, Thomas and Mimi spot his dad at a nightclub kissing a beautiful woman. Who is she and what does this mean? Are they having an affair? Her name is Johanna (Kate Beckinsale) and she’s a freelance editor. Thomas confronts her – why are you ruining my parents’ marriage? She replies: You want to make love to me, Thomas, you just don’t realize it. What?  Thomas is shocked… but intrigued.

Will these flirtations lead to an affair? What would Mimi think? And what secrets are his parents hiding?

The Only Living Boy in New York is an enjoyable romance set against a glamorous, literary Manhattan. The movie is narrated by a gruff old man (Jeff Bridges) who mysteriously appears in Thomas’s apartment building to offer sage advice. The problem is almost everybody talks like they’re narrating their own books all the time. People don’t talk like that — not even writers. But I liked the movie anyway, with all it’s romantic surprises. And Callum Turner – actor/model – does Thomas very well. In fact the whole cast is great. Another enjoyable film.

 

Patti Cake$

Dir: Geremie Jasper

Patti (Danielle Macdonald) is a working-class Jersey Girl who lives with her Mom and Grandma (Cathy Moriarty) somewhere off the Turnpike. She’s heavy-set with long curly blonde hair, who dresses in 90s hiphop gear and hoop earings. Bullies call her Dumbo. Her best friend is Jhery (Siddharth Dhananjay) a pharmacist who takes of his white coat at night and dons a do-rag. He and Patti long to leave New Jersey with their hip hop duo and relocate in the Emerald city (New York) but so far, no go. Barb (Bridget Everett) her mom, also almost made it big singing in a rock band, but not big enough. Now she just drinks away her sorrows. Patti works in a low grade Karaoke bar just to pay off her mom’s tab.

Enter Bastard, aka Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie), a mysterious african-american man she meets at an open mic night. He’s tall and skinny dressed in black with short fdreads and multiple piercings. His music is some weird combination of death metal, goth, punk and hiphop. When he says anything it’s with a vaguely English accent. He claims to be a hobo, riding the rails across America. He lives in a shack in the woods, just beyond the gates of hell, filled with sound equipment and satanic ritual objects. Patti longs to get to know him better. But can these three urban misfits together record a track good enough to bring them the recognition they crave? And can Patti, Mom and Nana find common ground?

Patti Cakes is like a hilarious, non-stop music video. It’s also a heartwarming look at a mythical, mystical  New Jersey town and its inhabitants. The director, Geremie Jasper, also wrote the script and the lyrics to most of the songs and they’re all brilliant. As are all the cast. And guess what? The actress playing Patti isn’t from Jersey… she’s Australian!

Brilliant.

 

Sundowners, Patti Cake$ and The Only Living Boy in New York 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.

Human commodities. Films reviewed: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I Promise you Anarchy, Burn Burn Burn

Posted in 3-D, Action, Animals, comedy, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Punk, Road Movie, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

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

Do you ever feel like your body is just a list of things to be bought, sold or traded? This week I’m looking at movies about people forced to treat bodies as commodities. There are skate punks in Mexico trying to sell human blood, two women in the UK trying to scatter human ashes… and mutant turtles in Manhattan trying to live like human beings.

10150582_236914753098962_7581709544636208661_nTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dir: Dave Green

Donatello, Micheleangelo, Raphael and Leonardo – Donny, Mike, Raf and Leo for short – are giant CGI turtles who speak like California surfers from the 1980s. They live in Manhattan in a hidden laboratory with their friend April (Megan Fox) and their sensei, a giant rat. Their lair serves as home base in their relentless battle against crime and evil. And in their free time they jump around the city’s rooftops, catching basketball games and eating pizza. But always hidden from view: humans might 13329513_358477130942723_2973235416009902388_omistake them for monsters or freaks. Now they are fighting an evil villain named Shredder who escaped from prison along with sidekicks Be Bop and Rock Steady. The bad guys plan to assemble an Arc Capacitor made from three parts hidden around the world. If they succeed they will enslave civilization. But not if the turtles can stop them.

10547968_271120509678386_8705934401065890056_oI heard this movie was awful, worse than terrible, so I saw it with zero expectations. And you know what? I kinda liked it – simple story, good 3-D special effects, lots of explosions and chase scenes with people falling out of planes without parachutes. Cowabunga! On the negative side, the lines aren’t very clever and it’s hard to reconcile the fuzzy CGI models with the real live people standing beside them. The strangest thing: for a movie aimed at kids, it doesn’t have any young characters — not a single (non-turtle) actor younger than thirty in the entire film.

VmnrVO_teprometoanarquia_03_o3_8724673_1440102244I Promise you Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía)

Wri/Dir: Julio Hernández Cordón

Miguel and Johnny (Diego Calva Hernández and Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) have been friends, almost brothers, since they were kids. Miguel is solidly middle class from the suburbs, while Johnny is downtown and not as rich. They travel around Mexico City on long boards with a group of pals. They skate free style, do tricks, read Thrasher, smoke a bit of grass, maybe slam some poetry. Johnny likes skating naked around deserted Jai Alai 58Kx4A_teprometoanarquia_02_o3_8724638_1440102239courts. And once everyone has gone home Miguel and Johnny retreat to a giant steel vat, for some afterhours groping. Johnny might have a girlfriend named Adri, but he’s chill with sexing it up with Miguel.

Their biggest wish is to build a huge skate park downtown, but that takes money. Miguel has found a way to earn quick cash: selling their blood to clinics. It’s organized by Gabriel, an actor at the Churubusco Studios, who pimps their blood to unknown destinations. With the promise of a huge peso payout, they’re asked to bring 50 donors to their favourite hangout. They round up everyone they know — all their friends, acquaintances, even casual strangers. nZ6XjP_teprometoanarquia_01_o3_8724605_1440102239But things go terribly wrong when sleazy criminals enter the picture. Can Miguel and Johnny stay together despite the chaos and mayhem?

I enjoyed this low-budget look at skaters in Mexico City. Good soundtrack, unusual locations. At times it feels almost like a documentary about life on the street – are they all actoirs or just people playing themselves?. The story doesn’t seem completely real, but that doesn’t matter. There are some amazing long takes of skaters just gliding through central plazas, in V formation… like migrating birds.

10665747_557978830998084_4416378503890536433_nBurn Burn Burn

Dir: Chanya Button 

Seph, Alex and Dan are the fast friends in London. Seph (Laura Carmichael) has flouncy blond hair and a clever mind, but is forced to work as nanny and personal assistant. She’s dating James, a well-meaning but douchey guy who is a financial trader in central London. Alex (Chloe Pirrie) has a stark haircut and a tightly-lipped mouth. She doesn’t like talking about herself. She’s in a long-term relationship with a woman. Dan, the third friend, (Jack Farthing) is the life of the party, given to practical jokes and staying up all night.

The three friends are back together again, at yet another party. 11923199_728527537276545_7075186293857167413_nThis time it’s Dan’s wake. He died suddenly, age 29, struck down by cancer. He’s gone but not forgotten. And he leaves Alex and Seph with a final task: to scatter his ashes at four crucial places around the British Isles. At first, they brush off Dan’s wish. Then Seph loses her job and Alex — after OD-ing on scotch eggs, a uniquely British malady — catches her lover with another woman in flagrente delecto. They decide to pack it in and head for the road.

11221394_728527390609893_6299213542631975827_nThey drive through ancient ruins and natural landmarks in England, Wales and Scotland, carefully following Dan’s painstaking directions and explanations. He accompanies them with a video he made before he died. On the way they encounter a pagan wicker man festival, nightclubs from Dan’s childhood and a number of unexpected sites. And the two of them are forced to reveal hidden secrets and confront buried truths

I liked this one — it’s and quirky and funny road movie. The Burn-Burn-Burnmain characters are acerbic not smarmy. While the story may be formulaic, the odd people they meet on the way are fun and original: a bearded hippy, a neurotic tour guide, a runaway housewife, even Al’s own mum. With humour, nice scenery, food for thought, and even a few tears, Burn Burn Burn is a well-made grand tour.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Burn Burn Burn and I Promise You Anarchy are both playing at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for showtimes.

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

Halloween! Movies Reviewed: Superstitious Minds, Ginger Snaps, Bounty Killer

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Mexico, Movies, post-apocalypse, Supernatural, TV, Uncategorized, violence, Werewolves, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013

Halloween_1 Superstitious MindsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hallowe’en – it’s the scariest night of the year! And things are getting scarier and scarier. CSEC: The Communications Security Establishment Canada – this country’s own NSA. Did you know they’re allowed to spy on Canadians, as long as you’re speaking to someone outside the country? And with no watchdog, no judicial control? They’re free to do whatever they want with no one watching them! Scary…! Maybe you’re a Bell Canada customer? Beginning two weeks after Hallowe’en they want to keep a record of every web page you visit, every call you make, every TV show you watch, and every place you visit carrying your cell phone! Scarrry!!!!

Yes, it’s a very scary time of year.

Awooooooooo!

So in honour of this frightening holiday, I’m looking at some very halloweeny things. There’s a documentary on superstition, a classic horror film about sisters in suburbia, and a post-apocalyptic action/western about a futuristic world.

Superstitious Minds SkullsSuperstitious Minds

Dir: Adrian Wills and Kenneth Hirsch

Are we all superstitious? I’m pretty careful about spilling salt. And are we becoming more or less so in an increasingly scientific world? Well, according to a new documentary, we are as superstitious as we’ve ever been, maybe more so, with people under thirty the most superstitious of all. It’s what keeps us grounded and gives us control in facing an uncertain, unpredictable world.

This documentary covers international phenomena like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Feng Shui in Hong Kong, and the rituals and taboos Newfoundland fishermen stick to to keep from being lost at sea. As well as small things we notice everyday, like the rituals of everyone from sports fans to Shakespearean actors.Dia_de_muertos Superstitious Minds

One example: the strange jagged angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong led to widespread worry that it was upsetting their economy with it’s intrusive, knife-like nature. So HSBC – that’s the Hong King Shanghai Bank of Commerce – actually put metal cannons on the roof of their sky scraper to shoot all that bad energy back at the Bank of China, thus neutering it’s negative charms.

This is an interesting documentary, with lots of colourful vignettes talking heads, and some reenacted montages about superstition. (I just wish it dealt less with the psychology of it, and more with the magic.)

gingersnaps_01Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dir: John Fawcett

The Fitzgerald sisters, have been BFFs since they were 8. They signed a pact to be dead before they’re 16. In the midst of all the suburban conformity, Ginger and Brigitte (Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) wear saggy cardigans, thrift store kilts and messy hair. They resist the bullies and jerks in their high school and revel in the depressing-ness of it all. Their only hobby? Acting out elaborate fake-suicides they save on Polaroid photos.

Life in the suburbs is predictable, except that all the neighbourhood dogs are turning up dead. Who is doing ths? But one night, on a full moon, Ginger feels different. She gets scratched by a wild dog, right when she’s having her first period… and things start to change.

She becomes, aggressive, erratic and highly sexualized. She starts wearing plunging necklines to school. And what about those scratches on her body? They’re starting to gingersnaps_02change too. She feels hairier, bloodier… meaner.

The school nurse explains it’s just puberty, but they both know the change means something more. And the two sisters find their relationship is fraying at the edges. Brigette likes the old Ginger, but her sister wants her to change like she did. Ignoring the nurse’s advice, Ginger has unprotect sex with a stoner at her high school – and seems to have passed the strange virus on.

People to start to die in mysterious circumstances….

It’s up to Brigitte to find a cure and bring her back to normal before she kills everybody.  She turns to Sam (Kris Lemche) for help. Sure he’s the local pot dealer, but he’s also the only one besides Brigitte who believes in Lycanthropia – he ran over a werewolf once in his delivery van. But will they get to Ginger before she snaps?  Before she makes the complete transformation to wolfdom?

Ginger Snaps was made in 2000 and I think it’s fair to say it’s attained classic Halloween movie status, along with more famous pics like the Shining, the Exorcist, and Videodrome. It’s distinctly Canadian… with street hockey, grow-ops, sex-ed and roadkill, but without that uncomfortable earnestness that mars some Canadian movies. It also avoids the puritanical nature of mainstream American horror movies, the ones that kill off characters that have sex or take drugs. And it has a refreshingly subversive subtext: Ginger Snaps is a feminist monster movie where the sisters are doing it for themselves.

This is not a special effects-driven movie — it depends on its great story, acting and originality, instead.

Bounty Killer PosterBounty Killer

Dir: Henry Saine

It’s some point far in the future. Corporations have taken over the world with governments withering away. But horrible wars between companies fighting for market share have left the US a wasteland. Now bounty hunters are celebrities followed by papparazzi for their brave exploits. They seek out the outlaws – all of whom now wear suits and ties (the business execs who ruined everything).

The champ hunter, Drifter (Matthew Marsden) brings in the bodies of every outlaw he can find. He’s as rootless as tumbleweed and mean as a rattler. But has a new competitor Catherine (Kristanna Loken), as ruthless as she is beautiful. She rides fancy sports cars and wears knee-high white boots. They are all old friends, lovers and sometime enemies. But when Drifter’s face appears on a wanted poster, Katherine vows to hunt him down. Can Drifter (and his gun-caddy side-kick) cross the badlands, avoid the bands of so-called gypsies in the desert, and make it Bounty Killer 391804_231827040231097_18835298_nto the council building to clear his name? On the way he has to escape the face-painted warriors and ride in things like a camper fan pulled by two Harleys – like an old west horse and carriage. (Great image!)

Bounty Killers is a western but the cowboys drive choppers through the desert, not horses. It’s got the brothels, the ghost towns, the angry mob, the outlaws and the sheriffs. And it all feels like a live-action graphic novel – mainly cause that’s what it is. A comic written for the big screen.

Marsden Bounty KillerI liked this movie – super low budget but punchy, slick and fast moving. Lots of hilarious side characters – all based on movie clichés but different enough and funny enough to keep you glued to the screen.

Ginger Snaps is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Halloween night (tiff.net), Superstitious Minds is airing on CBC TV on Doc Zone (also on Halloween night), and Bounty Killers played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which is screening its closing films tonight.

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

Crime Families? Movies Reviewed: We’re the Millers, 2 Guns, Blue Jasmine

Posted in Action, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, Guns, Mexico, Uncategorized, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on August 2, 2013

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

Something strange happened to me recently – apparently my downtown bank was robbed… while I was there! The thing is, I didn’t even know it had taken place. In fact, if a teller hadn’t handed me a mugshot photocopy and told me to circle a face, I still wouldn’t know. Meanwhile, the bank refused to say that they’d been robbed, just what do you remember, what did you see? (Truthful answer: nothing). All very strange.  Nothing like the movies where someone in a mask always shouts Nobody move! I have a gun and it’s loaded! Don’t move and you won’t get hurt!

This week I’m looking at three new movies about how crime can affect the criminals themselves, their friends and their families. Two of the movies – one action, one comedy – focus on the lucrative drug trade across the US/Mexican border. And one’s a drama, set in San Francisco, about the ex-wife of a Bernie Madoff-type character.

were the millers poulter sudeikisWe’re the Millers

Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Dave (Jason Sudeikis) is loving the single’s life as a small- time pot dealer. But when street punks steal his money and his drug stash, he suddenly finds himself in debt to his drug boss, a goofy, but cruel, businessman who keeps killer whales for pets. So he’s forced to do a one-time smuggling run from Mexico in an RV. But, in order to fool government agents at the border, he must totally change his look, from stoner to suburban straight guy. So he recruits a fake family to accompany him. Rose, a bitter and angry stripper who lives in his apartment building (Jennifer Anniston) is now his “wife”. (She hates him). Naïve Kenny (Will Poulter) — another neighbour, who was abandoned by his mom – is his pretend son, and homeless Casey (Emma Roberts) is his wisecracking daughter.were-the-millers-jennifer-aniston-jason-sudeikis-emma-roberts-439x600  Together they cross the border, evade vengeful Mexican druglords, and try to fit in with the lily-white Christian campers they meet on the road.

were the millersMeet the Millers is a cute, risqué road movie about a bunch of ne’erdowells who, in spite of themselves, gradually morph into the family roles they are given. The laughs come from the fact that we, the audience — but not the characters they meet – know that this suburban family is actually just a façade. The characters are all funny and sympatico, but Will Poulter (the wide-eyed kid in the UK comedy Son of Rambow) especially stands out as a goofy twerp forced to grow up.

2 Guns2 Guns

Dir: Baltasar Kormákur

Stig and Bobby (Mark Wahlburg and Denzel Washington) are carefree partners in crime. They kibitz with a Mexican crime lord, knock over banks and blow up donut shops. And Bobby has a beautiful non-girlfriend, Deb (Paula Patton), who’s a fed. But when a simple bank job yields the boys $30 million in untraceable cash, the dynamic changes. There’s no honour among thieves. They turn against each other. Both of them turn out to be secretly working for competing groups – and everyone seems to know this except the two of them. Soon enough, they’re each being chased by the military, the CIA, another sinister and deadly agency, and the drug lords themselves – all of whom want to get their hands on the cash. If 2-guns-denzel-washington-mark-wahlberg-549x600Bobby and Stig can’t trust each other, how will they survive this “war on drugs”?

If you like light action movies — with getaways, shoot-outs, explosions, disguises and chase scenes – this is a good one. Wahlburg is a very likeable comic actor. Washington seems to have a bit more trouble doing good comedy, but he’s got the weather-worn-persona down pat. And I love Icelandic director Kormákur’s constant use of stark, rusty-steel locations: all his trains, cars, industrial kitchens, rooftops, deserts… just beautiful to watch.

(One point: both 2 Guns and Meet the Millers are filled with dated, negative stereotypes of Mexicans… but, since the movies are also filled with negative stereotypes of Americans, I guess it evens out.)

Blue Jasmine Cate Blanchett  Photo Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsBlue Jasmine

Dir: Woody Allen

Rich, blond and upper-class, New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco with just the shirt on her back (and some jewels and dresses in her Louis Vuitton luggage.) She’s losing it. Penniless, lost, disgraced. She can’t stop thinking about her ex-husband’s – a Bernie Madoff-type Wall Street investor who bilked his clients – fall from power. Now she has nowhere to go, so she’s forced to bunk with her sister. Frowsy but affable, working-class Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is her exact opposite – could they have come from the same womb? Snooty Jasmine insists they’re not biological relatives.

Ginger lets her stay in her messy but happy home, along with two kids Blue Jasmine Sally Hawkins Andrew Dice Clay Photo  Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsand a boorish boyfriend. Jasmine holds that the only way for a woman to improve her lot in life is to marry up. Ginger should meet better boyfriends. (Unmentioned is the fact that it was Jasmine’s billionaire husband that broke up Ginger’s marriage when he squandered their nest egg on worthless stock.)

Blue Jasmine_Alec Baldwin Cate Blanchett Photo Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsBut impeccably good taste isn’t enough to feed Jasmine. A Vassar drop-out, she has no skills, no experience. She is forced to double- date with her sister. She takes work as a dental receptionist, wears a nametag, and deals with relentless customers and sexual harassment from her boss. But she still dreams of better days in the Hamptons, even as she recalls, through flashbacks, the events that led to her husband’s financial collapse. Can a widowed diplomat she meets pull her from this morass? And will Ginger follow suit with a newer, richer boyfriend?

Blue Jasmine is a moving character study of a mentally unstable woman forced to make it on her own. Cate Blanchett is great in the title role, and Sally Hawkins good as her sister. Alec Baldwin and Andrew Dice Clay as their respective ex-husbands, Hal and Augie, round out the cast quite nicely. But I thought this movie dragged. The dialogue is rarely witty, and often repetitive and tiresome. The characters keep having identical arguments, almost word for word: Jasmine say Ginger’s boyfriends are losers, Ginger still likes them, Augie blames Jasmine for his financial losses… While I remember the good parts in retrospect, the film felt slow and repetitive while I was watching it.

We’re the Millers opens on August 9th, and Blue Jasmine and 2 Guns open today. And coming next week, a rare appearance at the TIFF Bell Light Box by French director Leos Carax at a retrospective of his fantastic movies, including Holy Motors and Les Amants du Pont Neuf. Go to tiff.net for more information.

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

December 9, 2011. Couples. Movies Reviewed: Shame, Salsa Tel Aviv, Carnage

Posted in 1980s, Catholicism, comedy, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Family, Israel, Mexico, Penis, Porn, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 8, 2011

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Couples. I think you know that phenomenon – all these people you used to know as individuals who suddenly turn into half of a couple, beginning right about now. They are easily spotted, what with their matching Christmas sweaters and pompom-ed toques. Who start talking in the We form instead of the I? I’m sure you know some of these “couples”.

Well this week I’m reviewing three films — three case studies — that deal this strange anthropological phenomenon – couples – at various stage of their development, their habitat, their migratory patterns, and their means of reproduction. One where the a camera was placed inside a nest and all coupling was filmed in detail — and their state of coupling is continual, but short, efficient, and then it’s gone; another where a member of the species migrates from Mexico, and accidentally inhabits another couple’s nest; and a movie where a couple of couples initially peacefully coexist, but soon run the danger of tearing one other’s heads off.

Shame

Dir: Steve McQueen

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful, young-ish ad exec who lives in a swank New York apartment. He can pick up women without even trying, and seems to have an insatiable need to sleep with a different woman each night. His extremely douche-y boss (James Badge Dale) known for his awful old pick-up lines, takes him along as a wing-man to pick up bars using awful pick-up lines, but Brandon is always the one who gets the lucky. And if not, there’s always prostitutes or porn. The one thing he can’t have, though, is any commitment or responsibility – they’re an instant killer, and he’ll do anything to avoid them.

Well in comes his estranged and needy younger sister, Sissie (Carey Muligan), who totally messes up his desired (though shallow and meaningless) lifestyle when she moves into his shag-pad. Her presence unnerves him, and sends him on a increasingly desperate cycle of depravity in his relentless quest for sexual and emotional satisfaction. Will it lead to some (pardon the expression) climactic event? Although they seem to have some kind of ominous backstory from their childhood making them so screwed up, it’s their present-day lives that are crucial.

Shame is a disappointing movie. It seems to be a moralistic look at sexual depravity and its consequences, but where it doesn’t even seem all that depraved. None of the characters are very likeable. And while there’s almost constant full frontal (and back-al) nudity, it’s not very erotic, more detached, mechanical, cold. While aesthetically and visually it’s great, with its long takes, off-centre and partially obscured close-ups, and while it’s a generally watchable – I didn’t want to walk out or anything – it left me as cold as the characters seem to be, with an implied moral tsk-tsk about the consequences of sexual indulgences.

Salsa Tel Aviv

Dir: Jorge Weller

Yoni (Angel Bonani), a bumbling botany professor who acts like a young Cary Grant, meets an equally awkward novice nun, “Victoria” (Angelica Vale) at a Mexican airport. They end up sharing a hotel room when a flight is cancelled. Afterwards, they find themselves together again on a flight to Tel Aviv (he’s heading home, she abroad). A Spanish speaker, he helps her through customs. Later his uptight fiancée Dafna (who won’t even kiss him unless he’s sucking a mint) takes him to a Salsa studio where she takes dance lessons. There he meets Vicki who seems very familiar to him. The nun’s habit was just a disguise. She used it to sneak into the country and meet her macho, deadbeat, salsa-dancing boyfriend who left her behind in Mexico with their kid. Vicki/Victoria and Yoni end up in a series of increasingly suggestive situations. She knows about his fiancée, but he knows nothing about her life. Is a romance developing between Vicki and Yoni? Or will they each stick with their respective mates?

Salsa Tel Aviv is a light rom-com about culture-crossed relationships. It’s 90% Spanish, 10% Hebrew, with the main roles — and the director as well — originally from Latin America. Uruguayan-Israeli Bonani, a former model, looks the part, but seems to be just starting in his acting career. Vale, a telenovela superstar in Mexico, is right in her element, doing lots of physical comedy (usually sleepy, drunk, confused or tongue-tied) as well as a competent romantic lead. Nothing spectacular, nothing very original, just a cute, classic romantic comedy.

Carnage

Dir: Roman Polanski

Penelope and Michael (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly) invite Nancy and Alan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to have a talk. You see, their 12 year old sons got in a fight, with one of them hit the other with a stick, so they decide have a civil, community-minded discussion, outside of lawsuits and recriminations. They’re all educated, sophisticated and rich professionals in NY City.

Penelope is committed to resolving the issue; Nancy as well, but she’s feeling sick; Michael is taking the easy way out, avoiding confrontation; while Alan, a corporate lawyer, is barely there – spending most of his time sending messages and talking loudly into his cell. When caffeine and alcohol are added to the mix, things begin to degenerate. What starts as a nice talk (filled with mildly hidden feelings of antipathy) gradually unravels into a psychological cesspool of anger, spite, and bitterness. Like in Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel, they can’t seem to leave that apartment – they seem psychologically trapped in their escalating fights.

This short film (79 minutes), a drawing-room comedy based on a one-act play by Yasmina Reza, is a very funny and acerbic look at how grown-ups act and what lies just beneath its surface. It doesn’t do much that a live play can’t, except maybe close-ups — It’s basically a filmed play — but who doesn’t want to see an entertaining play with four famous actors they like?

Shame is now playing, Salsa Tel Aviv is on for one show only this Sunday afternoon as part of the Chai, Tea and a Movie series at the Sheppard Cinema, check TJFF.com for details; and Polanski’s Carnage opens in two weeks — check your local listings.

Also opening this weekend: Paul Goodman Changed my Life, a new documentary about the influential counterculture figure of the 60’s — a bisexual, anarchist, writer, philosopher — starts tonight at the Royal; Brooklyn Boheme plays tonight at Toronto Underground cinema; and some really fun Japanese movies, including Linda Linda Linda about a highschool girls’ rock band, and Always: Sunset on 3rd St. 2, a nostalgic sequel to last year’s flic about the residents of a struggling postwar Tokyo neighbourhood are playing for free at the Royal this weekend, courtesy of Toronto’s Japan Foundation.

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

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October 28, 2011. Hallowe’en! Films Reviewed: Paranormal Activity 3, Rabies, Anonymous PLUS Guillermo del Toro’s Devil’s Backbone & Cronos, NFB, Face-Off 40th Anniversary re-release, and Stop Concussions!

Posted in Canada, Darkness, Drama, Dreams, Hockey, Horror, Israel, Mexico, Shakespeare, UK, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on October 30, 2011

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, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference

I’m going to dive right with some movies to watch this Hallowe’en weekend ’cause there’s lots to cover.

Now, I know about the weird phenomenon of Holiday Creep (where one day celebrations get stretched into month-and-a-half long marketing seasons) and that hallowe’en has been totally commercialized and stolen from kids so the grown-ups can have a good time, but I’m not complaining. We get to act like idiots, eat poorly, imbibe substances in excess, and disguise our identities. Anonymity rules the day. So get ready to stuff your faces with peanut-free snacks, put on your zombie blood and stripper outfits, and swarm out, en masse, to some hallowe’en movies. Go with someone who can handle a nails-in-the-palm hand squeeze. Because they’re scary. This week I’m talking about a ghost story caught on tape, a horror story in the woods of Israel, and a historical drama about anonymity and disguise. Plus some movie classics.

Paranormal Activity 3

Dir: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Julie, her two kids, and her boyfriend Dennis have moved into a new suburban, California home. Dennis likes video cameras – he works as a wedding photographer, so he’s always in a room editing VHS tapes. But when they try to film a provate sex tape, something scary appears on the footage. And her youngest daughter Kristie Rey’s imaginary friend Toby… might not be imaginary. So Dennis sets up cameras around the house to try to catch some paranormal activity on tape. But he might uncover some stuff he shouldn’t mess with.

This is the third of the Paranormal seres, and it’s pretty scary, with little surprises, shocks, and lots of red herrings. The idea is, the two little girls will grow up to be the young women of the first two pictures. And that this whole movie is just excerpts of found footage from a box of old 1988 VHS tapes. So it jumps around, sometimes even in mid sentence, to the next tape, or fast forwards in the middle of scene, like we’re watching the private videos but someone else holds the remote control. Lots of things are never explained they’re just there and they’re scary. But, strangely enough, it’s completely understandable, even though it’s all over the place, like watching youtube. It’s the building tension that’s great, and wondering what’s happening just off camera that you can hear but not see. The scenes shot by a camera taped to a slow moving oscillating fan, that pans left and right, left and right, are really good and scary. If you want to have nightmares on Hallowe’en, this is the one to see.

Rabies

Wri/Dir: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado

Two young men in tennis shorts clothes and two women in track suit tops and white skirts drive down some out-of-the-way road as they look for tennis courts. They meet up with a guy named Ofer – after hitting him with their SUV — who is trying to rescue his sister who is trapped in a hole – possibly an animal trap –underground. Meanwhile, a middle- aged forest ranger is out inspecting the reserve when his German Shepard disappears. And a truly sinister killer in a green jumpsuit is doing various bad things.

So the three guys go out to search for the missing girl and the women stay behind to wait for the cops. But one of the cops is a skeeze-bag molester who insists on a full-body search, which puts the girls in a- uncomfortable position. From there, most of the characters end up splitting-up and and gradually either getting killed or doing the killing in various gruesome ways, involving things like bear traps, explosions, knives and rocks. Is it the woods, or the blood, or is it something in the air? I’m not saying. But they all seem driven to extreme behaviour. In between, everyone communicates using static-y walkie-takies, adding to the surreal feel.

The killings are mainly off-camera, but they spare no expense on blood splashes and missing body parts. Afterwards you get to see people so mushed-up they look like extras in a zombie movie… but no zombies here.

Rabies is a comic mystery/horror/ slasher movie, apparently the first of its kind ever made in Israel. Like most horror movies, it’s partly for the thrill and the shock and the tension, and partly just to show attractive, scantily dressed actors running into trouble on screen. It’s more gross than it is scary – but it’s shot in the daytime which gives it a good, creepy and eerie tone. Its great, all-star cast includes Henry David (Restoration) as Ofer, Ania Bukstein (Secrets) as the tough-assed tennis player Adi, and Ran Danker (Eyes Wide Open) as Mikey.

Anonymous

Dir: Roland Emmerich

This movie is about a rich nobleman, Edward De Vere of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (played by Vanessa Redgrave and her daughter Joely Richardson as the old and young Queen) who, because of his status, must disguise his writing talent. He gets a commoner, playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), to anonymously mount the plays Edward writes. Johnson, in turn, passes them on to a talentless, greedy, bumbling and illiterate actor named… William Shakespeare!

Edward has to deal with an evil, manipulative father-and-son team of the puritanical and art-hating Cecil family who are the Queen’s closest advisors, and his biggest rivals. IN his youth, he has an affair with the so-called Virgin Queen and unknowingly leaves an illegitimate child. Will a pretender succeed Queen Elizabeth? Will he be able to continue his writing undetected? Or will the Globe theatre be closed down for it’s political plays? And will the nefarious Cecils or the good Edward emerge triumphant?

So it sounds like a good movie – there are a few good scenes, and I’ll admit, it kept me interested, more or less, for the whole movie. Enough not to walk out. Problem is, it’s just a hard movie to watch. It has flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, with tons of similar-looking characters (the men all seem to have little black van-dyke moustaches) emerging during different time periods, with different actors playing the same role. Especially for a movie about Shakespeare, the lines are not particularly beautiful or clever – they often sounds like ESL; the plot’s muddled, the score is intrusive, the motivations are confusing, and it is one of the gaudiest movies I’ve ever seen: Every pole has a vine around it, every wall has distracting tapestries, every crowd scene has extras in tableaux from Breughel or Hals, every outdoor shot has to have a bit of mist or fog floating past, every chimney has CGI smoke… Give it a rest! It made me long for a scene without neck ruffles and flickering candles. You’ve heard of minimalism? This movie is maximalism.

Anonymous is historically revisionist. It says a common person like Shakeseare could never have been so great — only a member of the nobility. And women in power (even a Queen) were all helpless biddies who can be easily manipulated by men.

It does have some shockingly unexpected plot twists, but not enough. You should leave this movie to an anonymous fate.

The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

In Devil’s Backbone, Carlos, is a kid placed in an old orphanage during the 1930’s Spanish civil war, who meets a strange boy in a closed off part of the building. He might be a ghost who holds the untold secrets of the place, and he caries a warning.

In Cronos, a kindly old antique dealer finds a mechanical gold bug that can bring eternal life, but at a frightening cost – the bug attaches itself to a person and makes him do bad things.

If you’ve seen Pan’s Labrynth, you’ll recognize a lot of the character types from these movie– the stern but beautiful middle-aged woman, the kindly grey-bearded older guy, the cruel but handsome fascist soldier, and the quiet, observant child – a boy in Backbone, a girl in Cronos. I loved both these movie, and they rarely play on the big screen. They’re on Sunday night as a double feature at the Bell Lightbox. Go to tiff.net for details.

Also on, this weekend only, at the NFB is a free animated film show, showing New short cartoons. It’s on everyday this weekend. For more information go to www.onf-nfb.gc.ca.

And coming next week, right after the release of the sequel to Goin’ Down the Road, is the first release on dvd of another Canadian classic, Face-Off, about a small-town player who joins the Maple Leafs. Tagline: He’s a Rookie, She’s a Rocker! It’s especially apropos now with all the controversy about hockey goons and head injuries. The message now is avoid head trauma at all costs. Speaking from personal experience, the last thing you want is to injure your brain in any way. So there’s a special charity screening of this movie next Thursday at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Go to stopconcussions.com for more info.

Paranormal Activity is playing now, Anonymous opens in Toronto today, check your local listings, and Rabies is playing one show only, on Sunday, October 30th at 8pm at Innis College. For more information go to www.tjff.com.

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

Movies for Grown-ups. Films reviewed: Of Gods and Men, Nora’s Will, Unknown. Plus upcoming film festivals

Well, if you ever need a break from standard Hollywood fare, I’ve got a few movies that are watchable but slightly outside expected norms.

This week I’m going to talk about three movies notable for having mature characters (meaning they’re over 14); movies that deal with questions of identity, religion, and the concepts of alienation and acceptance; and movies that take place in small communities within larger ones. They also take place outside the United States: one in Berlin, one in Mexico City, and one in a small village in Algeria. And these movies all feature great actors, even in the smaller roles.

Nora’s Will

Dir: Mariana Chenillo

Jose shows up at his ex-wife Nora’s apartment one morning to find the coffee being made, fresh food in the fridge, everything arranged for the day, but with Nora in her bedroom, dead. They’ve been divorced for 20 years, but he still lives right across the street.

Jose (Fernando Luján) is shocked by her death, but even more surprised when he discovers her plans are still unfolding. Nora is a Jewish, Mexican woman, and it appears she arranged for her funeral to coincide with a final Passover dinner. She has left little post it notes all around her apartment, and the calls start coming in as planned – her eccentric cousin from Guadalajara is on her way, their children are returning from their vacations, and her doctor is also showing up, and so is her Rabbi.

Jose bristles at both his ex-wife’s religious beliefs and her arrangements, so he makes it his unspoken goal to mess up all her plans. He suspects she had a lover, and wants to find evidence of that in her apartment. Even after her death he is still obsessed with his ex-wife. And in order to do what he can to disrupt the funeral he offers pepperoni pizza to the kosher rabbi, festoons the apartment with giant floral crosses, and tries to hide all the post-it notes about her planned last supper. And once the rumour escapes that Nora may have committed suicide, Jose’s disruptive plans spin out of control, with a possibility that there will be no where at all to bury her. His daughter in law is pissed-off, her housekeeper is suspicious, and the various other characters all seem ready to explode. Can JOse pull everything back together again? And does he want to?

This is a pretty funny movie, sort of a gentle, drawing-room comedy about middle-class, urban life in Mexico – something I’ve rarely seen in a movie before. And it reveals (in flashbacks) some unexpected secrets of the family – or at least secret to the movie viewer – so it keeps your interest as the stories unfold, and the plot gains more depth. Nora’s Will is a good, funny and, in the end, poignant portrayal of a damaged relationship, and their need for closure. And it won eight awards from the Mexican Academy of Film, including Best Picture and Best Actor.

Of Gods and Men

Dir: Xavier Beauvois

This is a movie about a peaceful monastery of Trappist monks in Algeria in the 1990s. They don’t proselytize or evangelize; instead they just make honey, tend to the sick and the poor, and spend the rest of their time in prayer and meditation. But civil war tensions enter into their lives, when Islamist extremists are getting closer, and start attacking nearby villages, and the equally violent — though ardently secular — military wants to place armed gunmen inside the monastery.

This is based on the true story, (made clear even in the ads) of their tragic massacre, so their fates are not a surprise, but the movie is about the period before then when they debate whether to stay in Algeria or go back to France.

The movie itself is constructed in a very formalistic way – scenes of their uneventful daily routines are contrasted with the increasingly violent events encroaching on their lives. Each short section is concluded with a silent tableau of the white-robed monks praying. Their feelings are subtly reflected by their postures at prayer: standing tall, or hunched in a circle, or reclining at rest, or collapsing in despair… a silent visual commentary on the events in their lives.

They start out as an undifferentiated mass, unidentifiable one from the next, but gradually their identities, names and personalities are made clear. Well, sort of… I thought the director made them more into a real-life version of the seven dwarves: Doc, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy… They seemed more like allegorical figures than real people, with only Christian, the Abbot (Lambert Wilson), the leader among the brothers, and Luc (Michael Lonsdale), a doctor who spends much of his time in native dress, as fully-formed characters.

Of Gods and Men is a slow-moving, but not boring, beautifully constructed look at monks’ lives as religious martyrs, proto-saints, and nearly-flawless examples. Is there anyone who doesn’t like monks?

But it left me feeling slightly duped by the religiosity of it all, with its story and characters made less real, and more like a sunday school lesson, by their hagiographic portrayals. The whole movie felt like a parent or a priest wagging his finger at the collective movie goers, as a lesson in religious purity and peity.

And you had to wonder about the film’s point of view.

Remember, Algeria was a colony, annexed and ruled as an integral part of France up until the end of their bloody war of independence in 1962. So you have to wonder about a French movie portraying the Algerian soldiers as the bad guys, and the Islamist extremist as the other bad guys, with the only good guys being the French monks (and the local villagers) still in Algeria. Sketchy, n’est-ce pas? While I feel nothing but sympathy for the massacred trappist monks, this movie really seems to be shedding a tear for France’s whole lost empire.

Unknown

Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

Dr Martin Harris, a scientist, arrives in Berlin with his wife Elizabeth to give a presentation on agricultural biology. But at the doors of their luxury hotel he realizes he left his briefcase at the airport. So he hails a cab and rushes back. But there’s an accident on the way that plunges the car into a river, with the pretty cabby risking her life to save his. Four days later, he comes to in a hospital bed with a brain injury, his mind confused. He rushes back to the hotel to find his wife, but when he gets there, she denies knowing him, and, stranger still, she has checked in with another man, also claiming to be Dr Martin Harris! Whoa…!

So here he is, with a bandaged head, no ID, no money, in a strange city he’s never been to, and he knows nobody there. His identity has even been wiped clean on the Internet – he doesn’t exist. And he starts to have paranoid thoughts – is that guy in a parked car waiting for him. Is that other guy with round glasses following him? And how about the man on the subway? Is he losing his mind? But, as they say, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

So Martin teams up with some locals to try to solve the mystery – the nice illegal immigrant cabby, and a blandly sinister detective who used to be in the Stasi, the East German secret service. What’s going on? What happened to his wife? And is he in danger? Unknown is a not-bad mystery/thriller with a Catalan Director, and a really good , largely European cast – Liam Neeson as the confused yet violent Martin, the great Bruno Ganz as the Stasi agent, Sebastian Koch as the German scientist, and Diane Kruger as the cabby; as well as Americans like January Jones as his wife, Aiden Quinn as the man pretending to be him.

I thought the mysterious set-up of the first half was more satisfying than the car chases, shoot-outs and fights of the second half (when the secrets are revealed and the plot chugs along its way) but it’s not a bad, mystery/thriller.

In Toronto, festival season is starting up soon. Here are some of the lesser known festivals.

Look out for the Toronto Silent Film Festival starting on March 30th, with bog stars of the silent era like Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, and Harold Lloyd, and great directors like FW Murnau, Hal Roach and King Vidor. Look online at http://www.ebk-ink.com/tsff/home.html

The Female Eye Film Festival features movies directed by women, including a Canadian psychological drama, The High Cost of Living directed by Deborah Chow. Check out listings at http://www.femaleeyefilmfestival.com/

And the Images Festival, North America’s largest collection of art and culture in the form of moving images on videos and in film, starts on March 31. Go to imagesfestival.com.

Nora’s Will opens today in Toronto, and Unknown and Of Gods and Men are now playing. Check your local listings.

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