Flashback. Films Reviewed: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Rings, Shepherds and Butchers

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Coming of Age, Horror, Montreal, Movies, Prison, Seattle, South Africa, Trial by CulturalMining.com on February 3, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUTflashback-film-fest 89.5 FM.

If the 1970s was Hollywood’s golden age then the 80s and 90s were its tin foil age —when a series of corporate takeovers placed short-term profits over creativity, and the Oscars celebrated forgettable, middle-brow pap. Even so, there were some fun and popular movies from 80s and 90s. Films like Alien, Shallow Grave, and Starship Troupers are playing at Cineplex’s Flashback Film Festival (FBFF) across Canada starting today, giving you a chance to revisit favourites on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at flashbacks. There’s a rerelease of a Canadian coming-of-age classic from the 70s, a flashback to a courtroom drama set in apartheid South Africa in the 80s; and a new sequel to a Japanese horror movie from the 90s.

duddy_kravitz_4colThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)

Dir: Ted Kotcheff Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

It’s the 1940s in a poor, Jewish section of Montreal. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a teenager recently graduated from Fletcher’s Field (a.k.a. Baron Byng) High School. MBDAPOF EC001He lives with his widowed father Max (Jack Warden) who works as a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his big brother Lennie. Lennie is a smart and sophisticated med student at McGill. But Duddy has neither the brains nor the inclination to study.

He’s a boorish and loud, nervous and uncouth, always sweating and scratching, jumping MBDAPOF EC008and cussing. He has a filthy mouth and an intrusive manner. With no friends or admirers he just wants to get rich quick. His idol is a gangster known as The Boy Wonder (Henry Ramer), and his favourite retort is kiss my Royal Canadian Ass.

He gets a summer job at a holiday resort in the Laurentiens, but is relentlessly put down by rich kids from Westmount and Outrement. He makes friend with a pretty waitress named Yvette (Micheline Lanctot). They fall for each other and she takes him to a secret spot beside a pristine lake. He’s struck by its beauty and vows to buy it, but is blocked by Québécois farmers who never sell property to jewish people. And Yvette is turned off by his constant drive for profits and MBDAPOF EC006wealth.

Duddy sets off on a series of impossible ventures he thinks will make enough money to buy the land: Importing Pinball machines with his friend Virgil, an American he meets on a train (Randy Quaid); and producing films with an alcoholic British communist (Denholm Elliot). But in his quest for success, he risks alienates his friends, his lover and his family. What will he learn from his apprenticeship with the real world?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a hilarious and audacious drama from the 70s which deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a dark slice of Canadian life, a world full of bigotry, snobbery, selfishness and deceit, tempered with the glorious freedom of a young man pursuing his dreams.

15871828_1198279710249685_2066179248684362877_nRings

Dir: F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia (Matilda Lutz ) is a high school grad in small town USA. She’s sad because her pretty, but dumb-as-a-post boyfriend (Alex Roe) is heading off to university in Seattle. Don’t worry, Holt says, I’ll skype you every night. But when the calls stop coming and he doesn’t answer her texts, brave Julia heads off to Seattle to investigate. And she finds something strange: there’s an old black-and-white video everyone tells her to watch. Everyone she meets tell her to watch. What she doesn’t know is that anyone who watches this video will be dead in seven days. But if you trick someone else into15844158_1196804380397218_3255840937653140664_o watching it, you get another seven days added to your life.

Like Orpheus in the underworld, Julia decides to forge ahead, rescuing her boyfriend from Hell. She intentionally watches the dreaded video, and using her powers of second sight – she’s clairvoyant — she decides to follow a ghost to its point of origin. But first she has to deal with a secretive professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) and a blind graveyard custodian (Vincent d’Onofrio).

Can Julia rescue Holt, defeat a ghost with long black hair, and figure out the meaning behind the cursed video tape?

Rings is a reboot of the scary Japanese movie Ring and its sequels. Last week I interviewed two ghosts from that era, Sadako vs Kayako. In the American films, Sadako is Samara, and urban Japan becomes a village somewhere in Washington State. More than that, Rings trades the chill feel of video static for a more conventional American ghost story.

Is it scary? A little, especially towards the end as Julie’s visions start to pay off. But the story is so ridiculously disjointed it’s laughable. It treats the original Ring just as a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made the original so scary.

29_img_8235Shepherds and Butchers

Dir: Oliver Schmitz

It’s 1987 in Apartheid-era South Africa. Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) a white Afrikaner, is arrested for murdering seven black African members of a soccer club in a quarry. The seven bodies were found neatly lined up in a row. The accused refuses to defend himself or even to say anything about what he did; he says he can’t remember. It’s an open 08_img_6438and shut case. Or is it?

In walks the famed jurist Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), a staunch opponent to the death penalty. While not contesting the actual crime, instead he says it is the brutal South African justice system that led to the crime. A church-going shy kid turned into a mass murderer in just a few years? Preposterous!

It turns out Leon since age 17 has been forced  to work on death row in a maximum security prison. His work is like a shepherd, tending to the needs — food, showers, and prayers — of  men  “on the rope” (waiting to be hanged). But he’s also a butcher, forced to 32_img_6718kill — en masse, often seven at a time — the same men he takes care of.

His story is told at his trial in a series of gruesome and realistic flashbacks. Johan goads him into recounting what he – and the prisoners — has been through. This film shows the horrors of capital punishment, and particularly 47_img_9027the mass executions held in South Africa, in graphic detail. It is horrifying and extremely hard to watch, because it brings you the viewer  right into the gallows itself. Shepherds and Butchers is a touching story about an important topic, but believe me, it is not for the faint of heart.

Rings and Shepherds and Butchers both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is playing for free this Sunday as part of the Canada on Screen series. 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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Mina Shum about her documentary Ninth Floor, world premiering at #TIFF15

Posted in 1960s, Canada, College, Cultural Mining, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Quebec, Racism, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2015

"THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In the 1960s, Canada opened its gates to new Canadians from the British Commonwealth and around the world. And in 1967, the 100th anniversary of Confederation, the world looked to Canada, especially Montreal, home of Expo 67, as the epitome of tolerance, progressiveness and multiculturalism. But just beneath surface trouble brewed. At Sir George Williams University, (now Concordia) a group of Caribbean students complained of racist treatment by a faculty member. Unrest gradually grew into the biggest student uprising in Canadian history. Crowds led to riots and a sit-in at the computer department became a conflagration on the ninth floor.

Ninth Floor is also the name of a new documentary that looks at the "THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBpolitics and history of this period through the eyes of the participants. It is directed by Mina Shum, the renowned Vancouver-based filmmaker, famous for her family dramas like Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity. Ninth Floor, her first documentary, revisits a partly forgotten but vital piece of Canadian history. It’s having its world premier at TIFF. I spoke to Mina Shum, by telephone from Vancouver. She told me about Sir George Williams College, the computer lab, the sit-in, the mob, agents provocateurs, polite racism, housing discrimination, immigration, Montreal in the 1960s, Caribbean students in Canada, the RCMP, how she made the documentary… and more!

Daniel Garber talks to director Majdi El-Omari about his new film STANDSTILL

Majdi El-Omari STandstillHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Karhiio is a Mohawk science student in Toronto who steals some offensive nicknacks he sees in a souvenir shop and goes to jail. His Dad, John, a war photographer, drives out from Montreal to meet him there. He owes his son a debt for breaking up with his ex-wife, an artist. But he also has a responsibility to his neighbour in Montreal: Widad, a Palestinian woman who is hiding in plain sight after a crime. Until he addresses his obligations, his life is at a stand still.

Standstill is also the name of a new Canadian movie. It’s a film where English is rarely standstillspoken — not so unusual for a film from Montreal. What is unusual is that most of the characters speak Kanien’kehà:ka, the language of the Mohawk First Nations, and possibly the first such film ever made. Shot in beautiful black and white, it’s a pensive character study of three alienated and misplaced souls.

It’s directed by award-winning filmmaker Majdi El-Omari, and Standstill is his first feature. It opens in Toronto at the Royal Cinema on March 13th, 2015.

I spoke to Majdi by telephone from Montreal. The Palestinian-Canadian director talks about the Oka crisis, Quebec, indigenous people, the film’s genesis, existentialism, media stereotypes, resistance, the role of police, internal violence, cultural representations, the Mohawk language, and more!

A French Connection? Movies reviewed: Finding Vivian Maier, L’autre vie de Richard Kemp, Triptyque

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-Montreal Flight two Canada ladybird Booksbrow 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.

With Quebec elections coming up, this week I’m looking at movies with a “French connection” (francophone, that is.) These movies all share a dark, mysterious and introspective mood.

There’s a doc about an artist who never showed her art, a Quebec drama about two sisters – one loses her voice, the other writing; and a French thriller about a detective thwarted from catching a serial killer… by himself!

FVM_WomanHatNYPublicLibrary_RavinePicturesLLCFinding Vivian Maier
Dir: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

When John, a third generation Flea Marketeer, buys a box of negatives at an auction, he doesn’t realize at first what he has. It’s a vast collection of never-printed negatives taken by an unknown photographer named Vivian Maier. She plied the streets of Chicago for decades documenting street life. Her shots are beautiful, poignant, the black and white photos aesthetically astute.

But who was she? Where did she come from? And why is she unknown to theFVM_YoungWomaninCar_RavinePicturesLLC2013 world?

Turns out the photographer, Vivian Maier, died recently. She left behind over 100,000 photos, plus audio tapes and some super-8 reels. But none of the photos had ever been professionally printed, and almost no one had seen them but the photographer herself. Maier was a very tall woman with a mannish haircut and a vaguely French accent. She wore heavy boots, old-fashioned hats, and always carried a rolleiflex camera. An eccentric, she was given to hording any items she found. Most surprising is how she earned her living… as a nanny and a maid.

This is a fascinating and intriguing documentary that pieces together parts of her life – though most is left unknown – while showing lots of her incredible photographs. We hear from her former bosses, the grown-up kids she had nannied, even a few Alpine relatives.

FVM_COLORVMSelfPortraitMirrorRedClothinShop_Ravine PicturesLLC2013Her story is similar to the case of Henry Darger, another eccentric artist (who worked as a janitor) who hoarded his own intricate drawings that were only discovered after death. And, as in that case, the filmmakers are tied to the one who owns all the art. There’s an ulterior motive: to get rich from the work of a previously unknown artist.

Still, this doesn’t detract from the beauty and mystery of her story or of the appeal of the street photos themselves. It does make you wonder, though. Is a photographer who never selects which photos to show and who never successfully prints the pictures she took – an artist? Or is the posthumous curator the real artist here? Either way, Finding Vivian Maier is a great story.

Lautre vie de richard kemp poster affiche cinefrancoL’autre vie de Richard Kemp (Back in Crime)
Dir: Germinal Alvarez

Helene, (Mélanie Thierry), an elegant psychologist out for a morning run, finds a dead body washed up on shore. She’s questioned by a scruffy police detective named Richard Kemp. She is cold and dismissive. Kemp (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is troubled because it shares the M.O. with a case, never solved, from early in his career. An unknown killer – known only as the earwig — kidnaps his victims, punctures their ears, and throws them autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-melanie-thierry-unifranceinto the ocean. Was the killer back again?

Though their first meeting is frosty, eventually Helene and Richard hit it off. (She’s a widow with a son, he’s divorced.) But while investigating the case on a bridge, he is struck from behind and thrown into the water. When he climbs out things have changed. The streetcar driver won’t accept his Euros: they’re “foreign” money. At home he sees a stranger autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-unifrancewith a key to his modernistic apartment. He soon discovers the truth: it’s 25 years earlier, and the man he saw – is himself!

He rents a room in a highrise across from the curvy building his younger self rents. Maybe young Richard will do it right this time. But he makes the same mistakes again. So he decides to follow the earwig’s trail himself – he knows the MO, maybe he’ll catch him or at least save the autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-melanie-thierry - unifrancevictims. But he ends up as a suspect being chased by his younger self.

So he turns to the only one he can trust: Helene. Can he win her to his side, convince her his plight is true, and will they rekindle their future romance? This is a neat, dark detective story with a bit of a time travel twist. I like this one.

triptyque-afficheTriptyque
Dir: Robert Lepage

Marie and Michelle Lavallee are two Montreal sisters, the crème de la crème of Quebec culture. Marie (Frédérike Bédard) is an internationally-known singer. Michelle (Lise Castonguay) is a noted poet and author. But fame does not shield them from tragedy. Marie discovers she has a brain tumour. She seeks the help of Austrian brain surgeon Thomas (Hans Piesbergen) who, secretly, suffers from a hand tremor.

Michelle, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is committed to a mental hospital triptych_eOne_02_largeand kept on medication. Once released, she seeks solace in a Montreal bookstore. No coffee, no WiFi, just actual books by Quebecois artists and intellectuals. But, inhibited by her medication, she finds herself unable to write.

After her surgery, Marie is left with aphasia – she can’t recall words. She can triptych_eOne_01_largesing the notes but not the lyrics. And her memory is faulty: she can’t remember her own father’s voice. But she has found love. All three characters in Triptique have to work through their losses, fill the gaps, and right the wrongs.

This film is an abbreviated version of part of Lepage’s epic stage drama Lipsynch which played in Toronto two years ago. It trades the intricate stage design for which he’s so famous, for an intimacy and closeness you can’t get on a stage. And it captures Montreal’s bitterly elegant winter cityscapes as only a movie can.

Triptyque and Lepage’s other films are now playing in a retrospective at TIFF; for details, go to tiff.net; l’Autre Vie de Richard Kemp (a.k.a. Back in Crime) is having its North American premier and is one of many great pics at CineFranco, Toronto’s francophone film fest (go to cinefranco.com for tickets); and Finding Vivian Maier opens 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

TIFF13: Older/Younger. Capsule Reviews: Gloria, Gerontophilia, Bright Days Ahead, Adore

Posted in Australia, Canada, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, LGBT, Montreal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 29, 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.

The Toronto Film Festival opens next Thursday for ten days, showing most of the good movies that will be in your theatres in the fall and spring. Well I’ve started watching some of these movies, and there seems to be a trend. Have you ever seen Harold and Maude? Or the Graduate? A lot of the films there are about cross-generational relationships.

So this week I’m looking at love and lust of May-September couples, but with a twist. The movies come from Canada, France, and Chile, and range from younger man/ older woman, middle-aged woman /older man, and very young man / geriatric man. (plus an Australian movie with a different theme.)

A193_C008_0101IKGloria

Dir: Sebastien Lelio

Gloria (Paulina Garcia) is an average, middle-aged divorcee in downtown Santiago. Her kids are adults now so she lives alone in an apartment, with just a noisy neighbor and a hideous, hairless cat intruding on her privacy. But she’s still full of energy – she wants to enjoy life, sing songs, have sex, fall in love. So she starts hanging out in discos, picking up guys – much older guys. She falls for Rodolfo, a very conservative elderly man. At first their relationship seems solid, but he always runs home whenever his daughters need him (he says he’s divorced but still responsible.) She wants him to meet her family and friends. Will he commit? And will he fit in with her lifestyle (Gloria’s a free-thinking Chilean, Rodolfo has roots in Pinochet’s military.)

Although told in an everyday manner, this is a fantastic, bittersweet look at one woman’s life. Paulina Garcia completely embodies Gloria, and exposes her feelings –and her entire body — for the camera.

gerontophilia_02Gerontophilia

Dir: Bruce la Bruce

Lake (Pier-Garbriel Lajoie) is a young guy in Montreal who likes making out with his revolution-obsessed girlfriend beneath a blow-up image Gandhi. But one day, at an aqua fitness class, while giving mouth-to-mouth resusetation to an elderly man, he discovers something.

Old people turn him on. He gets a job at a nursing home, to satisfy his obsessive fetish. Soon he falls for Mr Peabody (Walter Borden), formerly a flamboyant actor, now nearly catatonic on meds. They embark on a trip across Canada, but can this relationship last? Or is it headed for its final burn-out? This is a cute, very Canadian (bilingual French and English), and very mainstream movie. The former Reluctant Pornographer has made the switch to conventional director. Bruce la Bruce has left out the porn, the explicit sex, the nudity and instead made a simple, sweet coming-of-age romance. You could bring your grandpa to this one without blushing… well, your gay grandpa. I liked this movie.

brightdaysahead_01Bright Days Ahead

Dir: Marion Vernoux

The beautiful Caroline (Fanny Ardant) is bored and depressed in her seaside town. She’s mourning her best friend and the loss of her dental practice – she was forced into early retirement. So her daughters enroll her in classes at the local senior centre. She hates the cheesy nature of the place, the condescending tone of the teachers and the infantilisation of formerly dignified adults. That is until she falls into a passionate sexual relationship with Julien (Laurent Lafitte), a lusty computer teacher. Caroline is married and has never strayed before. But she decides to let go – get drunk, have sex, seize the day. Can her casual relationship survive the wagging fingers of small town life? Can she stand being one of many sexual partners? And what about her husband?

This is another light romance – the type that the French do so well. It’s a refreshing afternoon treat, with a palateable finish, much like the wines Caroline so enjoys tasting. Fanny Ardant is great, and Laurent Lafitte is a good foil. (Picture Mark Ruffalo with Candice Bergen…)

Outside of TIFF but opening next Friday is

AdoreFC_adore

Dir: Anne Fontaine (based on a story by Doris Lessing)

Roz and Lil are (Robin Wright, Naomi Watts) are blonde Aussie beach bums. Roz’s husband is dead, and Lil’s husband is distant – he wants to move to Sydney. But the two women grew up by the ocean and won’t leave it. Nor will they leave their friendship – they share everything. Now it’s just them and their two newly-adult sons, Ian and Tom. The boys are unusually handsome, the women are beautiful, and an unusual relationship develops there (no spoilers.)

It’s kept on the down low to stop gossip in the town, but everyone feels something is going on between the two families. Will there paradise last forever? Or will it wash away with the tides? Although Australian in location and cast, the feel of this movie is totally French. This is another summer sexual romance, with touching and erotic undertones.

Gloria, Gerontophilia, and Bright Days Ahead are all playing at TIFF starting next week – tickets are still available. Go to tiff.net for details. Adore opens next Friday in Toronto. And opening today is Our Nixon a documentary made of newly- uncovered super-8 footage taken by his Watergate co-conspirators Haldeman, Erlichman and Dean – excellent documentary.

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

Daniel Garber interviews Guy Maddin about his project Seances

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Lost Movies, Montreal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 18, 2013

aaa_Maddin_4__photo_by_dualityphoto.comThis is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Winnipeg filmmaker GUY MADDIN is known for his tales of twisted nostalgia, his eerie retakes of Canadian history, and comical melodramas done in new interpretations of archaic styles.

His amazing movies include Tales from the Gimli Hospital, The Saddest Music in the World, and the semi-documentary My Winnipeg.

He’s one of the few directors that can make an arty film using experimental techniques that is totally enjoyable and funny.

But now he’s doing something different: bringing together live performance, interactive video and bilingual filmmaking in acostumes very unusual way. He’s currently shooting 12 movies in 13 days at the Phi Centre in a project known as SEANCES.  Guy Maddin speaks by telephone from Montreal to help guide us through the smoke and mirrors.

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Inside Lara Roxx: Interview with Director Mia Donovan and Lara Roxx

Posted in Canada, Condoms, Cultural Mining, documentary, H.I.V., L.A., Montreal, Movies, Porn, Quebec, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 4, 2012

A young woman from Montreal moves to LA to make some money in porn movies, but is exposed to HIV on set. I interview filmmaker Mia Donovan and the new movie’s subject, Lara Roxx, about this raw, personal documentary, Inside Lara Roxx (now playing in Toronto). We talk about the adult film industry, media myths, exploitation, stigma, and condom use in porn. (This interview includes sexual topics and adult language.)

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January 6, 2012. Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. Movies Reviewed: Jeff Who Lives At Home, Dark Horse, Starbuck

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.

It’s a New Year now, and everyone’s scrambling to make vows, resolutions and oaths to change their lives. And there’s one group that’s often makes the most earnest promises of all — I’m talking about that popular caricature, Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. In the movies, they tend to have dead-end jobs, play with toys, smoke pot, live in their parents’ basements and generally strike out with women, despite all their good intentions. So this week I’m looking at three movie, all of which played at TIFF last year, about grown-up boys who decide to change their lives. So all you couch potatoes, it’s time to get up, go out, and see some movies!

Jeff Who Lives at Home

Wri/Dir: Jay and Mark Duplass

Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home – sits around his his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on the toilet. He doesn’t get along with his older brother Pat anymore (Ed Helms), a self-centred square who neglects his wife. Pat’s a guy who’s supposed to look at a new home, but instead spends all their money on a Porsche on impulse. And now his wife doesn’t feel so great about their marriage. And Mom also notices a change in her cubicle job when her nest friend tells her she has a secret admirer. So what’s going to happen?

Jeff, is a proto- string theorist (like the characters in the movie I Heart Huckabees) He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to pick up a bottle of glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon). But, when something catches his eye on an infomercial, followed by the words “CALL NOW!” at the same time as a strange, threatening wrong number calling for someone named “Kevin”, he gets sent off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world.

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who usually make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational super-realistic movies. They do tend to use annoying, jiggly hand-held cameras, but the movies are interesting enough that it doesn’t bother you after awhile. This one, Jeff who Lives at Home, is the biggest budget and most mainstream so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – It’s not a sell-out, it’s a fun, light comedy.

You could say Jeff is a “lite” version of the next character. Now think of the same guy, but 10-15 years later…

Dark Horse

Dir: Todd Solandz

Abe (Jordan Gelber) also lives with his parents, but he’s older, less attractive, fatter, and without any of the cute, endearing qualities that Jeff (who also lives at home) had. He works in his dad’s company, sitting in his glassed-in office, dressing like a white gangsta rapper, in track pants and T-shirts, with a gold name plate around his neck. He drives a bright yellow SUV, listens to hiphop, collects Tron Legacy memorabilia. And he despises his older brother who’s a doctor, and whom his parents idolize. He’s simultaneously arrogant, talentless and uninteresting. He’s the kind of guy who throws something toward a garbage can, says “two points!”… and then misses.

But at a Jewish wedding in suburban New Jersey (a hilarious scene where adults in wedding suits are all doing head spins and break-dancing) he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a depressed but pretty, dark-haired woman who lives with her parents, after breaking up with her boyfriend Mahmoud. Abe is the worst person at picking up girls, possibly in the entire world. When he hits on a woman he says things like “Do you like jazz? NFL?” without bothering to listen to her answer before moving on to the next failed pick-up line. But somehow — for whatever reason — they end up dating.

Here’s where the movie gets really interesting (and a bit confusing). Abe decides to take the bull by the horns and change his life. The story goes off on these bizarre tangents. Things get bad with his lethargic parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) who finally put their collective foot down; the older secretary, Marie, at the office pursues her sexual crush on Abe; and he has other troubles with his plastic model collection. Abe can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want to give it away, but once again, Todd Solandz, who is such a good director, (with his painfully dark stories and funny-depressing characters) experiments once again with new narrative techniques, like unreliable narrators; total, sudden shifts in point of view – but without informing the viewers; and fantasy, delusions and dreams almost undistinguishable from reality. Wow. It’s a great movie that I hope will get released soon.

Starbuck

Dir: Ken Scott

David (Patrick Houad) is just not doing that well with his life. Everything just seems to be going wrong. He’s separated from his girlfriend, he’s bad at his job (delivering meat for his family business), and his money-making scheme, a grow-up, must be the only one in the world actually losing money: he owes 80 thousand to a bunch of violent thugs who want it back. His girlfriend – who’s pregnant with his kid – tells him he’d better change things if he wants to be that kid’s father. But these all seem like small potatoes when he’s hit by the biggest news of all – the sperm he anonymously donated at a fertility clinic 20 years go, was fertile. Very. He has 500 adult kids now, and 140 or so are planning a class-action suit to make him reveal his identity (he donated using only the nickname “Starbuck”.)

So he decides to secretly track down as many of his kids he can find, to help them out but without revealing his identity to them. There’s a lifeguard, a drug addict, a street musician, an effeminate goth, an aspiring actor… even if David’s own life is a total loss, maybe he can at least make his mark on the world by helping his many, many kids succeed. But the media pick up his story, making it harder and harder to remain hidden. Will he make it out of his various personal crises? Will he be forced to expose his identity to the world? Will his immigrant family ever feel proud of him? And will his pregnant girlfriend let him back into her life?

Starbuck is a really enjoyable, solid, feel-good commercial Quebec comedy, (from the people who brought us Good Cop, Bon Cop0. It’s playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the best 10 Canadian films series starting now, along with the new Cronenberg movie and Monsieur Lazhar.

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

Fighters! Hotdocs Documentaries Reviewed, 2011. Better This World, Fightville, Open Secret, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Recessionize! For Fun and Profit! PLUS Alan Zweig

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

Toronto’s Hotdocs, which starts today, is one of the best documentary festivals in the world.

It features recent docs, including Canadian and world premiers, as well as exceptional films from the past. This year the festival is running a retrospective of Toronto filmmaker Alan Zweig’s work, including favourites like I, Curmudgeon and Vinyl, as well as the excellent and moving A Hard Name which follows the difficult lives of seven ex-cons released back into the city.

Many documentaries are about people facing a conflict; they choose either to fight it or to learn to accept it. Today I’m going to talk about movies playing at Hotdocs — films about fighters, people who like to fight, and people who are fighting the Powers That Be; and others who take the opposite route, the path of least resistance.

Better this World

Dir: Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega

When I read about stories like the seven guys in Miami who were arrested for conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago for Osama bin Laden – even though they’ve never even been to Chicago and have no connection with Al Qaeda; or the Somali-American  kid in Portland Oregon labeled as a Christmas Tree Bomber; or the Toronto 18 who were accused of plotting to blow up the Parliament building, I start to wonder how big a role did the government informants play in these stories, and whether anything at all would have happened had it not been for the government instigator.

Two young, idealistic best friends David McKay and Brad Crowder, who grew up in Midland, Texas, went to Minneapolis to protest the Republican Convention two years ago. You might have seen the footage of the police there clubbing, tear gassing and arresting hundreds of protestors, students and even journalists, while, inside the buildings, people like Sarah Palin were talking to sea of middle-aged, white, soon-to-be tea-partiers. Well, within the crowd outside were three guys – the two young best friends, and a supposed radical, Brandon Darby. The two friends were arrested by the FBI and called criminals and anarchist-terrorists, mainly by the much older FBI informant, Darby, who claimed they were there to blow up people – including sleeping policemen – using Molotov cocktails as part of their anti-war demonstrations.

This movie explores the events leading up to Brad and David’s arrests and the subsequent trials, including the use of government informants to create the supposed conspiracy, push it toward some yet-to-happen act of violence, and to entrap them into saying aloud some hypothetical phrase of intention.

This is an excellent — though at times extremely disheartening – documentary about how governments manufacture to order “criminals” where none previously existed, merely to fit into their quota of “War on Terror” political prisoners. Makes you want to cry…

Another type of fighter are the ones featured in the movie

Fightville

Dir: Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker

Directors of the fantastic Iraq War documentary Gunner Palace and its good sequel How to Fold a Flag are again dealing with young, poor American men; in this case, aspiring Mixed Martial Arts fighters from Lousiana.

Also called cage fighting or Ultimate Fighting, MMA has a reputation as an extremely violent sport akin to pro wrestling, without any referees, where the two fighters kick, punch, and beat each other up until one is nearly dead. This is its mythology, but none of it’s true. It’s actually safer than heavyweight boxing – the fighters wear smaller, lighter gloves, though because of the nature of the sport, does lead to small cuts and bruises, but not to the head injuries you get in boxing. It’s played in closely refereed rounds, with a match ending with a knockout, one player’s submission, or by a judgement. It looks like a combination of boxing, grappling, Brazilian jujitsu, muai thai kick boxing, and traditional wrestling down on the mat. In my opinion it’s the most interesting kind of fighting to watch, since it involves so many skills and so much training and strategy on the parts of the fighters.

This beautifully shot movie dispels the myths about Mixed martial arts, as it follows two amateur fighters, Dustin and Albert, as they try to make it from an amateur farm team to professional status. Will either of them make it to the pros? While not that dramatic a sports story, Fightville takes you behind the scenes, through all the stages of training and preparation for a fight, and shows Dustin and Albert both in their ordinary lives, and within the ring, with all the glamour and excitement that comes from an actual match.

Open Secret

Dir: Steve Lickteig

Steve Lickteig, an NPR brodcaster, grew up on a Kansas farm and lived his whole life knowing that he was adopted… but not knowing the open secret about his birth parents. The movie investigates his search for the truth that he was never told about as a child.

His oldest brothers and sisters were sworn to secrecy, and the younger ones were kept in the dark. The movie reveals part of the open secret in the first few minutes of the movie, so it’s no spoiler to say that he was actually an older sister’s child, and his parents were really his grandparents.

The movie follows him returning to his family – his sister/mother, and his parents aka grandparents. He also wants to know the truth about who his father was, what the reasons were for the strange arrangement, and more about his actual birth parents, his background, and whether he has other relatives.

Open Secret is above all a family memoir with the various members fighting and arguing, holding grudges, or reconciling, meeting or refusing to meet. If you’re into these types of daytime TV family stories, or if you’re familiar with the NPR personality who made it, then this is a good movie for you, but I have to say it didn’t do much for me.

Let’s move away now from fighting, resisting, and quarrelling and toward the opposite spectrum, to movies about buying into the system and going with the flow.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Dir: Morgan Spurlock

I can’t stand product placement on TV or in movies – it’s a pet peeve. Whether it’s as banal as working a brand name into an answer on Jeopardy!, or the ubiquitous Mac laptop magically appearing in most movies, it’s annoying, obnoxious, and intrusive. So Morgan “Super Size Me” Spurlock decided to make a movie in which every scene, every shot, and even the movie’s title itself, would have at least one product placement in it – and he would use product placement both to pay for the movie, and to provide its plot. It’s a very amusing, fast paced, and light comic take on advertising. Some of its cleverest moments is where he interviews people like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader about product placement, without them realizing there’s a brand name – a shoe, an underarm deodorant, a soft drink – appearing right beside them. And just because you know it’s there, it doesn’t mean it’s not working. Honest to God, I walked out of this movie with a strange desire to buy a bottle of pomegranate juice!

In a similar vein, and just as entertaining, is the Canadian documentary

Recessionize! For Fun and Profit!

Dir: Jaime Kastner

In a tongue-in-cheek look at the present-day grim effects of the economic meltdown and the recession that followed it, Kastner decides to look at the bright side instead. There’s money to be made out there, even in bad times, so he tracks down some unusual people adapting to the new economic realities. One of the more clever ones include a smartly dressed and perfectly coiffed woman who lives in a deluxe mansion with her family. The catch? She’s only there to make it look lived-in for potential real-estate buyers, and will have t move out the moment it’s sold. What does her teenaged son think about living in a place that has to be kept spotless? He says it’s major OCD territory!

And there’s also a great French guest house where people who feel their career is a rat-race can live for a weekend like a hamster, running in a giant wheel! Recessionize! is a lot of fun – an amusing, up-beat and fast-paced, TV style variety documentary.

The Hotdocs festival runs from Thursday April 28th to May 8th, and is free – no charge! – for rush seats during the day for anyone with a Student or Senior ID. Check this out online hotdocs.ca I think everyone should try to see at least one documentary, and Hotdocs is the best place to see them.

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

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