Eccentric. Films reviewed: Ruben Brandt Collector, Greta, A Bread Factory

Posted in Animation, Art, Crime, Family, Movies, Mystery, psychedelia, Psychological Thriller, Psychopaths, Theatre, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 1, 2019

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

It’s March and Toronto’s spring film festival season has begun. The Irish Film Fest is on this weekend, and the WTF Fest starts showing “eccentric movies” at the Royal Cinema today. In this case, WTF stands for What the Film – great stuff. Also opening is What Walaa Wants, the NFB doc about a young Palestinian woman who wants to be a cop. Also opening is Gaspar Noe’s amazing film Climax, a movie that includes a fantastic dance performance and a stunning title sequence… followed by a horrific panoply of drug-addled sex and violence.

Keeping with the theme of the strange and unusual, this week I’m looking at offbeat movies with eccentric characters. There’s a a French widow with a yen for pocketbooks, a psychotherapist keeps fine art front and centre; and a two older women who want to save their arts centre from falling apart.

Ruben Brandt Collector

Wri/Dir: Milorad Krstic

Dr Ruben Brandt is a psychoanalyst obsessed by art. He lives and works in an isolated alpine chalet where he treats his rich but troubled clients, including a banker with an eating problem, and a former bodyguard.

Meanwhile Mike Kowalsky, a private detective from Washington DC, is in Paris chasing Mimi, a notorious cat burglar down the city streets. She’s carrying a priceless Egyptian artifact. But he can’t catch her; the former circus acrobat is just too fast. Mimi tracks down Dr Brandt and visits his clinic. She wants to get rid of her kleptomania, She can’t stop stealing. But in a strange turn of events, patients turn to doc tors and doctors to patients. You see, Dr Brandt is plagued with halucinations of people in famous paintings. Is Venus in Boticelli’s painting trying to kill him? How about Warhol’s double Elvis? Brandt’s patients, including Mimi, decide the only way to save their doctor is to steal all the paintings that obsess him. They begin a series of elaborate heists of the world’s best known paintings from the most famous galleries. Can Kowalsky solve the puzzle and catch the culprits? Or will Ruben Brandt, the art collector, triumph?

Ruben Brandt Collector is a simple, silly story told with amazing animated images. It feels like a cartoon guide to Janson’s History of Art… on acid. Characters are portrayed as cubists, as two-faced januses, or as two-dimensional pieces of paper. The plot may be flat and inconsequential but the animated art and psychedelic imagery sticks with you.

Greta

Wri/Dir: Neil Jordan (The Crying Game)

Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is depressed. She’s a recent college grad who works as a server in a fancy Manhattan restaurant. She shares a spacious condo with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) whose dad gave it to her as a gift. Ever since her mom died, Frances can’t have fun; she never seems to go out anymore. But her attitude changes when she finds a designer purse that someone left on a subway. Finally, she can do a good deed. Using the ID, she takes it to its owner’s home. Greta (Isabelle Huppert), is an older woman, a widow, who lives in an isolated cottage. Her home is like a piece of France right in the middle of NY city. She plays Chopin and bakes cookies.

It’s like at first sight. Greta needs someone to spend time with since her daughter moved away and Frances misses her mother terribly. They go for walks in Central Park, share intimate meals at her home, and even adopt a dog to keep Greta company. Greta worries Frances will go away, just like her daughter. Don’t worry Greta, I’m like chewing gum – I’ll stick around. Imagine, such good friends meeting at random.

But… everything changes when Frances discovers Greta’s secret. That “lost purse” wasn’t actually lost! Greta placed it there so they would meet. Is Greta just desperately lonely? A con artist? Or is she a psychopath? Even when Frances cuts off all contact with her Greta keeps showing up wherever she goes. She’s a stalker who can’t be stopped. Will Frances ever forgive her? And will Greta leave her alone?

Greta starts as a conventional drama but turns into an unexpected psychological thriller. It feels like a classic Grimm’s fairytale, with an innocent girl lured into a witch’s lair. Though not her best performance, Isabelle Huppert is credible as the (potential) villain, though Chloe Grace Moretz is wasted as the victim. It’s hard to picture Moretz as a helpless scaredycat. Greta is OK as a run of the mill, cat-and-mouse thriller, but it could have been so much more.

A Bread Factory

Wri/Dir: Patrick Wang (I interviewed him in 2012)

The Bread Factory is an arts centre in a small town on the Hudson Valley. Formerly an industrial bakery, it’s where the post-industrial townfolks go to see a movie, put on a play or attend a poetry reading. It’s been run by Dorothea and Greta (Tyne Daly, Elizabeth Henry) for more than 40 years. At the moment there are filmmaking lessons for little kids by an auteur (Janeane Garofalo); a greek tragedy starring an elderly shakesperean actor, and a Chekhov-like drama in production. It’s a hotbed of creativity and community life.

But everything is put at risk when a strange new group arrives in town. They are a pair of performers/conceptual artists known as May + Ray (Janet Hsieh, George Young), a sort of a Blue Man Group. They are vaguely associated with China, have a large international following, their videos are on youtube, and they even have a catchy logo on the T-shirts and totebags they sell. The problem is their work is shallow and pointless. And more important, the town school board is thinking of transfering all arts spending from The Bread Factory to May + Ray.

Can the town artists and performers save the bread factory? Or will corporate interests triumph?

A Bread Factory sounds ordinary but it’s actually a great movie. I really liked it. Dozens of characters and a complex, twisted plot manages to keep you interested but not distracted, with each storyline and character carefully constructed and allowed to develop. There’s a teenager (Zachary Sayle) interning at the town paper, a kid who functions as the projectionist (Keaton Nigel Cooke), a critic and an actor who hold a 50 year grudge… and many more. It feels like a great John Sayles movie.

I’ve only seen the first two hours (Part 1) so far but now I can’t wait to see Part 2.

A Bread Factory is a delightful treat.

Greta and Ruben Brandt Collector both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. A Bread Factory is playing this weekend at the WTF Festival at the Royal Cinema.

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

Gone fishing. Films reviewed: Serenity, Wonders of the Sea PLUS Cold War

Posted in 1950s, Animals, Cold War, Communism, Conservation, Crime, documentary, Drama, Film Noir, France, Music, Mystery, Poland, Romance, Suspense by CulturalMining.com on January 25, 2019

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

Fishing for something different to watch? This week I’m looking at two movies about fish and one about love. There’s a doc beneath the waves, a suspense drama aboard a fishing boat, and a bittersweet romance behind the Iron Curtain.

Serenity

Wri/Dir: Steve Knight

Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fisherman off Plymouth Island, a tropical vacation spot in the middle of nowhere. Along with his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) he takes rich tourists out on his boat to catch some sharks. But Dill’s real love, his passion, is for tuna. One particular bluefin he calls Justice, that always gets away. It’s his great white whale, his Moby Dick . He spends his free time drinking dark rum at the local bar or sleeping with Constance (Diane Lane) an attractive older woman with a black cat, who helps him out financially after a night of passion.

Life never changes… until one day a mysterious femme fatale, named Karen (Anne Hathaway) appears on his boat. If you drown my rich abusive husband, she says, I’ll give you 10 million bucks. Cash. Will Dill stick with his tuna obsession or will he kill a stranger?

But wait, that’s not all. Turns out he had a thing with Karen before serving in Iraq… she dumped him to marry the rich guy. And her teenaged boy Patrick, a computer geek, could be his biological son. (Though they’ve never met Dill feels he has a psychic bond with the boy). And a strange man with a briefcase following Dill has some crucial information.

If my description sounds like a clichéed film noir knock-off, that’s because that’s what it is. The actors play their characters – an obsessed fisherman, a villainous drunk, an abused but devious woman – in over-the-top performances, vamping for the camera. Why the boilerplate plots? Why the tired dialogue? Apparently, it’s all intentional, but to tell you why would ruin the WTF plot twist. I started to figure it out about two-thirds-of-the-way through, and it kept me interested (though not really satisfied). If you like watching famous actors acting in an imperfect script, this is for you.

Wonders of the Sea

Dir: Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jean-Jacques Montello

Jacques Cousteau was the French deep-sea diver, conservationist and underwater filmmaker whose TV shows fascinated me as a child. He sailed away on a ship called Calypso with flippers on his feet and aqualungs on his back. He died in 1997 but his son Jean-Michel and grandkids Fabien and Celine are still diving. This latest documentary in 3D looks at undiscovered parts of the ocean floor and the tiny creatures that live there. They lead us through a massive squid orgy: a mating ritual near California where they all have sex with each other. They also visit a hammerhead shark migration near the Bahamas, and the wondrous coral reefs off Fiji, which form a crucial part of the world’s oceans’ ecosystem. The doc focusses on the tiny, the cute, the weird and the grotesque. And they throw in informative facts and stats about pollution and overfishing.

My biggest problem with this movie is the insufferably corny and dated voiceovers by Arnold Schwartzeneggar and the Cousteaus. It seems aimed at three-year-olds. Who knows, maybe the narration was this bad when I was three but I just didn’t notice. Whatever. If you can somehow switch off the dialogue and just take in the intense, weird-and-wonderful, 3-D coloured images you’ll enjoy this movie.

Cold War

Wri/ Dir Pawel Pawlikowski

It’s post-WWII Poland, and a team of musicologists is heading to the mountains with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Irena (Agata Kulesza) is a serious academic looking to preserve authentic folk culture. Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) a handsome conductor, wants to put together a musical group. Their boss is Kazsmarek (Borys Szyc), an apparatchik – he wants a show big enough to impress his party bosses. The auditions begin, with milk maids and farm hands singing the innocently salacious songs of their childhood. Authenticity rules. Still, one pretty young woman, with blonde braids and a strong voice manages to slip through the cracks. Zula (Joanna Kulig) isn’t really a local peasant, but after living through WWII, taking on new identities is a piece of cake. And Wiktor is attracted to her. The Mazurek Choir is born, and it’s a big hit. And Wiktor and Zula start a secret relationship.

The Party weeds out anyone not “Polish-looking” enough: hair too dark, nose too big? Back to the farm. When they are forced to include Stalinist paeans to collective farming, Wiktor shrugs his shoulders but Irena quits in disgust. But their new status pushes the choir to star status in the Eastern Bloc. Wiktor and Zula fall in love and hatch a plan to defect to the west. Wiktor makes it across the border, but Zula stays behind. Now thelovers are separated by the impenetrable Iron Curtain. Will they ever see each other again? If so, on which side? And can their love –  and their music – survive a long separation?

Cold War is a wonderful, bittersweet romantic drama, set in 1950s Europe. It paints the Cold War era with all its faults and how it affects the people caught in it. Like Pawlikowski’s Ida, it’s just 90 minutes long and shot in glorious black and white on a square screen. Filled with haunting music and images, the film showcases the amazing Kulig and Kot in their flawless performances as separated lovers. (Kulig sings, too!) It’s nominated for a Foreign Language Feature Oscar and is also on my list of best movies of the year.

This is a great movie, don’t miss it.

Wonders of the Sea in 3D starts next week, Serenity and Cold War both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmakers Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti about Sibel at #TIFF18

Posted in Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Folktale, France, Movies, Mystery, Turkey, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 2018

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

It’s present-day Turkey. Sibel is a fiercely independent young woman who lives in an isolated mountain village near the Black Sea. Having lost her voice after a fever at age five, she communicates with her father using a traditional whistling code, still known to older villagers. She’s a keen hunter and trapper who seeks a lone wolf said to be lurking in the woods. But in her search she traps a different sort of wolf — a crazed and bearded man, on the run from the army. She nurses him back to health in her cabin in the woods. Can she maintain a secret life with her newfound prisoner/friend? Or will word reach the disapproving villagers below?

Sibel is a new film, a Turkish/French co-production that explores the classic folklore and customs of the Black Sea region. It’s also a rich and fascinating look at an independent woman living within the restrictive rules of traditional village life.

Sibel had its North American premier at Toronto International Film Festival and is playing again this Saturday. It’s jointly directed by Guillaume Giovanetti and Çagla Zencirci, French/Turkish partners, who previously made Noor and Ningen together, both of which played at TIFF.

I spoke with Çagla and Guillaume in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM, during TIFF18.

More Films by Women. Films reviewed: Never Saw it Coming, Skate Kitchen

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Movies, Mystery, Skateboards, Thriller, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 17, 2018

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

TIFF promises one third of all movies showing this year will be directed by women. This was virtually unheard of even a few years ago. But I’m finding — especially with indie productions — that there’s been a sea change with loads of good movies being made by women. This week I’m looking at two such movies, one from Canada and another from south of the border. There’s a body hidden beneath the ice in Sudbury and a subculture hidden between the skyscrapers of Manhattan.

Never Saw it Coming

Dir: Gail Harvey

Wri: Linwood Barklay

Keisha (Emily Hampshire) is a psychic in Sudbury Ontario. She specializes in locating lost relatives, dead or alive. By touching a personal item she has visions pointing straight to a grave site. But is she authentic? Keisha lives with her young red head son Matt (Keegan Hedley) and her on-again, off again boyfriend Kirk. He moved in with her four months ago but has yet to pay rent.

She’s saving up to buy her son the keyboard he’s always wanted but money is scarce. So she agrees to pull off a onetime scam, involving parents desperate to locate their drug-addicted son.

At the same time she searches out a family with a mother who has gone missing. (The movie opens with her car sinking into a frozen lake as the woman screams for help) The missing woman’s husband Wendel (Eric Roberts) and daughter Melissa  (Katie Boland) have appealed for help on TV, along with police detective Wedmore (Tamara Podemski). Keisha sees this as a chance to locate a missing person and make some quick cash. But her meeting goes terribly wrong, and her chaotic life becomes impossible to handle. Now she has to deal with a suspicious detective, her partner in crime turned junkie blackmailer, and threats from her volatile, layabout boyfriend.

Can her visions – if they actually exist – save Keisha? Or is she heading for the big house?

Never Saw it Coming is a short but credible Canadian mystery thriller, with lots of scurrilous characters without many sympathetic good guys. It seems like almost everyone in Sudbury is a lowlife. Still, I always enjoy a good noirish Canadian movie, despite its flaws. Emily Hampshire and Tamara Podemski as the psychic and cop in a battle of wits, stand out. And Eric Roberts is great as a sketchy schemester.

Skate Kitchen

Dir: Crystal Moselle

Camille (Michelle Vinberg) is an 18 year old vegan who lives with her mom in Long Island. She has long hair, glasses and wears shorts, white socks and thrasher T shirts. She spends most of her time hanging at a nearby skate park practicing her moves, despite the catcalling and abuse she takes from the guys there. But when a mishap sends her to hospital with gushing blood between her legs, her mother forbids her from using a skateboard again. But skating is her life. What can she do?

Find a crew on instagram to skate with. An all female one. She joins them in Manhattan and makes fast friends. They skate the city, exchange stories and defend themselves against asshole guys. There’s strength in numbers. After a big fight with her mom she ends up moving in with Janay (Ardelia Lovelace), one of the girls in the group.

She also gets a day job, as a cashier in a super. There she meets Devon (Jaden Smith) who works in the stock room. He’s a skater too, with dyed red hair, and asks her to let him snap her pics. She does some solid moves on the top of a skyscraper near the empire state building. And sparks seem to fly.

The problem is she likes him, but Devon and Janay used to be a thing. And she never got over their nasty breakup. Can Camille keep her relationship with Devon a secret from her fiercely loyal crew? Or will her life collapse like a house of cards?

Skate Kitchen is a great coming-of-age story set within the world of skateboarding – the music, fights, drugs, sexual experimentation, tampons, comeradery, as well as misogynistic bragadoccio on the male side.

This movie, though, is unique in that it’s painted from a female point of view, a community usually totally absent from anything skate-related. It’s modelled on a real group, also called Skate Kitchen, with many of the actors playing roles based on themselves, including Vinberg, its founder. This gives it a very realistic feel, and provides a genuine look at a seldom seen subculture. This movie’s the real thing and I liked it.

Skate Kitchen and Never Saw it Coming both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Fighting Oppressors. Films reviewed: Puzzle, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlacKkKlansman

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, African-Americans, Coming of Age, Family, High School, LGBT, Mystery, Racism, Religion, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 10, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at three American movies about individuals dealing with oppressive forces. There’s a man in the 1970s fighting the K.K.K.; a girl in the ’90s fighting to remain gay, gay, gay; and a woman trapped in small-town New York fighting the urge to stay, stay, stay.

Puzzle

Dir: Marc Turtletaub

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is a committed wife and mother in a sleepy, workingclass town in New York. She wears frumpy clothes and has an unobtrusive manner What With home, family and church she’s always busy, but no one seems to appreciate her – herself included. She cooks, cleans, does the accounting – she’s a whiz at math — and takes care of everybody else. Her husband Louis (David Denman) and son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) work at Louis garage. Her other son Gabe (Aaron Austin) is the golden boy, headed for University. Louis says he loves her, but does he ever include her in important decisions? Not a chance. it’s like she isn’t even there. Until a birthday present from her aunt changes everything. It’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and she puts it together almost automatically. Something in her brain is awakened and she wants more. She takes the train into NY City to find more puzzles and in a serious of coincidences, ends up meeting Robert (Irrfan Khan: Lunchbox, Slumdog Millionaire)

A millionaire inventor and dilettante, Robert lounges around his townhouse in silk robes. He is as impressed by her naïveté as he is by her genius at puzzles. And she’s overwhelmed by everything about him. He invites her to be his partner at a two-player puzzle competition. If they win, they’ll fly off to Brussels for the Iinternational Championships.

Soon Agnes is splitting her life between her home and Robert’s glamourous mansion. And she keeps it all a secret from her family and friends. Are her clandestine meetings just a temporary diversion? Or do they signal a change in her life?

Puzzle is a fun, feel-good movie about the awakening of a middle aged woman. Scottish actress KellyMcDonald is perfect as Agnes and actor Irrfan Khan is great as the diffident Robert.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Dir: Desiree Akhavan

It’s the1990s. Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a teenaged girl raised by evangelical grandparents. (Her own parents died in a car accident.) Cam is smart, popular, and has a steady boyfriend. But her whole life falls apart on prom night when she’s caught having sex in the back seat of the car – not with her boyfriend, but with a girl she likes.

Next thing you know she’s being shipped off to a camp in the woods called God’s Promise. It’s run by Reverend Rick – he looks and acts like Ned Flanders – who plays the guitar and is always upbeat. And behind the scenes, the boss of it all, is his sister, Doctor Lydia Marsh in her shoulder-pad Atlas Shrugged power blouses. Pretty soon, Cam figures out why she’s there: to be “cured” of her same sex attraction. Because – they say — there’s no such thing as homosexuality, just sinning. The gay conversion therapy goes like this: Each kid is given a cartoon drawing of an iceberg. The students had to fill in all their sins – and the underlying trauma that gave them their “disorder”– before they can be free of their gayness.

In practce this means they’e subject to tough love: watched 24/7, woken up in the middle of the night by guards with flashlights – to make sure they’re not being “sinful” (doesn’t work) – and forced to go to group therapy sessions to bare their souls – only to be humiliated by the other members.

Luckily, Cam discovers two rebels she can hang with: Jane (Sasha Lane), a cynical girl with dreads who loves polaroid cameras; and 2-spirited Adam whose politician dad sent him there (Forrest Goodluck – he played Saul in Indian Horse). Can Cameron resist the brainwashing? Can she leave this place? And will she ever see her girlfriend again?

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is an eye-opening look at a repellent practice that’s now banned in most of Canada. And while this role was hardly a stretch, I’ll see anything with Chloë Grace Moretz in it. On the other hand some of the period dialogue feels anachronistic, and the story, though realistic, is tamer than I might have liked.

Still, it’s a good indie pic.

BlacKkKlansman

Dir: Spike Lee

It’s the early 1970s and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first – and only – black policeman in Colorado Springs. Hi first job as an undercover detective? To infiltrate black activists at a speech by civil rights leader Kwame Ture (whom the white cops still call Stokely Carmichael.) There Ron meets Patrice (Laura Harrier) the leader of a student group that invited Ture to speak. They begin to date, without Ron ever admitting he’s a plainclothes cop.

But things take a big turn when Ron discovers the notorious white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan has a branch in this city. Ron calls them up – using s real name, and lets loose with a racist tirade, including frequent use of the N word. So the KKK – composed of powerful locals and sketchy rednecks — invite him to come by their shack in the woods. problem is… he’s black (they don’t know that) and the KKK was founded to terrorize African Americans. What to do?

He gets Flip (Adam Driver), a white cop from his team — to play him in front of the KKK. It just happens that Flip is Jewish, and the Klan – headed by notorious racist David Duke – doesn’t like them much, either.

But soon, they are deeply involved in an undercover operation to stop the Klan. Can the two of them fool the KKK at its own game, and possibly uncover domestic terrorist cels? And will Ron come clean with Patrice?

Blackkklansman is Spike Lee’s latest and his best in a longtime. It’s very entertaining, funny, exciting, even a bit of a thriller. And it’s full of film references, chronicling Holywood’s anti-black attitudes, from Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind to blaxploitation. The photography is sumptuous, including a montage of faces during Ture’s “Black is Beautiful” speech. This is a great movie.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlackKklansman, and Puzzle 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.

Canadian sex and violence. Films Reviewed: Hollow in the Land, Birdland, Badsville PLUS Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Posted in British Columbia, Canada, Canadian Literature, Fetish, Gangs, LGBT, Mystery, Sex, Thriller, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on January 26, 2018

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

Who said Canada is “nice but dull”? I’ve got three new indie Canadian movies this week, chock full of sex and violence. There’s torrid sex among the towers of Toronto, a bludgeoned body in the mountains of BC, and a gang war in the steamy southwest. …plus a UK romance set in Liverpool.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Dir: Paul McGuigan

It’s 1980 in Liverpool. Peter (Jamie Bell) is an aspiring actor who gets a surprise call from an older actress. She’s in the UK performing on stage in The Glass Menagerie and wonders if she can come by. Gloria Graham (Annette Bening) is a former movie star who won an Oscar in the 1950s. She talks like Marilyn Monroe and looks like Gloria Swanson. She was once known for “playing the tart” in Hollywood dramas. Now she wears large sunglasses and silk scarves over her hair.

Peter is surprised to hear from her again. He met her a year ago at a London rooming house which led to a torrid affair spanning two continents. He visited her at her beach house in California and followed her to New York. But she dumped him unceremoniously at her Manhattan apartment and he never understood why. And now she’s back again asking to stay with him in his working class home with his dowdy mother Bella (Julie Walters). Is it because film stars don’t die in Liverpool?

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a wonderful romance based on Peter Turner’s memoirs about his encounters with a once famous actress twice his age. Bening is perfect as an over-the-hill diva who still sees herself as a Shakespearean teenaged Juliet while rejecting aging and her own mortality. And Bell is endearing as the starstruck Peter.

The story is straightforward but the director experiments with style. Peter has flashbacks while walking through a door signalled by a subtle change in lighting and music. And surprising results come from identical scenes which are shown twice but with very different points of view.

Definitely worth seeing.

Hollow in the Land

Wri/Dir: Scooter Corkle

It’s nowadays in the BC interior, a land of mountains, pulp mills and grow-ops. Ally (Dianna Agron) is a pretty but tough woman in her twenties, blonde hair beneath her hardhat. By day, she works at the town pulp mill, and at night looks after her 17-year-old brother Brandon (Jared Abrahamson). And every so often she spends the night with her lover Char (Rachelle Lefevre). Ally may be Brandon’s sister but she acts like his mother, warning him to stay out of  trouble with the cops – or they’ll throw him in jail, just like their dad. He’s in prison for running down a teenager while drunk. And the kid he killed happenis to be the son of the family that owns the pulp mill. Which is very bad news in a company town.

The two cops – friendly Darryll (Shawn Ashmore) and hard-ass Chief (Michael Rogers) – never let them forget it. So when a dead body turns up, and Brandon is the chief suspect, only Ally believes in her brother. It’s up to her to play detective, follow the clues, uncover the motive, track down the killer and find her brother who ran away into he woods. And she has to do all this before the killer kills her.

Hollow in the Land is a pretty good detective mystery/thriller, but with a few problems. I get that it’s noir so most of the scenes are at night, but you’d think they’d light up people’s faces properly so you can see who’s who. But the BC locations are amazing. The movie starts out very confusing, with dozens of characters and a foggy plot, but as it develops, it gets much more interesting. And Diana Agron is great as Ally – tough but tender — who carries it through to a satisfying end.

Birdland

Dir: Peter Lynch

It’s present-day Toronto. Shiela (Kathleen Munroe) is a tough as nails former cop with her own security firm. She’s a whiz with surveillance cameras and disguises. Her mild-mannered husband Tom (David Alpay) works at a museum cataloguing bird carcasses. But when she discovers he’s having an affair with a mysterious woman in a blue kimono, she decided to investigate. But when the affair leads to murder she realizes it’s all much bigger than she suspects. And someone is trying to cover it up. There’s an oil magnate pulling strings, a protester, a femme fatale, a nightclub entrepreneur, and a cop — her ex-partner — investigating the crime. And they all seem to share the same hobby — BDSM sex parties. Who is the killer? Who is having sex with whom? And who’s behind the conspiracy?

Birdland is full of politics, Big Oil, the police, museums, nightclubs, detectives, and kinky sex. And everything is projected against a fabricated bird metaphor:  there’s a man named Starling, an ornithologist, a nightclub with a bird concept, characters who sing Lullaby in Birdland, a bird rescue team… But what’s the point? The “bird” themes don’t come from the characters, it’s superimposed on them. There are some cool concepts and images in Birdland, but it just doesn’t work. I was never sure if I was watching a messy story to justify the not-so-sexy, softcore porn, or if the sex was there to justify an extremely confusing plot. It might work as a miniseries but it packs in too much stuff for a single movie.

Badsville

Dir: April Mullen (Written by Benjamin Barrett and Ian McLaren)

It’s a dead-end town in the southwest in the 1950s (or 60s?). Wink and Benny (Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barrett) are lifelong friends and members of the Kings, a local gang. Wink works in a greasy spoon and hangs with his buddies in the seedy bar or bowling alley. He serves as a mentor for Lil’ Cat (Gregory Kasyan), a local kid with a junkie for a mom. Wink wants him to “stay gold”. The Kings are mainly Latino while their rivals, the Aces, are white. They regularly meet to rumble, meaning big fistfights supplemented with metal pipes and pieces of wood, all lit up by blazing oil drums.

Sounds like fun.

But when he falls for Suzy (Tamara Duarte) a newcomer with a secret past, it looks like things are going to change. Wink might finally achieve his dream – escaping Badsville for a better life in Colorado. And this is what pushes Benny over the edge. He loves Daddio – that’s what he calls Wink – and not just as a friend. So he sets in motion a series of events that he hopes will stop Wink from leaving, but that end up putting all their lives in jeopardy.

Badsville is a new take on classic exploitation gang movies and SE Hinton novels. We’re talking Jets and Sharks here, not Crips and Bloods. And they’re not in high school either, they’re much older. The film looks at masculinity and friendship with a bit of racial politics in the mix. Directed by April Mullen, it’s a first effort by the two non-actors who play Benny and Wink, and also wrote the script. It’s low budget and not perfect – but it works.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Hollow in the Land, Birdland and Badsville all start 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.

Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

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

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel 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

 

Heads up! Films reviewed: Keepers of the Game, Mansfield 66/67, City of Tiny Lights

Posted in Canada, documentary, First Nations, Hollywood, Indigenous, Mystery, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 2, 2017

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

Toronto’s film festivals continue with Inside Out and Canada’s Sport Film Fest. This week, I’m looking at two documentaries and a noir drama. There’s a Mohawk lacrosse team keeping traditions relevant, a Hollywood star keeping her mystique afloat, and a private eye in London just trying to stay alive.

Keepers of the Game

Dir: Judd Ehrlich

The Akwesasne Mohawk territory straddles the US/Canadian border that runs between New York and Ontario. 20 years ago there was widespread discord among the longhouses. So to calm the waters, they started a boy’s lacrosse team to compete in the local high school division, off reserve. The idea was to bring back self-respect using a traditional custom. Lacrosse is a precolumbian warlike sport used by the Mohawk and other Iroquois long before Europeans came to North America. Hundreds, or even thousands of men would play the game together on open fields. It shows valour, strength and offers thanks to the creator.

Flash forward to the present. High school girls are facing the same problems – bullying, depression, suicide – as the boys did, but without the traditional sport outlet. They need a medicine to cure their ills. So they decide to start a girls team, using lacrosse as a traditional Mohawk medicine. But they face opposition from all sides. Awkesasne men say they are defying tradition by letting girls play a boys sport and want it stopped. The school board is facing cutbacks, so the are against funding a new team… especially one for girls. And the players themselves are afraid they lack the confidence and experience to win. Even so, they manage to raise the money and recruit the players to have a regionally competitive team. But can they beat their rivals  — a mainly white team who use a feathered native cartoon as their team mascot?

This documentary is a record of one season of a real-life team and the obstacles they face, on and off the field. It shows the role traditional customs can play in a modern sport. Players design their own war paint as they compete for the first time, even as mothers and grandmothers pass on language and rituals. It’s about young aboriginal women who gain self respect as they reclaim a sport their own ancestors created. It’s an inspiring story.

Mansfield 66/67

Dir: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes

Jayne Mansfield was a bleach blonde bombshell in the 1950s, who lived on publicity. She was known for her whispery voice, her highpitched squeals, and personality – that of a naïve, dumb blonde seemingly unaware of her sexiness, even as she posed for playboy and appeared naked on the big screen. In fact, her persona was self-created and nurtured by the Hollywood studios, and fed by the tabloids paparazzi and gossip rags who lived in her stories. She married Mickey Hargitay, a body-builder, to complement her own figure. And she lived in a pink mansion, legendary in Hollywood for its 45 rooms. But did you know she was a multilingual musician, and a student at a top university? Sadly, her movie career faltered in the 1960s, and  she began to follow another celebrity, a man named Anton LaVay. LaVay was known for his shaved head, his black goatee and his sinister but commanding looks. He founded a new religion — The Church of Satan. And not long after, her life was suddenly cut short in a terrible accident that totalled her car and chopped off the top of her head. Those are the bare facts. But what really happened to Jayne Mansfield?

You could call Mansfield 66/67 a documentary, but that might give you the wrong idea. It’s actually a highly stylized tribute to — and desconstruction of – a Hollywood legend. There are the usual talking heads  — from gender studies professors, to stars like Tippi Hedron and starlets like Mamie van Doren. But there are also underground icons, eighties pop stars, models, drag queens, and the chronicler of Hollywood himself, Kenneth Anger.

This is not your usual bio doc. What other documentary creates a cutesy cartoon of Mansfields son being mauled by a lion? Or intricately choreographed dancers of both sexes wearing matching blonde wigs as they worshipped  the devil in Busby Berkeley-like formations? This is a strange combination of film lore, academic analysis, hollywood gossip, and extremely campy performance art.

City of Tiny Lights

Dir: Pete Travis

Tommy (Riz Ahmed) is a private detective who lives and works in an ungentrified part of London. It’s a neighbourhood in flux, full of nervous shopkeepers and streetcorner drug dealers, radical imams, and sketchy real estate speculators. His dad (Roshan Seth) is a die-hard Briton whose life is guided by Charles Dickens and Cricket. As a South Asian Ugandan he was forced to flee under dictator Idi Amin. One day a sultry sex worker named Melody (Cush Jumbo) hires him to look for her friend Natasha. She hasn’t seen her since her last trick 8 hours earlier and doesn’t answer her cel. But when he searches her hotel room he finds a dead body, not Natasha. It’s a real estate broker involved in a major development. He also discovers the dead man gave money to an Islamic youth group known for driving drug dealers off their streets, led by a radical Muslim preacher. Lurking in the shadows is a sketchy security spook working for the US government. And it is all somehow related to his boyhood, a friend named Lovely, and woman named Shell. Who is behind the murders and disappearances? Organized crime, terrorists, corrupt developers or American spies?

City of Tiny Lights is a well-acted, low budget look at a private detective in contemporary London. Some of the camera work is annoying and gimmicky – like cheap 90s TV — that distracts from the story. I was also confused by frequent flashbacks — the young actors look nothing like their adult counterparts. But I liked the complex, multi-levelled mystery and the acting is terrific.

Mansfield 66/67 is one of many films at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival which continues through Sunday; Keepers of the Game is the opening night feature at the ninth annual Canada’s Sport Film Festival, beginning next Friday. Tickets and showtimes are at sportfilmfestival.ca. City of Tiny Lights opens today in Toronto, as does Ken Finkleman’s satiric comedy An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman (I talked about this film in March). 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

Exceptional people with hidden histories. Movies reviewed: Gifted, I Called Him Morgan, Frantz

Posted in 1910s, 1960s, Clash of Cultures, documentary, Drama, drugs, Family, France, Germany, Jazz, melodrama, Music, Mystery, WWI by CulturalMining.com on April 10, 2017

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

Spring Film Festival season continues with the upcoming Images and TIFF Kids film festivals, celebrating their 30th and 20th anniversaries (respectively).

This week, I’m looking at movies about exceptional people with hidden histories. There’s a musical genius in Manhattan, a mathematical prodigy on the Florida coast, and a man of mystery at the border of France and Germany.

Gifted

Dir: Mark Webb

Frank (Chris Evans) is a youngish guy living in a shack in Florida. He lives a quiet life, fixing boats and hooking up with women at laguna bars. The rest of his time is spent home-schooling his niece Mary (McKenna Grace), a foul-mouthed seven-year-old with blonde pigtails. Mary likes math, dancing to pop songs and playing with Fred, their one-eyed stray cat, a castoff like the two of them. How did they end up in Florida? Frank’s sister, a math genius, left Mary with him as a baby… just before killing herself. She made him promise to let Mary have a normal life, in case it turns out she’s a genius too. Normal means keeping the child free from math profs and universities, and most of all away from their obsessive mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). She’s the one who pushed Frank’s sister over the edge with her relentless ambition: solving one of the Millennium Prize Problems.

Frank is protecting Mary from all that. But how can she live a normal life hidden away in their clapboard shack? It’s time to send her to public school — despite his savvy neighbour Roberta’s warnings not to (Octavia Spence). Right away the dominos start to fall: teacher tells principal Mary is gifted, Principal goes online and soon Evelyn is in Florida demanding a proper Harvard education for her gifted grandchild.  Who has Mary’s best interests at heart – her wealthy patrician grandmother or her salt-of-the-earth uncle Frank?

I like the idea behind Gifted, and was looking forward to a story about a genius kid trying to live a normal life – but aside from a few scenes the movie isn’t about that. It’s actually a child custody drama, which is never much fun. Throw in foster parents, courtrooms and lawyers and the movie becomes a trial to watch. While the acting is not bad – Captain America as a single dad – and there are a few big secrets revealed along the way, I found Gifted disappointing.

I Called Him Morgan

Dir: Kasper Collin

Lee Morgan was a young jazz trumpet player from Philly, featured in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band as an 18 year old. 15 years later he was shot dead outside a Manhattan jazz club in a snow storm by a much older woman named Helen. How did he get there, who was this woman, and how did it happen? A new documentary looks closely at both their lives.

Morgan was a hard-bop trumpeter who dressed in Ivy League suits and drove his Triumph through Central Park. He played with Art Blakey and John Coltrane, later breaking away with his own band. Helen was born in a small town near Wilmington, North Carolina, with two kids by age 14, and widowed by 18 after a short marriage to a bootlegger. She left her kids with grandma, moved to New York City and never looked back. She cut an impressive figure on the streets, hanging with Manhattan’s demimonde, sexual outlaws and drug dealers. That’s how she entered the jazz scene. By the time she met Lee Morgan, he was a junkie who had pawned his trumpet for some heroin and was virtually homeless. She washed him, got him into a Bronx clinic and set him back up in the jazz scene. She served as his mother, lover, manager and protector. But when he began to fool around with a young woman from New Jersey, things started to go wrong…

I Called Him Morgan is an amazing movie about the two lovers’ lives. Helen gave only one interview in a bar on a cassette tape a month before she died, but in it she tells what really happened. Interviews with the friends and musicians he played with fill in the blanks, and it is illustrated with B&W photos from Blue Note (the club and record label where Morgan played and recorded), all set alight by Morgan’s cool trumpet sounds. Fascinating musical documentary.

Frantz

Dir: Francois Ozon

A small town in Germany, right after WWI. Anna (Paula Beer) is a strong and pretty young woman all dressed in black. She is in mourning for her fiance Frantz Hoffmeister, who died in the trenches. She still lives with Frantz’s father, the good Doktor Hoffmeister, and Magda his mother. They treat her like one of the family. One day, Anna spies a young man with a pencil thin moustache laying white roses by Frantz’s grave. Who is this man and what does he want? His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and he is a musician. It seems he knew Frantz before the war, in Paris, and he carries a letter he wrote. He is visiting the town to pay his respects and to say something to Frantz’s father. But the war wounds are still raw, and townsfolk can’t believe a frenchman would dare set foot there. Eventually, nervous Adrien spends time with Anna and her family forging a deep emotional friendship, but one based partly on lies. What isn’t he telling them?

After Adrien returns to France, Anna decides to track him down in Paris, and retrace the museums and music halls Frantz had loved. But Adrien is nowhere to be found. Like a detective, she tries to locate him far outside Paris, which leads her to a sumptuous villa in the country. And now Anna must reveal secrets of her own.

Frantz is a fantastic, novelistic melodrama spanning Germany and France, about secrets, lies, guilt and class. It’s a romance full of unrequited love, fuelled by letters and whispered confessions. I told very little of the story, to avoid spoilers, but believe me this is one great movie. It’s shot in stunning black and white with a hitchcockian musical score, beautiful costumes and great acting. Francois Ozon’s movies are often light family dramas or superficial sexual comedies, but this one is a sumptuous, epic story, perfectly made. I recommend this one.

Gifted, I Called him Morgan and Frantz all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Avi Nesher about Past Life at #TIFF16

Posted in 1970s, Berlin, Biopic, Drama, Feminism, Israel, Music, Mystery, Women, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 6, 2017

avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-1-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Sephi and Nana Milch are Israeli sisters in the late 1970s. Sephi is the beautiful one – she’s a student of music and wants to become a composer. Nana is the smart one, an intellectual who writes for a pastlife_06radical leftist newspaper. They were both raised by strict parents who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a Polish farmer’s house. But on a musical visit to Berlin, Sephi has a strange encounter: a woman shouting that her father is a murderer. A murderer? Her own father? This sends both sisters on a search across two continents to find out what really happened and to confront their avi-nesher-tiff16-past-life-2-jeff-harrisown hidden past. But can they handle the truth of their parents’ past life?

Past Life is the name of a new movie, based on a bestselling memoir. It was written and directed by Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher. Nesher is a longtime favourite at TIFF, bringing us heady romances like The pastlife_04Secrets and brilliant period dramas like The Matchmaker (a personal favourite). Nesher is a consumate storyteller. His absorbing films combine intellectual rigour with vivid characters, all placed within stories reminiscent of classic Hollywood movies. This film premiered at the Toronto international film festival. I spoke with Avi Nesher on location at the TIFF Bell Lightbox during TIFF16.

Past Life screens in Toronto at 1:00pm and 4:00pm on Sunday, January 15, 2017. Go to TJFF for details.

Photos of Avi Nesher by Jeff Harris.

 

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