Daniel Garber talks with Tickled director David Farrier at #HotDocs

David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural miningHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

David Farrier is a New Zealand TV journalist who specializes in odd and off-beat stories. So when he sees an ad online looking for athletic young men, aged 18-23, for Competitive Endurance Tickling, he sees a potential story. But when he contacts the company, run by a secretive woman named Jane O’Brien, he gets a surprising reaction: a series of abusive and David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural mining 2threatening email.

Followed by three men flown all the way to New Zealand from LA, threatening a lawsuit if he doesn’t drop the story. Just for investigating some guys being tickled.

Tickled is also the name of a fascinating and disturbing new documentary about hidden identities, vast conspiracies, and cyber bullying. All surrounding a phenomenon – professional tickling — largely unknown to the general public. It’s co-directed by actor, journalist and crypto-zoologist David Farrier who’s also the film’s narrator and subject.

I spoke to David at Dublin Calling in Toronto at Hot Docs earlier this spring. Tickled opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris

Daniel Garber talks with director Radu Muntean about his new film One Floor Below at #TIFF15

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Death, Movies, Mystery, Romania by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

Radu Muntean-5- Jeff Harris culturalminingPatrascu is a middle-aged, middle-class man, working as a middleman in contemporary Romania. He lives in a nice apartment with his wife Olga, his teenaged son Matei, and his dog Jerry. But one day he hears screaming from a woman’s apartment, and out walks Vali, a married man from upstairs. The next day the woman is found dead with her skull smashed in. But when the police come by to investigate, Patrascu clams up.

Can he live with a suspected murderer One Floor Below?Radu Muntean-4- Jeff Harris culturalmining

One Floor Below (Un etaj mai jos) is also the name of a dark drama that premiered at TIFF. It blurs the lines among feelings of guilt, responsibility, mistrust and fear in a country still emerging from generations under an authoritarian government. The film is made by award-winning Romanian director Radu Muntean.

I spoke with Radu about his intriguing, fifth feature in September, 2015, at the Toronto International Film Festival. One Floor Below opens today.

Northwest. Movies reviewed: Amy, Rear Window, Testament of Youth PLUS NXNE

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Feminism, Movies, Mystery, Thriller, UK, War, Women, WWI by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2015

North. Movies reviewed- Amy, Rear Window, Testament to Youth

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

It’s summertime here in the great white north, so I thought I’d talk about Northern films playing in Toronto. This week, there’s a Memoir of WWI set in North Western Europe, a classic voyeuristic suspense-thriller by the director of North By Northwest; and a documentary playing at NXNE.

4318843f-61a8-446d-921a-ccc683cf9ac1-1Amy
Dir: Asif Kapadia 

Amy Winehouse was a soulful jazz singer with an incredible voice. She was born in North London and dead by the age of 27. A new documentary fills in the missing years with grainy camera footage, voicemail messages, TV appearances, studio sessions and private snapshots. It follows her precipitously quick rise to stardom and all that goes with it. And London’s voracious, cannibalistic journo-papparazi who dog her every step. This is an excellent documentary of an artist killed by fame.

(Capsule review.)

AnW2N3_RW_Stewart_Kelly_2_o3_8642515_1433452249Rear Window
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock

It’s 1954. LB “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a news photographer for Life Magazine. He lives out of a suitcase in exotic locales in search of the ultimate cover story. But now, with a broken leg, he’s holed up in his inaccessible apartment that’s not friendly to wheelchairs. He’s visited in the daytime by Stella (Thelma Ritter) a plain talking nurse, and in the evening by his high-society girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly). Between visits he stares longingly out his back window at the array of apartments visible just across a courtyard. There’s a newlywed couple, a frustrated musician, a miss lonelyhearts looking for love, a busty single woman, and a travelling salesman with his bed-ridden wife. He’s the ultimate voyeur, witnessing the drama of countless lives displayed just out of his reach. But when he thinks he sees a crime, he feels impotent that there’s nothing he can do to help. And after his old pal the cop refuses to get involved in local squabbles, he enlists Stella and Lisa to launch potentially dangerous investigations that he watches through his rear window. Is it real, or just a man’s overactive imagination.

Rear Window is a fantastic classic Hitchcock movie that captures the frenetic overpopulated American city life in the 50s. It’s filmed with an unusual point of view. We see everything the way Jeff does, through his window looking at the rooms across the street. With so much of our time now spent staring at windows (meaning screens) Rear Window predates our voyeuristic digital lives by half a century.

IMG_0585.CR2Testament of Youth
Dir: James Kent

It’s 100 years ago in rural England. Teenaged Vera (Alicia Vikander) lives with her brother Edward (Taron EDGErton) and her mum and dad who made a small fortune in paper mills.

She’s smart, educated, creative and multilingual. She writes poetry. Vera is a twentieth century woman with a mind of her own, ready to explore the world. But the world isn’t ready for her – they treat women as silly and frivolous who shouldn’t waste their time studying at university. Just find a husband, her parents tell her, that’s what women are there for.

And she’s not at a loss for suitors. Young Victor (Colin Morgan) likes her a lot, but she thinks of him as just

IMG_2115.CR2a sweet boy. She thinks Roland (Kit Harrington) is a persistent pest (though they do fall in love eventually) Her musically inclined brother Edward and his best friend complete the quartet of young men in her life, and she spends time with all of them keeping up her end of discussions.

Vera is stubborn and driven woman and after a great struggle she lands a place at Oxford, a huge accomplishment at the time when women couldn’t even vote. But no sooner does she start to study when WWI breaks out and all four of the young men in her life rush to join the army for King and country. She wants to do her part too and signs up as a nurse, one of the few professions open to women. But war is not quick and it’s not easy. She ends up at makeshift medical camps in France where she sees death, disease and despair everywhere, on both sides. Who will survive this war, who will die and what will they learn from it all?

IMG_2464.CR2There’s some great acting in this movie, including Vikander – she played a sexy robot in Ex Machina, and the two parts couldn’t be more different. But Testament of Youth is based on the classic memoir which gives a rare female Point of View of WWI. So it doesn’t have a movie’s traditional compact story line. It’s plodding and episodic. It felt like a miniseries – a good one maybe with notable actors and high production values – but not one that’s very exciting or gripping or heartbreaking. I didn’t dislike it but it didn’t blow me away, either.

Testament of Youth opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is screening in July as part of the series Technicolor Dreams. Go to tiff.net for the schedule. And Amy, along with films like Diamond Tongues and short films from Austin texas curated by Jonathan Demme, are all playing at NXNE films now through Sunday night: go to nxne.com 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 James Carman about his documentary The Hidden Hand: Alien Contact and the Government Cover-Up

Posted in Aliens, Cold War, Conspiracy Theory, Cultural Mining, documentary, Kidnapping, Mystery, Secrets, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 15, 2014

James CarmanUFOs and ETs: unidentified flying objects and extra-terrestrials. What are they? Are they real? Or is this all just crazy talk?

What happened at area 51? Is it all just a relic of cosmonaut  2the Cold War? A depository of secret weapons? Or have people really made contact with aliens from outer (or inner-) space?

A new documentary, The Hidden Hand: Alien Contact and the Government Cover-Up, looks at all of these cosmonaut 3controversial issues in depth. It won the Best Documentary Film at the Philip K. Dick Film Festival and is now on iTunes and Vimeo. I spoke to filmmaker James Carman by telephone at the United Nations building in New York to find out more…

Daniel Garber talks with Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman about their new doc ART AND CRAFT

Posted in Art, Art Therapy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Mental Illness, Movies, Mystery, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 4, 2014
Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman 1 Art and Craft Interview Daniel Garber  © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Art theft and forgery is hot right now: there’s the TV series called White Collar with Matt Bomer; a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, the Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt; and countless heist movies about how to steal the world’s masterpieces… and get rich doing it.
It’s also in the news: Qian Pei-Shen ring a bell?Art_And_Craft_4
But what about an art forger not motivated by greed, with no ulterior motives, just a need to have his fake paintings seen? Well, as they say, Truth is Stranger than Fiction. There’s a great new documentary that looks at a real case, involving real people…
It follows an eccentric forger named Mark Landis who donates his paintings to Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman 2 Art and Craft Interview Daniel Garber  © Jeff Harriswell-known museums; and a curator named Matthew Leininger who is fooled by him and begins an obsessive campaign to uncover his forgeries.
The movie’s called ART AND CRAFT, and it’s playing at Toronto’s Hot Docs Documentary Festival. I interviewed the film’s directors, Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, in studio. They talk about art, hobbies, mental health, authenticity, forgery, music… and a mysterious letter.

Sex vs Love. Movies Reviewed: The Past, The Stranger by the Lake, C*cksucker Blues

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Family, France, Gay, Movies, Mystery, Sex, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 17, 2014

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

Can there be love without sex… and sex without love? These movies say yes. This week I’m looking at a French drama about love tempered by divorce; another French drama about lust tinged with death; and a rarely-seen American doc about sex and drugs and rock and roll.

Ali Mosaffa as Ahmad Photo by Carole Bethuel © 2013, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsThe Past (Le Passe)

Dir: Asghar Farhadi

Ahmad (Ali Mossafa) is an extremely  gentle, middle-aged guy – a French-speaking Iranian. He has an intellectual beard and wears a jaunty scarf around his neck. Ahmad is met at the airport in Paris by his beautiful French wife, Marie (Bérénice Bejo). She’s in a foul mood. She asked him back to Paris to finalize their divorce. They’ve been living in two different countries since Ahmad moved back to Iran years ago.

Their relationship is finished… or is it? For some reason, she wants him to stay in her home, despite his request for a hotel room. He’s glad to see Bejo Mosaffa The Pasttheir two girls again. But then she makes him sleep in a kid’s bunk bed along with a bratty boy he’s never seen before. Hmmm…

That’s when the little boy’s father enters the picture. Samir (Tahar Rahim) is a smaller, less mature version of Ahmed. He’s a successful bearded small businessman who owns a dry cleaner. His wife recently died and it looks like Marie and Samir now want to get married. But Marie’s older daughter is going through a crisis, Samir’s son is upset about something else, and there’s  big trouble at work. And Ahmad and Samir have to work together with Marie holding all the cards.

Bérénice Bejo as Marie and Tahar Rahim as Samir Photo by Carole Bethuel © 2013, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsThis movie tells its story in a fascinating way. At first you think it’s about Ahmad – but it’s not. The point of view shifts from scene to scene, character to character, as the past is gradually revealed. Whose kids are whose? Why did Samir’s wife die? And what are all these unspoken secrets?

The Past is a fantastically subtle movie. It’s low-key, yet powerful (if that makes sense). It doesn’t shove the big revelations in your face; it lets them out slowly, gradually, over the course of a conversation. The three stars are all great – you may have seen Bejo in the French silent movie The Artist, and Rahim in the prison drama A Prophet (both of which won Best Foreign Film Oscars). I’m less familiar with Mossafa, but he’s also outstanding. (And director Farhadi also won for A Separation). The Past is a family drama well worth seeing.

strangerbythelake_04Stranger by the Lake

Dir: Alain Guiardie

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a young guy who hangs out at a gay nude beach. It’s a rocky lake surrounded by trees where men go for sex breaks. He makes friends with a shy, potato-faced man named Henri. Henri is confused about the whole place. He’s sure all the men there are cheating on their wives. He’s never heard of the concept of “full-time gays”. They chat about the sea monsters in the water and the guys on the beach.  Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao) can tell Franck is attracted to a particular fit man with a Marlboro mustache – the stranger by the lake. And maybe that attraction is mutual. strangerbythelake_02But Franck knows Marlboro Man is taken – he has a beach buddy.

But one night Franck sees the two of them frolicking out in the lake. The beach buddy goes down under water… and doesn’t come back up again. Is he dead? Did Marlboro man kill him?

Franck starts hanging with Marlboro Man – who he discovered is named Michel (Christof Paou). They tan together, have sex together… but only by the lake. At night Michel drives to somewhere mysterious – and he won’t say where.

strangerbythelake_05When a body is found, a police inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) starts snooping around the beach. (He looks like Lt Colombo dying of cancer.) Franck is caught between lust and fear: is his mysterious lover also a serial killer?

This is a weird, eerie, almost surreal movie about casual sex, death and (in what might be an unspoken reference to HIV) the connection between the two. It’s sexually explicit but not always erotic. Stranger by the Lake is an excellent French art film.

Cocksucker Blues (1972)

Dir: Robert Frank

cocksuckerblues_01Robert Frank is a documentary photographer who was commissioned by the Rolling Stones to do a behind the scenes real-life documentary of their tour in 1972. He came up with this – a record of everything that happened – using small, hand-held cameras. You get to travel on board their private plane where everyone’s having sex, rolling around in the aisles. You get to see the hippy soundman giving Frank the hairy-eyeball every time he turns the camera toward him. Later you see the same guy shooting heroin.

You follow the entire entourage it takes to put on a show. Mick and Keith hunt for authenticity in the South. Groupies, hangers-on, bouncers, the make-up guy, the hair guy, the costume guy holding a single red rose. And the baby boomer fans are in clover and everywhere. The band bounces around the stage singing duets with Stevie Wonder. This is early behind-the-scenes celebrity culture, before it even had a name. Mick Jagger squeezing into his performance pantsuits. Andy Warhol and Truman Capote partying.  Tina Turner showing off her voice. The unbelievably beautiful Bianca Jagger throwing shade at the camera…

In the end, the film was banned — the Stones thought the raw sex and drugs interfered with their rock star image – but it’s playing in Toronto, just once, as part of a Robert Frank retrospective called Hold Still.

Stranger by the Lake opens today, Cocksucker Blues has a free screening on the Free Screen tonight (but you have to pick up a ticket: go to tiff.net for details) and The Past opens next Friday (Jan 24).

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

Back to the Future? Films Reviewed: The Visitor, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Toronto Ice Storm 2013Hi, 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.

I’m taping this a week in advance, during the Toronto Ice Storm, when the power’s still off, the sidewalks still icy and Rob Ford is still mayor. But who knows what it will be like by the time you’re listening to this. Back to the future? Fittingly, I’m looking at a couple oddball fantasy movies — a remake and a rerelease — both pointless but watchable froth to bring in the new year. The remake is an American comedy about a day-dreaming adult, the rerelease an Italian horror movie (from the 1970’s) about a brat with secret powers.

The Visitor fangoria Films We LikeThe Visitor

Dir: Giulio Paradisi

Presented by Drafthouse Films and Fangoria

Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) is a modern woman who values her freedom. She lives in a mansion in Atlanta with her sweet little daughter Katy (Paige Conner) and Katy’s pet bird. She’s being wooed by Raymond (Lance Henrickson) a slick-but-secretive basketball promoter. What she doesn’t realize is that Raymond reports to a cabal of identically dressed businessmen who are up to no good. They just want her offspring. You see, Barbara has special DNA and Katy has supernatural powers. If the cabal can pull off an alien abduction Barbara will reproduce with a special superbaby (as if her one kid isn’t trouble enough!)

Katy is actually a foul mouthed brat. She uses her powers for selfish reasons – Visitor2puting the kybosh on other kids she goes skating or does gymnastics with.  On her birthday, Katy’s gift turns into a handgun, which shoots Barbara, rendering her paraplegic.

Meanwhile, a wise old man with a white beard and a beige leisure suit (John Huston) is tracking Katy, too. He travels with a retinue of kids dressed in white. These silent, baldheaded teenagers are his disciples. You can tell he’s important because whenever he appears the theme music starts up again as he walks down a futuristic-looking escalator. And when a detective (investigates her birthday shooting she sends her pet bird to attack him.

Who will triumph? The satanic businessmen-aliens? Or the benevolent robe-wearing superman-like aliens? And will anyone stop spoiling that evil kid?

Visitor3This movie exists in its own bizarro-world, circa 1979. Shelley Winters plays Barabara’s intuitive housemaid singing Mama’s little baby loves shortening bread as she spies on Katy. Sam Peckinpah – the director of infamously violent movies (like Strawdogs and the Wild Bunch) — is her gynaecologist!

This is a very trippy, very strange movie. It has lots of horribly dated and vaguely racist shtick, and the story makes no sense whatsoever. But it still feels cool to watch: filled with fantastic dated special effects: a house of mirrors, a swarm of birds, Barbara insanely driving her electric wheelchair in endless circles. It climaxes with a bug-eyed John Huston having his Close Encounters moment with the shooting stars.

Total kitsch, but funny.

Mitty_PosterThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Dir: Ben Stiller

Walter (Ben Stiller) is a milquetoast mama’s boy and a longtime employee of Life Magazine. He lives vicariously through the exciting photos he processes in a windowless basement room (he’s in charge of “negative assets” — photo negatives, that is). Instead of a pocket-protector he wears a bad windbreaker. In his frequent daydreams and fantasies, he sees himself as an international adventurer, a “real man” who will stand up to any bully. But in reality he’s lonely, middle-aged and single. He longs for a relationship with a new employee, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), but can’t seem to connect with her, even on an on-line dating site.

And now he faces a crisis. Life Magazine is folding, except on-line. A douche-y young executive (Adam Scott) is brought in to close it down, and makes Walter into the poster boy for unwanted employees. But when a negative — the cover photo of the final issue — goes missing, Walter takes it upon himself to track it down, wherever it may be. He embarks on a journey by plane, helicopter, boat, secret life of walter mittyskateboard, that takes him up mountains, across shark-filled seas, and past erupting volcanoes, all just to find the missing photo.

Will he find the picture? Will he find himself? And will his journey impress his crush Cheryl?

While the movie is filled with breathtaking scenery, it has little else to recommend it. It’s not that funny, interesting or original (the James Thurber novel is more whimsical and the Danny Kaye musical — 1947 — is more clever). Ben Stiller’s first attempt at Secret Life of Walter Mitty ben stillerdirecting fails to direct himself. He underplays it just when he should be hamming it up. His character comes across as flat, dull and pointless. Shirley MacClaine and Catherine Hahn are fun as his mother and sister but are rarely seen.

And the use of egregious product placement within the plot itself — a certain pizza chain, a cinnamon bun — is as embarrassing as it is flagrant. (Was he that desperate for funding?) It’s not that the Secret Life of Walter Mitty is terrible. It’s totally watchable, especially stunning footage of Icelandic moonscapes. It’s just… disappointing.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens on Christmas Day and The Visitor opens on Dec 30th for a three-day run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 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 to Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis about THE OXBOW CURE

Posted in Art, Canada, Cultural Mining, Disease, First Nations, Folktale, Horror, Movies, Mystery, Psychology, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 2013

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

Yonah_Lewis_Calvin_Thomas+wEsmSlSQuf0mSomething’s wrong with Lina. She’s sure she’s dying. So she heads due north, up the frozen roads and raw nature of Oxbow Lake. There’s a cottage up there, surrounded by a curved body of water — a retreat from big city life. Will she find a cure or come face-to-face with death itself?

A new movie, the Oxbow Cure, which opens today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tells her story, largely without words, in a natural Canadian setting.oxbowStill01_medium

It’s a minimal, impressionistic and passionate look at one woman’s retreat — a journey back to the land — in an attempt to clear her mind and body. Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis, the filmmakers of The Oxbow Cure, tell us more.

June 8, 2012. Bodies. Movies Reviewed: Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, Harakiri: Death of a Samurai, Guilty of Romance

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, Japan, Movies, Mystery, Sex Trade, Suicide, Toronto, Uncategorized, US, violence, Zatoichi, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on June 8, 2012

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

Does art bore you? Do foreign movies with subtitles seem dull? Well, you’re in for a shock. Three shocks actually, that should rid you of that notion. This week I’m looking at three movies about people who use and abuse their bodies. One’s a Japanese drama about men who stick sharp objects into their stomachs in the name of honour; another is a Japanese dramatic thriller about two women who sell their bodies, but only for the thrill of it; and one is an American documentary about a woman who throws her naked body, full-force, at immobile naked men – but purely for artistic reasons.

To start with, here’s an art movie — well, a movie about art — that definitely won’t put you to sleep.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
Dir: Matthew Akers

Marina Abramovic is a beautiful artist in her 60’s, born in Belgrade to parents who were hardcore Communists who fought in the resistance in WWII. They were cold, militaristic and authoritarian, so she chooses to go in the opposite direction with her art. She becomes a pioneer in radical performance art, beginning in the 1970’s. She’s famous for using her own body — usually naked — as the medium of her art.

She cuts herself, burns herself, starves herself, hurts herself, throws herself against immutable objects, and whips herself. But she brings the military discipline with which she was raised to sustain these extended and painful performances.

Then she meets another artist in the Netherlands who does similar things, and they fall madly in love. Now she has a performance partner — Ulay — and a life partner. They slap each others faces, over and over, throw themselves body first into one another… things like that. And always naked, of course.

But all things end, and when they break up, she is devastated, both emotionally and artistically. She had always handled the artistic side but not the “business” side of art…

Flash-forward to the present. She has transformed herself into a hugely successful art superstar – mow as much a theatrical performer as an ideological artist — and the Museum of Modern Art decides to do a retrospective. But she’s in her sixties, so she gathers a whole gang of young artists with nice bodies in a performance art bootcamp and meditation lodge! They’re going to re-perform her old pieces using their new bodies.

And Marina herself sets up a (now famous) performance at MoMA that consists of her sitting in a chair in a huge, empty white hall for long periods of time in a chair, facing another chair. The viewers sit across from her, one by one, and look deeply into her eyes — no speaking, no moving, no eating… just staring, completely still. It becomes more and more popular, until it reaches the point where people are camped out on the sidewalk overnight, coming into New York City from distant places. Marina as superstar.  The movie follows her past (using period footage and photos), her ascent to celebrity-hood, her amazing performance, and her behind-the- scenes look at constructing this work. It’s equal parts art, fame, emotion and philosophy… with just a bit of hucksterism.

If you’ve never seen a movie about art (or if fine art intimidates you), this is a good one to start with — it’s exciting, sexy, entertaining, funny, shocking and totally accessible. Great movie!

Harakiri: Death of a Samurai
Dir: Takashi Miike

Did you know that Samurai were basically bureaucrats and tax collectors not fighters? Around 1600 after the Battle of Sekigahara unified the country under the Tokugawa military government, the samurai who had fought on the losing sides often found themselves as Ronin – samurai without a master. That left them penniless, aimless, and with a great loss in status.

So this movie’s about a poor ronin named Hanshiro who shows up at the House of Yii saying he wants to commit harakiri (ritual suicide). That’s where a samurai takes his smaller sword and slices up his belly until he dies… at which point, another samurai chops off his head… nice.

But what does the Daimyo’s rep say? “Oh no, not again…!” You see, a younger ronin named Motome had tried the same thing not long before. He was a scammer who just wanted a few coins as a payoff for not bloodying up their nice courtyard. But they called his bluff – go ahead and kill yourself. But he didn’t have the short sword – he pawned it and replaced it with a bamboo replica. But the cruel samurai says, doesn’t matter – and there’s a long painful scene where they force this young ronin to go through with this, to pierce his belly with a piece of broken wood! …ouch!

Anyway, back to the present, they tell this story and tell the older ronin he can go home, no problem. But here the plot turns…. Turns out he’s that younger ronin’s father in law, and he came to prove a point: that the samurai code, the vaunted code of warriors, that bastion of dignity and honour, is just a load of crap.

The movie culminates in a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in a Zatoichi (the blind swordsman) pic!

My description can’t do justice to this movie (and I don’t want to give it all away), but it’s a dark, tense drama and a damning challenge to authority and corruption, showing how false and hollow the whole thing is. It’s directed by Takashi Miike, who is known for his violence and excess, but is amazingly restrained here, with an almost Shakespearean take on a 17th century Japanese samurai drama.

Guilty of Romance
Dir: Sion Sono
(Restricted to age 18+)

Tokyo police detectives find a bloody scene in a love hotel, and want to uncover this mystery. But what a mystery it is!

It starts with a new bride who has a dictatorial husband. She’s a sexually naïve, traditional Japanese housewife who wears a kimono, with her hair pulled back, bows to her lover, and when he leaves for work in the morning (he’s a novelist) she dutifully turns his slippers around so they’ll be ready for him when he comes home.

Then one day she decides to take a job in a grocery store dressed in a little hat and a uniform offering sausage samples on toothpicks to passing shoppers. Soon, a woman claiming to be a modelling agent convinces her to pose for photos. This soon turns to nude photos, then to hardcore porn on video.

She is shaken by the experience, but also sexually awakened. She starts picking up guys she meets in central Shibuya, and gradually drifts into the nearby love hotel district (Maruyama). There she meets a crazed streetwalker who takes her under her wing, and tells her about a mythical, Kafkaesque “castle” where all things will be made clear to her.

So she becomes almost a disciple to this mysterious fiery-eyed and raven haired woman who tells her never, ever to have sex for free… unless she is with the one who loves her. But she soon finds out, this scary streetwalker is, like her, living a double life! She’s actually a well-known university professor who lectures to packed halls by day, but trolls the alleys in disguise by night.

But there’s still further deceit in their secret lives. Guilty of Romance is a violent, sexually explicit exploitation drama, based on a true story.

The director, Sion Sono, is amazing in that he takes very recent pulp news stories, and turns them into way-over-the-top funny, gory, emotionally fraught, and semi-pornographic sexual movies. I’ve seen three of his recent movies, and they’re all amazing. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like female-centred shock movies, with terrific pot-boiler stories and super creepy characters (like the grandmother who speaks ultra politely but drips venom with every phrase), this is the movie for you.

Guilty of Romance plays tonight, and Harakiri on Sunday – with a live Taiko performance — both as part of the Toronto Japanese Film Festival (which runs until the 20th at the JCCC); and Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present opens next week – check your local listings. The CFC World Short Film Festival is on right now through Sunday, and NXNE, Toronto’s enormous music, film, and digital festival, begins on the 13th, next Thursday.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

Cabins in the Woods. Movies Reviewed: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, The Hunter, The Cabin in the Woods

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

I’m back again, and I’m reviewing three good movies opening this weekend, that are all about the hunters and the hunted in their cabins in the woods. There’s a documentary about a Siberian trapper in the Taiga; a drama about a hunter looking for a tiger; and a horror/ comedy about five college students trapped in a cabin by a hunter zombie.

Happy People. A Year in the Taiga

Dir: Werner Herzog, Dimitry Vasyukov

Genady is an enigmatic, bearded trapper and hunter who lives in Bakhtia, Siberia, in a town reachable only by boat (or helicopter). He sets handmade wooden sable traps over an area so enormous it would take a day and a half to cross by skidoo. He builds a series of little wooden huts across his trapping territory and the camera is there to show it. This is the Taiga, the boreal forest south of the Tundra that looks a lot like most of northern Canada. (Actually, Siberia is bigger than all of Canada.)

The directors follow Genady and other fur trappers for a year, showing the cycle of the seasons, the holidays, the intimate relationship between a hunter and his dogs, and the happy time when they’re welcomed back home for the new year.

You watch him carve skis from a living tree, using just a hatchet and wooden wedges, and some moose fur. He does the same thing people there have been doing there for centuries.

Everything is just how it always was… except maybe an occasional chainsaw, and a few skidoos whizzing across the crusty snow, past some wolves or a stumbling moose.

This is a low-key, educational documentary that gives a realistic and fascinating look at trappers in Siberia, filled with rot-gut vodka, fluffy white animals, frozen fish, and grizzled neighbours wearing black toques or flowery headscarves. Some of the scenes of river vistas, huge clouds and vast frozen tracts are truly beautiful. It’s not quite as funny or shocking as some of Herzog’s other documentaries, but it’s still good, and his deadpan narration is delightful, as always. My one complaint is, whenever anyone starts speaking Russian, instead of subtitles we get English voiceovers. (This is the theatrical version of a four hour German TV series.)

The Hunter

Dir: Daniel Nettheim

Willem Dafoe plays Martin, a cold, mercenary shootist, hired by a military bio- medical conglomerate to track down and kill the Tasmanian tiger, a rare animal in a remote island state in Australia. He is an anal, precision-obsessed anti-social pro, who is friendless — and likes it that way. He’s a loner. But when he arrives, he finds the rustic, wooden house he’s supposed to stay at is filthy, dysfunctional, and falling apart… and occupied by a family.

The father is missing, the mother (Frances O’Connor) is in a perpetual prescription-drug-induced stupor, and the kids run wild, climbing naked into the bathtub with him as he tries to get clean. He brushes them all off, as well as his local guide, Jack (Sam Neill) – he just wants to catch the Tazzie tiger.

But, gradually he adjusts to family life. He helps the mom detox, and starts to spend time with the kids. And, it turns out that the son, a tiny tyke, had accompanied his missing father on a similar tiger hunt. So he has first-hand experience and his drawings could help Martin in his search. But, as his heart warms up, his conscience begins to bother him: should he be killing the last member of a species? And can he survive the barren life in the bush, the xenophobic, redneck townies, the crusading “greenies” (enviro-activists), and the sinister corporation itself?

This is a good, tense drama – not an action movie, despite the way it’s being advertised – that shows Martin stalking the Tiger and resisting the deadly attacks from his rivals. This has good acting, spectacular and unusual scenery, a moving story, and an interesting plot.

Cabin in the Woods

Dir: Drew Goddard

Five college students head off for a fun weekend at a cottage in the woods, where they plan to hang out, maybe have sex, get drunk, and take drugs. It looks like it’ll be fun, despite the warnings of a crusty, tobacco-chewing local who predicts their demise. The five of them — Jules (Anna Hutchison), the newly-blonde party girl, Curt (Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) the “dumb” jock, Dana (Kristen Connolly) the shy, good girl, and Holden (Jesse Williams) the nice-guy nerd — just want to have a good time, and enjoy a game of truth or dare.

Only Marty (Fran “Dollhouse” Kranz) the stoner, suspects something is up:  why are the very smart students behaving like celebutantes and french-kissing wolf heads? It doesn’t make sense. And when the game leads them down to the basement, why do they accidentally summon redneck killer zombies from the grave by reading a spell they find in an old diary? Whatever the reason is, they find themselves fighting for their lives against an endless series of scary, trap-and-chain wielding hunter zombis. Just what you’d expect from a horror movie.

Except… this isn’t a conventional slasher story. It’s a meta-meta-meta movie, more layers than you can shake a stick at. You see, they don’t realize it, but it’s all been a set-up by technicians in a laboratory somewhere who have made their own hunger games inside and around the cottage, complete with little cameras hidden everywhere. It’s total manipulation and mind control! To get them to act sexier, they spray pheremones into the building. And when they try to escape, they discover they’re trapped in what may be something like a movie set (which eventually morphs into an extended version of Vincenzo Natali’s “Cube”…) Is there any way to escape?

The movie switches back and forth between the boring, white-jacketed, middle-aged pocket-protector guys in the lab causing all the trouble (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the perennial lab-geek Amy Acker, from Whedon’s Angel and Dollhouse), and the teens in the cabin running for their lives.

It’s a matter of taste, of course, but I just loved this comedy-horror movie by first-time director Goddard who previously wrote Cloverfield; and written by Joss Whedon, the man whose series Buffy the Vampire Slayer inspired more PhD theses than Jane Austin. The best way to understand it is to compare it to a one season (BTVS) story arc, building from an innocuous start, through a twisted plot, and with a grand finale where everyone runs amok. Of course, the lines are hilarious, and the violence is scary, extreme and bloody.

Cabin in the Woods, and The Hunter open today in Toronto, Check your local listings; Happy People: a Year in the Taiga, opens at the TIFF Bell Light Box. The Images festival is on now. Also opening is Gus Madden’s long-awaited Keyhole; the wonderful, heart-wrenching drama, The Deep Blue Sea, (which I’ll talk about next week); and the slapstick meat puppets of The Three Stooges. And tickets for HotDocs, Toronto’s documentary festival, are now on sale.

And if you like what you hear, be sure to support CIUT in its membership drive, on now!

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

%d bloggers like this: