International Mainstream Movies. Films Reviewed: Kidnapping Mr Heineken, Serial (Bad) Weddings, Wild Tales

Posted in 1980s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Netherlands, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 5, 2015

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

I’m happy to say that Xavier Dolan’s brilliant Mommy swept up the prizes at the Canadian Screen Awards last weekend. And they’re releasing new indies, such as the Valley Below, set in the Alberta badlands. Good to know Canada is still making great movies. But what are people watching in other countries? This week I’m looking at three mainstream movies : a dark comedy from Argentina, a light comedy from France, and a crime drama from the Netherlands.

KFH__02707_rgbKidnapping Mr. Heineken
Dir: Daniel Alfredson
Based on the true crime book by Pieter de Vries

It’s Amsterdam in 1983, and the economy’s in a downturn. And a business run by five guys (with names like Spike, Cat, Cor and Willem) goes bottom up. Their assets won’t get you a cup of coffee during a recession. They vow never to be a wage slave to someone else – they want to be their own bosses. But you need money to make money. What to do?

Brothers-in-law tough-guy Willem (Sam Worthington) and idea-man Cor (Jim Sturgess) comeFH-1990_rgb up with a fool proof plan – the perfect crime. They’re not exactly strangers to the rougher side of life, but this will take it a whole new level. They’re going to kidnap that beer brewery billionaire Freddy Heineken (Anthony Hopkins)! And the prize? More guilders than any crime in Netherlands history. First, in a KFH__01204_rgbdaring move, they knock over some Brinks trucks and escape with the cash in a uniquely Dutch way: they race through the canals of Amsterdam in a powerboat, pursued by cop cars. Next, they find an out-of-the-way location and build undetectable, soundproof rooms. Finally, in a carefully planned adventure, they grab the beer magnate and KFH__00951_rgbhis driver, and truck them off to their hideaway. They speak in German and never show their faces. But as the weeks pass with still no payoff, their confidence starts to fray.

Will they get the money and keep it? Can the five men trust each other or is there a snitch? And will there be blood spilled on the way? This is an OK crime movie, shot in English in Amsterdam with a British and Dutch cast. Hopkins is barely in it, he’s locked up in a cell, so the film depends on Worthington and Sturgess. They’re not bad but not terrific. The movie itself is enjoyable – with thrills, chases, shootouts – but it didn’t really grab me. The regular-guy criminals just weren’t that compelling, even in a true crime story.

Serial_Bad_Weddings_-_parentsSerial (Bad) Weddings
(Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au Bon Dieu?)
Dir: Philippe de Chauveron

The upper-class Verneuil Family consists of Claude and Marie (Christian Clavier and Chantal Lauby) and their four lovely daughters. They live on a palatial estate in Chinon, France. They are devout Catholics who still pine for old France, and the days of Charles De Gaulle. They duly send their lovely daughters off to Paris to be educated. But imagine the parents’ surprise when three of them get married: to Rachid, an Arab Muslim (Ooh la la), David, a Jew (mon dieu) and Chau Ling, a Chinese man (aaaarghh!). But they aren’t even French, the parents say – they are the sons of immigrants. Things come to a head when the parents show up for their grandson’s circumcision. Claude shows his bigotry and the family is torn apart. But time heals all wounds, and a few years later things have smoothed out. Claude and Marie joyously await the arrival of their fourth son-in-law-to-be: Charles! He’s French and he’s Catholic…at last.

But guess who’s coming to dinner? Charles is actually Ivorian, from West Africa. And his dad, an serial_bad_weddings_-_churchold school military man (Pascal N’Zonzi) is as conservative and bigoted as Claude. He arrives in France looking for a fight, and Clause is ready and willing. Can the fourth wedding ever take place? Or is this the straw that will break the camel’s back, and will the wedding ruin the Verneuil clan forever? And can different ethnic groups ever get along in a new France?

For some reason – perhaps because all the ethnic tension – this comedy is a smash hit in France and Quebec. And it’s a cute and gentle crowd-pleaser. Unlike most Hollywood comedies there’s no nudity, puking or potty humour. But doesn’t take any risks either. The ethnic stereotypes are tired, and the characters are mainly bland. The daughters have barely sketched characters, and the sons, while slightly more developed, their insults to one another stick to groaner stereotypes: muslims are angry, Chinese eat dogs, Jews are good with money. Luckily, the parents, especially the dads are funny enough to save the movie. And who doesn’t hope for racial harmony? A cute, but safe movie from France.

4fd6c30e-cf73-4008-acfb-8417987be0ab Bombita Ricardo Darin as Simón Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsWild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

Strangers on a plane ride discover they have something in common. An heir to a fortune is caught in a hit-and-run. A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douchebf3deb47-7815-4eeb-9bd4-3c6c11fc68d2 Leonardo Sbaraglia as Diego, Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap in an act of road rage on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot in a Hollywood 0bf45366-79ef-4e25-a7d7-4aaae624b551 Rita Cortese as Cocinera and Julieta Zylberberg as Moza, Photo by Javier Juliá, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsstyle. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of unexpected climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

This is an amazing, exciting and hilarious movie, a dark comedy out of Argentina. The production values – including full-scale disasters — are top-notch. And so is the acting, with some of the top stars, including Ricardo Darin are first class.

Wild Tales, Serial Bad Wedings and Kidnapping Mr Heineken all open today in Toronto: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Froday Morning for CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com

Going, Going, Gone. Movies Reviewed: Wolf, Before I Go to Sleep, Force Majeure

Posted in Boxing, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Family, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sweden, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 31, 2014

Toronto Toronto Zombie Walk Burger King ZombieHi, 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, Toronto Zombie Walk Ronald McDmovies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s Halloween – you can tell by all the zombies on the street. But if you’re too old for trick-or-treating, there are some grown-up movies to watch. This week I’m looking at a Dutch gangster flick about a man who doesn’t know where he’s going, a Swedish comedy about a man who doesn’t know where his marriage is going, and an English psychological thriller about a woman who doesn’t know where her memories have gone.

WolfPosterWolf

Dir: Jim Taihuttu

Majid (Marwan Kenzari) is a kickboxer who lives in an ethnic enclave in suburban Netherlands. The son of Moroccan immigrants, he still shares a room with his little brother in his parents’ desolate, high-rise flat. He works at the same place his dad spent 30 years in unrelenting dedication. It’s a quintessentially Dutch job – he drives a forklift at the flower auction held each morning near Schipol airport. He doesn’t like the job – it’s boring. He’d rather be out on the streets with his weasely best friend, Adil (Chemseddine Amar), or training at kickboxing. But he’s wolf5forced to work there because he’s on parole. He dabbles in snatch-and-grabs for extra cash.

He’s the black sheep in the family. His educated brother Hamza (who is dying of cancer) is his parents’ darling. The one thing Majid is good at is fighting, and a kickboxing win could generate some much-needed cash. But he messes up his first fight by ignoring the ref, and clobbering his opponent, nearly to death.

wolf1Watching the fight was a gangster kingpin, a successful Turkish immigrant named Hakan (Cahit Olmuz). He hires Majid as a backup heavy for a high-level drug deal. It seems Majid has other skills – he can think on his feet and is quick with a gun. And he understands Arabic, something the Turkish gangsters can’t. The job goes great, and he is rapidly promoted. He has a meteoric rise, but how long can it last? Will it interfere with his true ambition – his boxing career? And will his father ever bewolf3 proud of him?

Shot in stunning, sharp black and white, Wolf is an interesting look at the gangster world, sympathetically told through the eyes of second-generation immigrants. It shows the racism they face, as well as friction among various immigrant groups. And how the lure of money and power drags some people into a life of organized crime. The movie covers a lot of ground, and leaves some of the stories incomplete, dangling. It’s also one of those movies where female characters are incidental, confined to a stoic mom and a breasty girlfriend. But Kenzari has a dynamite screen presence, and Olmuz as the crime boss and Amar as his shifty best friend round out the cast nicely. Wolf is worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of gangster dramas.

IMG_7072.CR2Before I Go to Sleep

Dir: Rowan Joffe

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up in a strange bed with a strange man, thinking: Where am I? What did I do last night, how did I meet this guy? He soon sets her straight. He’s her husband, a patient, kindly schoolteacher. Ben (Colin Firth) is there each morning to help her recover. Recover from what? From total amnesia – she suffered a nasty bump on the head, which wiped her memory clean. IMG_0096.CR2And each night, when she falls asleep, she forgets anything she learned that day.

To combat this and to try to recover her memories, she also meets the secretive Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He’s a neuropsychologist. With his help – and unbeknownst to her husband, she records a video each night as a letter to herself the next day. She discovers the amnesia came from a terrible beating. But who did it? And she’s haunted by images of a IMG_0053.CR2third man with a scar on his face. Lovely Christine is caught between the intensely handsome doctor and the comforting and patient husband. Both of whom seem to be hiding something from her. Which one can she trust? Or should she only trust herself?

This is a good, tight psychological thriller that keeps you guessing. It’s angsty and scary. You feel for poor Christine as she gradually recovers her past, and the pain and regret the memories bring her. The three main actors, Kidman, Strong and Firth, are all good in their respective roles. Before I Go To Sleep is a good, tense thriller. The problem? After it’s over, if you think about it too hard, the plot falls apart like a house of cards. None of it makes any sense.

Force Majeure

Dirstacks_image_236: Ruben Östlund

Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli) are a happily married Swedish couple. With their two cute kids, Vera and Harry (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) they take a much-needed vacation in the French Alps. Tomas spends too much time at work or on his smartphone, so this is where family bonding and quality time should kick in. And it seems to be working. They pose for pictures, ski down slopes… they even wear matching pale blue long underwear. But one day, at an open-air restaurant on the chalet roof, something terrible happens. A fierce avalanche sends tons of snow thundering down the stunning peaks, covering them in a white cloud. In a moment of panic, Tomas grabs his phone and runs away — leaving his wife and kids cowering beneath the table. Moments later he realizes it was a false alarm. He FORCEMAJEURE_03creeps back as if nothing has happened. But the seeds are planted. When it comes up in conversations with other tourists Tomas pretends it never happened. His kids are furious, and Ebba is flabbergasted. If Dad won’t protect them or even admit to his failings, how can they ever trust him?

Ebba tries to talk with Swedish women she meets at the hotel, but they all seem to be having casual sex behind closed chalet doors. Will no one uphold the sanctity of marriage? Does it mean anything anymore?

Later they encounters a bearded hipster travelling with a much younger woman. The two end up joining them in discussions of the dilemma of what Tomas should do, even holding impromptu marriage counselling. What are bravery, morality, FORCEMAJEURE_02masculinity, honesty? And what would you do facing a real disaster?

Force Majeure is both a brilliant comedy, and a clever social satire. It’s told against the background of a futuristic/minimalist chalet: all blonde wood, clanking ski lifts, moving sidewalks, and toy drones. And in the distance, loud cannons add a sinister tone of impending doom to what should be a normal ski trip. Great movie!

Before I Go to Sleep and Force Majeure open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Wolf is released on November 4th on DVD. And look out for the Kubrick exhibition, opening today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

Flesh + Blood. The Dutch films of Paul Verhoeven: Turkish Delight, Soldier of Fortune, Spetters, The Fourth Man

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sex, Uncategorized, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 30, 2014

fourthman_02Hi, 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.

Paul Verhoeven. You’ve probably seen some of his Hollywood movies — Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Showgirls. He’s known for his shocking nudity, brutal sex and stylized violence. Popular movies, but unpopular with most critics. They saw him as a misogynist, a schlockmeister and a fascist. None of this is true. He’s actually a great director.

The critical tide seems to be turning. His films are now being revisited in a TIFF Netherlandsretrospective. This week, I’m looking at the less-well-known, but fantastic films he made in the Netherlands in the 1970’s and 80s before going to Hollywood.

In some ways Verhoeven’s early films were totally Hollywood. His men (Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe) are lantern-jawed and lusty; his women (Renee Soutendijk, Monique Van den Ven) are petite beauties… and as independent and blatantly sexual as the men. His movies are filled with full frontal nudity (both male and female) explicit sex, and brutal violence, often with a queer twist. And a constant undercurrent of anti-authoritarianism.

They explore the postwar world of the baby boom and its sexual revolution in the glory days between the pill and AIDS.

Rutger Hauer Turkish DelightTurkish Delight (1973)

Erik (Rutger Hauer) is a sculptor in a small city. He has long blond hair and aviator sunglasses. He’s the kind of guy who takes whatever he wants – an old lady’s fur coat, a stranger’s ice cream cone. This applies to women as well – he’s a champion pick-up artist.

But he bristles at the old guard – the uptight shopkeepers and burgermeisters– and despises their hypocrisy. Erik’s sculpture of Lazarus (the biblical character who comes back to life), gets him in trouble – the town fathers don’t like the worms and maggots eating Lazarus’s flesh. But Erik revels in them.

Verhoeven also piles on the shocks. The decay and rot of old ideas are turkish_delight_02everywhere: clean, orderly Netherlands is shown as a country full of worms, feces, garbage and vomit. Old people have cancer and dementia; their sex is furtive and hidden. Erik wants sex to be free, open and everywhere.

So he heads off to Amsterdam, but is picked up by a beautiful young woman, Olga (Monique Van de Ven) on the way. Olga is voluptuous and impetuous; they leap into bed in bloodsoaked sexual abandon. But is their marriage a flash in the pan or everlasting love? Olga is the woman of Eric’s dreams… but she’s still young. She grows bored with him and the constant sex. Can he  ever get her back?

Turkish Delight is a delightful sex comedy.

soldieroforange_01Soldier of Orange (1977)

Leiden University in 1938. War is looming, but the upper-class frat boys are more concerned with hazing, songs, tennis and drinking. They’re apolitical toffs who swear loyalty for life. Erik and Guus (Rutger Hauer and Jeroen Krabbe) become fast friends. But then, the Germans invade, Queen Willhemina flees to Britain, and the Netherlands is under Nazi occupation. Suddenly everything changes. Friends fight friends.

Some – like one student whose mother is German —  drift toward Nazi collaboration; others join the Resistance. They send out furtive messages to London by wireless, but the Germans – riding on bicycles with detectors around their necks – uncover the operation. They arrest most of the conspirators and use them to unwittingly spread false rumours. Some remain loyal till death, other’s crack under torture and switch sides. A few dozen men escape, including Erik and Guus. They climb onto a Swiss ship and make it to London. There, in the name of the Queen, they operate air raids and launch undercover missions. Based on a true story, this epic is a fantastic, wartime look at the few and the brave.

spetters_eyefilm_02_mediumSpetters (1980)

Three best friends in their twenties, one redhead, one dark and one blond.  Rien,  Eef and Hans (Hans van Tongeren, Toon Agterberg, Marten Spanjer) work together at a mechanic shop: Rien drives a dirt bike and Eef can take one apart and put it back together… blindfolded! They love to race and ride at local events and they all idolize the the champ — their hero Gerrit (Rutger Hauer).

They all end up crushing on the same  carney Fientje (Renee Soutendijk) who runs a fry and croquette truck with her brother. Fientje is older and tougher than the boys. She has curly blonde hair but is no pushover – she’s ambitious. She’s quick with her pot of boiling oil against any guy trying to steal from the chip wagon. The spetters_eyefilm_01_mediumthree guys decide the best endowed will get to date her – but she has other ideas; she chooses the redhead Rien – the only one with a girlfriend. She gets him a sponsor and an expensive bike; she hopes her star will rise with his. (But will he make it as a champion?)

Next comes the dark-haired Eef, a farmers son with a homophobic streak: he bashes gays and steals their money. He uses the cash to buy one-way tickets to Canada for Fientje and himself so he can escape his abusive home… but is he sexually compatible with her?

The blond, Hans, is the third in line, with nothing to recommend him. He too wants to be the next champ but faces a cynical, exploitative world… can he win her heart? 

Spetters is a great coming-of-age story about where fate takes one woman… and the three young men who want her.

fourthman_01The Fourth Man (1983)

A Psychological Thriller.

Gerard (Jeroen Krabbe) is a novelist in Amsterdam with a vivid imagination. He likes to “lie the truth”. He sees signs, symbols and omens everywhere: the number four, the virgin Mary, a detached eyeball. He’s Catholic – but more into the spooky gothic icons than the sinning and repenting. He’s also a red-blooded gay man. So when he spots a young guy at a newsstand near the train station he is in love. (Well, in lust). He chases him but misses the train.

Soon, he finds himself in a small town doing a book reading. Christine (Renee Soutendijk), a stunning blonde widow in a red dress, 1940s-style is filming him in super-8. They end up in bed, but he fourthman_03awakens from a bizarre castration nightmare involving Christine and a pair of scissors. (She owns a beauty salon called Sphinx.)

Going through her letters when she’s out of the room, Gerard discovers a photo of her boyfriend Herman (Thom Hoffman). It’s the same man he saw at the train station! So he fakes a psychic vision and convinces her to invite her macho and jealous lover to come stay with her. He aims to seduce Herman. But he discovers that MBDFOMA EC004Christine has a secret history of her own. Will this sexual triangle end in love… or death?

I recommend all four of these films. Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange,  Spetters and The Fourth Man are all part of Flesh + Blood, the Paul Verhoeven Retrospective at the TIFF Bell Lightbox now through April. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

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