Blend in, fight back or run away? Movies reviewed: Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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

When faced with a monolithic system, do you fight back, try to blend in or run away? This week, I’m looking at movies about people trying to make the land their own. We’ve got soldiers and slaves heading into the swamp; a boy and his uncle heading into the bush; and a teenaged girl heading into the jungle… of modelling.

13502538_1122801797742983_2500767010940376674_oNeon Demon

Wri/Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives)

Jesse (Elle Fanning, Ginger and Rosa) is a small-town girl recently arrived in L.A. She’s there to make it big as a fashion model. But to do that you need connections. Right away, she meets Dean an earnest young photographer (Karl Glusman, Love). He takes some photos for her portfolio. Then, at a nightclub filled with neon she meets three women ready to lend a hand. Two blonde supermodels named Sara and Gigi (American Abby Lee and Aussie Bella Heathcote) and a makeup artist. Red-haired Ruby (Jena Malone) says she knows all the right people.

Almost immediately, Jesse starts her dizzying rise to the top. She signs with a major agency, lands a gig with a famous photographer, and is chosen as the lead 13115958_1092780254078471_5268238841686621476_omodel in a runway show. A star is born.

But beneath its shiny veneer this world is rotten to the core. She still sleeps in a super-seedy motel room. Hank, her skeezy landlord (Keanu Reeves) is a serial predator always on the lookout for victims. Jesse is startled to find wild animals animals climbing through her window. Other models she encounters are just bitter vipers waiting to strike. And her makeup artist friend, Ruby? She’s a makeup artist all right — for corpses. Only Dean seems genuine…but he’s not famous, so he doesn’t fit in her new world.

13445279_1117929004896929_5538370989361420723_nWhen her so-called friends witness Jesse’s triumph at an audition they are consumed by jealousy and rage. In despair, one model smashes a mirror in the washroom. At first Jesse tries to comfort her. When she cuts her hand on the broken glass, something horrible happens. The model literally tries to suck up Jesse’s blood to gain some of her beauty and youth!

Neon Demon is a surreal fable set in the world of modeling. Danish director Refn Wilding is known for his dark, stylized urban dramas like Drive (starring Ryan Gosling). Like his other films, it has great music, pretty people and arresting images, both beautiful and hideous. I liked it, but it’s not your usual narrative. It’s strictly art-house horror, so it’s never clear whether it’s a dream, a fantasy or real life – it’s left up to you to decide.

unnamedFree State of Jones

Dir: Gary Ross

Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) is a Confederate soldier from Mississippi. He’s a medic, so he sees his fair share of death at the frontlines. But when he sees a young boy (Jacob Lofland, Mud), a draftee from his home town, killed on his first day, he’s FREE STATE OF JONEShad enough. Newt takes his body back for a proper funeral. Which makes him a deserter.

Back in Jones County he discovers the problems aren’t just at the front – they’re behind the lines too. All the men and boys are being sent to die defending slavery, but the actual slave owners – anyone with more than 20 slaves – is exempt from serving. This war is being fought for rich people, the cotton plantation owners, not for the poor farmers like him and all his neighbours. Not just that. The army is stealing all the food, FREE STATE OF JONESclothing, practically anything of value from the poor farmers in what they called taxation. They need it to feed the troops they say. But they leave the plantations untaxed and untouched. The raids are all led by the villanous Lt Barbour (Bill Tangradi) with his foppish blond curls.

Newt has had enough — he flees to the swamps, attacked by a vicious army dog on the way. Runaway slaves there nurse him back to health and become his new family. In particular, beautiful Rachel (the wonderful British/South African actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw) a house slave who serves as a secret go-FREE STATE OF JONESbetween for the runaways and slaves still on the plantation. And the self-named Moses (Mahershala Ali) a righteous leader who escaped with a hideous iron contraption still locked around his neck.

Word spreads and poor white farmers join Newt’s makeshift army. He declares a free state in Jones and FREE STATE OF JONESneighbouring counties. He deems them all free men, both black and white, says farmers can reap what they sow, and that no one will ever go to war again for the rich. They start like Robin Hood, taking back food the army is stealing. But end up going to battle against the Confederate government from deep within Mississippi.

This is a fascinating, true story. It’s timely too. with the rise of populism in American politics. Warning – it’s a very long movie (almost feels like a mini-series). It continues long after the civil war, covering things like lynching, post-war slavery and KKK terror, rarely mentioned in mainstream movies. It’s the first time I’ve heard about this slice of history — a genuine civil rights movement born deep in Mississippi, in the midst of civil wat.

HUNTTHD-01_KeyArt_FMtrimHunt for the Wilderpeople

Dir: Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows)

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a chubby 12 year old city kid, into hip hop and gangsta movies. He’s a “bad egg” says Paula his tough-as-nails social worker (Rachel House). He’s surly, unresponsive and a frequent runaway. Given up for adoption as an infant he’s reached his final foster home – if he doesn’t fit in here, he’ll be sent to juvie. His new 12541048_771498859649965_4286703744334521458_nhome is out in the middle of nowhere at an isolated farmhouse in the green-covered hills of New Zealand. He’s immediately welcomed by the warm and giving Bella (Rima Te Wiata). She decorates his room, makes him special food, even gives him a hot water bottle to snuggle up with at night. Her husband HFTW 1 Julian Dennison (Ricky), Sam Neill (Hec) CreditHec (Sam Neill), on the other hand won’t even give him the time of day. He’s reclusive and anti-social, but he does know his way around the woods. Ricky runs away a few times but soon realizes this is his real home with a loving mom, a new dog, he calls Tupac, and a place to write haiku.

But then disaster strikes, and his new life is imperiled. He flees into the bush to live off the land. Like the South African wildebeest he plans to walk a thousand miles. Unfortunately, he V1-0071_150525HFTWP23_620hasn’t a clue what to do. Luckily, Hec comes to his rescue to help him out. But unbeknownst to them both they become famous – in a bad way: the object of a nationwide manhunt. Can they survive in the bush without driving each other crazy?

This world is full of strange people. Like Psycho Sam, a tin-foil hat devotees and idiot city hunters who want to turn them in and collect the reward.

V1-0046_150521HFTWP17_93474This movie is told from an indigenous point of view. The director and most of the actors – though not the characters they play – are of Maori descent. The story incorporates indigenous culture. Ironically, it’s Uncle Hec, the white character, who passes on the indigenous learning that Ricky was never taught. And Ricky who shares contemporary culture and basic literacy with the isolated Hec.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good, light, family comedy. I like this movie — it’s cute and a lot of fun.

Neon Demon, Free State of Jones, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople 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 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

Names. Films reviewed: Beeba Boys, Meet the Patels, The Last Saint

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Gangs, India, Indigenous, L.A., Movies, New Zealand, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 16, 2015

12087961_10153304148320345_3900218976445656359_oHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is on right now, with over a hundred works by indigenous artists and filmmakers. Where else could you enjoy tea ‘n’ bannock while checking out virtual reality and video games by First Nations artists? Go to imaginenative.org for info, or, better yet, drop by the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see it in person. Experience indigenous culture and be sure to remember the names of these artists filmmakers.

Names are important, so this week I’m looking at some movies about names and families. There’s a documentary about a man named Patel, a crime drama about a gangster called Jeet, and a coming-of age drama about a Polynesian-Kiwi named Minka.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBeeba Boys
Dir: Deepa Mehta

Jeet (Randeep Hooda) is a charismatic criminal from Vancouver. He lives with his gossipy Mamaji and woebegone Papaji but makes a living trafficking drugs and guns. His underlings dress in garishly-coloured suits, as he carries out his business in a flashy nightclub. And he spends his spare time with Katya (Sarah Allen) 927ebef0-1c64-408d-b8dc-071f838a8b4aan old-skool gangster’s moll he keeps locked away in a luxury condo.

The movie starts with a bang, involving a dead groom and a parking lot shooting. But his rise in power is challenged by a more powerful Sikh gang headed by a man named Grewal. Jeet is sent to a local jail where he meets a petty gangster named Nep (Ali Momen) just in from Toronto. And he wants to join Jeet’s crew. But 6ebfb0be-b20d-44fe-aa5d-a62400ecbca0he has a secret: he’s dating Grewal’s pretty daughter even as he makes his name with the Beeba Boys. Which kingpin will triumph – the upstart Jeet or the powerful Grewal? And where does Nep’s loyalty really lie?

Beeba Boys is a stylized gangster pic typical in every way except for its players – all Desi Canadians – and its locale, Vancouver. Except for a few scenes, it lacks humour (despite a character who insists on telling bad jokes). And the women are all hanger-onners, surprising for a film from a female director. This is a guy’s gangster movie. But the action is good, with plenty of gratuitous violence. It holds your attention, and there are even a few truly surprising plot twist. And the acting is mainly good, including a surprising appearance by Paul Gross as a bad guy. If you’re in the mood for an all-Canadian Sikh gangster pic, this one’s for you.

f07310_6ffd442f4712499c81614a8e1ab773b3.jpg_srz_p_732_1089_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMeet the Patels
Dir: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Ravi Patel is 29 and single. He’s not a doctor, but he’s played one on TV (He’s an actor working in LA). His childhood sweetheart recently dumped him for his fear of commitment. And he foresees a rootless future if he doesn’t do something soon. So he agrees to give in to his parent’s advice and find an Indian woman to marry. Soon he’s plunged into a visit to f07310_ebf8fdfaf18149debdac59e1ef2a06ba.png_srz_p_647_359_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzGujarat and a lesson in his heritage.

The Patel’s are more than just a common last name and a lot of motel owners. It’s a gujarati-speaking caste, not a family, per se. And it has an amazing networks of connections in North America with a registry of singles spanning the globe. Their “bio-data” includes their shade of skin (“wheat-coloured” women — whatever that means — are, apparently, considered more desireable), their education, family f07310_bfd6b3bf34c64d8f984b2e1387b31b17.jpg_srz_p_619_357_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzbackground and ancestry.

Followed by his sister Geeta behind the camera, Ravi begins an amazing series of blind dates, speed dates, and online match-ups. But will he ever find love among the Patels?

Meet the Patels has some cool animated sequences, and it told me a lot I didn’t know about a hidden world in North America. But it gets bogged down by endless family discussions and Ravi’s confessions that felt too much like a reality TV show. It’s not the comedy it’s advertised as, but more of an intimate portrait of an insecure, single man.

The_Last_Saint1The Last Saint
Dir: Rene Naufahu

Minka (Beulah Koale) is a young Polynesian guy who lives with his mum Lia in Aukland, N.Z. He enjoys spinning disks and hanging with his only friend, a nihilistic girl named Xi (Like the Warrior Princess, she says).

Lia (Joy Vaele) is a recovering addict, given to terrifying bouts of insane violence involving sharp knives. Minka pleads with social services to help take care of her but they turn him down. So he’s forced to look elsewhere for money. In walks a shady-looking man in black (Calvin 10562543_684630048257143_34249033864046524_oTuteao) who offers him a job at his nightclub. It’s a seedy joint but he does his work. He refuses his boss’s offers of drugs, alcohol or prostitutes, and shuns all violence.

His boss is impressed and reveals his connection to Minka and his mum: he’s his missing father! Still, he sends him out on a dangerous mission to make a delivery in the middle of the night. Minka encounters a musclebound, tattooed Polynesian dealer named Pinball (Joseph Naufahu). In the midst of 10491062_673180262735455_383628263760875119_n‘roid rage Pinball demands to know Minka’s “real name” and threatens to kill him.

Later, he encounters a gang of intimidating, torturing Tongans and other unexpected strangers. Can he survive the night? And will his family ties save him or drag him deeper into a life of crime.

The Last Saint is an excellent coming-of-age look at a good guy driven to crime. The acting is great, with nearly every portrayal compelling, especially Koale.

Beeba Boys and Meet the Patels both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. The Last Saint screens tonight as part of ImagineNative.

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

Peter Pan Syndrome. Movies Reviewed: Whiplash, Laggies, What We Do in the Shadows PLUS ImagineNATIVE

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Indigenous, Movies, Music, New Zealand, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2014

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

ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival started with a blast on Wednesday night. Two women read aloud the Sami Declaration of Indigenous Cinema. It declares that the oral tradition of native cultures must be preserved through storytelling on the screen. That sums up what this festival brings us – international views and culture, respecting the indigenous creators.

This week, I’m looking at three very different, but very good movies. There’s a thrilling drama about a young musician who won’t give up; a comedy about a woman who won’t grow up; and a mockumentary from New Zealand about vampires who won’t grow old.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Whiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old music student. Pale-cheeked and dark haired, he lives in a New York City apartment with his single father (Paul Reiser). He plays the drums with a driven passion, and he’s just starting at a prestigious music conservatory. He finds an unused drum set in a dusty school room and plunges right in. Drummer’s heaven. And who walks by and hears him but Fletcher (JK Simmonds). He’s a bald, acerbic music teacher who is also the head of the school’s elite, prize-winning jazz band. And he pulls Andrew out of Whiplash-2598.cr2class to audition for the band. This is rare, since the band members are much older and more accomplished.

He realizes something big is happening – his talent is finally being recognized! His life is going great, and he even gets the confidence to ask a girl he sees at the local rep cinema on a date.

But, what he doesn’t know is that Fletcher is also a perfectionist who demands top Whiplash-3326.cr2performances from his players, even during rehearsal times. That’s good, right? No! Fletcher is a cruel and twisted megalomaniac, who loves nothing more than driving his music students to tears. Every position in the band is tenuous, at best, subject to Fletchers’ whims. Now you’re in, now you’re out. And he elevates the importance of the band to mythic proportions.

Andrew soon realizes that he has to devote every waking moment of his life to reaching absolute, synchonistic perfection in his drumming if he wants to stay in the band. And Fletcher seems to have singled him out as the victim he can elevate Whiplash-5301.cr2and then crush. Who will triumph in this battle of minds? Sensitive young Andrew? Or the fascistic Fletcher?

Whiplash is a fantastic and tense thrilling movie. Director Chazelle manages to portray a music academy as a boot camp or a boxing match. Andrew’s not a musician but an athlete, and one who drums until he bleeds. Miles Teller as the kid and JK Simmonds (Law & Order) as the teacher perfectly play the two sides of this violent duet. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Whiplash was the first movie I saw at press previews at TIFF back in August and and it became the standard against which I measured every movie after it.

g5xVwr__laggies_01_o3_8301300__8301300__1407811900-1Laggies
Dir: Lynn Shelton

Megan (Keira Knightly) is a happily unmarried slacker in her late twenties. OK, her post-graduate school career hasn’t exactly taken off, but she still has her loving dad, her high school friends and Anthony, the longtime boyfriend she lives with. But at a wedding, she discovers maybe her Dad’s not so great, and her best friends aren’t. And when Anthony proposes marriage (and a quicky wedding in Las Vegas) Megan panics. She flees the wedding.

She ends up hanging with some teenagers she meets at a strip mall liquor store. She identifies with them, especially Annika (Chloe Grace Moritz). She was like her in high school…. Which wasn’t that long ago. They become friends. And this new friendship also gives her a chance to get away from her own life. She secretly movesMjEmRm__laggies_03_o3_8301367__8301367__1407811900 in with her new best bud for an extended sleepover party. But Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) discovers his daughter’s new best friend… is a grown up. They have a long talk. Does Megan see herself more as an adult like Craig, or a kid like Annika? Or is she somewhere in between? And how would their relationship change if she dated her dad?

Laggies is a cute, funny romantic comedy about the maturing of a young woman in her twenties. Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) comes from the Seattle low-budget indie scene, and this is her first one with big name stars. And she pulls it off. Keira Knightly and Chloe Moritz are great as the mismatched friends. (My only question? Is “single dad” a new movie trend?)

mwElYp__whatwedointheshadows_05_o3__8261204__1406658669What We Do in the Shadows.
Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Four guys with an unusual sense of fashion share a house in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. There’s the flamboyant and sensitive, pirate-shirted Viago (Taika Waititi) who pines for his lost love Katherine. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) sticks to clandestine orgies behind his velvet drapes. And ex-nazi Deacon (Jonathan Y6Mo7p__whatwedointheshadows_03_o3__8261132__1406658667Brugh) can often be found hanging upside down like a bat. They have regular house meetings, complete with job wheels. And of course they love a good night out. Why? So they can find some virgins and suck their blood. They’re vampires, of course! When they say “clean up the bloody dishes” they mean it literally.

And they’re part of the underground – if somewhat cheesy — supernatural subculture GZ9yR0__whatwedointheshadows_04_o3__8261163__1406658668we’re told exists in Wellington, complete with zombies, witches and werewolves. As vampires they can fly around and sleep in coffins. But they don’t know how to use facebook or take selfies. So, with the help of regular not-dead guy Stu, they try to adjust to modern life and avoid spilling blood everywhere.

What we do in the Shadows is a hilarious character-driven fake documentary aboutj2n7Z5__whatwedointheshadows_01_o3__8261101__1406658665 the lives of oddballs in New Zealand. It opened ImagineNative not for its topic, but for the filmmakers, producer and stars of the movie

All three movies played at TIFF this year. Laggies and Whiplash both open commercially today, check your local listings. What We Do in the Shadows opened at ImagineNative – which continues through October 26th featuring Australian movies and many gallery installations. Free before 6:00 pm for students, seniors and underemployed. Go to imaginenative.org for more info.

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

Family Ties. Movies Reviewed: Boy, A Windigo Tale, Score: a Hockey Musical, Conviction plus ImagineNative festival

This week, I’m talking about four very different movies, two dramas, a comedy drama, and a comic musical, that all deal with family members and family ties: brother/sister; father/son; parents/son; mother/daughter; grandfather/grandson.

But first, let me tell you a bit about the 11th annual ImagineNative film and media arts festival that’s on right now in downtown Toronto. It’s a cultural celebration of First Nations, Inuit, and international aboriginal and indigenous artists and filmmakers, from Canada – urban, rural, and northern – Latin America, as well as Asia and the Pacific, and Europe. There are movies – short films and features, mainstream and experimental — lectures, workshops, art exhibits, installations, and multimedia events, including radio podcasts, and online new media sites. So tons of contemporary media and current issues and artforms. Lots of free exhibits going on, and films every night in the Spadina and Bloor area. You should definitely check this out – look online at http://www.ImagineNative.org

ImagineNative started with a screening of

Boy
Director/Writer: Taika Waititi
The Canadian premier of a popular, new New Zealand movie.

It’s the early 1980s, in a small town in New Zealand. Boy – that’s his name – lives there with his Nana, his little brother, Rocky, and a bunch of cousins. His mom died when he was young, and he can barely remember his dad who took off years ago with some petty hoods in a sort of a biker gang called the Crazy Horses. Boy’s waiting for his promised return to take him away from all this and to see a Michael Jackson concert in the big city. But when his grandmother leaves town for a few days to go to a funeral, who shows up but his dad – for real (played by the director, Waititi.)

He’s up to no good though, and Boy has to reconcile his hood-y pothead of a dad with the hero he had been expecting. Whenever reality gets too hard to handle, Boy retreats into his fantasies, and recasts things – in his mond – like visualizing a bar brawl as a Michael Jackson Beat It video. (His little brother Rocky, on the other hand, imagines he has super powers, and is laden with guilt thinking he’s the one who caused all the bad events in his life.)

This is sort of a sad story, but the tone is light enough, and there are enough very funny scenes that it’s not a downer of a movie at all. It reminded me a lot of a movie from a couple years ago called Son of Ranbow, but Boy’s a bit more serious, less comical. It also gives a realistic glimpse of Maori life in the 80‘s – something I’ve never seen before.

The actors, especially the two kids, (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, and James Rolleston), and their dad (Waititi) were great. And as a special bonus, there’s even a dance scene in the final credits that’s a mash-up of a Michael Jackson video mixed with a Maori Haka war dance (looked like the Kama Te haka usually performed by the All Blacks rugby team, but his one in full 80s video regalia!)

The closing night movie is a Toronto premier called:

A Windigo Tale
Dir: Armand Garnet Ruffo.

The Windigo is a legendary being – it’s a starving, cannibalistic creature that you can turn into either while you’re alive or else after you die; it comes to eat you up and carries the spirits of the people it eats in its belly. Taking off its clothes will take it out of the body, and burning the bones will get rid of it.

In this movie, Joey is a high school drop-out who wears his hiphop gang colours. He’s communing with his grandfather (Gary Farmer) who tells him their family history and secrets in the form of a folktale.

Lily, and her white boyfriend, David, have driven up so she can talk to her mom, Doris. Lily was sent away from there 15 years before, and blames her mother for abandoning her. And at the same time there’s a reunion – of sorts — of Six Nations people who had been sent to the residential schools – the notorious Canadian religious and educational system that isolated, abused, and even killed natives for generations.

All these story lines are going on at the same time. Doris is sure the Windigo is in the air. Strange things start to happen. Can she fight the Windigo and the demons of her history she carries with her? The story goes back and forth between the serious, realistic family drama and Doris and Lily’s violently spiritual encounter with a Windigo. Interesting movie. It packs in a lot of stories and plotlines for a 90-minute picture, so I found it a bit confusing over what was the story, what was a flashback, and what was the story-in-the-story. But it’s a totally watchable movie with interesting characters, good acting – especially Jani Lauzon as Doris – and deals with an important, dark part of Canadian and native history that’s only coming to light very recently.

Next, a much lighter Canadian story:

Score: a Hockey Musical
Director/Writer: Michael McGowan

A hockey musical? Yup, that’s what is, no more, no less.

Farley (Noah Reid) and Eve are next door neighbours in Toronto who communicate late at night using a clothesline running between their two houses. She has a crush in him, but he’s more interested in playing a game of shinny with his hockey buds. He gets discovered by an agent who books him as the next hockey star. But, raised by hippy parents who frown upon competition and deplore hockey violence, he’s caught between two worlds. He’s a lover not a fighter. Will he be the next Sidney Crosbie? Will he learn to fight in the rink? Will he be accepted by the hard-ass team coach? And will he ever get together with his starry-eyed neighbour Eve?

It’s a cute movie, very Canadian both in the good sense and the bad, if you know what I mean. Good in that it shows real Canadian topics, national “in” jokes, tons of can-con straight out of an old “I am Canadian” beer ad, but bad in that it’s super corny and cheesy and baaaad in a lot of places, with some real groaner punchlines, and some truly lame lyrics. (Some great ones, too.) The singing’s uneven – ranging from the clear tones of Olivia Newton-John to the sort of voices that should never leave the shower. And one of the dance scenes looks artificially sped-up. But it doesn’t matter – I laughed out loud a lot, and I just took it for what it was – a 90-minute-long, all-Canadian piss in the snow. Score is not a hockey musical, it’s the hockey musical. (And one’s enough.)

And finally, another family drama,

Conviction
Dir: Tony Goldwyn

Betty Anne and Kevin are a brother and sister who grew up together in very hard circumstances with neglectful parents and a series of foster homes. But at least they had each other. Kevin (Sam Rockwell) is a high-spirited class-clown type guy, but he also is in and out of trouble with the cops, usually just for mischief. But he gets charged and later convicted of a heinous, vile rape and murder and is sent off to prison for life. His wife testifies against him, and she takes their little daughter away. Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) is sure he didn’t do it, so she makes it her life goal to set him free. She goes to law school and, twenty years later, with the help of a friend, Abra (Minnie Driver) she tries to bring his case back to court. Will she succeed and save her brother? And was he innocent or guilty?

Based on a true story, this has a movie-of-the-week feel to it. It is a tear jerker, got a couple of tears, and it’s an uplifting story, but it’s not the kinda movie I normally go to see. I should also say the acting is all great, including an almost unrecognizable Juliette Lewis as a shady trial witness – she’s fantastic.

Just to review, today I talked about Boy, and A Windigo Tale, two of the many cool movies playing at ImagineNative, which is happening now through Sunday: look online at http://www.imaginenative.org/ ; Conviction (now playing), and Score: the Hockey Musical – which opens tomorrow.

Films Reviewed: The Lovely Bones, Edge of Darkness, The Book of Eli

Crummy movies. And there are quite a few.


Let’s start with The Lovely Bones, based on the novel by Alice Sebold, and directed by Peter Jackson, who did the Lord of the Rings.

Little Susie Salmon is an innocent teenaged girl with a happy family, a loving dad who puts ships into glass bottles, a boy she likes, and a shopping mall to hang out at. But one day she’s brutally murdered in a cornfield on the way home from high school. She’s caught in some limbo where she can see her family falling apart and the evil murderer getting away with it. Her sister and father try to catch the killer and stop their family troubles as Susie tries to come to terms with her own death.

This sounds like it could be a really good adventure/thriller, with unusual supernatural elements, and a poignant story. But it wasn’t. It was gross! And uncomfortable, and tacky, if a movie can be tacky. Just the whole look of the movie was unintentionally wrong, especially the otherwordly, limbo scenes. Are we supposed to feel attached to a fake tree suddenly losing all its CGI leaves? Who cares?

The whole movie felt like an out-take from Ghost Whisperer — “Step into the light…Come to the light…” “Not before I tell them my secret!” — but without Jennifer Love Hewitt to provide some link between the two sides.

On the plus side, the thriller scenes were great, with the evil and scary murderer in a race with Susie’s relatives – who feel driven to avenge her death and catch her killer. And some of the acting was also fun, especially Susan Sarandon as a hilariously flamboyant, alcoholic grandmother, who exalts in puffing cigarettes and sweeping metaphoric dust under the rug; and an almost unrecognizeable Stanley Tucci as the creepy neighbour, Mr Harvey. But on the whole, this movie doesn’t work. If you want to see a great movie by Peter Jackson, look for one from his early New Zealand days, Heavenly Creatures, the polar opposite of The Lovely Bones.

And this shows you that just because a movie’s been adapted from a novel doesn’t mean a it’s good.


Opening tonight, there’s Edge of Darkness, a thriller vengeance movie, directed by another kiwi, Martin Campbell, and starring Mel Gibson.

Craven (played by Gibson) is a Boston police detective whose daughter is killed on his doorstop just before she has a chance to tell him something important. Torn apart by grief, and haunted by hallucinations of his daughter who talks to him, he vows to find her killer or killers and make them pay. And he knows his fellow cops in Boston will watch his back.

But he soon finds himself in the middle of something involving his daughter’s shady employers, Northmoor. (the movie keeps many of the names from the old BBC miniseries from which this was adapted) There is some hint of corporate malfeasance, scared whistle blowers, and homeland security spooks. Everyone is lying or too scared to tell him the truth, and people keep getting shot and run down, just before he finds out the secrets. And Jedburgh, a heavy-set English spy, is keeping his eye on things from the margins.

There are some really great scenes of revelations, plot turns, confrontations, and some good chases and escape scenes. The problem is the movie doesn’t sustain it. So you’ll be on the edge of your seat, and then it’ll settle in for some long boring parts again. Mel Gibson plays the psychotic, angry father scenes pretty well, they’re fun, but he falls into awful overacting. In fact there’s a lot of that – there’s a death scene (one of many) that’s like in a sketch comedy that takes ten slow falls and gaspings and near deaths, (just die!) before one character finally exhales its last breath. And an exhausted Mel stumbling up a staircase in a shootout had the whole house laughing – except… it was a serious scene. Oops. The movie also had some interesting if unintentional twists, where there’s a Republican Massachusetts senator in the movie (even though the surprise midterm election was just last week) and crucial information is passed to an investigative journalist – from Fox News?

But the complicated conspiracy plot is so nebulous and twisted it isn’t even worth pondering its implications.

Finally, there’s The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic action drama directed by the Hughes brothers.

Eli (played by Denzel Washington) is a hobo living in a destroyed America, traveling on a highway toward the west coast with a heavy bible-looking book. He eats whatever he finds and defends himself from strangers. Water, not food, is the commodity in this world. When he wanders into a western town, he is set upon by illiterate motorcycle gangs. He eventually teams up with Solara, a tough young woman held hostage by a corrupt town boss. In this post-nuclear world, the town boss thinks his literacy is power, and that a copy of the bible will give him absolute power.

On the surface, this seems like a lo-cal version of The Road, with more sword fights and punch outs and chase scenes, and less depressing heaviness, and profundity.

(This movie also borrows heavily from movies like The Road Warrior, the Japanese Zatoichi series, and just about every western ever made.)

And I thought, what a junky piece of Bush-era crap,

where the heroes quote scripture and shoot up everyone they meet in the name of God and America. But when I thought about it a bit more, I liked it a bit more. I think it was better than I first gave it credit. And I think it had a message. (And this won’t give anything away.)

By reclaiming evangelical Christianity after it had become strictly right-wing territory, The Book of Eli lets the baptism of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. overthrow the corrupt, power-hungry southern whites, as symbolized by false preachers like Gary Oldman (the town boss).

The film rejects the intolerance of fundamentalist “culture wars” and intentionally embraces alternative lifestyles. An old couple they meet on the road are humanized by showing their love of 70’s gay disco records. California, Eli’s ultimate destination, is shown not as a fallen Sodom and Gommorah, but as the new Jerusalem — where, Eli hopes, faith and learning are kept alive despite the near destruction of the world. Hobo preachers spread the word and fight against censorship, while the corrupt false preachers horde their information, emulate Mussolini’s fascism, and use illiterate lackies and blackshirted soldiers to hold on to their power and fuel their dreams of a water-hording empire.

Is it a coincidence that this movie was released on the weekend of Martin Luther King’s birthday? No. The Hughes brothers
are reclaiming the gospel in the name of educated, inclusive, black centrists — led by Barry Obama.

While not a great movie, The Book of Eli is an interesting one.

Daniel Garber, January 28, 2010

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