Other people’s danger. Films reviewed: Blaze, Ben is Back, The Quake

Posted in Addiction, Biopic, C&W, Christmas, Disaster, Family, Morality, Music, Norway, Romance, Texas by CulturalMining.com on December 14, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

 

With all the trouble in the world, some people like to safely observe other people’s problems, as a kind of catharsis. This week I’m looking at three new movies about people putting themselves in danger. There’s an opiate addict at Christmas, a quake spotter in Oslo, and an alcoholic musician in a bar.

Blaze

Dir: Ethan Hawke

It’s the 70s in the deep south. Blaze Foley (Ben Dickey) is a hefty, bearded Texan from San Antone, living in an artsy, hippy commune. That’s where he meets a beautiful woman with kinky hair named Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat). He’s a musician and a raconteur, she’s a writer and aspiring actress. The two decide to shack up together in a treehouse for some sweet, summer lovin. When they’re not in bed they’re singing songs to each other. But Sybil – or Tsibele, as her parents call her – sees something more. Blaze, she says, you gotta go to Austin to make it big. And Blaze says I don’t wanna be a star, I want to be a legend.

But he agrees to tour blues bars while she works as a waitress. Problem is, when he’s lonely he drinks – he’s a boozehound – and when he drinks he gets angry, and when he gets angry he gets into fights – not a good career move for a budding musician.

Can their relationship survive? And will people ever get to hear his music?

Blaze is a meandering biopic about a musician you’ve probably never heard of. It jumps back and forth over a twenty year period tracing his highs and lows… mainly the lows. (Like the time when a trio of Texas Oilmen — played by Steve Zahn, Richard Linklater and Sam Rockwell — who think they’ve discovered the next big thing and put up the money to record an album.)  And there are lots of concerts in small bars. Blaze’s story is narrated by Towne Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton) recalling his life and his music. Blaze was dead by age 40, but now, 30 years later, he’s finally getting listened to.

It sounds super depressing… but it’s not. It’s actually a very gentle, pleasant movie, mainly because the music – folk, blues, country – never stops for the whole two hours. Lots of plucking of guitars and Ben Dickey’s sweet voice. And Alia’s, too.

OK, it is a bit too long and the plot isn’t that interesting (though the stories Blaze tells are), but if you go to this movie to feel it, not to think about it… well, you just might like it.

Ben is Back

Wri/Dir: Peter Hedges

Holly (Julia Roberts) is happily married to her second husband (Courtney B Vance) and fond of her three kids who live at home. She’s preparing for Christmas: trimming the tree and wrapping the presents. But then a surprise visitor shows up. It’s Ben (Lucas Hedges), the eldest from her first marriage, the return of the Prodigal Son. She over him dearly, but he also makes her nervous. He’s an addict,

and he’s supposed to be at rehab. But she welcomes him for dinner, after carefully hiding all the prescription drugs, money and valuable jewelry. She loves him, but everyone knows addicts lie, cheat and steal… the boy can’t help it.

But maybe this time is different. He’s been clean for 80 days now, and he promises he won’t do anything to hurt his family. He seems back to normal. But when Ben is back, all his history, his baggage, all his friends and enemies are there with him, metaphorically. And some literally: when they go to sister Ivy’s Christmas pageant, they come back to a burglarized home… and Ben’s pet has been dog-napped.

Who dunnit? It’s up to him to visit all the ghosts of his past – people he stole from, families of overdose victims, druggies, dealers and gangsters – until he finds the one with his dog. But Holly won’t let him do it alone. She’ll stick by his side until he’s safe again. Will they find the dog? Or die in trying?

Ben is Back is one of a creepily popular genre: addiction movies. And like many of them it’s not about the addicts, it’s about the harm they bring to their parents or lovers. (The recent Beautiful Boy is a good example – it should have been called Dithering Dad.) While Ben is Back’s story kept me interested, the movie as a whole was both moralistic and grueling to watch… why are moviegoers forced to sit through yet another reenactment of a 12-step meeting? Ugh. That’s not entertaininment. And as if that’s not enough, you also have to sit through an interminable Christmas show.

Equal doses of saccharine and grime… No thanks.

The Quake

Dir: John Andreas Andersen

It’s present-day Norway. Gaunt, bearded Kristian (Krisoffer Joner) lives in the picturesque, fjord-filled town of Geiranger. Three years ago a deadly tsunami swept through there but Kristian saved many people including his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) his son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and his darling daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande). He’s a national hero… and a broken man, far away from his family who moved to Oslo. Why? Because Kristian hears tremors everywhere – he’s in a constant state of panic, just waiting for the next earthquake. Perfect for an emergency but unfit to be a normal husband and father.

But his panic starts to escalate when a series of clues – unexplained seismic data, a collapsing tunnel, rats running away – tell him the next earthquake is coming to Oslo. He has to get there fast and warn his family.. and everyone else. Has Kristian gone bananas? Or is he right? The Quake is a disaster movie so of course he’s right. Once the tremors start the real action begins, mainly in a glass and steel highrise in downtown Oslo. Somehow Dad, Mom, Little Julia and Marit (Kathrine T Johansen) a woman helping Kristian find the truth, all end up there, at the very top of a skyscraper, when the earthquake hits. Who will survive?

The Quake is a terrific disaster flic, mainly because the characters are interesting enough to care about. And the special effects are amazing. You believe they’re hanging onto wires in elevator shafts or sliding toward the edge as the skyscraper starts lean. The director of this movie is actually a cinematographer so its very visual: aerial views, long tunnels, fjords, and collapsing new buildings. I had to watch it on a computer screen, but you should try to see it in a theatre with a big screen, and loud rumbles.

Blaze, Ben is Back, and the Quake all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Movies Made by Women. Films reviewed: What Will People Say?, Zama

Posted in 1500s, Argentina, Clash of Cultures, Drama, Family, Indigenous, Kidnapping, Norway, Slavery, Spain, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 20, 2018

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

Spring festival season is on right now, with two or three new ones popping up each week. There are established festivals like Hot Docs, celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as some new ones. Reelabilities is only in its third year, but already programs a full international slate of dramas and docs – and even a comedy night — for and about people with deafness, mental illness, autism, down’s syndrome, and many others. And they’re dealing with important topics like sexuality and disabilities and disability rights. This week I’m looking at two movies directed by women and that played film festivals in Toronto (TIFF, Human Rights Watch Film Fest). There’s a coming-of-age drama about a Norwegian schoolgirl whose parents come from Pakistan, and an historical drama about a colonial Argentine whose ancestors came from Spain.

What Will People Say?

Dir: Iram Haq

Nisha (Maria Mozdah)is a high school student living in a snow-swept Oslo housing project. She has beautiful long hair, dark eyes and a shy but winning smile. Nisha is a typical Norwegian girl. She hangs with a tight-knit group of friends for partying, listening to music, texting. At night, though, she’s the grudgingly loyal daughter to her traditional Pakistani parents. She is the apple of her fathers eye. Mirza (Adil Hussein) piles money and gifts on his smart and beautiful daughter whom he dreams of becoming a doctor or an engineer. But Her mother is more strict, always wondering what other people – meaning people from Pakistan – will say, if they see Nisha doing outrageous things like… dancing? Little does she know. she’s dating a guy named Daniel who looks like Archie Andrews. But when her dad catches them in her bedroom, flirting, all hell breaks loose.

Before she knows what’s happening she’s on a plane to Pakistan on her way to a relative’s home in a remote town. They take away her phone, burn her passport, and forbid her from using the internet. Mirza says he’s doing it for her own good, but Nisha feels betrayed, lost and abandoned. And then there’s the physical dangers. She can’t just put on a hoodie and explore the streets alone like she did in Norway. Only a young cousin who idolizes her, and Amir, a boy she likes, make her life worth living. But her eyes and tastebuds are awakening to new sights and flavours she never encountered in cold, grey Norway.  She gradually adapts to her new home…. until a big change threatens her life and her future. Will she ever regain her old life and friends? Can she achieve success as a woman? And will she and her family learn to accept each other?

What Will People Say is a great coming-of-age drama that’s a bit of a thriller, too. It gives a multi-faceted look at a teenaged girl, partly self-centred and spoiled, partly facing a miserable life not of her own making. Pakistan is portrayed as a scary and violent place but also a vibrant and beautiful one, filled with both kindness and terror. The director (herself of Pakistani/ Norwegian background) eschews what could have been a one-sided kidnapping thriller in favour of a realistic and touching drama. She avoids easy stereotypes opting instead for a nuanced and loving look.

Zama

Wri/Dir: Lucrecia Martel

It’s 300 years ago in imperial Spain in South America.

Don Diego Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is a low- level magistrate decked out in a white wig and three cornered hat, with a bright reddish jacket and a shiny sword. He’s there to provide justice and compassion in disputes among the colonists, their slaves and the indigenous peoples in the remote colony of Asunción. But he soon discovers his rulings are ignored, his requests disregarded, and his status questioned. He’s far from his wife in Buenos Aires, and his native mistress in Asunción doesn’t like him much, even after she gives birth to his son.

His life depends on the indulgences of a king in far off Spain, and a corrupt and decadent local Governor who spends most of his time gambling to win obscene tokens of power. He covets worthless geodes and decrepit ears sliced off a dead convict’s head. Colonial landholders slaughter Indios with impunity. As his life gets worse and worse, Zama feels trapped in a cesspit he can’t climb out of.

He finally gets his chance by joining a posse searching for Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele) a villainous criminal terrorizing the locals. But his search seems equally pointless and circuitous, achieving nothing, waiting for a Godot who may never arrive.

On his journey he faces dangers and fascinations both real and imagineary: small boys with psychic abilities, hidden ghosts and potergeists infecting his lodges. People appear and disappear, seamingly at random, dying and coming back to life, in a colourful whirlwind of unexplained phenomena.

Zama is a fantastic, non-linear adventure based on an Argentinian novel. It explores name and identity, position and class, and race and ethnicity in Colonial Spain. Indigenous languages are spoken without subtitles – we hear it all through Zama’s ears.

I’m not going to pretend I completely understood this movie, but like Embrace of the Serpent (which I reviewed here), the images and exotic scenes in Zama are so engrossing I didn’t worry too much about the plot. Picture a group of women on a riverbank covering their naked bodies with thick brown mud. And the scenery in Argentina’s northeast Formosa province — green moss, sweeping hills, twisting rivers and impossibly tall bare tree trunks — is like seeing those Dr Seuss books I read as a kid again but in real life.

What a great movie.

Zama opens today in Toronto. check your local listings.What will people say is playing at Human Rights Watch film fest.  This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Looking for trouble. Films reviewed: Thelma, Amerika Square, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Posted in Coming of Age, Greece, Norway, Racism, Refugees, Supernatural, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 17, 2017

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

More fall film festivals: The EU Film Fest brings free movies from across Europe to Toronto; and look out for the all-Canadian horror festival called Blood in the Snow – BITS for short – coming next weekend.

We all face trouble at times, but some people seem to invite it. This week I’m looking at movies about people getting into trouble. There’s a bigot in Athens trying to make trouble, a young woman in Oslo trying to avoid trouble, and a middle-aged woman in Missouri who acts like trouble is her middle name.

Thelma

Dir: Joachim Trier

It’s present day Norway. Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a teenaged girl at university in Oslo who is living on her own for the very first time. She was homeschooled by devout Christian parents including a very strict father. Aside from frequent calls from her parents checking up on her, Thelma is suddenly free to discover life on her own. She gets invited to parties, drinks beer, has arguments about politics, and flirts with an obnoxious boy who pursues her relentlessly. It’s thrilling, but also scary. Strange things seem to happen around her when she’s nervous. When she really starts to panic she shakes, shivers, and collapses into what look like epileptic seizures. But are they? And all around her nature seems to react: birds crash into windows, leaves rustle, then things start to shake, break and shatter.

Anja (Kaja Wilkins) is one of her classmates who looks out for her. They seem to have a psychic bond, meeting almost at random – when athelma wants to see her, she seems to just appear. More than that, there’s a strong sexual attraction between the two of them. But Thelma is afraid to tell her the truth: when she thinks hard enough she unleashes forces that can make people… disappear!

Thelma is a terrific coming of age drama full of suspense, mystery and the supernatural. It’s been called the Norwegian Carrey – fundamentalist christian girl with telekinetic powers – but it’s also totally different. She’s not bullied, she’s not weak, and there’s a fascinating love story in the mix.

Harboe and Wilkins — great as Thelma and Anja — are both new faces I want to see more of.

Amerika Square

Dir: Yannis Sakandis

Present-day Athens. Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) is a chill tattoo artist who runs his own shop. He looks like a young Bruce Springsteen in a diverse, workingclass neighbourhood. He lives in an apartment block near Amerika Square, a rundown local park. He just wants to live his life. Tarek (Vassilis Koukalani) is a Syrian refugee with a small daughter. He wants to make his way to safety in Germany, but keeps failing. And when he gets separated from his daughter he breaks into panic mode. Tereza (Ksenia Dania) is a beautiful, biracial nightclub singer (who speaks Greek). She wants to escape local hoodlums who control her. She meets Billy when she asks him to rewrite her tattoo and free her from virtual slavery. Is there something more between Billy and Tereza? Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou) is overweight and underemployed. He’s in his late thirties but still lives with his parents. He is obsessed with foreigners – he methodically counts how many live in the apartment and worries there will be more immigrants than Greeks. They’re changing everything and taking over! he says. His own parents migrated to Athens from a small village, but he considers the square his own. And he’s willing to do almost anything to drive the immigrants out. Will this include murder?

Amerika Square is a good drama about the current conflicts in Athens and across Europe. It looks at the plight of refugees and migrants, locals who welcome them, and the rise of rightwing groups who violently oppose immigration. It follows an ensemble cast in a complex storylines that all comes together in the end, along with a few ironic plot twists.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Wri/Dir: Martin McDonagh

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is a divorced woman who runs a gift shop in tiny Ebbing Missouri. She’s been on edge since her teenaged daughter was brutally raped and murdered. The police have yet to charge anyone with the crime. So she rents three derelict billboards on a road near her home. The billboards, like giant Burma Shave signs, ask in garish letters, why Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) hasn’t caught the killer. But when the story is picked up by local media, the powers that be fight back: highschool bullies, her dentist, even a priest. They strongly pressure her to take down the signs, and attack her friends, employees and even her son (Lucas Hedges). But she refuses. This ignites a feud between Mildred and one cop in particular, the corrupt and bigoted Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Dixon lives with his gravelly voiced mother who goads him on to greater and greater acts of violence. But Mildred fights back, upping the ante from words to fistfights, to shooting to firebombing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a satisfying, exciting, but extremely violent movie about irascible characters facing big issues in a small town. I call it cutely violent – which fits with the director’s other movies: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The violence is extreme and graphic, but it always retains a touch of humour. Peter Dinklage and Sam Rockwell are back again, but this time a woman is allowed to shine in the lead role, with great results. Frances McDormand is perfect as this hateable/loveable character. Mildred might curse a blue streak but you can still see the heart in this irascible, hard-ass woman.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF17.

Thelma and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri both open today in Toronto; check our local listings.  Amerika Square is playing at Toronto’s European Union Film Festival. Go to euffto.com for details.

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

Seeking his Fortune. Films Reviewed: Lean on Pete, Sheikh Jackson, Valley of Shadows

Posted in Coming of Age, Drama, Egypt, Fairytales, Islam, Kids, Movies, Music, Norway by CulturalMining.com on September 15, 2017

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

Whether it’s Jack or Hans or Esben or Ivan, many fairytales start with a young man leaving home to seek his fortune. This week I’m looking at three new movies premiering at TIFF17 about young men heading off into the unknown. There’s Khaled, a young man in Egypt, Charley, a 15-year-old in Oregon, and Aslak a six-year-old boy in northern Norway.

Sheikh Jackson

Dir: Amr Salama

Khaled (Ahmad Alfishawy) is an imam at a mosque in Cairo who is having strange dreams and hallucination. He cries during prayers and keeps seeing a strange man dressed in black with pale skin and a glittering glove. Is family is very religious — his wife wears a niqab scolds their daughter for watching Beyoncé videos on youtube. And his uncle is his mentor and spiritual advisor. And everyone notices something is not right. He sees a psychiatrist and after many false starts he finally opens up and tells his story.

In his youth, Khaled (Ahmed Malek) lived with a loving family in Alexandria. His father is a body-builder entrepreneur, his mother stays at home.And he is entranced by a strange figure he sees on TV — it’s michael Jackson. His mother approves, but his father says “don’t watch that transvestite”. When his mother dies, he becomes obsessed with Michael Jackson, changing his hairstyle, buying new clothes, and going to nightclubs to hear his music. He also wants to impress another fan, a beautiful girl in his music class. But things with his father get worse and worse, until everything explodes. He runs to his uncle for help, who says he can,ove inwith his family as long as he gives up his current life and studies the Koran. But, back in the present, Michael Jacksons death turns his life upside down. Can he reconcile his moonwalking past with his religious present?

Sheikh Jackson is a delightfully cute look at the conflicts of contemporary Egypt. Religious vs secular, western pop culture vs more traditional ways. It’s also a bittersweet coming of age story about a non-conformist looking fir his place in the world. And — no spoiler – it includes a dance number to the tune of Thriller!

Valley of Shadows

Dir: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen

Aslak (Adam Akeli) is a 6 year old boy who lives his mom on a farm in remote northern Norway. His older brother is in some kidn of trouble, so he theres no one to play with. And when an older kid tells him there are monsters in the woods and werewolves killing sheep, his imagination goes wild. And when his dog runs away, he realizes he is the only one who can save him. So he packs some sandwiches in a bag and heads out up the mountain and into the forest. This starts a long journey, through trees, down slopes, across rivers, encountering, huge beasts, wild animals and a magical hermit as he travels all around. Will he find his dog, survive alone in the forest, avoid the werewolves and somehow make his way home again?

Valley of Shadows is a beautiful look at a journey through the eyes of a little boy. Fantastic scenery and wildlife seen in a dark and mystical light. With very little dialogue, it shows instead what Aslak sees in his journey. It feels like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are… but real.

Lean on Pete

Wri/Dir: Andrew Haigh

Charley (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year old kid who moved with his dad to Portland Oregon. His dad is a heavy drinker who picks up women and takes them home. Charley’s mom left when he was just a kid. Back home he would go running in the mornig and played on the Varsity football team. But he doesn’t know anyone here. One day on a monring run he meets a grizzly old man named Del (Steve Buschemi) who handles race horses. Charley knows nothing about horses, but Del needs someone willing to work hard and shovel manure. He hires charley on the spot. That’s where he meets a female jockey named Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) and a 5 year old quarter horse named Lean On Pete. Bonnie warns him it’s a business, and never treat racehorses like pets, but Charley loves Pete and tells him all his secrets. And when something happens to his dad, and Pete’s life is threatened, he takes the only path he can think of. He sets off across the sagebrush and deserts to save the horse and maybe find a relative who can help him.

Lean on Pete is a wonderful and very moving story of a kid on his own crossing Oregon and Wyoming. It’s not an idealized version, it’s a realistic look at someone trying to eat, drink and stay alive while broke and homeless, and with no one to turn to. It’s a bit of a tearjerker but never maudlin, and kept me riveted to the screen all the way through. And Charley Plummer is great in the title role, telling his story aloud as he travels across country.

Valley of Shadows and Lean on Pete are both playing now at TIFF with Sheikh Jackson having its world prenier tonight as the closing film of Special Presentations. And on Sunday you can see the People’s Choice award winner for free at Roy Thomson Hall; tickets are handed out at 4 pm. 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

 

 

Sand and snow. Films reviewed: A Tale of Love and Darkness, In Order of Disappearance

Posted in 1940s, Crime, Depression, Drama, drugs, Israel, Norway, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on August 26, 2016

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

ctff-logo-2016-500TIFF is just around the corner with big stars, public events and even some free screenings. And there are tickets still available, especially daytime screenings. But I’d hate to see other film festivals lost around its hugeness. Look out for Caribbean Tales for world premiers from Canada and the Caribean beginning before TIFF, and immediately after1461388895689 TIFF is the Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) showing features and docs by and about Palestinians.

This week, I’m looking at two watchable foreign films. There’s a literary drama shrowded in darkness and shadow, and an action/thriller covered in bright, white snow.

1451880012615A Tale of Love and Darkness

Dir: Natalie Portman (based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz)

It’s 1945 in British Mandate Palestine. Noah is a little boy living in Jerusalem with his mother Fania and his father Arieh. Amos (Amir Tessler) likes books about Tarzan and cowboys and “Indians”. But the stories he likes the best are the ones his mother (Natalie Portman) tells him. Fania is a born storyteller but the tales she tells are fantastically 1468977255_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_ohadknoller_1-1194x797ghoulish and obsessed with death. She was born in Poland, and tells him about escaping into the woods, which probably saved her life. She talks about a self-immolating woman, a handsome polish soldier, and a pair of monks on a long journey. When Amos hears her stories he pictures himself and his mother as the main characters.

1468972783_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_ohadknoller_g3-1194x797Arieh (Gilad Kahana), Amos’ dad, is a published author himself. But his books are academic, not popular bestsellers. He was beat up as a kid in Lithuania and tells Amos he immigrated to Palestine so his son would never have to face bullying because of his background. (Amos ends up bullied anyway.) Fania had great expectations and still fantasizes about muscular, intellectual farmers replacing her scrawny but loving husband.1469144206_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_giladkahana_bio-398x266 But as her dreams and fantasies fade away, she slips into a deep depression.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is a fictional memoir by Israeli novelist Amos Oz, set in the post-Holocaust, pre-independence years of his childhood. The movie consists of a series of linked short stories, each ending with a silent dark screen. The film doesn’t bonk you on the head about the big issues; rather it subtly shows short scenes hinting at the bigger picture.

1469144113_ataleofloveanddarkness_natalieportman_bio-796x1149One crucial scene has Amos visiting an Arab family, where he meets a girl his age, a budding poet, like him. He shows off his Tarzan skills by climbing a tree and shaking the chains of a swing set. He pictures himself as Samson, escaping the chains that bind him. But with his thoughtless bravado he breaks the swing, sending the girl’s little brother to hospital. (Metaphor anyone?)

I was impressed that this is actress Natalie Portman’s first feature as a director. (She also wrote the screenplay and plays a central character.) A Tale of Love and Darkness is a beautifully-shot period piece, with wonderful music, camerawork and costumes. This is definitely worth seeing.

theatrical-one-sheet-for-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing-6In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

Dir: Hans Petter Moland 

It’s a snowy winter night in Tyos, Norway. And heavy snow means good business for Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård). He’s a professional snowplow driver who all the nearby country roads with his enormous metal machines. And he’s excellent at it. So good, he’s getting the award for good Citizenship. Pretty stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing4impressive for an “immigrant”. (He was born in Sweden.) But on the same night something terrible happens: his only son, who works at a nearby airport, is found dead. Police say he’s a drug addict who OD’ed, but Nils insists his son never does drugs. Nils is devastated, suicidal until he discovers the boy was murdered.

stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasingTurns out he was mistakenly held responsible for disrupting the local drug lord’s cocaine shipment, and killed in retribution. They faked an OD to stop the police from investigating. Now it’s up to Nils to find the killers and avenge his son’s death. He embarks on a series of attacks on the local cocaine dealers, gradually working his way up the chain. He wants to find the kingpin, a man from a very rich Norwegian family. Known as The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) he is a second-generation, right wing racist. He lives in a beautiful home and he and his lackeys dress in expensive suits with perfect hairstyles. He has the coke market tied up between his gang and a Serbian gangster known as Papa (Bruno Ganz).kristofer-hivju-and-stellan-skarsgard-in-in-order-of-disappearance-a-magnet-release-photo-courtesy-of-magnet-releasing2-1

And when his dealers start disappearing, he assumes it’s other gangsters – he kills a rival in retaliation. This is Papa’s son, who aims to retaliate by kidnapping the Count’s little boy. This sparks a gang war, with Nils’s home ending up as the target for both gangs. Can Nils defeat two teams of professional killers using only his wits and his huge snow-blowing machines?

This is an extremely bloody, and sometimes funny, gangster thriller. It’s all shot against pristine snowdrifts, bespoiled only by blood. It’s called In Order of Disappearance as it briefly memorializes each character when he dies. It’s enjoyable, with lots of interesting side characters, though it’s hard to feel great sympathy for a serial killer, whatever his reasons. Warning: you have to have a high tolerance for violence to watch this movie.

In Order of Disappearance and Tales of Love and Darkness both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Putting Together, Tearing Apart. Movies Reviewed: Earth to Echo, It’s only Make Believe, Borgman

Posted in Belgium, Coming of Age, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, Fairytales, Horror, Movies, Norway, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 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.

Does your life ever feel like a never ending battle between order and chaos? This week I’m looking at three movies that explore this theme. There’s an American sci-fi adventure about kids trying to put the metal pieces of an extraterrestrial back together; a Norwegian drama about an ex-con trying to put her family life back together; and a Flemish movie about a mysterious visitor trying to tear a family apart.

Earth To EchoEarth to Echo
Dir: Dave Green

Three best friends — Munch, Tuck and Alex — go to Junior High together in Nevada. Munch (Reese Hartwig) is a chubby blond kid with with glasses. He’s the kind of boy who has to line up his ketchup packets, just so. He’s OCD. He’s also an electronics whiz. Alex (Teo Halm) is a tough talking foster child whose worst nightmare is being abandoned by his family. And Tuck (TV rapper Astro) is the leader of the group – he’s smart, but ignored by his parents and cooler, Earth To Echoolder brother.

They’re about to tear down their neighbourhood to build a freeway, so it’s the three boys’ last day together.. That’s when they discover something strange – cryptic messages coming through their cellphones that point to a place in the desert. They hop on their bikes and head out on an adventure.

Earth To EchoThis leads them to find a rusty hunk of junk… which turns out to be a living, sentient being of some kind. It’s a palm-sized metallic ET: an owl with awesome magnetic powers. Joined by a smart girl, they name the metal thing Echo and decide to help him find his spaceship to take him back to… well, wherever he came from. But can they EARTH TO ECHOoutsmart all the meddling grown-ups, and scary government agents, who might mess it all up?

Earth to Echo is a fun, kids’ movie, totally enjoyable by adults. It’s all about found footage and jiggly, handheld cellphone cameras. Obviously it harkens back to ET, with its Spielbergian feel, but it’s very much a contemporary story. More Super 8 than ET. No stars, simple dialogue, but very engaging characters, and awesome special effects involving pieces of metal coming together in midair. I liked this one.

1897928_707411882624939_320300712_nIt’s Only Make Believe
Dir: Arild Østin Ommundsen

Frank and Jenny are young lovers who do casual work together in small town Norway. That work involves petty crime, and they dress the part, with matching leather jackets and blonde hair. On their way to a small job, Jenny (Silje Solomonsen) tells him she’s pregnant. He’s elated, gives her a stolen engagement ring, and vows to stay together forever. But the simple job goes wrong and someone is killed. Ten years later, Jenny is out of prison, ready to start a new life. A childhood schoolmate, Gary, who works at a bank, wants to date her. But she has no money, just an old, broken down 14703_504149072951222_172066000_nhome. Fiance Frank is quadriplegic and comatose. Their daughter, Marete, born after Jenny was in prison, has a stepmother of her own. She’s into crazy dancing and horse riding. And, to 1239409_625710790795049_1287033371_nJenny’s dismay, the dark figures from her past – drug dealers and thugs — start to pop up again, trying to drag her back to a life of crime. Can she shrug off the old and start anew?

This movie is hard to categorize. One scene is a happy montage of playing with her 10-year-old daughter, and renovating her house. The next will be sinister encounters with violent criminals. Then more happy montage with pop/folk music… then more violence. Is it a family drama or a crime thriller? I have no idea. But the acting is good, the main star, Solomonsen, is easy to watch, and the story keeps you interested.

Borgman Poster236Borgman
Dir: Alex Van Warmerdam

Richard and Marina (Jeroen Perceval and Hadewych Minis) are a successful couple who live in a mansion surrounded by woods. He’s an arrogant but successful executive,
while Marina is a compassionate but bored and naïve housewife. A Danish nanny named Stine cares for their three perfect children.

But into this world comes Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) a borgman_20000188_st_4_s-highcombination magician, tramp, fantabulist, storyteller and demon. . He has long hair, a beard, and looks like he just stepped out of a Rembrandt painting. He, and his confreres Ludwig and Pascal, live like hobbits in borgman_20000188_st_1_s-highunderground houses connected by twisted tunnels. Rounding out their team are two deadly, female hitmen, and a pair of elegant race dogs.

They gradually work their way into the family and strange things begin to happen. Camiel tells strange old fairytales to the kids, indicting them into his view of the world. People start dying and disappearing. Richard notices an X mark tattooed onto his shoulder. And at night Camiel climbs onto Marina’s sleeping body like a succubus, implanting scary dreams into her thoughts.
Borgman_still_01-1
Borgman is a very strange, dark comedy, a combination fairytale, fantasy, horror movie and family drama. It remind me of French director Leos Carax, but with that distinctively cold northern European deadpan feel. Really weird, cool movie.

Earth to Echo is now playing and Borgman, and It’s Only Make Believe open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. Also opening today is Gerontophilia, from director Bruce La Bruce.

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

September 14, 2012. “This is a BIG festival…” Movies reviewed: Spring Breakers, Kon-Tiki, Blancanieves

Posted in 1920s, Adventure, Cultural Mining, drugs, Fairytales, Movies, Norway, Polynesia, Spain, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on September 14, 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, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Spring Breakers photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is monumental, vast and confusing. Three critics I spoke to this week – onefrom NY, one from L.A. and one from Australia – all said Toronto isn’t like the other film festivals they go to – it’s a “really big one”. And all the huge-ness that goes with it.

Let me give you an example: a weird thing that happened to me. Picture a floor-to-ceiling, black-velvet curtain. At TIFF they have a photo-op area right beside the press conference area, but they’re separated by that black curtain. I was on the press side, so I could hear everything happening but not see it. Basically, when the celebs show up there’s a frenzy of rabid shouting photographers snapping pics like crazy and shouting out their names. So you can see a non-stop barrage of flashes on the ceiling above the curtain and hear what sounds like vicious digs tearing a famous actor apart and then eating him alive. Very weird. Then, one minute later, they cross to the press side, and quietly sit down at the table on the stage.

The press conference where I witnessed this was for Harmony Korine’s new movie called Spring Breakers as in SPRING BREAK FOREVAH… Bitches! (the movie’s catchphrase)

It’s an impressionistic look at a fantasy version of the annual florida bacchanalia where college students get drink, have sex, and gather in huge numbers. It’s full of the glowing neon and pastels, jiggling bodies, vespa scooters, red camaros and white baby grands. Into this fiesta are three blond university students — Candy, Cotty and Brittney (Ashley Benson, Vannessa Hudgons, Rachel Korine) who want to go wild, and their God-fearing friend Faith (Selena Gomez) who tries to stay the path to the straight and narrow. Then Candy and Brit rob a chicken shack to pay for their trip, and soon the four of them fall under the sway of Alien (James Franco) a white stoner gangsta rapper living the life of riley with his club-kid, identical twin sidekicks in his drug fueled beach-side mansion. The three bad girls take to him like honey, don matching pink balaclavas and wave their heavy-duty machine guns in the air in Pussy-Riotous triumph.

The movie is less about story than impression, with lots of improvised lines, repetition, and a constant background beat. It’s mainly about bodies in the sun and guns at night… a satirical, fantastical college collage. I love this like I love all of Harmony Korine’s movies. This is his most accessible one and feels like lying in the sand while reading a glossy fashion magazine with a great ipod mix in your ears. Spring Break…!

Anyway, there are hundreds of movies at TIFF this year, but I thought I’d tell you about a few that really struck my fancy, for very different reasons. One’s about a boat trip to the South Pacific, another about  fighting bulls in Seville.

Kon-Tiki

Dir: Joachim Rønning

It’s after WWII and Thor Heyerdahl wants to test his theories about Polynesia where he had lived for a decade with his wife, Liv. The polynesians say their ancesters followed the winds and the tides from the east (South America), not from the West (Asia). So he vows to make the crossing in the same way to prove it was possible. Without funding or academic backing, he gathers together four more men — an anthropologist with a movie camera, an engineer who was a fridge salesman, a sexton operator who knows his directions, and a morse code radio operator — and they all set off from Peru.

The movie follows the adventurers across an ocean, their encounters with glowing creatures, dangerous sharks, and whales, all beneath their balsa-wood raft and moved by Tiki himself, the god’s image painted on the canvas sail. They set out in suits and ties, but gradually pare down to saggy long underwear. These five sun-burned and blonde-bearded buddies are always growling on the verge of a fight, but without a hint of macho. It’s up to Thor to keep the faith, follow the sun god’s path and be true to Tiki. Will they all survive and can they make it all the way?

This is a really fantastic family movie, thrilling, funny, scary and exciting. It’s by the director of Max Manus, another Boy’s Own style adventure about WWII resistance fighters. Joachim Rønning is the Norwegian Spielberg and gets all the cliff-hangers, shocks, and special effects dead-on. There must be some CGIs involved but it really felt like you were out in the Pacific ocean with them battling the elements. I loved this movie, too.

Blancanieves

Dir: Pablo Berger

It’s Seville in the 1920’s, a city of long narrow alleys and whitewashed houses, black-laced flamenco dancers and massive crowds at the bullfights. But when the great Matador Antonio is felled by a satanic bull just as his wife Carmen is giving birth to their child, Carmencita, the baby, loses her parents. A sinister nurse Encana connives to take over the matador’s wealth, power and riches. When young Carmen finally moves in with her pet chicken Pepe, she is made into a Cinderella and only sees her father on the sly. He teaches her how to be a matadora from his wheelchair, careful to avoid the wrath of the evil stepmother. Will she escape from her evil clutches? Later, she is found in the woods by a handsome dwarf who takes her in with his travelling circus troupe. She has amnesia and can only remember how to raise the cape and to keep her eye on a bull. So they rename her Blancanieves — Snow White. Will she ever remember her past? Will she become a Matadora in the ring? What about Encana? Who will triumph – the innocent Snow White or the closet dominatrix? And who will be her handsome prince?

This is an unbelievably beautiful retelling of the Snow White story in glorious black and white. It’s done in the old style of a silent movie, with lush music and occasional cards to show dialogue. Maribel Verdu (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Pan’s Labarynth) is fantastic as always, this time with a pale face,  black hair, dark lips, and the high collar of the Walt Disney Queen. Newcomer Macarena Garcia is just as beautiful and steals the screen. Even though I knew (more or less) what would happen in this dark retelling of a well-known fairytale in a 1920’s Seville, it didn’t matter; it left me feeling shocked, thrilled and passionately moved. It’s a magnificent-looking film.

All of these films are playing at TIFF. Log on to tiff.net at 7 am to get new tickets on sale for the day.

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

August 10, 2012. Angsty White Men. Movies reviewed: Oslo, August 31st, Killer Joe, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

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.

Hey white guys out there — do you rule the world, cause all the trouble, and carry the guilt on your shoulders? (It seemed so on the news last night). Well, this week I’m looking at three movies about white guys, and the bitter angst of responsibility, fear of failure, and the terrible crimes we are responsible for.

One’s a Norwegian drama about a guy in his 30s, forced to confront the world outside his addiction centre; there’s a crime drama about a guy in his 20s who considers turning to murder to solve his own debts; and an American documentary about an ethical family man… who played a part in some of his country’s worst war crimes.

Oslo, August 31st

Dir: Joachim Trier

Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) is a wiry, intense intellectual in his mid-thirties. He is let out of a drug rehab centre for a day after a long stay. The movie follows his encounters with family, friends, party-goers, and strangers in homes, offices, parks and cafes.

Anders is not your “normal drug addict” (if there is such a thing); he’s successful at picking up women, has (or once had) a relaxed self-confidence at social gatherings, and is much more comfortable debating Proustian aesthetics than sitting at moderated addiction self-help groups. But his intelligence, razor wit, and nuanced reactions are not enough.

He just can’t face the outside world. He finds himself rejected or completely blanked by a lot of the people – his old friends and family — he tries to speak to. But he is so filled with despair and self-loathing that he seems to sabotage his future, even when things seem to be going right. Because he’s sure there is no future: he blew his chances of a promising career and family life and he can never get back to them.

I don’t do justice to this beautiful, desperate movie by concentrating on the plot – that’s just the framework. It’s more of a travelogue of a shut-in’s chance to experience a day out in his city. He’s never happier than when he absorbs and mentally files the random conversations around him, along with the voices of past conversations echoing in his brain – sonic flashbacks. You feel for Anders but you experience the rejection and anger by those around him who he may have wronged in the past.

This is a great, gently-paced internal drama: I recommend it.

Killer Joe

Dir: William Friedkin

Chris (Emile Hirsch) is a broke loser in debt to a local good-old-boy. But, with the help of his stupid father (Thomas Haden Church) and despite resistance from his sleazy, shifty step-mother (Gina Gershon) he comes up with a plan to get the 25 grand he needs: he’ll secretly murder his mom and split the insurance with his dad. They hire a corrupt and deadly local cop known as Killer Joe (Matt McConaughey) to do the deed. But when their plans don’t go as smoothly as they thought they would, Chris’ younger sister, the appropriately-named Dottie (Juno Temple), is dragged into the mess he made.

Dottie is tetched in the head. Although now sexually an adult she still thinks of herself as a 12 year old, and likes to practice kungfu kicks while watching Chinese movies on TV. She’s given to random non-sequitors, and taking off her clothes. And the predatory Killer Joe wants to take her as sexual collateral until he gets paid.

Will Chris and Dottie remain true to their vows of loyalty? Will he escape the venomous cop and the violent local mobster? And what about their Mom?

OK – this movie has a lot going for it. It’s based on a play with a gripping plot (which may or may not translate into a good movie), interesting characters, and an excellent cast, and it’s directed by William Friedkin who brought us The Exorcist, The French Connection and the Boys in the Band. But (perhaps because of its low-budget) it wavers between good and cool, and drop-dead awful. So we get to see the (generally credible) Emile Hirsch overacting wildly in a scene where he loses it before the camera; and even worse, Juno Temple reciting her non-sequitor lines deadpan. (Come on, Juno – if Dottie’s crazy or mentally handicapped it’s not enough just to read the lines and stand around naked. It may work for a few minutes but eventually you have to act.)

On top of this, you have to sit through a relentless and excruciatingly violent scene of a sexual assault using a Kentucky Fried Chicken drumstick. While there are some good parts, the unevenness of the acting and the overblown dialogue make it hit or miss.  And this hard-core crime-drama is definitely not for the squeamish.

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

Dir: Carl Colby

William Colby was a career spy who worked his way to the top of the CIA from its earliest stages immediately after WWII, to the awful fallout of The Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

Some background: The CIA was formed as the main international intelligence agency following WWII, and by the 1950s took on the Cold War as its main raison d’etre. So, in addition to collecting information, the CIA was also infiltrating civil rights groups, financing political parties of the right, and sabotage parties that were left of centre; and sponsoring coups to overthrow elected governments around the world (in Iran, Chile, and Vietnam, among others) in the name of democracy and the free world.

So into this world steps the educated and upper-class devout Catholic William Colby. This movie follows his career from WWII, to being an agent working out of the Embassy in Rome, funneling millions in cash to the conservative Christian Democrats to stop Italy from “falling to the Communists”.

From there he moves to Saigon, reluctantly playing a part in the coup that brought down South Vietnam’s (Catholic President Nho Dimh Dien) and the changes in policy from benevelant helper of the South Vietnamese to purveyor of napalm and agent orange (that leads to over a million deaths.) This culminates in a series of testimonies he gives before the US Senate investigating the CIAs wrong doings. (Ironically, his truthful testimony uncovers a huge load of dirty laundry the CIA had kept hidden until then.)

The film covers all angles, using period film clios and snap shots, but what’s really interesting is that the talking heads – notorious figures like Donald Rumsfeld and famed journalists like Seymour Hersh – all speak directly to the filmmaker. So their memories aren’t all about Bill Colby, they’re about “your father”. (Probably it was the director’s personal connections that allowed him access to some of these major figures.) His mother’s testimony is especially interesting. For example, she talks about going to a cocktail party and being held back from speaking with a couple they had had drinks with just the night before “ We don’t know them”. She had trouble keeping track of her husband’s web of covert deceptions.

The Man Nobody Knew is a good documentary both as an apolitical history of the CIA and as a personal bio.

The dramas Oslo, August 31st and Killer Joe open today in Toronto, and the documentary The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby, is now playing at the HotDocs Bloor St Cinema – check your local listings. Also, coming out this week on DVD and blueray is the wonderful Genie Award-winning Quebec drama, Monsieur Lazhar (Directed by Philippe Falardeau). This is a great movie – touching, tender, funny – about a French-speaking Algerian schoolteacher with a hidden, tragic past who tries to find peace teaching Montreal kids… who are recovering from their own loss.

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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