Creepy small towns. Films/TV shows reviewed: Hammer, Curon, Ragnarok

Posted in Canada, Crime, Family, Italy, Mystery, Norway, Supernatural, Suspense, Thriller, TV by CulturalMining.com on June 26, 2020

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

In light of the pandemic, many people are thinking of cities cities as crowded, dirty and dangerous places, compared to smaller towns. But are small towns any better? This week, I’m looking at three new productions – one film and two limited series – that look at the darker side of family life in small towns. There are nogoodniks in Newfoundland, taboos in Tyrolia, and felonious fat cats among the fjords.

Hammer

Wri/Dir: Christian Sparkes

It’s a paper-mill town somewhere in Canada (possibly Newfoundland).

Chris (Mark O’Brien) is a young man, down on his luck. He deals in drugs and stolen jewels, both valuable commodities, but somehow is deep in debt. Luckily, there’s a big operation – involving satchels of cash to be exchanged deep in the woods – about to go down with a sketchy guy named Adams (Ben Cotton). It should leave him rich. But something goes wrong. Now someone is dead, their body lost in a corn field, and Chris is on the run with Adams on his trail.

So in a chance encounter, he turns to his estranged family — his younger brother Jeremy, his disapproving mom and his angry dad Stephen (Will Patton) – for help. He hasn’t talked to them for years, but they’re his only hope. Can his father help him secure the cash, rescue a hostage, and protect him from Adams? Or will everything fall apart?

Hammer is a short, fast moving drama about a criminal act pulling a small-town family apart. It’s a well-written and well-acted movie. It’s a very of-the-moment, what you see is what you get style movie. No excess dialogue, no wasted scenes, no deep back story, just high-tension thrills. There’s violence but not gratuitous violence, gun battles, chase scenes and a few surprising twists. A noir-ish style but in a natural setting. And an ominous symbol – the ourusborus, a snake swallowing its own tail – gives this crime drama a darker, more sinister feel.

Curon

Created by Ezio Abbate, Ivano Fachin, Giovanni Galassi, Tommaso Matano

A picturesque town in Italy. Mauro and Daria are 17-year-old twins from Milan. Mauro (Federico Russo) is shy and introverted with a hearing impairment. He’s a natural target of bullies. His sister Daria (Margherita Morchio) is tough and self-confident. She’s sexually adventurous, can out-drink anyone she meets, and will likely win in a fistfight. She always looks out for her brother. The two are used to life in the big city, but their divorced mom moves them back to her hometown of Curon. It’s in German-speaking Tyrolia right by Austria and Switzerland. Very different from Milan, where the twins grew up. Curon’s main landmark is a man-made lake with a church bell tower in the middle; the only thing left of the old town they flooded to built a hydro dam. And they say if you ever hear the church bells ring, it means you’re going to die.

Soon after they arrive their mom disappears, so they move into their grandfather (Luca Lionello)’s spooky old hotel (like in The Shining). And they meet some of the popular locals at their highschool. Micki (Juju Di Domenico) and her bullyish boxer brother Giulio (Giulio Brizzi) are the two kids of a highschool teacher… They both hate Curon and want to head south to Milan. Will they be friends or enemies? And then there’s Micki’s wimpy friend Lukas (Luca Castellano) who goes through a strange transformation. Lukas has a crush on Micki, while Micki and Giulio have crushes on someone else. They also find out Micki and Giulio’s dad and Mauro and Daria’s mom share an old history. Will they ever find their mom, discover Curon’s secrets, and escape this creepy old town? Or will it ensare them in its mysterious and sinister ways?

Curon is a good, spooky TV drama, with sex, drugs and hints of horror every once in a while. It’s also full of dopplegangers, disappearing bodies, and strange sounds in the dark. Netflix seems to have created its own sub-genre – big city highschool kids returning to a picturesque town full of dark secrets. No spoilers here, but it’s worth watching. It’s scary but not terrifying, never boring, and with a good, attractive cast.

Ragnarok

Created by Adam Price

Here’s another TV series about a mom and her two kids moving back to her hometown. This time it’s a picturesque, fjord-filled village in Norway called Edda. Magne (David Stakston) and his brother Laurits (Jonas Strand Gravli) arrive by car. Magne has blond hair and glasses. He takes meds each day, has terrible vision and is dyslexic, and is fond of tossing hammers. Laurits has black hair and a pointy nose; he likes playing tricks on his brother. They quickly make friends at school. Magne meets Isolde, a young woman whose dad is their school teacher. She’s an enviroronmental activist who knows all the Edda’s secrets. Toxic wastes dumped into the pristine fjords are ruining the town’s ecology.

Laurits gravitates toward the son and daughter of an elitist family, the Jutals, headed by Vidar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson). They own the toxic chemical plant and have control over the police the school, nearly everything. Only the activists – and the town drunk – dare to defy them. And the girl Magne has the hots for is already dating Fjor Jutul, from the same rich family. It looks as if the town, and possibly the world, is heading toward ecological Armageddon, or Ragnarok as they say in Norse mythology. Can Magne learn in time who this family really is… and his own importance in confronting them?

Ragnarok is a TV series partly about ordinary people standing up to elitist authority figures to protect the environment. But that’s not all. There’s a Harry Potter-type backstory as well, where ordinary people learn about extraordinary things. I really liked this show – beautiful scenery, great acting, suspence, tons of fascinating and endearing characters, with lots of twists and surprises. Sort of a myth or fairy tale set in modern- day Norway. And it’s the work of Adam Price who also wrote Borgen, that popular Danish political drama that was on broadcast TV here a few years back.

Ragnarok is one of the best TV series I’ve seen so far this year.

Season One of Curon and Ragnarok are both streaming now on Netflix; Hammer opens today on Apple TV, Google Play and VOD.

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

Building walls. Films reviewed: The Rest of Us, The Divided Brain, Mr Jones

Posted in 1930s, Brain, Canada, Communism, documentary, Drama, Family, Feminism, Journalism, Movies, Neuroscience, Norway, Thriller, USSR, Wales, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2020

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

I’m recording this in my home to tell you about some movies you can watch in your home. This week I have two dramas directed by women and a documentary. There’s a psychiatrist looking at the divided brain, two families trying to bridge a gap; and a UK journalist who wants to penetrate the iron curtain.

The Rest of Us

Dir: Aisling Chin-Yee

Cami (Heather Graham) is a divorced mom who writes and illustrates children’s books. She lives in an elegant house with a swimming pool. Her daughter Aster (Sophie Nélisse) is home from university and hanging with a guy she met. She’s mad at her mother so she lives in an Airstream trailer parked out front. Meanwhile, another mother/daughter family live in another nice house. Rachel (Jodi Balfour) lives with her husband and young daughter Talulah (Abigail Pniowsky). What do they have in common? Rachel had an affair with Cami’s husband 10 years back, and now she’s married to him. But when he suddenly dies, the two moms – and their daughters – are brought together, against their will. Turns out the late husband hadn’t kept up with insurance and mortgage payments, leaving Rachel and Talulah homeless. So they end up moving, temporarily, into Cami and Aster’s home. An odd couple indeed. Can four women with very little in common bond together? Or will they stew in their respective juices making for an intractable situation?

The Rest of Us is a light drama about relationships and make-shift families. It’s short – less than 90 minutes – but the characters are really well done, complete with secrets, back stories and quirks. It didn’t exactly blow me away, but it I liked watching it develop — you do care about what happens to them. A nice, light family drama.

The Divided Brain

Dir: Manfred Becker

The human brain is divided in half. The left brain controls the right side of your body, and the right brain handles the left side. So if you’re right-handed that usually means the left side of your brain is dominant. Beyond that, the two sides are said to process information in different ways: The left brain, or so the theory goes, is more analytical, concerned wth facts and minutiae; while the right brain is more creative; it lets you look at the big picture. This documentary is about the theories of Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging researcher who also studied literature. He lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. He’s the author of The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009). Basically, he says we – meaning our history, civilization, educational system, society, not to mention our individual personalities – can be explained by our emphasis on the left side of the brain at the expense of the right side. And it goes on to show research and experiments on the topic as explained by various talking heads. But is it true, and has McGilchrist proven it?

Personally, I don’t buy it. I don’t even believe the basic left side/right side premise. We all use both sides of our brains, so to make it a simple A vs B, is reductionist. And then to extrapolate this theory to cover all of society, communication, and our educational system, while fascinating just isn’t believable. (I have seen the documentary but not read his book, which could explain his work in greater detail.) While the documentary mainly focuses on McGilchrist’s theories, it does include opposing views. McGilchrist is a heterodox scholar, not part of the mainstream. It also includes magnificent drone shots of cityscapes and farms to illustrate the increasing “left brain”-look of ever more geometrically divided landscapes.

Whether or not you agree with these theories, The Divided Brain does leave you with lots of food for thought.

Mr Jones

Dir: Agnieszka Holland

It’s the early 1930s in London. Gareth Jones (James Norton) is a Cambridge-educated young man from Wales. He’s multilingual and works as a foreign policy advisor to the former PM David Lloyd George. But what he really wants is to be an investigative journalist. He’s already had one big scoop: he was on the plane carrying carrying Hitler, Goebels and other top Nazis right after they came to power. Now he wants to go to Moscow to follow a source about a big story there… and maybe interview Stalin!

Easier said than done. But he does manage to get a visa and a few nights at the posh Hotel Metropol. When he gets there, he discovers his source – another journalist – has been murdered. Luckily, he is taken under the wing of a famous foreign correspondent, Walter Duranty (Peter Saarsgard). He heads the NY Times bureau – known as “our man in Moscow” – and he’s won the Pulitzer. He’s also a total sleazebucket. He takes Jones to a party, right in the middle of Moscow, complete with jazz musicians, sex workers, and party favours… like hypodermic needles, loaded with heroin, ready to shoot.

He also meets a Berlin-based journalist named Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby). She trusts Jones and tells him what he needs to know. So he gets on a train with a high-ranked party member who says he’ll show him beautiful Ukraine… but Jones manages to sneak away in the city of Stalino (now Donetsk). And what he sees is shocking. There’s a major famine going on, right in the middle of Europe’s breadbasket. All the wheat is being shipped east, leaving almost nothing for them to eat. He witnesses unspeakable horrors in what is now known as The Holodomor. But he’s arrested before he can file his story. Will Jones make it back home? Can he publish this story? And if he does, will anyone believe him?

Based on a true story, Mr Jones is a combination biopic, thriller and historical drama. It’s a bit too long, and there are a few things I don’t get: for example, the movie is framed by scenes of George Orwell typing Animal Farm, but the story’s about Gareth Jones, not George Orwell. Other than that, the acting’s good (especially James Norton), the story is compelling, and it’s beautifully shot, from the modernistic Moscow hotel to the staid, stone buildings in London. Most of all are the scenes in Ukraine where colour is dimmed to almost black and white with stark snowy landscapes.

A good but harrowing movie.

The Rest of Us is now playing on VOD; Mr Jones opens today online at Apple and Cineplex; check your local listings; and The Brain Divided is available to rent online on Vimeo.com here

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

Changing Minds. Films reviewed: iHuman, How Holocaust Came to TV, Made in Bangladesh

Posted in Bangladesh, Germany, Norway, Unions, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 5, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three films – from Norway, Germany and Bangladesh – all directed by women and currently playing at Toronto film festivals: Human Rights Watch, TJFF and Hot Docs. There’s a union organizer trying to change a Dhaka factory, a TV show that completely changed Germany, and how AI is changing the entire world.

iHuman

Dir: Tonje Hessen Schei 

You might not think about Artificial Intelligence much but it’s there in almost everything you do, from smart phones to social networking, to purchasing something online. We think of it as a passive device, something that makes things easier to use, a helpful program that nudges you in the right direction (You like this song? Listen to this one.) But we’re less aware of the massive amount of data AI collects about you and what they use it for. Search engines like google knows what you look at, buy, or ask about online. The location indicator in your cellphone uses GPS to know where you are at all times. Drone footage can see you, while facial and voice recognition figures who you are. Social networks like facebook can determine your politics, your sexual orientation, your income and your debt. But what algorythms do with this data is less obvious. They might bombard you with opinions they know will get you indignant, angry or agitated. Political parties can influence who you give money to and who you vote for, or to discouraging you from voting at all. The smarter AI gets, the more it can influence what you do.

This documentary, beautifully illustrated with panoramic overhead drone shots, looks at how governments, corporations and police use AI. Talking heads – investigative journalists and tech experts – explain how AI works and where it’s going. Like bizarre theories straight out of science fiction novels – can observing the facial expression of babies really determine which ones will commit crimes as adults? And should the police be allowed to spy on babies at all? Some people think so.

It also looks at politics – how companies like Cambridge Analytica already influence elections. For me, though, the most surprising scene is a clip of Barack Obama talking about the danger of deep fakes. Then the screen splits and pulls back and you see it’s not Obama at all, it’s someone else, whose voice and image exactly duplicates Obama’s. That’s what a deep fake actually is. iHuman is a disturbing but informative documentary about how AI is changing your life… and influencing your mind.

How Holocaust Came to TV (Wie Holocaust Ins Fernsehen kam)

Dir: Alice Agneskirchner

How can a four-episode TV mini-series transform the loutlook of an entire country and impact future generations? That’s what a new documentary is asking. In 1978 a TV series premiered on US TV called Holocaust. It was a drama about an assimilated, middle-class Jewish-German family during the Nazi era. Three generations of the Weiss family live in Berlin as they passively observe the shocking changes happening in their beloved land, the home of Goethe, Schiller and Beethoven. And over the course of four episodes the sympathetic main characters are systematically attacked, raped, and killed. Though popular among US viewers, many critics said it was too Hollywood, too much like a soap opera that trivializes such a grave and somber topic.

In any case, it did not change America. The country it did change was Germany. It was hugely controversial, generating massive amounts of mail even before it was aired. And when it was broadcast, in German, across the Bundesrepublic, it landed like a juggernaut in the heart of the entire nation. It wasn’t the first show about Germany’s dark past, but somehow it took an American drama to pull the wool from the eyes of a generation. Young people in the 1970s, born after the war, were stunned at what their own parents – their own country – had done. The whole country was glued to the TV each night, both for the show and the hours-long round table discussions that followed it. And the response it generated dominated magazines, newspapers, the movie industry, education and political life.

This was in the 70s, but its impact continued to this day, changing the national psyche. The documentary revisists the making of the show, talking to its producers, crew, and actors like Tovah Feldshuh, Michael Moriarty and Rosemary Harris. More than that, it talks with dozens of ordinary Germans whose lives were changed.

How Holocaust Came to TV while occasionally nostalgic, is always a deeply moving, incisive, and meticulously-made documentary.

Made in Bangladesh

Dir: Rubaiyat Hossain

Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu) is a 23-year-old woman in Dhaka. She’s hardworking but outspoken. She works in a clothing sweatshop alongside her best friends Daliya and Reshma (Novera Rahman and Deepanwita Martin), pushing the sewing machine pedals with their bare feet. The workers in the factory are all women, the managers all men. The T-shirts they make each day are sent abroad, bringing in huge profits to places like H&M, Walmart and Zara. But their own wages are so low, they can barely pay rent. Three T-shirts sell in Canada for what they get paid for an entire month in Bangladesh. And the company fires employees they don’t like, docks their wages, and makes them work long hours without paying overtime. But when a fire alarm goes off and the women flee for their lives they realize something’s gotta change. Shimu says it’s time to form a union. But can a poor woman convince skeptical workers, stand up to cruel bosses, and oppose corrupt officials? Or os it all in vain?

Made in Bangladesh is a fantastic drama about a young woman standing up for her rights as she tries to unionize. Shimu’s character is great – a smart, spunky self-taught woman – like Norma Rae or Erin Brockovitch – who learns her rights and won’t give up. The film is strikingly beautiful – a typical scene in the factory has everyone working on the same colour clothes at the same time, huge spools of bright green thread spinning as they sew piles of identical dresses. Shimu’s character might watch Bollywood, but this film is done in the European style, realistic but moving and inspirational. It’s about the perilous work of forming a union, but also about her home life – her husband, her friends, her neighbourhood.

I like this movie a lot.

iHuman is now streaming at Hotdocs; How “Holocaust” Came to TV is online now at TJFF, and Made in Bangladesh is opening across Canada including digitally at Human Rights Watch 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.

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 .

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