Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
April 19th is National Canadian Film Day, which bills itself as the world’s largest film festival. On that day — at theatres around Toronto, and across the country – you can see free screenings of Canadian movies, often with actors or directors in attendance. Comedies, kids’ movies, French, indigenous… and they’re all free. Check it out.
This week I’m looking at movies about unusual relationships. There’s a disabled woman who moves in with a recluse, a ghost who inhabits a young girl, and a teenage boy and girl who inhabit each other’s bodies.
Dir: Emilie Lindblom
Elvira (Wilma Lundgrun) is a 12-year-old Danish girl heading to camp for the first time. Camp Bjorkuddens is a lot like a Canadian summer camp: it’s on a lake, they play games, roast weenies on sticks and tell scary stories by the campfire. The big difference is instead of tents or small, bare cabins they stay in a huge, elaborate building filled with dusty antiques. Elvira has two roommates, the blond and snobbish Meja (Ella Fogelström) and the darker, shy Bea (Elena Hovsepyan). And due to a plumbing problem they move to room 213, empty for many years.
That’s when weird things start to happen. The door creaks open in the middle of the night, and treasured items disappear (and the three girls suspect one another). A girl with red hair and bright green eyes named Mebel appears — is she a ghost? And when Elvira’s brown eyes start turning green, is it Mebel taking over?
Room 213 is a scary movie aimed at small children. It’s tame even by YTV standards — no violence at all, no slashers in hockey masks, just general spookiness. And it deals with problems like exclusion, bullying and young love in a multi-ethnic Denmark. But this is definitely a movie for little kids only.
Your Name (君の名は)
Dir: Makoto Shinkai
Taki is a high schooler in central Tokyo. He’s scrawny but quick to fight. He hangs out with his two best friends and has a crush on his sophisticated, female boss at his part-time restaurant job. Mitsuha is a teenaged girl in a remote Japanese village, known for its obscure shinto shrine and little else. She lives with her little sister Yotsuha and her traditional grandmother who knows about the old ways. Things like weaving colourful lanyards, and chewing up glutinous rice, spitting it back into a wooden box so it ferments into sake. Yum! And there’s a celestial comet that passes close to the town every 200 years (that day is approaching soon.)
Taki and Mitsuha are total strangers who live far away from each other. So what’s their connection? Some mornings, Taki is waking up with breasts, and Mitsuha with a penis. Well not exactly; they’re actually waking up inside each other’s bodies. They have to live those days at school, at work and with friends they’ve never met before. It’s not all bad. Mitsuha lands Taki a date with his boss, and Taki gains some insight into shinto rituals. He becomes more mature and she is more assertive. The two manage to communicate with each other using cryptic scrawls they leave in notebooks and diaries recorded on cel phones so they can know what happened during their switch-body days. Until something changes. The body switches suddeny stop and all the notes they left each other fade away. For Taki it’s as if Mitsuha never existed and it was all a dream. But it was real. He can’t remember her name, but he knows it all happened. Using a sketch of her town he drew from memory, he sets out to find her.
Your Name is deeply-moving romantic drama with a touch of the supernatural. It’s a beautifully- drawn, animated film from Japan with neat camera angles and lovely art. It’s also a record-breaking smash hit across East Asia that has finally reached these shores. It’s the only movie playing now to sell-out crowds, with huge lineups inside the theatre before each screening. And I understand why. No spoilers, but there’s a wrenching revelation in the middle that sent shivers down my spine, the sign of a really good story. Anime is a particular genre, and if you’re not familiar with it it might be hard to understand, but if you like anime, this one is a must-see.
Dir: Aisling Walsh
Maud (Sally Hawkins) is a disabled woman who lives in post-war Digby, Nova Scotia with her controlling aunt. Every moment of her life is supervised and she’s treated like a simple-minded child. But on a visit to a local shop she finds a way to escape: a hand-written ad for a live in housekeeper. Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) wrote the note, though his house is barely a home. He lives in a rundown shack on a small plot of land, earning a meagre living as a fish monger. He’s unmarried, mainly because no woman can put up with his rudeness.
But Maudie can. After dogged persistence, she moves in with him and immediately starts to work. He is peculiar and abusive, but she sticks with it. In her free time she begins to decorate the walls with small paintings of flowers and animals. When her hand-painted postcards sell out at the local general store, she moves on to bigger paintings, selling them for $5 apiece. These catch the eye of a rich woman from N.Y. City who spreads the primitivist paintings among her friends back home. Meanwhile, Maud’s relationship with Everett gradually shifts from boss/servant to bedmate to wife. But can a reclusive misanthrope handle living with a recognized artist and local celebrity?
Maudie is the true story of a self-taught painter whose works now hang in famous galleries and in the homes of collectors. It’s also an unusual romance about a pair of social outcasts hammering out an unusual relationship on their own. Sally Hawkins is outstanding as Maudie – you really believe she is who she is playing. Hawke, though capable in his portrayal of such an unsympathetic character, pales in comparison to his co-star. This is a good — though very dark — movie.
Your Name is now playing and Maudie opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Room 213 is one of many films showing at the TIFF Kids Festival – go to tiff.net for details. And canadianfilmday.ca will tell you where to see free films on April 19th.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com
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.
It’s Movember… time to grow those mustaches, ladies! And keep your eyes open to all the film festivals opening in Toronto this month. Look for: Reel Asian, Rendezvous with Madness, Ekran, Planet in Focus, and the EU Film Festival and Regent Park Film Fest – the last two of which are completely free!
This week I’m looking at three movies about people facing impossible odds. There’s a space drama about small children trying to save the universe; a biopic about a Texan trying to survive the HIV virus; and a Canadian drama about a lifeboat full of fisherman trying to find their way back home.
Dir: Gavin Hood
It’s the future. Ant-like aliens have attacked the planet. Little Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a smart but bullied school kid. Like his classmates, he has a metal knob attached to his head so the military can read his mind. But when he fights back against a much bigger kid, he’s suddenly pulled from school. Is he in trouble? No, he’s been chosen to join an elite military academy in outer space.
Ender is a smart kid. They choose him both for his analytical thoughts and assertive nature, but also for his compassion. Two military brass (Harrison Ford as hawkish warmonger Colonel Graff and Viola Davis as a compassionate psychologist Major Anderson) are closely studying him. They use Ender as a test case for the perfect soldier, possibly the one who can beat the ant-people in their endless war. Only children, they believe, can absorb and apply complicated digital info fast enough to beat the bad guys. Ender is the perfect leader. He follows orders but also questions authority if things aren’t going right.
He makes friends – Bean, Alai and Petra () – with his fellow child-soldiers at the academy as they train for various battle simulations. These games are like 3-D computer simulations, except they fight physically, in immense arenas without gravity. They learn new strategies, play new games, fight new battles and form new teams. And Ender is always there, taking it all in and devising new battle plans.
But he also pines for his family back on earth: his genius parents, his sadistic older brother Peter, and his loving sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Just like the two military officers, the brother and sister are fighting to influence Ender toward cruelty or compassion. Which one influenced him the most?
This movie is based on the popular cold-war science fiction novel. It’s pretty close to the original. I’ve read the book, so it was really fun to actually see it on the big screen. And it handles the good vs bad and all its permutations well – Peter vs Valentine, Col Graff vs Maj Anderson, Earthlings vs Formic beings. Asa Butterfield is good, though a bit wooden or robot like, but that suits the role. It’s a enjoyable sci-fi pic, with an unexpected ending. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still smarter than most. It’s also darker than a Star Wars or a Star Trek, and it’s not a straightforward, “feel-good” superhero movie.
Dir Jean-Marc Vallee
It’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas. Ron’s a rootin’-tootin’ redneck in a cowboy hat. He’s an electrician at the oil fields, and in his spare time he picks up girls, snorts coke, guzzles alcohol straight from the mickey, and goes to strip bars. His hobby? The rodeo: he likes to ride bulls (not bareback, I hope.)
Anyway, Ron (Matthew McConaughey) also prone to fainting and hallucinating, and he’s looking rather thin these days. He’s clearly illing. While he’s in hospital, he meets Rayon (Jared Leto) a trans woman in the next bed. It’s hate at first sight. Homophobic Ron calls her pansy, buttercup, tinkerbell – and that’s when he’s being nice. And she wants nothing to do with him.
When they test Ron’s blood, turns out he’s HIV-positive, his T-cell count is down to eight, and he has 30 days left to live. The FDA refuses to release experimental drugs, even though AIDS patients are dropping like flies. They’re testing AZT at that very hospital, but only as double blind tests, with placebos for half the patients, and lethally high AZT doses for the rest.
Basically, Ron’s dead.
Then an orderly tells him about a doc, down Mexico way, who can get him what he needs. Sure ‘nuff. He doesn’t die. So he starts smuggling the meds, the vitamins and dietary supplements across the border. And Rayon becomes his business partner. The two of them setting up a quasi-legal centre – that’s the Dallas Buyers Club of the title — where members can get access to treatment the mainstream medical profession is denying them. With the help of a sympathetic doctor (Jennifer Garner channelling Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich) they just might beat the system ( the FDA, the hospitals, Big Pharma) that’s trying to shut them down. But can they fight their own illnesses, too?
This biopic works well as a drama. It’s moving, good story, good acting. This is Quebec director Jean Marc Vallee’s first English language film, and he totally pulls it off. (C.R.A.Z.Y. was a huge hit in Canada a few years ago.) Matt McConaughey lost tons of weight for his role, and Jared Leto dressed as a woman (although it’s unclear whether he’s playing an extremely effeminate, cross-dressing gay man, or a transsexual) Maybe I’m totally cynical, but I just get the nagging suspicion that they’re out there performing “big” mainly so they can win some Oscars. In any case, they are good and convincing in their roles, as is Steve Zahn as Ron’s buddy a local cop. All in all, a moving and interesting biopic.
Dir: Shandi Mitchell
Ever been to sea, Billy?
No, Captain Highliner…
Well, these guys sure have. There are six of them drifting around in a lifeboat in the Atlantic, somewhere off Nova Scotia. There’s the Skipper (Brian Downie) a god-fearing type, and then there are the various sailors, played by Billy Campbell, Ryan Doucette, and others. The mean sailor, the young sailor, the experienced sailor, the bearded sailor, the other bearded sailor… And you can tell their names because they do a role call every morning to see if they’re all still there. (Mannie here, Pete here, Merv here…)
When they’re not rowing the boats (Heave! Ho!) to somewhere, they’re singing ribald sea shanties, eating their rations, whittling wood, drinking rum… you know, behaving like fishermen do. Will they spot land? Or will they get rescued? Or will they be like the Flying Dutchman, forever floating on the seven seas?
Have you noticed there are a lot of movies about Men in Boats recently? Book of Pi, Kon Tiki, All is Lost, Captain Phillips, La Pirogue… Well, this is another one. Some of these are great adventures; this one’s more of a character study. I get the impression that the sailors in The Disappeared are all waiting for some ship called the SS Godot to arrive, but in the meantime they’ll sing a few more sea shanties and call it a day.
The Disappeared, Ender’s Game and Dallas Buyers Club all open today in Toronto (check your local listings). Also opening is the so-called comedy Last Vegas, a real groaner about four retired guys (starring great actors like Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline) meeting up in Las Vegas for a final, wild bachelor party before Michael Douglas marries a beautiful young woman. She’s not that young… she’s 35! Douglas says. I have a hemorrhoid older than 35, says the Kevin Kline character. Ugh. Nuff said about this tired, unfunny geriatric version of The Hangover.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com