Women on the move. Films reviewed: Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Light of My Life, The Kitchen

Posted in 1970s, comedy, Crime, Drama, L.A., New York City, Peru, post-apocalypse, psychedelia, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 9, 2019

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

Who says exciting movies are always about men? This week, I’m looking at three movies about girls and women facing danger in unusual places. There’s a pre-teen girl surviving post-apocalyptic America; a teenager exploring the jungles of Peru; and a gang of middle-aged housewives fighting back in Hell’s Kitchen.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Dir: James Bobin

Dora (Isabela Moner) is a smart and friendly 16 year old girl. She was brought up by her academic parents (Eva Langoria, Michael Peña) in the jungles of Peru, where she made friends with all the animals – especially Boots, a monkey. Now her parents want to discover the legendary ruins of Parapata, an Incan city of gold – not as treasure hunters, but as explorers. But it could be dangerous. So they send her to stay with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in far off LA. But life at Silverlake High is not what she expected. Despite her relentless positivity, students tease her for her childlike un-coolness.

Diego finds her embarrassing. Student president Sammy (Madeleine Madden) scorns her as a rival. Only astronomy nerd Randy (Nicholas Coombe) likes her. But when she is kidnapped and flown back to Peru, along with Randy, Sammy and Diego. it’s up to Dora to escape the bad guys – including mercenary treasure hunters and a masked fox named Swiper – rescue her friends, and find the Incan ruins of Parapata.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a very cute take on the popular educational kids show. It’s simultaneously a tongue-in-cheek satire of the original cartoon, and a deadpan recreation of it. Boots and Swiper are there in CGI, but there’s no talking backpack. It’s primarily for kids, but there’s lots of laughs for grownups – like a psychedelic drug scene and a bit of romance. There’s even a song about how to dig a hole to bury your poop when camping in the woods. I saw it with a 50%-toddler audience who loved it. I liked it, too.

Light of My Life

Dir: Casey Affleck

Rag (Anna Pniowsky) is a tough, outdoorsy girl going camping with her dad (Casey Affleck). She’s a preteen with short hair dressed in boyish clothes. He tells her bible stories to put her to sleep. Thing is, they’re not camping for fun. A terrible plague wiped away half the world’s population – the female half – right when she was born. So rag, short for raggedy ann, grew up in an all-male world. leaving only men and some boys. Her dad is terrified about what might happen to her – men can’t be trusted. So they live in a perpetual state of seclusion and escape. He never sleeps. He teaches her how to spell – she reads voraciously – and about the birds and the bees.

They find an empty house and move in, but Dad is terrified when she tries on girls clothes. But when they find an isolated house populated only by bible-thumping grandpas, he thinks they might finally live a normal life. Can the one of the last girls on earth lead a normal life? And will her dad ever relax?

Light of My Life is a low-budget drama about the love between a father and a daughter in extreme circumstances. It’s filled with long scenes of flashlight-lit dialogue in lush, moss-filled forests, punched with occasional bursts of fear and violence. Anna Pniowsky is fantastic as Rag, and Affleck is good as her conflicted father.

I just wonder… what is the point of this movie? That girls in an all-male world will still gravitate to their own gender expression? That guns, bible, and the family are the only things we can trust? This is a zombie movie without zombies, and not nearly as good as Leave No Trace (about a dad and daughter living off the grid). This movie is not bad, just not that great or original.

The Kitchen

Dir: Andrea Berloff

It’s 1978 on a hot summer’s night in Hell’s Kitchen. Claire, Cathy and Ruby are three working class women waiting to hear from their husbands, gangsters with the Irish mob. Cathy (Mellissa McCarthy) is happily married with two young kids. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), originally from Harlem, is an outsider who doesn’t get along with her matriarchical mother-in-law (Margo Martindale). And Claire (Elisabeth Moss) is just a punching bag for her abusive husband. But when their husbands get jailed by the Feds, they find themselves with no money, no income and few prospects for work. So they decide to take over their husbands’ jobs.

Though untrained, they seem to have a knack for collecting protection payments from local stores. And when they fight off rivals within their husbands’ gang, they become “queenpins” of the neighbourhood. Cathy does the talking, Ruby collects the bucks, and Claire finds new strength in doing “the messy stuff” – shooting, killing, and getting rid of dead bodies. She’s tutored in these skills by Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), a ginger-haired hitman with a history. Their business expands northward and southward, with graft, extortion and prostitution. But can they handle the disloyal members of their gang, powerful Mafia dons from Brooklyn, and FBI agents on their tail? And what will happen when their husbands get out of jail?

The Kitchen is a brilliant new twist on the classic gangster movie, with three women rising up in a dog-eat-dog world. Based on a comic, it’s full of love, compassion, violence and intrigue. McCarthy and Haddish are comic actors but convincing in their serious roles, and Moss and Gleeson are even better.There are some missteps. Could working-class financially-strapped women in the late 1970s have no experience working? And some bizarre references to Gloria Steinem and “feminism” seem totally out of line. (There’s no feminist solidarity here; these are three criminals clawing their way to the top.) And the ending is lacklustre. But altogether this is a beautifully shot, fast-moving story that’s fun to watch. The Kitchen is a great crime drama, with women in the lead.

The Kitchen, Light of My Life, and Dora and the Lost City of Gold 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.

Multiple stories. Films reviewed: The Debt, Wiener-Dog

Posted in Animals, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Morality, Peru, Resistance, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 8, 2016

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

Although every movie is different, most tell a single story. But there are exceptions. This week I’m looking at two new movies that tell a whole bunch of stories, stories that are somehow tied. There’s a dark comedy with a dog-related plot, and a drama related to a plot of land.

thedebtThe Debt

Dir: Barney Elliot

This movie is made up of three or four linked stories all set in Peru.

Oliver (Stephen Dorff) is a successful financier who works for a multinational bank. He specializes in vulture funds with debt bonds from distressed economies. His current goal? To corner the market in Peruvian real estate debt. He works with his idealistic Peruvian friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) to snap up debt at deep discount. But will Ricardo agree to business that might hurt his country?

Maria (Elsa Olivero) is a nurse at a Lima hospital. She’s trying to arrange an 13497864_592914470881753_5287121575246588419_ooperation for her mother who suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get surgery scheduled for her mom. Will she have to resort to illegal methods?

Meanwhile in a remote mountainous area, a slick real estate developer named Caravedo (Carlos Bardem) is promising the sky to gullible farmers. Health clinics, electricity, telephones… They are quick to sell, except one die-hard farmer named Florentino (Amiel Cayo). He is angry and will never give in.

13433132_592914790881721_5890480114800983280_oAnd on Florentino’s farm, his son, Diego (Marco Antonio Ramírez) is fascinated by the helicopters he sees. They carry wealthy investors from far away. But they also wreak havoc with his llamas, whom he depends on..

The Debt is a complex story, that brings the diverse plot together by the end. It’s done in the style of movies like Paul Haggis’s Crash – lots of interrelated characters who interact in unexpected ways. It deals with big issues – multinational economies, farmers driven from their land – but in a rather ponderous way. Lots of guilt, responsibility, betrayal, selfishness – things like that. Not my favourite type of movie, but it held my interest and I liked all the Peruvian actors.

88e6a62f-e132-4aed-af9b-694ce3559c7bWiener-Dog

Wri/Dir: Todd Solondz

This movie also has four stories, but told in a linea way, and only peripherally connected. They are all set present day New York City and the suburbs and towns around it.

Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is a young boy recovering from chemotherapy. He’s a survivor. His rich but uptight parents (Tracy Letts and Julie WD-7-20-15-125.CR2Delpy) They buy him a short haired dachshund at a puppy mill. But they don’t realize it will open a whole lot of hard-to answer questions. Like do dogs have feelings? What happens if they get sick? Why should she get spayed. — what if she wants to have kids? His mother is forced to concoct more and more outlandish stories to answer the boy’s questions.

In the second story the depressed and friendless Dawn WD-6-19-15-111.CR2Wiener (Greta Gerwig) meets her old teenage crush, the bully Brandon (Kieren Culkin). Brandon is passing through town and sees the girl he used to call Wiener Dog with her very own Wiener dog. On a whim, she agrees to join him on a mysterious road trip to Ohio. What’s in Ohio? She asks. Crystal meth. On the way they meet a band of mariachi hitchhikers and Brandon’s Down syndrome brother.

WD-7-6-15-88.CR2The third story is about Schmertz (Danny Devito) an over-the-hill scriptwriter with only a wiener dog to keep him company. He is forced to teach self-centred rich kids at a Manhattan film school. His students all write plotless scripts based on their gender-studies relevance not their stories. Where’s the What If? He always asks them. “You gotta have a what if.” But if he doesn’t come up with a what if for his life, he risks being fired.

In the final story, we see an angry depressed grandmother WD-7-8-15-144.CR2(Ellen Burstyne), cared for by another old woman. They never speak, except the occasional requests: Yvette — Kaopectate! Her new pet — wiener-dog of course – she names Cancer. It just seems appropriate. But she has to to come to terms with her own past and precarious future when a visiting granddaughter drops by.

I love Todd Solondz’s movies, even the ones that don’t quite work. They’re all fascinating, funny and deeply depressing. HeWD-6-19-15-589.CR2 creates complex, reflexive stories often with repeated plotlines. The Wiener Family has also appeared in his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse as well as Palindoromes, so if you follow his movies, it’s gratifying to see what happens to those characters. I love his painfully sad comedies, including this one. The acting is fantastic, especially Ellen Burstyn.

Wiener-dog is great.

The Debt and Wiener-dog 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

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