Stars as Commodities. Film Reviewed: The Congress PLUS TIFF14 Whiplash, Mommy, Heartbeat

Posted in Animation, Canada, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mental Illness, Movies, Pop Art, Quebec, Queer, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 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.

Are movies and movie stars and their images commodities? Things that can be bought sold and traded, just like stocks and bond, like bitcoins and pork belly futures? In some ways, they are. International film festivals — like TIFF, which opens in Toronto in less than a week — are partly there to put films on the market. This week I’m going to talk about an unusual new film about movie stars as commodities, and, first, three must-see films coming to TIFF.

One movie that jumped out at me and slapped me in the face is

282f0eaa028d2851cd1689724e8a76deWhiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old drummer just starting at a prestigious music conservatory who is spotted by Fletcher a music teacher (JK Simmonds). He’s allowed to audition for their award- winning jazz band, and feels everything is turning out great. But he soon discovers that Fletcher is a cruel and twisted perfectionist, who brings his players up to the top, and then has them crash down into the dirt again. He treats them worse than the toughest marine sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Don’t want to say Oscar bells are already ringing, but… Whiplash definitely deserves one.

434c654375241fb0e9419d0e7af58f03Mommy

(Dir) Xavier Dolan

Another great movie is Quebecois director Xavier Dolan’s latest, Mommy. It’s a reworking of his first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, but takes it to a new level. Steve-o (Antoine Olivier-Pilon) is a working-class, foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He’s kicked out of boarding school and sent home to his single mom Diane (Anne Dorval) who is as gutter-friendly, violent and sexually charged as her boy. It’s up to Kyla, the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher next door, to try to fix things and keep Steve from being locked up. Dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors, Mommy is not to be missed.

Also catch a gentle, quirky, musical story called

ad8a5b8174106f7e916e8a3c98a356afHeartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. Her best friend is in babyland, her artist-boyfriend-with-benefits Ben has dumped her, and she dresses in her late grandma’s wardrobe. But when she starts jamming with Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) she met in a music store window, things begin tot look up. Justine starts to Esty-fy her wardrobe and arts-and-crafts her love life. Heartbeat starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Look out for Heartbeat, Whiplash and Mommy at TIFF.
Robin Wright Congress Affiche
The Congress
Dir: Ari Forman

Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an over-the-hill movie star who just ekes out a living. She lives beside desert airport with her jaded hollywood daughter Sarah and her innocent but ill son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McFee). She needs money to keep him safe. One day her agent (Harveyt Keitel) makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

A studio wants to buy her name, face, image, voice… basically everything, to turn her back  into a superstar. And theyre giving her a huge contract and a starring role in countless big budget action movies. The catch? She’s not allowed to act or appear in public ever again. Huh?

You see, they want to scan her to make a CGI image that will take her place in all 1233023_407824875984836_624904373_ofuture roles. A star who never ages, never gets into scandals, and never has tantrums on-set. It’s all digital.

Will she do it? 20 years in the future, they up the ante.

They invite her to give a speech at a mysterious Congress, where she — like everyone else — exists only as an animated image of herself. Sort of a Second Life only more so. With the help of Dylan (Jon Hamm), a handsome cartoon character 1048616_380428355391155_743806434_owho created her image himself, she tries to escape from this strange psychedelic cartoon version of her world, and maybe save her now-adult son.

This is a super-bizarre movie, filled with glorious animation modeled on Max Fleischer-type characters from the 1920s and 30s mixed with 1960s psychedelia. At parts I’m totally into it, but other parts have dismally awful lines. Its flawed, not perfect, but worth seeing if your into mind-stretching and super-weird fantasy epics.

The Congress opens today, check your local listings, and Heartbeat, Mommy, and Whiplash are all playing at TIFF which starts up next Thursday. Details at tiff.net.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Eric San (Kid Koala) about Nufonia Must Fall premiering at Luminato in June.

Posted in Animation, Canada, Comics, Cultural Mining, Live Movies, Movies, Pop Art, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 2014

KidKoala_1 Photo Corinne MerrellHi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 fm.

When you’re shaped like a tin can with headphones I see possible troubles. And if you’re in love with a girl who doesn’t have time for silly love songs,Nufonia Image 4 KK what’s a cartoon robot to do? The answers lie in a new performance that combines comics, projected film images, puppets and music — both live and recorded.

It’s called Nufonia Must Fall, based on the graphic novel of the same name. It was created Nufonia Image 5 KKby Canadian DJ, musician and cartoonist Kid Koala. It’s having its world premier at Toronto’s Luminato festival in June. I spoke to Kid Koala, a.k.a. Erik San, by telephone in Banff Alberta, about Nufonia (its music, design, genesis, inspiration, and technique), nostalgia, K.K. Barrett, found art, Mellotrons, robots, vinyl, “live movies”, imperfection, high tech vs low-tech… and more.

July 8, 2011. Films Without Superheroes. Movies Reviewed: The Tree of Life, Blank City PLUS Shinsedai, Toronto After Dark, HotDocs

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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

Some people wonder, aren’t there any movies that aren’t about cartoon characters, superheroes, guns or toys? What are adults supposed to watch in the summertime? Well, don’t worry, there are films out there for everyone’s taste. This week, I’m looking at two examples of films that exist outside, or alongside, the summer blockbusters. One is an unconventional movie that some people like and some people hate; and another is an up-coming documentary about the no-wave film movement in the post-punk era of downtown New York City  in the 80’s.

But first… some news about the movie scene in Toronto.

Art films are great, but genre films are fun too. And there’s a small but amazingly entertaining film festival in the fall that shows genre movies: Horror, Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Animation, Crime, Action, Thriller, Suspense, Cult, and Bizarre. Well, if you are (or know of) a filmmaker who has made a genre film — the kinds of moviesI just mentioned – The Toronto After Dark film festival is open for submissions, worldwide. But better send it fast: the deadline is July 22. For more information go to torontoafterdark.com

Also, the venerable Bloor Cinema, that great reparatory cinema at Bathurst and Bloor st. is about to undergo a big change. You may have noticed that it’s not showing movies right now. They’re doing much-needed renovations, but that’s not all: when it re-opens in the fall, it looks like it’s going to be the headquarters of HotDocs – the documentary film festival. Does that means we’re going to have a nice, downtown movie theatre that only shows documentary movies, all year round? We shall see… but it does mean the Bloor Cinema isn’t disappearing – it’s just taking a short rest.

And coming up later this month is the Shinsedai Film Festival, a chance to see a wide range of contemporary movies coming out of Japan, and too meet some of the filmmakers who will be speaking at the screenings. It’s at the JCCC – the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, up near Don Mills and Eglinton from the 21st to the 24th. For more information go to jccc.on.ca .

Now some reviews.

First, the movie I said some people like and some people hate:

The Tree of Life

Dir: Terrance Mallick

(SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to talk about the entire movie. But I don’t think this is a movie that can be spoiled by understanding what it’s about.)

This is a movie about an American family – a mother, a father, and three sons – back in the late 1950’s. They live in a wooden house in Waco, Texas. The father (Brad Pitt), an inventor, is having trouble getting ahead. He sees the world as cruel, rough, and competitive, and wants to make his sons into tough fighters who survive against all odds. The mother (Jessica Chastain) is deeply religious, a spiritual, charitable and nurturing protector. And the eldest son, Jack, (Hunter McCracken) takes it all in, but since he’s a kid, it all gets messed up in his head. He decides his father hates him and wants him dead, while he’s sexually excited by his beautiful mother – with all the guilt and shame that entails. Oedipus, anyone?

At the very beginning of the movie, we discover that one of the three sons has died. So the rest of the film shows us the memories, whispered thoughts and fantasies of all the other characters thinking back from the present to earlier times.

The story seems mainly to be told through Jack’s eyes, but the voices and thoughts of other characters weave in and out, too. When he wants to remember his now dead brother — whose faintly glowing soul appears at the start of every section of the movie — he thinks back to the very beginning – I mean the very, very beginning. At this point, the movie goes off on an unusual, but pleasant detour, back to the creation of the earth, with volcanoes, lava, ice, and water everywhere. Spiro gyra swim in the primordial ooze, and gradually cells separate, merge and evolve. It looks like an old NFB or Birth-Of-An-Island clip, or a grade 8 film strip. Only so much better.

All to the sounds of Smetana and Mahler. Water crashes down over cliffs, and cute, fuzzy dinosaurs appear until they’re all wiped out by an asteroid. And then a baby – one of the brothers — is born.

Aside from that — and a mega-FAIL yucky beach montage toward the end — the movie is mainly about a few years in the young family’s life as the kids grow up alongside a sapling in their yard – the tree of life – that turns into a huge, twisted and towering tree by the end. The very long memory scenes are book-ended by the eldest son looking back from the present day.

Is it a good movie? I thought it was great! But it’s an art film drama – don’t go if you’re looking for a mainstream conventional Brad Pitt love story. There’s not much dialogue, and the storytelling is a bit more subtle than formulaic dramas. But it’s not a low-budget run-off either; it’s a sumptuous, beautiful, and moving story of the confused memories of one boy’s childhood in Texas.

A totally different type of movie, but also experimental is a documentary about the indie movie scene in NY City in the late seventies and early eighties.

Blank City

Dir: Celine Danhier

Before the real estate explosion, manhattan was a gritty, edgy place filled with crumbling tenements, lurking muggers, and random shootings.

Artists, writers and musicians fled from small towns and suburbs across the country to live in a more dangerous, more exciting world. They shared a feeling of nihilism, living as if the world was about to be obliterated by late-cold

-war atomic bombs blowing up across the planet. Large parts of the Lower East Side and Alphabet city were completely uninhabitable and bombed out, with broken windows, and missing doors. Nina, a Yugoslavian woman I used to know, lived on 3rd and B, and you had to walk over a giant piece of wood nailed halfway across the door of her closet-like apartment even to get inside. She was squatting there since no one anted to go near those buildings anyway.

Now, of course, Manhattan is a giant shopping mall, with Times Square – formerly the place for runaways, hustlers, porn, prostitutes, pot dealers, and petty crime – now features tourist traps like the Disney princess store, and the M&Ms gift shop.

Against the post-apocalyptic look of Dangerous Manhattan arose the No Wave movement, where filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Lizzie Borden, Susan Seidelman, and Richard Kern used their super-8 black and white cameras to create transgressive, sexually explicit, short films. Part of the coolness was to be poor, on the edge, anti-corporate, shocking, and completely divorced from conventional life. In order to appear as the absolute antithesis of slick and plastic hollywood movies, they went the opposite direction with unrehearsed, raw (if stilted) dialogue, rough editing, and scratchy sound. John Lurie says he had to hide his skill as a trained musician – you had to be unskilled and amateur to be accepted as “real”.

A doctrine, known as the Cinema of Transgression, served as their guide to subvert… well, everything. The movies themselves were just as likely end up being shown at a punk club as in a movie theatre.

This documentary, Blank City, is a visual explosion of countless short clips of those films, alternated with present day interviews with some of the actors, musicians, artists and filmmakers of the period.

So you see Debbie Harry popping up almost everywhere, people dressed like RAF terrorists blowing up buildings, and lots of weird, semi-out-of-focus sex and violence. All with punk, new wave, early hip-hop and experimental music. This is a great movie that captures that short, explosive period of wide-open but underground filmmaking in the 80’s.

Tree of Life is now playing, and Blank City starts next Friday, July 15 at the Royal: check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, CulturalMining.com.  

June 17, 2011. Indie Enough for You? Movies reviewed: Hip Hop Mom, Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard, 6 Ft Hick , You Can’t Sing it for Them, Below New York, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Posted in Australia, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Hawaii, Movies, Music, NXNE, Pop Art, Spirituality, tattoos, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 2011

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

You may have noticed the sudden influx of caterpillar mustaches and black T-shirts on guys, women with pig tails, or Betty Page hairdos and half-sleeve tattoos; a net increase in the per capita level of skinny jeans and Raybans; or the preponderance of Mohawks, no-hawks, and even a few faux-hocks…

You may have felt a change in the air and wondered what was exactly going on – is it a detox convention? A hairstyle and denim expo? The answer is, no, none of the above. It’s NXNE, the huge indie music and film festival that’s going on all over downtown Toronto right now.

That’s right, music and film – aside from the huge number of great groups, there are movies – mainly documentaries about music, musicians, subcultures, genres, and peripheral topics – that are playing alongside a lot of the musical sets, and they are worth checking out. If you buy a bracelet that lets you wander in and out of clubs for a day, I suggest you try a detour to some of the movies. So here are a few of the movies playing at NXNE.

Hip Hop Mom

Dir: Mina Shum

In this short, funny film, a mother who’s trying to calm her baby over her cel while she’s driving her car gets in a bit of a parking tussle with another mom. She jumps out of her car, her posse in brightly coloured sweatsuits appears out of nowhere, and they start a parking lot soccer mom showdown.

In another short movie,

Notes from the Kuerti Keyboard

Dir by David Eng and Katarina Soukup

the composer plays a concerto on both an old Underwood manual typewriter and on a piano, where music and words combine to make visible pithy comments on the notes the piano produces.

6 Ft Hick

Dir:Marty Moynihan

…is a feature length documentary that follows this Aussie garage punk band on a tour of Europe. What’s remarkable about the group are the two main musicians — Geoff and Ben, brothers who were brought up on a rural chicken farm — who violently break glass, pull their underwear elastics up to their shoulders, throw themselves at spectators, and often end up making out with each other on stage. And to think it used to be enough just to smash a few guitars into a speaker…

You Can’t Sing it for Them

Dir: Jacqueline Richard & Margot Fassler

…is a fascinating, almost academic, documentary both about the history of traditional African-American music — including spirituals, gospel, and other contemporary forms as sung by choirs in black churches — and a new choir director Jonathon Berryman who arrives at the venerable Messiah Baptist Church in Connecticut to save its choir.

The movie discusses the fading away of the traditional black church choir and how he attempts to pull it back together. While churches traditionally would follow their own liturgy and the songs associated with their particular denomination, Berryman, a trained musicilogist, tries to gather a whole variety of songs and styles, before they all, like many traditional cultures, just disappear. He does all this while a famous, elderly church member doles out her criticism. Although mainly about music and the people at this particular church, the movie also touches upon crucial historical aspects from slavery, to the civil rights movement and beyond. A few of the scenes with interviews and footage of rehearsals are a bit to languorous for my taste, but these are alternated with amazing short clips like a line of red robed children doing this unbelievable jumping and turning entrance to the church – like nothing Ive ever seen before. In general, the performances plus the story, make this is a fascinating and excellently researched story.

Below New York

Dir: Matt Finlin

Below New York is a neat, B&W short documentary showing the buskers and performers who operate in the stations and inside the subway cars of NY City. Do wop a capella singers, a blues guitarists and harmonica player, and a team of busker acrobatic dancers show how they do their short performances in the amount of time it takes a car to pull into a station and end it.

There are few other movies which I haven’t seen but which look good. I spoke with director Noel Lawrence about his new film JX Williams’ Cabinet of Curiosities about a seminal director who turned to the LA punk movement in the 70’s. He compared his work to Kenneth Anger’s satanic topics, and that alone should make it worth seeing. I’m looking forward to this one.

And Ivory Tower, Directed by Adam Traynor – not sure what it is, exactly, but it’s got the Toronto/Berlin axis of Peaches, Feist, Chillie Gonzales and German Hiphop group the Puppetmasters, so it could be really surprising – and I love surprises.

Finally, I caught a movie called:

Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: the Life of Norman K. Collins

Dir: Erich Weiss

This is a movie about the current explosion of tattoo art, and where it came from. It does this by focusing on one guy, Norman Collins, a strange, irreverent, right-wing tattoo master who incorporated Japanese motifs and techniques (traditionally worn only by members of the Yakuza in Japan) into the more standard America styles.

Tattoos have the image of being louche, skid, skeezy, underground, transient, rebellious, and vaguely illegal. Parlours were located on the wrong side of the tracks, in ports like San Francisco, Shanghai, Yokohama, Bora-bora. Often they shared their quarters with brothels, VD clinics, fortune tellers, or abortionists. Far from the mainstream, part of what gives them their current appeal.

In WWII, a million sailors and marines passed through Hawaii, and it became a rite of passage to visit Hotel Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown where men got drunk gambled, lost their virginity and inscribed the event it on the arms. This was and is a red-light district, and where Sailor Jerry set up shop. He drilled countless anchors, Hula dancers, geisha girls, sad sack sailors, broken hearts, grinning chimps, Chinese characters, palm trees, bald eagles, and mermaids onn men’s bodies.

Although it slips occasionally into what looks like a promotion for Ed Hardy, this is a fun movie, where most of the tattooers they interviewed look like retired Hells Angels, especially one old salt from Phillie. Everytime this foul mouthed codger comes on the screen with this woman in a strange black wig seated beside him, the whole audience cracks up even before he talks.

The guy is Popeye incarnate.

I really liked this movie, but unfortunately, I saw it under the influence, so my judgement could be flawed. There was a pre-screening party promotion for a spiced rum named after the tattoo artist, so the cola-rum-and-stout mixtures were flowing fast and furious. I guzzled a few of those, and there must have been something special about them, because I woke up the next morning in a dark alley with a splitting headache and the words dude and sweet tattooed across my back.

The films I reviewed are all playing at NXNE, which runs through the weekend. Pick up a free program, buy a bracelet, or just catch some of the free shows at Dundas square and free movies at the Hyatt Regency screening room. Look on line at NXNE.com .

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining dot com.

Hallowe’en Special! Movies reviewed: My Soul to Take, Hereafter, The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest, LA Zombie, Cold Fish

Toronto is a scary place – and I don’t just mean the city elections this week. Our new mayor is… Biff Tannen! And I saw a couple hundred zombies marching through Kensington market last Saturday. But it’s about to get even scarier — this is Hallowe’en weekend, when everyone wants to see a scary, gory, spooky, otherwordly, gripping, chilling, or thrilling movie. So today I’m going to look at five Hallowe’eny movies: a slasher-horror pic, a spooky drama, a gripping thriller, and two more that played at TIFF this year.

My Soul to Take
Dir: Wes Craven

Like the Agatha Christie classic Ten Little Indians, this slasher pic has seven seventeen-year-olds each wondering who’s going to get killed next. You see, 17 years ago a crazed, serial killer kicked the bucket just as his widow was giving birth prematurely. And at the same hospital, six others were born the same day… they became a nerd, a jock, a Jane Austen Christian, a blind guy, a snobby girl, a family kid, and one more, Bug, who is slightly whack: he periodically slips into a Tourettes-like state where he imitates the voices of the other six preemies. So which one’s the slasher? Or is he possessing someone? Or maybe the original killer’s still alive and hiding in the woods?

And you know what? It doesn’t really matter in the end; getting there is most of the fun. It’s a Wes Craven movie – (the guy who directed the Scream series and wrote A Nightmare on Elm St) so you can be there’ll be lots of bathroom mirror scenes, shadowy killers in costume, and an equal number of red herrings. It’s interesting to watch, the characters are funny, and even though it’s mainly formulaic, it’s enjoyable. It’s also bloody and violent. What it wasn’t, though, it wasn’t especially scary.

My Soul to Take is a fun one to watch with a group of friends on All Hallow’s Eve.

Hereafter
Dir: Clint Eastwood

What happens after you die? And if life goes on, is there any contact between life and the afterlife? This movie (very, very slowly) follows three separate story lines trying to answer this question. Matt Damon plays a San Francisco psychic who thinks his gift is a curse: every time George touches someone else skin, he is hit by a vision of the dead who want to talk to her. So he decides to work instead in a sugar warehouse. Meanwhile, Marie (C»cile De France), an intelligent Parisian tele-journalist and her producer/lover encounter disaster in the tropics, and her near-death experience leads her to explore the boundary between life and death. Finally, a pair of somber, identical twin brothers, being raised by a junky mother in London, encounter death as well. Will they ever be able to communicate again?

OK, Herafter is not a bad drama, and I’ll watch practically anything with a hint of magic or the supernatural, but its glacial pace, and lugubrious tone combined with a non-religious angel motif, make it feel mostly like a big-budget episode of Ghost Whisperer (“He says he forgives you… now, walk into the light”). The three storylines eventually come together, but at least for the first half hour, I wondered is it going to go on like this for whole movie – unfinished story after unfinished story? It’s not really scary at all, it’s Clint Eastwood, at the age of 80, telling a relaxing tale of people pondering life and death. See it if you like sipping warm cocoa on Halowe’en.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Dir: Daniel Alfredson

Lisbeth Salander and journalist Blomkvist are back again for part three of their story. Lisbeth, is a fantastic character, a cross between Steve McQueen and Tank Girl. She’s tuff, she’s rough, she’s stone cold. She’s a punk, she’s a loner, she’s an ex-con, she’s a computer genius. And Blomkvist, the committed leftist investigative journalist at the Swedish magazine Millenium, will do anything he can to help her. The last movie ended with a bloody shoot out, and this one starts up immediately afterwards, with Lisbeth, near death in a hospital, charged with attempted murder, and Blomkvist on the verge of uncovering a cold-war era conspiracy involving government, police, and psychiatry.

So the two sides gear up for the long fight, culminating in a bug trial. On one side they’re all trying to uncover the truth about the conspiracy and get it to print before the trial. But the bad guys – mainly a bunch of old Swedish guys in suits – will stop at nothing – including murder, intimidation, and character assassination – to keep the secrets secret. The pale blue-eyed and goateed psychiatrist, Dr Teleborian, is especially sinister, with his plans to use the veneer of psychiatry to hide his true motives.

And then there’s the wildcards on both sides, including Niedermeier, the giant blond thug who can feel no pain, and Plague, the shy, secretive computer geek extraordinaire.

So, I liked it a lot, as a conclusion to the three-part movie series. I think it’s much better to see the first two before you watch this one. I also missed the beautiful cinematic camerawork of Dragon Tattoo – this one was much more indoors, with pedestrian TV-like scenes, and without all of the unexpected plot revelations of the first two.

But it’s still worth seeing. I love rooting for the heroes when they barely escape a killer, and mentally cheering when the villains mess up. (The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest feels more like a BBC detective miniseries — not a bad thing to be) This movie is two and a half hours long, so be prepared for a slow start with a good payoff. You’ll need lots of Hallowe’en popcorn for this one.

LA Zombie
Dir: Bruce LaBruce

A muscle bound monster emerges out of a Pacific beach like a creature from the black lagoon. All around him is violence – shootouts in the ravines, murder in drug deals gone wrong, cars spilling off the highways, and the slow violence graduaully crushing the homeless and undocumented of downtown Los Angeles. The zombie monster (porn actor Francois Sagat) is observing all and is saddened by it.

But unlike the voraciously eating- zombies we usually see, who inflict their condition on the living, this one is a sort of a messiah. Through the disgusting – but gentle – sex he has with all the newly dead corpses he encounters – and it’s always gay sex with male corpses, by the way – he brings the bodies back to life. The strangely-coloured semen that comes out of his grotesquely-shaped penis is a panacea: ejaculation equals rejuvenation.

L.A. Zombie is a violent and gory zombie movie, with very few lines, but with lots of colourful, pornographic gay sex between a gentle zombie and the spilt organs of fresh corpses. More than anything else, it’s also an experimental art film, at times quite beautiful, with extended tableaux, urban landscapes and sunsets, and some documentary-looking footage of the marginal and lost beings of Los Angeles. By the end you get the impression that the zombie scenes are just the imaginary fantasies of a destitute, muscle-bound, mentally-ill homeless guy.

L.A. Zombie turns the Hallowe’en monster-as-villain paradigm upside down, and shows that the real monster… is us.

Finally,

Cold Fish
Dir: Sono Shion

This movie also played at the Toronto Film Festival. I see a couple hundred movies every year, and I don’t normally leave a movie shaking, googly-eyed, saying “what the fuck was that?!” to total strangers. But I did after this ultimate, extreme Japanese exploitation film about a mild-mannered Shizuoka tropical fish dealer who is pulled into the sway of an aggressive entrepreneur and serial killer.

Based on a true story, Shamato is a wimpy widower who owns a tropical fish store. His young, second wife shops with her eyes closed and cooks rice in a microwave. His teenaged daughter Mitsuko is dating a hood and shoplifts for fun. He seeks solace in the peace of the local planetarium. But soon his miserable existance is altered by a hyper-enthusiastic entrepreneur, Murata, who tells him “Business is entertainment!” Soon, Mitsuko is living in his big box store dorm working as a glamour fish salesgirl wearing hotpants and a tanktop, and his wife is also on Murata’s side (after an attack/rape scene that “pulls her out of her wretched life…”) All is not well.

Shamato is soon made an unwitting accomplice in a crooked fish scam, bilking investors in a “rare”, ugly amazon fish venture. Soon he discovers Murata and his wife don’t just defraud investors, they also kill them in a most awful way, inside a tiny church. They glory in the blood and guts, sexually playing with their organs and body parts, and joyfully disposing of the remaining flesh and bones, drenching them with soy sauce and roasting them in an outdoor barbecue!

It’s up to milquetoast Shamato either to become a willing part of their awful lives or to fight back and stop it forever.

What can I say? This has got to be the most depraved exploitation film I’ve ever seen. It’s joining of sex and death makes even Miike seem tame, and LA Zombie is like a gentle glimpse of flowers and rainbows in comparison. Definitely one of the most horrific movies ever, Cold Fish retains its credibility (without sinking to the “Saw” level of pornographic torture.) The most shocking and disturbing movie of the year.

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

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

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

ImagineNative started with a screening of

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

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

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

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

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

The closing night movie is a Toronto premier called:

A Windigo Tale
Dir: Armand Garnet Ruffo.

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

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

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

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

Next, a much lighter Canadian story:

Score: a Hockey Musical
Director/Writer: Michael McGowan

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

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

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

And finally, another family drama,

Conviction
Dir: Tony Goldwyn

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

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

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

August Grab Bag. Movies Reviewed: Eat, Pray, Love; Centurion; Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Eat Pray Love

Dir: Ryan Murphy

Liz (Julia Roberts), a successful writer, gets her fortune told in Bali, telling her her destiny. Soon after, her marriage collapses and she feels empty and forlorn, so she sets off on a round-the-world tour of popular vacation spots to spend some of her dough. In Rome she learns about Dolce Far Niente – which she interprets as knowing how to order food in a restaurant. In India at an Ashram, she learns to find her inner balance by being smug, condescending and vaguely pissed off as she scrubs the stone floors. Then in Bali, settling in to the island’s most expensive hotel, she meditates and rides her bike. She meets a woman who has to live in a rented place, not a house of her own – can you imagine? She feels so sympathetic she decides to raise money on Facebook. What a philanthropist!

I wanted to like it – it had beautiful scenery – Bali, Rome, New York, India – and great actors (Billy Crudup, James Franco, Javier Bardem) and I’m not a Julia Roberts hater – I like her. I’ve even heard the writer Elizabeth Gilbert (whom the main character is based on) talk on the radio, and she seems really smart and interesting. But this movie is just horrible. Some people seemed to walk out happy, but I can’t figure out why. It’s one of the worst, stupidest and most annoyingly clichéd and obnoxious movies I’ve seen in a long time. Here’s a typical line, an example of the degree of profundity she encounters on her quest for wholeness and self-actualization: “If you want to get to the castle, Groceries, you’ve got to swim the moat!” Bleaaaggghh! Maybe if this movie had been called the Ugly American, I would have understood it better.

In the beginning I was hoping that all the cute supporting roles would make up for Julia Roberts’ insufferable character. But that didn’t pan out. Instead we get to see anorexic Julia saying “I’m fat – look at my muffin top”. And the next scene is her squeezing into a pair of designer jeans, over her model-bodied flat belly.

You get to see her in Italy learning how to talk with her hands. “Like-a this-a?” says Julia Roberts. (Did she actually say like-a this-a?)

Eat Pray Love:

I ate my popcorn, I prayed the movie would get just a little bit better, and I loved finally getting out of that god-awful place.

“Centurion”

Dir: Neil Marshall

I went to this movie, at Toronto After Dark Festival, partly because Michael Fassbender was in the main role.  He was amazing in two British movies over the last couple years: “Hunger”, about IRA Bobby Sands’s prison hunger strike and a coming of age drama, “Fish Tank”. This movie, while set in the British Isles, is…a little bit different. To say the least.

This is a sword and sandals epic, about the period when the Roman soldiers fought against the Picts. This was way before all those nouveau immigrants, those Angles, Jutes and Saxons moved in and spoiled the neighbourhood. This was way back when. So in a big battle, the Roman legions were there fighting those Picts up in the north.

They’re tough mofos, those Picts are, with all their pictish ways, and blue face paint. Don’t mess with them. But the Romans are tough too. Anyway, there’s battle after battle and skirmish after skirmish before the actually story takes off. Lots of splatt, and uggh, and aaah, as another head gets chopped off and plopped into a water barrel. Anyway… so Quintas Dias (“I am a soldier of Rome, I will not yield!”) a centurian, and a Pict by birth, has been training for fighting since his childhood. He speaks the local language, and knows the way around. After the failed attempt to beat the locals, he just wants to rescue a Roman general and call it a day. But in their botched attempt, someone in his multi-cultural platoon does something that sets the whole tribe against them — till the death. They have to escape and make it back to the main Roman legion. So there are lots of scenic mountains and rivers and waterfalls as they try to outwit the dangerous Picts and an expert tracker who always seems to find them: a fur-clad and mute Lisbeth Salander-type rival, played by the striking Olga Kurylenko. I started to get dizzy when I thought of all the swooping airplanes they had to rent to shoot this movie – it felt like every second scene had to start with a swooshing aerial view of where they were fighting next.

And on the way, they encounter a pictish witch to add a further dimension to the story. I liked it, just for it’s bigness. I got bored of all the killing and stabbing and stuff, but it brightened a bit in the second half. If you like very bloody, Roman big-screen war movies, then this is the movie for you. (I liked it better than “Gladiator” and the very plastic-looking “Troy”, but that’s not saying much.)

Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Dir: Edgar Wright

Based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, and starring Michael Cera in the title role.

Scott Pilgrim is a nerdy guy in a band. He shares a bachelor apartment with a gay dude who gets laid way more than he does. Scott’s still pining for a girlfriend who dumped him a year ago. And he’s dating a highschool girl (“we hold hands”) named Knives Chau, who’s gradually becoming more of a fan of the band than a GF. But she’s crushing heavily on Scott Pilgrim. They play Dance Dance Revolution together in perfect Harmony. Then he meets the girl of his dreams – literally of his dreams! – at a party, and they sort of hit it off, even though he’s a wimpy Toronto guy, and she’s a beautiful and glamorous American, from New York, who changes her hair style each week.

The thing is, she has lots of baggage from her various exes, all evil, all more successful, and all out to ambush Scott when he’s least expecting it. So he has to fight them if he wants to stay with Ramona Flowers, that’s the name of his new beautiful and glamorous girlfriend.

So he goes through a series of 8-byte video battles – battles of the bands, Street Fighter skirmishes, skateboard derbies on the hills around Casa Loma… covering the whole indie, comics, video games, manga, electronica, clubs and party scene of downtown Toronto of the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s retro without being specifically any retro period. And the whole movie is told as if the area of Toronto, within, say, thirty blocks of the comic store The Beguiling were trapped inside an old Nintendo set – and the only way to get out is to beat all these villains.

This is a great movie and the most Toronto movie I’ve seen in a long time. References to Honest Ed’s, Pizza Pizza, the Second Cup, even SARS are everywhere. I’m not even going into all the other characters – too many, too funny – but I liked this movie. It’s just so Toronto, with all the cool people drinking beer at the parties… y’know? I think I was at that party in the movie. OK, maybe I wasn’t there, but I was invited, and I didn’t go, cause it would have sucked anyway.

Anyway, you have to watch it to see whether Scott Pilgrim wins his awesome battles or whether the world beats him and just leaves his burnt husk there in an Annex alley off Bloor Street: Game Over!

Finally, the 11th annual ImagineNATIVE Festival of great new movies by indigenous peoples here and around the world, is starting tonight in Toronto, and continuing for the next five days. You should check this out — It’s opening tonight with Boy, a Maori coming-of-age story, that was a huge hit in New Zealand. Look online at ImagineNative.org .

Heroes, Anti-heroes, and their followers. Films Reviewed: The Trotsky, Ryan Trecartin, Leslie, My Name is Evil, MacGruber.

Today I’m going to look at movies with different kinds of heroes, or anti-heroes, and the movements that some of them inspire. The hero or heroine might be misguided, but if their aims are true (in movies) good will surely triumph.

The Trotsky
Dir: Jacob Tierney

Jay Baruchel plays a boy, Leon, in anglo, West Montreal who, although from a rich family himself, is upset by, and wants to overthrow the entire capitalist system. When he unsuccessfully tries to organize his father’s factory workers into a union, for the first time he is placed into the public school system. Once there, though oddly dated in his speech and behavior and clothing, he gradually gets a following: his apathetic classmates who want change in the system. Sorta. When they’re not smoking or texting or gossiping.

Oh – and did I mention he actually believes he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, and that he’ll meet an older woman named Alexandra who will fall in love with him? Yeah, Leon’s a bit nutty, with his little round glasses, scrunched up forehead and gesticulating arms.

The movie takes a cute look at Old Left politics in a modern-day Montreal setting, seen through the eyes of a misunderstood, neurotic kid, who, though he espouses century-old slogans, is media savvy enough to call up reporters in his fights against the school board. He wants to gain supporters to achieve his goal of organizing his fellow students. Will Leon’s goal be realized? As a vanguard leader of the proletariat can he organize them to shake off the chains of inequality by overthrowing the land-owning bourgeoisie, and their running dog lackeys (personified by his school principal — Colm Feore — and his Miss Grundy)? Hmmm… Or is this movie more like a season finale to a Degrassi episode? No – it’s better than that.

A simple premise, with a well-written, dense plot, good Canadian cast (Genevieve Bujold, Saul Rubinek), and lots of visual references — spanning Maoism, black panthers, the Spanish civil war, Che Guevera, bolshevism, anarchism, The Battleship Potemkin, and Vietnam war resisters. It’s a good, cute, low budget movie with a very Canadian feel.

Any Ever; and In Short

Various art videos by Ryan Treacartin

OK, I have to admit, the first time I saw a Ryan Trecartin video, an hour long monstrosity of jarring flash editing with self-centred teenagers shrieking like characters from “Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel”, I have to admit, I haven’t been that pissed off at a so-called work of art in a long time. Who can watch this crap? Who wants to see people in grotesque make up and fright wigs randomly shouting nonsense in distorted voices, while tired, corporate logos drift endlessly across a laptop screen. Incomprehensibly bland video titles, jarring cuts and zooms, post-structuralist posturing… It’s insulting! Bleaaaagh!

Then something happened.

It started to look… pretty. It started to look nice. Some of the words started to be funny. Some even made sense. I began to love the sound of breaking glass.

Then I went to the Power Plant, where his one-man show, Any Ever, is now finishing its run. Seen projected on huge screens, in small rooms, with comfortable chairs and beds and earphones provided, where you can walk in and out, it all becomes pleasant, hypnotic, hilarious… fun.

I started watching his stuff on youtube.What is this? What’s going on? It’s weird… it’s… it’s.. Gay. It’s ghey. (It is gay). But it’s not the “gay” you see on TV sitcoms. Nothing so safe.

Picture a whole field of gay, in say, southern Manitoba, that have these little purple flowers. And each purple flower has a little stamen in it. And they pick them, and pile them all together, and crush them, and boil them, and distill them, and refine that into a potent substance — a gay reduction. Where you can detect a single drop a mile away.

Well, Ryan Trecartin has jugs of this in his storage room, and he splashes it on everything, saturating it. His work is drenched in gay, dripping with it. It’s overwhelming. It’s the gayest art, the gayest videos on the face of the earth. And his films are amazing.

It turns out, the lines aren’t random at all – they’re composed. The editing, the costumes, even the hiring of Mickey Mouse club audition rejects who vent on camera in annoyingly arch voices… all planned. And those strangely recurring images of twelve year old girls, the Avon ladies, the post-mastectomy yoga enthusiasts… some of these people are him, Ryan, in a wig, in make up, crying.

And the stuff that made me angry, because there were no real stories? There are stories in most of his videos. Epic stories.

Anyway, it’s not all comfortable stuff, not the kind of thing you can sit through for too long, but in small doses, it’s a heady experience.

And on Saturday, May 22, he’s showing some of is earlier work– as part of the Inside Out Festival, Toronto’s LGBT film and video festival, and in collaboration with Power Plant and Pleasure Dome — “In Short”, in person.

“Leslie, My Name is Evil”, (Directed by Reginald Harkema), is about a boy, Perry, a born again Christian, who is placed on the jury for the trial of Charles Manson and his female followers, where he has to figure out if his passion for the beautiful, accused murderess Leslie is real, or if he’s being fooled by her seductive ways.

In a crucial early scene, Perry and his girlfriend look through a Chick publications comic book. (Ever seen those weird fundamentalist comic book pamphlets where the ordinary people – led astray by marijuana, sexuality, abortion, devil worship, the Pope, rock and roll – are saved from the pool of fire when they accept Jesus into their heart?)

After Perry sees the comic, Leslie and Perry (played by Canadian actors Kristen Hager and Gregory Smith) find themselves sucked into a meta-world, a dreamy vortex, where the evil forces of Charles Manson fight against the light of God beaming out from the born-again contingent. This little comic book sets the tone for a large part of the movie, a chunk of the plot filtered through a Chick comic motif. All of the cultural extremes of the sixties — moralistic sermons mixed with pop culture, surreal dreams with news footage and newspaper headlines, a fundamentalist view of politics vs the nihilistic evil of Charles Manson’s death cult – are seen by Perry (and the audience) deep inside his head.

At times this movie resembles William Klein’s pop art film Mr Freedom (from 1969), with its bold images. And I loved the psychedelic, rock soundtrack. The thing is, sometimes “Leslie, my name is Evil” — with its highly stylized scenes, scripted dialogue, and intentionally artificial, almost camp acting — feels more like a live play than a movie. It doesn’t always hold together: the movie feels a bit disjointed, and the acting is inconsistent, sometimes realistic and moving, other times just silly.

Lines like: “What kind of pinko commie nonsense is that!” and “Don’t fret Dorothy, God will protect us” were too much for me. (But could this just be the comic book swirling in Perry’s head…?)

This made it harder to sympathize with the main characters, or, especially, to believe that the young women were really mesmerized by a svengali figure like Charles Manson – he just didn’t seem as hypnotic and compelling as he’s supposed to be. But the bold, pop-art feel and the great soundtrack helps the movie hold together its complicated, original take on the Manson Girls.

MacGruber

MacGruber is a new movie based on a repeated 15-second-long skit from Saturday Night Live, where MacGruber, Vickie, and a third person, watch the hero MacGruber fail to defuse a bomb and they all blow up. “MACGRUUU-BER!” In the movie version, (which takes about 5,895 seconds longer to get to the final punchline) he’s known as a ridiculously accomplished hero, and the only one who can defeat Val Kilmer’s villainous character, Dieter von Cunth, from using his nuclear weapon.

Anyway, the plot, such as it is, isn’t very important. Neither are the lines. Just the characters and the premise. The real question is: Can a single, ten-second gag survive an hour and a half long movie? No, it can’t.

So they added a few more jokes, about MacGruber tearing out people’s throats and sticking pieces of celery up his bum. Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!

Ok I laughed at some of it. And a few parts were really funny (like MacGruber in bed with his girlfriend). It wasn’t exactly boring, just pretty stupid. Like Saturday Night Live has always been. Don’t mess with the proven formula: find a mildly funny premise or punchline, drag that joke out into an eight-minute scene, then repeat it over and over and over again, season after season. That’s Saturday Night Live.

Will Forte as MacGruber, works well with Kristen Wiig as Vickie St Elmo, and Ryan Philippe as the special guest star. If you like SNL, you might just like this movie. But do you really want to watch a whole movie based on a so-so joke?

%d bloggers like this: