Daniel Garber talks with Moze Mossanen about My Piece of the City

Posted in Canada, documentary, Housing, Movies, Musical, Poverty, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on November 17, 2017

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

Regent Park is a section of Cabbagetown in Toronto’s east end. After WWII, tenements were razed to the ground replaced with lowrise housing surrounded by grass parks. It was meant to lessen poverty and crime, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Now they are replacing it all with clean, market rent condos integrated with public housing. But what will become of the longtime residents of this unique piece of the city?

My Piece of the City is a new documentary that looks at Regent Park, then and now, in the form of a theatrical production performed there each summer. The Journey combines song, dance, spoken poetry and drama in a celebration of the neighbourhood, its history and the people who live there.

It is written and directed by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Moze Mossanen, known for performance-based documentaries like Nureyev, Roxanna, and The Rings of Saturn. His works play in cinemas and are broadcast across Canada and around the world.

My Piece of the City will have its world premier on November 18th, 2017 at the Regent Park Film Festival.

I spoke with Moze Mossanen in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

And two more: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, The Florida Project

Posted in 1930s, Cultural Mining, Feminism, LGBT, Movies, Polyamory, Poverty, Psychology, Romance, Sex, Sex Trade by CulturalMining.com on October 13, 2017

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

I’m back again because it’s a bumper crop this week, and there are two more great movies opening today that deserve to be seen. One takes place in the shadows of Disneyworld, the other reveals the origins of Wonder Woman.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

Wri/Dir: Angela Robinson

It’s the 1920s at a prestigious University. William Marston (Luke Evans) is a Harvard-trained psychologist who lives and works alongside his brilliant wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall). They are both outspoken advocates for women’s rights and create the world’s first lie detector. But when William takes on a young research assistant named Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), Elizabeth suspects hanky-panky. So what a surprise when they all answer intimate questions about their truest feelings and desires using the lie detector: Olive desires both William and Elizabeth! And the feelings are mutual. They form a triad – a polyamorous relationship – among the three of them. To the outside world they are a married couple with their widowed relative, but behind closed doors anything goes. The three move into a large house and raise their children together, exploring new sexual avenues – including role play and BDSM — while the kids are away at school. But when their secret is revealed and he loses his job, Marston is forced to look for new ways to earn a living. So he creates the world’s first feminist superhero, Wonder Woman, based on the two women in his life. Her outfit is inspired by clothing they see at Greenwich Village fetish shop, and the Lasso of Truth is a combination of bondage and lie detectors.

Professor Marston and the Womder Women tells the delightful and always surprising love story about the origins of a superhero before she was whitewashed into blandness and conformity.

The Florida Project

Dir: Sean Baker

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) Jancey (Valeria Cotto) Scooty (Christopher Rivera) are three little kids who live in the giant pink motels that dot the highways around Disneyland in Orlando Florida. They spit off balconies, explore junk piles and panhandle tourists for ice cream. Though rundown, the motels serve as a community and home for the nearly homeless and marginal. They are forced to vacate their rooms weekly and relocate – they’re not allowed to call their homes home. They are all looked after by the stern but benevolent manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe)

Halley, Moony’s mom (Bria Vinaite) earns her living reselling wholesale perfume bottles or turning the occasional trick. Other moms work as waitresses or as de facto daycare, just trying to keep the kids fed and out of trouble. And boy do these kids get in trouble. Abut when something serious happens, the delicate balance between parents and kids quickly falls apart.

The Florida project is a fascinating look at the poor and marginal people around Orlando, in a private hotel that functions like a housing project, Florida-style The kids are great, although occasionally prone to cuting-it-up for the camera. And the raw, beautiful camerawork, crumbling houses against a tropical sunset, give it an immediate, authentic feel. Great movie.

The Florida Project and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women both open today in Toronto. This is Daniel Garber at the movies each Friday morning for CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks about The Stairs with director Hugh Gibson, Roxanne and Marty at #TIFF16

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Depression, documentary, Poverty, Sex Trade, Toronto by CulturalMining.com on September 30, 2016

 

l to r: Marty, Hugh, Roxanne

l to r: Marty, Hugh, Roxanne

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

Regent Park is a well-known public housing development in Toronto’s east end. Built in the 1940s, it consisted of small houses arranged in quads as well as highrise apartments.the-stairs-roxanne-marty It mainly housed working-class and low-income immigrants. But the buildings started to crumble and conditions grew worse, until recently. Now the older buildings are being the-stairs-hugh-gibsonrazed and redeveloped. But what about the people who live there?

The Stairs is a new documentary that had it’s world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. Shot over a five year period by director Hugh Gibson, it looks at the lives of people there, at home and at work. It focuses on the South Riverdale Community the-stairs-marty-roxanneHealth Centre and Street Health, a harm reduction clinic aimed at drug users, sex workers, the homeless and others in the neighbourhood. The film concentrates on three social workers there: Marty, Greg and Roxanne. And

I spoke with Marty, Roxanne and Hugh at CIUT. The Stairs opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 7th.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Vulnerable. Films reviewed: Songs my Brother Taught Me, The Lady in the Van

Posted in Addiction, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, First Nations, Movies, Old Age, Poverty, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 7, 2016

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

8qzGkl_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_02_o3_8934485_1453302729You can tell a lot about a culture by looking at how it treats its most vulnerable members. This week I’m looking at two dramas, one from the US, another from the U.K. There’s a teenaged bootlegger in a pickup truck in a badlands state; and an old lady in a van in Camden in a bad state of mind.

Songs My Brother Taught Me
Dir: Chloe Zhao

Johnny Winters (John Reddy) is a teenager living in a Sioux Nation reserve in the Badlands, Northwestern US. He helps care for his sister Jashaun (Jashaun St John) and their mom (Irene Bedard) who stays in bed all day. NxKlQm_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_05_o3_8934624_1453302723She’s depressed. And there’s an older brother in prison.

Johnny’s still in high school, but he plans to cut out as soon as he graduates. He’s saving money so he can buy a pickup truck and drive to LA with his girlfriend. She’s going to University in the fall, and he hopes to make it as a boxer. So he turns to a bootlegging as a source of income. The reserve he lives on is officially dry, but there’s still a black market for beer and alcohol. k5jYyY_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_03_o3_8934502_1453302704He meets with an older woman who brings in the bottles and he distributes them for cash. But he faces trouble and potential violence from rivals who think he’s poaching on their territory.

His little sister knows all and sees all. She likes to draw, paint and dance. She begins to follow a tattoo artist to study his crafts and learn about her culture.

Jashawn looks at her brother almost like a father. Then their real father, Carl, dies in a fire, and Jashawn and Johnny realize they don’t know who he was. They get to know their extended family. Carl was a champion bull riderGZX1PQ_SongsMyBrothersTaughtMe_04_o3_8934563_1453302713 who followed the rodeo circuit. They all share Carl’s last name, along with lots of others at the reserve, but Johnny and Jashawn barely knew him. So they are jealous of his “real” family. Will knowing his relatives help him get a job? Or will he move to the big city and leave his mom and sister behind?

Songs my Brother Taught Me is a realistic look at life on a Lakota reserve, and pulls no punches. It’s not a Hollywood feel-good movie. It has a low-key, almost documentary feel to it, and shows a lot of sad and depressing scenes about scraping by with not enough money or jobs. But the realistic acting — especially the appealing performances of John Reddy and Jashawn St. John — help mitigate its downer feel. And the scenery — the dramatic crumbling white cliffs of the badlands — give it a stark and timeless immediacy.

1cf24d8d-9a27-480a-a622-172fc82728a7The Lady in the Van
Dir: Nicholas Hytner

Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) is a writer living on a quaint, middle-class street in Camdentown, north London. His life is a quiet one until an eccentric old woman enters the scene. Miss Sheppard (Maggie Smith) is a nearly homeless woman who lives in a VW van. She’s ornery and smells bad. And she doesn’t mince words: she needs a place to park her home so she can live in peace. And after some deliberation with nosy neighbours, Alan agrees it’s his turn to help Miss Sheppard. So she moves into his driveway takes up residence and lives there for the next THE LADY IN THE VAN15 years.

For Alan Bennett the character, Miss Sheppard is a pain in the ass: a disputatious, mentally ill old lady who gets in the way. She infringes on his private space, interferes with visiting sex partners, and interrupts his writing. And the smell! Plastic bags serve as her toilet. But for Alan Bennett the writer, she’s a fascinating character, dying to be explored and studied.

Turns out Miss Sheppard has a hidden past. The reason she lives in London is to escape a witness to a possible hit-and-run incident decades earlier. Alan also discovers she was once a concert pianist, and later joined a French convent. She’s a bullying, difficult woman with a “derelict nobility”.

THE LADY IN THE VANIronically, the more time he spends trying to learn about Miss Sheppard, the less he spends with the other old woman in his life – his own mother. She is neither glamorous nor mysterious not frightening, and he can’t bring himself to visit her. He’d rather think about the woman in the van in his driveway.

This is a great movie. Maggie Smith is just fantastic, not given to grandiose gestures. She plays it straight as a homeless woman with a strong personality. And Jennings plays Alan Bennett as two characters: the man and the narrator, who appear on the screen together to debate what to do about the woman in the driveway. It’s a theatrical conceit but it works reallyTHE LADY IN THE VAN well. Alan Bennett’s books and memoirs often have internal dialogue that doesn’t work in plays or on the big screen.

He’s a really witty and fun writer and playwright – he writes books like Smut and plays like History Boys – so it’s neat to see him as a character. The Lady in the Van is part memoir (it’s a true story) and part imagined drama. It’s a difficult comedy, one that makes you think and squirm while you laugh. Great movie.

12647247_223040471366833_8306883834731885620_nThe Lady in the Van opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Songs my Brother Taught Me is showing next weekend at Toronto’s Next Wave festival. Next Wave shows films by, for and about young adults, including many free screenings. Go to tiff.net for details. Also playing now is the sometimes hilarious parody 50 Shades of Black. If you like the Wayans’ style of comedy, this one’s for you.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Elisa Paloschi about her new documentary Driving with Selvi premiering at the ReelAsian Film Festival

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, Human Rights, India, Movies, Poverty, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 27, 2015

Elisa Paloschi, 1, Driving with SelviHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for cultural mining,com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Selvi was a 14-year-old child bride in Southern India. Her husband was so abusive she contemplated suicide, but instead ran away. She made her way toElisa Paloschi, Driving with Selvi photo 2 home for young women where she learned to be a driver, and after a ten-year journey, she became South India’s first female taxi driver. How did she reach that stage? And what’s it like to go driving with Selvi?

Driving with Selvi is also the name of a new Canadian documentary that tells her story. It’s directed by Toronto-based filmmaker Elisa Paloschi, known for her documentaries dealing with social issues around the world.  Her film is having its  premier at Driving with Selvi 2Toronto’s ReelAsian film festival. I spoke with Elisa in studio about visiting India as a tourist, how she first met Selvi, 10 years of shooting the film, making a film in a developing nation, why Indian women in smaller cities rarely drive, Selvi’s motivation, human trafficking, child brides, poverty, feminism, women as second-class citizens, dowries, divorce, motivation, how to share her story …and more! The film has its Toronto premier on November 5, 2015, at the ReelAsian Film Festival.

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones about Fire Song having its World Premier at #TIFF15

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, First Nations, Gay, Movies, Poverty by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 2015

photo 4-3Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Shane lives on an isolated  First Nations reserve in northwestern Ontario. He’s polite, smart, good-looking, hardworking and respectful – everything a teenage boy photo 3-2should be. He even has a pretty girlfriend, Tara. Shane’s moving to Toronto in the fall to start his first year at University. Everything seems perfect… but it’s not. His mother has been severely depressed since his sister’s suicide. And his family has money Adam Garnet Jonesproblems: they’re deeply in debt.  Can he even afford to move to Toronto? And then there’s his relationship with another boy named David that he keeps on the down low. Sometimes Shane wishes it would all just go away.

I’m talking about Fire Song, a new film having its world premier at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival. The powerful drama is written and directed by filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones, and this is his debut feature. I spoke to him atAndrew Martin (L) Harley Legarde (R) CIUT. Adam talked about his background, hopelessness, suicide, coming out, the lives of gay youth in an isolated community, Native Child and Family Services, two-spirited people, traditional ideas, Christianity, life on a reserve vs. life in a city, talking circles, healing, his future work… and more!

UPDATE: Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song is the winner of imagineNATIVE’s  2015 Air Canada Audience Choice Award.

Daniel Garber talks to Chen Kaige about Yellow Earth, Farewell My Concubine, and Caught in the Web

Posted in 1930s, China, Cross-dressing, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Politics, Poverty, Uncategorized, 中国电影 by CulturalMining.com on June 7, 2013

Chen KaigeHi, This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto is launching a Century of Chinese Cinema, a mammoth series that runs all summer. As part of this series, New Waves looks at the Fifth Generation directors in post-Mao China in the eighties.

One director’s work stands out, spanning the eighties to the present day and including such crucial Chinese films as Yellow Earth and Farewell My Concubine. In this interview, director CHEN KAIGE tells about Yellow Earth CREDIT FRL_mediummaking films in the 1980s, the 1990s and today, and talks about traditional culture, Chinese politics, whether Chinese films should “serve the people”, social networking, and more.

Odd Jobs. Movies reviewed: Pieta, C.O.G., Now You See Me PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in Cultural Mining, Family, Gay, Korea, Magic, Movies, Poverty, Psychology, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 1, 2013

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.

We’ve all had some pretty strange if short-lived jobs. I’ve worked as a newly-hatched chick crate stacker (horrifying… they kept on dying) and handing out government information pamphlets dressed as the letter “i”, with an enormous round, foam ball over my head (as the dot).

Well today I’m talking about three movies where the main characters have very unusual jobs. There’s a violent sort of insurance adjuster in Korea; a stuck-up Ivy League grad student who decides to be a migrant fruit-picker; and a group of magicians who try to rob banks.

PIETA_key still (2)Pieta

Dir: Kim Kiduk

Kang-do is a tall, baby-faced man in his thirties who lives in a rusty, dusty industrial district of Seoul. Most of the factories there are tiny shops with zero employees outside the owners. Maybe there’s one machine punching out metal parts. So it’s a constant scramble for cash. It’s a poor area, and only Kang-do (Lee Jeong-jin) seems to be doing well. He sells the one thing everyone needs: money.

He’s just an ordinary a loan shark. But he collects his payments in an extraordinary way. He makes them sign up for insurance, and then pay back their debt according to what the insurance form pays: a broken leg, an injured hand, the loss of a finger. He casually pushes people off abandoned buildings, but only from the second floor. He’s selfish, cruel and emotionless, without even a shred of conscience – the devil incarnate. He has no one to answer to except his boss – no pesky extended family to hold him back: his mother abandoned him when he was a child.

But who shows up at his door one day, offering to cook and clean, but a stranger (Jo Min-soo) — PIETA_key still (4)an older woman – who says she’s his mother! She sings him his childhood lullaby. She wants to make up for abandoning him. He is still bitter and untrusting but she won’t give up. She even helps him in his cruel debt collection – since it’s all her fault for not teaching him right from wrong. It’s up to Kang-do to learn to trust, change his ways and open his heart to the only one who cares for him. Is the strange woman really his mother? Why did she choose to come back after all these years? And will the introduction of love – and a conscience? — upset his equilibrium and his job?

Pieta, like most of Kim Kiduk’s movies, has a neatly symmetrical storyline with a twist, coupled with extreme violence, and largely unsympathetic, over-the-top people. The ending is very good, the quirky, extreme characters are played well, and I love the gorgeous industrial look of the film, but it’s so grim, so relentless, so nnngggrrhhh that it’s just not a lot of fun to watch, except perhaps for its schadenfreude. It’s disturbing. I appreciate the way the story plays out, but I can’t say I loved this movie.

Groff COGC.O.G

Dir: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Sam (Jonathon Groff) has just finished his MA at Yale but doesn’t want to live with his estranged mother. So he decides to earn some money communing with The People – apple pickers on a farm out west. Unfortunately, he studied Japanese in University, not Spanish. He expects to meet up with a classmate but he soon finds himself abandoned without friends. He’s soon brought down to size. The entitled, intelligent and successful rich kid soon learns the reality of real work, alienation, low wages, and unfair bosses. Next he’s working in the factory sorting fancy apples. A sympathetic employee, Curly (Corey Stall) offers him a promotion, but the benefits come with unstated duties, chez Curly. Finally he is driven to stay with an evangelical jade carver Jon (Dennis O’Hare) who is preparing for the county fair. Can a gay, cynical intellectual accept Jesus into his heart?

Groff Stoll COGThis is a really funny – not laugh out loud, but a grim humour – movie about the calamities hapless Samuel lands in, and the hard-to-take people he encounters. He’s made fun of as much as the people he meets. It’s based on a story by David Sedaris, and is just as funny but the movie exists, perfectly, outside of his book, as its own entity. Groff is great as an understated Sam, and Corey Stall (as Curly) has perfected the affable but skeezy guy – similar to his role as Russo on the TV show House of Cards. This is a very good movie.

NOW YOU SEE MENow You See Me

Dir: Louis Leterrier

Four people, entertainers all, receive tarot-card invitations from a mysterious source. There’s a conjurer (Jesse Eisenberg), a hypnotist / conman (Woody Harrelson) an escape artist (Isla Fisher) and a spoon-bender and pickpocket (Dave Franco). They meet up in New York City where they are dubbed the Four Horseman (not “of the apocalypse” – it’s just a name) and trained as a new act. Their gimmick? They can rob banks halfway around the world and give the loot to a screaming audience.

Their act is a huge media success.

As good magicians, they understand the point of a long-range trick, or a years-long setup, so NOW YOU SEE MEthey follow their directions perfectly. Soon they are being financed by a millionaire (Michael Caine), chased by an FBI detective who swears he’ll catch them (Mark Ruffalo), and also pursued by a man who earns his living debunking magicians as frauds (Morgan Freeman). And everyone wants to find out who is the fifth horseman? Is he one of the magicicians themselves? An unknown rival? A member of an illuminati-style cult? And what will the magicians’ final revelation bring?

OK. Some of the lines in this movie are pure cornball, the CGIs are often distracting, the actors are much better than the roles they’re playing, and there are a few too many twists to the plot. But never mind all that… I thought Now You See Me was a completely enjoyable, big-budget popcorn movie. A lot of fun.

Now You See Me opens today, and Pieta will be at the TIFF Bell Lightbox starting today. C.O.G played at Inside-Out Film Fest which continues through Sunday. Ghost in the Machine – a documentary about another strange job also opens today. Directed by Liz Marshall and beautifully shot, it follows an animal rights activist who, instead of freeing caged animals, takes their photos and shows their suffering to the world. And Lore, the amazing Australian movie about young German woman, a displaced person trying to find her way home right after WWII, also opens today, at the TIFF Bell Light Box.

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

Not Safe at Home. Movies Reviewed: Home Again, Olympus Has Fallen

Posted in Action, Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, drugs, Jamaica, Korea, Movies, Politics, Poverty, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 23, 2013

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.

OHF_04104.NEFFestival season is gearing up now, with Hot Docs, Images, and Cinefranco announcing this year’s line-up – fantastic stuff to come. But in the meantime, here are some non-festival releases. Today I’m looking at an action/thriller about one man inside a big house who wants to save the world; and a drama about three people stranded on an island who just want to survive.

Olympus Has Fallen

Dir: Antione Fuqua

Mike Banning (played by perpetually gruff and surly Scot, Gerard Butler) was once a big man in the Secret Service. But when the First Lady is killed in an accident, he loses his status as a presidential guard. So he’s not at the White House when strange things start happening one morning. An errant gunner pilot flies a plane over the mall in Washington DC, mowing down random tourists, and knocking down OHF_09772.NEFAmerica’s most famous penis, the Washington monument. Then, a group of tubby but ruthless terrorists manage to capture the White House, including the president and hold him captive. The American Empire is teetering on the brink…

Who are these bad guys? Al Qaeda? Al Shabab? Iraq? Iran? No! It’s the Zeppo of Bush’s “Axis of Evil” – the Koreans!

The other Secret Service agents all look like part-time tenors in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Boy are they white!) But only tough-as-nails Mike is qualified for disasters like this. He gets to the White House on his own and OHF_13131.NEFopens up communication with his boss (Angela Bassett) and the grumpy, southern Speaker of the House (Morgan Freeman).

The chief bad guy, Kang (Rick Yune), holds all the cards. He is determined to learn the Cerberus defence code (known only to a few top officials). And he demands the DMZ be taken down and the Korean peninsula unified. With his crack team of super-shooters (inexplicably wearing silly Gilligan hats and bandanas over their faces) and computer experts, along with some American traitors, he’s unbeatable. Or is he?

It’s up to Banning to single-handedly beat all the bad guys, rescue the President (Aaron Eckhardt who is much more a Romney than an Obama), his young son, Connor, and the feisty Secretary of State (Melissa Leo). And, while he’s at it, free the White House, and save the world from an imminent disaster. He accomplishes this with old fashioned American know-how, brutal fighting skills, and brutish come-back lines. (Best line: “Kang, let’sOHF_10923.NEF play a round of f*ck off — you go first.”) He improvises, like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, using things he finds on the way. Like smashing in a terrorist’s head using a marble bust of Lincoln. As a Secret Service agent Banning knows every cubbyhole, every secret passageway in the White House.

Antoine Fuqua made the very good movie Training Day, but this is absolutely nothing like that one in style or plot. None of the movie is even vaguely plausible, but it doesn’t need a deep read to understand it. It’s hilariously awful at times, but tense and exciting at others. It’s a classic action movie, complete with explosions, shoot-outs and a virtually unwatchable close-up fight scene with a hand-held camera jiggly enough to make you lose your chili nachos in the lap of the guy in the next seat.

Watch it, laugh at it, and then forget it.

0134_lqxemynyGoing Home

Dir: Sudz Sutherland

Due to a change of laws, the US, Canada and the UK are now in the habit of deporting people — landed immigrants who moved to these countries as small children – back to their birthplaces after being convicted even of relatively minor crimes. This drama follows the different paths the three of them take as they are unceremoniously dumped in Jamaica with just a suitcase.

Dunstan (Canadian actor Lyric Bent) is a likeable, big guy from New York. His cousin helps set him up as security at a meth lab in Greenwich Farms, (a tough part of Kingston). He’s working for The Don, a hairy-eyeball young gangster who operates like a high court judge in his neighbourhood, punishing or helping the people there, as he sees fit. Soon he meets the pretty but stand-offish Cherry C. (pop star Fefe Dobson) and likes her a lot. Wants to get to know her much better. But she wants nothing to do with a Deportee.

0024_vysosif1Everton (played by Torontonian Stephan James) is a clean-cut and naïve, upper-middle-class student from London. He arrives in Kingston like a fish just waiting to be caught. His uncle Sam, who he’s supposed to meet in Trenchtown, isn’t there. He meets up with a cute high school girl, but things just get worse and worse. He soon finds himself homeless and penniless waiting for his mother to rescue him. But she’s a continent away and he can only reach her by long distant phone calls.

And finally Marva from Toronto (Tatyana Ali) was separated from her two young children when she was deported. She can’t find work because no one will trust a deportee. Forced to live with her relatives — a cruel aunt and a skeezy uncle (very well played by Paul Campbell) — Marva feels trapped in an untenable situation. If she can somehow get her kids to join her in Jamaica things will get better.

Will Everton be able to pull himself together and return to England once his court appeal goes through? Can Home Again. Tatyana AliDunston earn enough to buy a forged passport and get back to his little brother in NY? And can Marva get together again with her kids?

The three deportees have their own separate sub-plots with only minimal contact among them. But they are all set in a very real-looking, fascinating Caribbean city (it was shot in Trinidad), with its colourful scenes and dancehalls, marketplaces and homes. And the movie takes place during a growing gang war affecting all of their lives.

I thought there were enough sub plots and sub-sub plots to fill a miniseries, with dozens of different side characters and twists — too much stuff going on for one movie. But by the end it all starts to coalesce, and you really feel for the characters. Great soundtrack – reggae mixed with dance. The acting is also great – especially Tatyana Ali, but also all the small roles, and there are many — and most of the (subtitled Jamaican) dialogue was fun too. As movies go, it’s a depressing plot, one I wouldn’t normally want to rush to see, and Canadian movies are prone to the overly earnest. But this didn’t happen: I liked it! It gives you lots to think about. Home Again is a good, plot-heavy drama that never leaves you bored.

Olympus has Fallen, and Home Again both open today, as does the film Yossi: 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 .

April 28, 2012. High and Low. Hotdocs Films Reviewed: Finding North, Off Label, The Queen of Versailles

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Hotdocs, Movies, Poverty, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 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, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

I’m back again to review a few of the many documentaries playing at Hotdocs, Toronto’s documentary mega-festival that opened yesterday. I used to think that documentaries were boring movies that you had to watch when nothing good was on TV. Then I went to Hotdocs.

It shows you what ideas, concepts, problems, and trends are hot right now it’s an amazingly diverse, fascinating platform for everything you’re going to find out about over the next year, pushed in your face all at once right now. It’s filled with good causes, jaw-droppers, shocking strange people, local heroes, and places you never knew about. And stories that are often better than the ones you see in regular mainstream movies.

You get hear new words like Tchoupitoulis (a fascinating trip through New Orleans at night) and Buzkashi! (a Tajik horseback sport.) See celebs like Rick Springfield; and hear about issues like Hindu Fundamentalism (the World before her) , and about Invisible Wars. And hotdocs offers free admission, daytime, if you have a student or seniors’ card. Don’t miss it.

So, this week, I’m talking about three American documentaries about lives at the bottom and at the top.

Finding North

Dir: Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson

This movie asks the simple question – how can so many Americans go hungry? And at the same time… be so fat? 50 million Americans are food insecure in oine of the world’s biggest food producers.

Well, the country is filled with food deserts — places where there is no affordable fresh food available in your neighbourhood. These are amazingly common, even In big cities. Junk food, on the other hand, is everywhere, and affordable, though entirely without food value. How did this happen? Facing North explains. The US government subsidizes big agriculture, to the tune of trillions of dollars (cumulatively speaking). It originally went to local small farmers, but now almost all of it goes to corporaRTE agriculture. So corn wheat and soy — and the cattle and pigs its fed to — are artificially cheap, while fruits and vegetables keep rising in price. The subsidies all go to make hi-fructose corn syrup and deep-fried pork rinds, while only one percent of the whole subsidy budget helps out fruit and vegetable growers. Even people in the movie (it follows families in the west the north east and the deep south) on food stamps or receiving food bank donations are trapped in a world of canned ravioli, chips and pop — fresh fruit and vegetables are way out of reach.

But some people are trying to break free. There’s a terrific scene where a school teacher In Mississippi introduces her class to a honeydew melon, many of whom look they’d never seen one before. This movie movie is a must-see for people concerned with food, nutrition and its effect on poverty.

So what else can you do if you’re just scraping by? The next movie shows one route desperate people are taking.

Off Label

Dir: Michael Palmieri, and Donal Mosher

The drug industry – I’m talking about the legal one here – is enormous. Doctors prescribe drugs for everything, and it generates phenomenal amounts of money. But the one of the big growth areas is off label prescriptions, which means using drugs that prevent epileptic seizures or combat psychotic mood swings for other purposes – like weight loss, calm feelings or just a good night’s sleep, mood stabilizers.

This drug testing used to be done on guinea pigs and caged monkeys, but they really want are human bodies – living ones – to test on. The movie shows the prisoners who used to be tested on for a few bucks – they were told it was just Johnson and Johnson’s bubble bath — until that got outlawed. Now they use, well, poor people. Human guinea pigs who are fed noxious chemicals in strange combinations, and are tested for their side effects. Some of them enjoy it, some not so much, but they all do it for the money.

Often the tests are to see how different drugs react with one another, since so many people have multiple prescriptions at the same time. Polypharmaculture – multiple drugs at once – is one of the biggest potential problems and is becoming ubiquitous despite their unknown side effects.

The movie also deals with the case of a doctor who pushed his patient, who was mentally ill, into double-blind testing of new drugs, even when there’s a clear conflict of interest – the doctor is involved in the study of drug interactions.

This has one of those OMG moments where you just stare at the screen with your mouth hanging open. Its not what you see, but rather, what a subject of the movie tells in graphic detail about what she’s been through. Absolutely shocking. Off label is a very good, very informative and eye-opening movie.

The Queen of Versailles

Dir: Lauren Greenfield

Just in case you’re saying “I don’t want to see any more poor people… they’re yucky” well here’s a documentary about a woman who finds herself super rich. Jackie is in her forties, a former beauty queen with an engineering degree from western New York who set her sites on a big-bucks hubbie. The first one didn’t fly, but with the second one she hit the jackpot. He’s a Yertle the Turtle (30 years her senior) balanced at the top of a time share empire, with properties in Florida and Las Vegas. She has 8 kids – she only planned to have a couple, but once she discovered the concept of nannies she just kept popping them out, cause you don’t have to do anything once they’re born. Jackie’s an impossibly aerodynamically-breasted, smart floozie, whose biggest problem is deciding if it’s a purple zebra or a hot pink cheetah (tank top) day. They fly around in private jets, and are so excited when they see the Palace of Versailles, that they decide to build their own, the biggest house in America, right in the Everglades, complete with a bowling alley, a sushi bar and a health spa, and Italian marble floors. It’s going to be a rococo kitsch-fest, and it’s going up.

And then… the stock market collapses, the real estate bubble pops, and suddenly they’re not so rich, the kids have to go to public school, and most of the servants get fired so there’s no one to clean up after Jackie’s yappy long-haired dogs anymore.

The Queen of Versailles is a hilarious look at the lives of a mega-rich family in America as they weather the economic downturn.

You can see The Queen of Versailles, Off Label, and Finding North – along with many many other great documentaries, like The World Before Her, – right now at Hotdocs. Also opening today is a delightful and funny claymation kids movie called PIRATES! It was made by the same people who did Wallace and Grommit, and I thought this one was almost as good. It’s playing now, check your local listings. Also stay tuned, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the Inside-out LGBT Film Festival are both just around the corner.

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

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