TIFF18! Films reviewed: Consequences, Woman at War, Tito and the Birds

Posted in Animation, Brazil, Environmentalism, Iceland, Kids, LGBT, Politics, Prison, Skinhead, Slovenia, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2018

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 differenc

Tiff is here, now.

It began last night, and is filled with big-budget, glitzy premiers and movie stars  from all over the world. You can go down to King st — between Spadina and University — starting today, to take it all in. And even if you don’t have tickets, with more than two hundred movies opening there, I promise, you can still get in.

But the Hollywood stuff is getting way too much coverage, so this week I’m talking about three, lesser-known movies playing at TIFF that I really like. There’s an eco-activist in Iceland, a bird talker in Brazil and a Slovenian in the slammer.

Consequences

Wri/Dir Darko Stante

Andrej (Mate Zemlijk) is a teenager who has it made. He lives with his parents in a nice suburban home. He’s handsome, fit, with a beautiful girlfriend and a pet rat named FIFA. Fortified with bourbon he can pick up any girl in the room. But the sex he has is bad, his life is empty, and he takes out his frustrations on everyone around him.

This lands him in a reform school with strict rules. It’s run by adult men, but is actually governed by a gang of bullies, headed by Žele (Timon Sturbej) and his sidekick Niko. Žele is a tough skinhead who extorts money from the other boys by claiming they owe him. Niko is a deranged practical joker who eggs Žele on while brandishing a blowtorch. Andrej initially stands up for his pothead roommate Luka, but soon he is invited into the gang and becomes their main enforcer. He accompanies them on their weekend outings in Ljubljana.  

And as he is pulled away from the rules of his home and the reform centre he feels increasingly isolated, spending the night in a kindergarten playhouse he remembers from his childhood. Meanwhile the crime level continues to rise, as Žele grooms Andrej for shakedowns, car theft, drug trade and smuggling. But Andrej’s not in it for the money. He likes the bully – likes, as in sexually – and thinks he sees a mutual attraction. Will Zele be his rival, his friend… or his lover?

Consequences is a dark, coming of age drama set in present-day Slovenia. It probes alienated youth, crime, drugs, sexual fluidity, and relationships. This film uses unknown actors to great effect  and the interplay between Zemlijk and Sturbej is compelling. Darko Stante’s Consequences is part of TIFF’s Discovery series and it’s having to world premier tonight. Catch it if you can.

Woman at War

Dir: Benedikt Erlingsson

Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) is a single,  middle-aged Icelandic woman with a secret. It’s not that she’s a well-liked choir head. Or that she has an identical twin named Asa. Or even that she’s been approved to adopt a Ukrainian orphan girl. Her big secret is she’s the eco activist the government has been searching for. She’s the one who takes down hydro cables, shutting down the foreign-owned smelting plants endangering Iceland’s once pristine environment.

Using a simple bow and arrow, along with some metal wire, she manages to bring down a high tension wire. Her secret is known only to one person in the government – her friend and government mole Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson) who is sickened by their environmental policies. The government repeatedly arrests a latino hiker in a Che Guevara T-shirt, while Halla escapes unknown.

Halla is one with nature. She knows every nook and cranny, every mound and cliff, and manages to avoid drones, helicopters and security experts. But when they close down all the roads just to catch her she seeks refuge with a sympathetic farmer, possibly a distant cousin. But with the government closing in, can she continue her one-woman fight for the environment? Or will it ruin her long awaited chance to adopt a child?

Woman at War is a brilliant satirical comedy drama about Iceland, its clans, government corruption, the environment, and its women. Geirharðsdóttir is marvellous as the twin sisters, totally believable as an underground superhero who can communicate with the environment by covering her face in lichen.

Another great movie at TIFF.

Tito and The Birds

Dir: Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, Gustavo Steinberg

Tito is a schoolboy in a big Brazilian city like São Paulo. His dad is an inventor, specializing in steampunk contraptions filled with misshapen, pipes, dials and gewgaws sticking out at weird angles. He thinks his machine will let people talk with birds. But when it explodes, and Tito ends up in hospital, dad leaves his family for good. A few years later Tito takes up his dad’s role and enters his own invention into the school science fair. His main rival is a rich kid named Teo. But Tito’s machine,  like his dad’s, blows up, sending the audience running.

Meanwhile a strange disease has gone viral infecting more and more people in the city. It feeds on fear – fear of crime, fear of disease, fear of poor people – even though there is nothing to fear but fear itself. This fear is encouraged by a real estate developer, trying to move people out of the cities into gated communities under glass domes. Scary men in Hazmat suits have taken over spraying everyone with chemicals, but it doesn’t seem to work. So Tito and his best friends – the brave Sarah and the silent Buiu – join forces to defy fear and thus defeat this terrible disease. They are sure the city’s pigeons hold the secret. And they invite rich rival Teo – the son of the real estate mogul – to help them too. Can they save the city with birds and science? Or will fear overcome logic?

Tito and the Birds is an animated film from Brazil that looks at poverty and class difference as seen through the eyes of children. It’s a kids’ movie, for sure, but I loved it, especially the colours splashed across the big screen. Vibrant swathes of glowing green, hot pink, warm yellow, and black are everywhere, giving it an unforgettable look.

Consequences, Tito and the Birds, and Woman at War are all premiering at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Visuals. Films reviewed: Papillon, We the Animals, Madeline’s Madeline

Posted in 1930s, Coming of Age, Dance, Drama, Family, France, LGBT, Prison, violence by CulturalMining.com on August 24, 2018

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

All movies need good sound and pictures, but in some films the visual aspects are especially notable. This week, I’m looking at three, new, visually-oriented movies, with two approaching the avant-garde.

We’ve got three brothers exploring their home, two men escaping from a desert island, and one young actress channelling her inner self.

Papillon

Dir: Michael Noer

It’s 1930s Paris and Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charley Hunnam) is living the life of Riley. He’s fit, smart and well-to-do, and is passionately in love with his beautiful wife. He figures at this current income he could retire in six more months. His job? An expert safe-cracker, working freelance for the mob. But his luck runs out when he is sent down for a murder he didn’t commit. Papillon is a good fighter but not a killer. They send him off to an inescable prison in French Guyana but he is already planning on how to get out. On board the ship he meets Louis Dega (Rami Malek) a small but snobbish counterfeiter with glasses. Dega is rich – he keeps a roll of bills hidden up his rectum – but can’t defend himself, and Papillon needs money to get away. Together they form a grudging alliance that deepens as their friendship grows.

Prison life – including hard labour – is brutal, with violence coming both from other inmates and from the guards. Any escape attempt means two years in solitary, with absolute silence required Repeated attempts mean permanent exile to Devils island a cliff covered desert. Papillon – his nickname comes from a butterfly tat on his chest – takes the fall for dega when he blows an escape attempt. He keeps from going insane in solitary by keeping his inner mind awake. The warden wants to break him, but Papillon never gives up.

Can he ever escape this hell-hole? And can Dega make it out too?

Perhaps because I’ve read Papillon’s true prison memoirs, and seen the 1970s film (starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman) this version seems too long and two slow… almost like a prison sentence. Still, it is visually gorgeous with period costumes, exotic settings, and epic scenery. Hunnam and Malek – two actors I really like — carry their roles well. So I ended up liking it, mainly as an adventure/action movie.

We the Animals

Dir: Jeremiah Zagar

It’s the 1980s. Manny, Joel and Jonah (Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Evan Rosado) are three biracial brothers in their tweens who live in a country home in upstate New York. Their Ma (Sheila Vand) has pale skin and long black hair – she works in a bottling plant. Pops (Raul Castillo) is Puerto Rican and looks like Freddie Mercury with his buzzed hair and black moustache. He keeps the boys’ hair buzzed short just like his, but Jonah, the youngest, has his mother’s blue eyes. Mom wants him to stay with her and never grow up and turn bad. Always stay nine years old, she says. Together the three boys run rampant around the house in the woods, though Jonah is shyer than his brothers, and afraid to go swimming.

Their playful and fun lives are interrupted by reality when Paps beats up mom, and drives away. She locks herself in her bedroom, so there’s no one to feed them. They become like wild animals exploring local stores and farms for food they can steal. On their travels they meet another kid. Dustin, who shows them their first porn videos and shares their first smokes. He’s from Phillie, and Jonah adores him. Will he and Dustin run away to somewhere they can be together?

We the Animals is an amazingly beautiful movie about growing up, as seen through a young boy’s eyes. He narrates the story, and keeps a record of everything in his secret journal along with bold crayon drawings. These drawings are animated in the film, and together with handlheld camera shots and aerial optics, we feel like we’re part of Jonah’s thoughts and dreams. The three, first-time actors are fantastic as the brothers, as are the parents.

We the Animals is a gorgeous, surreal film.

Madeline’s Madeline

Dir: Josephine Decker

Madeline (Helena Howard) is a young, biracial stage actress in NY City. She lives with her mom (Miranda July) and little brother She has her own bedroom decorated with fashion photos of models with their faces cut out and replaced by skies, clouds and sunsets. She sometimes sneaks in friends and prospective boyfriends to chat and maybe maybe more, but she’s always on the lookout for her overprotective mother… ready to intrude into her private life. But there’s a reason her mom is so intrusive. Madeline is prone to undiagnosed “episodes”, brought on by God knows what. She behaves erratically, inappropriately possibly even violent, so her mom tries not to upset her.

Currently Madeline is cast in an avant-garde stage project directed by Evangeline (Molly Parker). The actors – think yoga outfits and man buns – enter the minds of animals they imagine. It’s part acting, part movement, part dance, performed wearing masks. Evangeline is a Jungian, and longs to share in her actors’ thoughts and dreams, especially Madeline’s. She is obsessed by her, perhaps because Evangeline is pregnant and she sees Madeline as her baby (Evangeline’s unborn baby is also biracial).

So now it’s up to Madeline to negotiate her fraught relationship wihth her mother, a new one with her surrogate mom, and her inner turmoil that torments her dreams. All this while playing a version of herself in the project. Can Madeline, and the inner-Madeline she’s channelling – survive the daily stress of a scriptless production? Or is it too much for a 17 year old to handle?

Madeline’s Madeline is a semi-mystical look at the process of putting on an avant garde play. You have to accept the premise of experimental theatre to get the movie, but once you do, it works. The three main actors – supported by a group of almost mute performers – makes a great mom-daughter-mom rivalry, but Helena Howard especially stands out with her great and unpredictable acting.

Papillon, We the Animals and Madeline’s Madeline all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Tarique Qayumi about Black Kite at #TIFF17

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Prison, violence, War by CulturalMining.com on August 25, 2017

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

Arian is an Afghan man thrown into a dark prison cell with a murderer. His crime? Flying a kite, forbidden by religious fundamentalist in charge. It seems an easy enough thing to give up… but not for Arian. He was brought up with them, earned a living from them, met his love from them, raised a daughter through them… maybe even lost a war because of them. Kites mean freedom, beauty, fantasy, and escape. Kites are his everything.

Black Kite is a new film having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s written and directed by Afghan-born Canadian filmmaker Tarique Qayumi. Tarique went back to war-torn Kabul to shoot this moving, fairytale drama even while suicide bombings exploded all around. The film features popular Afghan stars and incorporates lovely animated sequences and period footage woven throughout the film.

I reached Tarique in Vancouver by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daniel Garber talks with director Jac Gares about her new film Free CeCe! at Inside Out

Posted in African-Americans, documentary, LGBT, Prison, Protest, Trans, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

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

In June, 2011 in St. Paul Minnesota, an African-American woman and her friends were taunted by a group of white supremacists they encountered on the street. A white woman assaulted her, cutting her face, followed by a violent attack by a white man. The situation escalated when the woman under attack pulled out a scissors to defend herself. The man ended up dead, the woman charged with murder. Her name is CeCe McDonald and she’s a transgendered black woman whose story has captured the interest of activists around the world.

Free CeCe! is a new documentary that tells her story. It’s about the violence, injustice and incarceration faced by transgender people of colour. It is directed by Jacqueline “Jac” Gares an award-winning TV director and filmmaker. Free CeCe! is her first documentary feature film, and it’s having its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival on Sunday, May 28th.

I spoke with Jac in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM via telephone to New York City.

Flashback. Films Reviewed: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Rings, Shepherds and Butchers

Posted in 1940s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, Canada, Coming of Age, Horror, Montreal, Movies, Prison, Seattle, South Africa, Trial by CulturalMining.com on February 3, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUTflashback-film-fest 89.5 FM.

If the 1970s was Hollywood’s golden age then the 80s and 90s were its tin foil age —when a series of corporate takeovers placed short-term profits over creativity, and the Oscars celebrated forgettable, middle-brow pap. Even so, there were some fun and popular movies from 80s and 90s. Films like Alien, Shallow Grave, and Starship Troupers are playing at Cineplex’s Flashback Film Festival (FBFF) across Canada starting today, giving you a chance to revisit favourites on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at flashbacks. There’s a rerelease of a Canadian coming-of-age classic from the 70s, a flashback to a courtroom drama set in apartheid South Africa in the 80s; and a new sequel to a Japanese horror movie from the 90s.

duddy_kravitz_4colThe Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974)

Dir: Ted Kotcheff Based on the novel by Mordecai Richler

It’s the 1940s in a poor, Jewish section of Montreal. Duddy Kravitz (Richard Dreyfuss) is a teenager recently graduated from Fletcher’s Field (a.k.a. Baron Byng) High School. MBDAPOF EC001He lives with his widowed father Max (Jack Warden) who works as a taxi driver and part-time pimp, and his big brother Lennie. Lennie is a smart and sophisticated med student at McGill. But Duddy has neither the brains nor the inclination to study.

He’s a boorish and loud, nervous and uncouth, always sweating and scratching, jumping MBDAPOF EC008and cussing. He has a filthy mouth and an intrusive manner. With no friends or admirers he just wants to get rich quick. His idol is a gangster known as The Boy Wonder (Henry Ramer), and his favourite retort is kiss my Royal Canadian Ass.

He gets a summer job at a holiday resort in the Laurentiens, but is relentlessly put down by rich kids from Westmount and Outrement. He makes friend with a pretty waitress named Yvette (Micheline Lanctot). They fall for each other and she takes him to a secret spot beside a pristine lake. He’s struck by its beauty and vows to buy it, but is blocked by Québécois farmers who never sell property to jewish people. And Yvette is turned off by his constant drive for profits and MBDAPOF EC006wealth.

Duddy sets off on a series of impossible ventures he thinks will make enough money to buy the land: Importing Pinball machines with his friend Virgil, an American he meets on a train (Randy Quaid); and producing films with an alcoholic British communist (Denholm Elliot). But in his quest for success, he risks alienates his friends, his lover and his family. What will he learn from his apprenticeship with the real world?

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a hilarious and audacious drama from the 70s which deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a dark slice of Canadian life, a world full of bigotry, snobbery, selfishness and deceit, tempered with the glorious freedom of a young man pursuing his dreams.

15871828_1198279710249685_2066179248684362877_nRings

Dir: F. Javier Gutierrez

Julia (Matilda Lutz ) is a high school grad in small town USA. She’s sad because her pretty, but dumb-as-a-post boyfriend (Alex Roe) is heading off to university in Seattle. Don’t worry, Holt says, I’ll skype you every night. But when the calls stop coming and he doesn’t answer her texts, brave Julia heads off to Seattle to investigate. And she finds something strange: there’s an old black-and-white video everyone tells her to watch. What she doesn’t know is that anyone who watches this video will be dead in seven days. But if you trick someone else into15844158_1196804380397218_3255840937653140664_o watching it, you get another seven days added to your life.

Like Orpheus in the Underworld, Julia decides to forge ahead, rescuing her boyfriend from Hell. She intentionally watches the dreaded video, and using her powers of second sight – she’s clairvoyant — she decides to follow a ghost to its point of origin. But first she has to deal with a secretive professor named Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) and a blind graveyard custodian (Vincent d’Onofrio).

Can Julia rescue Holt, defeat a ghost with long black hair, and figure out the meaning behind the cursed video tape?

Rings is a reboot of the scary Japanese movie Ring and its sequels. Last week I interviewed two ghosts from that era, Sadako vs Kayako. In the American films, Sadako is called Samara, and urban Japan becomes a village somewhere in Washington State. More than that, Rings trades the chill feel of video static for a more conventional American ghost story.

Is it scary? A little, especially towards the end as Julie’s visions start to pay off. But the story is so ridiculously disjointed it’s laughable. It treats the original Ring as just a jumping-off point for an unrelated story, discarding much of what made that film so scary.

29_img_8235Shepherds and Butchers

Dir: Oliver Schmitz

It’s 1987 in Apartheid-era South Africa. Leon Labuschagne (Garion Dowds) a white Afrikaner, is arrested for murdering seven black African members of a soccer club in a quarry. The seven bodies were found neatly lined up in a row. The accused refuses to defend himself or even to say anything about what he did; he says he can’t remember. It’s an open 08_img_6438and shut case. Or is it?

In walks the famed jurist Johan Webber (Steve Coogan), a staunch opponent to the death penalty. While not contesting the actual crime, instead he says it is the brutal South African justice system that led to the crime. A shy, church-going kid turned into a mass murderer in just a few years? Preposterous!

It turns out Leon, since age 17, has been forced to work on death row in a maximum security prison. His work is like a shepherd, tending to the needs — food, showers, and prayers — of  men  “on the rope” (waiting to be hanged). But he’s also a butcher, forced to 32_img_6718kill — en masse, often seven at a time — the same men he takes care of.

His story is told at his trial in a series of gruesome and realistic flashbacks. Johan goads him into recounting what he – and the prisoners — has been through. This film shows the horrors of capital punishment, and particularly 47_img_9027the mass executions held in South Africa, in graphic detail. It is horrifying and extremely hard to watch, because it brings you, the viewer, right into the gallows itself. Shepherds and Butchers is a touching story about an important topic, but believe me, it is not for the faint of heart.

Rings and Shepherds and Butchers both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is playing for free this Sunday as part of the Canada on Screen series. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks with documentary filmmaker Ilan Ziv about An Eye for an Eye

Posted in 2000s, documentary, Prison, Racism, Texas, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 11, 2016

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

Mark Stroman was a regular guy: Texas loud and Texas proud. He hated big government, taxes, foreigners, and political correctness. He liked love, liberty, security, family and patriotism. He was also a white supremacist, an admirer of Aryan nations and a proud flyer of the Confederate Battle Flag. Then 9-11 happened and something snapped.

Stroman went out in his car to systematically murder people he called “A-rabs” — mainly the mark stroman, an eye for an eyeSouth Asians he encountered at convenience stores and gas stations. He was later arrested, tried and sentenced to death, in exchange for the lives he took. But is justice as simple as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?

An Eye for an Eye is a new documentary that looks at Stroman’s transformation in prison, and the unexpected support he received from his enemies, his victims and their families. It’s about vengeance and racism but also compassion and forgiveness. The doc is directed by award-winning filmmaker Ilan Ziv and it opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with Ilan in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Daniel Garber talks with director Patrick Reed about his new documentary Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Prison, Suspicion, Taliban, Terrorism, Torture, US, War by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2016

 

Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar KhadrHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid born in Toronto into a controversial family. He was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan at a militant camp. A US soldier was killed and Omar, as the sole survivor, was blamed for his Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadrdeath. Labelled a terrorist, he was sent to a prison in Cuba at the American military base known as Guantanamo. He was the youngest inmate there and reached maturity as Guantanamo’s Child.

Guantanamo’s Child is also the name of a new KO79nx_GUANTANAMOSCHILD_01_o3_8887721_1449615152documentary about Omar Khadr’s stay in that notorious prison. Partly based on Michelle Shephard’s book, the film chronicles his and his family’s lives from his early years in Toronto, his stay in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the decade spent in Guantanamo, and his status today back in Canada. The film premiered at TIFF15 and is now playing in Toronto as part of the Canada Top Ten Film Festival.

I spoke with the film’s award-winning co-director, Patrick Reed, in studio.

Daniel Garber talks with Zhang Yimou about his new film Coming Home at #TIFF14

Posted in 1960s, Class, Communism, Cultural Mining, Denial, Drama, Morality, Movies, Prison by CulturalMining.com on October 2, 2015

_MG_9568Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s China’s cultural revolution. A jailed intellectual escapes from prison to see his wife, but they are prevented from meeting by a political bargain set up by someone he should trust. And in the scuffle his wife suffers a brain injury. Years later, after the cultural revolution, he returns home… only to find his wife doesn’t 676e8779-1a75-47db-9a86-ccc0604f9061recognize him, and his daughter, a ballet student, has been kicked out of their home. So a family has been split in three as a result of his coming home.

COMING HOME is also the name of a film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. It stars _MG_9561Gong Li as the mother. It was directed by Chinese master filmmaker Zhang Yimou, known, over the past three decades, for movies like Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, and Hero. As a Chinese director he is rare indeed as one who is commercially successful, critically acclaimed and acceptable to the government. I spoke to him at TIFF in September, 2014.  Coming Home opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Cracks in the Foundation. The Continent, Rocks in my Pockets, Rosewater

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

From far away, porcelain looks smooth, shiny and flawless, but look too close and fine cracks appear. This week, I‘m looking at movies that expose the cracks in faraway Latvia, China and Iran. There’s an Iranian man who wants to leave prison; three Chinese men who want to leave their island, and a Latvian woman who, at times, wants to leave life altogether.

TheContinentThe Continent
Dir: Han Han

Three young men have lived their lives on a tiny, windswept island off the east coast of China. But they decide it’s time to check out the continent. Like in the classic Chinese novel, they set out on a “Journey to the West. They each have a different reason. Jianghe (Chen Bolin  [陈柏霖], who also starred in Buddha Mountain [觀音山] — read my review here) a school teacher an”d eternal optimist, is transferred by the government to a remote location far, far away. Haohan (Feng Shaofeng [冯绍峰]) is a blustering young man dying to see the world. He longs to stand on a determined mountaintop and shout to the world about the size of his dick. And he has a childhood pen-pal Yingying TheContinent_still2(Yolanda Yuan [袁泉]), a pretty girl he’ll finally meet face to face. And true love will soon follow. Their third friend, Hu Sheng, is mentally challenged, and depends on the other two to tell him what to do.

But they soon discover life outside their tiny island is bewildering and confusing. They stumble onto a movie set in WWII. And at their first hotel Jianghe is approached by an escort named Sumi, immediately followed by knocks on the door from aggressive police. Bewildered, he plays the hero, HanHanbusting out through a barred window and “saving” Sumi from a fate worse than death. Or so he thinks. And a sketchy, Cantonese hitchhiker helps them with their navigating – but can he be trusted? Maybe not, in a place where anything that you don’t hold onto with both hands when you gp to sleep will likely be gone by morning. But it’s also a country with stunning and empty vast vistas, rockets flying to outer-space, and cool and savvy people at every turn.

The Continent is writer-director Han Han’s (韩寒) first film, but he’s far from unknown. His blog is the best-known one in China which automatically makes him one of the most famous people in the world. This is not just a simple, picaresque road movie. It’s also a slyly humorous — if bleak — cautionary tale about life in contemporary China.

RocksinMyPockets_Poster_MediumRocks in My Pockets
Wri/Dir Signe Baumane

Signe is a Brooklyn artist, originally from Latvia, with a hidden family past. She wants to find out the truth behind the family matriarch, her late grandmother. On the surface, she was a preternaturally hard-worker, known for her Sisyphean feat of carrying endless buckets of water up a steep mountain. She had retreated to a backwoods cabin with her husband, an eccentric entrepreneur, to escape the difficulties of life in the city. But, after a bit of digging, Signe discovers a streak of depression, suicide and mental illness in her family stretching back three generations. The title refers to her grandmother’s attempted suicide by drowning – she was unsuccessful because she forgot to fill her pocket with rocks. Even if the mind wants to end it all, the body – until the last breath — will fight against dying. At the same time, Signe realizes that the many children and grandchildren managed to survive and succeed despite harsh time. In this film, Riga is imagined as a rocksinmypockets-1024x576place with enormous human faces on their buildings, within a country filled with animistic creatures with long tails, dog ears and goggly eyes that lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

Her odd family history is portrayed in a series of short, animated episodes, using panels of sketched characters moving against brightly-tinted Linda_Sc_080_with_WS_Thumbnailbackgrounds. These are interspersed with super-imposed stop-motion images made of rope and papier-mache figurines. This giuves the whole movie an unusual three-dimensional feel, combining classic drawing with computer-manipulated mixes. And omnipresent is the wry and funny –though at times grating – voice of the narrator telling and commenting on her family history. The director shows the deleterious effects of Soviet era psychiatry – one where cures consist of medicinal corrections to chemical imbalances – and how it makes some people long to “erase themselves” and ceasing to exist. A poignant, fascinating and great animated feature.

RW_LM_20130810_0238.jpgRosewater
Dir: Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist based in London. He lives there with his beautiful (and pregnant) wife. He is assigned to cover the upcoming elections in Iran, but quickly runs unto trouble as soon as he arrives. He quickly makes friends with a politically active and sympathetic taxi driver who takes him to areas fertile with dissent. But after witnessing a potentially explosive event he is arrested. His charge? Spying.

Ironically, a comic TV interview he had given to an American comedian on the Daily Show is used as evidence of his wrong doing. He is quickly thrown into solitary confinement in a notorious prison. He is psychologically tortured until — says the warden — his will is broken and he will lose all hope.

His family, it turns out, is no stranger to death and imprisonment for RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgpolitical views under earlier regimes. Both his father and his sister had gone through it, and appear, in his mind, to convince him to hold on. But will he make it?

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s first film, and it shows it. Stewart is known for the brilliant and funny The Daily Show that skewers mass media from a left-ish perspective. But a feature film is not a three-minute sketch. The movie starts out great with exciting scenes of news-gatering, but it starts to drag, heavily, once it moves to the prison. While it conveys the loneliness and suffering,  solitary confinement does not make for good cinema. Bernal and the supporting actors are fine, but the buffoonish prison guard and the sinister administrator seem too much like the evil twins of  Schultz and Klink to take seriously.

The Continent played at the ReelAsian Film Festival which continues for another week (reelasian.com), Rosewood played at TIFF this year and opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Rocks in my Pockets opened the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (which features films on addiction and mental health – with an additional screening tomorrow: go to rendezvouswithmadness.com for times. Also opening: next week at Hot Docs there’s the great documentary called Point and Shoot about a young American traveler/journalist who, despite being non-religious and non-radicalized, nevertheless joins the rebel armies fighting in Libya (listen to my review here). And a surprising story about the Life of Pigeons on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

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 director Andrew Gregg about State of Incarceration, his new doc on CBC TV’s Doc Zone

Posted in Canada, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Prison, TV, US by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

Andrew Gregg at CIUT photo © daniel GarberHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Some strange things have been happening to Canada’s justice system under the current federal government. We’re building more prisons than ever before, even as we cut spending on rehabilitation of prisoners. Crime rates have reached new lows but we’re imprisoning more people, and keeping them there longer.

What does this mean? Why is it happening?  Will it accomplish what the government is trying to do? And how does Canada compare to our neighbour to the south?

A new CBC documentary called STATE OF stateofincarceration_1280INCARCERATION looks at these issues and speaks to experts on both sides of the argument. It’s directed by Canadian filmmaker Andrew Gregg. (I last interviewed Andrew two years ago about his doc The Norse: an Arctic Mystery. You can listen to that interview here)

I spoke with Andrew at CIUT about the changes to the Canadian justice system, and his eye-opening documentary STATE OF INCARCERATION. It premiers on CBC-TV, Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 9 pm.

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