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.

Sticking Your Neck Out. Hot Docs Movies Reviewed: An Honest Liar, Point and Shoot, Demonstration

Posted in Barcelona, Cultural Mining, Dance, documentary, Hotdocs, L.A., Libya, Magic, Prison, Protest, Resistance, Road Movie, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 3, 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.

Cel-phone cameras are ubiquitous now. So it’s getting harder to separate the relentless recording of everyday life from a real documentary. Filmmakers really have to stick their necks out to find something amazing and surprising and beautiful. But some do just that. This week, I’m looking at three films playing at Hot Docs. There’s a magician who exposes tricksters; an adventurer who joins a (non-religious) jihad; and political demonstrators… who dance?

An_Honest_Liar_1An Honest Liar

Dir: Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom

The Magnificent Randi was a Toronto-born magician and escape artist who modeled himself after the Great Houdini. Like Houdini, he is famous for his deception and dramatic escapes.  And like Houdini, he devoted his second career to exposing the fake fakers: the ones who bamboozle audiences into thinking their tricks are for real. I’m talking faith healing televangelists like Peter “out poison!” Popov, the fake TV psychics, and the pseudo-scientific prestidigitators. He has a long-held rivalry with Uri Geller, the spoon bender from the 60s and 70s who claims he has telekinetic powers.

Randi also showed how easily scientists can be fooled as they tried to probe alien An_Honest_Liar_3abductions and ESP. Using young collaborators and his own deceptions, Randi manages to fool even a dedicated scientist if he tried. He secretly places students (who claim they have special abilities) into the experimental pool, and later reveals his tricks – much to the dismay of the scientists. He provides the scientists with a list of what to look out for, but still manages to slip through the cracks. Today he lives in California with a dramatic white beard and walks with gold-topped cane.

This is a fascinating and very well-crafted story, with a twist all its own. Turns out his longtime partner and collaborator, Puerto Rican artist Jose Alvarez, has a lie he keeps under wraps for three decades. Ironically, the two met on the old TV quiz show To Tell The Truth. These honest liars make for a very interesting movie.

Point_And_Shoot_3Point and Shoot

Dir: Marshall Curry

Matthew Van Dyke was a coddled kid from Baltimore, “the only child of an only child of an only child”. Fascinated by movies like Lawrence of Arabia, the blue-eyed boy dreams of exotic and dangerous adventures.  At the same time, he’s also a cube of quivering jello with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and a remarkable sugar phobia. So, after university (Middle Eastern Studies), Matt decides to take a crash course in Manhood. He sets off on a motorcycle trip from Gibraltar to Afghanistan, across North Africa and the Middle East. He documents all his travels with a video camera and a helmet attachment. In Iraq and Afganistan, as a freelance war reporter, he falls in with US soldiers. They teach him the basics of rifle shooting, machine gunning and missile launching. OK… fun and exciting, I’m sure, but mere backpacking adventures do not a Hot Docs movie make.

But here’s what happened next. When he reconnects with a Libyan hippie friend he’d Point_And_Shoot_1met in his travels, he ends up sneaking into Libya during its civil war. He joins the Benghazi rebels, fighting Gaddafi’s soldiers, and standing beside men shouting Allahu Akbar as they fire missiles at far off targets! Things take a turn for the worse and Matt ends up in solitary confinement in a government prison. His mother and girlfriend are terrified. Will he get out? And if he does, where will he go next?

Point and Shoot is a great adventure story about a man who carries a Leica camera in one hand and an AK 47 in the other. It is politically naïve — the movie doesn’t talk much about geo-political issues, ideologies, or the long-term ramifications of that war. Its real strength is as a first-hand look at a fascinating and exciting personal adventure.

Demonstration_1Demonstration

Dir: Viktor Kossokovsky (and 32 others)

A year ago, Spain was in economic turmoil when it’s right-wing government imposed crushing austerity measures. This led to huge demonstrations. In 2013, 32 students in Barcelona, each armed with a video camera, record it all, right in the middle. The general strike, the crowds, and the peaceful marches… and the less than peaceful responses from the riot police. The demonstrators seem split between those who wear Gandhi masks – peaceful disobedience – and the hacktivists in their Guy Fawkes masks.

This movie, though, is about the beauty of crowds, and movement. The running back and forth, the burning dumpsters, and the attacks from helmetted police.  It’s set to Minkus’s Don Quixote, and its beautiful and revealing. Against a backdrop of Gaudi’s Demonstration_4curvy, drippy architecture you see an old-timer who has been demonstrating most of his life, and young students out for their first demo. And some secrets revealed: dozens of “Black Bloc” activists are seen climbing happily into police vans (not arrested); they’re all agents provocateurs, planted in the crowd to ignite violence and justify police attacks.

Demonstration is an artistic look at a public protest.

All of these movies and more are playing through Sunday at Hotdocs. All students and seniors can go to daytime screenings for free! Go to hotdocs.ca for details. And Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival also opens today and continues all next week, including a brand new Canadian movie called the Pin – about young lovers hiding in Lithuania during WWII – and it’s in Yiddish. Looks interesting… Go to tjff.com for more info.

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

Where have I seen this? Movies reviewed: Angelique, Bethlehem

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.

Do you ever see a new movie that rings a bell in the back of your mind? And wonder why?

This week I’m investigating two such movies. One’s a political thriller from Israel, the other’s a swashbuckler from France.

Angelique - afficheAngelique
Dir: Ariel Zeitoun

It’s the 1600s in France. Louis XIV – the future Sun King – is heir to the throne. In a remote convent, beautiful Angelique (Nora Arnezeder: Safe House) is busy being educated by nuns. But just when she thinks she’s off to marry a minor noble she’s pushed into an arranged marriage. Le comte de Peyrac is a rich powerful noble but is much older and has a badly scarred and disfigured face.

His rival, the archbishop of Toulouse, says the count is into witchcraft and alchemy. He holds perverse orgies in his dungeon, worships the devil and turns sand into gold! So Angelique decides to make a run for it with her best friend Nicolas (Matthieu Kassovitz: Amelie, La Haine). But she is discoveredAngelique - horizontal and sent to marry him. But before she leaves, she confesses to a priest about a letter she’s held since childhood. The letter reveals who was responsible for a plot to murder the crown prince.

Angelique is fiery and tempestuous with a mind of her own. She refuses to sleep with him. To her surprise he doesn’t force her. Instead, he defends her honour. Will he change her mind? Or will she leave him? Hmmm…

So Angelique goes to live with the Count and gradually discovers the truth. Peyrac (Gerard Lanvin: Mesrine) is actually a modern man. His witchcraft? angeliqueUnderstanding that the earth goes around the sun. His alchemy? It’s just a gold refinery. And his sex orgies? (Well, that part seems to be true.)

So the local archbishop wants Peyrac burned at the stake; this is still the era of the inquisition. The future king Louis XIV (German actor David Kross: Krabat, The Reader) is interested in the count’s gold mine. And Angelique still holds that secret letter.

The movie follows their plight. When Peyrac is thrown into the Bastille, she is forced to darken her hair, disguise herself as a poor woman, and go undercover in the streets of Paris to rescue her husband. There are sword angelique-nora-arnezeder-gerard-lanvinfights, a huge trial, a lawyer with a mastiff, a lusty cousin (hints of incest?), assassinations, secret identities, Church corruption and palace intrigue. And in movies with castles you always get torch-lit chase scenes down hidden staircases and through underground tunnels.

angelique-3At first I thought it was a new version of the Three Musketeers, told from a woman’s perspective. But I was totally wrong. Apparently it’s based on a French movie from Angelique in Barbary1964, which in turn was based on the Angelique series of French novels, bestselling potboilers in the 1950s. Anyway, Angelique is a fun and fascinating film that breathes new life into a genre I thought was long dead and buried. Swashbucklers – what the hell’s a swash? …And how do you buckle it? No idea, but I liked this movie. (Can’t wait for Part 2.)

Shadi Mar`i (Sanfur) BethlehemBethlehem
Dir: Yuval Adler, Wri: Yuval Adler, Ali Wakad

Young Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) lives in Bethlehem in the West Bank. His older brother Ibrahim is a member of Al Aqsa, the militant wing of Fatah. Al Aqsa and their rival Hamas – based in Gaza – are battling for influence in Bethlehem.

Sanfur hangs with his friends, daring each other to prove who is the toughest. Like putting on a bullet proof vest and shooting each other at close range… what are they thinking?! Sanfur’s tough, but he also has a secret: he’s an informant for the Israeli secret service. They want to keep track of his secretive brother because something big is about to happen.

Then a bomb goes off at the King George Hotel in Jerusalem, killing many. Tsahi Halevy  Razi in BethlehemWho did it – Hamas or Al Aqsa? And was Ibrahim involved?

Razi (Tsahi Halevi), Sanfur’s Arabic-speaking Israeli “handler”, wants to find out. His superiors expect him to catch Sanfur who regularly passes money to his brother. But Razi pulls a fast one: he gets him to disappear for a few days. That way they can catch who they want without Sanfur being killed. But that means Razi has to lie, both to the secret service and to Sanfur.

This is a good spy thriller about the dual allegiances of the numerous Palestinian informants in the West Bank and their Israeli handlers. Tsahi Halevi (Razi) and Shadi Mar`i (Sanfur) BethlehemApparently, it was written by a Palestinian and an Israeli, to tell the two sides of the story.

But it may ring a bell: I talked a few weeks ago about another, very similar movie called Omar. Omar is also about a young Palestinian man who is an informant for the Israeli Secret Service. The plot is amazingly similar, but subtly different in crucial ways.

In Omar, the young men shoot an Israeli soldier. In Bethlehem, someone bombs a Jerusalem hotel killing dozens of civilians.

In Omar, the Arabic-speaking Israeli handler is devious and not to be Waleed Zuaiter and Adam Bakri in Omar (2013). Courtesy of Adopt Filmstrusted. In Bethlehem, he’s kind and sympathetic, and lies only to save lives.

In Omar, Israeli police cruelly harass an innocent man. In Bethlehem, The police bulldoze a hole into a killer’s house.

In Omar, Palestinian militants are driven by feelings of anger, vengeance, and loyalty. In Bethlehem, they seem more concerned with money — getting paid what they’re owed.

25Omar (the character) is a handsome and noble hero in love with a beautiful woman. Sanfur (which means Smurf) is a troubled and confused teenager, driven to tears and easily influenced. His only “love affair” is the father/son relationship he has with his Israeli handler.

Omar is a straightforward romantic thriller, while Bethlehem is more ambiguous and troubling, less black and white. Which one’s better? They areBethlehem Hitham Omari (Badawi) both good movies.

Angelique played at CineFranco, Toronto’s French language film festival, which continues to show great movies all weekend. And Bethlehem opens in Toronto today: check your local listings. And, coming soon: imagesfestival.com with great art films and moving images, and TIFF Kids film festival, at tiff.net .

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

Everything. Films Reviewed: 12 Years a Slave, The Motherload, Starred up.

Posted in African-Americans, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Family, Feminism, Movies, Prison, Slavery, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 2, 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.

Welcome to an icy cold 2014! People tend to think in big terms with the New Year. They hope everything will improve. So, this week I’m looking at an historical drama about a man who loses everything, a documentary about women who want everything, and a prison drama about a guy with nothing to lose.

DF_02828.CR212 Years a Slave

Dir: Steve McQueen

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a nice, middle-class guy in mid-nineteenth century America. He’s a professional (plays the violin) owns a home, is married with children and is an upstanding member of his community in New York state. And he’s black.

So when he’s offered a well-paying gig in Washington DC, he can’t resist and follows the recruiters south. But soon after, he finds himself kidnapped, thrown into a bare cell and beaten. His captors strip him of his fine clothes, his family, his dignity, his status, and even his name. Based solely on the colour of his skin, he’s sold as a slave. A slave!

He’s no longer considered a human being, now he’s just chattel.DF-02238.CR2

And so begins his nightmare. The movie follows the next twelve years (it’s based on Northup’s own memoirs) as he is sold to various southern plantation owners. Some are relatively kind and humane, some monstrously cruel, but none consider that it is fundamentally wrong for one man to own another. He sees slaves being beaten, tortured, raped or even murdered at their owner’s whim. None of this is against the law. They have no rights, no legal standing, no recourse to justice.

On the way, he acquires a violin (from a kindly slave owner). But far from lightening his burden, music is shown as part of the whole slave system. Slaves driven to sing to a pounding drum as they pick cotton. And in one of the most painful scenes in the movie, he has to play ditties on his fiddle as the others are forced to perform grotesque high-stepping cake-walks to entertainer the planters.

Work is a constant danger. If he politely corrects an error or suggests a more efficient alternative he risks being beaten or lynched.

DF-03057.CR2 DF-03057.CR2At a cotton plantation he meets a pretty young woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). She is the fastest worker in the cotton fields (most of the rest got flogged each day for not picking enough). She’s also a “favourite” of Epps, a cruel plantation owner (Michael Fassbender) and a captive to his wishes. But Patsey has to fear equally Epp’s, wife who has it in for her. Solomon observes it all.

Gradually they grind down his pride until he too walks hunched over, never looking a white man in the eyes. Will Solomon ever escape from this hell? And if so, how? And can he grant Patsey request to save her from her hopeless existence?

This is a great film, and you should definitely see it if you haven’t already. It’s painful, shocking, realistic and explicit. It gives a new visual meaning to slavery in most people’s minds. It’s also a tense but satisfying thriller about rescue and escape. Ejiofor and N’yongo are both amazing, as is director McQueen’s usual leading man Fassbender. It won the TIFF People’s Choice award and hopefully many others.

motherload_2The Motherload

Dir: Cornelia Principe

Some recent books and articles ask “why can’t women have it all?” The “all” being a top job combined with raising kids. Anne-Marie Slaughter (policy advisor to Hillary Clinton) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook, COO) both wondered if woman can achieve both of these goals. Why aren’t women allowed the same opportunities to succeed as men?

These works received a lot of criticism. Is evening-out  the playing field in the top 1%  really the goal of feminism? And why should success be viewed in an acquisitive context of greed and possessiveness?

motherload slaughter-4

This documentary avoids some of these problems by looking at a broader range of subjects. In addition to the super-rich and powerful, it also shows middle-class women and one single mother with two jobs. It points out that paternity leave (in Canada, it’s routine only in Quebec) would help even out the discrepancies in the division of work by sex. And it shows how some motherload_1families are thinking about redistributing roles.

The Motherload is an interesting doc dealing with a broad topic in less than an hour. And director Principe, who also produced the fantastic doc The World Before Her, clearly knows her stuff. Still, I’m a bit surprised that it never even touches on the issue of public daycare. While perhaps not an issue for CEOs, isn’t affordable daycare the crucial step in allowing mothers to work and raise children simultaneously?

And finally, I want to mention a fantastic movie — a sleeper that played at TIFF13 – that I really hope will open later this year in Canada. It’s called

starredup_01Starred Up

Dir: David MacKenzie

Eric (Jack O’Connell) is an 18 year old who’s been “starred up”. That means he’s sent direct from juvie to a real, live adult prison. He seems at first like a vulnerable kid who’s going to die on his first day there. But things aren’t what they seem. His street smarts and prison savvy keep him safe but his high starredup_04threshold for brutal violence and volatile temper could prove to be his undoing. So he joins a special therapy group within the prison walls to help him handle his anger. But he keeps running into trouble with an older, “head” prisoner called Neville (played by Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn). Neville keeps taking charge, instead of discussing and compromising. And here’s the twist – Neville is Eric’s real-live father serving a life sentence! O’Connell and Mendelsohn give unbelievably dynamic performances as the fractious father and son. This is a fantastic movie – look out for it.

12 Years a Slave is now playing in Toronto, The Motherload will air on CBC TV’s Doc Zone next Thursday, and Starred Up should open in 2014. 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 to Jason Kieffer about his new comic ZANTA: THE LIVING LEGEND

Posted in Art, Books, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Comics, Cultural Mining, Prison, Protest, Psychology, Resistance, Toronto, Underground by CulturalMining.com on November 2, 2012

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

Unless you arrived in Toronto very recently, you’ve probably encountered the once ubiquitous character who walks shirtless down Yonge street, flexing his muscles and wearing a Santa Claus hat. He’s a reality show waiting to happen.

I’m talking, of course about Zanta, Toronto’s legendary street performer, all-around shock-disturber and general maniac. But, for some reason, Zanta was “banned” from downtown Toronto, and thrown into jail just for performing his act.

Toronto cartoonist and illustrator Jason Kieffer (above, left) probes this fascinating story in a new comic book ZANTA: THE LIVING LEGEND. In his first radio interview, he talks about Zanta’s history, the illegal arrests he suffered, and Kieffer’s own views on comics, art, civil rights, and the unusual characters that make a city great.

August 31, 2012. TIFF! Victims and Rights. Movies reviewed: The Hunt, West of Memphis, Blackbird PLUS The Central Park Five

Posted in 1980s, Canada, Cultural Mining, Denmark, documentary, Drama, Good Ol' Boys, Goth, Movies, Prison, TIFF, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on September 1, 2012

VICTIMS AND RIGHTS

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.

Ever heard of Victims’ Rights? It’s a government policy within the justice system to consider the victims of the crimes, not just the crimes themselves – an admirable idea. But what happens when the only victims are the accused? This week I’m looking at three movies playing at TIFF that touch on this topic. There’s a Danish drama about a town’s reaction to a Kindergarten teacher accused of a crime; a Canadian movie about a high school non-conformist who finds himself unfairly trapped within the youth justice system; and an American documentary about the West Memphis 3 – high school students charged with Satanic, ritual murder of children.

The Hunt

Dir: Thomas Winterberg

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) teaches at a small town Danish kindergarten. Since his divorce he’s been a bit lonely. He goes to drinking parties with his buddies, plays with his dog Fanny, and goes hunting for deer. But things are looking up: his son Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm) is preparing to move back in with him, and he’s preparing him for the coming of age ceremony where boys are first allowed to join in The Hunt. And Lucas has a new girlfriend, a Swedish-speaking woman who works at the same school. But when his best friend’s daughter, Klara, an imaginative five-year-old he’s been helping, gets mad at him, she sets off a series of events with an accusation that changes his life. She tells a teacher Lucas “showed her his willy” at school – a serious crime.

The accusation spreads like wildfire in the small town, until everyone knows the rumour – except Lucas, who is kept in the dark. Her story continues to escalate as it’s passed around, until soon all the kids are saying terrible things happened to them too. Lucas must be some kind of monster – except that he didn’t do anything! He is successively baffled, offended, angered and terrified when, in a kafka-esque series of events, his friends, neighbours, and even the local shop-keepers lash out at him, violently and filled with venom. And they transfer their anger to his teenaged son, who is attacked by a thuggish, blond giant. Can Lucus ever be cleared of a non-existent crime so he can return to his normal life? Or will his former friends continue to serve as the judge, jury, and executioner?

Mads Mikkelsen as Lucas, is terrific in this subtle movie, a harrowing and upsetting fable about misguided anger.

West of Memphis

Dir: Amy Berg

Two decades ago, the bodies of three young boys who had been brutally murdered were found in the woods near West Memphis, Arkansas. But when supposed experts were brought in by the police prosecuters, they somehow decided the children were killed in a satanic ritual. And they quickly arrested, tried and convicted three local boys who dressed in black, and liked heavy-metal music and posters. The documentary series Paradise Lost (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky) exposed this miscarriage of justice to the world. Since then, widespread interest in the case has led to the first “defense by crowd-sourcing’, with countless people investigating online and exposing all the consistencies of the original case.

While this new documentary offers little new evidence, it is compelling nonetheless. It’s long but very well done, very methodical. I’ve been following the case since the first documentary came out, so I found it fascinating. It brings the story up to date. It shows what happens to the politicos and police  behind the prosecutions; what is the fate of the three accused boys – Damien Echols, John Byers, and Jessie Misskelly; who the potential, new suspects might be; and it talks to the original witnesses, all of whom have since recanted their testimony. And new evidence – like a forensic sequence about animal bites – is quite amazing and terrifying.

(I have to say, though, it’s seems strange for a documentary-maker to make a new film on a subject made famous by someone else’s documentaries…)

Blackbird

Dir: Jason Buxton

Sean (Connor Jessup) is a gothy-looking adolescent who goes to school every day wearing a spiky leather jacket torn-up skinny jeans, and a cloud if attitude. He likes his pet lizard, red wiccan stars, and camo sheets. He’s actually a big city boy, but his mom has pawned him off on his small town Nova Scotia dad, now that she’s remarried. Dad’s lives for hockey and works as a Zamboni driver; he’s not comfortable with his son always dressing up for Hallowe’en as he calls it. He says it’s not a smart thing to do in a small town. It also attracts the school bullies – the alpha-dog hockey players. He could just stay away from them but he really likes hockey bunny Deanna (Alexia Fast) who rides the bus with him. He’s attacked and humiliated by the school bullies, and Deanna doesn’t defend him. But when his guidance counsellor tells him to express his anger in story form, things turn from bad to worse. The police get a hold of his notebook, his website, and the short films he made on his cell phone and he’s arrested for supposedly plotting to kill everybody. And his lawyer tells him to plead guilty to cut down his jail time.

Blackbird is divided between a very realistic portrayal of life as a pariah in a small town, the even rougher stay in a juvenile detention centre, and his ongoing relationship Deanna. Equally compelling is the in-prison run-ins with the unstable psycho-killer Trevor (Alex Ozerov) who labels Sean “Columbine”. Jessup is fantastic as Sean, as is Ozerov as Trevor, and the understated performances of Alexia Fast and Michael Buie as Sean’s girlfriend and dad serve as good foils for the main character. I really like this movie. And it’s the first Canadian film I’ve seen about the youth justice system. (It looks like it was actually filmed on location at the Waterville Detention Centre).

These movies leave you with a lot to think about… as does another doc at TIFF, The Central Park Five, about the five black and hispanic youths from Harlem who were wrongly blamed for the terrible rape of a woman jogging in Central Park in Manhattan in 1989.

West of Memphis, Blackbird, and The Hunt are all official films at TIFF. Check out these and all the other movies playing at TIFF this year, at tiff.net. They also have daily last-minute deals for tickets and special offers for people under 25. And two movies I talked about last week, Lawless and For a Good Time, Call… open today 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 .

What is a piece of popcorn worth? Movies reviewed: Payback, Jeff, Who Lives at Home

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.

So did you hear about that poor guy in Michigan? Apparently he just wanted to go to a movie, but when he got into the theatre they literally held a gun to his head and forced him to buy a very expensive bag of popcorn! Literally! Can you believe it? …Oh — wait a sec. I’m wrong. Turns out he just didn’t think the price they were charging for popcorn and candy was fair. So he’s launching a class action suit.

Question: is it fair for movie theatres to charge 6 bucks for a bag of popcorn? Are moviegoers exploited and ripped off? Of course we are – everyone knows that, but we’re OK with it. Right? I mean you’re in that theatre paying to see Images projected on a screen — the ultimate deception.

If the candy’s too much then don’t buy it — they’ll get your money one way or another. I think popcorn is up there with the huge screens, surround-sound, velvet curtains, plush seats, grand lobbies and skeezy washrooms. It’s the movie experience. These seemingly random parts are all part of a larger coherent whole.

This week I’m reviewing two movies that look at fate, morality, destiny, and retribution. One is a documentary about things you must pay back, the other a comedy about paths you must follow.

Payback

Dir: Jennifer Baichwal

Two farmers, Llesh and Ilir live in northern Albania in a lush valley surrounded by grassy hills and snow topped mountains. A few years ago, when Ilir went to complain that Llesh was farming his land, there was a fight, and it may have involved Llesh’s wife… in any case Llesh pulled out a machine gun and shot Ilir in the gut a few times. He survived, but according to the 16th cenutry Albanian ethics code the Kanun, Llesh owes Ilir a debt. So Llesh and his family are poor now, trapped inside a shack and not able to farm.

This is just one of the many tangents this movie takes you on a look at debt – moral, ecological, monetary, and legal debt, — along with penitence, guilt, and retribution. They’re all very interesting stories – Latino tomato farmers in Florida fighting for fair treatment; a fisherman in the gulf enduring ruin after BP’s mishandled oil disaster; and a look at various Canadian prisoners – a petty burglar in Ontario, and Conrad Black (!) in Florida, both serving their time, repaying their debt to society. The documentary parts are alternated with talking heads — like Louise Barbour, Karen Armstrong, and Raj Patel — commenting on law, economics and religion.

This movie is sort of based on the Massey lectures Margaret Atwood gave a few years ago – a brilliant look at the words around lending, borrowing, owing and being owed. I say “sort of”, since it almost seems like one of those romantic thriller movies that say they were inspired by a true story. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentaries usually find a starting point and then, like a Stephen Leacock character, they fling themselves onto a horse and ride madly off in all directions.

Is this a problem? Not really, because even if they’re all over the place, the subjects she chooses are all interesting. And the movie is so visually rich (cinematography by Nicholas de Pencier) with images — from ceramic figures through a pawn shop window, to staggering, long aerial shots of the BP oil slick creeping across the Gulf of Mexico – that are as fascinating as any of the things people are saying.

I do get the feeling that Baichwal realizes it’s all over the place, so, to tie it all to Margaret Atwood’s book she adds long, literal scenes of Atwood hunt-and-pecking on her laptop, or Atwood reading from her manuscript. The talking head expertss are on screen too briefly to stick in the mind, except Conrad Black – who seems to have changed his mind about debt, retribution, and prisons.

In any case, Payback is a great visual riff.

Another movie that seems, superficially, to be about random drifting is

Jeff, Who lives at Home

Dir: the Duplass Brothers

(I reviewed this after seeing it at TIFF, but it held up very well this second viewing — I actually liked it better this time.)

Jeff (Jason Segel) is part of a dysfunctional family that fell apart when the father husband died years ago. Mom works in a lonely office cubicle, douchey Brother Pat (Ed Helms) sells paint and is destroying his marriage, and Jeff, who’s 30, still lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on a toilet. He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do., like in the Mel Gibson movie.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to get something for his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s birthday. But, when someone on an infomercial says his life will change by the words “CALL NOW!”; and at the same time a strange, threatening wrong number wanted to talk to “Kevin”, he starts off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world. Will Jeff find Kevin? Will Pat forget about Hooters and Porsche’s and think about his wife for once? And will Mom ever get to kiss under a waterfall?

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who used to make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational super-realistic movies. They have a few quirks – little camera emoticons – I don’t know how else to describe it – where the camera zooms in to nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the viewer that something funny is happening like a visual laughtrack– but the movie’s good enough that it doesn’t bother me after awhile. This one, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream one so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, just a very funny, light comedy.

Payback and Jeff, Who Lives at Home both open today. And Margaret Atwood and Jennifer Baichwal will be there for a Q&A at the screenings on Friday and Saturday. Worth a trip just for that — Margaret Atwood is very entertaining. Also playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are the fantastic Japanese animated films Spirited away and Princess Mononoke. And at the newly re-opened Bloor Cinema, look out for the daily HotDocs documentaries playing now. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

 

September 30, 2011. Palestine. Films Reviewed: (No) Laughing Matter, Children of the Revolution, Pomegranates and Myrrh PLUS TPFF, We Were Here, Resurrect Dead

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.

It’s fall now — the days are getting shorter and nights are getting colder, and the leaves are starting to turn yellow and red. And the governments might be changing soon, too. There are provincial elections happening across the country, with the Ontario elections happening on October 6th – that’s next Thursday. On a larger scale, there’s another vote coming up in the United Nations’ General Assembly – whether to admit Palestine as a full member state. Well, if you’re curious about the issue and want to know what is being discussed, there’s a film festival on, starting tonight, called the Toronto Palestine Film Festival. The TPFF presents a largely secular, political look at the Israel/Palestine conflict from the Palestinian point of view in a series of movies.

So this week I’m going to look at three movies from that festival – two documentaries and one drama – about terrorism, humour and love; and also talk briefly about two more docs opening in Toronto.

(No) Laughing Matter

Dir: Vanessa Rousselot

Rousselot, a French-Palestinian filmmaker, wants to know if the people in Palestine ever smile, laugh or tell jokes. So she sets out in a car with a camera to try to capture some of the humour — mainly dark humour — that Palestinians (in the West Bank in Jenin, Hebron, Bethlehem, and in Israel In Haifa) use. Is there a particularly style of joke that could be called distinctly Palestinian?

She discovers a few interesting things. First, that the people of Hebron seems to serve as their Newfies or Belgians — the naïve, butt-ends of local jokes. Second, she discovers an elderly man who, at the time of the First Intifada, set about recording and categorizing thousands of local jokes on index cards, which he produces and reads for the camera. The hour-long TV documentary gives a glimpse of everyday people — laughing school girls, a stand-up comic, a shop keeper, a Catholic priest, some angry young men in a coffee house — and how they express themselves, and sometimes use humour as a survival tactic.

Here’s a typical joke from the movie:

A world leader dies and goes to heaven. He is matched up with an old and plain woman. Then he sees Yassir Arafat cuddling a beautiful Marilyn Monroe. He tells God, “Hey that’s not fair! How come you rewarded Arafat over me?” God says, “I’m not rewarding Arafat… I’m punishing Marilyn Monroe.”

Children of the Revolution

Dir: Shane O’Sullivan

This documentary traces the lives of two hugely important radical terrorists/ activists/ revolutionaries – whichever way you choose to label them – who grew up in the two defeated nations from WWII: Japan and Germany. These two notorious figures – Ulrike Meinhof, of the German “Red Army Faction”, and Shigenobu Fusako of the “Japan Red Army” – were even more remarkable in that they were both women. This movie tells their history, as seen through the eyes of their young daughters. The kids were pulled into this turbulent world by their mothers, giving an immediacy rarely seen in movies about such highly-charged controversial figures.

In the late 60’s, their conservative, middle-class societies were suddenly turned upside down. With the convergence of the US Vietnam war and the anti-war movement, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and unrest in Latin American countries, the new heroes became Mao, Marx and Che. Meinhof worked for a communist-funded tabloid called Konkret and became a part of the radical society that was shaking up Europe. Shigenobu, the granddaughter of a radical right-wing activist, joined the leftist student uprisings that totally changed the power-dynamic in Japanese society (at least temporarily).

Both of these figures fled to Beirut and from there to Syria after meeting with a Palestinian revolutionary. From there, these two women and their contemporaries, on behalf of the Peoples’ Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), committed a series of hijackings, kidnappings, shootings, bank robberies and bombings, that held the world rapt in the late sixties and seventies. They hijacked planes to North Korea, bombed a jet in Cairo, and led a horrific attack shooting dozens of civilians at Lod Airport in Tel Aviv. It also brought the causes they were advocating to the front page. Markedly different from today’s terrorists, they said they committed their acts for a worldwide revolution, not for their own nation’s or group’s interests.

Through a kid’s eyes their situation was both fascinating and scary. Meinhof’s daughter talks of seeing kids playing on the street when she was little — their game wasn’t Cops and Robbers, but Bader and Meinhof.

Shigenobu’s daughter remembers that kids she knew in the Palestinian refugee camps all wanted to grow up as either doctors, nurses, or fedayeen (guerrillas).

This is a fascinating story, illustrated with countless, vivid B&W snapshots, TV and news clips. Although portrayed in dramatic form in two recent movies (The Bader-Meinhof Complex — about the RAF and United Japan Army about the JRA), this is the first documentary I’ve seen that combines the two. Equally surprising is that it takes a largely sympathetic stance toward the hijackers.

And opening the festival with a screening tonight is:

Pomegranates and Myrrh

Dir: Najwar Najjar

A good-looking, young Christian couple, Kamar and Zaid (Yasmine Elmasri and Ashraf Farah), travel from the West Bank to Jerusalem for a happy wedding party. Zaid’s family are farmers who have an olive grove, and it’s time for the harvest and olive oil press. Meanwhile, Kamar is a modern dancer, whose group is preparing to meet a Palestinian choreographer, Kais (Ali Suliman), who is visiting from Lebanon. They’re preparing a performance of traditional (stomp, stomp, clap, clap) folk dances called Pomegranates and Myrrh.

But things start to go wrong when a happy nighttime picnic in the olive grove is interrupted by Israeli helicopters carrying young soldiers. Zaid is put into a detention center, ostensibly for hitting a soldier, and his family’s olive farm is in danger of being confiscated for “security reasons”.

Now it’s up to the new bride to try to free her husband and at the same time, to stand up to the authorities and hold onto the family land. They hire a sympathetic Israeli lawyer to help them keep the army and encroaching settlers away. But for how long? Will Zaid admit to a lesser charge so he can save his land? Will they manage to get the olive harvest in and pressed on time? And what is Kamar up to with that scarf-wearing choreographer and his trust exercises – does he have designs on her while her husband is in jail?

Pommegranites and Myrrh is a bittersweet drama about love in a time of conflict, beautifully shot, with (sometimes) poetic dialogue. With warm and loving families resisting shadowy settler-terrorists, and faceless, shouting Israeli soldiers chasing after playful children, I thought the movie comes across as somewhat heavy-handed, but it does give a largely unseen look at life — with its very real crises and dangers — through Palestinian eyes.

Also playing this weekend are the great documentaries We Were Here, and Resurrect Dead. We Were Here is a very moving oral history of the AIDS outbreak in the 80’s remembered by some of the people in San Francisco who lived through it. That opens today.

Ressurect Dead is a really unusual documentary about the strange unidentified man who has been leaving tiled messages in the tarmac of city streets across the continent, with a crypto-religious message about the planet Jupiter, historian Toynbee, and Stanley Kubrick. What makes the movie so unique, is that it was made on zero budget by a group of marginal detectives and conspiracy theorists who use things like ham radio to try to find out the messages’ origins, but who are as fascinating as the man they’re trying to find. That’s called Resurrect Dead.

Check local listings for We Were Here and Resurrect Dead, and for more information about the Toronto Palestine Film Festival go to tpff.ca.

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

September 23, 2011. TIFF aftermath. Films reviewed: Where Do We Go Now?, Drive, Limelight

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.

With the closing of this year’s TIFF — with all of its orgiastic
excess of filmic stimulation, eye candy, and brain prods — you may be
suffering from withdrawal. But have no fear — there’s no need to go
cold turkey, because Toronto’s Fall festival season is positively
brimming with good smaller film festival to keep your addiction alive.

Coming soon are: Toronto After Dark, the Toronto Palestinian Film
Festival, Planet in Focus, the Real Asian Film Festival, and the
European Union Film Festival, among others. And TIFF itself continues
on all year, showing their programmed films at the Lightbox. So if you
missed a good movie at TIFF, even if it doesn’t get a wide release,
you may be able to catch it later on in the year.

But first, the awards. Phillipe Felardeau won the Toronto Best
Canadian feature prize for Monsieur Falardeau — and it’s already gone
on to become Canada’s entry for a Best Foreign language Film Oscar.

The People’s Choice Award at TIFF is often used as an indicator of
who’s going to win a Golden Globe and later get nominated for an
Oscar. Past years’ winners include Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s
Speech, and Precious. It’s voted on not by a panel of judges, but by
the moviegoers at the festival themselves. What this also means is
that sometimes a completely unknown movie — one with no “buzz” at all– can come out of left field, and take this award.

This year’s surprise is a film out of Lebanon, called:

Where Do Go Now? (Et maintenant, on va où?)
Dir: Nadine Labaki

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally
between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all
too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the
graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury
the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids
weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV
night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry
movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men
will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the
village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the
village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the
cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and
their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious
miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers –
anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an
incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon?
And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away
from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie had an extremely slow beginning, with a handmade
feel to it – sort of like an even-lower-budget Big Fat Greek Wedding
meets Little Mosque on the Prairie. It’s a comedy, but a lot of the
jokes fell flat. And it’s a musical, but some of the songs just don’t
translate well. The ensemble plot, with dozens of characters, leaves
you confused until you can figure out who everyone is.

That said, in the second half, when the pace picks up and the story
gets interesting, it becomes good. And the ending is just great –
clever and imaginative, and leaves you with a much better feeling
than you came with. Nadine Labaki – who is also a member of the cast – is
the first female director to win the TIFF People’s Choice award, and
it’s nice to see her touching story about an important topic given a
boost. I’m curious as to where the movie will go now.

Another movie that opened at the festival is

Drive
Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

Ryan Gosling plays this guy in a satin jacket who drives cars around,
plain-looking cars but with souped-up engines that can outgun any
police car. He can tumble a car, flip it over on a highway, and
still remain absolutely calm, a Japanese toothpick still in his mouth. He’s the
strong silent type, good at heart. By day, he works in a garage, and
is sent out by his shady boss Shannon (Brian Cranston) to do movie
stunts. (This is LA, so, of course,  it’s always about the movies.) And by night, he
serves as the driver for bank heists and robberies.

He falls into almost a family relationship with pretty waitress Irene
(Carey Mulligan), and her son, little Benicio, and takes them for
drives around the city. But when her husband, Standard, is released
from prison, his good life starts to fall apart and the violence
builds. He becomes embroiled in a scheme involving sinister gangsters
Rose and Nino (Albert Brooks and the great, neanderthalic Ron
Perlman). He ends up holding a dufflebag with a million dollars in
stolen money. What should he do with it? Will he settle down as a
champion stock car racer? Or will violence rule the day?

This is a fantastic — though sometimes horrifically violent, and
weird – movie. (Every once in a while you think – what is this? Is
this for real? Who are they trying to kid? You lose the connection for a moment, but then you slip right back into it.) It looks like a rejig of an 80’s movie like Thief,
with the driving bass (bubbadubba dubbadubba bubbadubba…) background music, and the
night scenes with glowing lights all around. The movie titles are
scribbled, Andy Warhol-style, in hot pink, and strange Eurodisco
dominates the soundtrack. The violence is almost comical, though
bloody. This is NOT your usual action thriller, but a clever, Danish
take on LA film noir. Great movie.

Next, another look at the louche underculture, this time in Manhattan
in the 90’s. A documentary

Limelight
Dir: Billy Corben

Peter Gatien, a Canadian nightclub promoter who lost an eye in a
hockey game as a kid, was known for his black eye patch, his canny
business practices, and how he had his hand on the pulse of all of New
York clublife in the 80’s and 90’s. He was a behind-the-scenes guy,
but he brought in demimonde celebs – the club kids – to bring in the
cool crowd. He opened famous places like Tunnel, the Palladium and
Limelight (not so affectionately known as slimelight by clubgoers) a
club opened inside of a church.

So everything’s going good, until Giuliani, the law and order supreme,
was elected mayor of New York. But when the drug of choice changed

from coke to MDMA to crack cocaine, so did the mood in the clubs, from

selfish and driven, to touchy-feelie, to insane. Giuliani vowed to
“clean up” the city. And he despised nightclubs, sex and dancing as
musch as drugs. Used to be the people in the burrows and New Jersey
would travel into the city on weekends for fun. By the end of his
reign, the term bridge and tunnel crowd seemed to be a better
description of the people in Manhattan who were so desperate they’d
migrate out of the city just to dance all night.

Well, Giuliani chose Peter Gatien, as his nemesis, and launched a
full-scale attack, an elaborate scheme to paint him as a drug dealer
and criminal. This movie traces, in minute detail, all the players
involved in his trial – the rats, the dealers, the feds, the femme
fatale, and the legendary club kids like murderer Michael Alig.

It’s an interesting movie, about a fascinating topic, with a great
segment giving a history of the evolution of music, nightclubs, and
drugs, worth seeing, but it’s just too long. It gets bogged down with way too many
talking heads against acid-green lighting.

Drive is playing now, Limelife opens today, and  Where Do We Go Now?
won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at TIFF.

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


16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

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