Post-Halloween movies. Films reviewed: Suspiria, Boy Erased, Burning

Posted in 1970s, Berlin, Christianity, Dance, Death, Drama, Horror, Italy, Korea, LGBT, Mysticism, Psychological Thriller, Religion, Suspicion, Witches, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 2, 2018

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

Yeah, I know Hallowe’en was two days ago, but there’s still lots to be scared about. (Don’t you watch the news?) So this week I’m looking at three new movies that involve horror, thrills or just bad things happening to good people. There’s a dance troup in Berlin that reeks of brimstone, a gay conversion clinic in Arkansas that exudes homophobia, and a young writer in Korea who thinks he smells death.

Suspiria

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

It’s 1977 in Berlin with the Cold War raging, the wall dividing the city in two, and RAF bombs exploding in Kreuzburg. Into this world walks Susie (Dakota Johnson) a naïve Mennonite girl from Ohio, with pale skin and a long red braid. She’s there to dance, if a prestigious, all-women’s dance school will have her.

Have her they will.

So she moves into their huge headquarters the next day. It’s a grand old building, right beside the Berlin Wall, with mirrored rooms, a dormitory and a theatre. It’s owned and run by a group of older women, headed by their choreographer and former prima donna Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), known for her long black hair and floor-length dresses. They are preparing for a relaunch of their masterwork, a primitivist, flamenco-style piece called Volk. And since their lead dancer, Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), has mysterously disappeared, Susie is ready to take her place.

But behind the scenes, something wicked this way comes. Susie keeps having terrifying dreams. There’s a power struggle between Madame Blanc and “Mother Markus” — the school’s founder. And strangest of all, the house itself – with its secret passageways and intricate pentagrams etched into the floor – seems to transform the dancers’ violent moves into lethal weapons… with terrifying results. And Doktor Klemperer, an enigmatic psychiatrist with a secret past, is attempting to bring police – men! – into this inner sanctum of womanhood. Is this dance troupe actually a coven of witches? And will Susie be their next victim

Suspiria (based on Dario Argento’s classic horror pic) is a visually stunning film, an unusual combination of modern dance and the occult. There are so many scenes in this two-and-a-half hour movie of dance rehearsals — including an amazing performance near the end — that you almost forget it’s a horror movie. But the twisted limbs, breaking bones and endless flow of blood, blood, blood, brings you back. Luca Guadagnino (he directed Call me by your Name, A Bigger Splash, and I Am Love) is back with another aesthetically overwhelming film, recreating 1970s Berlin, and starring, once again, the fantastic Tilda Swinton in many, hidden roles. Though not that scary, this arthouse horror is always fascinating.

Boy Erased

Dir: Joel Edgerton

Jared (Lucas Hedges) is a 19 year old in Arkansas. He’s on the basketball team, has a steady girlfriend and works parttime in his dad (Russell Crowe)’s car dealership. He also goes to church: his dad’s a Baptist minister and his mom (Nicole Kidman) an active member. Everything’s hunky dory… until he gets outed as gay by an anonymous caller. Word spreads, church elders come knocking at the door, and Jared is sent off for a heavy dose of brainwashing.

Love In Action is a “gay conversion therapy” centre, with very little love. It’s headed by Victor (Joel Edgerton) a self-taught therapist full of vapid platitudes and pseudo-freudian pop psychology. He’s backed up by a violent ex-con (Flea) who hurls abuse at the patients in an attempt to scare them straight. The other patients/prisoners include the military-like Jon (Xavier Dolan, playing against type), the bullied Cameron (Britton Sear), and others who tell him to “fake it” – just repeat what they tell you until you’re out of there. But if he does, will they erase his very being? And can Jared ever get out of this godforsaken place?

Based on a true story, Boy Erased is a realistic look at one young man’s experiences in a gay conversion clinic. It’s well-acted and I found it moving (though predictable) in parts. But it’s also an incredibly uptight, desiccated, visually-starved, anti-sex movie that seems made for Sunday school church groups. No nudity — everyone’s buttoned to the top. In this movie, any “sex” is relegated to a rape scene. It’s one thing to have uptight characters, but does the film itself have to be so repressed?

This may be an important topic, but it’s a dreadful movie.

Burning

Dir: Lee Chang-dong

Present-day Korea. Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) is an aspiring writer in his twenties who lives on his dad’s dairy farm near the Demilitarized Zone. On a trip to Seoul he runs into a woman he barely recognizes. Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-Seo) is a former highschool classmate who – post plastic surgery – works as a glamour girl spinning the prize wheel at a department store. And Haemi likes Jong-su. She lives in a small apartment that only gets sunlight for a few mites each day. Haemi is an flakey extrovert into mime. Jongsu is reserved, quiet and introspective. Soon enough, they’re lovers, but then Haemi says she’s going on a trip to the Kalahari desert to experience “The Great Hunger”.

And she comes back wth a new friend, named Ben (Steven Yeun) she met at the airport flying home. Ben is Korean, but rich, privileged and vaguely foreign. He’s one of those Gangnam-style guys, with a fancy apartment and a pricey car. He’s smooth, slick and ultra-blase – like Andy Warhol — but in a weirdly creepy way. And now he’s dating Haemi. They visit Jongsu at his farm, get drunk and smoke some pot. And Ben confesses his secret – he gets off on burning down greenhouses. And never gets caught. And soon after, Haemi disappears without a trace. Ben acts as if nothing is wrong but Jongsu is not so sure.. Is Ben a psychopath? Or is Jongsu losing touch with reality? And what about Haemi?

Burning, based on a story by Murakami Haruki, is a tense, creepy psychological thriller. The three main actors are all great in their roles: Steve Yeun — that nice guy in The Walking Dead — is perfect as the possible serial killer, and Yoo Ah-in is amazing as the shy boy seething wth inner tension.

Fantastic.

Suspiria, Boy Erased, and Burning 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.

Women, famous and infamous. Films reviewed: Lizzie, Anthropocene, Colette

Posted in 1800s, Biopic, Crime, documentary, Elephants, Environmentalism, Feminism, France, Lesbian, LGBT, melodrama, Poverty, Psychological Thriller, Women by CulturalMining.com on September 28, 2018

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

This week I’m looking at three movies about famous — and infamous — women. There’s a psychological thriller about an axe murderer; a biopic about a French novelist, and a documentary… about Mother Earth.

Lizzie

Dir: Craig William Macneill

It’s 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts. Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny) lives with her sister Emma, her stepmother Abby, and her rich and successful father (Jamey Sheridan). He’s a successful financier resented by the neighbouring farmers. Lizzie is a pale woman with curly red hair and an uptight manner. She whiles away her hours reading poetry and cooing with the pigeons she keeps in a wooden dovecote.

But trouble is brewing in this family. Father is outwardly kind but with evil intent. Cryptic notes show up at their home, promising blood and damnation. And then Lizzie has a tonic-clonic seizure at the opera house. Her father calls epilepsy “showing off”, but agrees to hire Bridget (Kristen Stewart) an irish maid as her caregiver. Meanwhile, feeling left out in a house of four women, he invites his brother John to stay with them. John is untrustworthy and might be embezzling money. And as the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget turns sexual, they try to rebuff the aggressive creepiness from the men inthe house. What will happen to this disfunctional family?

Well, it’s not a spoiler that the parents are going to die, as anyone who has heard of Lizzie Borden knows that her mother and father were brutally murdered. This is also made clear in the first scene of the film. But you don’t know who actually did it till a shocking scene near the end. Lizzie is a slow moving, slow-build psychological drama. Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart are both good in their roles, but a thriller it’s not. It’s just too slow.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Dir: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, and Edward Burtynsky

Picture a mountain of garbage in Kenya as far as the eye can see. A marble quarry in Italy, carved out of a shear cliff. An open pit mine in Germany. A heavily polluted city in Siberia. Or the rising water gradually flooding the streets and piazzas of Venice. These are not what you normally think of as natural phenomena. Rather they’re part of a new phenomenon, a period some geologists are calling the Anthropocene Epoch, when nature is shaped by humans.

Anthropocene throws a lot of new terms at you, words like anthroturbation – the scarring of the earth’s surface—and concepts like the stages of extinction, as more and more animals exist only in captivity. Visually it’s a treat, but there are so many scientific concepts bombarding the viewer that the message sometimes gets buried in the content. And some of the visual metaphors are too obscure to understand. Why is a bonfire first portrayed as a scary inferno (suggesting forest fires caused by climate change), when it’s later revealed to be a “good thing” — saving elephants by burning their tusks? And what do a million churchgoers in Nigeria have to do with climate change or pit mining?

Still, this stunning documentary combines the photography of Burtynsky – known for his vast and brutal industrial landscapes — with the filmmaking of de Pencier and Baichwall. It’s like the worlds biggest coffeee table book projected onto a big screen. It’s gorgeous.

Anthropocene is definitely worth seeing, perhaps more as a work of art than as a documentary.

Colette

Dir: Wash Westmoreland

It’s the 1890s in Bordeaux, France. Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightly) is a headstrong young woman with long black braids who lives with her parents in a country home. She’s smart, pretty and creative. She’s also a country girl without a dowry. Enter Willy (Dominic West) a much older Parisian man, visiting her parents. Sparks fly, and soon they rendezvous in the barn for a roll in the hay. Literally. Willy sweeps her off her feet and presents his new wife to the consignienti of Paris; they are unimpressed. He’s a celebrity there, known as much for his flamboyant persona as for his writing (He’s actually a talentless hack who employs a stable of ghost writers.) He encourages her to write too, and then publishes her semi-autobiographical stories about “Claudine” a country school girl.

It’s a smash hit, with Claudine lookalikes popping up all across Paris. And Gabrielle is famous now too… but for her looks, not her writing, since it was published under Willy’s name.

And they are still plagued with financial troubles. Where is all the money going? Mainly to pay for Willy’s mistresses, Willy’s prostitutes, Willy’s gambling debts. Willy can’t keep his willy out of trouble. But my dear, he tells Gabrielle, it’s just what men do.

Gabrielle is pissed that he’s wasting her money and playing with her emotions. So she embarks on her own adventures, a series of affairs: a sex triangle involving a rich woman from Louisiana, known for her auburn hair and come-hither glances. Later she falls for Missy (Denise Gough) an aristocrat who dresses only in men’s clothing and military garb. Is this true love? And will she ever find fame for her writing?

Colette is a fun, historical biopic about the writer who became known as Colette. It’s filled with campy scenes of fin-de-siècle Paris – from shirtless men carrying women on a palanquin, to secret lovers hiding behind velvet curtains. This film is more of a romp than a serious take. But it’s enjoyable nonetheless. And director Westmoreland takes pains to include queer politics in his look at early lesbian feminism, providing a multiracial cast and a proto-trans character (in the current, 21st century sense).

Lizzie, Anthropocene and Collette all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And opening Thursday is Bad Banks — a gripping German TV drama about high finance in Frankfurt — showing on the big screen at the TIFF Bell Light Box. Don’t miss it!

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

Dark Comedies. Films reviewed: The Square, Happy End, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Class, comedy, France, Greece, Psychological Thriller, Satire, Scandal, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 5, 2017

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

TIFF started just last night and continues through the 17th. I’ve seen a lot of the films now, but I’m barred from commenting on most of them until they open. So I’ll tell you a bit about a few European movies having their Canadian Premiers at TIFF. All three are dark comedies.

The Square

Dir: Ruben Östlund

Christian (Claes Bang) is a rich, handsome and successful man at the top of his game. He’s divorced with two kids and uses his single status to pick up women for one-night stands. At work, he’s the chief curator at a famous art museum inside a former royal palace. The gallery is known for challenging old ideas… it’s revolutionary! Like the new show he’s working on, called The Square: a simple brass plaque on the plaza where a statue of a king on a horse once stood. Now the square welcomes everybody, as a place of respect and responsibility, whether you’re rich or poor, have- or have-not, Swedish born or a recent immigrant.

But things start to go wrong, that call into question his intehrity and high- minded beliefs. When con artists steal his celphone, he traces it back to a public housing highrise, but doesn’t know which apartment it’s in. So he prints up hundreds of threatening letters and drops them into each apartment mailbox. At work he scoffs at an accident involving an art installation – just replace it, he says, no one will notice. He hires young MBA hot shots to promote The Square, but doesn’t pay attention to an offensive promotional video they make – it’s all good, as long as it goes viral. And his personal life spirals out of control when he tries to juggle responsibility toward his bratty kids, with his sex life. Will his life and career all collapse from a series of awful mistakes? And will he realize he’s part of the system causing all these disasters?

The Square, by the director of Force Majeure, is a biting satire about hypocrisies in the art world, told in a series of very funny vignettes. Like when a night of sex with a woman he meets (Elizabeth Moss: A Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men) turns into a hilarious fight over who owns the used condom – the man or the woman. It’s a long movie but a very enjoyable one. And it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch of a Laurent enterprises a huge corporation based in Calais France. It’s run by his daughter

Anne (Isabelle Huppert) a no-no-nonsense business woman. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a successful surgeon, lives on the family estate with his young wife Anaïs. Then there’s the third generation. Pierre (Franz Rogowski) Anne’s son, knows how to wear a hard hat, but that’s about it. He’s responsible for a disaster that happens at a construction site. And Thomas’s daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) from a previous marriage re-enters his life when his ex-wife suddenly gets sick. The cute and innocent little girl is not as nice as she seems. She’s a tiny psychopath who does horrible things just for the lulz – and to share them anonymously on Snapchat. And Georges, the patriarch, desperately wants to end it all.

Happy End is a very dark comedy about a rich, dysfunctional family. Haneke its great director, does something really unusual: He recreates characters from a previous film, but with an entirely different back story. Amour, Which won an Oscar in 2013, was about an elderly musician man, Georges, facing his wife’s dementia. IN Happy End, Georges (and his daughter) are back again played by the same actors, but this time not as musicians but as corporate leaders. And this time it’s a comedy not a tragic romance. Another great movie.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Steven and Anna (Colin Farrell) and Nicole Kidman) are a Cincinatti power couple, both successful doctors. They live in a beautiful home with their two kids. Everything is normal, except… theres a teenaged boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who Steven is spending a lot of time with. He meets him on the sky, treating him to lunch at a local diner, meeting him beneath city bridges. He buys Martin a Rolex as a birthday gift. And then Steven takes him to meet his family. What’s going on?

It turns out the boy’s father died a couple years before on the operating table. Steven was the heart surgeon. At first Martin wants to befriends – he even tries to set Steven up with his mom (Alicia Silverstone) at an awkward dinner date. But his true motives are much more sinister. He says Steven must suffer as much as he suffered when s father died. He wants him to sacrifice – in the manner if the ancient greeks – a sacred deer. Meaning one of his family members: his son, his daughter or his wife. And due to some strange condition that the doctors cannot diagnose, the two kids become paralyzed from the waste down. Only Stevens decision can stop this terror.

The killing of a sacred deer is advertised as a horror movie, and there is a bit of that, but like all of Lanthimos’s movies – from Digtooth to the Lobster – it’s more of a dark comedy with a bizarre premise. And like in all the movies, the characters talk like robots, say inappropriately formal things, and don’t notice their own strangeness, because everyone in the movie acts the same way. You get the feeling he doesn’t treat it completely seriously. For example, whenever he’s near Martin, even in an innocuous situation I, the extra loud forbiding music starts to play. I think I liked it, once I accepted the premise. And it is alternatively very funny and disturbingly shocking.

Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Square, Happy End are all playing at TIFF. Go 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

 

 

They’re just movies. TIFF 17 Tips plus Blood Honey

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Don McKellar, Family, Horror, Movies, Psychological Thriller, TIFF by CulturalMining.com on September 1, 2017

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

TIFF — The Toronto International Film Festival — opens next week, and if you’ve never been there, I think it’s a good time to check it out. There are hundreds of movies from all over, many having their world premier, attended by directors and actors. There are feature length films, shorts, animation, documentaries, art films and more. Midnight Madness has late-night screenings of horror, action and the kind of movies that won’t you won’t see at the cineplex. Today I’m going to calm your fears and address your reservations about the film festival. And I’m also going to talk about a Canadian psychological horror/thriller about bees opening today.

How to survive TIFF

Photos by Jeff Harris

Standing in line.

A lot of people don’t want to go to TIFF because they hate standing in long lines. I feel the same way. But if you have a ticket – individual tickets go on sale Monday – you don’t have to stand in line. Just show up on time and you’re guaranteed a seat. But what if you don’t have a ticket? If the movie is sold out you can stand in the rush line, which lets you buy a ticket at the door. If there are less than say 30 people, and it’s a big theatre like the Princess of Wales, you’ll have no trouble getting in. And standing in line is the best way to meet people. Normally reserved Torontonians open up to the strangers standing beside them during TIFF.

It’s expensive.

This is true (if you didn’t buy ticket packages back in June or July). But don’t give up. They’re trying to attract those fabled “millenials”. So if you’re 25 or younger you can get tickets to world premiers for the price of an ordinary 3-D movie.

It’s hard to get tickets

If you’re not hung up on seeing gala hollywood movies and big stars, there are many tickets still available. Your best bet is to try for a daytime ticket on a weekday. You can look online. And on the last day, Sunday, Sept 17, they have a free showing of the movie that wins People’s Choice.

What to bring

If you’re seeing many movies, treat it like going on a trip. Be sure to hydrate yourself, bring food and drinks. Because the weather is constantly changing I recommend layers and an umbrella. You might go from blistering heat outside, to freezing cold inside.

Don’t care about movies but want to feel the excitement

Make your way down to King St W — between University and Spadina — to soak it all in. In the first weekend the street is closed to traffic, so you can stand in line for corporate samples, gawk at celebs or just hang out with the tens of thousands of others who come to show off their stuff. Maybe you’ll be discovered. There’s a carnival atmosphere that’s a lot of fun to soak in.

Next weekend is the best time to check it out.

Blood Honey

Dir: Jeff Kopas

When Jenibel (Shenae Grimes-Beech) was a little girl she lived in a tiny community in Northern Ontario. Reachable only by boat or byplane, it sits among lakes and trees torn straight out of a Tom Thompson painting. But when her disturbed mother committed suicide she was sent away to boarding schoo. And now she’s back at the Hive, as the people who live on the island refer to it. Her family lives in a beautiful old mansion, but makes most of its money selling their prized honey.

There’s her belligerent brother Neil (Kenneth Mitchell), her deranged Dad (Gil Bellows) and her loving sister Linda, who has Down Syndrome (Krystal Hope Nausbaum). Also on the island are acquisitive land developers, a demented old lady and other assorted locals. They all get together in Jennibel’s living room to sing old favourites by the rinckity piano she still remembers how to play. Things are tense, but at least her childhood friend Bruce is there to keep her company – in and out of bed.

But things get worse when dad commits suicide by bee. (He throws himself into the honeycombs until swarmed to death.) And in his last breath he makes Jenny promise to sell the island so the family can get a fresh start. Family friend Bert (Don McKellar) is the estate executor — he will enforce the will. But family bickering is rising to a fevered pitch. And—I forget to mention – Jennibel suffers from “waking dreams” where she can see dead people and communicate with her late Dad and Mom. Is she delusional or psychic? When she begins to suspect the others are all gradually poisoning her with the dreaded red honey harvested on the island, she knows she has to escape from the Hive. But how?

Blood Honey is an over-the-top psychological thriller shot on location in beautiful northern Ontario. The acting and script ranges from very good to not very good at all — sometimes from scene to scene. But it’s never jarring enough to lose interest. It’s more weird and creepy than scary or gory, though there are a few shocking parts. This movie is not believable in any way, but it doesn’t have to be. And there are a few plot turns that I never expected.

Blood Honey opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And for more information on 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.

Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

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

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel 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

 

Fighting Monsters. Films Reviewed: Tickling Giants, The Void, The Zookeeper’s Wife

Posted in 1940s, Animals, Arab Spring, Cultural Mining, Horror, Human Rights, Journalism, Poland, Psychological Thriller, WWII by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

If relationship, family, work or school problems are too hard to handle, a movie is a good place to escape it. Especially if the people on the screen are fighting real monsters. This week I’m looking at movies bout people facing monsters. There’s a Polish zookeeper facing the Nazis, a political comic facing a military government, and a smalltown sheriff facing something scary… he’s just not sure what.

Tickling Giants

Dir: Sara Taksler

Bassem Youssef is a heart surgeon in Cairo. In the heady days of the Arab Spring, he heads to Tahrir Square to help support protesters as best he can. Many of them are beaten and need medical attention. But what he really wants to be is a comedian – specifically a political comic like Jon Stewart of the Daily Show. Under Mubarek, outright criticism of the government was not permitted. But with the newfound freedom that came with the popular uprising, he is able to launch a TV show, known simply as the show. With a team of writers and producers it brings political satire to the masses. The show is wildly popular, but the newly elected president Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t like him one bit. So he takes him to court and loses! Baassem Youssef is a free man. Until… Morsi is overthrown in a military coup, putting General Sisi in charge of Egypt. Sisi is popular and dictators don’t like criticism. SomeoPro-Sisi protesters declare Youssef a traitor for criticizing the army, while others fear he will disrupt the relative calm the military coup brought. Is Bassem Youssef just what Egyptians need? Or is he too much, too soon?

Tickling Giants is a funny and informative documentary about how US style political humour fares in Egypt’s. Illustrated with political cartoons by a young man Andeel, it offers behind the scene look at TV production and how it influences and is affected by politicians. One criticism: it could have been a bit shorter; it doesn’t take almost two hours to tell this simple story.

The Void

Wri/Dir: Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski

Daniel (Aaron Poole) is a police sheriff in a small town – a place with very little crime. So he’s startled to see a bloodied young man, under the influence, come stumbling out of the woods. But when he takes him to the nearby hospital where his wife Alison (Kathleen Munroe) is a doctor in the ER, things get strange. Patients behave erratically, and two heavily armed men show up at the gate threatening to kill the kid. Stranger still, a group of identically-dressed men appear outside the hospital brandishing large knives. They are wearing white sheets and hoods, sort of like flat-topped Klansmen, but with a mysterious triangle painted on the front their faces.

And otherworldly visions appear in Daniel’s mind, full of dark clouds roiling over a lunar landscape. Has the town been invaded by satanic worshippers, drug fiends or sex-crazed maniacs? Nobody knows for sure. It’s up to the people trapped in the hospital — including a pregnant woman, a kindly doctor (Kenneth Welsh) a young intern, and a state trooper (Art Hindle) – have to settle their differences and fight the mysterious powers before they tear each other apart.

The Zone is a horror and psychological thriller about ordinary people driven to extremes in there resistance to unknown killers. There are some fun scenes and a few shocking parts — and I loved the weird images that appear in Daniel’s head — but on the whole, it’s more unintentionally funny that genuinely scary. Some of they dialogue is atrocious, and much of the movie left me scratching my heads as to what exactly is going on. (For example, when two characters are fighting in an imaginary landscape, you don’t know which of them is hallucinating.) I kept waiting for the robot commentators from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to appear on the screen to explain it all to me.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Dir: Niki Caro

It’s 1939 in Warsaw. Husband and wife Antonina and Jan Zabinsky (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) run the zoo as if the amimals are family members. Especially Antonina. She’s a female Doctor Doolittle, who really does talk to the animals. She goes for daily runs around the park with a dromedary and sleeps with a white lion cub. And at a party, everyone sees her save an elephant calf from choking. Especially impressed is Lutz Heck, a leading German zoologist (Daniel Brühl). But when the Germans invade, their world is turned upside down. The zoo is bombed and wild animals run rampant across the city. Afterwards Lutz offers to help save the zoo animals by sending the best ones – the purest breeds – to Berlin. (Purest breeds? Sounds a bit Nazi…)  Sure enough, the next time she sees him, he’s dressed in full Nazi  regalia. He’s a high-ranked officer. And he has his eye on the beautiful Antonina. But she and Jan have a plan of their own: to help save their Jewish friends and colleagues from certain death in the Warsaw Ghetto, and help move guns to the resistance. The concoct a complex plan to smuggle people out of the ghetto inside a garbage truck holding slop to feed their pigs. (They’ve turned their beloved zoo into a pig farm.) They are hidden in plain sight, inside the Zabinsky villa even while Lutz is operating an army base on the same premises. Will there plan succeed? Or will they and their rescued friends be sent to their deaths?

Based on a true story, the Zookeeper’s Wife is a romantic drama set in war-torn Warsaw, where a zoo serves as a secret sanctuary for Jews escaping the Nazi death machine. It’s also a Holocaust rescue story… with furry animals. As such, it abbreviates familiar images that have been shown in movies so often: broken windows, Nazi banners covering public buildings, ashes falling like snowflakes, children loaded onto cattle cars… At the same time, it avoids most of the blood, death and gore — the camera always turns away. There are some devestatingly sad parts, like a young girl, Urszula (Shira Haas) who is raped by two German soldiers before she is rescued.  Still the movie didn’t show me much I haven’t already seen, aside from the zoo  — which had new, haunting images.

Good as a tearjerker.

The Zookeeper’s Wife and The Void both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Tickling Giants is playing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this weekend. Go to tiff.net/human-rights-watch/.

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 Paul Verhoeven about Elle at #TIFF16

Posted in France, Interview, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Sex, SMBD, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 18, 2016

paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Elle is a hardboiled businesswoman in Paris who co-owns a video game development company. Divorced with a grown son, she’s as ruthless in the boardroom as she is in the bedroom. But her normal life is shattered paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harris-2when she is violently raped in her own home by a man with a black balaclava covering his face. Instead of telling the police, she takes the matter into her own hands, and vows to track 0194cad2-a0cb-4884-92a0-fb2ce23ec3e6down her attacker and get revenge. But even as Elle stalks him, he threatens further attacks on her in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Elle is the latest from filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, known for his playful movies filled with sex, violence, intrigue and war. From his Dutch greats like Soldier of Orange, the Fourth Man and (a personal favourite) Black Book, to his over-the-top Hollywood classics Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls… they all share his inimitable style.

I spoke with Paul Verhoeven at TIFF in September. Elle opens today in Toronto.

Photos of Paul Verhoeven by Jeff Harris

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma. Movies reviewed: De Palma, Sisters, Obsession, Carrie, Blowout

Posted in Conspiracy Theory, Crime, Cultural Mining, Hollywood, Horror, Mental Illness, Psychological Thriller, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on June 17, 2016

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

A new documentary is opening today called simply De Palma (directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow). And that’s what it is: an interview with director Brian De Palma (director of Carrie and Scarface.) He talks directly to the camera about his career and the films he made, complete with clips. De Palma was part of the small Brian De Palma and Al Pacino on set of SCARFACE as seen in DE PALMAgroup of New Hollywood directors who broke loose in the 1970s: I’m talking Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas. He was the first one to cast Robert De Niro, who he discovered straight out of acting school.

Brian De Palma started as an experimental art-house director in NY. Then he became a genre director, specializing in horror, suspense and crime movies. Eventually, by the early 1990s, he Brian De Palma and John Travolta on set of BLOW OUT as seen in DE PALMAmoved on to big budget hits, but his movies lost their original or interesting elements.

His movies are easy to spot. He pioneered the use of the split screen. He took parallel montage – meaning to alternate simultaneous scenes — and tossed it out the window. He replaced it with split screens, a remarkably successful technique that shows two points of view at the same time, side by side.

De Palma uses split screen like an exclamation point. He’s saying: pay attention and look at this — it’s important!

Another trademark are his soft-core scenes of naked women caressing themselves in the shower, surrounded by clouds of billowing steam. Immediately followed by lots of blood. This was very controversial at the time, for combining highly sexualized images of women with scenes of violence directed toward the same characters. It led to widespread protests and boycotts of his movies (especially Body Double and Dressed to Kill).

Split/Screen: The Films of Brian De Palma is a retrospective now playing at TIFF. This week, I’m looking at some of his lesser-known films from what I call his Golden Age: the 1970s and 1980s.

mwk4wA_106_006_o3_9000592_1463580929Sisters and Obsession are two of De Palma’s earliest – and not that well-known – Hitchcock-type movies. They both star Canadian actresses.

Sisters (1973) is about a pair of beautiful twins, Dominique and Danielle (Margot Kidder, with a solid Quebecoise accent). These sisters’ lives are closely bound,  to say the least. When one of them stabs a man to death in her own qjo47D_106_007_o3_9000652_1463580940apartment, her greasy ex-husband steps to in to cover-up the crime. The body and the blood all disappear, but not before Grace, a journalist (Jennifer Salt) who lives in an adjacent building, witnesses it all. But she is hampered by a corrupt and sexist police force (a common, subversive theme in many of his movies). This film is a combination of The Lady Vanishes and Rear sisters.003Window, where it’s up to a single person not just to catch the criminal but to prove the crime even took place. While far from a masterpiece, it has Margot Kidder in one of her first feature roles (she was strictly a TV actress before this). There’s also an incredible, drug-infused, surreal scene in black and white (using a camera’s iris) set in a mental ward. The film is worth seeing just for that.

OBSESSION-SPTI-08.tifObsession (1976) is more like Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Michael (Cliff Robertson) is a business tycoon in New Orleans. He works with his smarmy partner Bob (John Lithgow, De Palma’s go-to villain). But when his wife (Genevieve Bujold) and his two kids are kidnapped and murdered Mike falls into a deep depression. Decades later, on a business trip to Italy, he spots a beautiful woman restoring art in a cathedral – the same church where he had met his wife. Sandra looks just like OBSESSION-SPTI-07.tifher – like time stood still. He becomes obsessed with her. They travel back to New Orleans and plan to marry. Sandra explores the house including what she finds in a sealed room. And that’s when their lives starts to unravel and deep secrets are revealed in a shocking ending.

The Hitchcock feel of these two movies was not coincidental. The story, look and sound of these movies evokes him in many scenes. De Palma intentionally hired the same composer Bernard Herrmann, that Alfred Hitchcock used in movies like North by Northwest and Psycho. Prophetically, like Hitchcock, he’s never won an Oscar.

oYmo3N_Carrie_2_o3_8998306_1463581372Carrie (1976) is much more famous – it was a big hit based on a Stephen King novel. Sissy Spacek plays Carrie, the daughter of a fire-and-brimstone evangelical mother (Piper Laurie) who thinks anything sexual is a sin. So Carrie panics when she has her first period at school, not knowing what was happening. Instead of being helped, she is horribly bullied in the girls’ locker room. They throw tampons at her. Sue (Amy Irving) feels guilty so she sets Carrie up with a date for the senior prom. But Chris (Nancy Allen) takes the opposite path and plans to inflict a humiliating practical joke on her. But no pgnpEr_Carrie_10_o3_8998395_1463580862one knows that Carrie is telekinetic: she can move things with her mind.

All of this leads to the iconic prom scene, the climax of the movie, which makes use of extensive split screen 58Mkjq_Carrie_43_o3_8998438_1463580881to great effect. And I should warn you here, if you haven’t seen Carrie, watch it first, before the documentary, which is filled with spoilers. Carrie is both a heartbreaking story of adolescence and (for when it was made) scary as hell.

vgwy65_5006903_o3_8997710_1463581179Blowout (1981) is about Jack Terry (John Travolta), a sound guy. He used to wire cops, hiding microphones on their bodies to help with corruption investigations. Now he works at a two-bit recording studio in Philadelphia, recording and mixing sound effects for schlocky slasher films. One night he heads out to record wind sounds in a park, but, coincidentally, he catches the sounds of a chappaquidick-style accident: a tire blows out, and a car goes off a bridge. He dives into the river and saves a young woman trapped inside… but not the driver. He’s dead.

Turns out the driver was the late State Governor groomed to be the next President. His political X6Pv9v_FRL-42992_Blow-Out_col-slide_002_tmb_o3_8997675_1463581167team wants the whole accident to disappear. But was it an accident? Jack wants Sally, the woman from the accident (Nancy Allen — married to De Palma at the time) to help him prove that this was an assassination. And that the sounds he recorded were of a gunshot followed by a blow out. But a mysterious, murderous political fixer (John Lithgow) is working behind the scenes to make it — and all the people involved — disappear. The police seem to be part of the cover up, and Sally has some secrets of her own (she was in the car as j2BjjP_IMG0087_o3_8997801_1463581207part of a honeypot blackmail scheme.) Can Jack and Sally expose this deep, dark conspiracy?

I saw Blowout as a kid when it first came out, and it blew my mind. It was a flop and largely faded away (until recently). But I’ve always considered Blow Out to be one of De Palma’s best movies.  It’s inspired by Antonioni’s famous Blow Up, but I like it better. John Travolta is fantastic in this. The sounds and pictures in this are amazing – every shot has spectacular depth of field (like a close up of an owl taking up the right side, and Jack on a bridge far off in the distance on the left side.) This movie is made to watch on a wide screen – it feels like split screen, even when it’s not.

If you want to see just one De Palma film, let it be this one.

De Palma (the documentary) and Split/Screen: The Cinema of Brian De Palma are playing now in Toronto – go to tiff.net for showtimes.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Action, Anarchy and Audacity. Films reviewed: Kanto Wanderer, Tokyo Drifter, 10 Cloverfield Lane

Posted in 1960s, Crime, Cultural Mining, Japan, Kidnapping, Psychological Thriller, Science Fiction, Yakuza by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

RgKr3w_Kanto_Wanderer_2_o3_8897472_1450193360Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Suzuki Seijun is a great Japanese director who made his mark in the 1960s as a b-movie director at Nikkatsu, specializing in low-budget yakuza “B” movies. Still directing movies, he’s known for his stylized images and experimental takes on traditional themes. A retrospective of his work — Action, Anarchy and Audacity — is now playing at TIFF. This week I’m going to talk about two of Suzuki’s early Yakuza films, as well as a psychological thriller from the US.

644613_1140220552677881_5773406903098755507_n10 Cloverfield Lane
Dir: Dan Trachtenberg

It’s a present-day city in the Gulf Coast. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is an aspiring young fashion designer with dark hair and a determined look. She’s leaving her husband and driving she knows not where. But out on the highway there’s a sudden boom! and her car rolls over into a field. She wakes up in a cell, cuffed to a metal bed in a cell. What happened? What was she doing there?

And there’s a young guy in the next room. Is this some sort of prison? She stages an 12804810_1136381339728469_8736079247145773773_nelaborate escape only to discover she’s deep underground, in a hermetically-sealed bunker. It’s the home of Howard (John Goodman) a huge man with a child-like demeanour. He’s no kidnapper, he says; he’s a DIY survivalist. Apparently one with a “black belt in conspiracy theories”. He found her on the road and saved her life. There’s no reason to go back outside since everyone’s dead and the air is filled with poison gas. Emmet (the guy in the next room) says he helped build the place and he isn’t a prisoner — he fought his way *into* the cell when the invasion started.

They form an odd trio. Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr) who regrets not tattooing YOLO on his forehead; Howard, a budding dictator who loves being isolated with a young woman; and our resourceful heroin, Michelle. Is it safer inside or out? Can Howard be trusted? And are they really under attack, or is this just one of Howard’s fantasies?

10 Cloverfield Lane is a follow-up to Cloverfield but completely different. I’m not sure if it’s a sequel, a prequel, or an e-quel (a word I just made up meaning it takes place at the same time as the original). Cloverfield was a found-footage Sci-Fi thriller shot on a hand-held video camera. This one feels more like a stage play on a small set: part horror, part psychological thriller. Excellent acting with an interesting story but one that sometimes meanders. Not perfect but totally watchable.

oYn9wY_Kanto_Wanderer_4_o3_8897506_1450193380Kanto Wanderer (1963)

Dir: Suzuki Seijun

It’s the 1960s in Tokyo. Three high school girls – one the daughter of a Yakuza godfather — are thrilled and fascinated when handsome Katsuta (Akira Kobayashi) a young bodyguard notices them. The three sneak into a shop to ogle another Yakuza j2gVp4_Kanto_Wanderer_3_o3_8897489_1450193370enduring the painful, but exotic practice of tattooing. It’s Diamond Fuyu, (Hirata Daizaburo) from a rival gang. These short encounters help trigger a series of events of rivalry and revenge within the two groups. One of the young women – the one Fuyu likes —  is determined to see the world, falls for a hood from Katsuta’s gang, who secretly sells her to a pimp.

Katsuta, meanwhile, still crushes on Fuyu’s sister, who’s a con artist married to a much older cheater at cards. In this world, Yakuza members are told they should “only wear red or white”: Red means a prison uniforms, white means a corpse. What will Katsuta end up wearing?

JZK2n2_tokyodrifter3_o3_8899020_1450193455Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Dir: Suzuki Seijun

Tetsuya (Watari Tetsuya) is a yakuza hood who protects and reveres the gang’s leader who owns a Tokyo nightclub. His gang is falling on hard times. He’s in love with Chiharu (Chieko Matsubara) a high-class singer. But when a rival gang try to takeover the club ownership, it leads to a gun battle. Someone dies. Tetsuya takes the fall for his boss. He and decides to “drift”, a modern-day ronin without ties to his gang. HE’s forced to flee to the southern city of Sasebo (a zm4Egm_tokyodrifter2_o3_8898958_1450193442major US navy base). But chased by the cops and rival gangs, he’s a marked man: he’s going to die. Will he fight to the end or die quietly? And who sold him out?

There’s also a “meta” dimension to this movie. The title of the film is also the title of a song sung by the Chiharu the nightclub singer. The song is about a Tokyo drifter, just like Tetsuya.  And in a crucial scene, he whistles that song about himself and about the movie he doesn’t know he’s in!

MjKmym_Kanto_Wanderer_5_o3_8897523_1450193349Kanto Wanderer and Tokyo Drifter are similar movies, both about yakuza members who are criminals, but also good, true and above all loyal to their boss. And they both have bosses who are corrupt, selfish and venal. Are they spending their lives defending men who don’t deserve to be defended?

The two films were made 3 years apart but what an incredible difference. Many people say the Tokyo Olympics (1964) was a turning point in modernizing Japan. Kanto Wanderer could be a traditional Samurai period piece with Katsuta  wearing kimono and carrying a sword. His gamblers play traditional card games, with nothing modern about it.
Tetsuya, in contrast, is totally modern, western, dressed in a pale blue suit, and lives in aqjprn0_tokyodrifter1_o3_8898896_1450193481 world of pop art nightclubs with glass walls and yellow halls.

Following Suzuki’s films is like watching the stages of Picasso, developing from realistic to interpretive to almost cubistic.  He hints at his future style in Kanto Wanderer in a scene where the backdrop turns instantly to an intense red the moment Katsuta commits a bloody crime. But by the time we reach Tokyo Drifter, the characters dress in pale blue or bright red, and most scenes are shot on enormous soundtages with vibrant yellow or snowy white backdrops and stairways going nowhere. Suzuki’s movies are a pleasure to watch and you should see them on the big screen while you have a chance.

10 Cloverdale Lane opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective is now playing; go to tiff.net for times.

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

Going, Going, Gone. Movies Reviewed: Wolf, Before I Go to Sleep, Force Majeure

Posted in Boxing, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Family, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sweden, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 31, 2014

Toronto Toronto Zombie Walk Burger King ZombieHi, 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, Toronto Zombie Walk Ronald McDmovies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s Halloween – you can tell by all the zombies on the street. But if you’re too old for trick-or-treating, there are some grown-up movies to watch. This week I’m looking at a Dutch gangster flick about a man who doesn’t know where he’s going, a Swedish comedy about a man who doesn’t know where his marriage is going, and an English psychological thriller about a woman who doesn’t know where her memories have gone.

WolfPosterWolf

Dir: Jim Taihuttu

Majid (Marwan Kenzari) is a kickboxer who lives in an ethnic enclave in suburban Netherlands. The son of Moroccan immigrants, he still shares a room with his little brother in his parents’ desolate, high-rise flat. He works at the same place his dad spent 30 years in unrelenting dedication. It’s a quintessentially Dutch job – he drives a forklift at the flower auction held each morning near Schipol airport. He doesn’t like the job – it’s boring. He’d rather be out on the streets with his weasely best friend, Adil (Chemseddine Amar), or training at kickboxing. But he’s wolf5forced to work there because he’s on parole. He dabbles in snatch-and-grabs for extra cash.

He’s the black sheep in the family. His educated brother Hamza (who is dying of cancer) is his parents’ darling. The one thing Majid is good at is fighting, and a kickboxing win could generate some much-needed cash. But he messes up his first fight by ignoring the ref, and clobbering his opponent, nearly to death.

wolf1Watching the fight was a gangster kingpin, a successful Turkish immigrant named Hakan (Cahit Olmuz). He hires Majid as a backup heavy for a high-level drug deal. It seems Majid has other skills – he can think on his feet and is quick with a gun. And he understands Arabic, something the Turkish gangsters can’t. The job goes great, and he is rapidly promoted. He has a meteoric rise, but how long can it last? Will it interfere with his true ambition – his boxing career? And will his father ever bewolf3 proud of him?

Shot in stunning, sharp black and white, Wolf is an interesting look at the gangster world, sympathetically told through the eyes of second-generation immigrants. It shows the racism they face, as well as friction among various immigrant groups. And how the lure of money and power drags some people into a life of organized crime. The movie covers a lot of ground, and leaves some of the stories incomplete, dangling. It’s also one of those movies where female characters are incidental, confined to a stoic mom and a breasty girlfriend. But Kenzari has a dynamite screen presence, and Olmuz as the crime boss and Amar as his shifty best friend round out the cast nicely. Wolf is worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of gangster dramas.

IMG_7072.CR2Before I Go to Sleep

Dir: Rowan Joffe

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up in a strange bed with a strange man, thinking: Where am I? What did I do last night, how did I meet this guy? He soon sets her straight. He’s her husband, a patient, kindly schoolteacher. Ben (Colin Firth) is there each morning to help her recover. Recover from what? From total amnesia – she suffered a nasty bump on the head, which wiped her memory clean. IMG_0096.CR2And each night, when she falls asleep, she forgets anything she learned that day.

To combat this and to try to recover her memories, she also meets the secretive Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He’s a neuropsychologist. With his help – and unbeknownst to her husband, she records a video each night as a letter to herself the next day. She discovers the amnesia came from a terrible beating. But who did it? And she’s haunted by images of a IMG_0053.CR2third man with a scar on his face. Lovely Christine is caught between the intensely handsome doctor and the comforting and patient husband. Both of whom seem to be hiding something from her. Which one can she trust? Or should she only trust herself?

This is a good, tight psychological thriller that keeps you guessing. It’s angsty and scary. You feel for poor Christine as she gradually recovers her past, and the pain and regret the memories bring her. The three main actors, Kidman, Strong and Firth, are all good in their respective roles. Before I Go To Sleep is a good, tense thriller. The problem? After it’s over, if you think about it too hard, the plot falls apart like a house of cards. None of it makes any sense.

Force Majeure

Dirstacks_image_236: Ruben Östlund

Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli) are a happily married Swedish couple. With their two cute kids, Vera and Harry (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) they take a much-needed vacation in the French Alps. Tomas spends too much time at work or on his smartphone, so this is where family bonding and quality time should kick in. And it seems to be working. They pose for pictures, ski down slopes… they even wear matching pale blue long underwear. But one day, at an open-air restaurant on the chalet roof, something terrible happens. A fierce avalanche sends tons of snow thundering down the stunning peaks, covering them in a white cloud. In a moment of panic, Tomas grabs his phone and runs away — leaving his wife and kids cowering beneath the table. Moments later he realizes it was a false alarm. He FORCEMAJEURE_03creeps back as if nothing has happened. But the seeds are planted. When it comes up in conversations with other tourists Tomas pretends it never happened. His kids are furious, and Ebba is flabbergasted. If Dad won’t protect them or even admit to his failings, how can they ever trust him?

Ebba tries to talk with Swedish women she meets at the hotel, but they all seem to be having casual sex behind closed chalet doors. Will no one uphold the sanctity of marriage? Does it mean anything anymore?

Later they encounters a bearded hipster travelling with a much younger woman. The two end up joining them in discussions of the dilemma of what Tomas should do, even holding impromptu marriage counselling. What are bravery, morality, FORCEMAJEURE_02masculinity, honesty? And what would you do facing a real disaster?

Force Majeure is both a brilliant comedy, and a clever social satire. It’s told against the background of a futuristic/minimalist chalet: all blonde wood, clanking ski lifts, moving sidewalks, and toy drones. And in the distance, loud cannons add a sinister tone of impending doom to what should be a normal ski trip. Great movie!

Before I Go to Sleep and Force Majeure open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Wolf is released on November 4th on DVD. And look out for the Kubrick exhibition, opening today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

%d bloggers like this: