Changes. Films reviewed: Venus, RBG, Boom for Real

Posted in 1970s, Art, Canada, documentary, Hiphop, LGBT, Montreal, Movies, Punk, Trans, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 18, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

Spring Film Festival Season is going strong in Toronto with world premiers, features and short films to reflect every taste. Inside Out is one of the world’s largest LGBT film festivals; ICFF, the Italian Contemporary film festival, has parallel screenings in eight cities across Canada; and Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival features great movies and a special appearance by Nobel Peace Prize co-recipient Setsuko Thurlow. And brand new this year is Toronto’s True Crime Film Festival – the title says it all. They’re all coming soon.

This week I’m looking at three new movies – a dramedy ad two documentaries – opening today, which (coincidentally) are all directed by women. There’s a teenaged boy who changes New York’s art scene, a diminutive judge who changes US laws, and a woman in her thirties who just wants to change herself.

Venus

Dir: Eisha Marjara

Sid (DeBargo Sanyal) is a Montrealer in her thirties going through some major changes. Her longtime boyfriend Daniel (Pierre-Yves Cardinal: Tom at the Farm) dumped her, and a strange, 14-year-old kid has been following her around. But the biggest change of all is her gender – she’s transitioning from male to female, and is about to appear as a woman, in public, for the very first time. That’s when Ralph (Jamie Mayers) the 14 year old skate kid who’s been following her around finally tells her why: Sid, he says, you’re my dad!

What?! First of all, she says, I only have sex with men, second of all I’m brown – Sid is of a Punjabi ancestry – and you’re white. But doesn’t she remember Kristin from high school? (Kristin is Ralph’s mom and Ralph read in her diary that she had a fling with Sid as a teenager).

When she gets over the shock Sid takes a crash course in Parenting for Dummies, and starts to bond with Ralph. Her ex-partner Daniel reappears in her life, and accepts her change of gender. And her estranged parents, her transphobic Mamaji (Zena Darawalla) and  laid-back Papaji (Gordon Warnecke: My Beautiful Launderette), welcome her back with open arms when they discover they’re grandparents. But trouble lurks. Will Daniel come out publicly as her partner? Will Ralph tell his Mom he found his birth parent? And will Sid survive the stress of transition?

Venus is a very cute dramedy, one that shows pathos without too much treacle, and keeps you interested. And the cast is uniformly believable and endearing, especially the principals: Sanyal, Mayers and Cardinal.

RBG

Dir: Julie Cohen, Betsy West

In 1970s America it was not illegal to refuse women bank loans without a man’s signature, to fire them for being pregnant, to pay them less than men, to bar them from public schools, private clubs and other institutions… even for husbands to rape their own wives.

Enter noted lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born in Brooklyn, she is one of few female students at Harvard Law in the 1950s which helps shape her legal outlook. She observes the oppression and panic of the Red Scare. She also experiences discrimination first hand, as she and other women are ignored by professors and barred from accessing archives. Later, she works for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)  and begins to challenge laws that discriminate against women, one at a time, through lawsuits. Many of her cases make it to the all-male Supreme Court, whose members understand civil rights on the basis of race, but can’t yet conceive of it on the basis of sex.

She teaches them what’s what.

Later this diminutive, shy woman becomes a law professor, a circuit judge in the Washington, D.C. Appeals Court and eventually a Supreme Court justice herself, often leading dissenting positions on the increasingly conservative court. More recently, in her eighties, she has been adopted by young feminist activists as a “rock star” or celebrity of sorts; an unusual role model for a youth-obsessed culture.

RBG is an interesting and informative – if conventional – look at her policies, her home life, her late husband, and her love of opera.

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

Dir: Sara Driver

It’s 1978 and New York is a bombed out city. Crime rates are soaring, the government is bankrupt, and poor neighbourhoods like the Lower East side are abandoned and crumbling. With hard times come big changes. Both Punk rock and hip hop culture are developing side by side, and into this incubator steps a 16 year old boy named Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Born in Brooklyn, the son of a Haitian Dad and a Puerto Rican mom, Jean Michel is homeless, kicked out for dropping out of high school. Now he’s couch-surfing in the lower east side, and becoming an artist. He expresses himself as SAMO, a graffiti artist. But instead of the bold, chunky murals and tags that cover the subways Jean-Michel scrawls pensive poetry and enigmatic thoughts using plain – though distinctive — letters. He later develops his images – childlike hearts, crosses, three pointed crowns, Batman and science books – and applies them to diverse media: everything from walls, to clothing, to refrigerator doors. He targets walls near Soho, so galleries will notice. He already thinks of himself as a superstar, just one who is not famous yet.

But Soho galleries don’t care much about youth, punk, hip hop or black culture in general. So the artists create their own spaces in a DIY mode. Still a teenager he attends seminal art happenings and events around the city, whether or not he is actually invited, spontaneously adding his art directly to gallery walls And he refines his distinctive look, with short dreads and a partly shaved skull.

Boom for Real is a brilliant documentary about an artist life before his incredible fame in the art boom of the 1980s and his untimely death. It situates him within an era: of Fab 5 Freddy and Planet Rock; Club 57 and the Mudd Club; Grafitti art, Jim Jarmusch, club kids and Quaaludes, fashion, music, rap and art. It’s the best sort of documentary, one that functions as a constantly-flowing oral history told by the people who were there. It shows a fantastic array of period photos, videos and images documenting Basquiat’s teenaged years. Even the closing credits are thoughtfully laid out.

Beautiful movie.

Venus, RBG, and Boom for Real 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.

Can depression lead to great sex? Films reviewed: Axolotl Overkill, Entanglement, Fake Tattoos

Posted in Berlin, Depression, Drama, drugs, Montreal, Movies, Punk, Romance, Sex, tattoos, Vancouver by CulturalMining.com on February 9, 2018

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

Feeling blue? Don’t worry, things will get better, and bad events, even depression, can sometimes lead to great sex. This week I’m looking at three movies (from Berlin, Montreal and Vancouver) where a chance meeting offers new hope to depressed people.

There’s a brooding introvert picked up by a girl at a thrash concert; a teenaged girl who encounters a middle-aged woman in a coke-filled haze; and a depressed guy who wants to have sex …with his sister?!

Axolotl Overkill

Wri/Dir: Helene Hegemann (Based on her novel Axlotl Overdrive)

Mifti (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) is a student at an alternative high school in Berlin, and she’s depressed. Her parents are divorced, with her mom in hospital, brain dead, and her rich dad gallavanting around with no time for his kids. She’s forced to live with her adult half-sister and half-brother, in an uneasy arangement. She hates school and acts out, upsetting everyone she meets. She even gets in a food fight with the lunch lady. Turns out this lunch lady is an equally rude TV star named Ophelia (Mavie Hörbiger) who is working at the school because she was sentenced to community service. She’s beautiful, famous, and occasionally psychotic. Mifti attaches herself to Ophelia and her entourage to explore and discover the mysteries of Berlin’s nightlife. This involves exotic pets, throbbing music, cigarettes and handguns. She goes on weekend-long benders, snorting coke in men’s rooms, and picking up cab drivers for furtive sex. Somewhere along the way she meets a strikingly beautiful, but mysterious, woman named Alice (Arly Jover), who is at least three times her age. They embark on an intense sexual relationship. Can Mifti survive her dysfunctional family, her nihilistic nature, and her crash-and-burn lifestyle? Or will it all come tumbling down?

Helene Heggemann is 25 now, and a sensation in contemporary Germany. This is her first directed feature, but she’s been writing novels and plays for a decade. I like the picaresque structure of the movie, journeys from place to place with Mifti absorbing it all, taking it all in. At the same time, Mifti is self-centred, rude and offensive — and comes from a privileged background — so it’s hard to sympathize with her. Lots of passion and emotion in this movie but no love, just alienation. The plot’s confusing too, so it’s hard to tell what’s real, what’s imaginary and what’s a flashback. Still, I enjoyed this unsparing look at underground Berlin seen through a teenager’s eyes.

Entanglement

Dir: Jason James

Ben (Thomas Middleditch) lives alone in an apartment in BC. He was married and successful, until his wife ran off with another guy. Now he’s severely depressed, to the point of suicide. He’s seeing a child psychologist (he’s 30) and takes anti-psychotic meds. Only his neighbour Tabby (Diana Bang) is looking out for him. He has hit rock bottom… until two random events change everything.

First his parents tell him a family secret. He has a sister he’s never met… well almost a sister. In fact she was an infant adopted by his childless parents but taken back on the first day when his mother discovered she was pregnant. Ben decides to find his almost sister. Next he meets a woman at random who is everything he’s not. Ben is gangly, ginger haired and shy. Hanna (Jess Weixler) is vivacious and spontaneous, willing to break into a swimming pool for a late night skinny dip. She is sexy and wild, with bleached-blonde hair. She’s a pick-pocket and also a bit of a stalker – she pursues Ben with a vengeance. She even wants to have sex with him. Tabby warns Ben to take it slowly… she might not be what she says she is. But Ben is totally into her… even though Hanna might be that almost sister he’s looking for. He’s convinced it’s all quantum physics, random events are all connected and we should let the universe figure it out.

Entanglement is a fun and comic look at a dark subject – depression, attempted suicide and psychotic breakdowns. It shifts from simple comedy into psychedelia, as Ben sees the world in his own way. It also has a very surprising ending – no spoilers. Middleditch and Weixler make a great yin and yang couple, while Bang is perfect as the “straight man.”

I liked this movie a lot.

Fake Tattoos (Les Faux Tatouages)

Wri/Dir: Pascal Plant

Theo (Anthony Therrien) is a shaggy-haired guy in Montreal, celebrating his 18th birthday. He’s broody and intense, into hardcore black Tshirts and tattoo designs. He quaffs a six pack of beer – bought legally for the first time – and heads to a thrash punk concert by himself. He’s a loner, but lets loose in the crowd, just another moshing body.

Afterwards a young woman approaches him about a tattoo on his arm. It’s a fake, she says, but a good one. Mag (Rose-Marie Perrault) has a nose ring and blonde hair with pink tips. She’s getting over a bad breakup. She’s a funny extrovert, and tries to break through Theo’s standoffish attitude. They end up sleeping together, which quickly turns from a one-night stand into an intense serious relationship. This may be love. Alas, like a cup of yogurt, it’s due to expire in just a few weeks. He’s moving to LaPocatiere a small town way up the St Lawrence, to get away from something terrible in his past. Why is Theo a loner? What is he escaping? Can Mag recover from a previous bad relationship? And will their love endure?

Fake Tattoos is a wonderful story about young summer lovers in Montreal. The pair have amazing chemistry that comes through in this short and simple love story. It’s a sweet look at first love. This is Pascal Plante’s first feature – it played at Slamdance and at the Berlinale this year — and I can’t wait to see his next one.

Entanglement opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Fake Tattoos and Axlotl Overkill are both playing at the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival that’s on next week. And if you’re 25 or under, tickets are free – 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.

Village People. Films reviewed: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, Silence, 20th Century Women

Posted in 1970s, Art, Christianity, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Family, Feminism, Gay, Japan, Punk, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 13, 2017

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

Everyone lives in a neighbourhood, whether it’s a city or a small town. This week I’m looking at movies about village people. There’s a photographer in the East Village, a priest in a Japanese village, and a woman who believes it takes a village.

MapplethorpeMapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Dir: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Robert Mapplethorpe was a major 20th century artist who rose to fame just as four major changes were taking place: the gay liberation movement, the Aids crisis, the socially conservative backlash under Ronald Reagan, and the sudden rise in value of contemporary art and photography. Born in Queens NY he went to Pratt art college and moved in with 201605317_1_img_fix_700x700underground poet and musician Patti Smith. He smoked acid and boiled a dead monkey. Mapplethorpe fell in with the jet-set of the ultra-rich in Mustique, in the Caribbean, creating a demand for his black and white photos. And his second life was spent in a legendary S&M gay bar called the Mineshaft in the meatpacking district. Likewise, he divided his work docs_mapplethorpe02-296x300into three categories: X, Y and Z. Explicit gay S&M imagery (X); flowers (Y); and nude portraits of African-American men, focusing on their genitals (Z). He died of Aids in the late 80s at the height of his career, just as conservative Jesse Helms blocked his art from a Washington museum, plus a court case labelling his art as obscene.

This documentary covers his life and career, and most of all reveals his work. It’s a great introduction to his art and its history, but I was bothered by its stance: venerate the art – as significant and valuable; but denigrate the artist – as vain, selfish, ambitious and petty.

15137495_1333188413378658_1730090754012238611_oSilence

Dir: Martin Scorsese (based on Endo Shusaku’s novel)

Rodrigues and Garrpe (Andrew Garfiield and Adam Driver) are Jesuit priests in 17th century Portugal. The Jesuit mission to convert the Japanese under Frances Xavier has failed: the Tokugawa government banned Christianity, and closed off the country to all outside contact. Japanese Christians have reverted back to Buddhists or else practice their religion underground. Worst of all, their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) is missing. So they sneak into Japan with the help of a shady fisherman named Kichijiro (Kubozuka Yousuke). Once there to their surprise, they discover hidden Christians everywhere, who call them Padre and rush to confess. But behind the scenes lurks the grand inquisitor Inoue (Ogata Issei), a samurai whose sole job is to flush out hidden Christians, and convert them to Buddhism. When he finally meets 15168802_1341247705906062_2844253298776036664_oRodrigues the two embark on an extended religious debate. Who will triumph? The Christlike Rodrigues or the cunning Inoue?

Silence is a beautiful looking movie. For Rodrigues, Japan is witnessed mainly through cracks in wooden walls, either hiding from the authorities or imprisoned by them. The islands are lush and green shrouded in a mist that surrounds the padres and their followers. But 15235447_1344428582254641_1724759706567928024_oonce the action shifts to a battle of minds on government land, it becomes sharp and austere.

The original novel is by Shusaku Endo, a Catholic Japanese novelist (a rare thing). Andrew Garfield (who plays Rodrigues) is becoming a poster child for Christian philosophy in a Japanese setting – he’s also starring in Hacksaw Ridge about a conscientious objector fighting in Okinawa in WWII. Garfield is great, as is the entire Japanese cast, filled with top actors and a surprising number of directors. (You can tell they all want to appear in a Scorsese film). To name just two, Kubozuka is fascinating as the Judas character Kichijiro, and Ogata is amazing as Inoue (he starred in Aleksandr Sokurov’s masterpiece The Sun). Silence is a long and intense movie, filled with philosophical debate, and punctuated by disturbing death and torture. This is not an easy movie to take in but it’s well worth seeing.

_DSC1289.NEF20th Century Women

Wri/Dir: Mike Mills

It’s 1979. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mom in small town California who works as a designer in a canning factory. She’s a 20th century woman who wears Birkenstocks and smokes menthol cigarettes. She was the first female pilot in the Air Force in WWII. Now she lives in a big house with her son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Jamie is 15, rides a skateboard and just hangs out. But when he nearly dies after a silly game, Dorothea realizes they aren’t connecting anymore. So she asks for help from the younger women in her life. Julie (Elle Fanning) is Jamie’s childhood crush. She likes riding her bike and _TND7063.NEFattending her mom’s psychotherapy encounters. She’s exploring sex and will sleep with any guy she likes…except Jamie. Well she’ll sleep with him and share his bed, just no sex. Abbie (Greta Gerwig) rents a room in their house, recovering from cervical cancer. She’s a punk _DSC4067.tifphotographer who dyes her hair red. She introduces Jamie to feminism with a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. He gets in his first fist fight at school in an argument about clitoral orgasm. And then there’s William (Billy Crudup) a hippy handyman drifter who repairs the house in lieu of rent. Mom is loving and giving and wants to share it all with Jamie and the rest, but fears the effects of feminism, and the sexual revolution on his development as a man. And Jamie? He just wants to live life and make sense of it all.

Twentieth Century Women is a funny and fascinating ensemble piece. It’s narrated by an omniscient version of Dorothea in some future incarnation. There are a few jarring anachronisms:  would a 15 year old in 1979 receiving a gift of recorded music exclaim “It’s a Mixtape!”? But that doesn’t detract from this excellent coming-of-age story within an impromptu family. Great movie.

Silence is now playing, 20th Century Women opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures opens on January 13th,  with a special screening at the AGO. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Human commodities. Films reviewed: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I Promise you Anarchy, Burn Burn Burn

Posted in 3-D, Action, Animals, comedy, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Punk, Road Movie, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

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

Do you ever feel like your body is just a list of things to be bought, sold or traded? This week I’m looking at movies about people forced to treat bodies as commodities. There are skate punks in Mexico trying to sell human blood, two women in the UK trying to scatter human ashes… and mutant turtles in Manhattan trying to live like human beings.

10150582_236914753098962_7581709544636208661_nTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dir: Dave Green

Donatello, Micheleangelo, Raphael and Leonardo – Donny, Mike, Raf and Leo for short – are giant CGI turtles who speak like California surfers from the 1980s. They live in Manhattan in a hidden laboratory with their friend April (Megan Fox) and their sensei, a giant rat. Their lair serves as home base in their relentless battle against crime and evil. And in their free time they jump around the city’s rooftops, catching basketball games and eating pizza. But always hidden from view: humans might 13329513_358477130942723_2973235416009902388_omistake them for monsters or freaks. Now they are fighting an evil villain named Shredder who escaped from prison along with sidekicks Be Bop and Rock Steady. The bad guys plan to assemble an Arc Capacitor made from three parts hidden around the world. If they succeed they will enslave civilization. But not if the turtles can stop them.

10547968_271120509678386_8705934401065890056_oI heard this movie was awful, worse than terrible, so I saw it with zero expectations. And you know what? I kinda liked it – simple story, good 3-D special effects, lots of explosions and chase scenes with people falling out of planes without parachutes. Cowabunga! On the negative side, the lines aren’t very clever and it’s hard to reconcile the fuzzy CGI models with the real live people standing beside them. The strangest thing: for a movie aimed at kids, it doesn’t have any young characters — not a single (non-turtle) actor younger than thirty in the entire film.

VmnrVO_teprometoanarquia_03_o3_8724673_1440102244I Promise you Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía)

Wri/Dir: Julio Hernández Cordón

Miguel and Johnny (Diego Calva Hernández and Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) have been friends, almost brothers, since they were kids. Miguel is solidly middle class from the suburbs, while Johnny is downtown and not as rich. They travel around Mexico City on long boards with a group of pals. They skate free style, do tricks, read Thrasher, smoke a bit of grass, maybe slam some poetry. Johnny likes skating naked around deserted Jai Alai 58Kx4A_teprometoanarquia_02_o3_8724638_1440102239courts. And once everyone has gone home Miguel and Johnny retreat to a giant steel vat, for some afterhours groping. Johnny might have a girlfriend named Adri, but he’s chill with sexing it up with Miguel.

Their biggest wish is to build a huge skate park downtown, but that takes money. Miguel has found a way to earn quick cash: selling their blood to clinics. It’s organized by Gabriel, an actor at the Churubusco Studios, who pimps their blood to unknown destinations. With the promise of a huge peso payout, they’re asked to bring 50 donors to their favourite hangout. They round up everyone they know — all their friends, acquaintances, even casual strangers. nZ6XjP_teprometoanarquia_01_o3_8724605_1440102239But things go terribly wrong when sleazy criminals enter the picture. Can Miguel and Johnny stay together despite the chaos and mayhem?

I enjoyed this low-budget look at skaters in Mexico City. Good soundtrack, unusual locations. At times it feels almost like a documentary about life on the street – are they all actoirs or just people playing themselves?. The story doesn’t seem completely real, but that doesn’t matter. There are some amazing long takes of skaters just gliding through central plazas, in V formation… like migrating birds.

10665747_557978830998084_4416378503890536433_nBurn Burn Burn

Dir: Chanya Button 

Seph, Alex and Dan are the fast friends in London. Seph (Laura Carmichael) has flouncy blond hair and a clever mind, but is forced to work as nanny and personal assistant. She’s dating James, a well-meaning but douchey guy who is a financial trader in central London. Alex (Chloe Pirrie) has a stark haircut and a tightly-lipped mouth. She doesn’t like talking about herself. She’s in a long-term relationship with a woman. Dan, the third friend, (Jack Farthing) is the life of the party, given to practical jokes and staying up all night.

The three friends are back together again, at yet another party. 11923199_728527537276545_7075186293857167413_nThis time it’s Dan’s wake. He died suddenly, age 29, struck down by cancer. He’s gone but not forgotten. And he leaves Alex and Seph with a final task: to scatter his ashes at four crucial places around the British Isles. At first, they brush off Dan’s wish. Then Seph loses her job and Alex — after OD-ing on scotch eggs, a uniquely British malady — catches her lover with another woman in flagrente delecto. They decide to pack it in and head for the road.

11221394_728527390609893_6299213542631975827_nThey drive through ancient ruins and natural landmarks in England, Wales and Scotland, carefully following Dan’s painstaking directions and explanations. He accompanies them with a video he made before he died. On the way they encounter a pagan wicker man festival, nightclubs from Dan’s childhood and a number of unexpected sites. And the two of them are forced to reveal hidden secrets and confront buried truths

I liked this one — it’s and quirky and funny road movie. The Burn-Burn-Burnmain characters are acerbic not smarmy. While the story may be formulaic, the odd people they meet on the way are fun and original: a bearded hippy, a neurotic tour guide, a runaway housewife, even Al’s own mum. With humour, nice scenery, food for thought, and even a few tears, Burn Burn Burn is a well-made grand tour.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Burn Burn Burn and I Promise You Anarchy are both playing at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for showtimes.

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

Significant Hair. Movies Reviewed: Viva, Green Room, Sing Street

Posted in Cuba, Cultural Mining, Horror, LGBT, Movies, Music, Punk, Skinhead, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2016

Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Can hairstyles hold messages about your job, your politics, your musical preference or your sexuality? This week I’m looking at movies about men with significant haircuts: a family drama from Cuba, a thriller/horror from the US, and a musical from Ireland. There’s a boy in Havana who’s dying to try a wig on; some punks trying to avoid dying when the skinheads are wigging out, and a kid in Dublin who will change his hairstyle for a girl he’s dying to meet.

A017_C001_11119KViva

Dir: Paddy Breathnach

Jesus (Héctor Medina) is a young man who lives alone in Havana. His dad was a prize fighter who ran off when Jesus was three (his picture is still on the wall.) Later, his mom died leaving only her record collection of classic Cuban boleros and torch singers. And her threadbare apartment. Now he’s 18 and all alone, an adult orphan. He earns a meager living cutting the hair of old ladies in his neighbourhood, along with one important client.

Mama (Luis Alberto García) runs a bar popular among foreign tourists. It features travestidos, drag queens who perform on stage in makeup, wigs and gowns, lip-synching and dancing for an appreciative audience. Jesus is there backstage to Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.4clean and style their wigs.

But when one performer suddenly quits and Mama is left with an open space, Jesus volunteers to take her place. He knows all the songs by heart, and he longs to express himself. Mama is dubious. It’s not just the clothes she says, you have to feel it, get inside of it, live it. But after begging and cajoling he’s allowed to try out. His persona is named Viva. At first clumsy and awkward soon Viva dares to get off the stage and walk among the clients. Viva spots a new customer, a rough-looking middle-aged man, and gathers her courage to approach him. But when she sings to him and touches him, he punches her in the face, knocking her to the floor. They kick the man out, and help patch up Jesus’s split lip. He goes home feeling miserable. But who does he find in his apartment? The same man. I’m Angel, he says, and I’m your father.

Jorge Perugorría and Héctor Medina in VIVA, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures2-1Turns out, Angel didn’t exactly run away. He’s been in prison for 15 years, and now he’s home again. He’s a mean, selfish drunk and spends all his money on cigarettes and rot-gut rum. He takes over the apartment: food, coffee and bed. He’s macho and wants his son to harden up. Jesus is self-reliant and tough in his own way, but definitely not macho. Jesus hates this stranger who has taken over his life, but… Angel is his father, and the only family he has. Or is he? Mama says Jesus is welcome to come back to the club, to stay with his new “family” — he’ll even get a room to live in. Angel forbids him from dressing up like a woman and “humiliating” himself on stage. But that is the only place where Jesus finds fulfillment… and his sole source of money. As a gay man in Cuba there are very few jobs open for him. It’s that or the sex trade.

But Angel has a secret of his own — the reason he’s come home to spend time with Jesus. Can the two of them get along? Can they accept each other for who they are? And will Viva ever enter the picture again?

Viva is a moving drama about contemporary gay life in Havana. The cast is all Cuban, and is shot on location. It doesn’t cover up or apologize for the seamier side of Havana, including its poverty. It stars Jorge Perugorría as Angel, one of Cuba’s best-known actors, famous in North America for his role in Strawberry and Chocolate, another Cuban movie with a gay theme. Héctor Medina is a newcomer but also very good. Surprisingly, though, this movie is officially considered an Irish production — its writer and director are both from there. I don’t speak Spanish, but I’m told the dialogue, words and accents are muy authentico.

12642920_1557369967920554_2236015225478540444_nGreen Room

Dir: Jeremy Saulnier

Sam, Pat, Reece and Tiger are hardcore anarcho-punks from the east coast. Their band is touring middle-America, playing at dive bars and roadhouses in Corn Country. They’re musical purists – no social networking or  iTunes. It’s vinyl discs and live performances – or nothing. The r0BLjE_greenroom_01_o3_8676897_1439243368problem is they’re not making any money. And when a promised gig goes south, they have to siphon gas out of parked cars just to keep driving. So when a local punk offers them a paid show at a country roadhouse, they jump at the chance. Just don’t talk politics they’re told. And don’t play zmQWRr_greenroom_03_o3_8677014_1439243414anything political.

The place turns out to be a bar for white-supremicist skinheads. And the green room (that’s where bands wait before they go on stage) is laden with neo-nazi, stickers, confederate battle flags and white power logos. Nice…But a few skins aren’t going to stop them. They start their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedy’s classic Nazi Punks F*ck Off! Dead silence. The skinheads aren’t pleased. Still, once they switch to their heavy loud tunes the crowd is slamming and enjoying the concert. All is good. But just as they head out, Pat (Anton RgkQ20_greenroom_05_o3_8677128_1439243450Yelchin, Chekov on Star Trek, 2009) remembers he left his smart phone in the green room. He busts in only to see something he shouldn’t have seen: a skinhead girl lying dead on the floor with a knife sticking out of her head. Pat dials 911 but they grab his phone.

Soon enough, the whole band is locked into the room with one door and no windows, along with a nasty-looking skinhead guard and Amber (Imogen Poots) a skin who was friends with the dead woman. No telephone. And no one knows they’re there.

O7LNWN_greenroom_02_o3_8676969_1439243390Things take a turn for the worse once Darcy shows up (Patrick Stewart, Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek:The Next Generation). He’s cold, sinister and forboding. A big guy in the Stormfront circuit, Darcy owns the club. He doesn’t want the police there, and he doesn’t want the punks talking about the murder. And he has dozens of True Believers – young neo-nazis who want to make their first kill – at his beck and call.

It turns into a battle between the punks (and a skinhead ally) armed with nothing more than a box-cutter, lightbulbs, a single handgun and a fire-extinguisher; and a gang of skins looking to kill. Once killer dogs enter the battle, people start dying.  Can any of them survive an all-out attack? Or will they disappear in a shallow grave in the woods?

Green Room is a great action/thriller/horror movie. My heart was pounding about a third of the way through, and didn’t let up til the end. It’s a typical house-in-the-woods type horror movie, but without the bikini-clad college students of a typical slasher pic. The women – including Sam (Alia Shawkat)–  are as tough as the men. And Imogen Poots is amazing as the Chelsea who joins the fight; so good, I didn’t recognize her until the closing credits.

12768265_228216354192538_6006492979310558347_oSing Street

Wri/Dir: John Carney

Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is a middle-class kid at a private Jesuit school in Dublin in the 1980s. He lives at home with his parents, his little sister and older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) a pothead who dropped out of college. But when his family falls on hard times he is sent to a rougher school run by the Christian 12771938_228217334192440_5486446044202041047_oBrothers. (Canadians know the name from the Mt Cashel orphanage in St John’s, Newfoundland, notorious for its horrific abuses.) Cosmo gets bullied from day one, especially by a skinhead. The school is run by men in black priestly gowns from neck to feet, and who are not adverse to corporal punishment. But all is not pgo441_singstreet_02_o3_8934407_1453302712lost. Because across the street from the school he sees a beautiful girl who looks like a model. She even has a proper model’s name: Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Thinking quickly he invites her to star in his band’s video for their next song – and she agrees. Only problem is, there’s no video, no song, and no band. Somehow Cosmo has to make it happen. He meets Eamon (Mark McKenna) and together they start writing music. But will they have it all ready in time for the school prom?

Something about this movie grabs me – I really like it. It’s your basic boy-meets-girl/ coming-of-age story, and it’s set in the 80s but there’s nothing old or tired about it. Sing Street feels fresh and new.

Green Room and Viva both open on April 29th in Toronto: check your local listings. And starting today in Toronto is the wonderful Irish musical Sing Street.

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 Bruce LaBruce about Skin Flicks, the film retrospective now playing at TIFF

Posted in Bruce Labruce, Canada, Cultural Mining, Movies, Punk, Queer, Satire, Sex, Skinhead, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on June 25, 2014

Bruce Labruce 53This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Should homosexuality connote homogeneity?

Toronto filmmaker, artist and personality BRUCE LaBRUCE would give a resounding NO. From homocore zine pioneer, to Super-8 punk filmmaker, to reluctant pornographer, his influence has spread to Bruce Labruce8the art scene, fashion, pop culture and of course movies. His work uniquely combines a rough-hewn DIY quality with a punk aesthetic; controversial politics with avant-garde art; and explicit gay sex.

Skin Flicks: The films of Bruce LaBruce is playing now through July 5th at the TIFF Bell Light Box as part of the BENT LENS series. I spoke with BLaB, in studio, about cinematic critique, art, zines, skinheads, blood, sex, aesthetics, romance, gerontophilia, Nazis, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, … and more.

Art House Dramas. Films Reviewed: We are the Best, Things the Way They Are, Eastern Boys

Posted in 1980s, Chile, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Feminism, France, Gay, Movies, Protest, Punk, Sex Trade, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 31, 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.

With spring comes blockbusters, superheroes and giant atomic lizards. But it’s also spring festival season. Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT festival runs through the weekend, and coming soon are NXNE, with some great movies, spectacular Luminato, the Italian Contemporary Film Fest, and NIFF, a new, integrated festival in Niagara Falls combining movies, food and wine. This week, I’m looking at great festival-type movies: realistic, low-budget, art-house dramas. There are punk girls in Stockholm, a culture clash in Santiago; and, from Paris, a gang of eastern European boys.

Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST! a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)
Dir: Lukas Moodysson (Based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson)

It’s Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) are two young girls who are mad at the world. Grown-ups are idiots without a clue. Other kids are into aerobics and spandex, or long hair, metal, and prog-rock. So they chop off their hair, make it into spikes or a Mohawk and declare themselves punk. Punk not dead! They embrace punk ideology, clothes and politics, not just the music – everything from questioning authority to garbage picking. They are firmly against nukes, organized religion, and consumerism.

Conformist kids pick on them, and they miss out on school sports and clubs. Jonathan Salomonsson, Mira Grosin and Mira Barkhammar in WE ARE THE BEST!So they start off on their own, spontaneously, with a band. Without any music skill. Soon, it’s Bobo on drums and Klara on bass. They’re awful. At the fall talent show, they see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), the school pariah and a fundamentalist Christian. Because she plays classical guitar and dresses conservatively she gets booed off the stage. But Bobo and Klara can see she really knows music. So they make her a deal: she teaches them how to play and they’ll be her friend and let her join their band. Though labeled a “girl band” these punks set out to prove they are the best.

This is great movie that captures the early 80s dead-on. The best part? These girls are 10-13 year olds, yet they play the punks flawlessly and carry-off the movie.

poster las cosas como sonThings the Way They Are (Los Cosas Como Son)
Dir: Fernando Lavanderos

Jeronimo (Cristobal Palma) is an ordinary guy who quietly lives in a huge crumbling house in Santiago, Chile. He makes his money renting rooms to foreigners, and spends all day painting, plastering, and trying to bring the place into livable condition. Jeronimo has a helluva black beard, looking like a cross between an urban hipster and a 19th century anarchist. But his politics are anything but. He wants things to stay exactly the way they are.

Into his life comes the beautiful, young Sanna, a blonde woman from Norway. She’s there to teach drama classes to kids in a poor part of town. But Jeronimo can’t understand why. What does she get out of it? What’s in it for her? And he’s baffled by Scandinavian attitudes toward sex. Women have sex with whomever they want? In Chile, we call them prostitutes.

Sanna’s for openness, trust, change, being free. Jeronimo is suspicious, THINGS-Website-Photoclass-conscious, homebound. Still, there’s something happening between them. Will love follow? But when Jeronimo, who likes snooping around his tenants rooms, discovers a surprise under Sanna’s bed, that totally changes their situation.

I liked this movie. It’s attractive to watch, though not exciting. It’s more about contrasting characters, cultures and personal philosophies, giving an intimate slice of life in contemporary Santiago.

easternboysEastern Boys
Wri/Dir: Robin Campillo

Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a blank- faced businessman who regularly passes through the Gare du Nord in Paris. He meets a handsome young prostitute there named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and gives him his address for an upcoming tryst. What he doesn’t realize is that Marek is part of a closely-knit gang of guys from Eastern Europe who practically live at the station. They’re hustlers, thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and prostitutes. And the next day, to his horror, they show up, en masse, at his condo door for a “party”. Their leader, known only as “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov), is the sinister but seductive alpha dog. He puts on music, pulls off his shirt and starts dancing in front of the businessman. Daniel’s non-plussed, but eventually just says to hell with it. easternboys_01_mediumHe dances with thieves wearing a paper crown, while they strip his apartment bare. His art, his computer, his TV… everything is loaded onto a white van.

C’est la vie, right? No. Who shows up the next day at his empty apartment but Marek, the sex worker who started it all. He says it wasn’t his fault, and he’s still willing to do what he was hired for. Sex is cold and perfunctory, but he begins to show up regularly, on the sly. He’s emphatic that Boss can’t know. Marek spends his weekends at a remote suburban refugee hotel with the gang, where they hold his passport. Daniel’s life is opaque. But we slowly find out more about Marek. He’s from a war zone and still hears the bombers, gunshots and explosions in the distance. Cold Daniel starts to show some backbone and compassion. Gradually they change from buyer/seller, to lovers, to roommates, to friends… to something very different and unexpected. Can Marek escape Boss’s control and leave the gang for a future in France?

This is a disconcerting and disturbing film, but quite good. What’s remarkable though is the ensemble of Eastern European actors, working perfectly together like Oliver Twist performed by Cirque de Soleil. Though moralistic at times, it works both as a crime thriller (with minimal violence), and as a social drama.

Eastern Boys played at Inside-Out, We Are the Best and Things the Way They Are both 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

60s, 70s and 80s. Movies Reviewed: Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Good Vibrations

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Cultural Mining, FBI, Folk, Manhattan, Movies, Music, Northern Ireland, Punk, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 19, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

New Year’s Day (coming soon!) is when you declare your resolutions and your goals. And sometimes, you find you’re overly ambitious. I’m looking at three great movies this week, all about men with ambitions they can’t always meet. They’re all loosely based on true stories and take place in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I’m reviewing them chronologically. First a folk musician, then a con man, and then a promoter of punk.

Inside Llewyn Davis

ILD_00756_ctDir/Wri: Coen Brothers

It’s 1961. Llewyn’s a Welsh-Italian-American folk singer who performs at the Gaslight café in Greenwich Village (brilliantly played by actor and musician Oscar Isaac). He’s recorded his first solo album (his folk duo is no more) but it’s not doing well. He’s broke. He’s homeless. And it’s cold out — and he doesn’t even have a winter coat; just a corduroy jacket. With a guitar on his back and a runaway cat in his arms… he’s just blowin’ in the wind. He’s couch surfing between a Columbia prof’s apartment in the upper west side (that’s where the cat lives), and a married couple Jean and Jim’s place in the Village (that’s where his guitar lives). Jean and Jim (Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake) are a happy young couple, who also sing in a folk duet. Also at the Gaslight.

All is not well for poor Llewyn. His agent is crooked, his not-girlfriend girlfriend is pregnant, his dad is ILD_01359_ctcomatose, and a stranger in a cowboy hat has a hate-on. Llewyn keeps making the wrong decisions. But he refuses to sell out. He doesn’t want to wear a white turtleneck. He doesn’t want to sing in a trio. He’s on the verge of making it big… or packing it all in and joining the Merchant Marines. So as a last ditched effort, he hitches a ride out to Chicago with a mean and nasty blues singer (marvelously played by John Goodman) to get a famous folk promoter to sign him.

ILD_05466_ctIt sounds like a so-so story… but it’s not. This is a fantastic drama tracing a couple days in the life of this urban troubador. It’s loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s story. (He was a pretty famous folksinger from New York that you may have heard of.) The movie’s ordinary, and yet extraordinary. It gradually reveals surprising secrets, even while it dangles red herrings. Watching the movie, you get tossed around, clueless, just like Llewyn Davis, until things gradually start to become clear. This movie captures the feeling of the era, before JFK’s assassination, between 50s conformity and 60s mass protest and counterculture. And about a third of the movie is wonderful music performed by the actors. I think it’s one of the the Coen Brothers’ best.

American Hustle Adams BaleAmerican Hustle

Dir: David O. Russell

Irv is a con man. He pulls off low-level jobs — art forgeries, bank fraud – in New York. Sydney is originally from Albuquerque, but she dresses like a Cosmo cover model. She creates a new self – an aristocratic Englishwoman. They meet at a party, fall in love, and become power-team of scammers. But when a con flops, Irv and Sydney (an uglified Christian Bale, lovely Amy Adams) find themselves working for the FBI. If they can bring the FBI four crooks, they get immunity. Richie (Bradley Cooper) the fed who catches them has big ambitions. He wants to run a con to catch crooked businessmen, politicians … the sky’s the limit! To pull it off, they need the bigwigs to accept a briefcase of cash from an agent dressed as a Sheikh from the Emirates.

Irv is cautious. He doesn’t want to take it that high: respect your limits. When Richie tries to rope in the American Hustle Adams Cooper Renner Bale Lawrencemob, Irv sees nothing but trouble. As Irv says, you can’t con a con. Well, Irv gets all palsy-walsy with a potential mark, a popular Jersey mayor named Carmine (Jeremy Renner). But to be friends with Carmine family he has to bring his real wife, Rosalyn, into the mix. Yes, Irv is married, and not to Sydney. And Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence, stealing every scene she’s in) is a bleach blonde homebody who talks like a gangster’s moll. She’s the fly in his ointment. Sydney, in retaliation, starts coming on to the vain (yet douche-y) FBI-man, Richie. Will they pull off the scams or go to jail? Will Irving choose Roz or Sydney? (And why are all the characters obsessed with their hair?)

This movie’s not deep, driven or meaningful – except, maybe, that we’re all vain and self-centred – but it does it so well. It’s funny, quirky and fast moving. I liked it a lot.

Good Vibrations 2  Richard DormerGood Vibrations

Dir: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

It’s Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Troubles. Bombs are exploding, people beaten or killed by paramilitary groups. In the middle of all this is Terri Hooley (played by the terrific Richard Dormer). His friends once were anarchists, pacifists, feminists. Now they’re just Catholics or Protestants. But Terri opts out of sectarian conflict and opens a record store, Good Vibrations, right in the thick of it. And, against all expectations, this bearded, smiley and spontaneous leftist is suddenly drawn into the local punk scene. New York has its haircuts, he Good Vibrations1  Richard Dormer centresays, and London its trousers, but Belfast is the only place with a real reason for punk. As thousands are killed, he sets up a punk club in a strip bar and starts up a record label. But will anyone outside of the city ever hear them?

Interspersed with period BBC news footage, Good Vibrations is a fun biopic about one man’s attempt to reclaim a no-man’s land using punk rock.

Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle and Good Vibrations 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

 

NXNE 2013. Movies Reviewed: Filmage, All Out War PLUS Dirty Wars

Posted in B-Boys, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drones, Music, Punk, Uncategorized, US, War by CulturalMining.com on June 14, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

NXNE is Toronto’s annual indie music festival. It works like this: Right now, all across the city, on the hour, in dozens of nightclubs and spaces, a different band sets up and plays one intense set, straight through. Then, at the next hour, another band plays, and so on and so on. Plus some really famous bands, like the National, playing for free tonight at Yonge-Dundas Square.

There are hundreds of bands in town for this, from across the country and around the world. Punk to dubstep, indie to experimental, folk rock to hip-hop… you name it, it’s here. And there are also music-related movies (that’s my territory), plus art shows, digital workshops, and even comedians. Quite the experience – you should check it out.

So this week I’m going to talk about two entertaining docs having their world premiers at NXNE, plus a very important one that’s in the news.

FILMAGE_movie_coverFilmage
Dir: Deedle Lacour, Matt Riggle

NXNE is full of rock docs, so you should choose one with music you enjoy. I liked this one, about a largely unknown 80s band called the Descendants. They played non-political, non-scene driven punk-pop like nobody’s business. Eschewing the standard punk clothing and song subjects, they hand scribbled their album covers and dressed however they wanted. They sang about life, love, farting and frustration: songs with non-stop guitars, bass and always, always drums. Their most famous album was Milo Goes to College.

Some of them were only 15 when they started, but the band Milo CU by Atiba Jeffersoncontinued on and off, in different guises for another couple decades. It’s said that they were a decade and a half too early. Listen to the music and judge for yourself. While Filmage isn’t exactly a thrilling documentary, it does have lots of great tracks, cartoon bits and vintage pics to complement the frequent talking heads.

NastyRayAll Out War
Dir: Robert Pilichowski

What was called break dancing or breaking in the 80’s was a form of impromptu street-side dancing that started up alongside rap, graffiti, and other elements of hiphop culture. That was then – this is now. All Out War is about some current B-Boys who engage in the dance form as an intense, corporate-sponsored competition.

Matches are set up, judgements are made, winners and losers are decided on. Dyzee, a Filipino-Canadian from Toronto wants to make something with his life, but has to watch out for competing crews who start gang fights to depose him. TheNessRoof2 Machine — rural, African-American – is doing well. In the deep south where he’s from, the machine says you prove your worth with the three B’s: B-Ball, B-Boy, and BBQ. Caspar’s a white kid from Hollywood, forced by his stage mom to earn money dancing in ridiculous costumes for TV appearances. And Alienness, an old-skool Latino breaker, once part of the rock-steady Crew is trying to get into Canada for the big competition, the All Out War, the King of the Ring.

If it sounds like a boxing competition, then they’re succeeding in their sports metaphor. The whole event is staged just like a boxing (or MMA) match, complete with an elevated boxing ring, a loud announcer, referees and judges who declare the winners. It’s a sudden- death competition, with each match eliminating one of the competitors.

But it makes you wonder – why did they choose boxing as the genre to imitate? Why not, say, skateboard competitions as the model? Or pole dancing? Or figure skating? If anything, it looks most like the Brazilian dance martial art capoeira. It’s almost as if they had to prove that while it’s a dance form it’s still completely macho and manly and all that (there are no women in this competition). Whatever, excellent precise, sharp photography shows some unbelievable moves, spinning on heads, tying themselves into knots and then flipping back to their feet: incredible. All Out War is a fun, wow-worthy competition to see.

From staged competition of all out wars to the nitty-gritty…

Jeremy Scahill in Somalia DIRTY WARS 1 Courtesy Mongreal MediaDirty Wars
Dir: Rick Rowley

Daoud, an Afghan policeman in Gardaz is shot dead at his home by American soldiers, along with three women (two pregnant), when he ventured outside from a birthday party. Then, unidentified special forces (described as “men with beards and muscles”) then dug the bullets out of the dead bodies with knives (to cover up the evidence) and left them to die. At first it was completely denied by the US government

Jeremy Scahill in Yemen DIRTY WARS 3 Courtesy Mongreal MediaThe movie follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill (the man who broke the Black Water scandal in Iraq) as he connects the dots, from Afghanistan, back to Iraq, and onward to Yemen, Mogadishu, and all over.

His big revelations made in this new movie, may be somewhat familiar to you, as the things he uncovered have made it to the front pages of newspapers:  the White House has made frequent statements, promises or out-and-out denials about Scahill’s work.. He shows how secretive special ops, like the previously unheard of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) have spread around the world. Set up by Bush, they have run rampant Jeremy Scahill in Afghanistan Dirty Wars 4 Courtesy Mongrel Mediaduring Obama’s reign, operating in places where the US is not even at war, Like Yemen, sometimes even assassinating US citizens in their operations. The film outlines the war crimes he uncovered in a series of episodes. It’s a combination India Jones journalistic adventure, and a sad testament to the excesses of undeclared wars. And shows how it may be the special ops and drone attacks themselves – the dirty wars of the title – that are fueling the anger of future jihads.

Dirty Wars opens today in Toronto, and Filmage, and All Out War are both playing at NXNE this weekend. Go to nxne.com/film for details.

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

Secretive Groups. Movies Reviewed: Pussy Riot, Kill Team, Pain & Gain PLUS Hot Docs!

Posted in 1990s, Bodybuilders, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Punk, Russia, Trial, Uncategorized, War by CulturalMining.com on April 26, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Hot Docs – Toronto’s legendary Film Festival that shows over 200 documentaries in one week – is on now. It brings cutting edge documentaries from around the world, the filmmakers, and subjects, It’s centered on the Hot Docs cinema on Bloor St, but runs movies and events all around the downtown. And if you’re a student or a senior, you can get free rush tickets for any daytime screening.

What do conspiracies look like? They can be a group of well-meaning protesters, a gang of thieves, or a secret cabal of soldier killers. This week I’m looking at three films about secretive groups whose actions run up against the law and morality. One’s about Russian feminist punks who run into trouble with Putin and the Russian Orthodox church; another’s about a whistleblower in the US military who gets charged with murder; and a third is about some ambitious bodybuilders who want their slice of the pie – and will do whatever is necessary to get it.

The_Kill_Team_2Kill Team

Dir: Dan Krauss

When the photos of Abu Ghraib hit the papers, people were shocked at the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers. But a series of incidents in Afghanistan , even more shocking than Abu Ghraib are the subject of a new expose. Here’s what happened.

Winfield, a young skinny marine, the smallest in his unit, notices a strange shift in his unit when a new commanding officer, Gibbs, arrives. Gibbs has a reputation for violence during his term in Iraq. And now he was demanding his soldiers take down Afghan civilians – boys and yound men — in their area. Gibbs forms an elite squad, a “Kill Team”, who are The_Kill_Team_3sent out on “drop weapon” missions. This means they would surprise someone, kill him, and then drop a weapon they had brought for that purpose beside the dead body to justify the killing. And then pose for smiling souvenir photos.

So Winfield becomes a whistleblower, sending out word of these heinous murders to his family, asking them to report it. But, through a series of events that the film reveals, the whistleblower ends up being arrested and charged with murder for the very events he was trying to prevent. The movie tells the story of the various marines involved in this particular unit, as the trials and court-martials are prepared. This disturbing documentary also suggests that these practices were not restricted to that one unit but are common practice among soldiers in Afghanistan. They were just the only ones caught. While mainly talking heads – the various soldiers telling their stories – and with a few too many scenes involving negotiatins with lawyers – it is a serious, important film. The Kill Team puts the integrity of the entire Afghan mission into question.

Pussy_Riot_A_Punk_Prayer_1Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Dir: Maxim Pozdorovkin, Mike Lerner

Pussy Riot is a Russian feminist punk band. They perform their protest pieces wearing neon-coloured balaclavas to cover their faces, playing guitar and singing about government corruption, human rights and freedom of expression. But something happened when they choose to sing about Putin’s ties to the Russian Orthodox church’s patriarchy on the actual altar of a famous cathedral. Within seconds police swarm the stage and arrest three of them for trespassing and defaming religion.

And so begins a lengthy trial followed around the world. The movie interviews the three prisoners – Nadia, Maria and Ekatarina – their families, co-performers and friends. Performance art, public satire and the avant garde, while familiar in the west (where it’s met with yawns or raised eyebrows) are new and genuinely revolutionary in Russia. Somehow, the filmmakers got their cameras and microphones into the trial itself, with perfect views of the three women boxed into a glass cage, as if they were Hannibal Lecters on trial for mass murder. It’s a rare glimpse into the Russian justice system, where playing a simple protest tune still holds the threat of a term in a Siberian prison camp.

Pussy Riot is a must-see at Hotdocs.

PG-01Pain & Gain

Dir: Michael Bay

Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a musclehead personal trainer. He’s given to mindless slogans to inspire him. He’s all about the American dream, being a doer not a don’t-er, and yo, bitches, his body is his temple, his muscles a shrine to physical power (“no homo!”). It’s Miami in the 90’s. This is America — a buff, pimpin’ nation! Or so say the men with fake orange tans at Sun Gym.

But Danny just isn’t making enough money – and he wants to have it all. So he gathers a team of ex-cons to kidnap his client Pepe, an obnoxious, middle-aged Jewish guy from Colombia. After some trouble and some violent episodes, their scheme pays off – they’re rich! They have everything now: a mansion, a sportscar, a yacht, cocaine, a Romanian girlfriend, penile implants… But a persistent P.I. (Peter Weller) is on their trail. Will he catch them in the act?

Pain & Gain is a mildly interesting comedy /action movie. It’s just not that funny, or that PG-12interesting, and without much action. The main characters are all caricatures – Dwayne Johnson (“the Rock”) is OK as a sub-normal, born-again body-builder; Tony Shalhoub is great as the world’s most annoying kidnappee; and Mark Wahlberg does his wannabe criminal mastermind very well. But the characters seem to be there just so the audience can laugh at how stupid they all are. (It’s also a weirdly structured movie. The plot repeatedly screeches to a halt to give each character a freeze-frame and an extended voiceover explaining their backstory, out loud. Why?) Pain & Gain is intentionally kitschy, mildly offensive and aims for the lowest common denominator… but it still entertains.

Pain and Gain opens today, check your listings; and Hot Docs is on now: for showtimes of movies like Pussy Riot (screening today) and Kill Team, go to hotdocs.ca.

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

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