Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Mina Shum about her documentary Ninth Floor, world premiering at #TIFF15

Posted in 1960s, Canada, College, Cultural Mining, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Quebec, Racism, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2015

"THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In the 1960s, Canada opened its gates to new Canadians from the British Commonwealth and around the world. And in 1967, the 100th anniversary of Confederation, the world looked to Canada, especially Montreal, home of Expo 67, as the epitome of tolerance, progressiveness and multiculturalism. But just beneath surface trouble brewed. At Sir George Williams University, (now Concordia) a group of Caribbean students complained of racist treatment by a faculty member. Unrest gradually grew into the biggest student uprising in Canadian history. Crowds led to riots and a sit-in at the computer department became a conflagration on the ninth floor.

Ninth Floor is also the name of a new documentary that looks at the "THE NINTH FLOOR" - NFBpolitics and history of this period through the eyes of the participants. It is directed by Mina Shum, the renowned Vancouver-based filmmaker, famous for her family dramas like Double Happiness and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity. Ninth Floor, her first documentary, revisits a partly forgotten but vital piece of Canadian history. It’s having its world premier at TIFF. I spoke to Mina Shum, by telephone from Vancouver. She told me about Sir George Williams College, the computer lab, the sit-in, the mob, agents provocateurs, polite racism, housing discrimination, immigration, Montreal in the 1960s, Caribbean students in Canada, the RCMP, how she made the documentary… and more!

Creative Help. Movies Reviewed: Desert Dancer, True Story, Masters of Suspense

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Iran, Journalism, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on April 17, 2015

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

Do you have a story to tell but need help getting it down on paper? Or maybe you just want to express yourself, but you can’t do it alone – you need other people to work with. This week I’m looking at three movies. An accused murderer looking for a journalist to tell his story; an Iranian student seeking friends to dance with; and a successful Quebec novelist hiring a ghostwriter to write his book for him.

Desert DancerDesert Dancer
Dir: Richard Raymond

Afshin is a little boy in southern Iran who loves to dance. His teacher recognizes his creative nature but knew school wasn’t the place for it. o He signs him up for classes at the Saba Arts Academy. There he learns that in Iran there are two worlds: the outside world where you have to toe the line, and the inside world where you can do what you want… as long as nobody finds out.

Flash forward and Afshin (Reece Ritchie) goes to University in the big city – Teheran. A place where he can go wild, he thinks. But there, too, he learns he 69757-M-166_Still-Request-3834_rgbneeds to be careful. The Basaji – the morality police – keep their eyes out for anything too western or licentious. And thugs who work for President Ahmadinejad’s party – it’s an election year – are even worse, violently suppressing dissent and protest. He must be careful. He meets a circle of friends on campus and they decide to do something creative. With the help of Elaheh (Freida Pinto) the daughter of a modern dancer, they create a dance club on campus. So what? You may be thinking. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that the country is like that small town in Footloose – dancing is forbidden.

_SDM0097.jpgSo they continue dancing secretly, behind closed doors. But for Afshin that’s not enough. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there… So they plan a public performance far away from intruding eyes. They will dance in the desert, among the rocks and sand dunes. But, he doesn’t realize that one member of the club has an older brother who wants him to report on his friends, find out what their up to, and catch them in the act.. Can Afshin and his friends perform their dance? Or will they end up in prison… or worse?

Based on a true story, Desert Dancer is good look at life in present-day Iran. The two stars, Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto are neither Persian nor dancers, but they are both good actors, so that’s not so important. The movie itself is the problem. It’s too earnest and plodding, and not moving enough. It’s hard to make the personal struggle of one amateur dancer… into a Gandhi.

image-165c3f6f-e645-47fb-8611-a97bc1a663ecTrue Story
Dir: Rupert Goold

Mike (Jonah Hill) is a celebrated reporter who jets around the world writing feature stories for the NY Times Magazine. But when they catch him fudging facts in an article, They fire him. Deeply embarrassed, he goes back home to Wyoming to be with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones). Then something strange happens: a story falls into his lap. An American is arrested in Mexico for fleeing after murdering his wife and three kids. And the name he gives is Michael Finkel – that’s Mike’s name. He’s intrigued so he visits the man in a high security prison. Christian Longo (James Franco) says he used Mike’s name when he was on the lam image-ecb2619b-6986-479a-9948-91d08c2d2f4bbecause he had read all his articles and respected him. So he gives Mike all his handwritten papers that he says show the real story of what happened to his wife and three children. It’s a chilling and scary story, told in scribbles and drawings. They make a deal – the disgraced reporter gets a potential bestseller and a reputation, while Chris gets a professional reporter to tell his image-9f77255b-a544-49bc-89ab-0e1544dc83bcside of the story. But it can’t be released until after the trial. Who’s fooling who? Are Chris’s stories true? Or are they made from whole cloth?

True Story is not a great movie, but it’s not a bad one, either. Hill and Franco have already made two movies together – both silly pothead comedies. This one is serious. So are they believable as accused killer and reporter? Yeah… I guess. It’s the director’s first feature, and you can tell. There are some painfully bad scenes, slow and awkward, especially Jonah Hill’s scenes at the start of the movie. And the film as a whole is a bit of a letdown. Luckily there’s enough meat in the middle to keep you watching and interested.

10662147_685552898180782_20430642239133877_oMasters of Suspense
Dir: Stéphane Lapointe

Hubert Wolfe (Michel Cote) is a rare thing — a rich, successful pulp novelist – out of Quebec. Books and movies about detective Scarlett Noe, has brought him fame and fortune. He might even get to date the actress who plays Scarlett (Maria de Medeiros). But nobody knows — except one man — that he doesn’t actually write the books. Dany Cabana (Robin Aubert) has been his ghostwriter for a dozen years, churning out the novels but getting none of the glory or respect.

Dany is married with a kid, and ready to ready to start on the latest book: “Paradise Zombie”. But his wife leaves him because she considers him a failure — she doesn’t realize he’s a successful ghostwriter – he has a non-disclosure contract). Dany stops writing and drowns his sorrows at the bar. Allyssa the bartender (Anne Hopkins) is a Louisiana expat who in the past kept him up-to-date with story ideas from the swamps back home. But now the ghostwriter has to hire a ghostwriter. He subcontracts to Quentin (Antoine Betrand) a daycare worker who also writes kids books. Quentin is a good storyteller but, 10712657_716892658380139_5127358223572381622_ovirginal and shy around grownups, he still lives with his mom. All three face an imminent deadline: the book must be finished immediately. Somehow they all end up in New Orleans, where the novel takes place. But, in a Romancing the Stone-type reversal, they land up in real trouble, involving criminals, voodoo zombies and redneck cops. They’re all in way over their heads. Will they ever finish the book and escape to the safety of Montreal?

This is a fun, cute, mainstream story out of Quebec. Like a lot of Quebec comedy, it goes for dubious ethnic stereotypes, like scenes involving African Americans as fanatical, half-naked voodoo worshippers. But they’re equal opportunity insulters – everyone in the film is seedy, rude and dubious.  I enjoyed it. See it just for the fun of it.

Desert Dancer and True Story both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.  Masters of Suspense plays tonight – its English Canada debut – as part of the Cinefranco film festival: go to cinefranco.com for details. And be sure to check out the imagesfestival, which continues through the weekend.

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

Mommies and Dollies. Films Reviewed: Mommy, Annabelle

Posted in 1960s, Academy Awards, Acting, Canada, Cultural Mining, Family, Horror, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on October 3, 2014

ncr_not_criminally_responsible_1Hi, 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.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week – John Kastner’s NFB documentary NCR: Not Criminally Responsible (listen to my interview with John here) is playing at the Bloor Cinema, and Rendezvous the-maze-poster-courtesy-of-nick-youngwith Madness and the Psychiatry Department at U of T is showing William Kurelek’s: the Maze by filmmakers Nick and Zack Young (listen to my interview with Zack Young here), at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

This week, though, I’m talking about innocent-sounding movies about mommies and pretty dollies. But they’re not as innocent as you might think. One’s a Quebec drama about a mother trying to control her ADHD son; the other’s an American chiller about a mother trying to save her baby from an evil doll.

64634-MOMMY_Poster_27x39_EnglishMommy
Dir: Xavier Dolan

Diane (Anne Dorval) is enjoying her life as a single woman in suburban Montreal. Her son’s away at boarding school, she has a steady job, and she’s flirting with that rich lawyer who lives around the corner. She dresses for flash-effect, with lots of shiny and pink. But calamity strikes. Her son Steve is kicked out of school after a violent incident and she loses her job.

Steve-o (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He wears his blond hair in a retro style, with a neck chain, T-shirt and jeans. He’s hyper-sexualized with pale skin and rubbery features. The kind of guy who looks as likely to punch you in the face as to kiss you. He’s a foul-mouthed, socially misfit, sexually charged and violent. But you can see where he 62558-000060890018 MOMMY_AOPilon1-CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièregets it from – Diane is as gutter-friendly as he is. It’s up to her to get him to settle down and pass his tests. Trouble is he’s virtually uncontrollable, and she’s not big on parenting skills, so their lessons end up in violent fights.

In walks the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher who lives next door. Kyla (Suzanne Clement) is shy, withdrawn and speaks with a severe stammer due to something bad in her past. Her husband’s a dull computer programmer, her daughter equally reserved. But she soon finds her place as the 65106-ADorval1 MOMMY_ADorval1_CreditPhoto_Shayne Laverdièrethird element in Diane and Steve’s dysfunctional family. She becomes his teacher and dog trainer. But can the fragile bonds holding them together last?

Mommy is a reworking of Xavier Dolan’s simple, perfect, and highly personal first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, made when he was still a teenager. Four films later, Mommy is far more sophisticated and complex in plot, script and character. Dorval replays the mother, but in a performance that is more three-dimensional, less camp. Dolan was sympathetic playing a bullied gay teen, but, with Pillon as the teenager, we get a kid who is as much misunderstood victim as bully. I get the feeling Dolan the director (necessarily) restrains Dolan the actor, but when he’s just behind the camera, he can let his characters loose. Steve is free to forge forth, like a river bursting a dam. This movie has dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors. It’s a great film.

Mommy is Canada’s choice for Best Foreign Language movie at the Oscars, and I hope it wins — it really deserves it.

Annabelle-movie-posterAnnabelle
Dir: John R. Leonetti

It’s the late 1960s in central California. Mia and John (Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton) are a perfect-looking, church-going blond couple. New home, new car, he’s finishing medical school, she’s expecting their baby really soon. Mia collects antique dolls, so John buys her one to complete her set. And everything is just perfect, until…

…their lives are shockingly disrupted by an unexpected visit by Annabelle, their next door neighbours’ daughter. Anabelle ran away from home and joined a Charles Manson-style satanic cult. After that horrific incident, Mia says she tumblr_naxuq2kn0J1tgg8wlo1_500no longer feels safe there with the new baby. And the huge doll she used to like so much is creeping her out. Strange things start to happen around it, involving a sewing machine, a rocking chair, and a package of jiffy pop. So they move out of the suburbs and into a downtown apartment.

Hubby is away most of the time, so he’s oblivious but accommodating. He thinks his wife’s gone whack from post-partum depression, but Mia knows there’s evil tumblr_nckmr45Wtb1tgg8wlo1_1280around her. And it wants her baby. She sees scary things everywhere: strange noises… the sign of the bull… a girl in a white nightgown… a rocking chair… an old-fashioned elevator… and that damned doll that keeps coming back! It seems to turn everything bad, somehow. So she turns for advice to kindly Father Perez (Tony Amendola) and Evelyn, a mysterious bookstore owner, with a penchant for the occult (Alfre Woodard). But are they all too late? And is Mia strong enough to overcome the evil forces that have invaded her once-happy life?tumblr_ncs2p2jlcH1tgg8wlo1_1280

I saw this movie because it’s a prequel to The Conjuring, a movie that scared my pants off last year. So how does it copmpare? Not as scary, the acting not as compelling, the plot has lots of holes in it, and the script is weak with some unintentionally awful lines. It has few visual effects (though the sound effects are fantastic, one of the scariest things about the movie). And the story is a bit too Jesus-y for my taste. But is Annabelle scary? You bet it is.

Annabel Wallis is good as Mia — picture Madmen, but from Betty Draper’s point-of-view – beautiful but suspicious, lonely, paranoid and petulant. Annabelle is not perfect, but it works as a good and scary chiller-thriller — perfect for a late-night date.

sam-coleman-and-jennifer-grausman-1-art-and-craft-interview-daniel-garber-c2a9-jeff-harrisMommy and Annabelle both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the wonderful documentary Art and Craft about an eccentric art forger who gives his paintings away. (You can listen to my interview with filmmakers Sam Coleman and Jennifer Grausman here).

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

Stars as Commodities. Film Reviewed: The Congress PLUS TIFF14 Whiplash, Mommy, Heartbeat

Posted in Animation, Canada, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mental Illness, Movies, Pop Art, Quebec, Queer, Science Fiction by CulturalMining.com on August 28, 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.

Are movies and movie stars and their images commodities? Things that can be bought sold and traded, just like stocks and bond, like bitcoins and pork belly futures? In some ways, they are. International film festivals — like TIFF, which opens in Toronto in less than a week — are partly there to put films on the market. This week I’m going to talk about an unusual new film about movie stars as commodities, and, first, three must-see films coming to TIFF.

One movie that jumped out at me and slapped me in the face is

282f0eaa028d2851cd1689724e8a76deWhiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old drummer just starting at a prestigious music conservatory who is spotted by Fletcher a music teacher (JK Simmonds). He’s allowed to audition for their award- winning jazz band, and feels everything is turning out great. But he soon discovers that Fletcher is a cruel and twisted perfectionist, who brings his players up to the top, and then has them crash down into the dirt again. He treats them worse than the toughest marine sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Don’t want to say Oscar bells are already ringing, but… Whiplash definitely deserves one.

434c654375241fb0e9419d0e7af58f03Mommy

(Dir) Xavier Dolan

Another great movie is Quebecois director Xavier Dolan’s latest, Mommy. It’s a reworking of his first film J’ai Tue Ma Mere, but takes it to a new level. Steve-o (Antoine Olivier-Pilon) is a working-class, foul-mouthed teenager with ADHD. He’s kicked out of boarding school and sent home to his single mom Diane (Anne Dorval) who is as gutter-friendly, violent and sexually charged as her boy. It’s up to Kyla, the psychologically-damaged ex-school teacher next door, to try to fix things and keep Steve from being locked up. Dynamic, shocking and hilarious performances from all three actors, Mommy is not to be missed.

Also catch a gentle, quirky, musical story called

ad8a5b8174106f7e916e8a3c98a356afHeartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. Her best friend is in babyland, her artist-boyfriend-with-benefits Ben has dumped her, and she dresses in her late grandma’s wardrobe. But when she starts jamming with Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) she met in a music store window, things begin tot look up. Justine starts to Esty-fy her wardrobe and arts-and-crafts her love life. Heartbeat starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Look out for Heartbeat, Whiplash and Mommy at TIFF.
Robin Wright Congress Affiche
The Congress
Dir: Ari Forman

Robin Wright (Robin Wright) is an over-the-hill movie star who just ekes out a living. She lives beside desert airport with her jaded hollywood daughter Sarah and her innocent but ill son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McFee). She needs money to keep him safe. One day her agent (Harveyt Keitel) makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

A studio wants to buy her name, face, image, voice… basically everything, to turn her back  into a superstar. And theyre giving her a huge contract and a starring role in countless big budget action movies. The catch? She’s not allowed to act or appear in public ever again. Huh?

You see, they want to scan her to make a CGI image that will take her place in all 1233023_407824875984836_624904373_ofuture roles. A star who never ages, never gets into scandals, and never has tantrums on-set. It’s all digital.

Will she do it? 20 years in the future, they up the ante.

They invite her to give a speech at a mysterious Congress, where she — like everyone else — exists only as an animated image of herself. Sort of a Second Life only more so. With the help of Dylan (Jon Hamm), a handsome cartoon character 1048616_380428355391155_743806434_owho created her image himself, she tries to escape from this strange psychedelic cartoon version of her world, and maybe save her now-adult son.

This is a super-bizarre movie, filled with glorious animation modeled on Max Fleischer-type characters from the 1920s and 30s mixed with 1960s psychedelia. At parts I’m totally into it, but other parts have dismally awful lines. Its flawed, not perfect, but worth seeing if your into mind-stretching and super-weird fantasy epics.

The Congress opens today, check your local listings, and Heartbeat, Mommy, and Whiplash are all playing at TIFF which starts up next Thursday. Details at tiff.net.

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

A French Connection? Movies reviewed: Finding Vivian Maier, L’autre vie de Richard Kemp, Triptyque

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-Montreal Flight two Canada ladybird Booksbrow 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 Quebec elections coming up, this week I’m looking at movies with a “French connection” (francophone, that is.) These movies all share a dark, mysterious and introspective mood.

There’s a doc about an artist who never showed her art, a Quebec drama about two sisters – one loses her voice, the other writing; and a French thriller about a detective thwarted from catching a serial killer… by himself!

FVM_WomanHatNYPublicLibrary_RavinePicturesLLCFinding Vivian Maier
Dir: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel

When John, a third generation Flea Marketeer, buys a box of negatives at an auction, he doesn’t realize at first what he has. It’s a vast collection of never-printed negatives taken by an unknown photographer named Vivian Maier. She plied the streets of Chicago for decades documenting street life. Her shots are beautiful, poignant, the black and white photos aesthetically astute.

But who was she? Where did she come from? And why is she unknown to theFVM_YoungWomaninCar_RavinePicturesLLC2013 world?

Turns out the photographer, Vivian Maier, died recently. She left behind over 100,000 photos, plus audio tapes and some super-8 reels. But none of the photos had ever been professionally printed, and almost no one had seen them but the photographer herself. Maier was a very tall woman with a mannish haircut and a vaguely French accent. She wore heavy boots, old-fashioned hats, and always carried a rolleiflex camera. An eccentric, she was given to hording any items she found. Most surprising is how she earned her living… as a nanny and a maid.

This is a fascinating and intriguing documentary that pieces together parts of her life – though most is left unknown – while showing lots of her incredible photographs. We hear from her former bosses, the grown-up kids she had nannied, even a few Alpine relatives.

FVM_COLORVMSelfPortraitMirrorRedClothinShop_Ravine PicturesLLC2013Her story is similar to the case of Henry Darger, another eccentric artist (who worked as a janitor) who hoarded his own intricate drawings that were only discovered after death. And, as in that case, the filmmakers are tied to the one who owns all the art. There’s an ulterior motive: to get rich from the work of a previously unknown artist.

Still, this doesn’t detract from the beauty and mystery of her story or of the appeal of the street photos themselves. It does make you wonder, though. Is a photographer who never selects which photos to show and who never successfully prints the pictures she took – an artist? Or is the posthumous curator the real artist here? Either way, Finding Vivian Maier is a great story.

Lautre vie de richard kemp poster affiche cinefrancoL’autre vie de Richard Kemp (Back in Crime)
Dir: Germinal Alvarez

Helene, (Mélanie Thierry), an elegant psychologist out for a morning run, finds a dead body washed up on shore. She’s questioned by a scruffy police detective named Richard Kemp. She is cold and dismissive. Kemp (Jean-Hugues Anglade) is troubled because it shares the M.O. with a case, never solved, from early in his career. An unknown killer – known only as the earwig — kidnaps his victims, punctures their ears, and throws them autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-melanie-thierry-unifranceinto the ocean. Was the killer back again?

Though their first meeting is frosty, eventually Helene and Richard hit it off. (She’s a widow with a son, he’s divorced.) But while investigating the case on a bridge, he is struck from behind and thrown into the water. When he climbs out things have changed. The streetcar driver won’t accept his Euros: they’re “foreign” money. At home he sees a stranger autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-jean-hugues-anglade-unifrancewith a key to his modernistic apartment. He soon discovers the truth: it’s 25 years earlier, and the man he saw – is himself!

He rents a room in a highrise across from the curvy building his younger self rents. Maybe young Richard will do it right this time. But he makes the same mistakes again. So he decides to follow the earwig’s trail himself – he knows the MO, maybe he’ll catch him or at least save the autre-vie-de-richard-kemp-melanie-thierry - unifrancevictims. But he ends up as a suspect being chased by his younger self.

So he turns to the only one he can trust: Helene. Can he win her to his side, convince her his plight is true, and will they rekindle their future romance? This is a neat, dark detective story with a bit of a time travel twist. I like this one.

triptyque-afficheTriptyque
Dir: Robert Lepage

Marie and Michelle Lavallee are two Montreal sisters, the crème de la crème of Quebec culture. Marie (Frédérike Bédard) is an internationally-known singer. Michelle (Lise Castonguay) is a noted poet and author. But fame does not shield them from tragedy. Marie discovers she has a brain tumour. She seeks the help of Austrian brain surgeon Thomas (Hans Piesbergen) who, secretly, suffers from a hand tremor.

Michelle, diagnosed with schizophrenia, is committed to a mental hospital triptych_eOne_02_largeand kept on medication. Once released, she seeks solace in a Montreal bookstore. No coffee, no WiFi, just actual books by Quebecois artists and intellectuals. But, inhibited by her medication, she finds herself unable to write.

After her surgery, Marie is left with aphasia – she can’t recall words. She can triptych_eOne_01_largesing the notes but not the lyrics. And her memory is faulty: she can’t remember her own father’s voice. But she has found love. All three characters in Triptique have to work through their losses, fill the gaps, and right the wrongs.

This film is an abbreviated version of part of Lepage’s epic stage drama Lipsynch which played in Toronto two years ago. It trades the intricate stage design for which he’s so famous, for an intimacy and closeness you can’t get on a stage. And it captures Montreal’s bitterly elegant winter cityscapes as only a movie can.

Triptyque and Lepage’s other films are now playing in a retrospective at TIFF; for details, go to tiff.net; l’Autre Vie de Richard Kemp (a.k.a. Back in Crime) is having its North American premier and is one of many great pics at CineFranco, Toronto’s francophone film fest (go to cinefranco.com for tickets); and Finding Vivian Maier opens 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

TIFF 13: Sex + Violence. Movies Reviewed: Tom on the Farm, R100, Moebius

Posted in Canada, Cross-dressing, Depression, Disguise, Drama, Japan, Korea, Psychological Thriller, Quebec, Sex, SMBD, Torture, Uncategorized, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on September 12, 2013

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

Hollywood knows: sex and violence = bums in seats. But they also know that you have to keep it fresh and new. So this week I’m talking about three movies that, in very different ways, explore topics of sex, violence and the power dynamic between the two.

I’m looking at three movies playing at TIFF, one from Quebec, one from Japan, and one from Korea. One’s about a city boy who falls prey to an domineering farmer; one’s a businessman who falls prey to a gang of dominatrices; and one’s a family who fall prey to their own morass of escalating horribleness.

tomatthefarm_01Tom at the Farm

Dir: Xavier Dolan

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) drives out to the country to read a eulogy for his young lover, Guy, he thinks he’ll be gone after the funeral. He agrees to spend the night at his mother’s house, even sleeping in his bedroom. But, in the middle of the night, he is attacked by a mysterious man. It’s Frank (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the homophobic older brother of his late lover. He threatens Tom if he tells Agathe, his mother (Lise Roy), that Guy was gay, or that he was his lover. Tom is forced to pretend Guy had a girlfriend, thus erasing his own status. But it doesn’t stop there.

Frank is a domineering, abusive bully. He’s also much bigger and stronger than the diminutive Tom. Soon, Tom is put to work milking cows, dressed in Guy’s old clothes. Frank dismantles his car, and chases him down when he tries to run away. He’s trapped. Tom finds himself falling into the role of Frank’s submissive younger brother, regularly punched, kicked and threatened with death. Sexually frustrated Frank channels all blame onto Tom. And Tom has a mental shift where he finds himself sexually attracted to Frank and accepts any physical and mental abuse as his own fault.

What is Frank’s problem anyway? Why doesn’t he have any friends? What’s his hidden secret? And will Tom ever come to his senses and get the hell out of there?

This is Xavier Dolan’s 4th film, and the first one based on someone else’s play. This one’s a weird, captive-of-a-redneck horror story, with lots of pyscho-sexual overtones. I like it.  It’s not perfect: Tom’s sudden transformation from city boy to hick seems too abrupt; and if he really feels threatened, why doesn’t he just call 911? But Frank and Tom’s abusive relationship – the core of the movie — seems disturbingly real. And Dolan’s careful filmmaking and precise editing leaves you with a chilling feeling at the end. It reverberates in the windmills of your mind long after it’s over.

r100_03R100

Dir: Matsumoto Hitoshi

Katayama (Omori Nao) is a shy milquetoast guy who sells mattresses for a living. His wife’s in a coma, so he takes care if his six year old son. He wants nothing more than to listen to Beethoven’s 9thSymphony. But, to escape from his daily stresses, he turns to leather- clad dominatrix for temporary relief. But his life changes dramatically when he signs an unbreakable one- year contract. He will experience the ultimate thrill – never knowing when or where a dominatrix will appear to shock and humiliate him. In his workplace bathroom, on the street, in front if his kid.

Soon enough, it has taken over his life, with hitherto unknown sexual kinks inflicted on him. There’s the Queen of Voices who terrifies Takayama by perfectly imitating his comatose wife’s voice at inopportune moments. And even a queen of spit, who orchestrates elaborate performances punctuated by huge amounts of saliva, shot at r100_05him from across the room.

Can he escape from all this craziness? And does he really want to? You can tell when he reaches a new level of submission and humiliation when his face is distorted and animated ripples of contentedness flow outward from his mind.

Meanwhile, every so often, the movie switches to the dull people producing this film, sort of a meta-movie-subplot, trying to make a movie with the ultimate restricted rating. R14, R20, refers to the age when you can view a film. This movie, they say is so dirty you have to be R100 to watch it.

I dunno. It has its funny parts – very funny parts — but it gets more and more extreme in its absurdity, as the movie goes on, until it really make no coherent sense whatsoever. It’s just a shaggy dog story, with a ridiculous — but still funny —  ending.

Omori Nao is excellent as the nerdy anti-hero. Director Matsumoto Hitoshi is a dry, stand-up comic, part of the Japanese duo Downtown. If you’re into cheap-and-silly Japanese BDSM/leather/comedy, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise…

moebius_02Moebius

Dir: Kim Ki-duk

A father, a mother and their teenage son live in South Korea. Dad has an affair with a woman who has a small convenience store down the street. Mom (and son) find out. Mom goes ballistic, and grabs a dagger she keeps hidden beneath a heavy Buddha’s head. Dad fights her off, so she breaks into her son’s room instead, and cuts off his penis. When he tries to get it back, she swallows it, and runs away. (That all happens in the first few minutes of this movie.)

Husband and son are forced to live without a Mom, and without one penis. Dad researches the internet for bizarre ways to help his son achieve orgasm, including rubbing a a pumice rock on your foot until it bleeds. Will dad cut off his own penis to give to his son for a penis transplant? Or will the son chop one off a random moebius_01stranger? Who deserves Dad’s ex-girlfriend? Father, son or both? And will they learn to accept being stabbed in the back… literally? (I really do mean literally.)

OK, this is one of the weirdest movies around. It’s filled with rape, incest, violence, alterna-sex, repeated dismemberment (of a particular member – that one), and more. It’s told as a sort of a pantomime: no one speaks throughout the whole film. But its set up like a fable or a storybook, with each scene passing swiftly to the next. It deals with revenge, retribution, repentance but in a very simplistic way. Also interesting is the mother and lover are played by the same actress wearing different wigs and makeup. It’s not funny or cute, just non-stop, extremely repetitive violence. But, I have to say, it was really well made for what it is.

But what is it? Apparently, Kim Kiduk the director, felt his scripts had been stolen by his interns. I’m guessing here, but maybe the whole movie was his thumb in the nose to the powers-that-be in the Korean film industry. Who knows? Am I glad I saw it? I guess I am – it is unique and unusual (although, structurally, it’s like all his movies with a simple, symmetrical, yin-and-yang plot).

I saw R100 at TIFF, immediately – I mean immediately, five minutes later — followed by Moebius, a double- feature like no other. See these two if you dare. You will never forget them.

Tom at the Farm, R100, and Moebius are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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

September 21, 2012. TIFF Round-up. Movies Reviewed: Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence, Anyways + TIFF12 awards

Posted in Cultural Mining, Dance, Drama, Football, Mental Illness, Movies, Quebec, Queer, Trans, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2012

Photographs by Jeff Harris

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.
Xavier Dolan TIFF12 awards Photo by Jeff Harris

TIFF is over for the year. I feel like a kid who was left, unsupervised at an all-you-can-eat buffet with no one to tell me to stop stuffing my face. I ended up seeing 53 TIFF movies (if including the 17 press screenings I saw in the weeks before the festival started), and liking about 2/3 of them. I ran on adrenaline — not food, sleep, or exercise — for the length of it, turning my eyes red, my body to mush, and my brain to putty. Luckily I kept good notes.

The winners were announced on Sunday, with the Blackberry People’s Choice going to Silver Linings Playbook, the Midnight Madness award to the very funny Seven Psychopaths, the NETPAC award to Sion Sono’s excellent Land of Hope, a look at the Japanese nuclear meltdown, and the City of Toronto award to Laurence, Anyways. The Canadian first feature prize was split between Jason Buxton’s excellent Blackbird, for its authenticity and social conscience, and Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral for its sophisticated visuals and plot. So this week, I’ll take a look at two of these winners, both of which deal with odd couples and mental illness.

Silver Linings Playbook

Dir: David O. Russell

When Pat Jr (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher from suburban Philadelphia, is let out of a me­ntal hospital he vows to make his life better. He’ll get back in shape, re-connect with his estranged wife, Nikki, and stop all the negativity in his mind. He’s going to look at the silver linings in his life, not the dark clouds. But the dark clouds keep coming back. He has moved back in with his mom and dad, and Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is an abusive, obsessive-compulsive bookie. Pat Sr wants his whole family to base their lives on his obscure patterns and lucky shirts so he can bring the Eagles football team to NFL victory.

Meanwhile, Pat Jr will do anything to get a letter to Nikki, and he finds out the way to do that, when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an extremely intelligent and beautiful young woman who stalks him during his morning jogs.

She’s the only one who can see through his BS without being afraid of his odd behaviour. Tiffany understands what he’s going through – since she’s had her own episodes and sexual compulsions. So if Pat agrees to be her dancing partner in a contest, she’ll help him get his wife back. But is that what she really wants?

Silver Linings Playbook is a fun, crowd-pleaser that presents mental illness as a palatable, fascinating, and easy-to-understand difficulty that people can overcome with hard work, the right attitude, and a bit if help from friends and family. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are a nice couple, and De Niro is finally acting again, not just mugging for the camera. I have absolutely no interest in Philadelphia’s football scene, or Dancing With the Stars, but the fact that the story depended on those two subjects didn’t make it ay less interesting.

Laurence, Anyways

Dir: Xavier Dolan

Laurence Alia (French actor Melville Poupaud) is a slim prof with a black buzzcut living in Montreal in the late 80’s. He’s in love with his fiery, beautiful and passionate girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement). She’s gaining fame as an assistant director while he’s fighting off the adoring looks of the pretty girls in his lectures on Celine. And the two of them are trying for a baby. But one day, in the middle of having sex he confesses he’s about to die. The old Laurence of the past three decades was all a façade which he is now throwing away to make way for the real Laurence: a woman! Fred is shocked and their relationship teeters on the brink.

As Laurence embarks on her transition, she loses her job, and since she can’t easily “pass” in public, she faces physical danger and derision from strangers. When Lawrence is bashed in a bar she is given refuge by an unusual family – the Five Roses. He awakens in a palatial building filled with the actual tabernacles, chalices, hostiesand ciboires that Fred curses about in one of her rants — a sort of a cathedral of transsexuality, a Quebecois Notre Dame des Fleurs.

Fred, meanwhile, is left to deal with her bipolar episodes on her own, as Laurence is more busy with her own changes than that of her lover. As the decade passes, Fred retreats to Trois Rivieres with a handsome but bland husband, while Laurence, with a new blond girlfriend, publishes her poems in Europe. Will the troubles that tore them apart bring them back together?

Laurence, Anyways is a long, complicated melodrama of mismatched lovers immersed in  Quebec’s cultural life even while facing their personal trials alone and together over the course of a decade.

Poupaud and Clement are great as the lovers, and Monia Chokri (as Fred’s acerbic and offensive sister Stephanie) steals every scene she’s in. This is not a perfect movie: it’s longer than it needs to be, the story has some confusing omissions which leave me unsatisfied, and some of the montages — which look like 80’s music videos — while a welcome break, are a bit jarring. (They feel like the director is intruding into his characters’ story).

This is how I felt watching it. But an amazing thing happens: in the very last, short scene, it all ties together with a masterful ending. This is Dolan’s most challenging and sophisticated  movie so far.

They’re both good, enjoyable movies, touching similar topics.

Laurence, Anyways is less commercial than Silver Linings, the mentally ill characters are less delightful, but it feels more passionate and heartfelt, and less calculated and Oscar-hungry.

Silver Linings Playbook and Lawrence Anyways both won major awards at TIFF. Laurence opens this weekend and Playbook will be released later this fall. And don’t miss the fantastic documentary opening soon at the Bloor, Detropia – a look at the collapse and possible revival of the rapidly shrinking city of Detroit.

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

February 17, 2012. Movies Reviewed: Monsieur Lazhar, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness

Posted in Academy Awards, Canada, Cultural Mining, Death, documentary, Drama, Movies, Musical, Quebec, Suicide, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 20, 2012

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

I’m back again…

This week I’m looking at two movies about men trying to preserve a culture. One is a drama about an Algerian refugee working as a schoolteacher in Quebec who turns toward his French childhood education for solace; and the other is a documentary about a sophisticated Yiddish writer who turned toward memories of his childhood in a small village as the inspiration for many of his stories.

Monsieur Lazhar
Dir: Philippe Falardeau
Two public school kids, Simon and Alice (Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron) make a shocking discovery one morning. Their teacher hanged herself the night before in their classroom. So now there’s a class without a teacher, a whole bunch of kids recovering from the trauma, and no one willing to take her place. So in walks Bachir Lazhar (Fellag) to the principle’s office and offers his services. He says he taught for 19 years in Algeria and would be honoured to take over the class. And for lack of an alternative, he’s the new teacher.

But he’s a recent newcomer to Canada, trying to qualify for refugee status after a horrific event back in Algeria. He’s recovering from one trauma while the kids in the class are getting over another one. He was raised in an Algeria that had been annexed by France, so he’s steeped in a lost culture, in a country on the brink of violent collapse. The kids don’t get him.

He regiments the desks in neat rows – no circles for him; and he does old-school stuff — like reading Balzac for dictee – and making the kids memorize conjugations and recite them in class.

He doesn’t understand all the new rules. No hitting students – in fact no touching students at all, anywhere, ever. Never talk about the teacher’s death – leave that to the psychologist. But the kids are clearly ridden with guilt, and Bachir wants to get through to them. Maybe by letting them lose their baggage he can release some of his own.

But can he get through to them with his old-fashioned, rigid and formal ways? Will he purge his own loss and let them – especially Simon And Alice – recover from theirs?

Monsieur Lazhar is a really good, complex, and subtle movie (nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.) The French actor Fellag manages to convey Bachir’s grief and compassion while remaining reserved, formal and secretive. It’s also quite funny – its not a drag-you-down movie. It was directed by Philippe Falardeau, who also made another great movie just a few years ago, also about a troubled kid in Quebec: C’est pas moi, je te jure! You should try to catch that one, too. Falardeau is amazing at capturing kids on film, with complete characters. Monsieur Lazhar is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Film in a Foreign Language, and for Genie Awards for Best Picture, Director (Falardeau) , Actor (Fellag), Supporting Actress (Sophie Nélisse), Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Music,  and Sound.

Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness
Dir: Joseph Dorman

Sholem Aleichem was the penname of a Yiddish writer who lived in the Pale of Settlement in Tsarist Russia. This is the long but narrow area stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea where Jews were permitted to live. Sholem Aleichem – a pen name meaning Mr how-do-you-do — wrote the classic tales of Tevye the milkman and the others in the village of Kasrilevka. He’s best known today because his stories were adapted into the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof. But he was also one of the pioneers who attempted to turned a looked-down-upon vernacular language, Yiddish, into a font of literature and high culture.

What I had never heard before, and which the movie shows, is that he was a really interesting character, that goes against the homey, nostalgic stereotype of his writing. He was a dandy, a dilettante, and a stock market gambler in Kiev, discussing poetry in cafes and squandering a small fortune.

This excellent documentary tears away the mythos of the renowned writer and exposes both his dark and embarrassing moments as well as his unknown triumphs. It uses black and white photos, playbills, posters, and even an actual audio recording of the writer voice, along with found footage and snapshots from the era to set the mood. Most interesting to me is the way the documentary situates the author, not just as some independent hero, but as one character in a broader political, historical and sociological context.

Monsieur Lazhar is playing now, and Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Dark opens next week in Toronto. And of course the documentary, Puppet opens on the 17th. Also coming soon in Toronto and Vancouver is a series of Kabuki performances captured on film, featuring the legendary onnagata actor, Tamasaburo, who plays only female roles, in the Heron Maiden. Check out the Japan Foundation for more information.

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

Inside Lara Roxx: Interview with Director Mia Donovan and Lara Roxx

Posted in Canada, Condoms, Cultural Mining, documentary, H.I.V., L.A., Montreal, Movies, Porn, Quebec, Sex, Sex Trade, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 4, 2012

A young woman from Montreal moves to LA to make some money in porn movies, but is exposed to HIV on set. I interview filmmaker Mia Donovan and the new movie’s subject, Lara Roxx, about this raw, personal documentary, Inside Lara Roxx (now playing in Toronto). We talk about the adult film industry, media myths, exploitation, stigma, and condom use in porn. (This interview includes sexual topics and adult language.)

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January 6, 2012. Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. Movies Reviewed: Jeff Who Lives At Home, Dark Horse, Starbuck

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

It’s a New Year now, and everyone’s scrambling to make vows, resolutions and oaths to change their lives. And there’s one group that’s often makes the most earnest promises of all — I’m talking about that popular caricature, Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. In the movies, they tend to have dead-end jobs, play with toys, smoke pot, live in their parents’ basements and generally strike out with women, despite all their good intentions. So this week I’m looking at three movie, all of which played at TIFF last year, about grown-up boys who decide to change their lives. So all you couch potatoes, it’s time to get up, go out, and see some movies!

Jeff Who Lives at Home

Wri/Dir: Jay and Mark Duplass

Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on the toilet. He doesn’t get along with his older brother Pat anymore (Ed Helms), a self-centred square who neglects his wife. Pat’s a guy who’s supposed to look at a new home, but instead spends all their money on a Porsche on impulse. And now his wife doesn’t feel so great about their marriage. And Mom also notices a change in her cubicle job when her best friend tells her she has a secret admirer. So what’s going to happen?

Jeff, is a proto- string theorist (like the characters in the movie I Heart Huckabees) He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to pick up a bottle of glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon). But, when something catches his eye on an infomercial, followed by the words “CALL NOW!” at the same time as a strange, threatening wrong number calling for someone named “Kevin”, he gets sent off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world.

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who usually make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational, super-realistic movies. They do tend to use annoying, jiggly hand-held cameras, but the movies are interesting enough that it doesn’t bother you after awhile. This one, Jeff who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, it’s a fun, light comedy.

You could say Jeff is a “lite” version of the next character. Now think of the same guy, but 10-15 years later…

Dark Horse

Dir: Todd Solandz

Abe (Jordan Gelber) also lives with his parents, but he’s older, less attractive, fatter, and without any of the cute, endearing qualities that Jeff (who also lives at home) had. He works in his dad’s company, sitting in his glassed-in office, dressing like a white gangsta rapper, in track pants and T-shirts, with a gold name plate around his neck. He drives a bright yellow SUV, listens to hiphop, collects Tron Legacy memorabilia. And he despises his older brother who’s a doctor, and whom his parents idolize. He’s simultaneously arrogant, talentless and uninteresting. He’s the kind of guy who throws something toward a garbage can, says “two points!”… and then misses.

But at a Jewish wedding in suburban New Jersey (a hilarious scene where adults in wedding suits are all doing head spins and break-dancing) he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a depressed but pretty, dark-haired woman who lives with her parents, after breaking up with her boyfriend Mahmoud. Abe is the worst person at picking up girls, possibly in the entire world. When he hits on a woman he says things like “Do you like jazz? NFL?” without bothering to listen to her answer before moving on to the next failed pick-up line. But somehow — for whatever reason — they end up dating.

Here’s where the movie gets really interesting (and a bit confusing). Abe decides to take the bull by the horns and change his life. The story goes off on these bizarre tangents. Things get bad with his lethargic parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) who finally put their collective foot down; the older secretary, Marie, at the office pursues her sexual crush on Abe; and he has other troubles with his plastic model collection. Abe can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want to give it away, but once again, Todd Solandz, who is such a good director, (with his painfully dark stories and funny-depressing characters) experiments once again with new narrative techniques, like unreliable narrators; total, sudden shifts in point of view – but without informing the viewers; and fantasy, delusions and dreams almost undistinguishable from reality. Wow. It’s a great movie that I hope will get released soon.

Starbuck

Dir: Ken Scott

David (Patrick Houad) is just not doing that well with his life. Everything just seems to be going wrong. He’s separated from his girlfriend, he’s bad at his job (delivering meat for his family business), and his money-making scheme, a grow-up, must be the only one in the world actually losing money: he owes 80 thousand to a bunch of violent thugs who want it back. His girlfriend – who’s pregnant with his kid – tells him he’d better change things if he wants to be that kid’s father. But these all seem like small potatoes when he’s hit by the biggest news of all – the sperm he anonymously donated at a fertility clinic 20 years go, was fertile. Very. He has 500 adult kids now, and 140 or so are planning a class-action suit to make him reveal his identity (he donated using only the nickname “Starbuck”.)

So he decides to secretly track down as many of his kids he can find, to help them out but without revealing his identity to them. There’s a lifeguard, a drug addict, a street musician, an effeminate goth, an aspiring actor… even if David’s own life is a total loss, maybe he can at least make his mark on the world by helping his many, many kids succeed. But the media pick up his story, making it harder and harder to remain hidden. Will he make it out of his various personal crises? Will he be forced to expose his identity to the world? Will his immigrant family ever feel proud of him? And will his pregnant girlfriend let him back into her life?

Starbuck is a really enjoyable, solid, feel-good commercial Quebec comedy, (from the people who brought us Good Cop, Bon Cop0. It’s playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the best 10 Canadian films series starting now, along with the new Cronenberg movie and Monsieur Lazhar.

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

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