War and remembrance. Films reviewed: Hacksaw Ridge, Birth of a Nation, Seoul Station

Posted in 1800s, 1940s, African-Americans, Japan, Resistance, Sex Trade, Slavery, soldier, violence, WWII, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on November 4, 2016

img_1527Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

November 11th is Remembrance Day, when we remember the death and destruction of war. Even wars fought for good reasons may result in horrible deaths for soldiers and ordinary people. This week I’m looking at movies about war. There are armies of zombies in Seoul who want to eat people, a secret slave army in Virginia that wants to free people, and a man who joins the US army in WWII… but refuses to kill people.

hacksawridge_d14-6618Hacksaw Ridge

Dir: Mel Gibson

It’s the 1930s. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his drunk Dad (Hugo Weaving) and religious Mom (Rachel Griffiths). As a kid he loved climbing cliffs and rassling with his brother Hal. But when he saw how close to death his brother came when he hit him in the head with a brick, he swore never to hurt or kill another person again. As a Seventh Day Adventist he takes the Sixth Commandment — thou shalt not kill – very seriously. Years later,hacksawridge_d4-3041-edit he rescues a man injured in an accident by putting a tourniquet on his leg. He has studied medicine on his own since he can’t go to college. At the hospital he meets the beautiful and smart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) a nurse. It’s love at first sight.

But it’s 1941 and the country is at war. Young men all rush to join the army and Doss is no exception. But he joins as a medic to save lives, not as a fighter to kill people. He and Dorothy plan to get married after boot camp. But then reality hits. You can’t be in the army and refuse to carry a gun. They offer him a Section 8 – a psychiatric discharge. But he refuses to quit. He’s not crazy, he’s not un-American, he’s not unpatriotic. The army disagrees.  Soldiers beat him and bully him, and on hacksawridge_d22-10131_fullframehis wedding day the Army throws him in the brig, leaving Dorothy waiting at the altar. Will he be court-martialed?

Somehow he makes it to Okinawa, in time for a crucial battle. They must climb Hacksaw Ridge, a sheer cliff, to face a never-ending battalion of Japanese soldiers. Can Doss use his medic skills to save his fellow soldiers?

Hacksaw Ridge is a heartfelt war movie about a conscientious objector who goes into battle without a gun. For a movie about a heroic man opposed to killing,  there’s also an ungodly amount of gory carnage shown in minute detail. Not for the squeamish.

Interestingly, the entire cast, except for Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughan, is Australian. And with all those thin-lipped, lantern-jawed, soldiers, I had a hard time telling them apart. (Didn’t that guy just die in a foxhole? Must have been someone else…). Garfield, though, stands out as the stubborn, jug-eared Doss. If you like heroic war movies, this one pushes all the right buttons.

birthofanation_04Birth of a Nation

Dir: Nate Parker

Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is born to loving parents and grandparents in a wooden house in Virginia in the early 19th century. At an early age mystics declare him a born leader, with special birthmarks on his belly. He grows up a student of the bible, reading to himself at night. And he happily marries a beautiful woman when they fall in love.,But he is also an African American in the south which means… he is also a slave. The slave owner Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) played with him as a child and they share the birthofanation_02same last name. When earnings are down Sam hires him out to other plantations to preach to fellow slaves, to help calm potential unrest. Nat delivers the sermons, while Sam keeps the cash.

It is on these visits that Nat Turner witnesses the truly horrifying nature of slavery. A young girl kept like a dog with collar and leash. Men set upon by vicious dogs. Families broken up and sold like cattle at auctions. Heinous torture – worse than you can imagine – for crimes as simple as looking a white man directly in the eyes. Women are subject to birthofanation_06horrific rape.  Murder and lynching — always white violence against blacks — is not even considered a crime. So Nat Turner decides enough is enough and organizes a small army to fight back. But can a handful of men and woman overturn slavery itself?

Birth of a Nation is a fictionalized retelling of the famous Nat Turner rebellion. The movie birthofanation_01concentrates more on Nat’s life in the years leading up to it than on the battle itself. The film is disturbing, dealing with topics rarely shown in mainstream movies. Even so, it has a mainstream feel to it: flickering candles, gushing music, and Hollywood kisses in profile. The title itself reclaims D.W. Griffith’s wildly popular silent movie from 1915 which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and inspired countless terrorist attacks on black Americans. This is a good film about a neglected part of US history, downplayed or glossed over in most movies.

seoul_station_film_posterSeoul Station

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

It’s a typical day at the central train station in Seoul, Korea. It’s used by commuters everyday. But it’s also a mecca for the disenfranchised — the poor, the mentally ill and the homeless. Hye-sun is a young runaway,  a former sex worker who lives with her wimpish boyfriend. They are separated by a massive zombie attack — and the virus is spreading. He teams up with her father, while she follows a deranged, homeless man. Hye-sun communicates with her boyfriend whenever they can find a signal on their phones. When she turns to the police for help, they lock her up in a jail cel. Later, a large group of people trapped in an area besieged by zombies appeals to the army. But instead of rescuing them, the soldiers fire water canons and teargas… not at the zombies, but at their fellow citizens. Who will survive the zombie onslaught?

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the hit horror film Train to Busan. Characters are drawn with clean black outlines against realistic backgrounds. Seoul is portrayed as a desolate place, its dim skies lit only by neon crosses.  This may be a zombie movie but it’s also an unsparing look at the maltreatment of the homeless and disenfranchised in modern Korea.

Birth of a Nation is now playing and Hacksaw Ridge opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Seoul Station is playing at the upcoming ReelAsian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com for showtimes. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Old-school Heroes. Films Reviewed: Gleason, Anthropoid PLUS #TIFF16

Posted in 1940s, Cultural Mining, Czechoslovakia, Disabilities, documentary, Espionage, Football, Movies, Resistance, Romance, WWII by CulturalMining.com on August 12, 2016

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

The Toronto International Film Festival, opening in September, has announced some of its big ticket premiers. And a running theme is heroism. TIFF opens with Antoine Fuqua’s 13735682_260091707716632_4902776212232250389_o(Training Day) remake of the classic spaghetti western The Magnificent Seven (based, of course, on Kurusawa’s Seven Samurai). Another movie filled with heroes is Oliver Stone’s biopic Snowden. It’s about everyone’s favourite whistleblower queen of katweEdward Snowden who revealed the chilling fact that the NSA is spying on all of us.

India’s great director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) is bringing us Queen of Katwe about a young girl in Uganda who is sent to Russia to become a chess champion. This one looks so good, and co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. And then there’s a political documentary about IF Stone’s investigative journalism. The theme is in the title: All All Governments LieGovernments Lie. I haven’t seen any of these movies yet, but they do sound interesting.

But there’s no need to wait a month for your share of heroes. This week I’m looking at two new movies with old fashioned heroes. There’s a wartime thriller about two men fighting for their country, and a documentary about an NFL running back fighting for his life.

5f83d981-4835-420b-bbb4-34b5bff7db92Gleason

Dir: Clay Tweel

Steve Gleason is a running back. Smaller than the average football player, he makes up for it with his lightning speed. He plays for the New Orleans Saints. Just a year after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he sets the crowd wild with a legendary play at the Superdome. It’s labelled a symbol of the city’s rebirth. Steve is the antithesis of the stereotypical football player: long-haired, adventurous, smart and articulate. He’s like a punk hippy. He’s a great guy, a free spirit, a local hero. He meets Michel – a wonderful woman, equally unusual and 3b9bacf2-12f6-4f5c-bb5c-35b491530832independent. They get married enjoying the fun and laughter of young love.

He retires from football and just a couple years later, he notices a physical change. It’s just a small change, but he goes to a naturopath and then to a doctor to check it out. And in January, 2011, he is diagnosed with a neurological condition: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease, is a View More: http://keridoolittle.pass.us/gleason-hall-of-famedegenerative condition where you gradually lose your ability to walk, talk, move and eventually even to breathe – your awareness and perception of the outside world doesn’t change, but your ability to move and express yourself does. And just a few weeks after his diagnosis Michel discovers she’s pregnant.

This film is a record of his life with ALS. It shows the very rapid decline in his abilities over the course of just a year. But during that time he and Michel decide to devote their lives to raising awareness of ALS. He makes appearances at football games, and becomes friends with musician Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. And he raises lots of money so that all people with ALS are provided with devoices to give them a voice after they stop talking. This film is also a video letter to their son Rivers so he won’t grow up 44741754-b1ea-45c4-877a-a2766e62b5b2never hearing his Dad’s voice.

This is a touching personal movie about faith, disabilities and family relations. It chronicles the day-to-day difficulty and drudgery of living with ALS, including lots of scenes you may not want to think about: like surgery, bowel movements, food chewing and marital difficulties. There’s also Michel caring for two people at once – her husband and her baby. And his Dad, an evangelical Christian who believes in faith healing. Steve’s faith is very different.

While not an easy film, I think it raises awareness of ALS a lot more than dumping buckets of ice water on your head.

L1007758.jpgAnthropoid

Dir: Sean Ellis

It’s WWII in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Jan and Josef (Cillian Murphy, James Dornan) are two members of the resistance. They are based in London with the government in exile, but are parachuted back into their country late at night. Along with a handful of others, they are there on a mission known as Operation Anthropoid. Their goal? To assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich is considered the third most powerful man L1007978.DNGin Nazi Germany, after Hitler and Himmler, and is in charge of the SS in occupied Czechoslavakia. Because of his infamous cruelty and mass killings, he is known as the Butcher of Prague.

The two men make their way into the city to carry out their assignment. But when they meet up with what remains of the local resistance fighters, they discover broken men. They have completely lost their moxie. They don’t want to fight;

L1010105.DNGtheir only goal is to stay alive. They warn Jan and Josef that their mission is impossible and will lead to torture and death.

They meet two young women to pose as girlfriends so as ot to raise suspicion. Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) is beautiful with pale skin and raven hair. Her friend Lenka (Anna Geislerová), is an elegant redhead. Together they plot a complex plan to ambush the anthropoid-ANTH_00619_rgbheavily-guarded Heydrich at a city intersection. Can false relationships turn to real love? Will their plan succeed? And if they do succeed who will survive the wrath of the occupying forces?

Anthropoid is a classic wartime thriller, based on real events. I liked this movie, though parts of it bothered me. Why do the main characters all speak English but with fake Czech accents?

L1008450.DNGAnd for a thriller, it starts out slow, with lots of waiting around… though it picks up handily later on, with a gripping and exciting battle scene. The main cast – the men are Irish, the women Canadian and Czech – is very attractive, almost more like models than actors. The period costumes, sets, and locations are beautifully done. So all in all, Anthropoid is an enjoyable espionage thriller.

Gleason and Anthropoid 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

Multiple stories. Films reviewed: The Debt, Wiener-Dog

Posted in Animals, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Morality, Peru, Resistance, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 8, 2016

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

Although every movie is different, most tell a single story. But there are exceptions. This week I’m looking at two new movies that tell a whole bunch of stories, stories that are somehow tied. There’s a dark comedy with a dog-related plot, and a drama related to a plot of land.

thedebtThe Debt

Dir: Barney Elliot

This movie is made up of three or four linked stories all set in Peru.

Oliver (Stephen Dorff) is a successful financier who works for a multinational bank. He specializes in vulture funds with debt bonds from distressed economies. His current goal? To corner the market in Peruvian real estate debt. He works with his idealistic Peruvian friend Ricardo (Alberto Ammann) to snap up debt at deep discount. But will Ricardo agree to business that might hurt his country?

Maria (Elsa Olivero) is a nurse at a Lima hospital. She’s trying to arrange an 13497864_592914470881753_5287121575246588419_ooperation for her mother who suffers from painful rheumatoid arthritis. But no matter how hard she tries, she can’t get surgery scheduled for her mom. Will she have to resort to illegal methods?

Meanwhile in a remote mountainous area, a slick real estate developer named Caravedo (Carlos Bardem) is promising the sky to gullible farmers. Health clinics, electricity, telephones… They are quick to sell, except one die-hard farmer named Florentino (Amiel Cayo). He is angry and will never give in.

13433132_592914790881721_5890480114800983280_oAnd on Florentino’s farm, his son, Diego (Marco Antonio Ramírez) is fascinated by the helicopters he sees. They carry wealthy investors from far away. But they also wreak havoc with his llamas, whom he depends on..

The Debt is a complex story, that brings the diverse plot together by the end. It’s done in the style of movies like Paul Haggis’s Crash – lots of interrelated characters who interact in unexpected ways. It deals with big issues – multinational economies, farmers driven from their land – but in a rather ponderous way. Lots of guilt, responsibility, betrayal, selfishness – things like that. Not my favourite type of movie, but it held my interest and I liked all the Peruvian actors.

88e6a62f-e132-4aed-af9b-694ce3559c7bWiener-Dog

Wri/Dir: Todd Solondz

This movie also has four stories, but told in a linea way, and only peripherally connected. They are all set present day New York City and the suburbs and towns around it.

Remy (Keaton Nigel Cooke) is a young boy recovering from chemotherapy. He’s a survivor. His rich but uptight parents (Tracy Letts and Julie WD-7-20-15-125.CR2Delpy) They buy him a short haired dachshund at a puppy mill. But they don’t realize it will open a whole lot of hard-to answer questions. Like do dogs have feelings? What happens if they get sick? Why should she get spayed. — what if she wants to have kids? His mother is forced to concoct more and more outlandish stories to answer the boy’s questions.

In the second story the depressed and friendless Dawn WD-6-19-15-111.CR2Wiener (Greta Gerwig) meets her old teenage crush, the bully Brandon (Kieren Culkin). Brandon is passing through town and sees the girl he used to call Wiener Dog with her very own Wiener dog. On a whim, she agrees to join him on a mysterious road trip to Ohio. What’s in Ohio? She asks. Crystal meth. On the way they meet a band of mariachi hitchhikers and Brandon’s Down syndrome brother.

WD-7-6-15-88.CR2The third story is about Schmertz (Danny Devito) an over-the-hill scriptwriter with only a wiener dog to keep him company. He is forced to teach self-centred rich kids at a Manhattan film school. His students all write plotless scripts based on their gender-studies relevance not their stories. Where’s the What If? He always asks them. “You gotta have a what if.” But if he doesn’t come up with a what if for his life, he risks being fired.

In the final story, we see an angry depressed grandmother WD-7-8-15-144.CR2(Ellen Burstyne), cared for by another old woman. They never speak, except the occasional requests: Yvette — Kaopectate! Her new pet — wiener-dog of course – she names Cancer. It just seems appropriate. But she has to to come to terms with her own past and precarious future when a visiting granddaughter drops by.

I love Todd Solondz’s movies, even the ones that don’t quite work. They’re all fascinating, funny and deeply depressing. HeWD-6-19-15-589.CR2 creates complex, reflexive stories often with repeated plotlines. The Wiener Family has also appeared in his first movie Welcome to the Dollhouse as well as Palindoromes, so if you follow his movies, it’s gratifying to see what happens to those characters. I love his painfully sad comedies, including this one. The acting is fantastic, especially Ellen Burstyn.

Wiener-dog is great.

The Debt and Wiener-dog 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

Revolution vs Devolution. Movies Reviewed: Zoolander 2, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 2000s, African-Americans, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Fashion, FBI, Movies, Politics, Protest, Resistance, Rome by CulturalMining.com on February 12, 2016

fonds1244item71womenhatsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

February is Toronto’s Black History Month, because Canada has a history all its own, both good and bad. There’s the black Empire Loyalists and the Underground Railroad. But there was also slavery in Canada, and the demolition of Africville in Halifax, and the rioting at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. So this weekend is a good time to catch up on some of this history at the Black Film Festival in Toronto.

This week, I’m looking at a documentary about 50 years of revolution by an African American party, and a comedy about 15 years of devolution by male models at parties.

1451590015Zoolander 2

Dir: Ben Stiller

Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is a vapid former supermodel who lives in a log cabin in the Alps of northern New Jersey. His wife is dead and his son, Derek Jr, has been taken away by social services. Zoolander has been a hermit (or “hermit crab” as he says) since 2001. His former best friend and supermodel Hansel (Owen Wilson) lives in a tent in the middle of a vast desert near Palm Springs. He has non-stop orgies – involving sumo wrestlers, babushkas and goats — relieved only by intermittent yoga sessions. The two men hate each other’s guts. But they find themselves together 12694567_1126067307412867_853856684406049756_oagain in Rome relaunching their respective careers.

Together with former swimsuit model Valentina (Penelope Cruz), now part of Interpol’s fashion police, they join forces to fight an evil cabal of supervillains who have infiltrated the fashion industry. Why? Because the bad guys, including Mugatu (Will Farrell), want to get their hands on the fountain of youth guarded by the Chosen One. He is a direct 12742598_1126574614028803_3503656508624870388_ndescendent of an unbroken line of vapid male supermodels dating back to the Garden of Eden. (Apparently there was an Adam and Steve). But who is the Chosen One and how can they save him?

I like comedies, they just have to be funny. This one’s not. it has a few very hilarious moments, but a stand-up comic with only one laugh for every 20 jokes would be booed off the stage. It’s also weirdly outdated. I can accept that Zoolander and Hansel have hidden away for 15 years, but why is the rest of the movie in a time warp, too? It’s filled with Calvin Klein perfume ads from the 1990s, titans of the fashion avant garde like Tommy Hilfiger,  “hipsters” wearing dreadlocks,  and Al Qaeda as the most dangerous terrorists. Even the plot is a take-off of a Dan Brown novel. Everything in the movie just seems so old. There’s no satire, and very little humour. The funniest moments come from the tickle of recognition that accompanies the countless celebrities — Bieber, Kardashian, Sarandon, Sutherland — who make cameo appearances. But it’s not enough to rescue this dud.

20150804_152141_8000991-women-drilling-with-panther-flags-photo-courtesy-of-pirkle-jones.jpg.1280x720_q85The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Dir: Stanley Nelson

It’s 1966. The US is fighting in Vietnam and anti-war protests are springing up around the world. The civil rights movement is in full swing in the southern states. But in northern cities, in places like Oakland California, the police are still arresting, frisking and beating black men with impunity. So two young leaders, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, found a black nationalist movement there to counter police brutality and 20150804_152141_8233072-charles-bursey-hands-plate-of-food-to-a-child-seated-at-free-bre.jpg.1280x720_q85racial oppression and to express black pride and solidarity. And if attacked by the police, they vowed to fight back by any means necessary (in the words of Malcolm X). They named it the Black Panther Party. Members cut a mean profile: natural hairstyles, shades, black leather jackets, and military-style black berets. And, most shocking of all, they carried long guns — in the name of the Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms — 20150804_152141_8093234-panthers-on-parade-at-free-huey-rally-in-defermery-park-oakland-.jpg.1280x720_q85with leather straps of bullets across their chests. They were later joined by Eldridge Cleaver whose book Soul on Ice, written in prison, captured the nation’s mood.

Lyndon B Johnson, the president, and FBI chief J Edgar Hoover were shocked. They considered a black nationalist movement the biggest danger of them all — bigger than communism. They swung into action using the notorious COINTELPRO — counter-intelligence program — to infiltrate and spy on the group. They sent letters and ohone calls to women saying their husbands were cheating on them. The police were called into action to break up meetings and arrest its 20150804_152143_3153609-eldridge-cleaver-berkeley-photo-courtesy-of-jeffrey-blankfort.jpg.1280x720_q85members. Dozens were arrested on trumped-up charges, and many killed in raids across the country. Some are still in prison to this day. At an infamous Chicago trial, the judge actually had Bobby Seale chained to a chair, bound and gagged, in the courtroom, making him the perfect symbol of state oppression. Eldridge Cleaver fled to Algeria. Later many of the top members changed their beliefs, leaving the party divided among warring factions.

This is a fascinating history of the movement, with tons of still photos, archival footage, and new interviews with members that tell you lots you’ve probably never heard of. Did you know they started a successful school breakfast program? And published a newspaper that was their main source of income? Their standard image is of armed black men, but the majority of rank-and20150804_152141_8192973-black-panthers-from-sacramento-free-huey-rally-bobby-hutton-memo.jpg.1280x720_q85-file members were actually women, fighting for women’s rights within the party. The film doesn’t go deeply into the more controversial aspects of The Black Panthers. Some thought it undermined the non-violent civil rights movement. Or that it was big on image, weak on politics. But whatever your point of view, the Panthers made a huge mark on American history beginning 50 years ago, and this film explains it all.

Zoolander 2 opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution is playing on Saturday at 11:00 AM at the Carlton Cinema as part of Toronto’s Black Film Festival. Go to torontoblackfilm.com for more info. And the Next Wave Film Festival is on all weekend long for 14-18 year-olds who love movies. Check out tiff.net for details — especially its great closing film 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 with Alanis Obomsawin about her new NFB documentary Trick or Treaty? premiering at TIFF14

Posted in Canada, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Environmentalism, First Nations, Protest, Resistance by CulturalMining.com on August 30, 2014

Alanis Obomsawin 1 TIFF © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

In 1905, Treaty No. 9 was signed by representatives of the Canadian government and Cree and Ojibway first nations. Newly elected chiefs draped the Union Jack over their shoulders in a gesture of acceptance. The treaty59597_06 said, on paper, that the people there would cede the land around James Bay, in perpetuity, to the crown in exchange for their protection and well-being. It’s there on paper… but is this what both sides actually agreed to? A new documentary from the National Film Board of Canada says No.

The film is called TRICK OR TREATY? It examines, in depth, the issue of treaty rights, whether the 59597_10Canadian government lives up to its end of the bargain, and whether the treaties themselves were legal documents. It brings the story up-to- date with footage and interviews with the IDLE NO MORE movement, the status of first nations’ women, and other current issues. It’s filmmaker, Alanis Obomsawin is the doyenne of documentaries at the NFB who for 40 years has recorded the issues and past and current history of the indigenous peoples in Canada. Trick or Treaty premiers at TIFF14, the Toronto International Film Festival and I reached Alanis Obomsawin by telephone, at NFB headquarters in Montreal. Producer, writer, director and narrator, Alanis talks about treaty rights, Crazy Horse, David Kawapit, Bill C-45, Idle No More, Tina Fontaine, Chief Theresa Spence, and more!

Daniel Garber talks with Kitty Green about her new documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Posted in Breasts, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, France, Hotdocs, Protest, Resistance, Sex Trade, Ukraine, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2014

Kitty Green at CIUT 89.5 FMHi, 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.

Ukraine is at the top of the news. Beginning in November last year, Euromaidan street protests drove President Yanukovych out of office Kitty Green 2and out of the country. Soon after, Russia took control of Crimea, with sites in Eastern Ukraine facing further unrest. But long before any of this, a different form of protest, one you could call unique, was taking root in that country. The group is called Sasha Shevchenko (right) and Inna Shevchenko (left) from "Ukraine is Not a Brothel". Photograph by Ozan Kose.Femen. It’s a self-proclaimed feminist protest group. What’s unusual is the form of their protests: to oppose the oppression and sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women… they expose their slogan-covered breasts for the cameras!

A great new documentary that played at Toronto’s Hot Docs gives an inside view of the Femen protestors and exposes their contradictions. The film is called UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL and I spoke with its Australian director, Kitty Green, on April 29th, 2014 in Toronto. Kitty talks about protests in Ukraine, the sex trade, feminism, Femen, its members, the languages spoken, and the meaning of the word “girl”.

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

Posted in Barcelona, Cultural Mining, Dance, documentary, Hotdocs, L.A., Libya, Magic, Prison, Protest, Resistance, Road Movie, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 3, 2014

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

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

An_Honest_Liar_1An Honest Liar

Dir: Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom

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

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

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

Point_And_Shoot_3Point and Shoot

Dir: Marshall Curry

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

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

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

Demonstration_1Demonstration

Dir: Viktor Kossokovsky (and 32 others)

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

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

Demonstration is an artistic look at a public protest.

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

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

Philadelphia Freedom. Movies reviewed: Jingle Bell Rocks, Let the Fire Burn

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

I was in the US for American Thanksgiving. Had a wonderful visit to family and friends, beautiful places, lots to see and do. But you wouldn’t know it if you watched TV news on Black Friday. It’s an orgiastic  frenzy of consumer excess slapped onto an otherwise sedate family weekend. All you could see on TV was the repeated image of two women at a Philadelphia Walmart tasing each other to get at a discount i-Pad. Just crazy.

But they segue nicely into my themes this week: Philadelphia and holiday excess. I’m looking at Canadian documentary about Christmas music. And an American doc about a firebomb dropped on a radical commune in Philadelphia.

mitch_hat_vigJingle Bell Rocks

Dir: Mitchel Kezin

Mitchel is obsessed with Christmas songs., Not the traditional carols or sing-alongs — Silent Night, Jingle Bells —  but the many, possibly countless, record albums released over the past 60-70 years. He believes that, among all the treacle and dross they play constantly for a month and a half every year, there are gems to be discovered. So he goes to every flea market, ducks into every used record store he sees, on the off chance there’s an indie treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

It all started with a Nat King Cole song about a little kid pining for his absentee dad, who won’t be home for Chistmas. His own dad was never there and eventually his parents were divorced. Now he feels driven to recreate the sad feelings john_waters_pic2he remembers from a melancholy tune.

And he’s not alone. There’s a hip-hop producer, a radio DJ, and a rock star, each with their obsessive horde of old Xmas vinyl.

The movie spans decades, including everything from be-bop jazz (that’s Bob Dorough singing with the Miles Davis Quintet in the background) to soul – there’s a risqué song about a Backdoor Santa – to Vietnam protest songs, ordinary pop, bill_adler&rev-run_prod2counter-culture kitsch and hip hop, all the way to the nineties and beyond.

Stars include Flaming Lips, Run DMC, and John Waters, with the movie culminating in an amazing recording session with calypso legend Mighty Sparrow.

Not bad for a documentary. Jingle Bell Rocks is 90-minute look at an ordinary – if oddball – guy with a hording obsession. I can sympathize with the narrator’s plight, but never feel his drive. Anyway, it’s a light subject, not intrinsically exciting. But it’s saved by the music: great tunes.

let the fire burn poster_largeLet the Fire Burn

Dir: Jason Osder

In the mid 1980s, Philadelphia — a city I love — experienced a terrifying event. A home was bombed, and many people were killed. You might think: terrorists? But the bomb was dropped on a row house from a helicopter… by the police! And as the fire grew, the fireman stood by to letthefireburn.photo03watch the flames engulf a city block.

How could this have happened? Some background.

Half a century after the civil rights movement, Philadelphia is still a de facto segregated city. It experienced decades of unrest and white flight to the exurbs. Much of this was related to the combative stance letthefireburn.photo05of the police force and City Hall, led, in the 1970s by Frank Rizzo.

A former police commissioner, Rizzo fought a personal battle against radical groups like the Black Panthers, displaying, at times, seemed more loyalty to his fellow police than toward the people of the city. He was known for his harsh treatment of black people, in general. Well, right in the middle of this was a small, black-to-nature group known as MOVE, headed by the self-named John Africa. They believed in such “radical” concepts as a vegan diet, the raw food movement, animal rights — a new religion that was anti-pesticide letthefireburn.photo02and anti-technology. The kids walked around naked and everyone shared the same last name. They also proselytized loudly in public, using a megaphone, not endearing themselves to their neighbours.

The police accused them of being an armed terrorist group and raided their home. In the melee a cop was killed, but it was never determined where the shot came from. (The police were caught on video brutally attacking an unarmed Delbert Africa.) Nine members of MOVE were convicted of third-degree murder and jailed.

Seven years later, in an apparent act of revenge for the  policeman’s death, they dropped two fire bombs – supplied by the FBI — on the urban commune and stood by, as 11 people, including five small children, letthefireburn.photo01died. Afterwards, the city’s Mayor, W. Wilson Goode, called for an investigation.

This excellent movie tells the story in an unusual way. The documentary is composed entirely of  period news footage, TV interviews, and, most of all, the recorded testimony of the inquiry. There’s no narrator, only voices from that time, preserved on tape. Police and survivors of the bombing all testify why they did what they did and bring light to what was happening that tragic day. (Some police were appalled by what happened and did what they could to rescue people, while others clearly supported it.) Especially poignant is the testimony of a little boy, Birdie Africa, who clears up many of the false claims and misconceptions about what went on. This is a stunning movie and an excellent oral history.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Hot Docs) and Let the Fire Burn (TIFF Bell Lightbox) 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 .

Daniel Garber talks to director Kazik Radwanski and producer Dan Montgomery about their new film TOWER

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.L-R Director Kazik Radwanski, Producer Dan Montgomery

A few years ago a new voice appeared on the indie movie scene. A series of short, sharp realistic films showing ordinary, if socially awkward, people. People who run up against harsh authority figures, the holders of power, whom they try, unsuccessfully, to avoid: a little kid facing a domineering teacher, an older woman who may be losing her memory sent to a condescending psychiatrist, a teenager accused of assaulting a cop, an unsuccessful real estate agent with a pushy wife…

The films created quite the buzz on the festival scene, bouncing from Edinburgh to Berlin, Derek BogartMelbourne to Toronto, picking up lots of prizes on the way. And now the first feature, TOWER, which played at TIFF last fall and is opening in Toronto on February 22, 2013. It tells the story of a rudderless, socially inept man named Derek (Derek Bogart), a guy without ambition or aims, who’s just coasting along through life. This fascinatingly dark comedy is designed to make audiences squirm along with the characters on the screen.

Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski, and his long time collaborator producer Daniel Montgomery talk to me about the film’s characters and where they came from, its themes, its look, whether it’s a comedy, a drama, or a documentary; some of their earlier films, where their production company got its name, and more…

Daniel Garber talks to Jason Kieffer about his new comic ZANTA: THE LIVING LEGEND

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

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

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

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

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

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