A More Perfect Union. Films reviewed: The Big Sick, The Beguiled, In the Name of All Canadians

Posted in 1800s, Canada, Disease, documentary, Indigenous, Romantic Comedy, Rural, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 30, 2017

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

With the 150th anniversary of Confederation in Canada and the 4th of July south of the border, this is a long weekend with lots of movies to watch. This week I’m looking at two comedy/dramas from the US and a documentary from Canada. There’s a comedian coping with blind dates, a girls’ school dealing with a wounded soldier, and a country coming to terms with a new constitution.

The Big Sick

Dir: Michael Showalter

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a stand-up comic who wants to make it big. He’s a self-described numbers geek, who is into the X-Files and corny horror movies. He’s dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), a young woman he met at the comedy club, and their relationship is getting serious. But Kumail has a secret. His Pakistani-American parents (Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff) insist their son marry a Muslim-Pakistani woman, and constantly surprise him with blind dates. His parents don’t know about Emily and she doesn’t know about his arranged dates. Everything goes well until Emily uncovers Kumail’s “X File”, a cigar box filled with photos of all the women he secretly dates and rejects. She is livid and never wants to see him again. But the next time he hears from her she is in hospital on her deathbed with a mysterious ailment, the “big sick” of the title. He stays by her bedside as she falls into a coma. Things get complicated when her parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) arrive. They know all about his secrets and lies and don’t trust him. But their relationship grows as they cope with Emily’s troubles together. Will Emily recover? Can she forgive Kumail? And can he tell the truth to his family?

The Big Sick is a very sweet romantic comedy mainly about the relationship of a young man and his true love’s parents. Spoiler Alert: it’s based on Kumail and Emily’s real life story, so obviously she didn’t die. I liked that it doesn’t succumb to crass toilet humour but instead finds jokes in the normal life of a standup comic. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are especially good as the parents. A good date movie.

The Beguiled

Dir: Sofia Coppola

It’s rural Virginia during the US Civil War, where a school for young ladies remains untouched by the war raging all around them. There, beautifully dressed women study literature, French, music and the bible, seemingly oblivious to the mayhem outside the school’s wrought-iron gates. There’s the imperious Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman); dowdy Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst); the recently grown-up Alicia (Elle Fanning) and nature-loving little Amy, among many others. They live in harmony in an old plantation house with two-storey, ionic columns, but no slaves, mind you – they all ran away. No one has breached the gates so far. Until one day, young Amy is out picking mushrooms and she finds a wounded yankee soldier. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) says he joined the Union army straight off the boat from Dublin. Now he’s a deserter. Can the ladies help him?

Miss Martha sews up his wounds lets him stay, but only as a prisoner. That’s when the corporal turns the charm level to high and begins beguiling and seducing all the girls and women. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, he tells one. You’re the one I like the best, he tells another. We have a special bond he says to a third. Soon, the women are fighting one another to spend time alone with the handsome young soldier. This culminates at a dinner where all of the women are all gussied up, each hoping he will choose her. But something unexpected happens that turns the smiling charmer into a violent ogre. What will the women do with him now?

The Beguiled is a dark comedy, a remake of Don Seigel’s movie from the 1970s, told from the women’s point of view. It includes lots of twists and turns for a simple ninety minute movie. I thought the acting was good, and the looks of the movie itself is fantastic. I’d describe it as over-the-top subtlety, with oak trees groaning with Spanish moss and a constant mist covering everything. I liked this one.

In the Name of All Canadians

It’s Canada’s Sesquicentennial, 150 years since confederation, so Hot Docs commissioned a multipart documentary made any a number of filmmakers. I dreaded watching this because I was afraid this would be yet another treackly look at toques, poutine, multiculturalism, our health system and Tim Hortons. But I was way off the mark. It’s actually a reality check, a hard look at the all the egregious errors Canada’s governments have made over the past 70 years or so. Did you know Frenco-Manitoban school teachers were forbidden from teaching in French for 50 years? Then there’s the case of Mr Abdelrazik, a Sudanese- Canadian man tortured then forced to camp out inside the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum for three years before he was allowed to come home. There’s the mass arrests at the G20, the internment of Japanese Canadians, discrimination faced by black and Muslim Canadians. And the biggest issue of all, Truth and Reconciliation with aboriginal Canadians — First Nations, Inuit and Metis — for the countless crimes, including Residential Schools, inflicted on them.

In form, most of these docs use actors reading scripts, animated sequences, talking heads and reenactments, rather than fly-on-the-wall records of actual events. Some parts are very moving, while other parts veer into speechifying. The serious parts are tied together by cute short sequences asking various Canadians what they prefer in a huge range of topics. While not perfect, altogether it gives a good hard look at Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, its successes and failures. Worth seeing.

In the Name of all Canadians is playing now at the Hot Docs cinema; and The Big Sick and The Beguiled 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 Mahmoud Sabbagh and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi about Barakah meets Barakah at #TIFF16

Posted in Class, comedy, Cultural Mining, Islam, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Satire, Shakespeare, Social Networks by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016


Hi, This is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Barakah is a municipal civil servant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He drives a tiny white truck and gives tickets to people defying city bylaws. He lives in a rundown flat with his shrieking aunt (a midwife), and his complaining uncle (a down-and-out former musician).

Bibi is a hugely popular culture critic and fashion plate with a unnamed-1million followers on Instagram. She shares her opinions and photos…but only from the lips down (to keep her identity a secret). She’s rich, famous and single.

After a series of chance meetings, Bibi and Barakah realize destiny is at play, and the two of them just might belong together. Problem is: how do you date in a country where unmarried men and women can’t kiss, hold hands… or even appear together in public without an escort? Will Bibi and Barakah ever get to know each other? And how can two people of different backgrounds bridge the gap between them?

Mahmoud Sabbagh at TIFF16, photo © Jeff Harris for Cultural MiningBarakah meets Barakah is a cute romantic comedy having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a humorous look at the troubles of dating inside restrictive Saudi Arabia. But it’s also a lament for the loss of the once vibrant Saudi culture. It’s directed by Mahmoud Sabbagh, and stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al Banawi, as the star-crossed lovers.

Barakah meets Barakah is only the second contemporary Saudi film to screen in Canada. I spoke with Mahmoud, Hisham and Fatima on location at TIFF16.

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Daniel Garber talks with On Again Off Again director Arsalan Shirazi

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Family, Movies, Romance, Romantic Comedy, Sex by CulturalMining.com on August 8, 2016

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

Sami meets Jasmine at a party, and sparks fly. With each date affection grows, and turns into love after trip to the cottage. But is it a IMG_1368physical reaction or something deeper? Will this love last or will it change like the winds, IMG_1363blowing on again and off again, week by week?

On Again, Off Again is also the name of a new movie about romance and relationships. It’s IMG_1365having it’s world premier tonight at the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival. The film was co-produced, co-directed, co-written and starring a first-time feature filmmaker named Arsalan Shirazi.

I spoke to Arsalan at CIUT to find out more about On Again, Off Again.

 

Daniel Garber speaks with Kristin Archibald about I Love You Both

Posted in Cultural Mining, Family, LGBT, Movies, Romantic Comedy, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

IMG_8094Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Krystal and Donny (Kristin and Doug Archibald) are twenty-something twins. They are closer than close: they live together, share secret codes, and text each other whenever they’re apart. Sometimes they even crawl into the other’s bedroom for comfort. And they need it — with their dead-end jobs and horrible relationships.

But at a mutual birthday party a new face enters the picture. Andy (Lucas Neff) is the ILoveYouBoth1nicest guy either of them have ever met. And both straight Krystal and gay Donny are head-over-heels in love. But who’s the third wheel here? And which one does he love? The answer may surprise you.

I Love You Both is the name of a new first film, having its international premier at Toronto’s Inside-Out Festival. The award-winning movie explores bisexuality, kinship and twinship. It was made by a real-life brother and sister: Kristin and Doug Archibald.

I spoke with Kristin at CIUT in Toronto.

LGBT Movies. Films Reviewed: Grandma, The New Girlfriend, Saint Laurent PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in comedy, Cross-dressing, Cultural Mining, Drama, Fashion, France, Gay, Lesbian, LGBT, Romantic Comedy, Trans by CulturalMining.com on May 22, 2015

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

inside out lgbtff 25 logoInside Out is Toronto’s LGBT international film festival, and it’s on now, for the next ten days, with comedies, dramas, experimental films and documentaries. Major stars and directors will be appearing at their films and there are even free screenings. This week I’m looking at LGBT dramas from the US and France. There’s a biopic about a man who draws dresses, a comedy about a man who is drawn to dresses, and a grandmother who fought hard for the right to wear pants.

10350354_816276301776400_9136838441934971649_nGrandma
Wri/Dir: Paul Weitz

Elle (Lily Tomlin) is a radical lesbian feminist poet in California. She’s retired from her position as writer-in-residence at a UC campus, and hasn’t written a word since Vi, her partner of 36 years, died. Once a celebrated activist and public intellectual, another Adrienne Rich, now she’s just a bitter old cuss. But just as she is unceremoniously giving her current lover the boot, there’s a knock on the door. It’s her granddaughter asking for help. Sage (Julia Garner) is a pretty, young high school student with a problem: an unwanted pregnancy. She needs 600 bucks for an abortion. But that’s easier said than done. Grandma’s broke! So the two of them climb into her ancient jalopy and drive off to find the cash.

They are generations apart:

Grandma: Oh for the days of Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique.
Granddaughter: Mystique? Like, the blue-skinned villain in X-Men?

Can they ever see eye to eye? Can Sage get her abortion? And will Elle come to terms with the ghosts from her past? Grandma is a delightful, road-trip comedy. It has a great script, cute story with a social conscience, and the acting is good all around. A lot of fun.

unenouvelleamie_aff_allThe New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie)
Dir: François Ozon (based on the novel by the late Ruth Rendell)

Rich Laura and middle-class Claire take a blood oath when they’re just girls: they swear to be fast friends forever. Young and beautiful, they stay close. Claire Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) marries clean-cut Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz: Quai d’Orsay), while Laura chooses the more sensitive David (Romain Duris). But after the birth of her first child, Laura breaks the pact… by dying! Claire is crushed. How can she live without her best friend? She begins to see her everywhere; across the street, just around a corner. David meanwhile has fallen into a deep funk. She goes unenouvelleamie05to visit him, but is shocked when she sees a woman at his home taking care of the baby. Is it Laura? No… It’s David, in a dress. I miss Claire, he explains, and it helps comfort the baby. Just don’t tell anyone, especially not his mother-in-law.

unenouvelleamie09Initially shocked, Claire gradually adjusts to David’s cross-dressing. But to allay potential suspicions, she tells her husband she has found a new girlfriend – “Virginia”. Their bonds begin to grow… as do the suspicions of her husband and his mother in law. But are they ready to meet Virginia?

This is an always-surprising social comedy about changes in identity, friendship and family, sexuality and gender.

6c9eb5e0-7200-4390-a3f3-9dc6cddbbc5cSaint Laurent
Dir: Bertrand Bonello

Yves St Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) is a successful fashion designer in Paris. He’s slim and impeccably dressed known for his trademark black-framed glasses. He launched the celebrated Mondrian dress in 1965, and turns out new haut couture collections twice a year. The operation is divided into three parts. He’s the creative side. He personally draws every garment design by hand. Behind the scenes, a dedicated army in white lab coats rush to cut the cloth, drape it, stitch it, and get it onto the backs of runway models’ in time. And in the 375ebac0-ff59-46de-9473-f3adf19f86f8boardroom, his lover Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier) handles all the business deals. YSL, the fashion house, is a profitable, well-oiled machine.

While the streets of Paris are seething with revolution, Yves is ensconced, oblivious, in his presentation rooms, dressing privileged women. 8f3454f8-da44-40ee-ab78-627d2dc05286Then there’s his personal life. He and Pierre collect priceless tchotchkes from around the world to display in their home. Yves also collects people; he has an entourage of models, and muses like Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux). He spends his time at Parisian discotheques, or at his retreat in Marrakesh.

But in the early ‘seventies, things start to collapse. He falls under the sway of an aristocratic socialite. Jacques (Louis Garrel) is handsome, rich and decadent, and never seems to work. His days are spent posing on modern furniture. His nights are filled with acid trips and gin-soaked gay orgies. Yves88520acb-a05b-4ff2-897b-4fdd82e388f1 is infatuated with him, but the constant pill-popping is dragging him down. Can Pierre rescue Yves and turn him back into a profitable name? Or will he succumb to Jacques’ lotus-eating lifestyle? And will Yves’s audacious new collection be the talk of Paris or booed off the stage?

Saint Laurent is a captivating, challenging, movie. It’s way too long – 2 ½ hours long! – and, at first glance, seems superficial and pointless. But it’s not. 4f8e78ec-73a0-46f1-ad8d-eea8ad0fc9a6It’s visually stunning. Every scene is perfectly composed like turning a page of Vogue magazine. The director tries some surprising techniques, some of which work, some don’t. A long business meeting is conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpreting. Is that necessary? But a Mondrian-like split screen with 9 separate panels, and an amazing sequence with a dozen miniature black-and-white dogs scampering down the hallway for a pet audition, more than make up for the jarring parts. And the acting — especially Ulliel as the fragile, opaque and zen-like Yves Saint Laurent — is fantastically perverse.

Grandma and The New Girlfriend are both playing at Inside Out LGBT film11259478_674551145983743_4305327555853919907_n fest this week: go to insideout.ca for details. And Saint Laurent opens commercially today in Toronto; check your local listings. I liked all three of these movies. But if violent, post-apocalyptic road movies are more to your taste, I strongly recommend Mad Max: Fury Road., now playing. Don’t miss it!

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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Saul Pincus and actor Knickoy Robinson about their film Nocturne

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Movies, Romantic Comedy by CulturalMining.com on March 27, 2015

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

Cindy is a shy woman on meds who works at a cubical job at her aunt’s company. Her parents had high hopes for her when she published a kids’ book at age 8, but now she’s fallen on hard times and can barely take care of herself. At work she encounters Armen, a much younger man, with a strange condition. When he falls into a deep sleep he can walk, eat, use the bathroom — perhaps even drive a car. All with no memory of anything he does. Armen may be just the sort of boyfriend Cindy needs. Talk about a dysfunctional cast---Knickoy-RobinsonBackrelationship; he doesn’t even know who she is. And neither of them realizes theres a criminal conspiracy going on all around them. Will they ever meet for real? Or will they forever be separated by a nocturnal divide? Nocturne-Poster-Small-SizeNocturne is the name of an unusual, new Canadian movie showing in Toronto as part of the Canadian Film Fest. It was co-written and directed by Saul Pincus and stars Mary Krohnert as Cindy and Knickoy Robinson as the sleepwalking Armen. I spoke to Saul and Knickoy in Toronto. They talked about Australia,  introversion vs extroversion, film editing, acting, consciousness, souvlaki, sleepwalking, “blindness”, animation, dreaming, Niagara Falls, Toronto, co-writer Mitch Magonet, international appeal… and more! Nocturne premiers at the Canadian Film Fest on Saturday, March 28th at 6 pm.

The price of dreams. Movies reviewed: Foxcatcher, Heartbeat

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Mental Illness, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Sports by CulturalMining.com on November 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.

A movie can warm your heart or chill your spine. This week I’m looking at one of each. There’s a heavy American drama about a wrestler who learns fame and fortune comes with a price; and a light Canadian drama about a musician who learns that giving up her dreams may not be the best solution.

FOXCATCHERFoxcatcher (based on a true story)
Dir: Bennett Miller

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is a champion wrestler. He and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffallo) both won Olympic gold at the 1984 games in LA. But while his older brother has settled down to a nice family life, Mark is still just scraping by. He plays second-fiddle when his brother can’t make it to low-rent speeches. He lives in a depressing worldFOXCATCHER of peeling paint, empty gyms, fluorescent lights and crushing debt.

So when reclusive zillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites him to train at his vast country estate he is puzzled, but goes to check it out. Middle-class Mark is in awe of the money and power he’s exposed to. And he likes the chance of being his own man, not just under his older brother’s shadow. So he signs up. The estate is called Foxcatcher, because it’s where the aristocratic du Ponts still go fox hunting. And it’s controlled by the elderly, but formidable, matriarch Jean (Vanessa Redgrave in a fantastic performance). Civilized people shoot foxes; plebes wrestle. John, though, doesn’t like horses, or his mother. He sees himself as a coach, and FOXCATCHERwants to be known as a winner, not a sclerotic, talentless 10th generation chemical heir. So, to bolster his claim, Dupont hires a whole bevy of wrestler-type yes-men to train alongside Mark Schultz. But Mark’s life is changing, too. In a series of creepy but funny scenes he gradually morphs from ordinary wrestler to kept boy within a rich sultan’s harem.

So to ground himself, Mark decides he needs his brother Dave there to coach him, and live and train at Foxcatcher. This upsets the insecure and increasingly nutty John’s plans to be alpha male in his tiny world. Will this rivalry lead to an ultimate showdown?

Foxcatcher is getting a lot of attention, but for the life of me, I don’t know why. The director is heavy FOXCATCHERhanded, constantly drawing attention to his style – which is slow-moving, flat, and anodyne. It’s a bland, two-and-a-half-hour movie about a creepy but insecure rich guy and a wrestler. Followed by a very intense final three minutes.  It’s beautifully shot, with nice music. And Tatum is great as the wrestler, with Rufallo  good in his supporting role. But I’m baffled by all the attention given to comedian Carell, with his aging makeup and prostheses. All he does is speak s-l-o-w-l-y and without emotion. Creepy, yes, but great acting? I don’t think so.

But despite the fact that it’s way too long, weird, and not particularly interesting, I can’t say this is a dreadful movie, just one I didn’t like. And wouldn’t wish on you.

31f23bf8-ffc1-449f-a905-2a79e2ad7c02Heartbeat
Dir: Andrea Dorfman

Justine (Tanya Davis) is a creative soul trapped in a boring cubicle job in Halifax. She lives in her late grandmother’s house, and though still a young woman, dresses like a retired pensioner in old-school dresses, plastic glasses and a brutal haircut. She gave up her musical ambitions when she fainted on stage. Meanwhile, her social life is falling apart. She still sleeps with her ex-boyfriend Ben since he dumped her, but she has to keep it undercover. Ben’s an artist (Stewart Legere) and doesn’t want 47487869-9e61-491f-8ea9-57de7bc57d42anyone to know. Her best friend is married now and only wants to talk about their new baby. And the boss at work uses her as a sounding board for the minutiae of suburban life. But what about Justine?

Then one day she happens upon a woman named Ruby (Stephanie Clattenburg) jamming in the window of her favourite music store. There’s a musical attraction. And 0add1c3a-49d3-4e28-8867-b9e8402ff442maybe something more. In the dark of night, with no-one but the two of them around to hear, she picks up her guitar. She finds she can play her beautiful tunes for Ruby, and they jam. Ruby is pretty, sexy and street smart. Justine’s ex has relocated to some distant place, sending her clues he paints on paper postcards. So she is finally motivated to Esty-fy her wardrobe and Arts-and-Crafts her love life.

Exploring Ruby’s world, she finds shared houses, pop-up bands, and cool people. And some unexpected sex… But are they a thing now? Or just a moment’s fancy? Will she ever see Ben again? Is she a musician now? And can she embrace a new future?ba520a3e-8537-4d4d-9d3d-1d35f0b9787d

Heartbeat is a wonderful, low-budget Canadian film. When I say low-budget, I mean even bicycle crashes happen off camera – can’t afford the stuntmen! Instead the money is put into pretty camerawork, great music, and unexpectedly lovely animation that spring from Justine’s thoughts and daydreams. The acting is touching and real and the characters work well together. Director Andrea Dorfman is especially good at inserting assorted ethnicities, transgenders and sexualities without comment, without ever pointing it out to win extra points. They just are.

Heartbeats starts slowly but toasts like a marshmallow on a stick, ending up strangely shaped, but crispy, gooey, warm and delicious.

Foxcatcher and Heartbeat both played at TIFF this year and 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

Tricksters. Movies Reviewed: Let’s Be Cops, Magic in the Moonlight

Posted in Action, comedy, Cultural Mining, France, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on August 1, 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.

Is a simple change of clothes enough to convince a casual observer you are someone you’re not? Can a thump on a table at a seance make people think you can talk with the dead?

This week I’m looking at two movies about fraudsters, tricksters, and those who want to expose them.

There’s an action/comedy about two ordinary guys in LA who disguise themselves as cops; and a comedy about a magician in the Cote d’Azur who wants to unveil a false psychic.

lets be cops affiche 1545916_864025440291520_7986492045948420855_nLet’s Be Cops
Dir: Luke Greenfield

Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson (from New Girl with Zooey Deschanel) play best buds and roommates living in LA. They like karaoke and nightclubs but they get snubbed by women, disrespected by tough gangster types, and made to stand in long line-ups. They went to the same college, joined the same frat, and left Ohio with big ambitions. But O’Malley’s (Johnson) pro football career tanked before it started. Now he’s a kids’ football coach.

Damon’s character is doing a bit better – he’s following his passion: video game design. He puts together an elaborate pitch to his work team about his latest project, a police-action-type game. But they trash it before they even play with it. “You need zombies” they tell him. He goes home with his tail between his legs, lets be cops, wayans, johnson 10275539_890798457614218_681345999746128683_ocarrying the pair of police uniforms he had planned to use in his pitch.

But he finds a good use for them after all. The two of them wear the uniforms to a costume party that night. And, to their amazement, on their way home, they are mistaken for the real thing. This being LA, immediately a parade of beautiful women ogle them and then smother them with hugs and kisses, because, well, they’re cops.

They also get the respect they miss in their real lives. Strangers listen to them and do what they say. They can walk to the front of the line of any nightclub. And, at the diner they frequent, the cute waitress (Nina Dobrev) suddenly says she likes “Chang” (that’s the name on Damon’s police uniform, and the one he goes by for most of the movie). Their scam starts to escalate. Damon wants to call it quits – it’s totally against the law to impersonate a cop. But O’Malley doesn’t see it that way – he takes it all very seriously. He gets hold of a police car, and starts studying official codes and techniques on-line. Soon enough, they’re behaving like real cops.

Lets be Cops 10543517_886078598086204_5874267812085220254_oThey go doubly undercover – now they’re civilians disguised as police disguised as civilians. They become in involved with real police work, alongside local police (Rob Riggle) who take their outfits at face value. Will their plans fall apart when they face real danger, and organized crime? And will Chang’s budding love affair fall apart if his girlfriend ever finds out he’s not a cop?

I thought this movie was a lot of fun. It started as a one-joke comedy – Let’s be Cops, but it gets carried through quite nicely, turning into a good action flick along the way. Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. are really funny (except for the offensive Chinese accent) keeping their characters believable without overly mugging to the camera. I liked this movie.

Magic in the Moonlight
Wri/Dir: Woody Allen

Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics 99d6670f-43c4-439a-8115-c5f4401e534cIt’s the late 1920’s (before the Great Depression). Stanley (Colin Firth) is a professional magician, touring continental Europe. He performs in a riot of chinoiserie under the stage name Wei-ling Soo. He makes elephants disappear and saws women in half. He’s also a rude and snobby egotist. So sure is he of his expertise, that he will gladly debunk any mystic he encounters. So he gladly takes up on a friend’s offer of a vacation in the south of France. Once there, he promises to expose a young psychic operating out of a villa owned by millionaire American industrialists.

But he is surprised to meet the adorable Sophie (Emma Stone), a plain-spoken and pretty young woman from Wisconsin. She doesn’t seem like a charlatan; just a simple girl who falls into momentary fogs… and comes back with uncanny visions. Even Stanley is surprised by how much she knows about him.

He still vows to expose her. But during a séance he is shocked to see what appears to be _DSF0054.RAFreal magic: a floating candle with no strings attached. How does she do it? he wonders. His beliefs are further called into question when they visit his maiden aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) at her villa in Provence.

Meanwhile, Sophie is being wooed, relentlessly, by the heir to a fortune. Brice (Hamish Linklater) plays the ukulele and croons off key to Sophie, telling her if she marries him she’ll live in luxury. He is young, handsome and loaded. The much older Stanley is already engaged to a upper-class, educated Englishwoman. And yet, despite their adversarial stance – of a psychic and a magician sworn to expose her tricks — there seems to be an attraction growing between Stanley and Sophie. And when they are caught in a rainstorm on a country road, they share an intimate DSCF9804.RAFconversation by moonlight. But can it last? And will it stand up to scrutiny?

Magic in Moonlight is just delightful. It’s the first of a long stream of annoying movies Woody Allen made in Europe that actually works. Well-written, perfectly executed, great acting, beautiful scenery and period costumes, nice music… And Colin Firth and Emma Stone have great chemistry. It’s not a deep movie with any subtle subtext, but it is a very cute romantic comedy, in the best sense of the word.

Magic in the Moonlight starts today, and Let’s Be Cops opens in Toronto on August 13th. Check your local listings. Also look out for An Honest Liar, a wonderful documentary about another magician who exposes fake psychics. It’s playing at the HotDocs theatre in a week. And Toronto’s Palestinian Film Festival has an outdoor screening and party in Christie Pits on August 8th. Go to TPFF.ca for details.

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

Stars. Movies Reviewed: A Most Wanted Man, And So It Goes PLUS TIFF 14

Posted in CIA, comedy, Cultural Mining, Germany, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Thriller by CulturalMining.com on July 24, 2014

TIFF14 Press Launch Piers Handling and Cameron BaileyHi, 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.

TIFF announced some of this year’s films to watch out for at a press conference this week. While many of them are blatant Oscar-bait, a few look promising. Lone Schiffrin directs The Riot Club, a story of Oxford toffs – upper-class university students with money, power and prestige – who try to get away with something really bad. Chinese director Zhang Yimou brings us Coming Home, about a relationship torn apart during the Cultural Revolution. German director Christian Petzold’s tries his hand at a post-holocaust, mysterious drama starring his leading lady Nina Hoss. And many more.

So, in deference to the upcoming red carpets, I’m looking at two movies filled with stars. One’s an American rom-com about retired baby boomers; the other’s a thriller set in Hamburg about spies and the War on Terror.

Most Wanted Man Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin courtesy EOne films canadaA Most Wanted Man
Dir: Anton Corbijn (based on the novel by John le Carré)

Hamburg is a huge European port city, where sailors explore shwarma stands and sex shops. It’s where the Beatles played in the early 60s. And it’s where Muhammad Atta, one of the presumed 9/11 conspirators, is said to have joined al-Qaeda. Now it’s a hotspot for American black-ops, surveillance and spies.

So when an unidentified bearded stowaway in a hoodie is spotted arriving by boat, intelligence goes on high alert. Who is he? What is he there for?

Turns out, his name is Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin), the son of a Chechen mother and a Russian military father. He is rescued by a kindly local family and a refugee lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams). He carries no ID except a priceless document – a letter from his dead father to a Hamburg bank. Annabel offers her help – she’ll show it to the bank’s CEO (Willem Defoe) to get Issa back on his feet.

But that could involve a large amount of money. The spies all panic. Is he a terrorist? A lone Most Wanted Man Phillip Seymour Hoffman  courtesy EOne films canadawolf? The intelligence crews swoop down, ready to bring him in. But Annabel manages – for now at least — to keep Issa safe from the team that tries to kidnap him.

Chief among the spies is Gunther (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles) a street-level agent who cultivates local informants. He talks like Winston Churchill nursing a hangover. He tells the American spies and German police not to bring Issa in. Gunther has bigger fish to fry. If they let him expand his mission he promises to bring down an international terrorist financial network. But is Issa really a terrorist? Where did that banker get the money? Can Gunther be trusted? And which spy organization is really pulling those strings?

A most wanted man is a fascinating spy flick. Like most le Carre novels, it has a complicated, and initially confusing plot, involving many players with conflicting motives. It’s this moral ambiguity – who are the bad guys, who are the good guys – that make it so realistic and satisfying. The movie is loaded with European actors: Germans Nina Hoss (star of Christian Petzold’s films) and Daniel Bruhl are almost wasted in their side roles. Russian Grigory Dobrygin is compelling as the presumed terrorist with the secret past. And Hoffman goes out with a bang – he will be missed.

A most Wanted Man is shot in a gritty urban style, filled with heavy industry, shipping containers, and abandoned warehouses.

I like the action and the thrilling plot. But even more I like the sense of unease the movie leaves you with, with its dark, depressing portrayal of excessive surveillance.

VVS_ASIG_poster.inddAnd So it Goes
Dir: Rob Reiner

Oren Little (Michael Douglas) is a retired real estate dealer who lives in a cute rustic home. He calls it his Little Shangri La, but for his tenants who share the building, it’s no paradise. He’s a cranky old man who seems to take pleasure in terrorizing small children, shooting stray dogs with paint guns and stealing parking spaces from pregnant women. He’s a nasty old coot. Apparently he used to be an all-right guy… until his wife died. Now he’s nobody’s friend.

He’s trying to sell his family mansion for eight million dollars – not six! – so he can move away, but keeps alienating potential buyers with snarky attitude. And suddenly someone appears to upset his apple cart. It’s his estranged, middle aged son. Dad hasn’t seen him since the boy was a junky. Now he’s a middle aged man about to serve time in prison for some unknown crime. And the son has a cute, 10-year-old daughter Sarah (Sterling Jerrins) that he wants his Dad to take care of.

Selfish Oren wants nothing to do with the kid. He dumps her on his neighbour Leah (Diane ASIG_03862.NEFKeaton) in the adjoining apartment. Leah is an underemployed lounge singer. She is as nice as Oren is mean – and she needs the money – so she agrees. Then thing start to change: despite their initial rocky start, Oren and Leah find they have something in common – could it be love? And will the adorable little granddaughter melt her cruel grandpa’s heart?

I wasn’t crazy about this movie. The father runs into trouble searching his son’s friends and the kid’s mother. They’re.. poor! (Which ASIG_02615.NEFmeans they’re all ugly, dirty, drug addicts.) Not like the nice, rich people he wants to talk to. It also tries for laughs with Oren’s racist remarks, but assumes the audience is familiar with his ethnic stereotypes. (I honestly didn’t get these “jokes”. Are Latinos in the US assumed to be gardeners?)

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton seem to be playing slightly exaggerated versions of themselves: arrogant ass meets flibberty-gibbets. It’s not that this is a terrible movie, it’s more just disappointing that the director who has chronicled American baby boomers for decades, should fall back to weak rom-coms rather than gems like Spinal Tap, Misery and Princess Bride.

A Most Wanted Man and And So It Goes open today. Check your local listings.

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

Daniel Garber speaks with Aram Rappaport about his new film Syrup

Posted in Advertising, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Suspicion, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on July 12, 2013

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

Next time you take a sip of pop or juice or an energy drink, think for a second:
Are you drinking something you like? Or is it something you’ve been told you like?

Well, there’s a new movie, a comedy/drama called SYRUP, that says marketing and brand names  are all that matter. The main character is a young guy who calls himself “Scat” (Shiloh Fernandez), who comes up with an idea for a new drink. He thinks it will make him millions of dollars… if he can convince a company to buy it.

But all he has is the name.

Aram Rappaport speaks to me by telephone from Chicago to tell us about his brash, funny, fast-moving film SYRUP that opens today in Toronto. (July 12, 2013)

Shiloh Fernandez and Amber Heard in SYRUP, a Magnolia Pictures release

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