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

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

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

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

The Square

Dir: Ruben Östlund

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

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

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

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

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

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

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

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Anti-heroines. Films reviewed: The Bride Wore Black, Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, drugs, France, Satire, Sex, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 22, 2016

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

Anti-heroes aren’t hard to find. They’re in films, novels, and comic books: Hell Boy, Travis Bickle, or the characters in any private eye or crime novel.

But what about anti-heroes who are women? They’re a much rarer bird.  This week I’m looking at two movies about anti-heroines. There’s a British comedy about two women who like to add names to their lists; and a French mystery/thriller about a woman who wants to cross names off her list.

k5g3GX_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(1)_o3_9008002_1463581922The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Dir: François Truffaut

Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) is a pretty young woman dressed in black. She should be happy after her recent wedding, but she’s not. Something went wrong and she’s depressed. Jump-out-the-window depressed. When her repeated suicide attempts are thwarted, she sets of on a journey. She leaves with just a small suitcase and a list of five names: Bliss, Coral, Fergus, Morane and Delvaux. Who are these people, what do they have in common and and why does she want to meet them?

It turns out they are all men, all strangers – she’s never met them, nor they GZAlL0_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(2)_o3_9008019_1463581938her. They live in different places across France, and work at wildly different jobs. Nothing seems to connect them.

Julie sets out on her mysterious mission. Her first stop? The handsome young playboy named Bliss (Claude Rich). She leaves him flowers and messages. Bliss is intrigued – he wants to meet this mysterious woman, described as beautiful by the man at the front desk. He’s about to get married but figures there’s always a chance for another notch in his bedpost. But things don’t go exactly as planned. He’s in for a big shock.

3l3A4Q_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(3)_o3_9008036_1463581955She crosses his name off her secret list and heads off to meet Coral, a lonely, petty office worker (Michel Bouquet). He lives a solitary, depressing life, marking his liquor bottles in case his nosy landlady takes a nip while he’s away. Julie meets him at a concert and joins him in his bleak rented room. He thinks his success with women is finally changing. It is, but not in the way he expects.

There’s Delvaux, a shady gangster who works in a junkyard, heading out to commit a crime. And Morane, a successful, married man with a son. She sends his wife off on a fake emergency, then talks her way into his home by r0p3J6_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(5)_o3_9008053_1463581972-1convincing him she’s her boy’s schoolteacher, despite the kid’s denials.

Her most difficult case is Fergus, a successful artist (Charles Denner). She becomes the live model for a painting he’s working on, of a naked woman holding a bow and arrow. He’s sure he knows her, but he can’t put his finger on it.

Who are these men? What do they have in common? Why does Julie want to meet them? Is it love, revenge, or bloodlust?

The Bride Wore Black is a fantastic mystery from 1968, Truffaut’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock. He filmed this right after publishing his famous book of interviews (I spoke about last week) called Hitchcock/ Truffaut. The directing and editing were done in Hitchcock’s spare style. (He doesn’t explain the backstory — it;s up to the viewers to figure out). He even hired Hitchcock’s favourite composer Bernard Herrmann to write the soundtrack, and based the story on a book by crime writer Cornell Woolrich. (He wrote the story for Hitchcock’s Rear Window.) And it’s playing as part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective.

poster-5d6aba16-89fb-4c21-9522-c72b4400b08fAbsolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Dir: Mandie Fletcher

Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is a rich Londoner who lives an all-female life. She works in the woman-dominated world of publicity, specifically fashion PR. She lives with her widowed Mum (June Whitfield), her single daughter Saffie (Julia Sawalha), and her granddaughter, Lola. And works with her image-000db0be-cf0c-4353-8ea0-263ab056dc88eccentric Lancashire assistant Bubble (Jane Horrock) who handles the day-to-day. But she spends most of her time with her best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley).

Eddie and Patsy are different from most people. Self-centred hedonists, they don’t think about ordinary things like food or money. (they don’t even know image-23942a8e-0eb7-4983-b5c7-79cc20513621what that is) Life is one long party, followed by a perpetual hangover. They subsist on cigarettes, drugs, champagne and vodka straight out of the bottle. Self-conscious Eddie always worries about her weight, while Patsy remains rail thin. She’s always ready for a roll in the hay image-e6b11d90-7ced-46f1-be55-479cead8e497with any man between 15 and 90… she’s not picky.

At home, plain Saffy acts like the de facto mother, worrying about money and manners and responsibility, and disapproving of Eddie’s lifestyle. Eddie longs to be loved, but acts like an irresponsible whiney, spoiled teenager. Patsy is the bad friend who always leads Eddie into trouble. The two of them are the epitome of baby-bomer excess without any conscience.

image-89a42b4b-2109-492a-b83f-de88ca9bafc3But life is good. Money seems to appear magically in Eddie’s bank accounts (from her ex-husbands). Until now. Suddenly, the champagne supply goes dry, the bank accounts are empty, and Eddie has no new clients. They have to find someone to represent. But in a frenzy to sign a supermodel, Eddie accidentally pushes Kate Moss off a balcony into the river Thames. She’s a murderer!

Patsy and Eddie are on the lam. They flee to the French Riviera, to find a billionaire for Patsy to marry. If the police don’t find them first….image-af3828a6-2eaa-4752-9d61-53ea36968024

Absolutely Fabulous (aka AbFab) is based on the cult British sitcom from the mid 1990s. Created by the famous comedy team French and Saunders it portrayed women, for the first time, as aggressive, selfish, trend-obsessed, politically-incorrect characters. They are hilarious and shocking in their audacity.

image-09f72258-ef68-459c-b6e1-cd33570fc6e7The movie continues where the TV show left off, and the actors — especially Saunders and Lumley — are all flawless in their timing. The movie is packed with celebrity cameos so it could be compared to Zoolander 2, but that would be an injustice — this one is much, much better. Not every joke is funny, the TV laugh track is missing, and it’s a shock to see these TV faces 30-feet-high on a movie screen.

But it’s still as funny as it ever was.

For more anti-heroines, you can catch the classic Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! presented by the Retropath and Ladies of Burlesque at the Royal Cinema. Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Bride Wore Black is screening next Thursday as part of Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions series playing at TIFF Cinematheque. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Apichatpong Weerasathakul about Cemetery of Splendour at #TIFF15

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, Dreams, Folktale, Psychology, Satire, Thailand by CulturalMining.com on March 11, 2016

Apichatpong Weerasathakul1Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s present-day Northern Thailand, near the Lao border. Thai soldiers digging up the grounds of a school are all struck with a mysterious Tropical Malady: a sleeping sickness. Laid out in beds in a makeshift hospital on the site, they are cared for by a housewife and a young medium. By reading the soldier’s unconscious minds they discover  this building was built on ruins of an ancient palace — also the site of great battles. And from the dreams of the sleeping soldier named Itt, via AnXGy9_CEMETERYOFSPLENDOUR__06_o3_8915159_1450196114the medium Keng, Jen is guided through an invisible palace and a splendid cemetery.

Cemetery of Splendour is the latest film by master Thai Director Apichatpong Weerasathakul and it’s his funniest and greatest movie so far. It’s also his most accessible. It is filled lOkoZ1_CEMETERYOFSPLENDOUR__01_o3_8915047_1450196097with strange images — like glowing sticks intruding in people’s thoughts, an invisible palace, and goddesses who still wander their ancestral realms. It’s also a trenchant criticism of contemporary Thailand, which is currently under military rule. I spoke with Apichatpong Weerasathakul on site at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Cemetery of Splendour opens today (March 11th, 2016) in Toronto.

Photo by Jeff Harris

Canada’s Top Ten. Closet Monster, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bullying, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Gay, Politics, Quebec, Satire by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2016

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

It’s New Year’s Day, a good time to look back over the past year. Canada’s Top Ten — running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 8th to 17th — offers a selection of ten movies over ten days for ten bucks a pop. So this week, I’m looking at two of those movies: a coming of age drama from Newfoundland about a gay teenager yearning to spread his wings and fly; and a comedy from Quebec about a newly-empowered politician who dreads leaving the ground. And afterwards, I’ll give you my favourite films of the 2015.

98Y9QD_closetmonster_03_o3_8698586_1438737352Closet Monster

Wri/Dir: Stephen Dunn

Oscar is a little boy in Newfoundland, whose head is filled with strange voices and nightmares during the day, and his bed is full of scary nightmares at night. He depends on his story-telling dad Peter (Aaron Abrams) to banish the bad thoughts. But two things happen. First, on the same day he discovers he’s gay, he witnesses a terrible incident in a cemetery near his school. A kid is beaten up, impaled,  and left to die. But Oscar’s obsession with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer leads him to internalize the violence and permanently tie it to his newly discovered sexuality. Now gay means dealing with X6pQL5_closetmonster_04_o3_8698631_1438737343supernatural monsters and death and vampires, so he banishes it all to a metaphoric; closet. Around the same time, his parents begin to fight. His mom moves out leaving the boy with his dad… who is losing it. Now Oscar only has his talking hamster Buffy (Isabella Rosselini) to turn to for advice.

Flash forward a few years. Oscar (Connor Jessup, Blackbird) is in high school now and getting ready for University. where he wants to study movie make-up design. He spends most of his time in his secret Buffy-verse, a world of monsters he has created inside his backyard treehouse. It’s a place where people grow horns, he practices his make-up, and a place where he hangs out with a sort-of girlfriend named Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). But he really has his eyes on Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) a guy he 8qK3q3_closetmonster_01_o3_8698541_1438737331works with at a big box store. But as things start to go wrong and his life begins to unravel he realizes now’s the time to make the big decisions in his life. This culminates in a big costume and makeup party.

Can Oscar escape his very real inner demons, embrace his sexuality, come out to his neglectful mother and homophobic father, find live at work and pursue his dreams of creating monsters for the movies?

I liked this movie. It’s wonderfully imaginative with leaps of faith and new things all around. Even so, the script and the acting is uneven, ranging from the superb to moments of dialogue so jaw-droppingly wooden you wish they had never made it to the screen.  Still, this first-time director’s look at sexuality shown through a supernatural lens — played out in a Newfoundland setting — offers an unusual take on an old story.

qjp892_myinternship_01_o3_8889108_1449615288Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (My Internship in Canada)

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Felardeau

Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus) is a highly-educated young man from Port au Prince, Haiti. He is well-versed in the writings of Rousseau and de Tocqueville, but wants to experience real democracy first hand. So he arrives in northern Quebec, at an office above a lingerie store, to start his internship. MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a former hockey player who cares little about politics science. He’s also an independent, free from party 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_opolitics. He divides his time cutting ribbons, listening to local complaints, and mediating disputes between Algonquin First Nations and the small town miners and lumberjacks who get in their way. And he drives everywhere he goes because of a pathological fear of flying.

He lives with his conservative wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) who owns a nursery. and his neglected lefty daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) who wants to move to Denmark. And Souverain fits right in, passing on sage political advice to the 12113292_1650759721828727_4678384698342888006_ohapless Steve.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, which holds a slight majority, decides it wants to go to war in the Middle East, while the opposition parties want to stay away. Everything is going smoothly until Steve suddenly finds himself at the centre of things when a Conservative backbencher is rushed to hospital, and 11825648_1629299423974757_2831573805500131430_nwon’t be well in time for the vote. Souverain, meanwhile is observing everything, and secretly skyping back to large crowds in Port au Prince. And, through his his Machiavellian manoeuvres and machinations, he steers Steve on the path of direct democracy. He sets up local meetings so the people can decide whether or not to go to war. His wife is adamantly in favour, and his daughter steadfastly opposed. But as his story gains national attention, the competing parties zoom in to try to win him over. Can Souverain help Steve solve this Cornellian dilemma without alienating either his wife or his daughter? And can democracy flourish in northern Quebec?

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a genuinely funny look at Canadian politics, one of the first movies like this I’ve ever seen. Acting is great all around, and the story has lots of surprises, including a quintessentially Canadian journey to Ottawa. Great fun.

And finally, here are some movies I really liked in 2015: (coming soon!)

Closet Monster and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (also known as My Internship in Canada) are playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Novelty. Movies reviewed: Live from New York, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Movies, Satire, Sweden, TV, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 11, 2015

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

Part of what makes a movie enjoyable is its unpredictability. It has to deliver lots of shocks, laughs and new images to keep the audience watching. So this week I’m looking at three films with increasing degrees of novelty. There’s a documentary about a once-novel TV comedy show; a quirky, high school dramedy based on a novel; and a truly bizarre Scandinavian fantasy about novelty salesmen.

LIVEFROMNEWYORK!_(PHOTO+COURTESY+OF+EDIE+BASKIN)-4Live From New York
Dir: Bao Nguyen

Saturday Night Live was created 40 years ago by Canadian producer Lorne Michaels as a late-night music and comedy show appealing to the baby boomers. Michaels chose the variety show format, a dying television genre. But unlike most variety shows, the show had a different host each week, supported by a cast of unknown comics called the Not Ready For Prime Time Players, presumably for their adult themes and because the show aired live around midnight each Saturday night.

So far, the show has lasted 40 years, coining countless catch phrases, LIVEFROMNEWYORK!_(PHOTO+COURTESY+OF+EDIE+BASKIN)-5spawning movie stars and way too many terrible films. But is Saturday Night Live actually funny? Not really. (Is it sacrilege to say this?) Its laugh-to-groan ratio is low. And it’s infamous for stretching a single joke over a long drawn-out scene. And if it gets enough laughs, they repeat variations of the same joke, week after week.

This film is a less of a documentary than a hagiographic tribute to the show. It conveniently leaves out the uncomfortable deaths and ODs that have plagued some of the show’s stars. Does that mean the movie is boring? No, just the opposite. In fact, it’s the best way to appreciate SNL — as an anthology of its funniest lines… with all the bad parts cut out.

11258021_1071223622891348_2358076739079178040_oMe and Earl and the Dying Girl
Dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (based on the novel by Jesse Andrews)

Greg (Thomas Mann) is a shy high school senior in Pittsburg, PA. He doesn’t like school but has learned to navigate the halls without disrupting anything. His dad is a foodie- hippy, prone to lounging around at home in embroidered burlap caftans. Each day he sends Greg to school carrying iron cauldrons of Romanian organ-meat stews stashed in paper bags. Luckily, he can eat them with his best friend, Earl, in Mr McCarthy (a beat poet English teacher)’s 11113319_1071223669558010_2264475725501551061_ooffice. He’s known Earl (R.J. Cyler) since kindergarten. Greg us middle-class white; Earl is black and lives in a rundown part of town. Together they regularly plunder Greg’s Dad’s collection of criterion DVDs as raw material for the film parodies they create (Goddard, Herzog and Bergman).

11233601_1071223656224678_7242156405292471071_oSo Greg’s life is offbeat but normal until his mom throws a wrench into it. A neighbor, Rachel (Olivia Cook) has leukemia and greg is drafted to keep her company. So begins their initially awkward but increasingly deep relationship. Soon Greg and Earl are enlisted to direct their filmmaking skills toward a tribute to Rachel. But when Greg realizes 11270260_1071223586224685_1082857646675967953_othat what he does for fun could have real-life consequences… he panics.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a self-consciously off-beat movie. The adults – like the kids — are all given quirks: Beat Poet Teacher (Jon Bernthal), Hippy Dad (Nick Offerman), Rachel’s alcoholic single mom (Molly Shannon). But it’s the kids who carry the show, especially Thomas Mann as the everynerd. Though the film seems overly mannered, it’s still very funny. I fell for its humour, its plot and characters. It’s definitely a YA story but it appeals to all ages.

nZ7R77_pigeonsatonabranch_01_LEAD_o3_8613849_1432133049

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At somepgBZLV_pigeonsatonabranch_02_o3_8613895_1432133077 point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. (Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.)

76Y9Jy_pigeonsatonabranch_03_o3_8613940_1432133035Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, in a Teutonic, 1920s realist style. The actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. But what does the title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” mean? You (the viewer) are a pigeon observing humanity, with all its violence and sadness, but  unable to do anything about it. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable. You’ve got to see it – it’s a great movie… and one with high marks on the novelty scale!

Live from New York played last night at Cineplex, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl And A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Contemplating Humanity 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.

Off the Beaten Track. Movies Reviewed: Serena, Gemma Bovery, Corner Gas: the Movie

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Books, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Horses, Movies, Satire by CulturalMining.com on December 5, 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.

Urban life getting you down? Here are three movies set in small towns. A gothic drama in the Smoky Mountains of Carolina; a comedy in a Saskatchewan town where there’s not a whole lot going on; and a comic drama in Normandy… with a literary twist.

67934-SERENA_D1-190_R_CROPSerena
Dir: Susanne Bier

George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is a lumber baron in the roaring 20s. He’s also a big-game hunter, searching for the elusive panther. He dreams of clear-cutting the smoky mountains of North Carolina, and, with the profits, expanding into the rain forests of Brazil. But he’s a good guy — you can tell because he chops his own wood and saves his workers’ lives. There would be no SERENA_D11-2819.CR2problems at all, if it weren’t for those meddling government types. They want to make it into a national park, just because of its breathtaking scenic beauty, and the rare flora and fauna living in those foggy, tree-covered mountains.

But everything changes when he spots a blonde woman at a horse show. Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) is a strong and independent woman from out west and born to the wood. Beautiful, glamorous and tough as nails, she’s as comfortable in an evening gown as she is on horseback. She can SERENA_D18-4906._R_CROPjpgkill a rattler with an axe from across a field and is handy with a rifle. He proposes on the spot and makes her a full partner in his business… to the chagrin of his male colleagues. But Wall Street crashes and tough times follow. Things start to fray at the edges. There’s Galloway (Rhys Ifans) a sketchy ex-con with “the sight”: Serena once appeared in a vision so he’ll protect her to the death. And there’s talk George might have an illegitimate son in the village. And his partners are losing faith in the business. Can Serena and George find happiness in a lumber camp? Or will it drag them into a spiral of jealousy, revenge and madness?

Susanne Bier is a well-known Danish director, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence scored in two big hits: Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle. Is this three for the win? Not a chance. It’s a clunky potboiler with a confusing and messy story, and extremely uneven acting. Lawrence plays it to the hilt as a deranged, screeching devil-woman, while Cooper sticks to the single-emotion style of acting. Whether it’s shock, lust, anger, or bewilderment, he just stares off into space with his mouth slightly open. Serena is not awful, it kept me watching and interested, but it’s just not very good.

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineGemma Bovery
Dir: Anne Fontaine

Martin (Fabrice Luchini) is an intellectual from Paris. He moves to small-town Normandy, near Rouen, to take over his dad’s bakery. He likes kneading dough and pondering great literature. His wife is a world-weary realist, and his teenaged son prefers Call of Duty to French culture. But dad’s thoughts are still filled with the 19th century novels of Flaubert. So imagine his surprise when a young English couple that moves into the dilapidated house next door, shares the names of the characters in Madame Bovery! Down-to-earth Charles repairs furniture, while his bored wife Gemma (Gemma Atherton) decorates homes with trompe d’oeil to make them appear older. And just like Madame Bovery, she craves a more exciting GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne Fontainelife.

Martin, though, knows the book well and feels he can predict every thought they will have and every word they will say. Soon enough, he sees her making eyes at the town rake, handsome Hervé (Niels Schneider: J’ai tué ma mère, Les amours imaginaires) a local squire living in a nearby castle. Don’t go with him, it can only lead to ruin! Martin thinks. In his mind he sees them in period costume, dancing in the ballroom. In reality, the quaint town, including the aristocracy, is crumbling all around him. Martin tries to manipulate the local characters – using secret methods – to save them from their novelistic fates. But will it work?

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineThe entire film is narrated, at times directly to the camera, by Martin himself. He takes us through the story, mainly to the various dinner parties, where people speak fractured English and French. He is especially incensed by a nouveau riche couple, an English/French marriage who see French culture as merely wine and Camembert.

Gemma Bovery is two movies in one. There’s Flaubert’s novel reenacted in Martin’s head, and there’s a satirical look at contemporary France. Because of the meta- aspects of the film, you don’t feel as deeply invested in the characters’ lives; you’re always a step away from what’s happening. But it more than makes up for that with its cleverness. And because it’s an Anne Fontaine movie, it carries that sensual, erotic tone she’s so good at.  And the actors, especially the beautiful Gemma Atherton, are a joy to watch. I like this movie.

CGTM_100_Brent Butt (as Brent Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieCorner Gas: The Movie
Dir: Brent Butt

If you’ve ever watched Canadian TV, you’re probably familiar with Dog River, Saskatchewan. It’s an uneventful prairie town known mainly for its gas station, its coffee shoCGTM_109_Fred Ewanuick (as Hank Yarbo). Photo by Steve Wilkiep, and its wise-cracking locals. There’s dry Brent at the gas station (Brent Butt), his dad and mum — cranky Oscar and rational Emma (Eric Peterson, Janet Wright), pretty Lacey at the coffee shop (Gabrielle Miller), and the local police. CGTM_113_Janet Wright (as Emma Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieThen there’s the incorrigible Hank (Fred Ewanuick) and the trickster Wanda (the very hilarious Nancy Robertson).

Nothing ever happens there, right? Wrong! To turn a sitcom into a feature film, you need an epic plot. In this film the town goes bankrupt, the people run amok, and Tim Horton’s starts sniffing at the real estate. Their only hope? A Toronto contest looking for the quaintest town in Canada. Can they pull it all together in time? Not bloody likely… it’s aCGTM_117_Nancy Robertson (as Wanda Dollard). Photo by Steve Wilkie comedy, folks.

Believe it or not, I only saw the TV show once. It felt too slow paced, so I couldn’t get into it. Clearly, I’m not one of its fans (who are legion). But the movie? It was surprisingly funny. There are corny parts and some gags fall flat of course, but on the whole the humour is clever, inventive, ironic… even subversive. And it does all this without any potty laughs, frat boy nudges, boobies, four-letter words, dumb blondes, racial and ethnic stereotypes or fat jokes. Not a small accomplishment.

So if you’re looking for Canadian humour, here it is, and then some.

spiceworld_imageGemma Bovery and Serena both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. And Corner Gas: the Movie is playing now through the weekend. Also in Toronto,  look out for the MUFF society — specializing in girl-tastic pics for women —  kicks off their monthly series with Spice World (yes, I do mean that Spice Girl movie) only at the Royal. And First to Fall – a documentary about two students in Canada who volunteered to fight with the rebels in Libya — is finally screening in Toronto, tonight at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  I interviewed the directors last summer.

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

Dark Humour at TIFF14. Films reviewed: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, The Editor, Wild Tales, Magical Girl

Posted in Argentina, Canada, comedy, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Satire, Spain, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 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.

It’s the final weekend at TIFF, with the hits rolling out…  There are amazing biopics, like The PHOENIXImitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing;  period romantic drama’s like Christian Petzold’s stunning Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss, and the dramatic drama from Ukraine called The Tribe — told entirely in sign-language, no subtitles! — about a boy at a school for the deaf who is pulled into a criminal gang. All fantastic films.

But these are all opening this fall, so I’d like to talk about the kind of festival movie that’s harder to categorize, harder to grasp. This week I’m going to look at the some unusual films from Sweden, Argentina, Canada and Spain. What do they have in common?  Dark humour, whether used ironically, absurdly or for its camp.

MjED0B__pigeonsatonabranch_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8264667__1406644686A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At some point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.

Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, maybe retro, maybe present day. the movie’s like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, and the actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. The title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” suggests the thoughts Roy Andersson imagined while viewing a diorama of a bird behind glass in a museum. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable – and it’s a comment on life, existence and man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously. You’ve got to see it – great movie, and it just won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival

ElZxkN__editor_01_o3__8277762__1407351475The Editor
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

It’s a dangerous time at a 1970s Italian movie studio. They’re shooting a sexy horror film, but someone keeps stabbing the stars. Luckily, Ciso, the one-handed, master film editor, is there to rework the scenes and save the footage. But Detective Porfiry thinks Ciso is the killer – and he’s gonna take him down once he finds the evidence. But he has to navigate round a suddenly blinded wife, devious movie stars, and a razor in a black-gloved hand. Oh yeah, and there’s the catholic priest warning him not to deal in the black arts or he might open the door to hell itself.

OK, that’s the barebones plot. But what The Editor really is, is a combination parody and homage to 70s-era Giallo movies – the sexy, bloody genre made by directors like Dario Argento. That means spooky music, gushing blood, dark shadows, screaming starlets, and blurry, soft-Wnwq44__editor_06_o3__8277930__1407351499core sex scenes. Throw in insanity, lust and suspicion, and you’re all set.

This parody goes out of its way to be authentic – things like characters who say lines, even though their lips aren’t moving.

This one had me laughing very loudly through much of the film, partly because it’s perfectly ridiculous. To say it’s full of gratuitous nudity and gore is like saying a musical is full of music. Of course there’s a lot of it, and in a normal movie it might be excessive, but in a movie like this, it’s not gratuitous, it’s essential to the genre. The movie stars the two directors in lead roles, blond Conor Sweeney as a sexually confused actor, and the marvellous Pas de la Huerta rounding off the cast. Made for drive-ins and Midnight madness. And to think they made it all in Winnipeg.

BgnDyY__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920Wild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douche in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. It starts with a small incident or conversation, but gradually escalates into something huge and potentially disastrous. Some of the characters are sympathetic, you can understand why they’re acting this way, even if you wouldn’t yourself. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot like hollywood features. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of amazing climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

P1MR0y_magicalgirl_03_o3_8343970_1408453081Magical Girl
Dir: Carlos Vermut

Luis, an out of work professor, is trying to take care of his young daughter. Alicia is into ramen, manga and anime. She says she and her friends go by Japanese names. But the girl is also dying of cancer. Luis will do anything for her. So in an effort to grant what he believes is her last wish, Luis decide to get her the dress the Magical Girl wears in her series. In desperation he decides to commit burglary, but is stopped by a strange coincidence that introduces her to Barbara (Barbara Lennie.)

Barbara is a beautiful woman married to a rich but domineering psychologist, who decides LgA62A_magicalgirl_01_o3_8348922_1408453230what she can do, who she can talk to and what meds to take. Luis ends up sleeping with her, but then turns to blackmail to get the money for his daughter’s dress. Now Barbara must decide whether or not to return to a previous secret life. But will that lead to unpredictable consequences both for her and Luis?

This is a combination comedy, tragedy and drama. It feels like an O Henry short story brought to the screen.The audience poured out of the theatre in droves as soon as it was over, because they all found it disturbing — it is disturbing. But in a disturbingly good way.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Editor, Wild Tales, and Magical Girl are all playing at TIFF through this weekend. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks to Bruce LaBruce about Skin Flicks, the film retrospective now playing at TIFF

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

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

Should homosexuality connote homogeneity?

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

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

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