Deep. Films reviewed: Destroyer, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening, Ratcatcher

Posted in 1970s, 1990s, African-Americans, Coming of Age, Crime, documentary, Kids, L.A., Scotland, Thriller, Uncategorized, violence, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 18, 2019

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

Tired of fantasy? How about some gritty realism? This week I’m looking at three deep, realistic movies — a documentary, a drama and a thriller — about working class characters living their lives. There are African Americans in the deep south, an LA detective in deep cover, and a young man in Glasgow knee-deep in trash.

Destroyer

Dir: Karyn Kusama

Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) used to be a young, pretty and ambitious uniformed cop in LA. Pulled from her division for an undercover operation, she was meant to infiltrate a notorious and deadly ring of bank robbers. She posed as a couple with Chris (Sebastian Stan) another cop which led to a relationship. And she made friends with the robbery team, including the sinister Silas (Toby Kebell) a long-haired man with a cruel streak a mile wide; and the friendly Petra (Tatiana Maslany).

But things didn’t go as planned. People died, and the thieves got away with bags of loot. Look at her now. She’s a burnt-out husk of her former self. Bell doesn’t walk, she staggers. Her lips are wrinkled, her hair looks like it was cut with garden shears and she talks like Jeff Bridges on a bad day. But when she finds evidence the robbers are at it again, she takes the law into her own hands. Will she stop the killers? Or will they destroy her first?

Destroyer is a fantastic crime thriller about an angry worn out cop on her quest for retribution. It keeps you glued to the screen, heart racing, as you try to figure out what’s going on. It’s told during three time periods, jumping back and forth between them, and as you watch it you constantly have to change your assumptions. No spoilers but there are some big shocks along the way. It’s very violent, though from a female point of view: men punching women, women strangling women, women attacking men. Not for the faint of heart. Nicole Kidman totally transforms herself – physically and emotionally – from the naive young woman into the hardboiled cop she ends up as.

Destroyer is a great LA crime thriller.

Hale County, This Morning, This Evening

Dir: RaMell Ross

Hale County, Alabama is in the deep, deep south. You can still find white-pillared mansions built on the backs of slave labour on cotton plantations. It’s named after a Confederate officer whose statue still stands. It’s also where the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr once sought refuge from the KKK. It’s a rural, mainly black area where people stay on with their daily lives: sports tournaments, childbirth, funerals. There’s a catfish factory, a school, a hospital and churches.

This fascinating documentary is a series of beautifully composed, very short – from five seconds to three minutes – and highly personal scenes. A woman tapping her thigh with a flyswatter, a man playing blues on an electric guitar. A baby learning to walk, fritters frying in a pan, kids drinking coca cola. We see teenaged boys talking in the basketball locker room, families baptized at a church, people hanging at a beauty salon or a bowling alley. Rolling clouds with electrical storms, the first drops of rain on the pavement, a deer caught in the headlights, and a solar eclipse. The filmmaker RaMell Ross who started photographing there when he moved to the town, records what’s going on all around him in an impressionistic collage of portraits, time lapse, and tableaux: a joyous celebration of African American life in rural Alabama.

This beautiful film is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature.

Ratcatcher (1999)

Wri/Dir Lynne Ramsay

It’s 1973 in Glasgow, Scotland. James (William Eadie) is a gawky lad with ears that stick out who lives with his working- class family in a crumbling flat.   His father (Tommy Flanagan) has a scar on his cheek from a fight, his mother (Mandy Matthews) has holes in her nylons. The yard outside is piled high with trash – the garbagemen are on strike – so the mice and rats are having a ball. James lives his life carefully, avoiding dangerous gangs of teenaged bullies who dominate the streets.

He sometimes visits a stagnant canal nearby, badly in need of a dredging. There he meets a much older and sexually active teenaged girl. The bullies have thrown her glasses in the water, but James doesn’t fish them out – perhaps he thinks he has a better chance if she can’t see him clearly? She seduces him, inviting him to spend the night. But the canal also brings him horrible feelings of guilt: a friend of his drowned there when they were fighting in the water.

One day, James jumps onto a bus and takes it to the end of the line where a new housing development is being built. It’s on the edge of the city, right where oatfields meet the streets. He explores the empty construction site – will this be his new home?

Ratcatcher is a slice-of-life, coming-of-age drama about life in an urban slum as seen through the eyes of a young man. The characters are mainly played by local residents, non-professional actors who bring a gritty realism to their roles. This is Lynne Ramsay’s first film (from 1999) and one I’ve always wanted to see, but never had a chance until now. You should, too. It’s a realistic and touching movie about hard times… but with an uplifting finish.

Destroyer is now playing in Toronto, Hale County, This Morning, This Evening opens tomorrow, and Rat Catcher plays next Thursday as part of the 1999 Millenial Movies program playing this month (until Feb 12) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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

New Places. Films reviewed: Sunset Song, Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash

Posted in 1910s, Animals, Brazil, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Italy, Music, Rural, Scotland, Sex by CulturalMining.com on May 13, 2016

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

Someone asked me recently what I like about movies. I gave the usual answers: story, emotions, acting, images, themes, novelty… but she said she likes the places movies can take you, countries you otherwise wouldn’t get to visit. So this week I’m looking at dramas that take you to new places. There are celebrities in the Mediterranean, cowboys in Brazil, and farmers in northeast Scotland a century ago.

j266j4_SUNSETSONG_01_o3_8717089_1438274186Sunset Song

Dir: Terence Davies (based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon)

It’s the early 20th century in rural northeastern Scotland. Chris (Agyness Deyn) is happy and bright, a schoolgirl who lives on her family farm. She’s one with the land, but holds future ambitions of a career, maybe a schoolteacher. But her family life is less than nice. Her mother is depressed, her father (Peter Mullan) is a brute. She’s closest to her 8qKKrW_SUNSETSONG_06_o3_8716985_1438274181brother, Will, who hates their dad for good reason. Their father is quick with the whip and will bloody Will’s back for the slightest infraction, even a play on words using the name Jehovah. It’s a rough life.

RgjjVY_SUNSETSONG_05_o3_8716928_1438274178And when Mum survives an incredibly painful childbirth – it’s twins — she loses it and the family falls apart. Will leaves for greener pastures, Mum’s out of the picture, Dad has a stroke. Chris has to run the farm basically by herself, plowing the fields and harvesting the grain. She marries for love to a kind and gentle man named Ewan (Kevin Guthrie). Their post-honeymoon life is idyllic until WWI. Then, suddenly, it’s loud sermons from the pulpit saying the Kaiser isQ1ggBM_SUNSETSONG_04_o3_8716871_1438274174 the antichrist and anyone who doesn’t join up to fight in the muddy trenches is both a coward and a traitor. He signs up. The next time she sees Ewan he’s been replaced by a horrible creature she doesn’t recognize.

Sunset Song is a coming-of-age novel about a strong and independent woman and the troubles she faces. But, being directed by the great Terence Davies makes it a different movie than you might expect. Time passes and scenes change like memories recalled much later. Chris is the narrator but she speaks in the third person. And as in most of his movies, characters are as likely to start singing songs  or reciting poetry or quoting biblical texts as they are to have “normal” dialogue. But it never feels odd or affected, it’s just how they talk. Sex and violence, fury and pain, anguish and celebration are all played out… by candlelight. Beautiful.

O76BgN_NEON_BULL_04_o3_8745169_1439475285Neon Bull

Wri/Dir: Gabriel Mascaro

Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is a vaqueiro – literally a cowboy – in Brazil. He’s tough and swarthy with a black beard. He lives among the cows, feeding, washing and shoveling manure. His job is to tend the bulls used in a type of rodeo match called a vaquejada. Two men riding horses with a bull running between them have to take him down and cut off the end of his tail. Iremar is the one who powders the bull’s tail and pushes him into X6pO5k_NEON_BULL_05_o3_8745231_1439475286the ring. His work is rough, dirty and badly paid. But a more interesting life exists in the creative part of his mind. He sees images and fantasies which he brings to life, in the form of clothing and costumes.

He lives on the road as part of a travelling, impromptu family. There’s model-like Galega, his boss (Maeve Jinkings), her young daughter, the unfortunately-named Caca (Alyne Santana), and O76Byp_NEON_BULL_01_o3_8745069_1439475275others. In his free time he observes and collects: A mannequin he finds in a dump; surfing fonts he sees on a sign; the hair bobbed off the bulls tails at the rodeo… he keeps them all. And he sketches his designs over pictures of nude women in skin mags. He “dresses” them.

And he translates these into outfits for Galega to wear and perform in. But what outfits they are: a sexy mixture of horse and human.

And there lies the crux: they work with cows but dream about nZ64xl_NEON_BULL_02_o3_8745105_1439475276horses. Caca wants to own a horse, Galega dresses like one, and Iremar either wants to become one or have sex with one – it’s never completely clear. He certainly has erotic dreams involving horses, as well some real-life sexual interactions of a sort between man and beast. (I’ll say no more about that; you have to watch the movie yourself to understand what I’m saying.)

There’s not much of a story; see it for its images and ideas. It’s beautifully shot, alternating between explicit sex and amazing documentary-style animal scenes with the screen completely filled with white bulls. This is the kind of movie that gradually grows on you long after you’ve seen it.

A Bigger Splash PosterA Bigger Splash

Dir: Luca Guadagnino

Marrianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) lives in a secluded villa on a rocky Italian island in the Mediterranean. She’s a former rock star used to preforming in glam makeup and sequins before thousands of adoring fans. Until she lost her voice. Now she’s doted on by her much younger, faithful husband 1936314_1710870315814844_5082996276804202301_nPaul (Matthias Schoenaerts). They spend each day playing in bed or relaxing in their serene swimming pool.

Paul was introduced to Mariann by her first husband, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) who felt a change was needed. Harry is a larger-than-life celebrity in his own right, a rock producer, who loves recalling his adventures with Mick Jagger. So Paul is in 12696974_1708471786054697_5272925310477745538_oawe of both Marianne and Harry. Which is why he can’t really object when Harry arrives uninvited at their doorstep with a blasé young woman named Penelope (Dakota Johnson). She lives with her mom in Connecticut but recently discovered she has a dad – Harry, of course. And here they both are.

Harry loves it. He’s the kind of guy who always needs a dramatic 12440495_1695143877387488_2734753458583916585_oentrance. And once he’s on stage he walks around naked for most of the movie. Penelope is looking for sex, and has her eye on both her putative father (she wants to see a DNA test) and Paul. Marianne is less than pleased by the interlopers. It opens up old wounds and unfinished business. She also prefers centre stage, she doesn’t want 12314676_1684142561820953_5135058809161723940_oto be a side kick in her own home. And Paul is overwhelmed by the uncomfortable situation, but keeps it to himself. Until things explode.

This movie feels like a stage play with four characters played by four great actors. They’re all fascinating but in a grotesque, hateable sort of way. As celebrities they’re used to being watched but they also need privacy. We get to watch them how they really are, and it ain’t pretty.

Some of the camera work bothered me – too show-offy and distracting — but the scenic beauty of a Mediterranean isle that’s also a landing point for asylum-seekers more than makes up for it. Luca Guadagnino also directed I Am Love in 2010;  A Bigger Splash is less stylized, more mature.

Neon Bull, A Bigger Splash, and Sunset Song all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

Spring Film Festival Season. Movies Reviewed: Next time I aim for the heart, Tomorrow is always too long, Clouds of Sils Maria

Posted in Acting, Art, Drama, France, Movies, Scotland by CulturalMining.com on April 10, 2015

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM. It’s Spring Film Festival Season. Cinefranco is a festival of French language movies from countries like Canada, France, Tunisia, and Belgium. Images Festival shows art expressed in the form of moving images: films and videos, showing off-screen in galleries, and on screen at the AGO. So I’m combining the two this week, shaking the pot, and adding a bit extra. A French art film in English; an English art film in Scottish; and a French crime thriller… en Francais. 269b36e876e375e05083f78293992209_S

Next Time I Aim for the Heart / La prochaine fois je viserai le cœur

Dir: Cedric Anger

It’s the late 1970s in France. Out on lonely highways and suburban streets all is not well. Young women are being shot and some killed by an unknown man in a car. The serial killer sends hand-written notes to the police after each killing. Still, the cops are stymied, no one can describe the man or the car he drives, and he always gets away. Enter Franck (Guillaume Canet) He’s not a policeman, but a member of France’s gendarmerie — the national force (much like the RCMP) that operate in small towns and rural areas across the country. Gendarmes (the la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canetones who wear that distinctive round top hat) are controlled by the Ministry of Defence, and comes through in Franck’s formal, militaristic manner. He’s gaunt, thin-lipped, tense. Always polite, he follows the rules and catches the criminals. He’s seeing the Sophie (Ana Girardot) the gorgeous young woman who does his laundry. She is smitten by him – a true gentleman – not like the slovenly men she knows. He’s also a prized detective, praised by la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-ana-girardot-1his chief and respected by his squad. And they are all on the lookout for the crazed, vicious serial killer, whose crimes are escalating, but who always seems to escape. The gendarmes need to catch him before their rivals, the police force. Seems like a typical policier, right? The good cop searching for the deranged killer. But there’s a twist (and this is not a spoiler): Franck, the gendarme is also the serial killer! Whoa!

This is based on a true story and makes for a pretty good thriller. It has a dark and brooding tone to it, and leaves the viewer unsettled – who can you trust? And the whole story is told solely la-prochaine-fois-je-viserai-le-coeur-guillaume-canet-1from Franck’s point of view – the rest of the characters, including Sophie, are opaque. So you’re forced to sympathize with Franck – and you do – but he’s a troubled soul, and a loner/ nutbar/killer too, so how sympathetic can you be? Also, the guy’s psychotic – you wonder why it isn’t obvious to his fellow cops. Visually, the movie is great, shot in rural fields and forests, or in offices and homes, always with blow up colour photos subtly placed on the walls. Neat effect. And Canet is excellent as Franck. tomorrow is always too long

Tomorrow is always too long

Dir: Phil Collins

It’s an ordinary day in Glasgow, Scotland. People go to school, to the pub or to jail. But on a normal day, do you suddenly break into complex dance steps, and start singing wonderful indie pop sings by Cate Le Bon, accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra? This is a very strange movie, filled with ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the complex mixed with the mundane. It’s like watching TV with someone else holding the remote control, and constantly changing channels. Now you see Mindy the bored psychic touting for calls; a tawdry male phone sex line; an infomercial selling products for women who enjoy being patted down by security guards at airports; three people in sparkling glam makeup answering trivia questions; or a grizzly guy in a garish tam o’shanter buttering bread.

Huh? Exactly.

These scenes alternate with silhouette animation (by Matthew Robins) giving a stylized look at Glasgow’s underground: with nightclubs, drugs, and furtive sex in the bushes. This is definitely art, but it’s also great fun. You can tell it’s art because the performers all keep blasé, chill expressions as they dance. No jazz hands or smiley faces here. But it’s also a thoroughly entertaining portrait of one day in the life of the city of Glasgow, and a lot of the people who live there. Art you can love. 52501167-6576-45cc-a057-e4f607bf0e35

Clouds of Sils Maria

Dir: Olivier Assayas

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a very famous French actress, who is heading by train for Switzerland. She’s going to a town near Zurich to honour a playwright who, twenty years earlier, wrote the first play she ever performed in. The play is about a young woman who works at a company, and her older boss – actually the head of the firm. The older woman becomes infatuated with her, leading to tragic end. When the play premiered, Maria was a brash, young woman – totally unknown. Now she’s a seasoned professional. She owes Melchior, the playwright, a lot. But when circumstances change she’s asked to be in the play again… but this time as 3cc6e467-ae1e-4c7c-9f22-8fb65ae63788the older woman. This jars her. She thinks of herself as a beautiful young actress, but, while still beautiful, she’s clearly middle aged now.

All her emotions and worries are confessed to her young PA (personal assistant) Valentine (Kristen Stewart). And once Maria takes the part, she decides to stay in the Swiss town to learn her role. So Val plays the other part when the two of them rehearse. But Val senses a weird change, where Maria seems to be losing her grip – is she the boss in the play in love with the younger woman? Or is she an actress boss, obsessed with her PA? Val’s patience is also running low. 52e4e874-5796-45ed-94e1-073d90b85524

And a third woman Joanne (Chloë Grace Moretz), enters the picture. She’s the tempestuous teenaged actress playing Maria’s former role. She’s a Lindsay Lohan-type, chased by paparazzi, in and out of rehab. And all three acting out their roles against foggy, stark Alpen scenery. This is an intimate portrait of Juliette Binoche. The three actors were all convincing and absorbing. And I can appreciate the film intellectually. But it’s a bit too “meta” – play within a play, actors playing actors playing characters – to be deeply moving.

The Clouds of Sils Maria opens today in Toronto; Tomorrow is Always Too Long opened the Images festival which continues all week: go to imagesfestival.com for times and galleries. Next Time I Aim for the Heart plays next weekend at the Bloor Cinema. Go to cinefranco.com for times and locations of these and many other French language films.

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

Zaniness. Movies reviewed: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, God Help the Girl PLUS October Film Festivals!

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Movies, Music, Musical, Scotland, Screwball Comedy, Sex, Sweden, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 9, 2014

estdocs14_program_coverHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking site_brafft_2404_02at 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.

Get ready: it’s fall film festival season in Toronto. Coming next week are: BRAFFTV, the Brazilian festival of film and television; Estdocs, the Estonian 10694407_10152448582230345_7331007994192021518_oDocumentary Festival; and RIFF, the Reel Indie Film Festival – featuring music-themed films. These festivals are packed with hidden treasures. Followed by Toronto after Dark for horror, sci-fi, action and cult: perfect for October. And ImagineNative, the film and media arts festival celebrating works by indigenous artists and filmmakers from toronto after darkaround the world.

Lots of festivals – don’t they make you want to get out, see the world? (Lame segue?) Well, this week I’m looking at two movies about people who climb out their windows! One’s a musical drama about a beautiful, young woman in Glasgow, Scotland who just wants to make music; the other’s a screwball comedy about an extremely old man in Sweden who just wants to blow something up.

b48f5837-54f2-45dd-a3b0-fac80378d0e4The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann)
Dir: Felix Herngren

It’s Allan Karlsson’s 100th birthday at his old-age home in small-town Sweden, but Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson) isn’t interested. So he climbs out his 1st floor window and buys a bus ticket to the nearest town (population:1). But before he leaves he is ambushed by 95d73836-4233-4b79-b1b7-24cbda8a2bb8a motorcycle gang skinhead carrying a large metal suitcase. Somehow, Karlsson ends up on the bus with the suitcase… but no skinhead. And so begins his journey ec907bb3-1c24-414f-9ba5-fa36be388d40with the guy in the next village, a perpetual student they meet hitchhiking, an animal rights activist, and the circus elephant she liberated. And they’re being chased by the local police who think Karlsson was kidnapped, and the gangsters who want that suitcase back – and the millions of krona stuffed inside it. But that’s just half the story.444ba775-568a-4cae-b037-a2a4410500cf

The other half is all about how the 100-year-old man has lived his life: as a demolition expert – a guy who blows things up. You may be thinking: Bombs? In Sweden? But yeah! The Swede’s seem to have a knack for it, what with Alfred Nobel’s dynamite, Ivar Kreuger (the Match King), and the country’s enormous weapon industry. Karlsson’s expertise leads him to repeated brushes with famous leaders. From Franco to Stalin, from Truman to Reagan, somehow he’s there (like a Zelig or a Forrest Gump) at all the crucial moments.

Not a deep movie, but a totally zany, screwball-comedy look at the 20th century through the eyes of a hapless demolition expert. The 100-Year-Old Man is engaging, very entertaining and great fun.

GodHelptheGirlFestivalStill1God Help the Girl
Dir: Stuart Murdoch

Eve (Emily Browning) is a young Australian woman who lives in a Glasgow mental hospital. She spends her time lying in bed listening to radio DJs. She is waif-like with pale skin, auburn hair and huge eyes. Quite beautiful but quite depressed. She has songs to sing and GHTG_Tartan1words to express, but no one to hear them. So, one day she just climbs out the window and walks away, singing.

She wanders into a Glasgow concert hall and there she meets James, a guitarist in a fistfight with his obnoxious drummer. Glasgow is run by NEDs (non-educated delinquents) he says. James (Olly Alexander) is a skinny, wimpy guitar player with curly hair and glasses – a Scottish Michael Cera.

He works as a lifeguard but has “the constitution of an abandoned rabbit.” Eve tells him she’ll find him again at the pool. Could it be love?

Back at the mental hospital, her doctor tells her that she needs support – a home, food, a job and friends – and good health before she can worry about less important things like her music. But for Eve, music is everything. She sneaks out GHTGfilmstillto play the piano and compose songs. And she manages to record her music on a cassette tape.

She gives the tape to Anton (Pierre Boulanger), a tall, dark and handsome French rock musician she meets. They make out and she instructs him to pass it on to the radio DJs. He is impressed by her beauty. “You have exquisite breasts” he tells her.

James, meanwhile, is impressed by her talent – Eve can compose GHTG_glassessongs spontaneously, based on the thoughts in her head. And she has such a pleasing and rich voice that she could sing a diner menu and people would still listen. (In fact, Eve gets a job as a waitress.)

He takes her meet to Cassie, his music student. Cassie (Hannah Murray – who also played a Cassie in Skins) is a free spirit who wants to learn to play the guitar and write songs. Eve wants people to hear her music. James wants to cut a record. Hey, let’s form a band!  So they do.

They write some catchy tunes – in the style of sixties pop — and sing and dance and pose. But what will the future bring?

Will the DJs ever listen to her tape? Will Eve and James ever realize their true love? Will James ever see his dream of recording a record? And will the band ever perform?

This is a cute refreshing musical written and composed by Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian fame. It’s full of songs and dances that pop up after each serious event. But it leaves you thinking: is the movie a series of music videos linked by a storyline? Or a drama with a bunch of highly-stylized musical performances popping up? Either way, I enjoyed it a lot.

The Hundred Year Old Man and God Help the Girl both open today. Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5

Likes. Movies reviewed: Chef, Being Ginger PLUS Luminato

Posted in Cooking, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, Scotland, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 6, 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.

Do you like to “like” things? Then you might like Toronto’s Luminato festival of music, dance, theatre and film starts this weekend. There’s a free event on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre where you can join a music mob. You bring whatever musical instrument  you like to play and join in with what might be the biggest performance of Ravel’s Bolero ever.

But what if you like something smaller, more personal? This week I’m looking at two low-key American movies about ordinary, single guys. One’s a divorced dad who just wants to cook what he likes; the other’s a university student who wants to meet a girl who likes guys like him.

CHef 1Chef
Wri/Dir: Jon Favreau

Chris Casper (Jon Favreau) is a famous chef who lives in LA. He’s not one of those namby-pamby chefs – no way! His umami bites back, his artisanal gochujang packs a wallop. You can tell Carl’s a tough guy from the knuckle tattoos that say el jefe. He must have spent time in foodie prison. So don’t mess with this guy — he’s got a temper.

But one day, a local critic (Oliver Platt) – and his former booster — revisits the restaurant. He says the food there is tired, unadventurous and mediocre. What?! Unadventurous? I’ll show you adventure! Carl is furious. He learns about a newfangled social network known as “twitter”, and shoots him a nasty reply. But favreau chef the film 4he doesn’t realize that everybody can read his tweets. It goes viral and events spiral. He challenges the critic to come back and try his new menu. But the conservative restaurant owner (Dustin Hoffman) insists he stick to the traditional dishes. Carl says no, so it’s goodbye Carl.

Meanwhile, on the home front, his kid feels neglected by his divorced father. The weekly visits to theme parks don’t amount to quality time. There’s no communication, no heart-to-hearts. Carl puts all his effort into cooking, but nothing chef the film 3into just hanging with his boy (Emjay Anthony). His beautiful, nice, smart, and rich ex-wife (why, exactly, did they get divorced?) has a plan. Inez (Sofia Vergara) invites Carl to come down to Miami with them. Once there, he gets an old food truck and fixes it up. Now he can devote himself to cooking while spending lost time with his son. So, with the help of his sidekick sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo), the three of them embark on a cross-country tour, learning local recipes and making friends as they drive. But what will happen when they’re back in LA?chef the film 2

This is not a bad movie, especially if you like beautiful scenery and lots of scenes of people cooking and eating delicious recipes. Still, the social networking subplot (what is this strange new thing called the “internet” and how does it work?) feels embarrassingly old and dated. Chef is not a comedy either, since it’s basically lacking in laughs. And it’s not a love story – no romance or sex in this movie. What it is is a very light family drama about a middle-aged foodie getting to know his son. And you know what? I think that’s good enough.

BeingGinger 6Being Ginger
Dir: Scott P. Harris

Are redheads discriminated against? Are they the object of derision because of the colour of their hair? So asks a new documentary. Scott is an American college student in Edinburgh. And he wants to meet a pretty girl. The problem is, he can’t seem to find a girl to date. Why? He thinks it’s because he’s a ginger, a guy with red hair. And women, especially in the Being Ginger illustrationUK, he says, don’t like gingers. (Scott was bullied as a kid, and it left him feeling insecure.)

So he thinks by interviewing women with a camera, maybe he’ll find one who likes redheads. (Incidentally, he doesn’t want a redhead either: “Gingers don’t date gingers”: it feels creepy and incestuous to him – too close to home.)

BeingGinger+still+3a-1But the people he meets aren’t very sympathetic: (Audio clip) Whoa! That’s harsh.

Finally he hears about a huge ginger convention – a veritable redhead festival in the Netherlands. It’s an eye-opener for Scott. In a sea of orange, he finally finds a place where he belongs. Is this like the black power movement? Scott wonders. Uh… no. But the festival might help him overcome his doubts and maybe meet a ginger-lovin’ woman.

Being Ginger is a cute, small, and very personal documentary (with beautiful animated sequences) about one guy’s struggle to accept his redness.

Chef and Being Ginger both open today in Toronto – check your local listings. And there’s a ginger appreciation screening with a Q&A at the Bloor Cinema on June 10th, free for all you redheads.

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

Women in Movies for Mothers’ Day. Films Reviewed: Under the Skin, Ida, The German Doctor

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.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers of the past present and future. While all women aren’t mothers, all mothers are women. So, this week, I’m looking at three fascinating movies with girls or women as the main characters.

Two of the movies are historical dramas set in the early sixties, under the shadow of WWII. From Poland comes a drama about a young woman in a convent who discovers her past; from Argentina, a dramatic thriller about a 12-year-old girl who discovers secrets in an unusual village; and from the UK comes a science fiction / art film about a woman with a strange way of meeting men.

Scarlett Johansson 3 in Under the Skin Courtesy of Mongrel MediaUnder the Skin
Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Laura (Scarlett Johannson) is a beautiful woman with black hair who lives in a rundown farmhouse. But she’s not from there. She likes going for drives in her white van, in the rolling hills and rocky roads of rural Scotland. She’s on the lookout for fit young men who are single and live alone. It doesn’t matter that she can’t understand a word they say. She asks for directions and then offers them a lift to some unspecified place down the road. And to no one’s surprise, they end up at her place for some impromptu casual sex.

Simple, right? No. This is where it gets weird, otherworldly, surreal. Basically, after they undress, she lures them across a Under the Skin  Courtesy of Mongrel Media 7shiny, black floor. She walks on the surface, but the men gradually sink down into a black pool, their bodies and minds suspended in a silent limbo. Not dead, but trapped somewhere.

Who is she? What is she? Laura speaks like an alien or a robot or a psychopath. It’s like she was handed an instruction booklet on how to Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin Courtesy of Mongrel Mediatalk like a human being. Her face and body were borrowed from someone else – she’s just a visitor. She doesn’t seem motivated by evil, and she’s not a cannibal or anything. She doesn’t even eat.

But her routine gradually goes astray. She gets corralled into a nightclub. She picks up an incredibly ugly man on the road. She loses her vehicle and is forced to take a bus. She meets another man who seems kind and cares for her, not just out for a quick roll in the hay. And she senses danger from a suspicious man wearing a jumpsuit. And then there’s the man on a motorcycle who follows her around: is he cleaning up after her mistakes? Or is he trying to stop her? It’s all very confusing.

Under the Skin is one weird movie. I liked it a lot, but beware: this is an experimental “art film” not a mainstream sci-fi pic. Modern, disturbing music, wonderful cinematography… and a baffling story.

Ida - 3Ida
Dir: Pawel Pawlikowski

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a WWII orphan raised in a nunnery near Lodz. She wears a plain grey dress and covers her hair. She’s quiet and obedient. Now 16, she’s ready to take her vows as a nun, but the mother superior insists she first meet her only known relative, her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza). But why?

Wanda is a woman of the world. She wears lipstick, smokes cigarettes and listens to jazz. And she sleeps with younger men she picks up in bars. She’s cold, cynical and bitter. She used to be a high-ranked communist party prosecutor, but has lost her status. And she’s Jewish. And that means Anna is, too. And, Wanda tells her, her real name is Ida.

Ida wants to see her parents’ grave. Wanda laughs: what grave? But they head out to the small town. The family living in Ida - 5her home denies Jews ever lived there and has never heard of her parents.

Wanda delves deeper as Ida discovers her own hidden history. Wanda warms toward her – she’s like her dead sister, with her red hair, and three dimples when she smiles. Ida dips her toe into the real world (jazz, alcohol, cigarettes, men). Will she live in cosmopolitan urban Poland or in a cloistered life behind the convent walls?

Ida is black & white, and only 80 minutes long. It’s subtle, compact, minimalist and exquisite. The two Polish actresses are both fantastic, with their subtle, contrasting personalities gradually melding. This is a perfect movie.

The German Doctor 4 courtesy az filmsThe German Doctor
Dir: Lucia Puenzo (Based on her novel)

12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado) lives in a barren and dusty part of Argentine Patagonia with her two brothers. Tiny Lilith is 12 but looks younger, and still plays with a doll given to her by her dad (Diego Peretti) — a professional doll maker. He makes handcrafted figures, each one unique. They’re moving to Ushuaia, an area with a large German population, to run a family hotel owned by her pregnant mom (Natalia Oreiro). Though Argentinian, her mom went to a German school. She shows Lilith old school photos filled with swastika flags.

The hotel is a beautiful chateau in the woods, overlooking a clear, blue lake against stark snow-covered mountains. The German Doctor 7 courtesy az filmsPositively Alpine. And their first guest is a kindly, German man with a mustache (Alex Brendemuhl). He’s a doctor, but works injecting cattle with growth hormones. Heredity is everything he says, and he wants to create a perfect breed.

So when Lilith is teased and bullied at school he offers experimental hormone injections to help her grow. Lilith loves whatever is forbidden. She is entranced by the doctor, even though there’s something wrong, something sinister about him. And he offers Enzo, her dad – who objects to his experiments with Lilith – the chance to produce identical The German Doctor 20 courtesy az filmsblond, blue-eyed dolls on a massive scale. Only Nora (Elena Roger), the mysterious school archivist, suspects he’s the notorious Dr. Mengele, known for his cruel experiments in Auschwitz. Based on real-life characters, the German Doctor is a tender, but haunting, coming-of age story played out against an Argentina filled with clandestine war criminals.

Under the Skin and Ida both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The German Doctor also opens and is playing at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival this weekend, along with many other great movies. 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

Men, Honour, Trust and Responsibility. Films Reviewed: The Eagle, Biutiful

Men are in a mess – or so say contemporary movies. Dragged down by family disgrace and personal difficulties, or unable to hold onto the responsibilities of wage-earner and father. Can they stand up to villains? Can they take responsibility for disaster? Can they confront their enemies? Can they judge who is to be trusted and who is to be opposed? How can they know?

This week I’m looking at two very different movies, both with strong, male lead characters — one by a British director, another by a Mexican filmmaker.

Biutiful

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a nice guy. He helps recent migrants from West Africa and China get along in Barcelona., He helps them find jobs, and protects them from the police and immigration agents, brings them gifts, ad warns them about upcoming trouble. He feels a personal attachment. He also raises his two kids, and is considering getting back together with his estranged wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). And occasionally, he uses his psychic abilities to help send messages from the recently dead to their living relatives left behind. He’s a regular Mother Theresa. But, things aren’t actually all that good.

Looked at another way, he’s exploiting dirt poor, desperate migrants by acting as the middle man for virtual slave-drivers; he’s the equivalent of a bag boy for unsavoury gangsters and corrupt cops; and his kindness can back-fire leading to potential disaster to the people he’s trying to help.

Then there’s his family. He lives a slovenly existence with his meager wages, and he has to deal with his immoral brother who gets “massages” from Uxbal’s unhinged, estranged wife (she says she needs the money). The wife, Marambra, is a hilarious character with a funny nose who talks a mile a minute, but can she be trusted to take care of their kids?

He’s also facing physical difficulties – his urine is turning dark, and despite the fact he wants nothing to do with blood tests (the hypodermic needles bother him for some reason) the results are clear: his body is being rotted away from the inside. His friend and advisor, a psychic like he is, urges him to settle his financial and moral debts before he dies. Will he be able to provide guidance and support for his children, comfort for a Chinese mother and child, help for his friend a West African migrant and his wife?

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, Biutiful is a complicated, and at times moving drama, with great acting, and a beautiful, very distinctive look to it all.  Fish and flowing water — on the wallpaper, on a bathroom tile — appear in almost every scene. And like his own movie, Babel, a few years ago, the story jumps from language to language and culture to culture (with appropriately colour-coded subtitles: white for Spanish, blue for Chinese, another colour for a west African language.)

It’s also almost more than one movie can hold. With so many complicated stories, and engrossing events, there’s a denseness, all centred around Bardem’s character, Uxbal. But he holds it together. My one criticism – and this is not exactly a spoiler, but skip ahead if you don’t want to hear — is in a dream or memory Uxbal has that’s repeated, verbatim, in two parts of the movie; it gives it a glibness or corniness that didn’t seem to fit. Still, Biutiful is, as its title suggests, a broken but beautiful film.

Next, a much easier film to follow, with a more linear, straightforward stpry, but one that also deals with trust, honour, responsibility, and interestingly, questions of loyalty toward the people from your country vs foregners, and the ones in your family.

The Eagle

Dir: Kevin Macdonald

Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum) is a Roman who decides to go to occupied Britain, to find out what happened in a battle that was lost by his father a generation earlier. The Ninth Legion completely disappeared, possibly massacred, in a battle in the hills of Scotland, losing all their members, and the symbol of that division, a golden Eagle that was carried on a pole. He’s scoffed at by the Roman officers stationed there, but he soon proves his mettle by saving their fort from the wild British savages. And they are really savage – they attack the troops like hi-speed zombies, clamouring all over the romans, and looking like they’re about to tear them apart with their spears teeth and bear hands. They shriek out words of attack, and their wild-haired, long-bearded leader looks like he’s falling into a bloodthirsty trance before charging.

Marcus fights until he collapses and doesn’t awaken till he’s being tended by his uncle (Donald Sutherland), and discovers he’s been released from the military due to injuries. Well, one day he attends a gladiator  match, where a huge masked and armed roman, looking like a pro-wrestler, is pitted against a scrawny local, surely to be killed in seconds. But he local fighter… refuses to fight in the unfair match. Marcus, to the surprise of the crowd, gives him a thumbs-up, and the local is now his slave. Esca (Jamie Bell , the child lead in the gotta-dance movie, Billy Elliot, from 2000), the son of a local warrior himself, hates the Romans but must pay his debt to the man who saved his life. No Romans will venture past Hadrian’s wall, but, despite objections from the Romans, Marcus decides to search for and recapture the Eagle, with Esca as his guide, and to find out what really happened to his father and the 9th Legion.

The movie follows the long adventurous journey to the land of the Seal people with their painted faces, where evidence still survived of the lost legion. When they are captured by that fierce nation, the power dynamc shifts. What is a Roman worth without Rome to back him up? Will Marcus find out what happened to the 9th?? Will he capture the Eagle? Can Esca be trusted? Can they exist as master and slave? Or are they friends, brothers, or something more? Or enemies to the death?

This is a good action/adventure/ fighting epic, with very fantastic outdoor scenes, from locations in Scotland and Hungary. So superficially, it’s a Disney “boy’s own adventure”-type film, with an old, conventional, somewhat predictable plot, that devolves at times into a simple buddy picture. But there are some really different aspects of this movie: I think the director is making some subtle comments on the past decade, and the US as a classical imperial power.

Unlike most “Sword and Sandal” movies, the Romans all have American accents, while the slaves have British accents! He’s even managed to find “upper class” American accents to represent the Roman gentry and Senators, modeling them on Washington DC-style politicians, and their prep-school kids.  Says Marcus: “A silk-assed politician’s son is pissing on my family name!” And the Roman legion is decididly made to look like the US Marine Corps, complete with their running style, lines, and presentation. Even the terminology they use is straight out of American military lingo – with Marcus recieving an “honourable discharge”.

Is The Eagle a critique of American wars abroad? Or a militaristic, ode to tea-bagger-land? Not sure, but it is a good, though quite violent, movie. No female characters though – this is yet another all-male fantasy – with no room for love, except between friends.

The Eagle and Biutiful are both playing now. Check your local listings.

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