Families. Films reviewed: Before You Know It, Downton Abbey, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

Posted in 1920s, 1960s, 1970s, Canada, Class, documentary, Drama, Family, Music, Screwball Comedy, Theatre, TV, UK by CulturalMining.com on September 20, 2019

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

This week I’m looking at three movies exploring different families. There’s a band of brothers who form a band inside a big pink house; a pair of sisters who live inside a Greenwich Village theatre; and an extended family of aristocrats – and their servants – who live inside a stately mansion.

Before You Know It

Dir: Hannah Pearl Utt

Rachel and Jackie (Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock) are adult sisters who live inside a Greenwich Village playhouse. Homeschooled by their playwright Dad (Mandy Patinkin) since their mom died, their world is centred on their family theatre. Rachel, dressed in plain clothes and sensible shoes, is their always-reliable stage manager. Jackie – flamboyant, and self-obsessed – is an actress. Her impulsive behaviour gave her with an alcohol problem and a 13-year-old daughter named Dodge (Oona Yaffe). Rachel wishes she could date more, but she has too many responsibilities.

Life continues, until a major revelation shakes up their lives. Turns out their mom (Judith Light) is still alive, and has been living nearby under a stage name since they were kids! What’s more, she owns their theatre, and they might lose their careers, their home, their entire lives. Can Jackie and Rachel infiltrate a TV studio, meet their soap opera actress mom, and convince her to let them stay on at their theatre they call home? Or is this their final act?

Before You Know It is a delightful story of three generations of women in a theatrical setting. Written by Jen Tullock and Hannah Pearl Utt it veers between a gently screwball plot and a somewhat more serious coming-of-age story about growing up, both for Dodge and the two adult sisters. Nothing spectacular, just a pleasant and fun indie movie.

Downton Abbey: The Movie

Dir: Michael Engler

The Crawley’s are an aristocratic family living in a stately mansion on a vast manor estate in post- Edwardian England. It takes a village to keep things going smoothly, and it’s almost as self-sufficient community living inside the walls. This includes the extended family and their in-laws but also the multitude of servants, footmen, groomsmen, maids, kitchen help, grounds keepers, valets, a butler and more. But the normal social order is threatened by some unexpected guests. The King is coming! The King is coming!

Amd this brings all sorts of problems. Violet, the dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) has a longstanding inheritance feud with Maud Bagshaw, a lady in waiting (Imelda Staunton) for theQueen. Tom Branson (Allen Leech), an Irish socialist and widower who started as a chauffeur but later married into the family, is suspected by a mysterious government agent as being disloyal to the King. Meanwhile, amongst the other half of the house, other troubles are revealed. Kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McSheera) wonders whether longtime boyfriend William is right for her, especially since a handsome young plumber arrives on the scene. And when the Kings servants barge in and take over everything, they must concoct a plot to get back their rightful place within their own house. Meanwle Thomas Barrow (Robert James Collier) the usually secretive and conniving butler seizes the chance to explore his sexuality in a nearby town.

Downton Abbey,the movie is a continuation of the popular British nighttime soap that ran for many years. I remember watching the first two seasons of it before giving up.It concentrated on a dull patriarch andhis faithful butler, his bickering daughters and various servants seen skitting around behind the scenes. It felt like a Leaveit to Beaver sitcom superimposed ona feudal estate. Deadly dull, politically loathesome – I hated it. But I found the movie much more interesting. It concentrates as much on the “Downstairs” as on the “Upstairs”, there are real surprises, and the characters are allowed to grow and progress.

I’m as surprised as you that I actually enjoyed this movie.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band

Dir: Daniel Roher

It’s the late 1950s in Toronto. Robbie Robertson is a teenaged boy and aspiring musician who learns to play chords on visits to his mom’s family at Mohawk Six Nations. When Southern rocker Ronnie Hawkins brings his band to town, Robbie is mesmerized by their energy, showmanship and confidence, especially their stick-twirling drummer Levon Helm. He writes some tunes and joins the Hawks at age 16, alongside other multitalented Canadian musicians: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel. They travel down south to perfect their style, playing alongside blues artist and country musicians. The Hawks outgrow their front man and set out on their own,

They tour Europe as Bob Dylan,s band rght when he goes electric.They are booed on every stage, but realize they have something special. They move into a big pink house in woodstock NY where they prefect their unique boendof folk,country, rock,blues and R&B. Robbie writes most of the songs while the entire band, one with the three vocalists, crafts each song. They start releasing their own songs under the name The Band and become one of the most influential North American groups of the ’60s and ’70s.

Once Were Brothers is a great music doc about the Band, as told through Robbie Robertson’s eyes. Through old photos, magazine clippings, period footage, and new interviews, it explores their brother-like friendship through its ups and downs, including jeolousy, addiction and car crashes. And looks at the rivalry between him and Levon Helm which eventually tore the band apart. It looks at their music, the pele they knew even their look — long hair and bearded, country gentlemen farmers, dressed like in 19th Century photos. It follows them from the early 60s through their Last Waltz, a giant concert filmed by Martin Scorsese. This is a beautiful, compelling story of the – can I say it? – legendary band.

Before You Know It (at the Tiff Bell Lightbox) Once Were Brothers and Downton Abbey all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Toronto’s fall festival season continues through the weekend with the Toronto Palestine Film Fest.

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

Women and their Discoveries. Movies reviewed: The Kindergarten Teacher, Diary of a Teenage Girl, She’s Funny That Way

Posted in Acting, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Drama, Israel, Movies, Screwball Comedy, Sex Trade, Women by CulturalMining.com on August 14, 2015

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

This week I’m looking at three movies about women and their discoveries. There’s a drama about an Israeli kindergarten teacher who discovers her 5-year-old student is a poetic genius; a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in San Francisco who discovers what sex is all about; and a screwball comedy about an escort who longs to be discovered as a Hollywood star.

Kindergarden_Teacher_TheThe Kindergarten Teacher

Wri/Dir: Nadav Lapid

Nira (Sarit Larry) is a kindergarten teacher in Israel who attends a poetry group. She leads a lackluster life: her kids have moved out and her husband is dull. But then she notices a kid in her class named Yoav (Avi Shnaidman). She sees him pace back and forth, almost in a trance, and recite an amazing poem he had composed in his head. Not a kid’s nonsense rhyme – a dramatic, spare masterpiece with biblical allusions, and profound observations.

His nanny Miri (Ester Rada) says it’s just something the kid does. His father – a rich, divorced restaurateur — is unimpressed. To him, poetry is a952 waste of time.

But Nira is blown away by his poems and feels she has to do something more. Mozart was composing symphonies in his head at the age of four. If no one records Yoav’s masterworks and shares them with the world, a poet of a generation could be lost. Yoav becomes the centre of all her attention, in and out of class. He gives her a new sense of purpose. She realizes her reaction doesn’t quite make sense – especially in an era where poetry has lost its importance — but she vows to “save” Yoav and his poems, whatever the consequences.

The Kindergarten Teacher is an excellent drama with an unexpected twist. It may have a simple premise, but it’s a subtle, disturbing and complex film. Nira’s character in particular touches on a wide range of troubling issues: racial discrimination, morality, sexuality, misrepresentation, and art.  The Kindergarten Teacher is a very good movie.

e8acff96-2532-4295-a01b-6f7b36599697Diary of a Teenage Girl
Wri/Dir: Marielle Heller

It’s the mid-1970s in San Francisco, and the city is rife with hippies, underground comix and free sex. And right in the middle of all this is Minnie (Bel Powley), the 15-year-old girl of the title. She lives with her mom (Kristen Wiig) and her little sister. Mom dresses to kill and thinks of Patty Hearst as her model. She drinks and parties till she passes out. Mom’s current boyfriend is Morgan (Alexander Skarsgård), a tall guy with a goofy blonde moustache. Mom likes to think of Minnie as her friend and confessor – no secrets between them.

But there is a secret: Minnie’s first sexual experience – and her 19976004-14bc-45a8-aefe-cca85b70056aongoing relationship – is with Morgan. She chronicles her story (and all her other newly-awakened sexual adventures) using a tape-recorder she keeps hidden in her closet. She also hones her comic book skills with explicit, black and white drawings, modeled on the work of underground comic artist Aline 7327ebd5-d2fa-4664-8c9e-ffc254758144Kominsky. Together with her best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) she explores the sex, drugs and counterculture of San Francisco. She’s quick to undress and loves teaching the guys she meets new tricks. But can her secrets stay secret?

Bel Powley is excellent as Minnie, a quirky, adventurous girl testing the waters between childhood and adulthood as she comes to terms with her family. Diary of a Teenage Girl is a nice, light story with an adult theme, made beautiful with animated sequences of her drawings.

SN_D1_075She’s Funny that Way
Dir: Peter Bogdanovich

Izzy (Imogen Potts) is a young sex worker and aspiring actor from Brooklyn. She has a devoted following as an escort, (including a judge who stalks her) but less so as an actress.  When she spends the night with Arnold (Owen Wilson) a successful director in town from L.A., her life changes. He says I’ll never see you again but here’s $30,000 (he hands her a suitcase of money) to pursue your goal as an artist and leave prostitution behind. She agrees. The next day her agent gets her an audition for a Broadway play – in the role of a prostitute. She’s a natural! Everyone loves her audition except the play’s director – it’s SN_D24_011_11Arnold from the night before!  The other lead actors in the play are Arnold’s wife (Kathryn Hahn) and her possible ex-lover (Rhys Ifans) – both of whom are staying in the same hotel. Add an angry psychiatrist (Jennifer Anniston) a stalker and a private detective to the mix, and you get lots of confusion, fake names and lovers hiding in bathrooms.

SN_D4_166She’s Funny that Way is funny that way, in the manner of an old-skool screwball comedy. Imogen Potts’s (with a hit-and-miss Brooklyn accent) is wonderful as Izzy, and the rest of the cast is loaded with dozens of stars in cameo roles.

Now screwball comedies are a neglected genre, and one I really like. But even more interesting is the backstory for this film. Peter Bogdanovich was a huge director in the 70s, with What’s up Doc, Paper Moon, and The Last Picture Show, all either set during the depression, or else – like this one — done in the style of old Hollywood movies.

Maybe you remember the name Dorothy Stratten. (Her story has been toldDorothy Stratten in films like Star 80.) She was a sex worker from Vancouver, a Playboy centrefold, very pretty, who wanted to become a Hollywood star. And Peter Bogdanovich gave her her big break, casting her in a movie called They All Laughed. But her ex-husband was still obsessed with her and stalked her… and murdered her before the movie was released. A tragic story. But there’s more:  Bogdanovich paid for the schooling of Dorothy’s younger sister, Louise, and after she graduated, he married her. She went on to write the script for this movie. This movie is a tribute to Dorothy Stratten told not as a tragedy but as a classical Hollywood comedy with a happy ending.

She’s Funny that Way, Diary of a Teenage Girl and The Kindergarten Teacher 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

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

Love, Romance and Passion. Movies reviewed: Trishna, My First Wedding PLUS Burlesque Assassins

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

In the heat of the night, Toronto has been boiling over with record hot temperatures and high tempers, tragic shootings and a bizarre machete mugging.

But hot nights can also lead to steamy romance, passion and ultimately to love. So this week I’m looking at two movies that deal with romance. One’s about a wedding that might lead to disaster; another where the lack of a wedding might ruin the relationship.

Trishna

Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Jay (Riz Ahmed) is a confident Oxbridge toff touring India with his buddies. But when they see a young woman performing a dance at their hotel in Rajasthan Jay is smitten and decides to pursue her. And the dancer Trishna (Freida Pinto), notices him too — clearly the feelings are mutual. Jay’s father owns a palatial hotel in Jaipur, and since Trishna’s father’s accident (he was the jeep driver for the travelling Jay and his friends), her extended family has no income. So she takes him up on his offer and goes to work for the hotel, and study at the local college. All’s going well until she is accosted by some tuffs, rescued by her white knight Jay on a motorcycle and then taken back to the hotel, where they succomb to passion. But by the next morning she feels ashamed and what happens and flees home.

If this all feels like a Victorian novel, that’s because it is: it’s an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in modern-day India. Scooters instead of horses, jeeps instead of stagecoaches, but class is still the big divider. Trishna comes from a poor family, and although given a taste of the high life — a Bombay apartment as Jay dabbles as a Bollywood producer, or in Jaipur at the posh hotel — there’s a clear difference between Jay’s status and hers. He moodily shifts from boyfriend to employer, and the dynamics of their relationship also changes. He says in the Kama Sutra there are three types of women you can sleep with: a sophisticated woman, a servant or a courtesan. He doesn’t mention wife. Trishna wonders which one she is. There relationship could be a passing fancy for him, but for a disenfranchised woman it’s all she’s got.

Trishna is a very moving and realistic romantic drama, partly scripted, partly improvised — almost documentary like. Pinto and Ahmed are both great as the lovers, and the director, Michael Winterbottom is as experimental and surprising as ever. His movies range from 24 Hour Party People to A Cock and Bull Story (a comic adaptation of another British novel — in this case Sterne’s Tristram Shandy)

While he has no specific style – his style can change drastically from film to film — Winterbottom’s always an interesting director who constantly expands the boundaries of what you can call a movie. Trishna follows a traditional story, but by shifting the culture and language from 19th century England to 21st century India Winterbottom can take the age old story of poor girl meets rich boy and turn it into an entirely new type of film.

My First Wedding

Dir: Ariel Winograd

Adrian and Leonora are a happy couple, dressed up and ready for their country club wedding outside Buenos Aries. The wedding planner is organizing everything, family and friends are all arriving, and a rabbi and a priest are being driven out there to officiate. Adrian (Daniel Hendler) is Jewish, while Leo (Natalia Oreiro) is Catholic. But as they separately rehearse their wedding vows, Adrian panics when he loses Leo’s wedding band. She’ll kill him if she finds out. so, to postpone the wedding, he must send the Priest and Rabbi off on a wild goose chase, hide the truth from his bride, and find the ring (with help from cousin Fede).

The wedding planner recommends they go through the wedding in reverse order — party, dine, drink, and dance… and say the vows at the end instead of the beginning. Sort of an upside down wedding. But things get even more complicated. Leo’s snobbish mother, herself divorced, is disappointed in her choice, Adrian’s family are all quarrelling, his grandfather wants to smoke pot, and past lovers — Leo’s former professor, the dashing Miguel Angel (Imanol Arias); and Adrian’s second cousin who still likes him — all seem to be working hard to ruin the wedding. Angel announces that marriages are like cities under seige: everyone inside wants to get out, while everyone outside is trying to get in. With the divorces and collapsing relationships all around them, the title (My First Wedding) begins to make sense.

This is a funny, classic screwball comedy about what can go wrong at a wedding. The two leads are great as is the very large supporting cast. It’s a light enjoyable rom-com from Argentina, told from the groom’s perspective.

Trishna and My First Wedding both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Also playing tonight (at the Bloor Cinema) is a neo-burlesque, cabaret style movie called Burlesque Assassins (directed by Jonathan Joffe), about some killer spies (with names like Roxi D’lite) who double as cold-war exotic dancers as they travel the globe to catch the villains. Lots of guns, 1950’s uniforms, and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at. Also on this weekend is the documentary “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” about Burma and its people. It’s showing free at the East Gallery, just across the street from the AGO on Dundas.

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

 

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