Teens. Films reviewed: Bernadette, Minding the Gap, Carmen & Lola

Posted in 1990s, Coming of Age, documentary, Drama, LGBT, Roma, Romantic Comedy, Skateboards, Slackers, Spain, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 15, 2019

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

In your teenaged years, as you span the time between child and adulthood, it’s hard to separate true love from first crush. This week I’m looking at three such comic of age stories. There’s a 15 year old boy with a crush on a French woman; three skateboarders trapped in a rust belt town, and two young women in Spain touched by chance.

Bernadette

Wri/Dir: John Psathis

It’s the summer of 1994 in Forest Lake, a suburb near Chicago. Archie (Sam Straley) is a 15 year old freshman who lives with his single mom (Sarah Shirkey). He plays in a garage band with two other nerds, his best friends Ken and Martin (Johnnie Lim, James Guytin) .  Archie has just one goal: to meet a beautiful, but unapproachable exchange student named Bernadette before she moves back to France in the Fall. Problem is she’s a senior, a lifeguard at the local pool, and is beautiful beyond belief. She also has an older boyfriend, a French prof at the local community college. And she’s surrounded by a gang of bullies, led by by the cruel and vindictive Richtor (Tommy Philbin).

Luckily he gets a job at the park where Bernadette (Marilyn Bass) works. And his boss, Dixon (James Psathis) shows him the ropes. Dixon is a legend at his school — tall, charismatic and known for his sexual prowess. He keeps polaroids of all the women he’s slept with on the wall of the tool shed he’s living in. Anyone else would kill for such a mentor. But not Archie. He can’t stand Dixon, because of his latest conquest. No, it’s not Bernadette he’s sleeping with, it’s Archie’s 33-year-old mom! Will Archie come to terms with Dixon, overcome the bully Richtor, and convince Bernadette that he’s her one true love?

Bernadette is a typical boy-meets-girl coming of age story, but, despite the title is barely about Bernadette at all. It’s about a fatal summer in the life of the hero. This is a cute, indie movie, with a fun cast and an enjoyable story. The plot is not especially original – you can predict most of the plot turns a mile away – but it is nicely done and neatly constructed. And does every new film need to be super-special?

An enjoyable teenage romcom is good enough for me.

Minding the Gap

Dir: Bing Liu

Rockford is a small city in Northern Illinois. It’s filled with vacant warehouses and empty factories, cracking sidewalks and vacant lots. All the empty space makes it a paradise for skateboards and the guys who skate them. This documentary follows the lives of three of them, Kiere, Zack and Bing. Aside from their love of skating, they also share dark pasts. All three of them endured violence and abuse at the hands of their parents. Kiere’s dad beat him as corproaral punishment to discipline him when he did something wrong. He resented it at the time, but now desperately misses his father who died when he was teen. Zack also comes from a family with a history of violence and alcoholism… which he seems to be carrying forward in his own relationship with his girlfriend. A relationship mainly based on their baby boy, not any love they once had for each other. Bing’s story is the most hidden of the three. He coaxes it out of his mother who admits her second husband, Bing’s stepdad, abused both of them…though the nature of his abuse remains unclear.

Minding the Gap follows the three boys as they grow into men in their 20s, all captured by Bing’s video camera. It starts as just shots of the three of them gliding down the streets, but gradually reveals, in a series of interviews, traumatic moments in their lives. And life in a rust belt town, gradually being emptied of its people. I liked this doc, though confessional, reality-show-type docs aren’t my favourite format. It’s a first film, but surprisingly has already been nominated as Best Feature Documentary in this year’s Oscars.

Check it out.

Carmen & Lola

Wri/Dir: Arantxa Echevarría

It’s a housing project outside present day Madrid. Lola (Zaira Romero) is a prickly 16 year old graffiti artist who wants to get out of this place. Her illiterate parents, Paco and Flor, and her little brother Miguel are happy with their life here. They run a stall at an outdoor market, attend an evangelical church and celebrate birthdays and weddings in the traditional Roma style. Lots of singing and dancing with their friends relatives. But Lola wants more. With the help of Paqui (Carolina Yuste) who works at the local community centre she’s trying to pull herself out of traditional roles. At the market she meets the beautiful and glamorous Carmen (Rosy Rodríguez) who also works there. She’s engaged to Lola’s first cousin, and dreams of becoming a hairdresser, one of the few professions open to Roma women.

For Lola, it’s love at first site. She’s enchanted by everything about Carmen, from her little bird-shaped earings to her lithe body and beautiful face. Carmen is everything she desires and she paints grafitti art tributes her on local walls. She teaches her how to swim, so someday they might go to the beach in Malaga together. But Carmen is shocked when Lola expresses her love to her. I’m normal, Lola, not disgusting like you, she says. Kiss a boy, and you’ll see what you’re missing. Lola counters, kiss me, or you’ll never know for sure. Will Carmen and Lola become lovers? Or will her strong community ties make that impossible?

Carmen & Lola is a wonderful romantic drama about an unlikely couple. It’s shot in a realistic style, celebrating Roma culture in Spain, the church services, the music and traditional costumes. She uses non-actors for many of the roles, and never shies away from the racism and poverty they face on a daily basis.

This is a very good love story.

Carmen & Lola and Minding the Gap are both playing at the TIFF Next Wave festival. All tickets are free if you’re 25 or under. Go to tiff.net for details. And Bernadette is premiering at Vancouver’s Just for Laughs and will open later this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 27, 2012. Airplanes and Wheelchairs. Films Reviewed: Red Tails, Moon Point PLUS Oscar nominations

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Acting, Action, African-Americans, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Movies, Slackers, US, video games, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2012

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.

They announced the Oscar nominees this week, some expected and others not so. I’ll be talking more about the nominations closer to the awards ceremony. They nominated some enjoyable movies – like The Help, War Horse, some good but not special ones like the Descendents, some good but flawed movies like the Tree of Life, and some mediocre ones like The Artist. And then there are the shockers. They nominated one of the worst movies of the year for best picture — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; one of the worst acting performances — Rooney Mara for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and Nick Nolte’s overwrought “Drunk Dad” in the mixed martial arts flick The Warrior.

I think Hugo is a good movie, but isn’t it sad that Scorsese could win for his so-so movies like this or The Departed but not for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas or King of Comedy? Ok, just wanted to let off a bit of steam, as I plod along my way…

This week I’m looking at two movies in motion. One’s an American film about soldiers who want to fly in the air, and a Canadian one about friends who want to roll up a hill.

Red Tails (Based on a true story)

Dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s nearing the end of WWII. The Americans have taken Italy and are pushing the Germans northward across Europe. And at one of the Italian bases is a team of ace flyers who have yet to see battle. Why? Because they’re all African Americans from a special Air Force project in Tuskegee, Alabama. And in the 1940’s America was still a segregated country, with the “colour bar” strictly enforced. Black officers aren’t even allowed to drink in the officers’ club. The want to kill some Germans. Instead they’re stuck puttering around in glued together old junk-heaps, aiming their guns at covered jeeps and enemy trains.

Their officers, meanwhile, are in DC, trying to give them a chance to do some real fighting as they train in northern Italy. The whites in the military characterize this group of bright-eyed University-educated, ambitious, would-be-heroes as lazy and incompetent.

But they are actually champ flyers and fighters, especially Lightning (David Oyelowo) the best of them all. He swoops and spins, ducks, turns and flies upside down They all have nicknames, like “Easy” (Nate Parker) the drinker, or “Junior” (Elijah Kelley) the kid – with their names and logos painted on the sides of their planes. But they all want “kills” o their planes, too.

One day on a flight, Lightning sees a beautiful woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah) looking out her window as he flies overhead – they catch each others’ eyes, and it’s love at first sight. (But will it be happily ever after?)

Finally the men are given new planes to fly, and they paint the tails bright red to make it clear who they are. Will they win their battles? Will Lightning shoot down his personal enemy a Red Baron Nazi flyer they call Pretty boy for his scarred face? And will they get to go with the other planes to drop bombs on Berlin?

What can I say about this movie?

It has a lot going for it. I liked the acting – an all-around good cast (although the scenes in Washington, with Terrence Howard pleading his soldiers’ case, were painfully wooden). David Oyelowo, especially, owns the screen.. And I have to say I enjoy the spectacular plane fights up in the air – it felt like a cool video game. And it’s a good idea to tell little-known history, to give kids role models, and to celebrate forgotten accomplishments by African Americans.

The problem is in the movie’s tone. Seriously — is it possible to show such a gung-ho, “war is great” type of movie in this day and age with a straight face? Even a hint of disgust for the excesses of war would have made this more understandable for contemporary audiences. Instead it ends up feeling more like a 1940’s recruitment ad then a modern-day movie.

Moon Point

Dir: Sean Cisterna

Darryl (Nick McKinley) is a slacker, a loser, and a compulsive liar who lives at home and is picked on by his snobby cousin Lars. He does little aside from hanging out with his good friend Femur (Kyle Mac), a disabled orphan who lives with his grandma. But when his cousin sarcastically asks if Darryl will be bringing a date to Lars’s upcoming wedding, he vows he’ll be bringing a movie star. You see, he had a crush on Sarah Cherry when he was a kid, and now she’s back shooting a movie.

Things have got to change. So Darryl convinces Femur to drive him up north to Moon Point, a town where where the movie’s being shot. By drive, he’s referring to Femur’s motorized scooter he uses when not in a wheelchair. So Darryl climbs into the little metal cart pulled by the scooter and begin their extremely slow trip to the North. On the way they meet a young woman, Kristin (Paula Brancati) who hitches a ride after her car broke down.

Will Darryl ever find his Hollywood crush? Will Kristin find her true love? And will Femur tackle his personal crisis? And can they all get to Moon Point and back in time for a wedding… at 5 miles an hour?

Moon Point is a very low-budget, locally-made Canadian comedy. It’s cute and fairly original with likeable characters. It’s a comedy, but some of the jokes fall as flat as a pancake. The humour comes less from the one-liners than from the unusual and uncomfortable situations characters find themselves in. Like sitting in on an A.A. meeting after catching a lift from a drunk driver (played by Art Hindle… dressed in a banana suit!) Or an impromptu karaoke contest in a highway roadhouse. The tone swings back and forth, from hokey to charming — but I ended up liking it.

Moon Point reminds me of Bruce MacDonald’s earliest movies, like Roadkill, only not rock and roll… calmer, gentler.

Red Tails is playing now, and Moon Point opens in Toronto next week – check your local listings.

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

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January 6, 2012. Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. Movies Reviewed: Jeff Who Lives At Home, Dark Horse, Starbuck

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.

It’s a New Year now, and everyone’s scrambling to make vows, resolutions and oaths to change their lives. And there’s one group that’s often makes the most earnest promises of all — I’m talking about that popular caricature, Guys Who Won’t Grow Up. In the movies, they tend to have dead-end jobs, play with toys, smoke pot, live in their parents’ basements and generally strike out with women, despite all their good intentions. So this week I’m looking at three movie, all of which played at TIFF last year, about grown-up boys who decide to change their lives. So all you couch potatoes, it’s time to get up, go out, and see some movies!

Jeff Who Lives at Home

Wri/Dir: Jay and Mark Duplass

Jeff (Jason Segel) lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on the toilet. He doesn’t get along with his older brother Pat anymore (Ed Helms), a self-centred square who neglects his wife. Pat’s a guy who’s supposed to look at a new home, but instead spends all their money on a Porsche on impulse. And now his wife doesn’t feel so great about their marriage. And Mom also notices a change in her cubicle job when her best friend tells her she has a secret admirer. So what’s going to happen?

Jeff, is a proto- string theorist (like the characters in the movie I Heart Huckabees) He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to pick up a bottle of glue for his mother (Susan Sarandon). But, when something catches his eye on an infomercial, followed by the words “CALL NOW!” at the same time as a strange, threatening wrong number calling for someone named “Kevin”, he gets sent off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world.

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who usually make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational, super-realistic movies. They do tend to use annoying, jiggly hand-held cameras, but the movies are interesting enough that it doesn’t bother you after awhile. This one, Jeff who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, it’s a fun, light comedy.

You could say Jeff is a “lite” version of the next character. Now think of the same guy, but 10-15 years later…

Dark Horse

Dir: Todd Solandz

Abe (Jordan Gelber) also lives with his parents, but he’s older, less attractive, fatter, and without any of the cute, endearing qualities that Jeff (who also lives at home) had. He works in his dad’s company, sitting in his glassed-in office, dressing like a white gangsta rapper, in track pants and T-shirts, with a gold name plate around his neck. He drives a bright yellow SUV, listens to hiphop, collects Tron Legacy memorabilia. And he despises his older brother who’s a doctor, and whom his parents idolize. He’s simultaneously arrogant, talentless and uninteresting. He’s the kind of guy who throws something toward a garbage can, says “two points!”… and then misses.

But at a Jewish wedding in suburban New Jersey (a hilarious scene where adults in wedding suits are all doing head spins and break-dancing) he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a depressed but pretty, dark-haired woman who lives with her parents, after breaking up with her boyfriend Mahmoud. Abe is the worst person at picking up girls, possibly in the entire world. When he hits on a woman he says things like “Do you like jazz? NFL?” without bothering to listen to her answer before moving on to the next failed pick-up line. But somehow — for whatever reason — they end up dating.

Here’s where the movie gets really interesting (and a bit confusing). Abe decides to take the bull by the horns and change his life. The story goes off on these bizarre tangents. Things get bad with his lethargic parents (Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken) who finally put their collective foot down; the older secretary, Marie, at the office pursues her sexual crush on Abe; and he has other troubles with his plastic model collection. Abe can’t take it anymore.

I don’t want to give it away, but once again, Todd Solandz, who is such a good director, (with his painfully dark stories and funny-depressing characters) experiments once again with new narrative techniques, like unreliable narrators; total, sudden shifts in point of view – but without informing the viewers; and fantasy, delusions and dreams almost undistinguishable from reality. Wow. It’s a great movie that I hope will get released soon.

Starbuck

Dir: Ken Scott

David (Patrick Houad) is just not doing that well with his life. Everything just seems to be going wrong. He’s separated from his girlfriend, he’s bad at his job (delivering meat for his family business), and his money-making scheme, a grow-up, must be the only one in the world actually losing money: he owes 80 thousand to a bunch of violent thugs who want it back. His girlfriend – who’s pregnant with his kid – tells him he’d better change things if he wants to be that kid’s father. But these all seem like small potatoes when he’s hit by the biggest news of all – the sperm he anonymously donated at a fertility clinic 20 years go, was fertile. Very. He has 500 adult kids now, and 140 or so are planning a class-action suit to make him reveal his identity (he donated using only the nickname “Starbuck”.)

So he decides to secretly track down as many of his kids he can find, to help them out but without revealing his identity to them. There’s a lifeguard, a drug addict, a street musician, an effeminate goth, an aspiring actor… even if David’s own life is a total loss, maybe he can at least make his mark on the world by helping his many, many kids succeed. But the media pick up his story, making it harder and harder to remain hidden. Will he make it out of his various personal crises? Will he be forced to expose his identity to the world? Will his immigrant family ever feel proud of him? And will his pregnant girlfriend let him back into her life?

Starbuck is a really enjoyable, solid, feel-good commercial Quebec comedy, (from the people who brought us Good Cop, Bon Cop0. It’s playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the best 10 Canadian films series starting now, along with the new Cronenberg movie and Monsieur Lazhar.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, culturalmining.com.

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