Daniel Garber talks with Michael Del Monte and Janae Marie Kroczaleski about Transformer

Posted in Bodybuilders, Canada, documentary, Family, LGBT, Sports, Trans, Women by CulturalMining.com on October 19, 2018

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

Photos by Jeff Harris.

Janae Marie is a Michigan pharmacist, originally from Ypsilanti, divorced with three sons.

Matt was a high school football player, a former marine who rose to fame as a competitive bodybuilder and power lifter. What brings the two together?

Jenae used to be Matt.

She’s a transwoman facing the unusually difficult transition from titanic 250 pound man into her current status. This transformation is documented in a new feature film called Transformer.

The documentary is directed by Toronto native, award-winning filmmaker Michael Del Monte.

It follows Janae both at home with family and friends, and inside the hypermasculine world of competitive weightlifting. It shows her life both as Matt and as Janae while she makes the difficult decisions and myriad changes faced by all trans people, as well as those unique to her world. Transformer is an eye-opening, surprising, touching and always respectful movie.

I spoke to Janae Marie Kroczaleski and Michael Del Monte on location during Hot Docs.

Del Monte’s Transformer won the won Hot Docs Emerging Canadian Filmmaker Award and the Rogers Audience Choice Award for Best Canadian Doc. It starts its theatrical run today.

Bro Movies. Films reviewed: Bigger, First Man, Free Solo

Posted in 1930s, 1960s, Biopic, Bodybuilders, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Space, Sports by CulturalMining.com on October 12, 2018

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

It’s Fall Film Festival season in Toronto now, meaning more movies than you can shake a stick at. Toronto After Dark will thrill and chill you with horror, cult and fantasy pics. Cinefranco brings brand new French language comedies, dramas and policiers from Quebec and Europe. And Rendezvous with Madness plays fascinating films accompanied by panel discussions on addiction and mental health.

But this week I’m talking about bro films, two biopics and a doc about men with lofty goals. One wants to climb a sheer cliff, another wants to build the perfect body, and a third one who just wants to fly to the moon.

Bigger

Dir: George Gallo

Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) is a poor jewish kid in depression-era Montreal. On the streets tough kids beat him up and steal his paper route money, and at home his cruel mom beats him for not keeping clean. At least his little brother Ben (Aneurin Barnard) looks up to him. Joe finds inspiration in unusual places: a strongman at the circus and photos of weight lifters he see at newsstands. He begins to obsessively draw pictures of perfect male bodies, copying from textbooks at the McGill library. He wants to promote beautiful physiques, bodies that are muscular, symmetrical and healthy. But fitness for health and looks is still a new concept. In those days people guzzled booze, smoked like chimneys, and thought exercise was a dangerous thing best left to olympic athletes.

Weider challenges all that with self-published magazines, promoting new exercises, diets and weight training, illustrated with glamour shots of barely-dressed muscle men. It’s a smash hit, he gets a US contract and Joe and Ben’s empire expands to bodybuilder contests, weights, and a wide range of magazines. And when business takes him to Hollywood, he spots a bleached blonde pin up model working out at Jack LaLanne’s gym.  Betty (Julianne Hough) is everything he desires: beautiful, fit and smart (he is separated from his first wife). Is this true love? Later he discovers Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger – the personification of his childhood drawings – and brings him to America.

Bigger is a fun, if idealized, look at the life and career of Canadian fitness mogul Joe Weider. It’s a bit corny, with Montreal-born Joe talking in an unplaceable, choppy accent. And it steers clear of his lawsuits and scandals. But Hoechlin and Hough are enjoyable as Joe and Betty, and there’s even a super villain, a racist, anti-semitic homophobe named Hauk (wonderfully played by Kevin Durand) who is his business rival and real-life enemy. Not a great movie, but an enjoyable one.

First Man

Dir: Damien Chazelle

It’s the 1960s in America, the space race is on, and the Soviets are winning. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a test pilot exploring the skies. He can land any plane, even one about to explode. He’s married to Janet (Claire Foy), a pixie-ish woman with a fierce temper. They have a young daughter they both love. But when the girl dies of an incurable illness, and Neil loses his job despite his skills they know things have to change. So Neil makes a big decision: NASA needs astronauts, and he’s going to be one. They move down to Houston and settle in to suburban life.

First Man follows the career and home life of the renowned astronaut, from Gemini missions, to Apollo’s first landing. Armstrong is portrayed as a strong silent type, a no-nonsense guy who drives off alone to handle anger and depression. It also deals with astronauts and their uncertain lives (lots of them died). And director Chazelle makes you feel like you’re there with them in the planes and rockets. He even inserts showtunes into his astronaut movie. (Wait — showtunes?)  So why didn’t I Iike it? First Man is too heavy, too long, too ponderous. It’s one of those overly stern and patriotic American movies about national heroes. And where’s the suspense? We already know he was the first man on the moon. What’s the point? Ok, there are a few powerful scenes, but First Man consists mainly of rattling cockpits, brooding astronauts and suburban housewives yelling about their husbands.

Ryan Gosling is wasted in this boring example of Oscar Bait.

Free Solo

Dir: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

It’s 2016 and Alex Honnold has one obsession: to scale a sheer cliff in Yosemite. Mountain climbers have done it before in teams rapelling with ropes, pitons and caribiners. But Alex wants to do it “free solo”, that is, by himself and without safety ropes. One slip, one miscalculated reach, will send him plunging to his death. But he really wants to climb El Cap, and if it’s not free solo, what’s the point?

Alex is a boyish, wiry vegetarian who cares little for material things. He’s a loner who lives out of a trailer. He’s also in perfect shape, lithe, bendy and incredibly strong. He has to be to hold onto a crack in a rock with just a few fingers while stretching his body sideways to the next outcropping. He intensely studies the cliff, practicing each stage in separate small climbs using ropes. And he is accompanied by the filmmakers, who are accomplished climbers themselves. Alex proves to be a bit camera shy, hesitant to “let go” before the cameras. Is it performance anxiety? And will Alex make it to the top of El Capitan… or plunge to his death?

Free Solo is an amazing and spectacular look at one climber attempting the nearly impossible. I have no deep-seated passion for rock climbing – I even have a fear of falling – but this movie kept me riveted the whole time. Scenes that show Alex’s quirky nature and the people around him —  including other climbers, his family and his girlfriend – help give him a more rounded portrayal. But it’s the climb itself, and the truly amazing photography, that really keeps your attention.

Bigger, First Man, and Free Solo and 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.

Art and Sport. Films Reviewed: The Miracle Season, Final Portrait, PLUS Steve Reinke’s films at Images

Posted in Art, Canada, Death, France, Movies, Queer, Rural, Sex, Sports, Switzerland, Women by CulturalMining.com on April 6, 2018

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

Toronto’s Images, the International Festival of Moving Image Culture, opens next Thursday with Canadian and international video artists and filmmakers… featuring the work of Steve Reinke. This week, I’m going to talk about films by artists, and films about artists, with some sports thrown in, too. There’s an American volleyball team, a Swiss sculptor, and a Canadian video artist.

The Miracle Season

Dir: Sean McNamara

Caroline and Kelly have been best friends since childhood. “Line” (Danika Yarosh) is the always chirpy optimist who Kelly (Erin Moriarty) looks up to. Growing up in rural Iowa, they share their secrets amidst big barns and cornfields. In high school they play volleybal together. With Line as team manager and setter they win the State Championships. Of course the other team members, andtheir hard boiled coach (Helen Hunt) are important, but it’s really Line who leads the team to victory.

But the next year things take a turn for the worse. The team is dispirited and Line’s Mom has cancer. Then the unthinkable happens; Line dies in a crash. Kelly feels guilty, and so does Line’s dad Ernie (William Hurt) who used to throw team parties and boost the players. With no Line around to pull people out of their misery, the team slides to last place. They don’t even want to be happy – it’s disrespectful. It falls to Kelly to turn the team around. Can she do it, and will the team ever win again?

The Miracle Season is a nice movie about teamwork and overcoming loss. It has good acting and a conventionally inspiring story. “Nice” is the key word here. Based on a true story, it was made by permission of the charity founded by the Line’s father. So as you can expect, anything not super “nice” has been scrubbed from the plot. No sex, no violence here. They could show this movie at Bible Camp without raising an eyebrow. Which makes it a nice memorial for teammates and family members, but for the rest of us, it’s just a dull and predictable movie. But, like I said, it’s still nice.

Final Portrait

Dir: Stanley Tucci

It’s early 1960s. James Lord (Armie Hammer) is a young American living in Paris who writes biographies of well known artists. He’s friends with both Picasso and the Swiss-Italian sculptor Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush). Giacometti is famous for his sculptures of people with crusty and extremely elongated arms and legs. But he also paints. And one day he asks James to pose for him for a few hours. He sits down in Alberto’s studio dressed in khakis, navy blue sports jacket and shirt and tie. But the one-day painting turns into a project lasting days and then weeks, until no one knew if it would ever end. Each time he paints his face, Alberto rubs it all out and starts again. Meanwhile, various people in his life walk in and out adding colour to the story. His brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub) has seen it all before. His neglected wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) refuses to pose for him anymore. And his mistress Caroline (played by the delightfully-named Clémence Poésy) would rather go for a jaunt in their sportscar than just hang at the studio. Final Portrait has some fun parts, but basically this movie is 90 minutes of watching paint dry.

Steve Reinke

Steve Reinke is a queer Canadian artist and filmmaker, originally from the Ottawa valley but now based in Chicago. I’ve seen a lot of his films in the past 20 years, but for the first time I spent last night binge-watching them all together (which is quite an experience).  If you’ve never seen Reinke’s stuff before, you should.

He’s been shooting films and videos that chronical his life, his thoughts, aesthetics, and interests — both intellectual and sexual – beginning in the late 1970s and continuing till now. And unlike a lot of gallery video artists, his films are never boring. (This is important.) Like porn, a Reinke film is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. (But that doesn’t mean you’ll understand it.)

Taken at face value, his collection is an ongoing, partly-fictional memoir told through video art (predating blogs and youtube by decades). His images are partly found footage/partly original, narrated both by voice and by titles. Take What Weakens the Flesh is the Flesh Itself, a recent film he made with James Richards. The film alternates grotesquerie with erotica and mundaneness, with the edges sometimes blurring among the three. Grotesque as in a dead piglet; mundane, like a naked man eating grapes or an ice fishing hut shot with a distorted, fisheye lens; erotic like a poisonous snake having its venom extracted in a laboratory. The film begins with photos by the late German photographer Albrecht Becker. He was imprisoned in Nazi Germany for his sexuality. His work consists of photos of himself reduplicated with an imaginary “twin”. Over time, as his photos become more stylized and experimental so does his body, which gradually transmogrifies — before still cameras — into a work of art using tattoos, body modification, and a whopping-big metal thing hanging from his scrotum. (Ouch!)

Reinke’s flms are transgressive and a total mindfuck. Like he’ll show you an alien monster with pointy ears making out with a faceless, sexless human, encased in a skintight black PVC outfit. And then later he’ll show an unborn dead calf being pulled from a cow’s belly with the same black shininess.

This is weird stuff, alternating between jarring pictures of sex and death overlayed with anodyne intellectual musings. Who else would compare Casper the Friendly Ghost to Wittgenstein? What other filmmaker offers a film called Anal Masturbation and Object Loss that’s actually just Steve Reinke pasting the pages of an academic psychiatric textbook together? Or show thousands of unidentified military photos before telling you this: [SPOILER ALERT] these are pics of all the American military casualties of the Second Gulf War arranged in order of attractiveness. Shocking stuff.

It all feels like you just watched a story, but one arranged with enough sudden changes and musical distortion that you’re not seduced into it. Steven Reinke’s films leave you disturbed and unsatisfied but you don’t quite know why.

Films viewed:

What Weakens The Flesh Is The Flesh Itself (2017)

Atheists Need Theology, Too (2016)

Joke (Version One) (1991)

*Watermelon Box (1990)

*Michael and Lacan (1991)

*Room (1991)

*Barely Human (1992)

Anal Masturbation and Object Loss (2002)

Squeezing Sorrow From an Ashtray (1992)

Hobbit Love is the Greatest Love (2007)

A Boy Needs a Friend (2015)

*not included in Images series

The Miracle Season and Final Portrait both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Steve Reinke’s films are showing at Toronto’s Images Festival — featured in its Canadian Artist Spotlight series — beginning next Thursday. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Surfaces. Films Reviewed: Ghost Hunting, Battle of the Sexes, Beach Rats

Posted in 1970s, drugs, Feminism, LGBT, Movies, Palestine, Sex, Sports, Tennis, Torture by CulturalMining.com on September 22, 2017

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

Toronto’s fall film festival season has begun. This week I’m looking at three movies that played at festivals: Sundance, TIFF and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival — two of which are directed by women. There’s a drama on the boardwalk, a biopic on the tennis court, and a documentary on a cold prison floor.

Ghost Hunting

Dir: Raed Andoni

Raed is Palestinian movie director who sends out a strange request. He’s looking for steelworkers, set builders, carpenters and painters to recreate a notorious Israeli prison inside an abandoned warehouse. The strange part is these builders and architects will also play the prisoners and their interrogators in the film he’s making. And stranger still, all the cast — including the director — were once prisoners at this very prison.

The interrogation centre is in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem known to prisoners as Al-Moskobiya (Moscow). They recount what happened to them. Many endured days or even weeks of nonstop interrogation in small cells. They were chained to walls, hung on their tiptoes suspended by pulleys or forced to kneel on the ground. Some were shaken, choked, hit, and denied sleep, water, or toilet access.

Hunting Ghosts has a complex artistic structure. Its partly a verite documentary, showing the construction of the set while the former prisoners candidly tell their stories. It’s partly a drama, the scripted re-enactment of the interrogations themselves. It’s partly meta – where the people working on the set become caricatures of themselves (i.e. the cruel director, the angry set-builder). Explicitly scripted scenes – often moving and disturbing – are always presented in a way you know it’s just a film. We see the actors putting on their makeup before they’re locked into the cells. The real drama often begins after the director yells cut, when the actors start talking.

The movie is also part fantasy, with animated scenes reflecting the thoughts running through their heads during long interrogations, their heads covered in cloth bags. One man thinks he sees his dead mother walk through a concrete wall to bring him water to drink.

Hunting Ghosts is a powerful look at the treatment of Palestinian prisoners and a tribute to the reported 750,000 arrested since 1967.

Battle of the Sexes

Dir: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

It’s the early 1970s in California. Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) is the top women’s tennis player in America. She’s happily married to her husband Larry (Larry King, but not the CNN journalist) but her real devotion is to the game. She’s shocked to discover prize money on an upcoming tour will be one eighth what the men get. The women threaten a walkout, but Jack Kramer — President of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) — tells them that men deserve more money because they have to support families, because they sell more tickets, and because women are “too emotional” to be thought of as real athletes. So the women start a League of Their Own.

Bobbie Riggs (Steve Carell) is a former national tennis champ twenty years earlier. Now he works at a desk job for his very rich wife’s dad. He’s a compulsive gambler who wins big bucks – including a golden Rolls Royce — by challenging rich country clubbers to heavily handicapped tennis games.

But Bobby wants to be really famous again. So he dubs himself a Male Chauvinist Pig and says women should stay in the kitchen and the bedroom, not on a tennis court. And he challenges Billie Jean King to a Battle of the Sexes, man vs woman. King smells a media circus, but finally agrees when she thinks it will advance pay equality between the sexes. Who will win?

Meanwhile,  unbenownst to the outside world, Billie Jean is having a clandestine affair with a woman named Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough) her hairdresser. A chance meeting sparks new feelings in Billie Jean King… but will her love affair interfere with her game?

I’m not a tennis buff, but I found Battle of the Sexes a thoroughly enjoyable, feel-good movie. I was even interested in watching the the game itself, which uses actual sports footage and historical commentary (by Howard Cossell) worked into the film. The side roles are also well-cast, from Bill Pullman as the condescending Jack Kramer, to Sarah Silverman as the feminist manager. Steve Carell is funny as the dog-and-pony showman, and Emma Stone is just great as the pretty and determined Billie Jean King.

Beach Rats

Wri/Dir: Eliza Hittman

It’s a hot summer in a hipster-free section of Brooklyn. Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is a white, working class guy who lives with his parents and his little sister. He likes handball, vaping and posting weight-lifting selfies online. He spends most of his time at the Coney Island boardwalk, hanging with three local yahoos who like to make trouble.

One night, he meets Simone (Madeline Weinstein) a pretty girl who tells him he’s sexy. She thinks the fireworks are romantic. Frankie is not so sure. His own parents met on the boardwalk too.  But his dad is dying of cancer and his mom is on edge. He’s unhappy about it too, but at least his dad’s cancer keeps him well supplied with prescription opiates he shares with his beach rat buddies. Aside from his home and the beach there’s a third universe Frankie visits, but only after dark. It’s an online date site called Brooklyn Boys where he posts his selfies. There he meets older men for anonymous sex. He considers himself straight but enjoys having sex with men.

But when his father dies, everything falls apart. Simone dumps him — he’s too much of a “fixer upper”. His Oxy supply is cut off, so he’s reduced to pawning his mom’s jewelry to buy drugs. And he’s worried his pals — the Beach Rats — might find out about his sex life. Can Frankie come clean with his mom, cut down on his drug use, and reconcile his self image with his sexuality? Or will his whole life crash and burn?

Beach Rats is a terrific coming-of-age drama set against the carnival lights and phosphorescent waves of nighttime Coney Island. Dickinson is a new face but is perfect as the enigmatic Frankie, a young man simultaneously self-obsessed and self-doubting. Beautifully photographed, Beach Rats blends an up-to-the minute topic with a classical indie feel.

Battle of the Sexes launched at TIFF and Beach Rats at Sundance; both open today in Toronto — check your local listings. Ghost Hunting is one of many films and cultural events on now at the Toronto Palestine Film Fest. Go to tpff.ca for details.

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

Fast cars and fast food. Films reviewed: xXx: Return of Xander Cage, The Founder

Posted in 1950s, Action, Biopic, Conspiracy Theory, Food, Morality, Movies, Sports by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

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

Things are happening so fast south of the border you have to read Twitter to keep up. One day Chelsea Manning is heading for freedom. Another day Donald Trump is heading for the White House. So this week I’m looking at two movies about things that are fast. There’s a biopic about fast food, and an action movie about fast cars, fast planes and fast motorcycles.

15585154_696458033845759_3594431449720292242_oxXx: Return of Xander Cage

Dir: DJ Caruso

Americas bigwigs are meeting in a highrise and they are very worried. A top secret device known as Pandora’s Box has fallen into enemy hands. It looks like a VHS tape, but it has the power to turn satelites into Weapons of Mass Destruction, plunging to earth on their targets in a blaze of fire. But their meeting is broken up by a surprise attack by ghost agents: powerful paramilitary figures that are totally off the grid. So the head bigwig (Toni Collette) hires the legendary Xander 14940238_661940813964148_2127771514128546450_oCage (Vin Diesel) – the Triple X agent — to track down the bad guys and bring Pandora’s Box back home.

The problem is, how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys? Xander is offered a team of Sgt Nick Furys, but rejects them. Instead he gathers a team of misfits. There’s Adele, a green-haired Aussie sniper, and a car crash 14889751_661940543964175_1685622379480816316_omaniac, amond others. Xander Cage himself is an expert in extreme sports involving skis, skateboards and parkour. He’s also popular with the ladies. He regularly sleeps wth six models simultaneously. Why or how the movie doesn’t explain. The opposing team includes martial arts greats (Donny Yen and Tony Jaa — from Hong Kong and Thailand respectively) and the beautiful Serena (Indian model Deepika Padukone). The big showdown is supposed to take place at an open-air rave in a remote island (supposedly in the in the Philippines but without any Filipinos). But should they be 14902898_661941123964117_8062871875001764536_ofighting one another? Or going against the source of the trouble – the military/industrial bigwigs who started it all?

Triple X, Return of Xander Cage is an action movie, but not a thriller. It has an international cast, and a weird obsession with the 1990s, complete with 90s 14917252_661941140630782_7672771277120637968_orave culture, clothing, tattoos, even a guest appearance by Ice Cube.

There are a few funny lines, but most of the dialogue is painfully bad, filled with fake profundity. Lines like: Patriotism is dead; now there are only rebels and tyrants. (What does that mean?) Great chase scenes, including motorcycles on skis racing through a tubular wave on a beach; OK fights, though they skimped on the martial arts; plus lots of explosions, shootouts, car crashes and falling from great heights. Lots of violence but surprisingly less blood than I see shaving in the morning. (And I have a beard.) Which makes the violence seem comic book or comical. Watch this silly movie if you’re into extreme sport/action movies and just want to kill some time. It’s not a great movie by any measure, but it’s an enjoyable distraction.

TF_D01_TR_00075.ARWThe Founder

Dir: John Lee Hancock

It’s mid-twentieth century in middle America. Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is an unsuccessful travelling salesman. His mind is full of get-rich-quick schemes, but they always seem to fail. Still, he relentlessly plies the highways with samples of merchandise and the endless sales patter he carefully rehearses in motel rooms. Right TF_D22_DM_06302015-8012.cr2now it’s steel milkshake machines that he sells to drive-in burger joints popping up nationwide. They are places where leather jacketed toughs and girls in bobby sox gather to smoke cigarettes and listen to the juke box. Terrible service, cold food, long waits.

TF_D27_DM_07082015-9955.cr2But when he takes a telephone order from San Bernardino, California, his ears perk up. A restaurant there wants six of them. Six milkshake machines? Surely there must be some mistake. He drives out to investigate. And there he finds McDonalds. They sell burgers, fries, milkshakes. The lines are long but speedy, the food is delicious, and the service is perfect. No carhops, juke boxes or cigarettes here.

So he meets up with the owners, Mac and Dick McDonald (John Carrol Lynch and Nick Offerman). It’s their baby, they say. They planned the menu, the logo, the golden arches. They designed the logistics, they built THE FOUNDERthe ketchup and mustard squirters, they arranged the grills for maximum efficiency. And they’re making money hand over fist. Ray Crok sees his future – and limitless wealth — in franchising these restaurants across the country. The problem is, the McDonalds don’t want to expand. They want to keep it local and under their supervision. But Ray convinces them he’ll stay true to their wishes and TF_D14_DM_06182015-5178.cr2bring them lots of money. But who will ultimately be in charge: the McDonald brothers or the McDonalds corporation?

The Founder is a fascinating look at the history of that well-known brand. It looks at Kroc’s home life, affairs and business deals. I’m not a fan of Mchael Keaton, but he is fantastic in this movie; his portrayal as the ambitious (but unlikeable) Ray Crok is skilfully nuanced and complex. You sympathize with him, since he’s the main character in the movie, but you recoil from how he treats the honest and forthright McDonald brothers. This biopic is not a softball version, it’s a hard-hitting look at the dark side of a successful businessman.

The Founder and xXx Return of Xander Cage both open today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Retro+Active. Movies reviewed: Here Come the Videofreex, Everybody Wants Some!!

Posted in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, comedy, Cultural Mining, documentary, Drama, drugs, Movies, Protest, Sports, Underground by CulturalMining.com on April 1, 2016

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

Retro doesn’t mean boring. This week I’m looking at two retro movies, a drama and a documentary. There’s sexually active college jocks in the early 1980s and politically active filmmakers from the late 1960s.

1455288759488Here Come the Videofreex

Dir: Jon Nealon, Jenny Raskin

The late 1960s is a time of huge changes in the US. People are out on the streets, holding demonstrations, civil disobedience, and sit-ins. Against the war in Vietnam and the powers that be, and for black power and women’s rights. At the same time a strange new medium is making its first appearance. It’s recording events as they happen. Its images are black and white, fuzzy, and a bit distorted around the edges. It wobbles when you watch it. It’s a medium that lets you see what you’re filming as it’s goingHere Come The Videofreex on. The concept is unheard of in a time where film takes days or even weeks to develop. It’s revolutionary!

And what is this new medium? Video. People are carrying their own mics and Sony cameras to rock concerts (like Woodstock) and recording everything they see – not what’s on stage but who’s in the audience.

CBS News takes notice. A producer puts up the money and the equipment for a group of young men and women to go where journalists aren’t Here Come The Videofreexwelcome. They call themselves the Videofreex. They go to California to take in the mood. They travel east again, to record Yippie Abbie Hoffman before he’s arrested and Fred Hampton from the Black Panther Party only weeks before he’s killed by the Chicago police. The Videofreex are not dispassionately observing things like a TV journalist. Video lets them be a part of what they’re filming. And with women and men both starting from videofreex2 scratch in a new medium, there are no glass ceilings to break.

In the end, though, CBS News rejects their work as too radical and different. CBS wants to use it their footage on their news shows but under network control. The Videofreex say no way. The venture is short lived. But the members keep recording things for decades to come. And they start their own community TV station in a small, rural town in upstate NY.

This movie is an amazing look at the old videos from the dawn of public-access video. They’ve been lovingly restored and are explained by the former members of the collective still around today. It’s a great documentary on public journalism decades before youtube,

1599200_575053482643669_2109293068277867655_oEverybody Wants Some!!

Wri/Dir: Richard Linklater

It’s late August, 1980. Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at a university town in Southeast Texas with a milk crate full of record albums and the glow of small town success. it’s just a few days before classes start. He’s a baseball pitcher on an athletic scholarship. But he’s not impressed by s new home. Two ramshackle, clapboard 12440810_610999309049086_3445379746760922808_ohouses donated by the city, holding 25 guys – more than two baseball teams worth. In high school he pitched the team all the way to the state championships — but here he’s less than nothing. Everyone’s a former best in town. Now he’s just a freshman, subject to hazing, sneers and brutal competition. And he’s in a house filled with highly competitive, intimidating guys, all baseball jocks with awful moustaches. Guys brimming with machismo, including one who can hit a baseball with an axe in midair — and chop it in half. They hate pitchers, they say. And freshmen. It’s up to Jake to fit in to the house without 12900965_621225614693122_3811120829406141613_ogiving up his true character.

But there are entitlements, even for freshmen. These include Lone Star Beer, and free entry to the local mirror ball disco. The boys go there to strut and try to pick up girls. And despite the constant homoerotic fog over their locker room practices, they never stray from conventional gender roles.

Jake is better than that. He likes poetry, listens to Devo, and doesn’t treat women as goals to be conquered and bragged about to his buddies afterwards. And he really likes Beverly (Zooey Deutch), a woman studying performing arts. She’s from a 12901135_620296168119400_4966195848044237027_oseparate universe,  with its own teams, hierarchy and competitiveness.

I really like Everybody Wants Some!! It’s a lot of fun, with great acting and a terrific soundtrack. But don’t be misled by the trailer; this is not a reboot of Porkies or Animal House. It’s not a formulaic, slapstick comedy. What it is is a typical Richard Linklater film, like Dazed and Confused. If you saw Boyhood two years ago, think of this as Manhood. Boyhood gives you 12 years, while this one is condensed to three days. There’s a great ensemble cast that you get to spend a bit of time with.

Everybody Wants Some!! opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And you can see Here Come the Videofreex beginning on Wednesday. And be sure to check out the Canadian Film Fest this weekend for the latest in new Canadian movies. Go to canfilmfest.ca for more information.

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

 

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Amber Fares about Speed Sisters

Posted in Cars, Cultural Mining, documentary, Palestine, Sports, Women by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2016

8e91efce474853815c9f65e90dbd08f9_400x400Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Try googling the term Palestine or Palestinian — you’ll find lots of history, geography, and politics.

But what about race car drivers? Or female, Palestinian race car drivers?
Pretty sure it will not show up. But it is the subject of a new documentary,1532078_10153145050924610_5465236953600719301_n
called Speed Sisters.

Speed Sisters is a personal, in-depth look at five Palestinian women and their newfound fame as competitive car racers. It follows them toward their goal of competing in the championships in Jordan… and beyond. It’s directed by the award-winning Canadian filmmaker Amber Fares and it opens in Toronto next Friday.

I spoke with Amber by telephone.

Bro Movie Week. Movies reviewed: Before We Go, Meru, The Transporter: Refueled

Posted in Action, Adventure, Crime, Cultural Mining, Docudrama, Drama, Movies, Romance, Snow, Sports by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2015

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

Summer is almost over, so this week is Bro Movie Week. There’s an action-thriller about a driver who wants to get from here to there; a documentary about three mountain climbers who want to get from the bottom to the top; and a romantic dramedy about a guy who wants to help a woman he meets to get home.

11755254_1690148554546489_391372841939396319_nBefore We Go

Dir: Chris Evans

Nick (Chris Evans) is a bearded busker who’s playing his trumpet in Grand Central Station. He’s in NY City for an important audition the next day – the chance of a lifetime to join a famous jazz band. But he’s dogged by memories of a long lost love. Brooke (Alice Eve) is a well-dressed woman in a hurry. She wants to get back to her home in New Haven as fast as she can. And if she doesn’t get there in time… big 11012648_1694040134157331_8491743828569222621_ntrouble.

The problem is she missed the last train, and is penniless and without any ID. Her purse got snatched in a bar that night. So as the station is closing, Nick goes out on a limb for her, and says he’ll help her get home. At first she’s cold and standoffish but soon realizes he’s her only chance. And so they step out into the scary streets of the city that never sleeps.

Over the course of the night, they find themselves in a dangerous den of thieves, performing on a stage at the wrong wedding, and running into lost 11807391_1694040120823999_4338576212858907929_oloves at a party. Will Brook ever tell Nick why she has to get home? Will Nick find closure with his own relationship? And have the two of them forged a new friendship — or possibly a lasting romance — of their own?

Before We Go isn’t terrible, it’s just OK. More meh than anything else. The plot is uninteresting and predictable, and the characters are mediocre. Chris Evans is better known as Captain America so I guess this is his try at directing a movie. Nice try Chris, but try again. I’ve seen Alice Eve in lots of TV shows and movies, but she’s also unremarkable in this one. If you really need to watch a “Night in Manhattan” movie see Martin Scorsese’s After Hours instead.

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011Meru

Dir: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker are three American mountain climbers. They’re not ordinary hobbyists. These are the guys with weather-beaten faces you see staring sternly at a cloud on the cover of Outside magazine; or dangling from a sheer face of rock in National Geographic. Climbing is their life. Profession, too. They make a living partly from taking the pictures and videotape of the mountains they’re climbing. But their white whale, their unconquerable peak, is a mountain Meru Expedition, Garwhal, Indiacalled Meru.

Meru is a formidable, bare, sheer peak of rock on a snow-covered mountain in the Himalayas. Its top is known as the Shark’s Fin. In comparison, Mt Everest is a popular tourist spot with plenty of sherpas there to help would-be climbers. Meru – at the source of the river Ganges in northern India – is a do-it-yourself climb. Basically, you carry, on your back The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011everything you need to eat, wear or use. You’re on your own. This movie chronicles the two attempts made by these driven climbers to get to the top of the un-climbable Meru.

The photography in this movie is quite spectacular. And some of the incidents caught on film – like an avalanche on a mountain side, or shots of the climbers inside a tent pinned near the top of a peak – is amazing. So if you’re into outdoor or extreme sports, or chronicles of guys who risk their lives climbing mountains just because they’re there, then you’ll love this movie. Otherwise… I think it only has niche appeal.

Transporter RefueledThe Transporter: Refueled

Dir: Camille Delamarre

Frank (Ed Skrein) is a driver in Monte Carlo. He’s known for his unmatched skills in a car. He can get anyone anywhere they want to go, no questions asked. Cops or robbers can’t stop him. So when he’s hired for a large

Still_-_Transporter_Refueled_9But there’s more to the story than that. They hire Frank again for another job, and just to make sure he comes through, they kidnap his dad, Frank Senior (Ray Stephenson). And give him a time-release poison to which they hold the only antidote. They want to take down the mob, including Karasov (Serbian actor Radivoje Bukvic). But can Frank’s lightning-fast fighting and driving skills teamed with the vengeance-driven sex-workers defeat the worst gangster-pimps of Monaco?

This is the latest installment in an endless action movie franchise, that Transporter Refueledstarred Jason Statham as the Transporter in earlier versions. It’s dumb and ridiculous, and sexist of course, and riddled with logical impossibilities and melodramatic acting. And the dialogue is atrocious: did they take an already bad French script and feed it into Google Translate? Still, I have to say I actually liked it. The chases, the fights, and the shootouts were all good, and Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones) is credible as the new, artfully-scarred driver. It’s a crime action thriller, a B movie (maybe a C movie), but I still enjoyed it.

Transporter: Refueled opened earlier this week and Meru and Before We Go both start today in Toronto and on V.O.D. 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

The price of dreams. Movies reviewed: Foxcatcher, Heartbeat

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Mental Illness, Movies, Music, Romantic Comedy, Sports by CulturalMining.com on November 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foxcatcher and Heartbeat both played at TIFF this year and both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings.

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

Acting and Special Effects on Display. Movies reviewed: Tron: Legacy, The Fighter, Blue Valentine

At this time of year, a lot of the movies are trying for awards and audiences. The awards usually bring in bigger audiences and make it easier for the actors, directors, writers, et al to raise money for the next movie they want to make.

That’s one of the reasons they even bother to make some of these movies – so that actors or directors can show off their skills. Some work, some don’t.

Today I’m going to look at three movies that try something different or unusual, either through their appearance, story, or performances.

The Fighter
Dir: David O Russell

There are two brothers, Mickey and Dicky, and seven sisters who all live in working-class Lowell Massachusettes. Dicky Eklund — once known as the Pride of Lowell — was a former great boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray, before retiring. Now he’s training his brother Mickey Ward to make it as a welter-weight. And his mother’s his manager. But Dicky has a tendency not to show up for practices. Why? Because he’s a crackhead with a tendency to jump out of windows so his mother won’t find out. He’s also a petty scammer and a thief.

Dicky (Christian Bale) ends up in prison, and Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) is working with a new manager and trainer, who are rivals to his mother and brother. Meanwhile, Mickey meets Charlene, (Amy Adams) a bartender. His family also doesn’t like her – they refer to her as an “MTV girlfriend”, meaning a snob, because she went to college – and the feelings are mutual.

Will Mickey make it to the top? Will he be a boxing champ? Will he reconcile with his brother and mother? Will he listen to his new trainer or his jailed brother on boxing strategy? Will he stay with Charlene? And will he be used as a stepping stone – a boxer only there to get KOed by other boxers on their trip up the ladder?

The Fighter is a boxing movie – with some long scenes in the ring – a true biopic about an Irish- Catholic New England working-class boxer’s life in the late 80‘s / early 90’s. It’s actually a very enjoyable movie.

Trained British actor Christian Bale plays this skinny, googley-eyed, fast-talking American drug addict, and you can totally believe it. He’s amazing. Amy Adams, made to look plain, is a little less so, but still good, and she gets lots of lines to play with like “Call me skank again and I’ll rip alla your hair out!” And Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really act, he just plays the same role he always does, but he’s a likeable movie star.

But it’s all the small parts, like the gaggle of sisters, and the Mother, and the various locals, which add the real colour to the film. It’s a good, old- fashioned boxing movie… and it works.

Tron Legacy
Dir: Joseph Kosinsky

Sam Flynn (Garret Helund) is a computer genius and adventurer who, when he plays an old, abandoned arcade game, finds himself inside another world – the world of the game itself. His father Kevin Flynn, who created that world, has been trapped inside there for decades. But a never-aging doppelganger, Clu – he looks like a simulacrum of Jeff Bridges preserved in a jar of botox –is trying to take over that world, and to turn it into a Roman Empire of gladiators and constant fights. Everyone wears donut Frisbees on their backs that double as computer discs with all their data. It’s also their weapon of choice in the games, because it can take down your opponent (like a boomerang) by tearing away at the digital grid. So Sam, with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), has only 8 hours in which to go somewhere, and get something from someone (I think) and do something or other, before the portal closes again and he’s trapped inside.

OK. This is a great movie. Except for the characters, the story, and the dialogue, which are absolutely awful and make no sense whatsoever. Ideally this would be re-released as a silent movie with no lines, just all the cool, glowing neon images, of characters zipping through cyberspace, with people creating motorcycles or airplanes out of thin air and racing all around… all of this with the mainly great Daft Punk electronic music in the background.

Great images and special effects (except when the characters are wearing white space suits instead of black ones, and the material start bunching up – you know, you’d think when they spend tens of millions on SFX they’d catch stuff like that), and good music; everything else sucks.

Blue Valentine
Dir: Derek Cianfrance

Dean is a High School drop-out who plays the ukulele. He gets a job as a mover, and, on his first trip – moving a man’s possessions to an old age home in Scranton, Pennsylvania — he sees Cindy visiting her grandmother across the hall, and he’s smitten. It’s love at first sight — at least for Dean. He pursues her, and woos her, and they both love each other dearly, and the two of them raise their cute daughter together.

But, all is not well. The marriage seems to have gone sour, and they’re just not getting along the way they used to. Cindy has a good job as a nurse, while Dean hasn’t progressed much in his career – he’s more interested in being a househusband. Dean hopes to clear up their relationship by leaving their daughter Frankie with Cindy’s parents overnight, and holing up in a seedy motel with some alcohol, so they can get drunk, have sex, and hash out their differences.

The movie shifts back and forth between the early days of their relationship and how it developed, and the present day, where they seems to have reached an impasse.

Does this movie work? I’m of mixed feelings. It’s a very passionate and realistic look at a relationship. The acting is all great – basically a two-person show. Ryan Gosling (who looks somewhere between a scraggy redneck and a hipster) is the happy-go-lucky romantic, taking life as it comes; and the pretty but plain, voluptuous but understated, bleached blonde Michelle Williams as the more pragmatic and career-conscious but troubled one, who is plagued by indecision.

It’s a heavy-duty relationship movie, good times and bad. You ever been to a party and one couple starts arguing with each other? The rest of the people exchange glances and try to figure out how to sneak away, far away as soon as they can. (Excuse me, gotta go!)? Well this movie was a bit like that. Not that I wanted to walk out of the theatre – not at all – but a lot of the movie was about a couple’s troubled relationship, and some of it really dragged to the point you just want to say:

Shut up! Both of you…
Cindy – Dean still loves you. A lot.
Dean — Cindy can’t take it any more.
OK? That’s all. Move along.

But the story’s very realistic, the movie feels like an old Cassavetes pic, the design, the camera, the acting, all very good. It’s not a sweet tear-jerker of a Hollywood romance, it’s about real romance: love, loss, sadness. I think it’s worth seeing… but it’s a bit depressing.

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