Out of Sight. Movies reviewed: The Unseen, Castle in the Sky

Posted in Animation, Canada, Horror, Japan, Kids, Levitation, steampunk by CulturalMining.com on December 3, 2016

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

Not everything you see is the plain truth. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to see what’s really there. This week I’m looking at movies about things kept out of sight. There’s a classic Japanese anime about a city that can’t be found, and a new Canadian thriller/horror about a man who’s not all there.

14088468_1656718961215506_4090497205890860405_nThe Unseen

Wri/Dir: Geoff Redknap

Bobby Langmore (Aden Young) was an NHL golden boy, a wizard on the ice. He was happily married to Darlene (Camille Sullivan) with a young daughter, Eva, when something happened. He still felt healthy and normal, but his skin and flesh 10984228_1493728920847845_3341519512764863931_nappeared to be rotting away. This was a secret he had to keep hidden. He climbed into a truck and never looked back. Now, eight years later, he still works in a saw mill in northern BC. His only family contact is the monthly cheques he sends them. His life up north is drab and desolate, his only friend the joint he smokes after a hard day.

Bob is equal parts gruff, tough, and scruff.

Meanwhile, in the lower mainland, his daughter Eva (Julia Sarah Stone) is 16 now and barely remembers her dad. 11755062_1517963381757732_8659678087913732529_nShe’s a cute non-conformist with a chip on her shoulder. She lives a comfortable life with her mom and her mom’s wife. But she is increasingly troubled and alienated from family and friends, and threatens to just take off and never come back. Darlene sees something of 12002323_1535433453344058_8264690283193874598_nBob in her, so she gives him a call: I think you need to talk to Eva.

He walks off his job the next day… but needs help getting there. He makes a deal with Crisby (Ben Cotton), a sketchy local drug dealer, to pay for truck repairs. But soon after he reaches his former family, Eva disappears. You see, she has the same mysterious affliction, but no one has 10599521_1533738020180268_2559640461075319616_ntold her what it means. So she explores a boarded-up mental hospital with hopes of finding her grandfather’s files. He committed suicide there years before and Eva wonders if she’s headed down the same path. Can Bob find his missing daughter and tell her what’s what? Or will history repeat itself for another generation?

The Unseen is a creepy look at a working class family with a strange condition in small town BC. It’s dark and misanthropic, with only family loyalty – and a few kind strangers – to counter its dark and grumpy view of humanity. The acting is angry but good, and the film has a raw, realistic feel to it, from the scenic sawmill to the ramshackle houses everyone seems to live in. It’s a good, strong, dramatic horror film.

And the special effects that finally appear – or disappear! – toward the end of the film are fantastic.

castle_in_the_sky_movie_posterCastle in the Sky (Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta) 1986

Dir: Miyazaki Hayao

Pazu is an orphan who lives in a hillside mining town. He sleeps in a crumbling stone home with a dovecot on the roof, and starts each morning with a trumpet to rouse the all the people in the town below. All that he has from his parents are photos and drawings of a mythical place called Laputa. But one day while working at the complex machinery above the mineshaft, he sees something falling from the skies. It’s a little girl, 6087_1unconscious, drifting slowly down to earth. He catches her and brings her home. Who is she and where did she come from?

Her name is Sheeta, raised in an alpine town north of there. She’s an orphan like Pazu, her only possession a glowing crystal she wears around her neck. And it’s that jewel that keeps her on the run. She was kidnapped by miyazaki-castle_in_the_sky__1__shetapazuf_soldiers — and a haughty government agent named Muska – who flew her away in mechanical blimp. But hey were attacked by a gang of air pirates who attacked the ship. Both groups are after one thing – Sheeta’s crystal. It’s made from a rare stone with special properties – it can counteract gravity. But it can only be activated by the incantations Sheeta knows. But their real aim is to locate Laputa, the mythical island in the sky mentioned in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Dola and the pirates crave the treasure, the military its potential weapons, while Muska has far more sinister plans.

Sheeta and Pazu have only their wits, stamina and each other to depend on. So they embark on a series of highspeed train rides, car chases, and flying machines Dola, Castle in the Skybattles, making odd alliances on the way. There are even long armed metallic robots. But which of them will find that castle in the sky?

This film is 30 years old, and was the first made by Japan’s famed Ghibli studios. It’s filled with kid-pop references. Pazu’s moustachioed uncle looks like Super Mario, Sheeta was raised in Heidi country near the Alps, and Dola — the head pirate with her giant red pigtails — is a grown-up Anne of Green Gables gone to seed. It has vaguely subversive views, anti-military and anti-government, with strong female role models. Replete with steampunk exploits and amazing views from the sky, I just had a chance to see this kids’ cartoon on the big screen for the first time and it really grabbed me. Great movie.

The Unseen played at last week’s Blood in the Snow Canadian film festival (Winner: Best Feature: The Unseen, Dir. Geoff Redknap, Katie Weekley, Producer; Best Actor: Aden Young, The Unseen) and The Castle in the Sky is opening as part of Spirited Away: the Films of Studio Ghibli at TIFF; go to tiff.net for showtimes. It’s playing on Christmas Eve.

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

 

February 10, 2012. How Do We Communicate? Movies Reviewed: A Dangerous Method, Chronicle, Safe House

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.

I watch a lot of movies, but film is only one way to communicate. How do you record the truth? Do you write it down? Do you tell it to your friends or whisper it in someone’s ear? Do you text it? Or do you save it in some more durable format?

This week, I’m looking at three movies that centre on recording or preserving information: A Dangerous Method is a historical drama, where talking is prime, and observations are recorded by hand, using pen and ink, in meticulous notes and sent by voluminous, lengthy letters; Chronicle, is a science fiction thriller, where a high school student records his life using a hand-held video camera; and Safe House is an action/thriller, where everything important has been recorded in a single tiny microchip.

Interestingly (at least in these three movies), the more advanced the medium, the shallower the plot.

Dangerous Method
Dir: David Cronenberg

A woman — at first known only as “S” — is an unusual patient admitted to a mental hospital near Zurich, Switzerland. She shrieks she groans, she writhes, and her face is strangely contorted. She plays with her food and rolls around in the mud! The doctor there, Karl Jung decides to try a new treatment – the Dangerous Method. This unheard-of cure has the doctor sitting behind the patient who is cured by talking… about her problems, her dreams, her thoughts and her memories. It was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in Vienna, but Jung doesn’t know if it’ll actually work. But soon the patient, Sabina Spielrein, a Russian-Jewish woman, is miraculously cured when they discover something hidden that happened to her as a girl. He puts her to work in the clinic, and she gradually changes from patient to doctor.

Then another patient, Otto Gross, who’s also a psychiatrist, arrives smoking pot, snorting coke, and drawing dirty pictures. He’s analyzed by Jung who doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s the early 20th century, not the 1960s,, but Otto’s saying just do it man, give in to your sexual desires. She says she wants you, and you want her… Uptight Jung doesn’t want to… but he also does want to. And Sabina makes it clear what she wants. What’s he gonna do?

This is a really good movie, an interesting historical biopic, about the dawn of psychiatry, the rivalry between Freud and Jung, and the passionate, but illicit, love affair between Jung and Sabina Spielrein. Cronenberg made a beautiful movie filled with the exquisite European gardens, antiseptic, white hospital beds, and steampunk clinical devices. Fassbender is great as Jung, Viggo Mortensen interesting as a new type of Freud — imagined as a big, burly, tough-guy patriarch; and Vincent Cassel is terrific as Otto the counter-culture hedonist. But the real star is Keira Knightley as Sabina, the conflicted, smart, pervy and passionate young woman. Sometimes, I wasn’t sure whether Sabina, the character, was really that crazy, or if she was just putting it on for her doctors, (and Knightley’s accent shifted from Russian to Danish-sounding and back again), but she was still amazing to watch.

Chronicle
Dir: Josh Trank

Andrew (Dave de Haan) is a high school kid in Seattle. His mother is bedridden and dying. His dad is a frustrated ex-fireman who likes smacking his only son around. Andrew’s a bit scrawny, a bit hard to talk to, not an athlete, and can’t defend himself. Instead he decides to keep a record of all the indignities and abuses he suffers with a video camera that he’ll carry around wherever he goes. He’s bullied at school, he’s bullied at home, he’s even bullied by the boys in the hood loitering on the corner. He doesn’t have any friends, and is still a virgin. But at least now he has an identity: he’s “the guy with the camera”. We – the audience — see whatever his camera sees.

He occasionally hangs out with his much richer, bigger, better-looking smarter, and more popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell) who, most important, has a car. Matt likes to quote Schopenhauer and Jung. Andrew wonders what Jung would say about glow sticks.

So one night at an outdoor rave, Steve (Michael B Jordan) — the quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend and who’s running for class prez — asks him to come take some footage of something weird. It’s a strange, glowing crystal deep in a cave nearby. They spelunk down underground. There’re some clicking noises, a flash, and then they all wake up somewhere else. But they’re not the same anymore. They can move things around by telekinesis! But will they use they use the powers for good… or for evil? Or just to get laid? Well, as it turns out, all three.

The three guys make a pact to keep their new powers a secret, not to hurt anybody, and as Matt warns — to avoid hubris at all costs.

As their powers grow they find themselves tied to one another with some powerful immutable force that may be entering their brains. Can they fight it off? will they live or die? Will they go to Tibet? Will they change the world?

I liked this movie, too. Its very simple, a lot of fun, and most of it’s left unexplained, (if anything, it’s most like an unauthorized X-Men knock off, filmed in the style of Cloverfield). The mainly TV actors are engaging and new. The camera work is grainy, and jiggly and bumpy, but luckily, once Andrew can move things without touching them he lets the camera float free, making it a much more pleasant to watch. The special effects are great, culminating in the expected flaming and booming battle royale.

SPOILER ALERT
Not exactly a spoiler, since its apparent in the trailers, but I was disappointed by a trend in comic book morality. The American dream says it’s the good, smart and hardworking kid can always overcome his disadvantages. The poor, suffering underdog character overcomes obstacles and becomes the hero who uses his powers for good. The rich and powerful characters are spoiled, privileged and unfeeling, and try to take his power away for their own personal gain. But the poor kid has pluck, brains and gumption and triumphs in the end.

In this movie, the rich, popular kids are the heroes, while the poor, picked-on kid is the sort-of villain. That leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Safe House
Dir: Daniel Espinoza

Matt (Ryan Reynolds) is a low level CIA agent. He’s good at boxing, foreign languages, and strategic analysis. He sits around all day, stationed in a safe house – a secret, high security place where spies can do their stuff – in Cape Town, SA. He just sits around all day, like a Steve McQueen, throwing the baseball against a wall.

Then one day the notorious Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) comes in from the cold. He’s been a rogue agent, accused of selling CIA secrets for a decade for his own personal game. Frost is an expert spy and a master of disguise. He’s holding a tiny microchip loaded with important information. And he’s being chased by vaguely middle-eastern looking assassins.

But as soon as Tobin’s in Matt’s safe house, (after they warm him up a bit with some complimentary waterboarding), the assassins come barging in and kill everyone – except Matt who escapes with the handcuffed Tobin. he’s disgusted by the violence, but has to remain true to his mission — protect the captive. The rest of the movie is all fight, fight, fight and chase, chase, chase.

The chases take us from a Capetown stadium, through busy city streets, and into the ramshackle townships where people live in corrugated aluminum shacks lit only by a neon church crosses.

The fight scenes are extended and grueling, involving guns, bombs, knives, fists and broken glass. Who do you trust? Who are the real good guys? And is Tobin Matt’s mentor… or his enemy?

This is a fast-moving, never-stopping very violent action movie. It has a barebones plot – who does Matt trust and what’s on the microchip — hollow characters, and not much acting to speak of. I guess I wanted the heroes to survive, but I didn’t really care. Neither Denzel Washington nor Ryan Reynolds is very compelling.

It’s got tons of super-quick scene changes so the jagged camerawork is hard to watch. So much so that my brain couldn’t always tell who was punching or shooting whom.(For example, aguy in the assassin team, coincidentally, looks so much like Ryan Reynolds that I couldn’t keep tell if he’s getting away or shooting at himself. Stupid casting.) And because It’s so fast moving, the few slow scenes — like one with Ruben Blades — seem especially boring.

Safe House is an action movie with a good location. But that’s all.

Dangerous Method and Chronicle are playing now, and Safe House opens tonight – 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.

November 11, 2011. The Real ReelAsian Film Festival. Movies Reviewed: Bleak Night, Full Metal Alchemist, Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Amphetamine

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

As Rome burns and Europe crumbles, and Wall St is pre-Occupied, and the planet is teetering on the brink… all eyes are on Asia. So now’s your chance to get a feel of what’s going on across the Pacific. The Reelasian Film Festival (“reel” as in reel to reel, Asia as in East and SE Asia) is on now in Toronto, and it’s showing great, new, popular, festival and experimental movies from that region as well as some Canadian films. That means dramas, comedies, documentaries, anime, and shorts. There are also lectures, workshops and master classes for actors, scriptwriters, and producers — even events where you can pitch your own movie proposals. So this week I’m talking about films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Bleak Night

Dir: Yoon Sung-hyun

This is a movie about a group of three friends at a private boys’ high school in Korea. Only they’re not exactly all that friendly. One is the undisputed leader of the group, and lords it over the rest of them. He’s more of a bully than a friend, and pressures and intimidates the others, who go along with it. The encounters turn into physical abuse and name calling – “you’re my bitch” he says – but no one questions him.

It’s not until one boy stands up to him – and even tries to sever the friendship – that the power-dynamic changes and the pressure builds.

I like Bleak Night, but it gets bogged down with a slow-moving plot, and too many repetitive scenes with ten-minute-long two-man conversations about what happened off-screen and what they really mean to one another.

Full Metal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師)

Dir: Murata Kazuya (based on the comics by Arakawa Hiromu)

If you’ve never seen Japanese anime before this is a good place to start. But keep in mind, anime are based on manga and so have very long and complex plots with tons of past references and ongoing twisted story lines.

This movie (one chapter of a long saga) takes place in a fantasy setting that looks like the American southwest in the 1930’s, except the country is under martial law. Ed Elric, the full metal alchemist, is a master scientist-cum-magician with bionic limbs of steel. He teams up with his rival Crichton, his sister Julia, and her robot and companion to try to discover the secrets of Milos, find the stars of fresh blood, and gather any clues that might bring them closer to the Philosopher’s Stone. Watch and learn, grasshopper.

Saigon Electric

Dir: Stephane Gauger

Mai, an innocent girl from the sticks, comes into Ho Chi Minh city to make it as a dancer. But she’s strictly old-school: she doesn’t wear make-up, and doesn’t have a fashionable haircut or city clothes. And her dancing style is traditional too – using a ribbon, no less. But then she falls in with tuff-girl Kim whom she meets working in a restaurant. She’s a break dancer who’s being wooed by a rich guy whose family owns an expensive French restaurant. Kim hangs with her crew – Saigon Fresh — painting graffiti art on city walls, bustin’ moves to American hip-hop, and challenging the Northern Killaz to win the city championship so they can compete in the International contest In Korea. They become close friends, and when Kim finds herself homeless she moves into the room Mai rents from the scarecrow, a grumpy old musician. Mai starts teaching ribbon dancing at the same community centre where Kim is break dancing with her crew – a place where orphans and homeless street kids find shelter.

But trouble awaits: Kim and her boyfriend go off to a seaside hotel, where he promises her the world. But back in the city, some rich developers are threatening to close down the community centre where they all hang out and turn it into a hotel. What’s going to happen? Will all the characters find true happiness or will all their dreams be lost? Will the club be closed down?

This Saigon really is electric, shot in supersaturated colours, of people zooming around the city on motorbikes and skateboards. Even though it’s a age-old story, I like this very modern but distinctly Vietnamese style combined with a good dramatic plot and lots of that excellent 80’s street dancing with head spinning, sometimes even combined with classic Vietnamese drumming. (in Vietnamese).

Buddha Mountain (觀音山)

Dir: Li Yu

Mrs Chang (Sylvia Chang) a former Peking Opera star living in the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan China, is angry, hostile, bitter and depressed, since a tragic death in her family around the time of the earthquake. But she rents out a room in her home to three street-smart kids. Nanfeng (Fan Bingbing) is a pretty girl from a small town who can smash a bottle of beer on her forehead or kiss another girl on the lips – just for the hell of it. She’s trying to earn a living as a bar singer; Fatso (Fei Long) is a chubby, round-cheeked guy who didn’t get into University, but likes practicing Michael Jackson’s moonwalk as he looks for love; and Ding Bo (Chen Po Lin) is a self-centred but free-spirited youth with family troubles and too much time on his hands. They are adventurers – riding the rails, driving around town, rescuing each other from local gangs. Madame Chang orders them around like they’re her servants, and they steal from her and feel no guilt. A real generational divide. She looks down on them for their lack of culture, but for the kids she’s just a screeching fossil from a lost era.

But when one of the characters almost dies the others all rally round to help. They travel up to a Buddhist shrine on a mountain to repair damages from the earthquake and perhaps to fix the damaged parts of their own lives.

Buddha Mountain is a beautiful, touching, interesting and mainly realistic film about rootless youth in urban China.

Amphetamine / 安非他命 (Hong Kong)

Dir: Scud

Kafka (Byron Pang) — named after the Murakami novel, not the Czech writer — is a swim coach, a nude model, and a dyed-blond kung fu expert. His parents are dead, his brother is disabled, and he’s nearly penniless, but he can still do a complete split and support himself with his feet on opposite walls. Then he meets Daniel (Thomas Price), a young and ambitious Cantonese-speaking financier working for an Australian multinational. It is love? Kafka dumps his girlfriend when they seem to be falling for each other, even though it’s a first gay romance for both of them, and Kafka isn’t sure he can handle it.

They go bungee jumping, travelling, living the high life. But things get bad for poor Kafka when he starts doing too much crystal meth, and he begins to lose his grip with reality, falling into strange dreams and scary flashbacks, and beginning to think the white feathered wings he sometimes wears on his back mean he can actually fly. Is their love true? Can a poor but tough man accept the loving gestures of a Chinese-Aussie millionaire?

Definitely don’t see this movie if you’re at all uncomfortable with male nudity, since in practically every scene – I don’t care if it’s a street brawl, a love scene, a hospital, a mental ward, a police interrogation  — they find some excuse to strip down. OK maybe not the bungee jumping scene, but other than that, it’s Naked! Naked! Naked!

Amphetamine is unusual for a Hong Kong movie: a stylized and partly dreamlike gay, erotic melodrama about drugs. In Cantonese and English.

Saigon Electric, Buddha Mountain, Bleak Night, and Full Metal Alchemist, are all playing tonight through Sunday at the Reelasian festival. Check the times at reelasian.com. Amphetamine is also playing this weekend at anotherr toronto festival dealing with mental health and addiction: check times at rendezvouswithmadness.com Also opening today is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. This is a two part movie, about a wedding with the bride (Kirsten Dunst) heading toward disaster and a post wedding depression with whole planet possibly colliding with a planet called Melancholia. First opart good, second part just so-so. And Charlotte Gainsbourg as the bride’s uptight, beleaguered sister is such a let down after her tour de force in Lars von Trier’s last movie, Antichrist.

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

16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

Geek Appeal! Movies reviewed: It Came from Kuchar; Splice; Micmacs.

It Came from Kuchar

Dir: Jennifer Kroot

George and Mike Kuchar are a pair of twins from New York City, who have been making strange, low-budget kitsch-y exploitation movies since they were 12 years old. Together — and separately — they have directed hundreds and hundreds of these things. They’re interviewed in this documentary, along with some of their actors, and many of their famous admirers.

The Kuchar brothers started making 8 mm shorts as kids in their parents’ basement in the Bronx. They got their neighbours and family members to play the parts. They combined melodramatic, campy stories and extremely broad amateur acting, within the world of B movies: the land of serious exploitation genre movies – horror, monster, thriller, murder, sex… and all the rest. Their filmography reads like a haiku written in Mad Magazine:

Hold me when I’m naked
Color me shameless, Thundercrack
Boulevard kishka

The Kuchars make-up and costume their actors in unusual ways — painting enormous, dramatic black eyebrows on all their female characters. (Maybe they were influenced by the old silent movies – Valentino, Theda Bara with their heavy make up and melodrama – keep in mind, in the early 1960’s those old silent movies were not ancient and forgotten at all – they were as omnipresent and as recent as 80’s movies are to filmmakers today.)

The Kuchar brothers were also known for integrating all the “organic” aspects of life that were not previously shown in movies – such as toilet functions, throwing up, blood and guts — that were intentionally left out of mainstream films… because they’re gross, and also because they were banned by the Hays Code – you couldn’t show it. “Low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil” topics were “subject to the dictates of good taste”. But the Kuchars made underground movies. They existed outside the Code (though still subject to the law) as a crucial part of the underground film movement that really took off in the sixties. Later the Kuchars moved to San Francisco where they also participated in the 1970’s underground comics movement based there.

In this fun documentary (which was screened at the Inside-Out festival in Toronto), you see the big names of today – John Waters, Guy Madden, Atom Egoyan – talking about how the Kuchar films influenced them. It shows some of their signature techniques, and captures them shooting their latest production, It’s a hilarious documentary, because you get to see little clips of some of their films – things like cheesy UFO’s, a guy with three foot dangling testicles, a haunting, melodramatic scene of a woman taking out the trash, lots of god-awful rubber puppet monsters – without needing to sit through a whole Kuchar movie.

Splice
Dir: Vincenzo Natali

Vincenzo Natali, is not all that famous, but I think he’s one of the most successful Canadian directors there is. He directed the science fiction movie Cube – about a bunch of people stuck inside an elevator-like cube who want to get out – which was extremely popular in many countries, while largely overlooked in Canada. (Cool story, so-so acting.) His latest movie, “Splice” – starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody – is his first big name, bigger budget movie.

Elsa and Clive are scientists who work in a research lab for the N.E.R.D. (as in nerd) corporation. They’re trying novel ways to combine the DNA — the genetic information — of various animals. But their big breakthrough – a new life form, a sort of walking lump of flesh, that can mate and reproduce – has a rather dramatic failure. So it’s back to the old drawing board.

But Elsa wants to take it even further.

Their next project has human DNA spliced, on the sly, into the mix to create a new sort of animal. Sort of like the Island of Dr Moreau.

It’s totally illegal, but Elsa wants to hang on to her new, rapidly growing flesh lump. She becomes its protector. She even names her: “Dren” — that’s nerd spelled backwards. But as she grows up, Dren’s human and animal parts begin to appear. First scary, then cute (with a rabbit-y cleft pallet), and later, as something else again.

Elsa and Clive are forced to smuggle her out of the lab and up to their cottage – for some home schooling. And there, out in the woods, the rapidly growing and maturing Dren, adds a third wheel to the young scientific couple’s relationship.

Splice is a good (if sometimes unintentionally funny) horror movie. There are some groaners, but the story itself is interesting and creepy and scary enough (with good special effects) to keep you watching. It’s an unapologetically B movie with the feel of early Cronenberg — like Scanners and the Brood – and with Guillermo del Toro adding his blessing as an executive producer. What more could you ask for?

Micmacs

Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring Dany Boon (who made the phenomenally successful “Welcome to the Sticks” / “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”) “Micmacs” is the most captivating movie by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in a long time. He’s best known for Amelie, but I liked Delicatessen, and City of the Lost Children better.

In Micmacs, Bazil, (Dany Boon) is a video store clerk who wants nothing more than to lipsynch all the lines from “Casablanca” while squeezing the goop out of La Vache Qui Rit foil triangles. But when he’s hit in the head with a stray bullet, his life collapses. He becomes a homeless busker on the streets of Paris. He’s rescued and adopted by a family of circus-like oddballs who live in a hidden lair inside an old junkyard. Each of them has a special ability – an inventor, a contortionist, someone who can calculate and estimate – who, cobbled together, form a sort of a salvaged material X-men team.

One day Bazil discovers that the headquarters of the company that made the bullet lodged in his brain is across the street from the company that made the land mine that blew up his father when he was a boy. So he vows revenge on both their houses, and his new family agrees to help him out. Rejecting high-tech surveillance, to find out their secrets, he bugs the offices of the two industrialists by dangling telephone receivers down their chimneys. With the new info, his plan goes into high gear.

This beautiful, retro-looking movie is made up of lots and lots of short funny vignettes strung together. Puns, pantomime, gags, gibberish talking, contraptions, fake sign language, fake accents and dialects, combined with multi-part stings, rube-goldberg-style contraptions and steampunk machinery pulled together from savaged materials. It’s like old Jaqques Tati movies, but rebooted to run at the speed of a TV cartoon. I definitely missed some of the jokes, and didn’t get all the French political references to Sarkozy and company. But that didn’t matter. You can appreciate this movie without a word of French, without even reading the subtitles.

It’s a very funny, cute, enjoyable, fast moving slapstick comedy, intricately made, starring lots of the same faces from previous Jeunet movies, along with some new ones. It’s a great geek flic with something for everyone: good romantic comedy, with chase scenes and explosions, too.

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