Lions and Lambs. Films reviewed: Handsome Devil, Before I Fall, Bitter Harvest, Table 19

Posted in 1930s, Bullying, comedy, Coming of Age, Death, Drama, Gay, Ireland, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2017

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

March came in like a lamb, followed by a pride of lions, roaring at the gate. I’m talking about the spring film festival season, which is on now with films from Ireland and more.

This week I’m looking at movies with lions and lambs: a few comedies plus one tragedy. There’s friendship in Ireland, tragedy in Ukraine, fantasy in the northwest and a wedding in the midwest.

handsome devilHandsome Devil

Wri/Dir: John Butler

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is a skinny redhead at a boy’s boarding school in Ireland. He likes reading and indie music, and dresses in hip rocker gear. Popular kid, right? Wrong. He’s bullied, reviled and labeled as gay just because he’s not into rugby. and rugby is the school handsomedevil_04sport.

Enter Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) his new roommate. Conor was kicked out of his last school for fighting. Is he an outcast? Just the opposite. He’s handsome, athletic and on the pitch he’s both nimble and brutal. He quickly becomes the king of rugby, a handsomedevil_05veritable idol at his new school. He’s even nice to Ned, and stops the bullies — especially one called Weasel — from beating him up. Has Ned found a friend?

Things get even better when a new English teacher, Mr Sherry (Andrew Scott) encourages the kids to broaden their interests beyond just rugger, to include music and literature. But that’s sacrilege, and the coach won’t have it. He decides to break up Ned and Conor’s friendship whatever it takes.

Handsome devil is a funny and moving coming-of-age story about an unexpected friendship. I like this one.

before-i-fallBefore I Fall

Dir: Ry Russo-Young

It’s a big day for Sam (Zoey Deutch), a teenaged girl in the Pacific northwest. It’s Valentine’s day and she’s going to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. Her dad and mom (Jennifer Beals), and her cute little sister who likes origami, are all nice but they just don’t get it. It’s her posse, her three best friends, that she shares everything with: Ally – rich but insecure; Elody – sexually halston-sage-medalion-rahimi-cynthy-wu-zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallaudacious; and Lindsay (Halston Sage). She’s the alpha dog, the honey badger: she always keeps her cool; just don’t get on her bad side.

Her school has special traditions for Cupid Day. All the girls (except the class lesbian) receive messages from their admirers. While the teacher drones on about the myth of Sisyphus, Sam gets baskets of roses delivered to her desk… including one _X6A7999.JPGfrom Kent (Logan Miller), a geeky poet in her class that she ignores. In the café, the four friends relentlessly mock Juliet Sykes (Elena Kampouris) a blonde woman with frizzy hair. She’s the school pariah… are Sam and her friends bullies? That night at the party, things spiral out if control, with a breakup, a drunken fight and a terrible car crash.

But the next morning it’s a new day and everything’s back to normal. Until Sam realizes… it’s the same day as yesterday! Her little sister’s origami, the rose from Kent, Juliet in the cafeteria, and the fight at the party. Like Sysiphus, she’s caught in a cosmic, karmic loop, and she can’t escape. No zoey-deutch-in-before-i-fallmatter what she tries to change, she still wakes up each morning on Valentine’s Day. Can Sam right all her wrongs in a single day, or will she be stuck to repeat them forever?

Before I Fall, is a fantasy set in the present day. There have been others about people caught in a repeating loop – Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Source Code – but this is the first I’ve seen from a female point of view. Like the Twilight series, it’s set in the Pacific North West but without its unbearable soppiness. This is a good YA movie.

15194340_949283011838918_4071947400932947185_oBitter Harvest

Dir: George Mendeluk

It’s the 1930s in a small village in Ukraine. Yuri (Max Irons) is a young farmer who is also a skilled artist. He’s the grandson of a great swordsman named Ivan (Terrence Stamp), and is in love with his childhood sweetheart Natalka (Samantha Barks). They paint, frolic in the woods and attend church regularly. All is going well until the Russian Bolsheviks come to town, led by a man with a scar across his cheek. Sinister 15895153_988096897957529_6383476820894374352_nSergei (Tamer Hassan) is dressed in black leather from head to toe and carries a whip. Sign this paper, he orders, and collectivize those farms! Your farm, your wheat, even you belong to the state now! The people refuse and chase Sergei out of the village. But he will return.

After hiding the treasured town icon of St Yuri, his namesake sets off to Kiev carrying his grandfathers prized knife. In the city, he studies art and spends time with his best friend, Mykola. Mykola also happens to be the head of the Ukrainian Communist 15319318_967538840013335_3644678351628886805_nParty, uniting Ukrainian nationalism with socialism. But he doesn’t realize that in Moscow, Stalin has other plans at work. Stalin despises Ukrainians and vows to kill them all. Party members are purged, Yuri is sent to prison, and Stalin, with evil subordinates like Sergei, send all the wheat to Mother Russia, leaving Ukraine with a terrible 15941277_990987597668459_5998812033080133428_nfamine killing millions. A Bitter Harvest indeed.

Bitter Harvest is the story of a Ukraine village during the Holodomor, the horrible famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s. It’s an important part of history, rarely portrayed, that deserves to be shown on the big screen. This movie, unfortunately, doesn’t quite cut it. While it includes authentic-looking Ukrainian costumes, locations and folklore, the rollicking story is just not told very well. The movie is clunky and Kludgy, unintentionally campy and melodramatic, and full of comic-book villains. It lacks the gravity it deserves. Bitter Harvest isn’t bitter enough.

table-19-posterTable 19

Dir: Jeffrey Blitz

Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is a grudging guest at her best friend’s wedding party at a lakeside hotel in Michigan. Grudging because her boyfriend Teddy – the bride’s brother – dumped her. Blonde, bearded Teddy (played by Wyatt Russell, looking like a younger and dumber Owen Wilson), is best man but Eloise has been demoted from maid of honour at the centre table to the dreaded table 19.

Table 19 is a veritable land of Lost Toys, the cast offs of the wedding party. Bina and Jerry (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) a bickering middle aged couple; Rezno (Tony Revolori) a socially-awkward adolescent; elderly Jo (June Squibb), the bride’s childhood nanny; and gangly ex-con 13123270_780360932099535_7819038637567418602_oWalter (Stephen Merchant). Eloise is mortified by her table mates and just plain depressed. But things start to look up when a suave and handsome stranger, named Huck, arrives. They dance and kiss before disappearing into the mist like a male Cinderella. But when jealous Teddy confronts her, mayhem ensues, resulting in a ruined wedding cake. The Table 19ers, retreat to their hotel rooms to clean up, and their they learn that they’re a lot more fun than they expected. Together they vow to find love for Eloise, a first date for Rezno, a reunion between Jo the Nanny and the bride, and more.

Table 19 is a gentle social comedy that shows that, once you get to know them, even outcasts are real human beings with foibles of their own. The script is co-written by the Duplass brothers, known for their indie movies about quirky oddballs. It’s tame for a comedy, with a few too many pratfalls, but it’s also touching, with a cute, romantic ending. Hendricks is terrific as Eloise, and the rest of Table 19 all keep their characters from falling into dumb stereotypes.

Table 19, Before I Fall, and Bitter Harvest all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Handsome Devil is playing this weekend at Toronto Irish film fest. Go to toirishfilmfest.com for info.

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 Japanese ghouls Sadako and Kayako at #TIFF16

Posted in Cultural Mining, Horror, Japan, Movies, Supernatural, Women by CulturalMining.com on January 27, 2017
2-svsk4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Do you remember those scary Japanese movies from the late 1990s and early 2000s? The Ring had a cursed videotape that killed anyone who watched it and received a phone call from a girl named Sadako. And in Ju-on (aka the Grudge) anyone entering an old house was haunted by the spirits of a drowned little boy and an 1-sadakovs-kayako_01-brightened-rep-stillangry mother named Kayako. Well, they’re both back again — but with a twist.
Two art students, Yuri and Natsumi, are infected by the videotape and could be dead in two days, while a schoolgirl named Suzuka is strangely drawn to the haunted house nearby with hazardous results. The only way to save them? Somehow provoke a fight between the two ghosts, Sadako and Kayako. But who will win?
Sadako v Kayako is a new horror movie that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is viewable now on shudder.com. It features Minami Elly as Sadako and Endo Runa as Kayako.
I spoke with them at TIFF16.

Unexpected combinations. Films reviewed: Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite, Hitchcock/Truffaut

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Dreams, France, Hitchcock, Hollywood, Horror, Russia, Supernatural, Thriller, US by CulturalMining.com on July 15, 2016

cockneys-vs-zombiesHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

What do these movies have in common? Cockneys vs Zombies, Cowboys cowboysandaliens_1280x1024_3and Aliens, Bambi Meets Godzilla. Obviously, they’re all movies with unexpected combinations. So this week I’m looking at two new movies (though nothing like the ones I mentioned) that combine things in unexpected ways. There’s a documentary about the historic meeting of two very different directors, and a ghostly horror movie… set in Russia.

Queen-of-Spades-The-Dark-Rite_poster_goldposter_com_3Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite

Wri/Dir: Svyatoslav Podgayevskiy

It’s a snowy day in a Russian city. Four teenagers – Anya, Matya, Matvey and Seryozha – are playing a game. Matyev is a jock, Seryozha (Sergey Pokhodaev, Leviathin) is a nerd with glasses, Katya is an older redhead (Valeriya Dmitrieva), and Anya (Alina Babak) while tough is still just a 12-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mom.There’s an urban myth that says you can summon the Queen of Spades, a dead spirit, if you draw a door on a mirror in lipstick by candlelight, and repeat her name three times — Queen of Spades, Queen of Spades Queen of Spades. (Don’t try this at home, kids…) Naturally, nothing happens – well not right away.

After the game, the four friends go back to their respective apartments, as usual, but at night queen_of_spades_the_dark_rite-HD— that’s when the scary stuff begins. Turns out the Queen of Spades was a Russian aristocrat who murdered kids for their money. She was caught and the cut out her tongue and shaved he head, left to roam the streets in black rags – hence the Queen of Spades. But her spirit, if that’s what it maxresdefaultis, will come to you by night with a scissors to snip off your hair, and kill you.

When the kids start dying, one by one, Anya’s and her divorced parents (Igor Khripunov, Evgeniya Loza) flee the father’s apartment. Will the ghost follow them there? Eventually they track down a former doctor (Vladimir Seleznyov) in a dacha in the woods.He’s an expert at getting rid of 2QwUuFdP6P8wgoWmvWxoxdHzbAgghosts — and holds a grudge against this o ne in particular. But can anyone defeat the Queen of Spades?

This is a good scary horror movie. It feels like those creepy Japanese movies from the 90s like Ring and Dark Water (Hideo Nakata), with a good dose of the Exorcist thrown in. The plot is very conventional, but what I found so interesting was the look of the film. So that’s what a Russian funeral looks like. Or a hospital, or even a public toilet with curved tiled walls inside. And I never knew people upholster their front doors. Great austerity and cold creepiness.

The acting is generally good, and the suspense keeps you watching, but it’s the look I really like from this ghostly Russian pic.

Hitchcock/Truffaut

Dir: Kent Jones

Francois Truffaut is today known as a great French Director and one of the founders of the nouvelle vague, the French New Wave. But before he was a director he was a film critic. As a young movie enthusiast, he was taken under the wing of andre Bazin, and brought into the fold of an extremely influential magazine, the Cahier du Cinema. It’s the Cahier du Cinema (and Truffaut himself) that changed the way we look at films as a body of work of a single artist. Directors became oYmq0j_hitchcocktruffaut_03_o3_9009094_1463581659“auteurs”, the authors of a series of films. Before that, they were employees of the huge factory mentality of Hollywood —   important and well paid, for sure, but a cog in the wheel.

In the 1960s, the fledgling French director wrote to the incredibly successful Alfred Hitchcock. He asked if they could meet for a week in Hollywood for a series of detailed interviews for a book. Now, Hitchcock was rich and successful and his qjov52_hitchcocktruffaut_01_o3_9009008_1463581640movies were often hits. But what he didn’t have was critical praise, He was dismissed as unimportant, popular entertainment. And he never received an Oscar.

So Hitchcock said yes.

The result was Hitchcock/ Truffaut an incredibly influential book that served as a bible for future directors. This film, with the same name, shows the original recordings and photos those interviews. It’s illustrated with crucial stills and clips from the two directors’ works. And many of the directors they influenced — Scorsese, Fincher, Linklater, Wes Anderson, Paul Schrader, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and many others — appear to talk about these movies.pgn062_hitchcocktruffaut_02_o3_9009051_1463581649

You find out Hitchcock didn’t have a great relationship with his actors — he said they were cattle that had to be moved around.

It turns out Hitchcock was a total perv and so were most his characters! He calls Scottie (the Jimmie Stewart character in Vertigo) a necrophiliac.

If you’re into movies, film criticism, cinema studies, or if you’re a filmmaker yourself, this one is a must-see. Fascinating documentary.

Queen of Spades: The Dark Rite opens today in Toronto: check your local listings; Hitchcock/Truffaut is part of a TIFF Cinematheque retrospective Hitchcock/Truffaut: Maginificent Obsessions running all summer long, with films by those two great directors. (Stay tuned, I’ll be covering some of the films later on this summer.) Go to tiff.net for showtimes.  

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

Religion in remote places. Films reviewed: The Witch, the Club, Embrace of the Serpent

Posted in Anthropology, Catholicism, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, Dreams, Indigenous, Movies, Mysticism, Supernatural, Suspicion by CulturalMining.com on February 19, 2016

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

Religion can take a strange turn in remote places; this week I’m looking at three such movies. There are defrocked priests in a tiny fishing town in Chile, a shaman in the Columbian rainforest, and a preacher’s family in the woods near Salem village.

12357191_658718044294625_522435059894350027_oThe Witch
Dir: Robert Eggers

“A New England Folktale.”

It’s the 1630s in the New England colonies. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) is a firebrand preacher in Salem Village. He doesn’t like the way things are going there, with all the suspicion, accusations and trials about witchcraft. So he packs up his wife and kids and settles in a clearing near the woods. But witchcraft may have followed them there.

It starts with little things. A wild boar destroying crops and the farm animals behaving in a strange way. Pretty teen Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is annoyed by the bratty little twins – they look like devilish imps. So to scare them she pretends to be a witch. But her brother takes it all very seriously. He goes looking for an old witch in the woods. And now he’s gone.xGjG7n_witch_01_o3_8778312_1439860966

Caleb is baffled by the events, but goaded on by his shrewish, pregnant wife, he looks deeper into the troubles. What does that satanic goat want? What’s happening to the milk cow? And is there a devil’s child on its way? Are there witches in the woods? Is Thomasin one of them? Or is it all just paranoia brought on by their isolation?

This is not your average horror movie. It’s an art house flic that’s more strange and creepy than scary. The images are spooky but beautiful/grotesque, and the music is great. Apparently the script is based on actual diaries from that era. So the dialogue is full of thees and thous… but don’t expect Shakespeare.  Just first-hand accounts of witchery 400 years ago.

The_Club_-_4The Club
Dir: Pablo Larraín

Four priests and a nun live in a house together in La Boca, a remote fishing village in Chile. The men are there by order of the Vatican in penance for their suspected crimes and misdemeaners. Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers: No) is their de facto jailer. But in fact they live comfortable lives. The gamble, they drink, they cuss. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro: Desde allá, No) even has a hobby:  a greyhound he bets on at dog races.

But then something happens. A new priest arrives at their sanctuary, pursued by a strange young man named Sandokan (Roberto Farías).

Sandokan parks himself by their front gate and begins reciting things in a sing-song voice. He tells in graphic detail all the horrible sexual abuse he suffered as an altar boy by a Catholic priest. This leads to a shocking incident.

The Vatican sends an investigator – with a handful The_Club_-_6of secret files – in the person of Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso). Garcia is a hard-ass Jesuit stickler who demands the truth from the priests. This is not a spa, he says. They must confess everything.

But the priests and the nun are no pushovers. So it becomes a tug of warThe_Club_-_5 between the stubborn but suspect priests, and their powerful interloper. What are their secrets? Which of them is really guilty? And what will become of the mentally damaged Sandokan?

The Club is another excellent – but disturbing — movie from the great Chilean director who brought us “No”. He uses many actors from his previous films. This one’s a dark comedy but with a very serious undertone about the intersection of politics and religion, crime and punishment.

EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_01_o3_8681619_1439859054Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)
Dir: Ciro Guerra

It’s the early 20th Century. Theo Koch-Grunberg is a German Ethnologist living among the indigenous peoples of the northern Amazon rainforest. Theo (Jan Bijvoet: Borgman) is scraggly-looking man with a bony face and a long white beard who speaks the local language. He’s trying to find a shaman to show him the way to find a rare flower with mystical and medicinal properties. So with the help pf his student Manduca (Yauenkü Migue) he turns to Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) of the Arekuna nation to be his guide. Karamakate is a strong proud man who is one of the last of his people still living free in the traditional way. He walks through the forest basically naked except for a Embrace of the Serpentceremonial necklace. He carries no possessions. Everything he needs — the history, laws, medicine, geography, and stories of his people – are in his head. And he imposes strict rules that Theo has to follow if he wants Karamakate to lead him in canoe and on foot to the secret plant. He must starve himself in order to experience its power.

Flash forward half a century. Another foreign ethnographer, Evan (Brionne Davis) is back on the same path with the same goal: find pgBEVm_EMBRACEOFTHESERPSENT_04_o3_8681707_1439859084that flower! And he turns again to a much older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) to guide him. But Karamakate now says he’s forgotten everything.

The movie jumps back and forth between the two journeys, 40 years apart. And what they see and experience is amazing, stunning, frightening and spectacular. There are missionaries who dress up indigenous kids as altar boys and forbid them to speak their own language (shades of Canada’s residential schools.) Adults are turned into slaves to fuel the short-lived Amazon rubber boom in Manaus. And the jungle is full of false messiahs, drug addicts, jaguars and boas, marching soldiers and fleeing crowds… They see it all.

The whole movie is shot in some of the most spectacular black and white footage you’ve ever seen. This is an amazingly breathtaking film. It’s emotional, tragic, absurd and realistic. It’s based on the notebooks of those two explorers, which contain some of the only recorded records of indigenous people of the North Amazon. I recommend this movie

The Club, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent all open today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Peter Pan Syndrome. Movies Reviewed: Whiplash, Laggies, What We Do in the Shadows PLUS ImagineNATIVE

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Indigenous, Movies, Music, New Zealand, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2014

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

ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival started with a blast on Wednesday night. Two women read aloud the Sami Declaration of Indigenous Cinema. It declares that the oral tradition of native cultures must be preserved through storytelling on the screen. That sums up what this festival brings us – international views and culture, respecting the indigenous creators.

This week, I’m looking at three very different, but very good movies. There’s a thrilling drama about a young musician who won’t give up; a comedy about a woman who won’t grow up; and a mockumentary from New Zealand about vampires who won’t grow old.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Whiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old music student. Pale-cheeked and dark haired, he lives in a New York City apartment with his single father (Paul Reiser). He plays the drums with a driven passion, and he’s just starting at a prestigious music conservatory. He finds an unused drum set in a dusty school room and plunges right in. Drummer’s heaven. And who walks by and hears him but Fletcher (JK Simmonds). He’s a bald, acerbic music teacher who is also the head of the school’s elite, prize-winning jazz band. And he pulls Andrew out of Whiplash-2598.cr2class to audition for the band. This is rare, since the band members are much older and more accomplished.

He realizes something big is happening – his talent is finally being recognized! His life is going great, and he even gets the confidence to ask a girl he sees at the local rep cinema on a date.

But, what he doesn’t know is that Fletcher is also a perfectionist who demands top Whiplash-3326.cr2performances from his players, even during rehearsal times. That’s good, right? No! Fletcher is a cruel and twisted megalomaniac, who loves nothing more than driving his music students to tears. Every position in the band is tenuous, at best, subject to Fletchers’ whims. Now you’re in, now you’re out. And he elevates the importance of the band to mythic proportions.

Andrew soon realizes that he has to devote every waking moment of his life to reaching absolute, synchonistic perfection in his drumming if he wants to stay in the band. And Fletcher seems to have singled him out as the victim he can elevate Whiplash-5301.cr2and then crush. Who will triumph in this battle of minds? Sensitive young Andrew? Or the fascistic Fletcher?

Whiplash is a fantastic and tense thrilling movie. Director Chazelle manages to portray a music academy as a boot camp or a boxing match. Andrew’s not a musician but an athlete, and one who drums until he bleeds. Miles Teller as the kid and JK Simmonds (Law & Order) as the teacher perfectly play the two sides of this violent duet. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Whiplash was the first movie I saw at press previews at TIFF back in August and and it became the standard against which I measured every movie after it.

g5xVwr__laggies_01_o3_8301300__8301300__1407811900-1Laggies
Dir: Lynn Shelton

Megan (Keira Knightly) is a happily unmarried slacker in her late twenties. OK, her post-graduate school career hasn’t exactly taken off, but she still has her loving dad, her high school friends and Anthony, the longtime boyfriend she lives with. But at a wedding, she discovers maybe her Dad’s not so great, and her best friends aren’t. And when Anthony proposes marriage (and a quicky wedding in Las Vegas) Megan panics. She flees the wedding.

She ends up hanging with some teenagers she meets at a strip mall liquor store. She identifies with them, especially Annika (Chloe Grace Moritz). She was like her in high school…. Which wasn’t that long ago. They become friends. And this new friendship also gives her a chance to get away from her own life. She secretly movesMjEmRm__laggies_03_o3_8301367__8301367__1407811900 in with her new best bud for an extended sleepover party. But Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) discovers his daughter’s new best friend… is a grown up. They have a long talk. Does Megan see herself more as an adult like Craig, or a kid like Annika? Or is she somewhere in between? And how would their relationship change if she dated her dad?

Laggies is a cute, funny romantic comedy about the maturing of a young woman in her twenties. Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) comes from the Seattle low-budget indie scene, and this is her first one with big name stars. And she pulls it off. Keira Knightly and Chloe Moritz are great as the mismatched friends. (My only question? Is “single dad” a new movie trend?)

mwElYp__whatwedointheshadows_05_o3__8261204__1406658669What We Do in the Shadows.
Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Four guys with an unusual sense of fashion share a house in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. There’s the flamboyant and sensitive, pirate-shirted Viago (Taika Waititi) who pines for his lost love Katherine. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) sticks to clandestine orgies behind his velvet drapes. And ex-nazi Deacon (Jonathan Y6Mo7p__whatwedointheshadows_03_o3__8261132__1406658667Brugh) can often be found hanging upside down like a bat. They have regular house meetings, complete with job wheels. And of course they love a good night out. Why? So they can find some virgins and suck their blood. They’re vampires, of course! When they say “clean up the bloody dishes” they mean it literally.

And they’re part of the underground – if somewhat cheesy — supernatural subculture GZ9yR0__whatwedointheshadows_04_o3__8261163__1406658668we’re told exists in Wellington, complete with zombies, witches and werewolves. As vampires they can fly around and sleep in coffins. But they don’t know how to use facebook or take selfies. So, with the help of regular not-dead guy Stu, they try to adjust to modern life and avoid spilling blood everywhere.

What we do in the Shadows is a hilarious character-driven fake documentary aboutj2n7Z5__whatwedointheshadows_01_o3__8261101__1406658665 the lives of oddballs in New Zealand. It opened ImagineNative not for its topic, but for the filmmakers, producer and stars of the movie

All three movies played at TIFF this year. Laggies and Whiplash both open commercially today, check your local listings. What We Do in the Shadows opened at ImagineNative – which continues through October 26th featuring Australian movies and many gallery installations. Free before 6:00 pm for students, seniors and underemployed. Go to imaginenative.org for more info.

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

Back to the Future? Films Reviewed: The Visitor, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Toronto Ice Storm 2013Hi, 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.

I’m taping this a week in advance, during the Toronto Ice Storm, when the power’s still off, the sidewalks still icy and Rob Ford is still mayor. But who knows what it will be like by the time you’re listening to this. Back to the future? Fittingly, I’m looking at a couple oddball fantasy movies — a remake and a rerelease — both pointless but watchable froth to bring in the new year. The remake is an American comedy about a day-dreaming adult, the rerelease an Italian horror movie (from the 1970’s) about a brat with secret powers.

The Visitor fangoria Films We LikeThe Visitor

Dir: Giulio Paradisi

Presented by Drafthouse Films and Fangoria

Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) is a modern woman who values her freedom. She lives in a mansion in Atlanta with her sweet little daughter Katy (Paige Conner) and Katy’s pet bird. She’s being wooed by Raymond (Lance Henrickson) a slick-but-secretive basketball promoter. What she doesn’t realize is that Raymond reports to a cabal of identically dressed businessmen who are up to no good. They just want her offspring. You see, Barbara has special DNA and Katy has supernatural powers. If the cabal can pull off an alien abduction Barbara will reproduce with a special superbaby (as if her one kid isn’t trouble enough!)

Katy is actually a foul mouthed brat. She uses her powers for selfish reasons – Visitor2puting the kybosh on other kids she goes skating or does gymnastics with.  On her birthday, Katy’s gift turns into a handgun, which shoots Barbara, rendering her paraplegic.

Meanwhile, a wise old man with a white beard and a beige leisure suit (John Huston) is tracking Katy, too. He travels with a retinue of kids dressed in white. These silent, baldheaded teenagers are his disciples. You can tell he’s important because whenever he appears the theme music starts up again as he walks down a futuristic-looking escalator. And when a detective (investigates her birthday shooting she sends her pet bird to attack him.

Who will triumph? The satanic businessmen-aliens? Or the benevolent robe-wearing superman-like aliens? And will anyone stop spoiling that evil kid?

Visitor3This movie exists in its own bizarro-world, circa 1979. Shelley Winters plays Barabara’s intuitive housemaid singing Mama’s little baby loves shortening bread as she spies on Katy. Sam Peckinpah – the director of infamously violent movies (like Strawdogs and the Wild Bunch) — is her gynaecologist!

This is a very trippy, very strange movie. It has lots of horribly dated and vaguely racist shtick, and the story makes no sense whatsoever. But it still feels cool to watch: filled with fantastic dated special effects: a house of mirrors, a swarm of birds, Barbara insanely driving her electric wheelchair in endless circles. It climaxes with a bug-eyed John Huston having his Close Encounters moment with the shooting stars.

Total kitsch, but funny.

Mitty_PosterThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Dir: Ben Stiller

Walter (Ben Stiller) is a milquetoast mama’s boy and a longtime employee of Life Magazine. He lives vicariously through the exciting photos he processes in a windowless basement room (he’s in charge of “negative assets” — photo negatives, that is). Instead of a pocket-protector he wears a bad windbreaker. In his frequent daydreams and fantasies, he sees himself as an international adventurer, a “real man” who will stand up to any bully. But in reality he’s lonely, middle-aged and single. He longs for a relationship with a new employee, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), but can’t seem to connect with her, even on an on-line dating site.

And now he faces a crisis. Life Magazine is folding, except on-line. A douche-y young executive (Adam Scott) is brought in to close it down, and makes Walter into the poster boy for unwanted employees. But when a negative — the cover photo of the final issue — goes missing, Walter takes it upon himself to track it down, wherever it may be. He embarks on a journey by plane, helicopter, boat, secret life of walter mittyskateboard, that takes him up mountains, across shark-filled seas, and past erupting volcanoes, all just to find the missing photo.

Will he find the picture? Will he find himself? And will his journey impress his crush Cheryl?

While the movie is filled with breathtaking scenery, it has little else to recommend it. It’s not that funny, interesting or original (the James Thurber novel is more whimsical and the Danny Kaye musical — 1947 — is more clever). Ben Stiller’s first attempt at Secret Life of Walter Mitty ben stillerdirecting fails to direct himself. He underplays it just when he should be hamming it up. His character comes across as flat, dull and pointless. Shirley MacClaine and Catherine Hahn are fun as his mother and sister but are rarely seen.

And the use of egregious product placement within the plot itself — a certain pizza chain, a cinnamon bun — is as embarrassing as it is flagrant. (Was he that desperate for funding?) It’s not that the Secret Life of Walter Mitty is terrible. It’s totally watchable, especially stunning footage of Icelandic moonscapes. It’s just… disappointing.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty opens on Christmas Day and The Visitor opens on Dec 30th for a three-day run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. 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

Halloween! Movies Reviewed: Superstitious Minds, Ginger Snaps, Bounty Killer

Posted in Canada, Cultural Mining, Mexico, Movies, post-apocalypse, Supernatural, TV, Uncategorized, violence, Werewolves, Western by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013

Halloween_1 Superstitious MindsHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

Hallowe’en – it’s the scariest night of the year! And things are getting scarier and scarier. CSEC: The Communications Security Establishment Canada – this country’s own NSA. Did you know they’re allowed to spy on Canadians, as long as you’re speaking to someone outside the country? And with no watchdog, no judicial control? They’re free to do whatever they want with no one watching them! Scary…! Maybe you’re a Bell Canada customer? Beginning two weeks after Hallowe’en they want to keep a record of every web page you visit, every call you make, every TV show you watch, and every place you visit carrying your cell phone! Scarrry!!!!

Yes, it’s a very scary time of year.

Awooooooooo!

So in honour of this frightening holiday, I’m looking at some very halloweeny things. There’s a documentary on superstition, a classic horror film about sisters in suburbia, and a post-apocalyptic action/western about a futuristic world.

Superstitious Minds SkullsSuperstitious Minds

Dir: Adrian Wills and Kenneth Hirsch

Are we all superstitious? I’m pretty careful about spilling salt. And are we becoming more or less so in an increasingly scientific world? Well, according to a new documentary, we are as superstitious as we’ve ever been, maybe more so, with people under thirty the most superstitious of all. It’s what keeps us grounded and gives us control in facing an uncertain, unpredictable world.

This documentary covers international phenomena like Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Feng Shui in Hong Kong, and the rituals and taboos Newfoundland fishermen stick to to keep from being lost at sea. As well as small things we notice everyday, like the rituals of everyone from sports fans to Shakespearean actors.Dia_de_muertos Superstitious Minds

One example: the strange jagged angles of the Bank of China building in Hong Kong led to widespread worry that it was upsetting their economy with it’s intrusive, knife-like nature. So HSBC – that’s the Hong King Shanghai Bank of Commerce – actually put metal cannons on the roof of their sky scraper to shoot all that bad energy back at the Bank of China, thus neutering it’s negative charms.

This is an interesting documentary, with lots of colourful vignettes talking heads, and some reenacted montages about superstition. (I just wish it dealt less with the psychology of it, and more with the magic.)

gingersnaps_01Ginger Snaps (2000)

Dir: John Fawcett

The Fitzgerald sisters, have been BFFs since they were 8. They signed a pact to be dead before they’re 16. In the midst of all the suburban conformity, Ginger and Brigitte (Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) wear saggy cardigans, thrift store kilts and messy hair. They resist the bullies and jerks in their high school and revel in the depressing-ness of it all. Their only hobby? Acting out elaborate fake-suicides they save on Polaroid photos.

Life in the suburbs is predictable, except that all the neighbourhood dogs are turning up dead. Who is doing ths? But one night, on a full moon, Ginger feels different. She gets scratched by a wild dog, right when she’s having her first period… and things start to change.

She becomes, aggressive, erratic and highly sexualized. She starts wearing plunging necklines to school. And what about those scratches on her body? They’re starting to gingersnaps_02change too. She feels hairier, bloodier… meaner.

The school nurse explains it’s just puberty, but they both know the change means something more. And the two sisters find their relationship is fraying at the edges. Brigette likes the old Ginger, but her sister wants her to change like she did. Ignoring the nurse’s advice, Ginger has unprotect sex with a stoner at her high school – and seems to have passed the strange virus on.

People to start to die in mysterious circumstances….

It’s up to Brigitte to find a cure and bring her back to normal before she kills everybody.  She turns to Sam (Kris Lemche) for help. Sure he’s the local pot dealer, but he’s also the only one besides Brigitte who believes in Lycanthropia – he ran over a werewolf once in his delivery van. But will they get to Ginger before she snaps?  Before she makes the complete transformation to wolfdom?

Ginger Snaps was made in 2000 and I think it’s fair to say it’s attained classic Halloween movie status, along with more famous pics like the Shining, the Exorcist, and Videodrome. It’s distinctly Canadian… with street hockey, grow-ops, sex-ed and roadkill, but without that uncomfortable earnestness that mars some Canadian movies. It also avoids the puritanical nature of mainstream American horror movies, the ones that kill off characters that have sex or take drugs. And it has a refreshingly subversive subtext: Ginger Snaps is a feminist monster movie where the sisters are doing it for themselves.

This is not a special effects-driven movie — it depends on its great story, acting and originality, instead.

Bounty Killer PosterBounty Killer

Dir: Henry Saine

It’s some point far in the future. Corporations have taken over the world with governments withering away. But horrible wars between companies fighting for market share have left the US a wasteland. Now bounty hunters are celebrities followed by papparazzi for their brave exploits. They seek out the outlaws – all of whom now wear suits and ties (the business execs who ruined everything).

The champ hunter, Drifter (Matthew Marsden) brings in the bodies of every outlaw he can find. He’s as rootless as tumbleweed and mean as a rattler. But has a new competitor Catherine (Kristanna Loken), as ruthless as she is beautiful. She rides fancy sports cars and wears knee-high white boots. They are all old friends, lovers and sometime enemies. But when Drifter’s face appears on a wanted poster, Katherine vows to hunt him down. Can Drifter (and his gun-caddy side-kick) cross the badlands, avoid the bands of so-called gypsies in the desert, and make it Bounty Killer 391804_231827040231097_18835298_nto the council building to clear his name? On the way he has to escape the face-painted warriors and ride in things like a camper fan pulled by two Harleys – like an old west horse and carriage. (Great image!)

Bounty Killers is a western but the cowboys drive choppers through the desert, not horses. It’s got the brothels, the ghost towns, the angry mob, the outlaws and the sheriffs. And it all feels like a live-action graphic novel – mainly cause that’s what it is. A comic written for the big screen.

Marsden Bounty KillerI liked this movie – super low budget but punchy, slick and fast moving. Lots of hilarious side characters – all based on movie clichés but different enough and funny enough to keep you glued to the screen.

Ginger Snaps is playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Halloween night (tiff.net), Superstitious Minds is airing on CBC TV on Doc Zone (also on Halloween night), and Bounty Killers played at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, which is screening its closing films tonight.

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

Summer Adventures. Movies Reviewed: The Mortal Instruments City of Bones, Prince Avalanche

Posted in 1980s, Art, Bullying, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, Movies, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, Witches by CulturalMining.com on August 22, 2013

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.

Summer’s coming to an end, but there’s still time to get away. So how about some movies that take you on  journeys to strange places? This week, I’ve got two movies: one’s a supernatural drama about a girl in Manhattan who discovers a hidden world engaged in an epic fight between good and evil;  and a comedy/drama about two guys repairing roads for a summer job in the woods who discover their own hidden neuroses.

TheMortalInstrumentsCityOfBonesThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Dir: Harald Zwart

Clary (Lily Collins) is a typical teenaged girl in New York, who lives with her mom — an artist. No boyfriend, but Simon (Robert Sheehan) is her best friend who will follow her anywhere. (I think he likesher.) And she just happens to live above a tarot card fortune teller. But one day, something happens: she starts doodling a strange runic symbol, over and over. It’s a diamond shape with two horns coming out of the top. She sees it everywhere — what could it mean?

It’s actually a sign: something her mom should have told her City Of Bonesapart before mysteriously disappearing. You see, Clary has special powers – she can see a whole lot of people, monsters and heroes, invisible to us muggles. And one of them, a waifishly pale blond guy named Jace (played by the fortuitously named Jamie Campbell Bower), offers to show her around his world.

He shows her the City of Bones – a catacomb beneath the city – and takes her out to a weird, metal-goth swinger party. (Simon tags along, too.)

City of Bones 3Jace lives in an ancient secret academy filled with stone walls and stained glass. It’s run by a decrepit old guy, and a few of brash fighters. They take fencing lessons and cultivate their special powers. They’re an ancient group – sort of like Templar Knight vampires. Not many of them still around and they distrust Clary intruding in their sanctuary.

But they all want to fight an evil man named Valentine, and to keep his dark forces at bay. There’s a magical passage inside the building, where the bad guys might come in.

Well, Clary discovers she has the power to turn flat objects 3-D — without any special glasses. And she is somehow connected to a cup –  a cup that everybody wants — sort of a non-religious holy grail. Clary has so many questions: What is this cup? Who is Valentine? Where’s her mom? What’s her own role in all this? …and does that Jace-guy think she’s cute?

If you haven’t guessed, this is a very complicated, somewhat confusing movie, based on a City of Bones 2series of books. The genre: supernatural action/romance. Not for everyone, but I actually liked this movie. It’s kind of like the Twilight series, but much easier to take, without all those Jesus-y chastity vows, sparkly skin, and painfully awful music.

Less dreamy mooning, more action, drama, magic and plot, plot, plot. Lily Collins and is good as Clary. And Simon – real surprise. It’s the guy who does Nathan on the great UK TV show Misfits! Totally unrecognizable and low-key, he manages to keep his over-the-top persona under wraps, only rarely mugging pantomime for the camera.

Prince_Avalanche_poster_08Prince Avalanche

Dir: David Gordon Green

Alvin and Lance are semi-brothers-in-law working for the summer as the road crew on a remote highway. They paint stripes and nail posts. It’s the 1980s, so they communicate with the folks back home by writing letters. A phone call means a trip to the nearest town. They camp out at night and do repairs during the day. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is pompous, uptight and bossy.  He wants to learn German. He likes giving lectures (about whatever) to his girlfriend’s brother; he wants to bring some gravity to the tarmac.  Lance (Emile Hirsch) is long-haired and chubby, and talks Prince_Avalance_1like a childish dork. He wants to get laid, but is shy about meeting girls.

They two of them dress like the Super Mario brothers in baggy blue overalls and hardhats. Alvin even has a bad mustache to go with it. They look like cartoon characters, but their dialogue seems more like Pozzo and Lucky… if Lucky spoke, and was an obnoxious brother in law, not a slave.

As they work their way down the road they meet some people. There’s an old woman picking through the rubble of her former house, looking for a piece of paper. And a boisterous old man – maybe their boss? – who wants to share his rotgut alcohol with them.

Prince_Avalanche_6Prince Avalanche is a movie, but feels more like a minimalist play. The brothers gradually reveal their feelings, confess their fears, air their differences.

Here’s a dramatic moment… listen:

Prince Avalanche is one of those movies that waivers between the sublime and the ridiculous. I struggled at the beginning to take it seriously, but by the end I was thinking – hey! this is good, funny, clever, interesting. The movie looks and feels more like a European minimalist art film, than a goofy American comedy. (It turns out it was based on an Icelandic film, which somehow makes a lot of sense.)

I know Director David Gordon Green for his stooopid stoner comedies like Pineapple Express and The Babysitter, but after seeing this, I think I have to revisit his comedies – maybe there’s something more to them, too…

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones just opened and Prince Avalanche starts today: check your local listings. Also on now is the Art Gallery of Hamilton film festival – showing an amazing selection of great movies from other festivals. Go to aghfilmfest.com for more info.

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

Mid-July Popcorn Movies. Films Reviewed: Pacific Rim, Red 2, The Conjuring

Posted in 1970s, CGI, Cold War, Cultural Mining, Espionage, Horror, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Uncategorized, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 18, 2013

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.

It’s hot. It’s so hot the city sucked up the most energy ever recorded recorded in one day. There are rolling blackout across the town. How to beat the heat? You guessed it. Movies. I was in an IMAX theatre on Monday in flip-flops and shorts and I had to keep moving my fingers and toes to avoid freezer burn. So this week I’m talking about popcorn movies, the kind that keep you interested as you decompress in your seat. One’s a violent action/comedy that’s spy vs spy; one’s an action/fantasy of robots vs sea monsters; and there’s a chiller/horror that’s ghost busters vs evil spirits.

RED 2Red 2

Dir: Dean Parisot

Frank and Sarah (Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker) live a quiet suburban life. He’s retired from his days as a CIA killer. But he finds himself pulled back into it – and Sarah, a civilian, insists on coming too. Soon enough, they’re flying off to Paris, London and Moscow in a private jet, searching for a forgotten relic of the cold war. It’s unclear if it’s a person, an item or a sleeper cell. Whatever it is, there could be a major world disaster if it’s not neutralized. But even while he’s searching, he’s also being sought by two assassins who are hired to kill him. Han (Lee Byung-hun) a Korean killer, and Victoria (Helen Mirren) an MI6 assassin, are both his former friends and colleagues.

Frank puts together a team. He joins forces with various cold war colleagues and former Red 2 Zeta-Jones Parker Willisenemies. Sarah is just along for the ride… but she soon becomes an amateur spy, herself. The group must avoid a ruthless American operative (who is trying to cover-up the whole operation), locate a missing British scientist, and save the world… without being killed themselves.

This movie’s not bad – it’s actually quite entertaining. Cute, even. There’s a huge cast of very skilled actors playing simple, cookie-cutter roles, but they do it well, and seem to be having fun. There’s Anthony Red 2 MirrenHopkins, John Malkovich, David Thewlis and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Lots of really good chase scenes, shoot outs, loads of gratuitous death and violence, and cool, improvised hand-to-hand combat – like in Die Hard. There are also lots of split-second visual gags, (like an elderly woman playing a double bass.)

On the other hand, there’s nothing particularly original or surprising about the story – the plot’s completely predictable. One of the catch phrases the characters keep repeating is “I didn’t see that one coming”.

Really? ‘Cause I sure did.

Charlie Hunnam Pacific RimPacific Rim

Dir: Guillermo del Toro

It’s the near future, and giant sea monsters from outer space are terrorizing port cities all around the Pacific Ocean. So the various governments build giant robots (known as Jaegers) to go up against the Godzilla-like creatures. But since they’re so big, they need two people to control one robot. They merge their minds and memories in a “neural handshake” and together battle the bad guys. Teams usually consist of siblings, lovers or best friends. But when the robot teams fail to stop the monsters (known as Kaiju) from attacking, the governments decide to scrap the robot plan and build giant walls instead. Big mistake!Pacific Rim Kikuchi

Only a few of the Jaegers are still around. It’s up to their trained drivers – the Jaegermeisters, if you will — and their commander, to try to defeat the monsters, once and for all.

This was another entertaining movie. Excellent special-effect CGIs – better than Transformers 3 Pacific Rim Jaeger(and that says a lot) — and a fun story. It has a very complicated plot, with a huge cast. Mako and Raleigh (Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Hunnam) are good as the dedicated robot riders, as is Idris Elba as their commander Pentecost. And a comic sub-plot (involving the non-combatant scientists who are trying to defeat the sea monsters through research, not war) helps to counter the relentless fighting. To tell the truth, I was a little bit disappointed in the script, since I like the director, del Toro, a lot, and was hoping for something more like Pan’s Labyrinth than Hellboy. But it was still a hell a lot of fun for an action movie.

The Conjuring Lili TaylorThe Conjuring (based on a true story)

Dir: James Wan

It’s 1971. Demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) give lectures on how to detect or debunk reports of haunted houses and possessed dolls. Lorraine is particularly sensitive to otherworldly beings. Most of their investigations turn out to be just scaredpeople hearing the wind. But when they are contacted by a family from Rhode Island, they sense this is the real deal.

Carolyn (Lili Taylor), her trucker-husband Roger, and their five daughters, have recently moved PATRICK WILSON, VERA FARMIGA, LILI TAYLOR, RON LIVINGSTON, photo Michael Tackett THE CONJURING Warner Brosinto a beautiful old house set in a bucolic garden with a big tree and a still pond. But the family soon begins to notice strange things, every night at 3:07 AM. One daughter feels a hand pulling her leg when she’s fast asleep. The youngest has an imaginary friend, Rory, who appears whenever she plays a music box with a spinning spiral on a round mirror. A sleep-walker is drawn to an old wardrobe that came with the house. And mom wakes up each morning with strange bruises on her body.

So the Warrens set up shop inside the house, with cameras and microphones, to record paranormal activity. And, soon enough, real, scary things start to happen, culminating in a battle to exorcise evil from their immortal souls.

The Conjuring Vera FarmigaThis is a very scary ghost movie. I’ve gotten used to cheap, found-footage movies, like the Paranormal Activity series (which I liked), so it was nice to see a classic-style, well-made-movie movie that scares your socks off. Sure, a lot of the scenes were snatched from films like Poltergeist and The Exorcist. You also have to wonder: who buys their kids hideously ugly dolls, or music boxes with hypnotic powers? Come on.

But it also had some totally new kinds of scary scenes involving cubby-holes, dusty basements, tunnels and crawl spaces. They provided some new claustrophobic images to be terrified by late at night. The hide and clap game, the dusty basement, the scene in the wardrobe: these are all super chilling scenes. And while the male actors were both milquetoasts, it’s the women — stoic Vera Farmiga and especially Lili Taylor as the mom in a cosmic meltdown mode — who steal the show.

Pacific Rim is playing now, and Red 2 and The Conjuring both open today (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

Scary and Scarier. Movies Reviewed: Dark Skies, Act of Killing PLUS Oscar predictions

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow oscarmovies, 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.

Oscar is back – and I’m not talking about Pistorius the Paralympics star’s trial. This weekend, the good and the bad compete for the most important prizes in the industry.

So, once again I will make my Oscar predictions – but a warning: I’m almost always completely wrong.

I have a feeling Amour, Haneke’s devastating film about the final years of an elderly couple, will come out on top. Zero Dark Thirty – the CIA torture-fest about the hunt for Bin Laden – will be largely shut out. And Silver Linings Playbook, the bi-polar rom-com, and Argo, a light, revisionist history about the Iranian hostage crisis, will divide the rest if the spoils.

Best Movie: Amour should win, but Argo will win. Best Actor: I haven’t seen Lincoln yet, so I can’t judge Daniel Day Lewis, but of the other four, Joaquin Phoenix did the best performance. He should win. Best Actress: Emmanuel Riva should and will win. Supporting actor? Robert De Niro in Silver Linings should win, but Christopher Waltz will win. Supporting actress: I liked Amy Adams in The Master, but I think Anne Hathaway will win. I think Michael Haneke will win best director and he deserves it.

The documentaries are all fantastic. I have a feeling Looking for Sugarman will win. And the foreign language films this year – Rebelle, No, Amour, Kon Tiki (plus Royal affair, which I haven’t seen) – are all outstanding. Three of them are on my 2012 best ten list, and No would be as well, if it had been released in time. You should see them all. And finally best original and adapted screenplays: I think Amour and Silver Linings will win that.

Some of the Oscar choices are scary, and so are their song and dance numbers. Even scarier are two movies: a Spielberg-style family thriller-chiller, and an unbelievably strange documentary out of Indonesia.

DARK_SKIES_POSTERDark Skies

Dir: Scott Stewart

It’s a hot summer, and the fourth of July is a couple days away. In the best of times, the Barrets are not a perfect family. Mom and Dad (Keri Russel and Jeff Hammond) are in trouble: their mortgage payments are three months overdue. Daniel’s out of work, and Lacey’s real estate sales aren’t doing well. Then there’s their two kids, Jesse and Sam (Toronto-native Dakota Goyo and Kadan Rockett). Jesse is hanging out with an older, “bad” friend, Ratface, who introduces him to long guns, bong-smoking and vintage porn videos (Jesse’s 14.) They hang out in one of the fixer-upper houses Lacey’s trying to sell. And little Sam is having nightmares – the sandman keeps coming to him at night. Still, the family likes their nice suburban neighbourhood, with its swimming pools, American dark skiesflags and backyard barbecues and don’t want to move. Jesse calms the waters by staying up late, talking to Sam by walkey-talkey.

But things go from bad to worse. Birds smash into the windows. The family starts having absence seizures, wetting their pants, and walking into walls. Strange bruises and marks are appearing on the kids’ bodies – is someone calling Children’s Aid? They open their mouths wide and start screaming, like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They wake up in the middle of the night to find strange, little tricks left behind by a Poletrgeist-like being. And humming sounds and bright white lights appear under doors, just like in ET and Close Encounters. (Get the picture?)

dark skies 2Dad is perturbed, so he puts video camera in all the rooms to see of there is any Paranormal Activity at night. And sure enough, he finds something… but what are they? Can they fight off the enemy and keep together as a family unit? Or will they disappear, one by one?

I love the pseudo-retro quality of the movie as they plunder all the scary movies from 70s and 80s. The kid actors are all great, and the adults are usually good. And there are some wicked semi-psychedelic dream sequences popping up all through the movie. They almost make the whole film worthwhile. Almost.

But the story is a mess, some of the characters are lame, and the dialogue waivers between good to chokingly awful. So even though I felt like I should like this kind of film – it was really disappointing, especially the ending. It almost feels like they ran out of money before they could rewrite flubbed dialogue, and re-shoot missing scenes, and just decided to release it half edited. Too bad.

Act of Killingactofkilling_02_medium

Dir: Joshua Oppenhemier (and another director remains anonymous)

This is one of the weirdest documentaries I’ve ever seen, and has to be seen to be believed. Apparently, a group of former militants from Sumatra, Indonesia, decide to produce a fun, action film portraying the torture and murders it carried out in the 1960s. And they want to play themselves and their victims on the original sites where they murdered them. But they want to make it enjoyable, so they add musical numbers, dancing girls, a man in drag (one of the killers) for comic relief, and all sorts of additions to make it “entertaining”.

Historical context: In 1965-66, there were riots and mass-killings of about half a million ethnic Chinese Indonesians and Communist Party members in the mid-sixties around the fall of President Sukarno.

Those killers are still associated with a paramilitary security force and right-wing political group there which proudly actofkilling_04_mediumrecalls their deeds to the locals.

This is simultaneously the western filmmaker’s a first-hand record of the mass murderers unapologetically admitting their war crimes, and a film-diary of a bizarre low-budget Indonesian pop production. Jaw-dropping film.

Dark Skies opens today, check your local listings; Act of Killing is playing at the Human Rights Watch film festival in Toronto – go to tiff.net for details; and the Academy Awards are on TV this Sunday. Also opening tonight in Toronto is the very cool, experimental film Tower, directed by local Kazik Radwanski, who I interviewed last week. Check that one out.

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

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