Kick-Ass Women! Movies reviewed: Ravage, Lucky Grandma, Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Posted in Action, comedy, Crime, documentary, Drama, Gambling, Jazz, Music, New York City, Thriller, Torture, violence by CulturalMining.com on August 14, 2020

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

This week I’m looking at three movies – an action/thriller, a musical documentary, and a dark comedy – all featuring kick-ass women. There’s a photographer in the Appalachians pursued by killer rednecks, a grandma in Chinatown pursued by Red Dragon gangsters; and a parade of jazz singers in Rhode Island pursuing musical bliss.

Ravage

Wri/Dir: Teddy Grennan

Harper Sykes (Annabelle Dexter-Jones) is a professioinal photographer who travels the world looking for rare wildlife. She’s in the Watchatoomy valley in Virginia searching for an endangered species when she stumbles on something she isn’t supposed to see: a group of men brutally torturing a stranger in the woods. She is shocked and sickened but pauses long enough to record the awful event from behind a tree. Then jumps in her pickup and rushes to the nearest police station. But things don’t go as planned. She’s kidnapped and dragged by tow truck to a barn, and awakens to find herself barefoot, tied up and suspended from the rafters. Ravener (Robert Longstreet) is a nasty evil redneck with a gang of meth-head henchmen. (He’s a lot like the character Negan in Walking Dead, only not as menacing.) In this valley, they don’t trust outsiders. So anyone who ventures in gets tortured and fed to the hogs. And there’s no way out.

The thing is, they don’t know Harper. She’s a regular G.I. Jane, a female McGuyver who can get out of any tight situation, using whatever’s close at hand. She gradually turns herself from victim to killer, taking down her opponents one by one. She thinks she’s safe when she takes refuge in an isolated home, where a kindly old man lives (Bruce Dern). But he turns out to be as obsessed with evil torture as the rest of them. Can she ever escape from this hell-hole?

Ravage, as the title suggests is an action/vengeance/horror flick, and it’s a B-movie at best. There are plot holes, weird editing, and a silly ending. But it doesn’t matter. Dexter-Jones is great as the kick-ass Harper, who escapes from tight spaces, makes rafts out of empty barrels, drops bullets into campfires and sabotages her pursuers in ingenious ways. Really cool. The gross-outs and shock scenes are silly, but – if you don’t mind extreme violence – this is a fun flick, perfectly suitable for drive-ins.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Dir: Bert Stern

It’s 1958 in Newport Rhode Island. There’s a jazz festival set up in a vast field with an outdoor stage and wooden folding chairs in neat rows. On stage are some newcomers plus big names like Louis Armstrong, Thelonius Monk, and Chuck Berry, playing jazz, blues and R&B. But it’s the women who really stand out. Anita O’day sings scat in Tea for Two, Big Maybelle rumbles her voice, Dinah Washington soars and Mahalia Jackson hushes the crowd whith her heartfelt gospel. This is all taking place at the Newport Jazz Festival in a posh summer resort with the Americas Cup – sailboats and yachts – floating past in the water.

The concert is captured on film without commentary, playing songs we’ve all heard before, but the camera doesn’t stick to the stage. Equal time is given to the audience: girls in pearls, boys in nautical ware, middle aged men in black knee socks, women in straw hats and cardigans, all unconsciously cool. College kids drinking Rheingold beer and making out in the shadows, couples dancing in the grass and hipsters nodding their heads on the off-beat. Model T Fords carrying a Dixieland jazz band sputters past, with experimental musicians jamming in the attic of an old wooden house. Everything’s captures on film, now completely restored with glowing orange klieg lights, bright red lipstick, rippling blue waves. It’s a concert and also a documentary that perfectly captures this slice of time. Something to watch and relax to on a hot summer’s day…

Lucky Grandma

Co-Wri/Dir: Sasie Sealy

Grandma (Tsai Chin) is a retired and elderly widow who lives alone in a cramped apartment in New York’s Chinatown. She likes aqua fitness, smoking cigarettes, and sipping congee. Her son wants her to move to their house in the suburbs and spend time with her noisy grandkids. It’s not safe living alone in the city, he says. But she’s stubborn, and wants to stay on familiar ground. Life’s tough but at least it’s hers. And things change when her fortune teller insists there’s a huge streak of good luck coming her way on the 28th. And when she wins an unexpected sweepstakes, she knows the odds really are on her side.

So she withdraws all her cash and goes to a casino to wager everything on number 8. She wins and wins and wins again. Until, at a game of blackjack she loses it all – tens of thousands – to old Mr Lin. It doesn’t make sense. But when Lin drops dead in her lap on the bus back home, luck is on her side again. She takes back the duffel bag of cash and sneaks home. Looks like she can finally retire in luxury.

But word gets out and Red Dragon gangsters start dropping by uninvited in her apartment to intimidate her. But she won’t give in their tactics. Instead she hires Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) a huge but simple-minded bodyguard from a rival gang. But things start to heat up, bullets fly and now everyone seems to be after Grandma’s cash (which she insists she doesn’t have). IS this old lady stubborn enough and tough enough to fend off deadly killers? Or has she bit off more than she can chew?

Before I saw Lucky Grandma, judging by the poster I was expecting a cute, slapstick, throwaway comedy. So I was pleasantly surprised by how good a movie this actually is. It’s a low-key, but funny, realistic and poignant picture of life in Chinatown. And this is because of the star Tsai Chin, who gives a nuanced, perfect performance. Every line is just right. Who is Tsai Chin? She’s been a star since the late 50s with a hit single in HK in 1961, was a Bond Girl in You Only Live Twice, appeared in Antonioni’s Blow Up, starred in countless plays in London’s west end, and was Auntie Lindo in the Joy Luck Club. Now, in her late eighties, she’s as good as ever. Don’t miss Tsai Chin in this really good, Chinese-language American movie.

You can watch Jazz on a Summer’s Day on virtual cinema at Hot Docs, Lucky Grandma is now on digital and VOD, and you can see Ravage at drive-ins across Ontario; 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.

Birth, Death, Birth. Films reviewed: Dead Dicks, In Safe Hands, The Report

Posted in Adoption, Bipolar, Canada, Family, France, Horror, Politics, Suspense, Suspicion, Terrorism, Torture, US by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 2019

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

Fall festival season continues in Toronto, with ReelAsian ending tonight and the EU Film Fest still going strong. Coming soon are Blood in the Snow (aka BITS), featuring Canadian Horror and Genre movies, and CineFranco with French language movies, from Canada and around the world.

This week I’m looking at three movies, two about births and two about deaths. We’ve got mysterious rebirths wanted by no one, a newborn infant wanted by everyone, and a horrifying CIA program they want no one to know anything about.

Dead Dicks

Wri/Dir: Chris Bavota, Lee Paula Springer

Becca (Jillian Harris) is a young bartender who works downtown. But much of her time is filled with taking care of her big brother Richie (Heston Horwin). Richie is a depressed artist with anger issues given to playing music full blast while scribbling in his sketchbook. When there parents died he served as the adult in the family, but now the roles are reversed. She’s forced to deal with his angry neighbours and make sure he takes his meds. So when she she is called away from her job by frantic texts, she thinks this is just another one of Richie’s episodes. But it’s not.

She arrives to see an apartment in disarray, with a huge mouldy patch formed above his bed, and Richie wandering around naked, in a daze. His brain feels fuzzy he says. Turns out he killed himself just a few minutes before. And almost immediately expelled, fully grown, through a hole in the wall. But the dead body he left behind is still there, hanging in the closet. And another one in the bathtub, and another one in the kitchen. Living Richie is surrounded by all the dead Dicks from his repeated suicide attempts. He’s experimenting, he says.

But that leaves Richie and Becka with a pile of dead Dicks to get rid of, a mysterious birth canal on his wall and an angry neighbour (Matt Keyes) who could get them arrested by threatening to call the cops. What is causing all these rebirths? What does it mean? And what are the unanticipated consequences?

Dead Dicks is a bizarre, low budget film, part horror, part mystery, part comedy. The film does not encourage death by suicide. Rather, It deals with issues of family and mental illness, within a weird fantasy setting. It manages to be grotesque and gruesome, with very few special effects, and an absurd humorous streak running through it.

In Safe Hands (Pupille)

Dir: Jeanne Herry

It’s present-day Brest, in French Brittany.

A young woman arrives at a hospital in labour. She’s a college student and says the pregnancy is the result of a one-night stand, and says she doesn’t want the baby. This starts a dozen gears spinning into action, notifying dozens of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, midwives, social workers, foster parents, and adoption agencies. And little Theo, the baby, is the centre of attention. He is transferred to an incubator, with lots of faces peering down at him. But can his lack of contact with his birth mother damage him for life? Or will a concerted effort place this baby into safe loving hands?

In Safe Hands is mainly a dramatization of the process of birth and adoption, but there are a few interestingside plots along the way. Jean (Gilles Lellouche) is a married dad who takes care ofhis own daughter and two troubled foster boys who takes care of Theo as he awaits adoption. Karine (Sandine Kiberlain) works for the adoption and fostering program and has a thing for Jean… but will an affair upset the adoption process? Alice Langlois (Élodie Bouchez) is single and works describing action at live plays for the visually impaired. She applied for adoption when she was attached. A social worker is concerned both for the privacy of the birth mother and of the baby who might one day wish to get in contact with her. And many, many others, all centred around a wordless, Yodalike baby who seems to take everything in. It was interesting from a parenting and adoption point of view, exposing all the hidden parts of the mechanism of adoption, but isn’t very satisfying as a dramatic or romantic movie, more just as an educational docudrama, as acted by famous French movie stars.

The Report

Wri/Dir: Scott Z. Burns

It’s post 9-11 Washington, DC.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is a young college grad appointed to a group to write a bipartisan internal report on the CIA for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee is headed b Sen. Diane Feinstein (Annette Bening). Dan is locked up in a dark basement in a nameless bureaucratic and told to find out what the CIA has done since 9/11. It turns out their practices, supposedly enacted to stop terrorism, were immoral, illegal and of no value whatsoever for intelligence. Specifically, he uncovers the practice of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a policy previously known as torture and banned by the Geneva Convention.

They were under the direction of two psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen (Douglas Hodge and T Ryder Smith) working on contract with no experience in interrogation. They stripped prisoners naked, chained them to walls, waterboarded them and nailed them – live – into wooden coffins, covering their skin with crawling insects. The torture yielded no intel, yet was repeated for many years in blacksites around the world.

Dan outlines these heinous war crimes in a long report to the committee, shocking senators by its findings. But instead of offering support and investgating their own lawbreakers, the CIA initiates a coverup, threatening Dan himself with jail time if he releases his findings. And the CIA sends operatives to spy on the Senate itself in order to coverup the findings. Will Dan Jones’s report ever see the light of day? And will the war criminals be punished?

The Report is a good political drama about the illegal use of torture by the CIA, but a thriller it’s not. It incorporates elements of All the President’s Men, and is nicely shot with lots of fluorescent lights and stark, brutalist architecture. Driver is great as the persistent policy geek, with an understated Bening as a veteran Senator. Warning: there are a few highly disturbing reenactments of the torture itself, which are extremely hard to watch. Much more common are the reenactments of the culprits – John Yoo, Jose Rodrigues, John Brennan (Ted Levine), Cheney, and the psychologists – war criminals who leave a very bad taste in one’s mouth.

I liked this one.

Dead Dicks will be playing at Blood in the Snow, In Safe Hands at Cinefranco, and The Report at the Tiff Bell Lightbox all starting one week from today.

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Hunting

Dir: Raed Andoni

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

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

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

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

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

Battle of the Sexes

Dir: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

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

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

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

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

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

Beach Rats

Wri/Dir: Eliza Hittman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Garber talks with director Jamie Kastner about A Skyjacker’s Tale

Posted in 1970s, 1980s, African-Americans, Crime, Cuba, documentary, FBI, Interview, Politics, Torture, Trial, US by CulturalMining.com on January 20, 2017

jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-taleHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s the 1980s. Ishmael Ali is on a commercial flight to the US. Virgin Islands. But not to lie on the beaches of St Croix. He’s being transferred to another maximum security prison. He’s serving time for the Fountain Valley Massacre – the infamous killing at a golf course owned by the theskyjackerstale_01Rockefellers… a crime, he says, he did not commit. And on this flight he manages to hijack the plane to Cuba. But there’s much, much more to this skyjacker’s tale.

A Skyjacker’s Tale is a new feature documentary that interviews the skyjacker himself in Cuba. It tells his story, and that of all the jamie-kastner-a-skyjackers-talepeople he affected: at the skyjacking, and at the trial. These interviews shed new light on a controversial case – with a dramatic finish — that left the public polarized. A Skyjackers Tale is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamie Kastner, who brought us films like Kike Like Me, and The Secret Disco Revolution. (Here’s the interview from 2012).

A Skyjacker’s Tale opens today at the Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.

I spoke to Jamie in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM..

 

Daniel Garber talks with Tickled director David Farrier at #HotDocs

David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural miningHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

David Farrier is a New Zealand TV journalist who specializes in odd and off-beat stories. So when he sees an ad online looking for athletic young men, aged 18-23, for Competitive Endurance Tickling, he sees a potential story. But when he contacts the company, run by a secretive woman named Jane O’Brien, he gets a surprising reaction: a series of abusive and David Farrier Tickled Photo © 2016 for cultural mining 2threatening email.

Followed by three men flown all the way to New Zealand from LA, threatening a lawsuit if he doesn’t drop the story. Just for investigating some guys being tickled.

Tickled is also the name of a fascinating and disturbing new documentary about hidden identities, vast conspiracies, and cyber bullying. All surrounding a phenomenon – professional tickling — largely unknown to the general public. It’s co-directed by actor, journalist and crypto-zoologist David Farrier who’s also the film’s narrator and subject.

I spoke to David at Dublin Calling in Toronto at Hot Docs earlier this spring. Tickled opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris

Daniel Garber talks with director Patrick Reed about his new documentary Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Prison, Suspicion, Taliban, Terrorism, Torture, US, War by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2016

 

Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar KhadrHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid born in Toronto into a controversial family. He was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan at a militant camp. A US soldier was killed and Omar, as the sole survivor, was blamed for his Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadrdeath. Labelled a terrorist, he was sent to a prison in Cuba at the American military base known as Guantanamo. He was the youngest inmate there and reached maturity as Guantanamo’s Child.

Guantanamo’s Child is also the name of a new KO79nx_GUANTANAMOSCHILD_01_o3_8887721_1449615152documentary about Omar Khadr’s stay in that notorious prison. Partly based on Michelle Shephard’s book, the film chronicles his and his family’s lives from his early years in Toronto, his stay in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the decade spent in Guantanamo, and his status today back in Canada. The film premiered at TIFF15 and is now playing in Toronto as part of the Canada Top Ten Film Festival.

I spoke with the film’s award-winning co-director, Patrick Reed, in studio.

Cracks in the Foundation. The Continent, Rocks in my Pockets, Rosewater

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

From far away, porcelain looks smooth, shiny and flawless, but look too close and fine cracks appear. This week, I‘m looking at movies that expose the cracks in faraway Latvia, China and Iran. There’s an Iranian man who wants to leave prison; three Chinese men who want to leave their island, and a Latvian woman who, at times, wants to leave life altogether.

TheContinentThe Continent
Dir: Han Han

Three young men have lived their lives on a tiny, windswept island off the east coast of China. But they decide it’s time to check out the continent. Like in the classic Chinese novel, they set out on a “Journey to the West. They each have a different reason. Jianghe (Chen Bolin  [陈柏霖], who also starred in Buddha Mountain [觀音山] — read my review here) a school teacher an”d eternal optimist, is transferred by the government to a remote location far, far away. Haohan (Feng Shaofeng [冯绍峰]) is a blustering young man dying to see the world. He longs to stand on a determined mountaintop and shout to the world about the size of his dick. And he has a childhood pen-pal Yingying TheContinent_still2(Yolanda Yuan [袁泉]), a pretty girl he’ll finally meet face to face. And true love will soon follow. Their third friend, Hu Sheng, is mentally challenged, and depends on the other two to tell him what to do.

But they soon discover life outside their tiny island is bewildering and confusing. They stumble onto a movie set in WWII. And at their first hotel Jianghe is approached by an escort named Sumi, immediately followed by knocks on the door from aggressive police. Bewildered, he plays the hero, HanHanbusting out through a barred window and “saving” Sumi from a fate worse than death. Or so he thinks. And a sketchy, Cantonese hitchhiker helps them with their navigating – but can he be trusted? Maybe not, in a place where anything that you don’t hold onto with both hands when you gp to sleep will likely be gone by morning. But it’s also a country with stunning and empty vast vistas, rockets flying to outer-space, and cool and savvy people at every turn.

The Continent is writer-director Han Han’s (韩寒) first film, but he’s far from unknown. His blog is the best-known one in China which automatically makes him one of the most famous people in the world. This is not just a simple, picaresque road movie. It’s also a slyly humorous — if bleak — cautionary tale about life in contemporary China.

RocksinMyPockets_Poster_MediumRocks in My Pockets
Wri/Dir Signe Baumane

Signe is a Brooklyn artist, originally from Latvia, with a hidden family past. She wants to find out the truth behind the family matriarch, her late grandmother. On the surface, she was a preternaturally hard-worker, known for her Sisyphean feat of carrying endless buckets of water up a steep mountain. She had retreated to a backwoods cabin with her husband, an eccentric entrepreneur, to escape the difficulties of life in the city. But, after a bit of digging, Signe discovers a streak of depression, suicide and mental illness in her family stretching back three generations. The title refers to her grandmother’s attempted suicide by drowning – she was unsuccessful because she forgot to fill her pocket with rocks. Even if the mind wants to end it all, the body – until the last breath — will fight against dying. At the same time, Signe realizes that the many children and grandchildren managed to survive and succeed despite harsh time. In this film, Riga is imagined as a rocksinmypockets-1024x576place with enormous human faces on their buildings, within a country filled with animistic creatures with long tails, dog ears and goggly eyes that lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

Her odd family history is portrayed in a series of short, animated episodes, using panels of sketched characters moving against brightly-tinted Linda_Sc_080_with_WS_Thumbnailbackgrounds. These are interspersed with super-imposed stop-motion images made of rope and papier-mache figurines. This giuves the whole movie an unusual three-dimensional feel, combining classic drawing with computer-manipulated mixes. And omnipresent is the wry and funny –though at times grating – voice of the narrator telling and commenting on her family history. The director shows the deleterious effects of Soviet era psychiatry – one where cures consist of medicinal corrections to chemical imbalances – and how it makes some people long to “erase themselves” and ceasing to exist. A poignant, fascinating and great animated feature.

RW_LM_20130810_0238.jpgRosewater
Dir: Jon Stewart

Maziar Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Iranian-Canadian journalist based in London. He lives there with his beautiful (and pregnant) wife. He is assigned to cover the upcoming elections in Iran, but quickly runs unto trouble as soon as he arrives. He quickly makes friends with a politically active and sympathetic taxi driver who takes him to areas fertile with dissent. But after witnessing a potentially explosive event he is arrested. His charge? Spying.

Ironically, a comic TV interview he had given to an American comedian on the Daily Show is used as evidence of his wrong doing. He is quickly thrown into solitary confinement in a notorious prison. He is psychologically tortured until — says the warden — his will is broken and he will lose all hope.

His family, it turns out, is no stranger to death and imprisonment for RW_NK_20130729_0700.jpgpolitical views under earlier regimes. Both his father and his sister had gone through it, and appear, in his mind, to convince him to hold on. But will he make it?

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s first film, and it shows it. Stewart is known for the brilliant and funny The Daily Show that skewers mass media from a left-ish perspective. But a feature film is not a three-minute sketch. The movie starts out great with exciting scenes of news-gatering, but it starts to drag, heavily, once it moves to the prison. While it conveys the loneliness and suffering,  solitary confinement does not make for good cinema. Bernal and the supporting actors are fine, but the buffoonish prison guard and the sinister administrator seem too much like the evil twins of  Schultz and Klink to take seriously.

The Continent played at the ReelAsian Film Festival which continues for another week (reelasian.com), Rosewood played at TIFF this year and opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; and Rocks in my Pockets opened the Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival (which features films on addiction and mental health – with an additional screening tomorrow: go to rendezvouswithmadness.com for times. Also opening: next week at Hot Docs there’s the great documentary called Point and Shoot about a young American traveler/journalist who, despite being non-religious and non-radicalized, nevertheless joins the rebel armies fighting in Libya (listen to my review here). And a surprising story about the Life of Pigeons on CBC’s the Nature of Things.

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

Oscar Time! Movies reviewed: Omar, The Great Beauty

Posted in Action, Cultural Mining, Drama, Espionage, Italy, Morality, Movies, Palestine, Romance, Suspicion, Torture by CulturalMining.com on February 28, 2014

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

Oscars 2014It’s time for my Oscar picks. Warning – I’m almost always wrong.

Best Actor. Should win: Matt McConoughey. Will win: Chiwetel Ejiofor.

WINNER: Matt McConoughey X

Best Actress. Should win: Judy Dench. Will win: Cate Blanchett.

WINNER: Cate Blanchett

Best Supporting Actor. (No idea… Jared Leto?)

WINNER: Jared Leto

Best Supporting Actress. Should win: Lupita Lyongo. Will win: Jennifer Lawrence.

WINNER: Lupita Lyongo X

Best Documentary. Should win: Act of Killing. Will win: 20 Feet from Stardom.

WINNER: 20 Feet from Stardom

Best Director. Should win — Steve McQueen. Will win:  Russell or Cuaron

WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron

Best Picture. 12 Years a Slave (Should win and will win.)

WINNER: 12 Years a Slave

Best Movie in a Foreign Language. Should win: The Hunt. Will win: The Great Beauty.

WINNER: The Great Beauty

Sunday, March 2, 2014 ,  midnight. Oscars Results: My predictions weren’t bad this year — I got 6 or 7 out of 9 correct. The two I got wrong were winners I labeled “should win” not “will win”: Lupita Lyongo, and Matthew McConoughey.  And I gave myself two “will win” options for best director (Russell or Cuaron).

So, in keeping with this theme, this week I’m looking at two movies nominated for best foreign language picture. One’s a dramatic thriller from the Palestinian Territories about a young man caught between a rock and a hard place; the other is a nostalgic look at contemporary Rome.

Omar_ Adam BakriOmar

Dir: Hany Abu-Assad

Omar (Adam Bakri) is a young Palestinian who works in a one-man pita bakery. He’s a clean-scrubbed guy with an indefatigable spirit. Nimble on his feet, Omar can climb a three-storey wall — and back again — in a few seconds. And climb he does, over the Separation Wall that runs along the long border between Israel and the Occupied Territories. Because walls mean nothing to Omar — the border is porous, an arbitrary line.

Why does he cross the wall? Ostensibly to visit Tarek – serious, stern (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad, a teller of jokes (Samar Bisharat).

But his real motivation is Nadia (Leem Lubany) Tarek’s younger sister, who lives on the other side of the wall. Omar is as tall dark and handsome as Nadia is kind, witty and beautiful with tousled black hair. Omar, Bakri, Lubany

One day he’s stopped by a particularly cruel unit of the border patrol. The Israelis are about his age, but they beat him up and publically humiliate him. A shift in Omar’s thinking?

So he joins Tarek and Amjad for a planned action. They are all prospective members of the militant Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. Their initiation? A shooting. Omar doesn’t personally kill anyone but he’s the one arrested.

Omar, Zuaiter, BakriIn prison, he’s tortured and interrogated. Finally he’s approached by a member of Al Aqsa. He warns Omar that spies are everywhere – they’ll pretend to make friends with him to get him to confess. The only way out is to collaborate with the Israelis – and any collaboration will last forever. His words are prophetic.

Soon enough, he’s out again, working to marry his love, trying to find the traitor who gave up his name, and, meanwhile, regularly speaking from a phone booth with his Israeli contact Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) an Arabic-speaking agent.

Whose side is he on? Which side does he really support? Can he even trust his friends, his love, his fellow militants?

Omar is a dramatic thriller about the Israel/Palestine conflict told decidedly from the Palestinian point of view. As a drama, it shows the psychologically draining toll non-stop surveillance takes on the lives of Omar BakriPalestinians. The movie’s done like a chess game: each side makes a move, countered by his opponent. But you soon see there are multiple chessboards, operating simultaneously, with countless players, alliances and betrayals until it’s hard to figure out who is black and who is white.

The acting is great, especially Adam Bakri and Leem Lubany as the young lovers, and Waleed F. Zuaiter as Omar’s handler. While not perfect, this is a thoughtful, informative and disturbing film, one that makes you think… and then rethink.

01_Toni_Servillo_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoA Great Beauty

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

Jep (Toni Servillo) is a bon vivant living in the floating world of contemporary Rome. It’s still the Dolce Vita. Ostensibly, he’s a novelist, but hasn’t done anything great in decades. He coasts along, living off his reputation, and partying with faded royalty, vapid models and the ultra-rich. He is a camera, experiencing and recording all of this in mind.

His Rome is one filled with gilded palaces, rococo night clubs and 13_Giovanna_Vignola_foto_di_Gianni_Fiorito_01893velveteen Vatican chambers. His editor at a popular magazine, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola), is a little person, given to wearing electric-blue dresses. As his 65th birthday approaches he confides in her: he needs to find something or someone important, genuine – the “great beauty” of the movie’s title.

Slowly, the movie chugs along, heading toward his dinner party, with an elusive guest. Will he be touched by God? Or will it all prove as superficial as the rest of his life?

06_Sabrina_Ferilli_Toni_Servillo_Giorgio_Pasotti_La_grande_bellezza_foto_di_Gianni_FioritoThe Great Beauty is a nostalgic look at Rome’s faded glory, the cool elegance of old Fellini movies. Wonderfully acted, carefully shot. But does it add up to anything new?

I found this movie hollow at the core.

And, aside from a few minutes of genuine beauty, it’s not attractive at all. It’s drenched in a 1970s aesthetic of awful opulence, far from the coolness of 50s and 60s Italian cinema. And both its story and its look exists more as a tribute (or a rehash) of older Italian movies than as a new one all its own.

The Great Beauty is now playing and Omar opens 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

Daniel Garber talks with AHARON KESHALES about his new movie BIG BAD WOLVES

Posted in Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Israel, Morality, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Torture, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 17, 2014
7Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
A frail, soft-spoken school teacher is spotted with a bicycle near where a girl has disappeared: he’s arrested and beaten up by police in an abandoned warehouse.
But when the violent police interrogation is posted on youtube, the suspect is freed. The demoted cop (Lior Ashkenazi) decides to teach the suspect a lesson.
But soon enough, both the cop and the suspect find themselves locked up in a basement in a cabin in the woods. A vigilante — the victim’s father — decides to get revenge for what happened to his daughter. To find out the truth he turns to excruciating torture.
The cop, the suspect, the vigilante: Which of these men is the biggest wolf of all?
A new Israeli horror movie looks at the rise in torture and violence Big Bad Wolves 3supposedly being used for good causes. The film is Big Bad Wolves — Quentin Tarantino calls it his favourite film of 2013.  It follows Israeli co-directors Aharon Keshales and  Navot Papushado’s previous horror film RABIES.

Big Bad Wolves is opening today in Toronto and across Canada. I speak with the film’s co-director AHARON KESHALES (by telephone) about comedy, revenge, torture, fear,  the military, police corruption, fairytales… and more.

TIFF 13: Sex + Violence. Movies Reviewed: Tom on the Farm, R100, Moebius

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.comand 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.

Hollywood knows: sex and violence = bums in seats. But they also know that you have to keep it fresh and new. So this week I’m talking about three movies that, in very different ways, explore topics of sex, violence and the power dynamic between the two.

I’m looking at three movies playing at TIFF, one from Quebec, one from Japan, and one from Korea. One’s about a city boy who falls prey to an domineering farmer; one’s a businessman who falls prey to a gang of dominatrices; and one’s a family who fall prey to their own morass of escalating horribleness.

tomatthefarm_01Tom at the Farm

Dir: Xavier Dolan

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) drives out to the country to read a eulogy for his young lover, Guy, he thinks he’ll be gone after the funeral. He agrees to spend the night at his mother’s house, even sleeping in his bedroom. But, in the middle of the night, he is attacked by a mysterious man. It’s Frank (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the homophobic older brother of his late lover. He threatens Tom if he tells Agathe, his mother (Lise Roy), that Guy was gay, or that he was his lover. Tom is forced to pretend Guy had a girlfriend, thus erasing his own status. But it doesn’t stop there.

Frank is a domineering, abusive bully. He’s also much bigger and stronger than the diminutive Tom. Soon, Tom is put to work milking cows, dressed in Guy’s old clothes. Frank dismantles his car, and chases him down when he tries to run away. He’s trapped. Tom finds himself falling into the role of Frank’s submissive younger brother, regularly punched, kicked and threatened with death. Sexually frustrated Frank channels all blame onto Tom. And Tom has a mental shift where he finds himself sexually attracted to Frank and accepts any physical and mental abuse as his own fault.

What is Frank’s problem anyway? Why doesn’t he have any friends? What’s his hidden secret? And will Tom ever come to his senses and get the hell out of there?

This is Xavier Dolan’s 4th film, and the first one based on someone else’s play. This one’s a weird, captive-of-a-redneck horror story, with lots of pyscho-sexual overtones. I like it.  It’s not perfect: Tom’s sudden transformation from city boy to hick seems too abrupt; and if he really feels threatened, why doesn’t he just call 911? But Frank and Tom’s abusive relationship – the core of the movie — seems disturbingly real. And Dolan’s careful filmmaking and precise editing leaves you with a chilling feeling at the end. It reverberates in the windmills of your mind long after it’s over.

r100_03R100

Dir: Matsumoto Hitoshi

Katayama (Omori Nao) is a shy milquetoast guy who sells mattresses for a living. His wife’s in a coma, so he takes care if his six year old son. He wants nothing more than to listen to Beethoven’s 9thSymphony. But, to escape from his daily stresses, he turns to leather- clad dominatrix for temporary relief. But his life changes dramatically when he signs an unbreakable one- year contract. He will experience the ultimate thrill – never knowing when or where a dominatrix will appear to shock and humiliate him. In his workplace bathroom, on the street, in front if his kid.

Soon enough, it has taken over his life, with hitherto unknown sexual kinks inflicted on him. There’s the Queen of Voices who terrifies Takayama by perfectly imitating his comatose wife’s voice at inopportune moments. And even a queen of spit, who orchestrates elaborate performances punctuated by huge amounts of saliva, shot at r100_05him from across the room.

Can he escape from all this craziness? And does he really want to? You can tell when he reaches a new level of submission and humiliation when his face is distorted and animated ripples of contentedness flow outward from his mind.

Meanwhile, every so often, the movie switches to the dull people producing this film, sort of a meta-movie-subplot, trying to make a movie with the ultimate restricted rating. R14, R20, refers to the age when you can view a film. This movie, they say is so dirty you have to be R100 to watch it.

I dunno. It has its funny parts – very funny parts — but it gets more and more extreme in its absurdity, as the movie goes on, until it really make no coherent sense whatsoever. It’s just a shaggy dog story, with a ridiculous — but still funny —  ending.

Omori Nao is excellent as the nerdy anti-hero. Director Matsumoto Hitoshi is a dry, stand-up comic, part of the Japanese duo Downtown. If you’re into cheap-and-silly Japanese BDSM/leather/comedy, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise…

moebius_02Moebius

Dir: Kim Ki-duk

A father, a mother and their teenage son live in South Korea. Dad has an affair with a woman who has a small convenience store down the street. Mom (and son) find out. Mom goes ballistic, and grabs a dagger she keeps hidden beneath a heavy Buddha’s head. Dad fights her off, so she breaks into her son’s room instead, and cuts off his penis. When he tries to get it back, she swallows it, and runs away. (That all happens in the first few minutes of this movie.)

Husband and son are forced to live without a Mom, and without one penis. Dad researches the internet for bizarre ways to help his son achieve orgasm, including rubbing a a pumice rock on your foot until it bleeds. Will dad cut off his own penis to give to his son for a penis transplant? Or will the son chop one off a random moebius_01stranger? Who deserves Dad’s ex-girlfriend? Father, son or both? And will they learn to accept being stabbed in the back… literally? (I really do mean literally.)

OK, this is one of the weirdest movies around. It’s filled with rape, incest, violence, alterna-sex, repeated dismemberment (of a particular member – that one), and more. It’s told as a sort of a pantomime: no one speaks throughout the whole film. But its set up like a fable or a storybook, with each scene passing swiftly to the next. It deals with revenge, retribution, repentance but in a very simplistic way. Also interesting is the mother and lover are played by the same actress wearing different wigs and makeup. It’s not funny or cute, just non-stop, extremely repetitive violence. But, I have to say, it was really well made for what it is.

But what is it? Apparently, Kim Kiduk the director, felt his scripts had been stolen by his interns. I’m guessing here, but maybe the whole movie was his thumb in the nose to the powers-that-be in the Korean film industry. Who knows? Am I glad I saw it? I guess I am – it is unique and unusual (although, structurally, it’s like all his movies with a simple, symmetrical, yin-and-yang plot).

I saw R100 at TIFF, immediately – I mean immediately, five minutes later — followed by Moebius, a double- feature like no other. See these two if you dare. You will never forget them.

Tom at the Farm, R100, and Moebius are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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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