Heads up! Films reviewed: Keepers of the Game, Mansfield 66/67, City of Tiny Lights

Posted in Canada, documentary, First Nations, Hollywood, Indigenous, Mystery, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 2, 2017

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

Toronto’s film festivals continue with Inside Out and Canada’s Sport Film Fest. This week, I’m looking at two documentaries and a noir drama. There’s a Mohawk lacrosse team keeping traditions relevant, a Hollywood star keeping her mystique afloat, and a private eye in London just trying to stay alive.

Keepers of the Game

Dir: Judd Ehrlich

The Akwesasne Mohawk territory straddles the US/Canadian border that runs between New York and Ontario. 20 years ago there was widespread discord among the longhouses. So to calm the waters, they started a boy’s lacrosse team to compete in the local high school division, off reserve. The idea was to bring back self-respect using a traditional custom. Lacrosse is a precolumbian warlike sport used by the Mohawk and other Iroquois long before Europeans came to North America. Hundreds, or even thousands of men would play the game together on open fields. It shows valour, strength and offers thanks to the creator.

Flash forward to the present. High school girls are facing the same problems – bullying, depression, suicide – as the boys did, but without the traditional sport outlet. They need a medicine to cure their ills. So they decide to start a girls team, using lacrosse as a traditional Mohawk medicine. But they face opposition from all sides. Awkesasne men say they are defying tradition by letting girls play a boys sport and want it stopped. The school board is facing cutbacks, so the are against funding a new team… especially one for girls. And the players themselves are afraid they lack the confidence and experience to win. Even so, they manage to raise the money and recruit the players to have a regionally competitive team. But can they beat their rivals  — a mainly white team who use a feathered native cartoon as their team mascot?

This documentary is a record of one season of a real-life team and the obstacles they face, on and off the field. It shows the role traditional customs can play in a modern sport. Players design their own war paint as they compete for the first time, even as mothers and grandmothers pass on language and rituals. It’s about young aboriginal women who gain self respect as they reclaim a sport their own ancestors created. It’s an inspiring story.

Mansfield 66/67

Dir: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes

Jayne Mansfield was a bleach blonde bombshell in the 1950s, who lived on publicity. She was known for her whispery voice, her highpitched squeals, and personality – that of a naïve, dumb blonde seemingly unaware of her sexiness, even as she posed for playboy and appeared naked on the big screen. In fact, her persona was self-created and nurtured by the Hollywood studios, and fed by the tabloids paparazzi and gossip rags who lived in her stories. She married Mickey Hargitay, a body-builder, to complement her own figure. And she lived in a pink mansion, legendary in Hollywood for its 45 rooms. But did you know she was a multilingual musician, and a student at a top university? Sadly, her movie career faltered in the 1960s, and  she began to follow another celebrity, a man named Anton LaVay. LaVay was known for his shaved head, his black goatee and his sinister but commanding looks. He founded a new religion — The Church of Satan. And not long after, her life was suddenly cut short in a terrible accident that totalled her car and chopped off the top of her head. Those are the bare facts. But what really happened to Jayne Mansfield?

You could call Mansfield 66/67 a documentary, but that might give you the wrong idea. It’s actually a highly stylized tribute to — and desconstruction of – a Hollywood legend. There are the usual talking heads  — from gender studies professors, to stars like Tippi Hedron and starlets like Mamie van Doren. But there are also underground icons, eighties pop stars, models, drag queens, and the chronicler of Hollywood himself, Kenneth Anger.

This is not your usual bio doc. What other documentary creates a cutesy cartoon of Mansfields son being mauled by a lion? Or intricately choreographed dancers of both sexes wearing matching blonde wigs as they worshipped  the devil in Busby Berkeley-like formations? This is a strange combination of film lore, academic analysis, hollywood gossip, and extremely campy performance art.

City of Tiny Lights

Dir: Pete Travis

Tommy (Riz Ahmed) is a private detective who lives and works in an ungentrified part of London. It’s a neighbourhood in flux, full of nervous shopkeepers and streetcorner drug dealers, radical imams, and sketchy real estate speculators. His dad (Roshan Seth) is a die-hard Briton whose life is guided by Charles Dickens and Cricket. As a South Asian Ugandan he was forced to flee under dictator Idi Amin. One day a sultry sex worker named Melody (Cush Jumbo) hires him to look for her friend Natasha. She hasn’t seen her since her last trick 8 hours earlier and doesn’t answer her cel. But when he searches her hotel room he finds a dead body, not Natasha. It’s a real estate broker involved in a major development. He also discovers the dead man gave money to an Islamic youth group known for driving drug dealers off their streets, led by a radical Muslim preacher. Lurking in the shadows is a sketchy security spook working for the US government. And it is all somehow related to his boyhood, a friend named Lovely, and woman named Shell. Who is behind the murders and disappearances? Organized crime, terrorists, corrupt developers or American spies?

City of Tiny Lights is a well-acted, low budget look at a private detective in contemporary London. Some of the camera work is annoying and gimmicky – like cheap 90s TV — that distracts from the story. I was also confused by frequent flashbacks — the young actors look nothing like their adult counterparts. But I liked the complex, multi-levelled mystery and the acting is terrific.

Mansfield 66/67 is one of many films at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival which continues through Sunday; Keepers of the Game is the opening night feature at the ninth annual Canada’s Sport Film Festival, beginning next Friday. Tickets and showtimes are at sportfilmfestival.ca. City of Tiny Lights opens today in Toronto, as does Ken Finkleman’s satiric comedy An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman (I talked about this film in March). 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

Cities. Films reviewed: The Lost City of Z, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, Colossal

Posted in Addiction, Adventure, Brazil, documentary, Drama, Manhattan, Protest, UK by CulturalMining.com on April 21, 2017

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

Cities. People around the globe are urbanizing at an alarming rate, with tens of millions leaving their farms, villages and small towns each year. So this week I’m looking at movies about cities. There’s a man who wants to find a city, a woman who wants to save a city, and another woman who is trying not to destroy a city.

The Lost City of Z

Dir: James Gray

It’s 1905. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a major in His Majesty’s Army but an undecorated one – no medals, because he has never seen battle. He’s a modern thinker, not bogged down by religion and bigotry, and believes in equal rights for women, including for his wife Nina (Sienna Miller). His father — a drinker and gambler – had ruined the family name, so he jumps at the chance to restore it. The offer: to lead an expedition to “Amazonia” sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society. A skilled cartographer, Fawcett must map an uncharted river running between Bolivia and Brazil. He also wants to find a legendary, advanced civilization he calls the city of “Z”.

On the ship heading to South America he meets a dismissive man with a bushy beard, round glasses and a big hat. Turns out it’s his aide-de-camp, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). They make an odd couple, Costin kitted out for the jungle with Fawcett still in European mode. But soon they learn to get along. First they journey to a pop-up city in the jungle, complete with an opera house. It’s run by filthy- rich robber barons riding the Amazon rubber boom. Fawcett assembles a small team to travel down the river on a raft, further than any European has gone so far. A former slave serves as their guide. Along the way, they are attacked by locals with spears and arrows, encounter black jaguars and make it as far as a waterfall – the river’s source? There Fawcett finds artifacts he says are from the lost city he seeks. Back in London, he raises money for a second trip. His wife asks to go too, but he says it’s “no place for a woman”. Instead he takes a portly millionaire named Mr. Murray – an armchair explorer – as his sponsor. But this leads to more trouble. This time they encounter cannibals and travel even further than the first trip, but not as far as “Z”. Can Fawcett earn the respect of his family, the confidence of the Royal Geographers, and the backing of the press? Can he survive a third trip through the jungle? Or is his passion — finding the lost city of Z — based on his own fantasies?

This is fascinating adventure based on real historical figures. It’s also very similar to a fantastic black and white arthouse film from a few years ago called Embrace of the Serpent, also about a European travelling down the Amazon during the rubber boom. This one is more traditional, told solely from a European point of view, with dashing explorers out to discover things lost to the locals. The indigenous people are “things” they encounter on their journey, and almost never speak. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but I enjoyed the movie anyway. Charlie Hunnam is great as Fawcett, and Robert Pattinson (the heartthrob vampire from the execrable Twilight series) is completely unrecognizable in this role. If you’re in the mood for an exciting colonial trek through the jungle, this long movie is made for you.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

Wri/Dir: Matt Tyrnauer

It’s postwar America, where the car is king and freshly-built houses in the suburbs the ideal home. Jane Jacobs is a young writer in Manhattan who publishes pieces on manhole covers and city streets for magazines like Vogue and Architectural Forum. Robert Moses is the immensely powerful, urban planning and highway czar, building enormous parkways through cities to let people commute to their far off homes. He subscribes to the visions of Swiss architect le Corbusier: Cities are best viewed from an airplane — clean, pristine and devoid of pesky things like small shops, loitering people and peculiar neighbourhoods. Cities are old and ugly cesspools filled with cancerous slums that can only be saved by wiping them out.

Robert Moses views cities from above looking down; Jane Jacobs (in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities) looks at cities from ground level. She loves the confusion and excitement of neighbourhoods and the people who live there. Moses wants to extend Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue down through Washington Square park, and turn into a highway, destroying Canal St, Soho, and Little Italy on the way. And no one ever defies his grand plans… until Jane Jacobs. She’s the one responsible for a new look at urban landscapes and city planning. She saved Greenwich village from destruction and changed people’s views about what a city should look like and feel like.

This is a superb documentary chronicling her battle with Moses. It also shows how people like Jacobs can challenge the orthodoxy of so-called urban renewal (what James Baldwin called “negro removal”) and its destruction of neighbourhoods.

This documentary doesn’t deal with Jane Jacobs before she moved to New York City or afterwards when she moved to Toronto (where she helped save the city from the Spadina Expressway). It’s specifically about Jacobs’ battle with Moses. And it does so in a very informative and absorbing way.

Colossal

Wri/Dir: Nacho Vigalondo

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has it made: an English boyfriend with a beautiful apartment, and lots of cool hipster friends who show her the highlife. She’s loose with the bottle and free with the pills. But after an especially horrific incident he gives her the boot until she dries out. So she is forced to relocate to her childhood home in a small town. She is taken under the wing of Oscar (Jason Sudeikas) a local entrepreneur who offers her a job at his roadhouse bar (turns it he had a crush on her as a kid and wants to renew their friendship).

She takes the job but turns down his sexual advances. Though depressed and lonely, she gradually adjusts to the slow paced rhythm of life there: working late at the bar, sharing drinks with her new friends and waking up the next morning on a park bench feeling like hell warmed over. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a giant monster is trampling through Seoul Korea, toppling buildings and terrorizing the populous. And Gloria notices something very strange: the monster only appears in Seoul whenever she wakes up in the park, drunk to the gills. Stranger still, the colossal monster she sees on the news shares her nervous tics and habits. What is the connection?

Colossal is a unique film that doesn’t fall easily into any single genre. It starts out like a sophisticated chick flick or a recovery movie, but it’s also a disaster and monster movie, a comedy and a social drama. Hathaway is good as a young alcoholic forced to deal with her addiction, and Sudeikas is equally good as a conflicted (and sometimes vengeful) friend. The Korean aspect of the movie is superficial, with locals mainly there to get stepped on. Still, Colossal is weird and surprisingly entertaining — it’s different from any movie you’ve ever seen before.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, The Lost City of Z and Colossal 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

Daniel Garber talks to OCADU artist-in-residence Isaac Julien with Yuling Chen

Posted in Art, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Migrants, Movies, Toronto, UK by CulturalMining.com on March 31, 2017

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

In the late 1970s and early 1980s,  Thatcher’s England was a place of great unrest and mistrust. The country was rocked by strikes, demonstrations and riots. It was also the time of a burgeoning music scene, with fashion, art and the punk movement inspiring international change. It was into this world that Isaac Julien came of age in London’s East EndAs an artist and filmmaker he embraced three separate movements: the Afro-Caribean scene, London’s gay nightlife and the largely white progressive left. His work incorporated themes of sex, politics and interracial  relationships. Over the decades to follow, his focus shifted from film to art installations.

From young soul rebel to international art star, Julien’s moving image installations can now be seen in Europe, Asia and around the world. Recently two of his works ran at the Royal Ontario Museum, another is on at the Museum of Modern Art, and two of his early films will be screening at Toronto’s Images Festival. He’s artist in residence at OCAD University (the Ontario College of Art and Design) where he is mentoring five students who will follow him to London.

Yuling Chen is a Toronto artist, originally from Hainan, China. She creates animation, video and performance art and is studying with Isaac Julien.

I spoke to Isaac Julien and Yuling Chen in studio at CIUT. 

 

 

Daniel Garber talks with Raindance founder Elliot Grove

Posted in Canada, Movies, UK by CulturalMining.com on March 3, 2017

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

Movies look so easy on the screen, but the trip from story to  script to finished product is Elliot Grove Sundancelong and arduous. So how do you do it? How do you break into the film industry?

You may have heard of the festival called Raindance. Based in London, Elliot Grove RaindanceRaindance is a combination of movies, courses, lectures and networking, a veritable indie hub for aspiring actors, writers and filmmakers. It’s where many new players turn to learn the ropes of filmmaking.

Founded in 1993 it is the work of author and filmmaker Elliot Grove, who is in Toronto for two weeks of intensive panels on pitching, writing and selling films.

I spoke with Elliot Grove in studio at CIUT.

 

Black History. Films reviewed: A United Kingdom, I Am Not Your Negro

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Africa, African-Americans, Apartheid, documentary, Drama, France, Gay, Racism, Romance, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on February 24, 2017

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

It’s Black History Month, so I’m looking at some historical movies that fit the profile. There’s a British drama about forbidden love and a united kingdom, and a French documentary about a writer’s look at African Americans in the divided United States.

A UNITED KINGDOMA United Kingdom

Dir: Amma Asante

It’s London in the 1950s. Ruth (Rosamund Pike) is an attractive, professional woman who lives with her parents. One night she meets a handsome student from Oxford at a dance. After a few dates he reveals he’s a prince, destined to become the king of a far off country called Bechuanaland. They fall in love, decide to marry, and move there… it’s like a fairy tale. But they face one problem. Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) is black, and Ruth is white. This doesn’t A UNITED KINGDOMmatter much to them, but it does to the people around them.

Ruth’s parents are dead set against it, and as a mixed race couple they face abuse and even violence from strangers on the streets of London. In Bechuanaland, a British protectorate in Southern Africa, Seretse also faces trouble. He’s going against tradition by not choosing a wife from his own tribe. His uncle, the current Regent, objects strongly. And then there’s Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport), a highly-placed diplomat in the foreign service. He’s condescending, snotty, racist and sexist – he A UNITED KINGDOMassumes Ruth works in a typing pool (because she’s a woman) when she’s actually an underwriter at Lloyds of London. And he has ulterior motives.

Bechuanaland (now Botswana) is a British protectorate completely surrounded by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa and South-West Africa (Namibia). Since 1948, South Africa has been under apartheid rules which make it illegal for whites and blacks to marry. For the king of Bechuanaland to openly flout these racist laws might undermine South A UNITED KINGDOMAfrica’s legitimacy. South Africa is a commonwealth member and the region is a huge source of mineral wealth for multinationals. Under current laws, Seretse and Ruth are not legally permitted to share a drink in a restaurant… in the land he’s supposed to rule!

Politics is strange. Seretse is forced into exile, while Ruth – and their new baby – remain in Africa. Can Ruth and Seretse win the trust of their countrymen? Can they win the sympathy of the British public? Can they bring justice and prosperity to a remote arid country? And can love hold a separated family together?

A United Kingdom is a historical drama, with equal helpings of romance and British parliamentary politics. It’s based on a true story I knew nothing about. Although it ends abruptly, it has a surprisingly fascinating story. I liked this movie.

3ea9d0fe-c6c6-4980-9ef1-727cc28d7b96I Am Not Your Negro

Dir: Raoul Peck (Written by James Baldwin)

James Baldwin was an African American writer, the author of Notes of a Native Son, and novels like Giovanni’s Room. Born in Harlem he took part in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. But because of the racism and potential violence he faced in America he left for Paris where he spent most of his life. He joined the expat community there, including Nina Simone and Josephine Baker. He wanted to be known not as a black writer,  not as a gay writer, but 6bbac4d9-bdd8-4d22-aae4-fa76fe7ab6a0as a writer.

This film follows Baldwin’s writings on three important figures in the struggle for civil rights: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.,

They represented, respectively, the NAACP, Black Muslims, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. All three were spied on and harassed by the FBI and labeled “dangerous”, and all three were assassinated before the age of 40.

Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Baldwin looks back at their stories and his encounters with them, but also sets himself apart. He’s not a Muslim, not a Christian, not a member of the NAACP or the Black Panther Party.

The title, I Am Not Your Negro, is Baldwin’s central point. The story of the Negro in America, he says, is the story of America, and it’s not a pretty story. It’s a history of violence and racism.There is no difference between the North and South, Baldwin says, just the way you castrate us. He covers slavery, lynching, segregation, and incarceration. And the film neatly connects the slaying of Medgar Evers by a white supremacist with current racist murders, like the deaths of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin

4357c413-cb69-4edf-841e-9d3ce1e5660b Samuel L Jackson’s narration of Baldwin’s prophetic words alternates with Baldwin’s own voice: on the Dick Cavett show and at the Cambridge Debates. Baldwin – and director Peck — tells his story with a barrage of Hollywood images. From the pink-scrubbed face of a dancing Doris Day, to John Wayne’s 7f8cc584-e699-49bc-ba66-791cb899b7f5confidence in killing native Americans. Baldwin recalls his childhood shock at a John Wayne Western when he realized he’s not the “cowboy”, he’s the “Indian”.

I Am Not Your Negro is about the fear and violence faced by African Americans. It’s a terrific documentary, a cinematic essay told through the masterful use of period still images. These are not the photos and clips you’re used to but jaw-dropping, newfound pictures. There’s lush nighttime footage and a fantastic juxtapositions of words and images. (The film reminds me of the work Adam Curtis.) It’s nominated for an Oscar for best documentary.

A United Kingdom and I Am Not Your Negro both start today in Toronto; check your local listings. Also opening this weekend: if you’re a cat person, there’s Kedi, about the street cats of Istanbul; or if you’re a zombie or a zombie-lover, there’s the wonderful horror movie The Girl with all the Gifts (read the review here).

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

Nazi trials. Films reviewed: Denial, The People vs Fritz Bauer

Posted in 1950s, Cultural Mining, Drama, Germany, Movies, Nazi, Trial, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 7, 2016

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

The Nuremberg trials were held by the Allies immediately after WWII. They publically exposed, tried, and punished the leaders of Nazi Germany for their war crimes and crimes against humanity. But relatively few were actually put on trial. And old ideologies live on. This week I’m looking at two historical dramas about lesser-known cases. There’s a German attorney in the 1950s stymied in his attempt to prosecute war criminals; and an American holocaust historian, sued for libel by a man who denies it ever took place.

DENIALDenial

Dir: Mick Jackson

Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) is a university professor at a Georgia university. She specializes in Holocaust studies, the history of genocide under Nazi Germany. She has a special interest in holocaust deniers, writers from the extreme right who claim the holocaust never happened, any deaths were incidental, and there were no gas chambers. She says she won’t debate ahistorical demagogues but she does provide ample academic data verifying her work. So she is surprised one day when a strange man appears, uninvited, in her classroom, shouting accusations at her, all recorded with a video camera. It’s David Irving (Timothy Spall), a DENIALUK author and a great fan of Hitler and Naziism. She has mentioned him in one of her books on Holocaust deniers.

Not long after, she receives a legal notice: David Irving is suing her for libel. Her book, he says, has damaged his credibility as a historian. If she settles out of court he will appear to be justified. But if she loses the case it could serve as a triumph for neo-nazis and white supremacists across Europe. So, in an odd judicial quirk,  it’s up to her to prove (before a disinterested judge) that the holocaust took place.

With the help of well-known barristers and solicitors (played, respectively, by a cold Tom Wilkinson and a sly Andrew Scott) she pleads her case in court. DENIALWho will win the case?

Denial is principally a courtroom drama. Rachel Weiss is believable, with an excellent New York accent (she is British), but she is stifled by the role. Because her lawyers tell her not to testify, so she can’t speak in court. Instead, she spends much of the movie making gestures and sighs of anger, shock or frustration. Timothy Spall has more latitude. He plays a lawyer defending himself. Irving comes across as a self-important but wormy man who, deep down, just wants respect and love. He gets neither. So, while this is an exciting topic,  the movie itself comes across as plodding and a bit dull.

fritz_webthumb2_f7b15d1f-9b46-4fcc-a888-c18f2d668345_smThe People vs Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)

Wri/Dir: Lars Kraume

It’s the late 1950s in cold war West Germany. Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaußner: Goodbye Lenin, The White Ribbon) is a State Attorney General in Frankfurt. The country is economically booming but politically moribund. It still holds many laws enacted under Nazi rule, and the civil service is riddled with former party members. Bauer takes it upon himself to expose war criminals and bring them to trial. But he is stymied at every turn.

Before WWII, at age 30, he had been the youngest judge ever, but was jailed by the Nazis when they took power. He tpvfb_still1_lgsurvived the war in Denmark and Sweden, and later came back to Germany to continue his work. But he has few allies there. He has three strikes against him: Jewish ancestry, Socialist politics, and he is secretly gay, still illegal in Germany at the time.

Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld: Phoenix, Barbara) is a young prosecutor fresh out of law school with a young wife and a conservative family. He’s handsome, idealistic and devoted to the cause, with secrets of his own. And like many younger Germans, he feels alienated from his own country. He finds harsh laws punishing consensual sex to be cruel and outdated. Unlike most of his office, he finds Bauer an inspiration, a reason to strive for a tpvfb_still2_lgnew, progressive and democratic Germany.

Bauer receives a letter from a German in Argentina who says Adolph Eichmann is still alive, living nearby in plain sight. Eichmann is the notorious Nazi leader responsible for transporting millions to death camps. Bauer contacts Interpol and the German government, but they brush him off: We don’t pursue political crimes. Bauer’s one wish is to try war criminals like Eichmann under German Law, and within German courtrooms.

Can Bauer and Angermann shake up the establishment, reform its laws, and bring war criminals to justice? Or will tpvfb_still3_lgthe network of Nazis still in power stop them from their goals?

The People vs Fritz Bauer is a really interesting biopic and drama about a fascinating character. It has intrigue, suspense, and a few surprise twists. Klaußner plays Bauer as a hotheaded idealistic loner fighting the establishment, like Bill Murray playing Barney Frank. And Angermann is great as his conflicted devotee (with a secret lover). The movie is based on records released many years after these events. And it’s a great follow-up to 2014’s Labyrinth of Lies, another German movie that picks up where this one ends.

Denial opens today; check you local listings. The People vs Fritz Bauer starts in Toronto on Oct 21. Also opening today is The Stairs, a great documentary about Toronto’s Regent Park.

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

Back to School. The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea #TIFF16

Posted in Animation, Coming of Age, Games, High School, Horror, School, Science Fiction, Uganda, UK, US, Women, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016

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

It’s mid-September as TIFF enters its final weekend with lots left to see. It’s also the start of an academic year. So this week I’m looking TIFF movies about going back to school. We’ve got an American school sinking into the sea, smart African kids who can’t afford the school fee, and British kids kept under lock and key.

thegirlwithallthegifts_02The Girl with all the Gifts

Dir: Colm McCarthy

It’s a military camp in a dystopian, future UK. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a bright and friendly girl who gets along well with others. She goes to school each morning and is the best kid in the class. But she – like the rest of the kids – is kept locked up in a dingy prison cell, fed raw worms, and derided thegirlwithallthegifts_04by heavily armed soldiers as a monster abortion. Only her teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Atherton), sticks up for Melanie. But Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) a sinister scientist, also has her eye on Melanie.

You see, all of England has been infected by a fungal virus that turns you into a flesh-eating zombie who never dies. But these kids are second generation — infected in utero — who think and act like humans but carry a craving for raw flesh. thegirlwithallthegifts_01Caldwell wants to carve up Melanie’s brain to find a cure. But when the camp is overrun by zombies, the three of them (along with a troupe of soldiers) are forced to escape in a military vehicle to find another base. Can Melanie – the girl with all the gifts – be trusted to stay moral and not eat the humans? Can trigger-happy soldiers and heartless scientists be trusted not to kill her? This is a great science fiction drama in the form of a zombie flic. Glenn Close goes a bit overboard in her evil rants, but Atherton and Manua are amazing as the good guys.

queen-of-katweQueen of Katwe

Dir: Mira Nair

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl who lives in Katwe, a desperately poor slum in Uganda. By day she sells corn to passing motorists. By night she sleeps in an unlit shack with her brother, her sister and her stern mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who always sticks up for her kids. Is there no way out of this desperate life.

Enter Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). He has an engineering degree but works at a community centre for underprivileged kids, teaching them chess. Phiona and her brother take to the game almost immediately, despite kids deriding their unwashed clothes. She’s illiterate but learns to play strategically, plotting out future moves in her head. Robert sees a chess prodigy and his wife helps her learn to read. But Phiona is still penniless, playing chess with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. Her mother tries to Queen of Katwepull her away from that gambling den. But Coach Robert convinces her that only by becoming a chess master can Phiona make it out of Katwe. Mom finally understands, selling her only possessions to pay for paraffin candles so Phiona can study at night. But can a girl from the ghetto become a Chess Master?

Queen of Katwe is a wonderful traditional family story, about hard work and tenacity. It says never give up, believe in yourself. At the same it shows a realistic portrait of desperate lives, their constant search for money, and the terrible prejudice they face. The story is told in a simple way but it’s very moving. It’s shot in Africa by the great Indian director Mira Nair, an expert at showing class differences. The actors portray their roles well, from grumpy Nyong’o, to optimistic Oyelowo and especially the wonderful Nalwanga as Phiona.

myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea

Wri/Dir Dash Shaw

Dash is starting a new year with high hopes. A junior at Tides High, he’s a cynical news geek who writes for the school paper, the Tides Gazette, with best friend Assaf and Verti the editor. He wants to find the big story. He’s sure his school is about to collapse due to bad maintenance. But no one reads the paper’s turgid prose and his warnings are ignored. Assaf and Verti are dating now so he’s left all alone. When he is caught looking through school files for hard evidence, he ends up in detention. But that’s when disaster strikes — an earthquake starts fires and sends the shoddily built school sinking into the sea. It’s also on fire, with sharks in the water and rats on land. It’s up to Dash and his friends — along with a courageous lunch lady — to lead his schoolmates to safety. But they must face the school myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_01snitch, drug dealers, the devious principal, popular kids and the school quarterback who reigns from a golden throne in only his jockstrap. But who will survive and who will be torn to bloody pieces before their very eyes?

This is a fantastic animated feature, one of the best movies at TIFF. It’s the Poseidon Adventure set in a high school. The art and animation takes unexpected forms. No pixar 3-D or complex cell animation here. Instead it’s broad splashes of tempera paint behind the thick black lines that make up character faces. There are cutouts and fingerpaint, boy scout illustrations, pop art and trippy half-tone dots from newspaper sunday comics.

Great voices are provided by Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon as Lunch Lady Lorraine. But the art of Dash Shaw — and his fellow cartoonists and artists — is what makes this so great.

The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, and My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea, are all playing now at TIFF. And you can line up at Roy Thompson Hall around 4 pm on Sunday to get a free ticket to the people’s choice award movie. Always worth watching, always free. Details are posted at tiff.net.

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

Anti-heroines. Films reviewed: The Bride Wore Black, Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Posted in comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Disguise, drugs, France, Satire, Sex, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 22, 2016

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

Anti-heroes aren’t hard to find. They’re in films, novels, and comic books: Hell Boy, Travis Bickle, or the characters in any private eye or crime novel.

But what about anti-heroes who are women? They’re a much rarer bird.  This week I’m looking at two movies about anti-heroines. There’s a British comedy about two women who like to add names to their lists; and a French mystery/thriller about a woman who wants to cross names off her list.

k5g3GX_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(1)_o3_9008002_1463581922The Bride Wore Black (1968)

Dir: François Truffaut

Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) is a pretty young woman dressed in black. She should be happy after her recent wedding, but she’s not. Something went wrong and she’s depressed. Jump-out-the-window depressed. When her repeated suicide attempts are thwarted, she sets of on a journey. She leaves with just a small suitcase and a list of five names: Bliss, Coral, Fergus, Morane and Delvaux. Who are these people, what do they have in common and and why does she want to meet them?

It turns out they are all men, all strangers – she’s never met them, nor they GZAlL0_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(2)_o3_9008019_1463581938her. They live in different places across France, and work at wildly different jobs. Nothing seems to connect them.

Julie sets out on her mysterious mission. Her first stop? The handsome young playboy named Bliss (Claude Rich). She leaves him flowers and messages. Bliss is intrigued – he wants to meet this mysterious woman, described as beautiful by the man at the front desk. He’s about to get married but figures there’s always a chance for another notch in his bedpost. But things don’t go exactly as planned. He’s in for a big shock.

3l3A4Q_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(3)_o3_9008036_1463581955She crosses his name off her secret list and heads off to meet Coral, a lonely, petty office worker (Michel Bouquet). He lives a solitary, depressing life, marking his liquor bottles in case his nosy landlady takes a nip while he’s away. Julie meets him at a concert and joins him in his bleak rented room. He thinks his success with women is finally changing. It is, but not in the way he expects.

There’s Delvaux, a shady gangster who works in a junkyard, heading out to commit a crime. And Morane, a successful, married man with a son. She sends his wife off on a fake emergency, then talks her way into his home by r0p3J6_BWB_Copyright-Marilu-Parolini-(5)_o3_9008053_1463581972-1convincing him she’s her boy’s schoolteacher, despite the kid’s denials.

Her most difficult case is Fergus, a successful artist (Charles Denner). She becomes the live model for a painting he’s working on, of a naked woman holding a bow and arrow. He’s sure he knows her, but he can’t put his finger on it.

Who are these men? What do they have in common? Why does Julie want to meet them? Is it love, revenge, or bloodlust?

The Bride Wore Black is a fantastic mystery from 1968, Truffaut’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock. He filmed this right after publishing his famous book of interviews (I spoke about last week) called Hitchcock/ Truffaut. The directing and editing were done in Hitchcock’s spare style. (He doesn’t explain the backstory — it;s up to the viewers to figure out). He even hired Hitchcock’s favourite composer Bernard Herrmann to write the soundtrack, and based the story on a book by crime writer Cornell Woolrich. (He wrote the story for Hitchcock’s Rear Window.) And it’s playing as part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective.

poster-5d6aba16-89fb-4c21-9522-c72b4400b08fAbsolutely Fabulous: the Movie

Dir: Mandie Fletcher

Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is a rich Londoner who lives an all-female life. She works in the woman-dominated world of publicity, specifically fashion PR. She lives with her widowed Mum (June Whitfield), her single daughter Saffie (Julia Sawalha), and her granddaughter, Lola. And works with her image-000db0be-cf0c-4353-8ea0-263ab056dc88eccentric Lancashire assistant Bubble (Jane Horrock) who handles the day-to-day. But she spends most of her time with her best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley).

Eddie and Patsy are different from most people. Self-centred hedonists, they don’t think about ordinary things like food or money. (they don’t even know image-23942a8e-0eb7-4983-b5c7-79cc20513621what that is) Life is one long party, followed by a perpetual hangover. They subsist on cigarettes, drugs, champagne and vodka straight out of the bottle. Self-conscious Eddie always worries about her weight, while Patsy remains rail thin. She’s always ready for a roll in the hay image-e6b11d90-7ced-46f1-be55-479cead8e497with any man between 15 and 90… she’s not picky.

At home, plain Saffy acts like the de facto mother, worrying about money and manners and responsibility, and disapproving of Eddie’s lifestyle. Eddie longs to be loved, but acts like an irresponsible whiney, spoiled teenager. Patsy is the bad friend who always leads Eddie into trouble. The two of them are the epitome of baby-bomer excess without any conscience.

image-89a42b4b-2109-492a-b83f-de88ca9bafc3But life is good. Money seems to appear magically in Eddie’s bank accounts (from her ex-husbands). Until now. Suddenly, the champagne supply goes dry, the bank accounts are empty, and Eddie has no new clients. They have to find someone to represent. But in a frenzy to sign a supermodel, Eddie accidentally pushes Kate Moss off a balcony into the river Thames. She’s a murderer!

Patsy and Eddie are on the lam. They flee to the French Riviera, to find a billionaire for Patsy to marry. If the police don’t find them first….image-af3828a6-2eaa-4752-9d61-53ea36968024

Absolutely Fabulous (aka AbFab) is based on the cult British sitcom from the mid 1990s. Created by the famous comedy team French and Saunders it portrayed women, for the first time, as aggressive, selfish, trend-obsessed, politically-incorrect characters. They are hilarious and shocking in their audacity.

image-09f72258-ef68-459c-b6e1-cd33570fc6e7The movie continues where the TV show left off, and the actors — especially Saunders and Lumley — are all flawless in their timing. The movie is packed with celebrity cameos so it could be compared to Zoolander 2, but that would be an injustice — this one is much, much better. Not every joke is funny, the TV laugh track is missing, and it’s a shock to see these TV faces 30-feet-high on a movie screen.

But it’s still as funny as it ever was.

For more anti-heroines, you can catch the classic Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! presented by the Retropath and Ladies of Burlesque at the Royal Cinema. Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Bride Wore Black is screening next Thursday as part of Hitchcock/Truffaut: Magnificent Obsessions series playing at TIFF Cinematheque. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

Human commodities. Films reviewed: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, I Promise you Anarchy, Burn Burn Burn

Posted in 3-D, Action, Animals, comedy, Cultural Mining, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Punk, Road Movie, UK, US by CulturalMining.com on June 4, 2016

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

Do you ever feel like your body is just a list of things to be bought, sold or traded? This week I’m looking at movies about people forced to treat bodies as commodities. There are skate punks in Mexico trying to sell human blood, two women in the UK trying to scatter human ashes… and mutant turtles in Manhattan trying to live like human beings.

10150582_236914753098962_7581709544636208661_nTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Dir: Dave Green

Donatello, Micheleangelo, Raphael and Leonardo – Donny, Mike, Raf and Leo for short – are giant CGI turtles who speak like California surfers from the 1980s. They live in Manhattan in a hidden laboratory with their friend April (Megan Fox) and their sensei, a giant rat. Their lair serves as home base in their relentless battle against crime and evil. And in their free time they jump around the city’s rooftops, catching basketball games and eating pizza. But always hidden from view: humans might 13329513_358477130942723_2973235416009902388_omistake them for monsters or freaks. Now they are fighting an evil villain named Shredder who escaped from prison along with sidekicks Be Bop and Rock Steady. The bad guys plan to assemble an Arc Capacitor made from three parts hidden around the world. If they succeed they will enslave civilization. But not if the turtles can stop them.

10547968_271120509678386_8705934401065890056_oI heard this movie was awful, worse than terrible, so I saw it with zero expectations. And you know what? I kinda liked it – simple story, good 3-D special effects, lots of explosions and chase scenes with people falling out of planes without parachutes. Cowabunga! On the negative side, the lines aren’t very clever and it’s hard to reconcile the fuzzy CGI models with the real live people standing beside them. The strangest thing: for a movie aimed at kids, it doesn’t have any young characters — not a single (non-turtle) actor younger than thirty in the entire film.

VmnrVO_teprometoanarquia_03_o3_8724673_1440102244I Promise you Anarchy (Te prometo anarquía)

Wri/Dir: Julio Hernández Cordón

Miguel and Johnny (Diego Calva Hernández and Eduardo Eliseo Martinez) have been friends, almost brothers, since they were kids. Miguel is solidly middle class from the suburbs, while Johnny is downtown and not as rich. They travel around Mexico City on long boards with a group of pals. They skate free style, do tricks, read Thrasher, smoke a bit of grass, maybe slam some poetry. Johnny likes skating naked around deserted Jai Alai 58Kx4A_teprometoanarquia_02_o3_8724638_1440102239courts. And once everyone has gone home Miguel and Johnny retreat to a giant steel vat, for some afterhours groping. Johnny might have a girlfriend named Adri, but he’s chill with sexing it up with Miguel.

Their biggest wish is to build a huge skate park downtown, but that takes money. Miguel has found a way to earn quick cash: selling their blood to clinics. It’s organized by Gabriel, an actor at the Churubusco Studios, who pimps their blood to unknown destinations. With the promise of a huge peso payout, they’re asked to bring 50 donors to their favourite hangout. They round up everyone they know — all their friends, acquaintances, even casual strangers. nZ6XjP_teprometoanarquia_01_o3_8724605_1440102239But things go terribly wrong when sleazy criminals enter the picture. Can Miguel and Johnny stay together despite the chaos and mayhem?

I enjoyed this low-budget look at skaters in Mexico City. Good soundtrack, unusual locations. At times it feels almost like a documentary about life on the street – are they all actoirs or just people playing themselves?. The story doesn’t seem completely real, but that doesn’t matter. There are some amazing long takes of skaters just gliding through central plazas, in V formation… like migrating birds.

10665747_557978830998084_4416378503890536433_nBurn Burn Burn

Dir: Chanya Button 

Seph, Alex and Dan are the fast friends in London. Seph (Laura Carmichael) has flouncy blond hair and a clever mind, but is forced to work as nanny and personal assistant. She’s dating James, a well-meaning but douchey guy who is a financial trader in central London. Alex (Chloe Pirrie) has a stark haircut and a tightly-lipped mouth. She doesn’t like talking about herself. She’s in a long-term relationship with a woman. Dan, the third friend, (Jack Farthing) is the life of the party, given to practical jokes and staying up all night.

The three friends are back together again, at yet another party. 11923199_728527537276545_7075186293857167413_nThis time it’s Dan’s wake. He died suddenly, age 29, struck down by cancer. He’s gone but not forgotten. And he leaves Alex and Seph with a final task: to scatter his ashes at four crucial places around the British Isles. At first, they brush off Dan’s wish. Then Seph loses her job and Alex — after OD-ing on scotch eggs, a uniquely British malady — catches her lover with another woman in flagrente delecto. They decide to pack it in and head for the road.

11221394_728527390609893_6299213542631975827_nThey drive through ancient ruins and natural landmarks in England, Wales and Scotland, carefully following Dan’s painstaking directions and explanations. He accompanies them with a video he made before he died. On the way they encounter a pagan wicker man festival, nightclubs from Dan’s childhood and a number of unexpected sites. And the two of them are forced to reveal hidden secrets and confront buried truths

I liked this one — it’s and quirky and funny road movie. The Burn-Burn-Burnmain characters are acerbic not smarmy. While the story may be formulaic, the odd people they meet on the way are fun and original: a bearded hippy, a neurotic tour guide, a runaway housewife, even Al’s own mum. With humour, nice scenery, food for thought, and even a few tears, Burn Burn Burn is a well-made grand tour.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Burn Burn Burn and I Promise You Anarchy are both playing at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Go to insideout.ca for showtimes.

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

Past and Future. Movies reviewed: Svengali, 45 Years PLUS Oscars So White

Posted in Canadian Screen Awards, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Romance, UK, Wales by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

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

One of the big cultural stories this week was the whiteness of all the actors nominated for an Oscar. The reason isn’t the Academy’s voting patterns. It’s because Hollywood just doesn’t make “Oscar-type” movies starring non-white characters. It doesn’t cast black actors in those types of roles. TV movies, comedies, action-thrillers, yes, but “serious” Hollywood movies — historical dramas, movies adapted from books, or biopics? Almost never.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBut what about Canada? Do actors in movies here look like us? I’m surprised that the cultural pundits, even on CBC radio, failed to mention Canadian Screen Awards nominees when talking about the Oscars. Take a look: Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal (from Beeba Boys) and Irdens Exantus  (My Internship in 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_oCanada) are just a few of the many multicultural faces in this year’s movie nominees.

This week, I’m looking at two UK movies. A light drama about a young couple from Wales with a rock’n’roll future, and a heavy drama about an elderly couple in Norfolk with a message from the past.

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

Dixie (Jonny Owen) is a youngish guy from small town Wales. People say he has golden ears – he can tell great rock music the moment he hears it – and he aims to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Oasis. One day he hears a band on youtube and decides that’s the band I want to manage. He heads off to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) and his collection of 45s.

Convincing the band is easy – all it takes is a few cans of beer.SVENGALI_CAST_JONNY_AND_VICKY But connections prove more difficult. His childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) is now a record label exec. But he’s also a douchey hipster of the worst calibre who sneers at Dixie’s smalltown ways. Dixie dresses in chainstore mod revival outfits and carries his band’s demo songs – on cassette tapes, no less – in grocery bags.

Svengali_Stills_0651But things start to snowball when he books them at a pub. The show is a disaster – igniting a near riot — but that’s exactly what he needs. Almost instantly the band’s music is on the BBC, their pics appear in NME, and the band members get booked on a football talk show. All for a group that has yet to sign to a record label.

But at the same time, Dixie is bleeding money. On the brink MG_3095of success he’s also flat broke, nearly homeless, pursued by loan sharks, and worst of all, his girlfriend Shell – the love of his life – might leave him. Will he make it big in London, or return to his country ways?

Svengali is a cute, low-budget fish-out-of-water comedy. Jonny Owen and the gang are fun to watch and the sountrack is catchy. It’s also a self-consciously retro tribute to the good old days of rock and roll. It’s full of handbills, cassette tapes, vinyl 45s and record contracts written on paper. It feels like an aging millennial mimicking a rocker from the 80s who is imitating a mod from the 60s. But even with the stock characters and predictable plot, I enjoyed it anyway.

6a1cfe62-844f-4158-816c-b1800241235d45 Years

Dir: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)

Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) live in a small town in Norfolk, England. They have a happy, if uneventful, life, as they enjoy their retirement years. Sex is a chore. Conversation is routine. Their friends are annoying. They have dogs, not kids or grandkids. Geoff is forgetful, Kate a bit surly and depressed. And then there are the health issues. But they do have each other. They fit together like hands in old leather gloves. They know everything there is to know about each other. And they’re getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. 45 years of faithful marriage. Then a letter arrives from Switzerland.

They have recovered a body from a glacier in the Alps. A be5824c6-6d9d-48eb-b2bf-3fb9a9edf94bwoman who died 50 years earlier, but whose body is only revealed now, due to global warming. And Geoff is listed as next of kin. What?

Turns out, there was another woman. Did he cheat on her? No this was before he married Kate. But he still seemed to carry a torch for this young love. And up in the attic, packed away, are letters and slides, evidence of a relationship Kate never knew about. Has their half-century together been just an afterthought? And will the big event – the 45th anniversary party in a rented hall – even take place?

66dbabff-5c1c-449f-a8ad-aa66e1279d2745 Years is a well-acted film about love and relationships. I could call it introspective, thoughtful and subtly nuanced, and that would be true. Definitely no overacting in this movie. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for this role, and Tom Courtenay is another beloved actor known for his working class characters. Thing is – dare I say it? – I thought it was dull. Dull, drab and slow-moving. It was like the French movie Amour, but without death, dementia, intrigue or suspense. It’s not a bad movie (it’s infinitely more complex than the light Svengali) and it’s not that I disliked it, but I was underwhelmed.

45 Years open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Svengali is now available online and VOD. You can view the Canadian Screen Awards nominees here.

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

%d bloggers like this: