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

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

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

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

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

handsome devilHandsome Devil

Wri/Dir: John Butler

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

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

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

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

before-i-fallBefore I Fall

Dir: Ry Russo-Young

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

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

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

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

15194340_949283011838918_4071947400932947185_oBitter Harvest

Dir: George Mendeluk

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

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

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

table-19-posterTable 19

Dir: Jeffrey Blitz

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

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

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

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

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

Commitment. Movies reviewed: Jimmy’s Hall, The Tribe, PLUS It Comes in Waves

Posted in Canada, Catholicism, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Ireland, Politics, Sign Language, UK, Ukraine by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2015

Stephen O’Connell in It Comes in Waves. Photo by Jeremy MimnaghHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Most forms of entertainment ask for little commitment from their viewers: just sit there and take it all in. But sometimes they demand a little bit more.

I just saw a production — a combination of theatrical drama, 11709591_1024415027582463_3885855130064308103_nmusic, modern dance and exercise — called It Comes in Waves (Jordan Tannahill, bluemouth inc., and Necessary Angel). The audience actually rows canoes to a remote part of Toronto Island, in a Heart of Darkness journey past wild egrets and tame swans. Once there, expect to catch a trumpet 11745530_1024414667582499_268456507655648282_nand snare drum drifting past in a rowboat, Naked Guy running across a field, voices singing in the woods, campfires, Celtic dances and a Waiting for Godot-style surprise party (where the audience — us — are the guests). You walk down the beach carrying lanterns as an ethereal angel dances half a mile away. It’s a play that completely eliminates the proscenium arch, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

But what about movies? This week I’m looking at two films that require if not participation, at least commitment. There’s a historical political drama from Ireland that stimulates intellectual rigour, and a crime drama from the Ukraine that activates creative vigour.

Jimmy’s Hall
Dir: Ken Loach

Jimmys HallJames Gralton (Barry Ward) witnessed the roaring twenties in NY. 10 years later, it’s the Great Depression and he’s back home in County Leitrim, Ireland. He’s there to take care of his aging mother (Aileen Henry). He’s keeping a low profile, having been kicked out after the Irish Civil War. He’s back to work digging up peat. But no sooner does he get there than he sees kids from the town dancing the jig on a country road. Is this a local custom? No. They just have nowhere else to go. A decade earlier he had built and opened a community centre on his land, where people would sing songs, write poetry, draw, study literature, dance to jazz music, practice boxing… but the hall was closed and he was kicked out.

Now that he’s back, he’s surrounded by locals imploring him toJimmys Hall reopen Jimmy’s Hall, a place where they can enjoy life. Is there anyone, anywhere who could oppose such a thing? You bet there is. Father Sheridan (Jim Norton) the top local priest. If it isn’t run by the church, it is, by definition, no good. “He’s a communist and plays jungle music!” says the good Father.

And a high-ranked official also loathes Jimmy for his left-wing politics. His daughter, though, can’t wait to join the club. And Jimmys HallJimmy’s lost love Oonagh (Simone Kirby) is glad to see him back

But local incidents can lead to national repercussions. With Catholic and Protestant labourers striking together in Belfast the Powers That Be feared what James Gralton might inspire. As tensions escalate, who will triumph? Father Sheridan and his supporters? Or Jimmy?

Based on a true story, Jimmy’s Hall is a typical Ken Loach movie. Its politics are decidedly left-wing, but the characters and the ideologies they espouse are never cut-and-dry. For every right-wing Father Sheridan, there’s a younger priest urging compromise. And like Loach’s other historical dramas (The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Land and Freedom), it has scenes with long  — though never boring — political discussions. Not for everyone, but I liked this film a lot. Well-acted and nicely shot, it filled in a period of Irish history — leftist politics in the 1930s — that I knew nothing about.

THETRIBE_PressPhoto_04The Tribe (Plemya)
Dir: Miroslav Slaboshpitsky

It’s present-day Ukraine. A nondescript kid named Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives at his new home, a boarding school for deaf kids. It’s a typical school, the classrooms and dorms flavoured by drab Soviet austerity.

Sergey is honest, polite and naïve. And he suffers like any newbie: he’s at the bottom of every possible totem pole at the school. Even a boy with Down Syndrome nonchalantly steals his lunch. Almost immediately, he’s guided by a weasely fast-talker to meet his new boss, a no-nonsense older student. Higher-ranked bullies confiscate his money, and he’s put right THETRIBE_PressPhoto_03to work.

He’s thrown out of bed on his first night and sent out to a truck stop along with two young women from the school. Anna (Yana Novikova) is a flirty, pale blond, her dark haired coworker is bigger and bossier. They ply their trade by knocking on parked truck windows, and Sergey pimps them out and collects the money. This is just part of a complex criminal gang operating out of the school.

The Tribe by the Ukrainian writer-director Myroslav SlaboshpytskiyThey sneak out at night to mug pensioners and steal their groceries. They also send young kids to ply ugly little plush toys on commuter trains, a front for unlawful behavior. They’re looking for charity donations but are just as willing to beat up reluctant donors.

His status begins to rise when he fends off four guys in a no-rules fight. He becomes a tough enforcer: he shakes down little kids for their pocket change. Literally! He holds them upside-down by their feet until their money falls out of their pockets.

Eventually he hooks up with Anna in a paid encounter, and they become a couple. But her main goal is to get the hell out of there with an exit visa to Western Europe. And as he becomes more experienced his personality is transformed.Will the moral Sergey ever come back to the surface?

The Tribe is a fantastic movie. And – get this — all dialogue is THETRIBE_PressPhoto_01in sign language – with not a word spoken in the entire movie… and no subtitles either. But it’s completely clear what they are saying. The actors are all hearing-impaired and express themselves beautifully. Each scene is shot in a single take, with one camera constantly moving down halls, around corners, and into rooms. Explicit sex scenes, violent fights… everything happens right in your face.

The Tribe and Jimmy’s Hall open today in Toronto; check your local listings. It Comes in Waves is now playing as part of Panamania, the cultural side of the Pan Am games. For more information go to toronto2015.org/panamania.

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 Kitty Green about her new documentary Ukraine is Not a Brothel

Posted in Breasts, Cultural Mining, documentary, Feminism, France, Hotdocs, Protest, Resistance, Sex Trade, Ukraine, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 9, 2014

Kitty Green at CIUT 89.5 FMHi, 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.

Ukraine is at the top of the news. Beginning in November last year, Euromaidan street protests drove President Yanukovych out of office Kitty Green 2and out of the country. Soon after, Russia took control of Crimea, with sites in Eastern Ukraine facing further unrest. But long before any of this, a different form of protest, one you could call unique, was taking root in that country. The group is called Sasha Shevchenko (right) and Inna Shevchenko (left) from "Ukraine is Not a Brothel". Photograph by Ozan Kose.Femen. It’s a self-proclaimed feminist protest group. What’s unusual is the form of their protests: to oppose the oppression and sexual exploitation of Ukrainian women… they expose their slogan-covered breasts for the cameras!

A great new documentary that played at Toronto’s Hot Docs gives an inside view of the Femen protestors and exposes their contradictions. The film is called UKRAINE IS NOT A BROTHEL and I spoke with its Australian director, Kitty Green, on April 29th, 2014 in Toronto. Kitty talks about protests in Ukraine, the sex trade, feminism, Femen, its members, the languages spoken, and the meaning of the word “girl”.

May 25, 2012. Rescue Me! Movies Reviewed: Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, Where Do We Go Now? PLUS Inside-Out

Posted in Cold War, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disaster, Drama, Feminism, Horror, Sex, Thriller, UK, Ukraine, Uncategorized, US, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 27, 2012

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

Toronto’s spring film festivals are full speed ahead now. Inside out, Toronto’s great LGBT film festival is on through Sunday, featuring a Women’s Spotlight evening tonight, including the Toronto premiere of Cloudburst, Thom Fitzgerald’s new movie starring Olympia Dukakis. And coming soon are the Toronto Japanese Film Festival, The CFC Short Film Festival, and NXNE.

Festivals are a chance to see on a big screen foreign, indie, niche, low-budget, or experimental movies, the kind that never make it to your movieplex. But at a recent screening at Inside Out, one of the directors said something that struck me. Ira Sachs, (director of Keep the Lights On) made the point that, were it not for the support they receive from these film festivals, many of these movies could never have been made in the first place. All the more reason to see movies at film festivals.

So this week I‘m looking at a horror movie about jaded tourists who want to ogle technological excess; an historical comic-drama about how technology can make women happy; and a drama about how how the women in a Lebanese village try to stop a war.

Chernobyl Diaries
Dir: Bradley Parker

A group of Americans backpackers are relaxing in Ukraine where one of them has an apartment, when one of them announces a change of plans: Instead of Moscow, let’s try extreme tourism – a daytrip in and out of Chernobyl! That’s the uninhabited site of the nuclear disaster back in the 1980’s. It’s a post-apocalyptic time capsule – all the workers at the plant only had minutes to flee the village, leaving half-eaten sandwiches and family photos behind. With its abandoned classrooms and peeling communist murals, it’s a modern-day Pompeii. And nature has reclaimed the town of Pripyat, with feral animals and plants running wild. So it’s a creepy thrill for the travellers to explore, and their guide Uri carries a Geiger counter to warn them if the radiation level gets too high.

But when Uri disappears, possibly attacked by wild dogs, and the van they came in stops working, they are forced to find their own way out. Can they survive the radiation, the wild animals, and… maybe, the people who never escaped the place? Sounds like something scary is about to happen…

I spoke with its writer and producer Oren Peli this week, the creator of the classic Paranormal Activity series. He said “there are moments where you don’t see anything but you hear a noise far away, you don’t know what the noise is, but just the fact that the noise exists that you are hearing something cluttering in an apartment nearby when there is not supposed to be anyone else there, that can be really scary.” And he’s right — the soundtrack really is scary and the images and the mood are perfect.

But what about the movie? The title is somewhat misleading. It’s not a found footage film like the Paranormal Activity series; it’s more of a conventional horror movie, (one without the camera as a character) with lots of constant suspense, shocks and boos. But the story itself lacked much humour, sympathy for the characters, or surprising plot turns… and it didn’t quite make sense to me. It was just a lot of panicky people screaming and shouting as they run around, randomly chased and knocked off (as tends to happen in horror movies) by mysterious, and possibly zombie-like bad guys. Yes, it’s scary, but it’s not as scary as Paranormal Activity.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

(I saw this one at last year’s TIFF, and it’s just delightful.)

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

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

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

Where Do We Go Now?
Dir: Nadine Labaki

This movie was the surprise winner of the people’s choice award at last years’ Toronto Film Festival, and Director and star Labaki was the first woman to win it.

The movie takes place in a small village, a town divided equally between Muslims and Catholics. It’s surrounded by landmines, and all too often, people get shot or blown up. Up at the top of a hill is the graveyard where women dressed in black from both sides meet to bury the dead. The town itself is peaceful, and after some brave kids weather the landmines to set up an antenna, the mayor declares it’s TV night in the town square, and everyone gathers to watch the blurry movie.

The danger, though, is that the fragile peace will break, and the men will start killing each other again in reprisals. So the women of the village formulate a plan: anytime news about violence reaches the village, they will hide it or distract the men. Gradually — with the cooperation of the Priest and the Imam — their plans escalate and their schemes get more and more elaborate. They stage religious miracles, and even secretly bring in Eastern European strippers – anything to hide the fact that someone in the village was killed in an incident.

Will it work? Can they create an island of piece in turbulent Lebanon? And will their final, shocking surprise serve to jolt the men away from their never-ending violence?

I thought the movie has an extremely slow beginning, with a low-budget, handmade feel to it. Not promising at all. But the pace picks up and gets much better in the second half. And the ending is just great – clever and imaginative, leaving you with a much better feeling.

Chernobyl Diaries, Hysteria, and Where Do We Go Now open this weekend in Toronto, check your local listings, and Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Festival continues through Sunday: go to insideout.ca for more info.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, with podcasts and complete reviews available on my web site CulturalMining. com.

March 2, 2012. Daniel Garber interviews Julia Ivanova about her documentary Family Portrait in Black and White

Posted in Adoption, Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, documentary, Family, Movies, TIFF, Ukraine, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 10, 2012

Julia Ivanova’s moving documentary, Family Portrait in Black and White (now playing) deals with a foster mom in a tiny Ukraine village who takes care of dozens of mixed-race children who were abandoned by their parents. The kids face ostracism by some racists, but stick together, forming a tight family with the woman they call Mom. But some of the children bristle at her strict, Stalinist ways, and her refusal to give up the kids to wealthy western Europeans looking for children to adopt. Will the generation gap pull this family apart?

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