Dreams and Memories. Films reviewed: An American Dream, The Sense of an Ending

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 17, 2017

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

Spring film festival season continues in Toronto with the Canadian Film Fest. This annual event showcases new indie features along with short films before each movie. Films range from horror to comedies to dramatic thrillers, but they’re all made by Canadians. There’s even a Rob Ford movie.

This week I’m looking at movies about memories and dreams. There’s a British look at a forgotten past, and a Canadian take on the American dream.

An American Dream: The Education of William Bowman

Wri/Dir: Ken Finkleman

William (Jake Croker) is a corn-fed high school football player whose NFL dreams are shattered with an untimely tackle. So he sets out to make it on just his moxie and good looks. He bounces from Wall Street to skid row, from porn actor to bible thumper in a matter of days. And the omnipresent cameras, reality shows, and fake news networks turn William into a national hero. This is an outsiders’ view of America as a land of God, guns, and puritans obsessed with pervy sex. There’s government surveillance and a culture of fear that’s all but drowned out by a steady stream of celebrity adulation. That’s the American Dream covered by this picaresque, dark comedy.

It’s by Ken Finkleman, known for his screenplays and CBC comedies. This one is a lot of fun.

The Sense of an Ending

Dir: Ritesh Batra (Based on the novel by Julian Barnes)

Tony (Jim Broadbent) is a divorced, retired Englishman whose adult daughter Susie is pregnant. He and his divorced wife, a lawyer, take turns going to pregnancy classes with Susie. And he spends his time running a tiny, vintage camera shop. But his dull, eventless life is shaken up by an unexpected letter. In university, he fell for Veronica, an aloof and pretty woman. He spent a crucial weekend at her home, where he met her sexually vivacious mother Sarah, her ineffectual father and her Cambridge-educated brother. The letter he receives is a legal document — Veronica’s mother Sarah is dead, and he’s mentioned in her will. She left him the diaries of Tony’s best friend Adrian Finn who died many years ago. This brings back a flood of memories of his youth.

Adrian once remarked that history is written by the victors of wars, and we can never know the thoughts of a dead man, one who chose his own ending, unless we are inside his head. So he is determined to read Adrian’s diary. But he’s blocked from doing so by Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) who hands him a letter he wrote instead of Adrian’s diary.

You see, when they were all students Tony discovered that his best friend had an affair with his first crush. And faced with such a cruel act of betrayal he wrote a spiteful letter to Adrian cursing him and Veronica and any children they might have. To hell with them all. And now, he is haunted by those words.

So to clear his conscience, and to find out the truth, he starts following Veronica around and enquiring about her family and her past. But the truth he finds is way beyond what he ever expected.

The Sense of an Ending is a fantastic retelling of Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-winning novel. It’s told through Tony’s recollections, as he relives his lost past with the revelations of these letters. And as his perceived memories change with each shocking revelation, we see the old Tony superimposed in his memories of his younger self. I love Julian Barnes’s novels, and it turns out I read this one years ago, but the movie version was different enough that it didn’t spoil the story. This is a surprisingly moving film told in a gently shocking way. And the acting is fantastic – not just Broadbent and Rampling, but the entire cast. Great movie.

The Sense of an Ending starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. An American Dream is the opening night film at the Canadian Film Fest. For tickets go to canfilmfest.caThis is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Crafty Women. Films reviewed: Hevn, Love & Friendship, The Intervention

Posted in Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on May 27, 2016

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

In movies, tricksters or con artists are usually played by men. But this week I’m going to talk about movies where women are the sneaky ones. There’s a scheming widow in England’s stately mansions, a mysterious visitor to Norway’s wild west… and a couples’ reunion in the deep south.

a7b552c0-d8aa-4d87-a639-ef3c685cf143Love & Friendship

Dir: Whit Stillman, Based on the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is a ravishing woman in 19th Century England. She has beautiful auburn curls and a plunging neckline. She’s also very intelligent – she could charm the cufflinks off a shirtsleeve. Men are like putty in her hands. She’s also morally lax. Marriage is a contract for the hoi polloi – for the priveged it should be thought of as a stepping stone. Lady Susan loves her landed gentry lifestyle, but after the death of her husband Vernon, she has no land, no home… and no income. Luckily she still has Love and Friendship ample friends and in-laws with money to burn. But when word of her extramarital dalliances reaches the wife of her host, she is forced to flee and come up with a new plan. She sends her grieving daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) off to boarding school and starts the gears aturning.

In addition to her secret bedmate, Lady Susan is being wooed by two men. One is Sir James (Tom Bennett), a rich landowner who smiles a lot and is dumb as a post. The other is young and handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) in whose home f0aa524a-eb42-4f36-802b-2c90b6ca15a3she is now a guest. He has been warned about her wily ways and is initially resistant to her friendship. But he learns to love her witty repartee and complex verbal jousting. Though she never says so, Lady Susan hopes to marry him and secure her — and her daughter’s — financial status. But her plans start to crumble.

Frederica is kicked out of boarding school because Lady Susan never paid tuition. Lady Lucy Manwaring suspects adultery involving her husband and tries to expose it. And her best friend 1c923623-0a27-47d6-b030-8b1b054f4d94Alicia (Chloe Sevigny) can help her with her schemes in London but only if her much older husband (Stephen Fry) is kept out of the loop. Can Lady Susan win her man, restore her status, keep her secret lover and get the money she wants and needs?

Love & Friendship is a Jane Austen novel re-imagined as a wonderfully witty screwball comedy. Director Whit Stillman took the unfinished story and added his own touches. He introduces each character – and there are many — with their names and brief descriptions appearing on the screen. The acting is good across the board, the costumes, music and settings (shot near Dublin) are all delightful. I liked this one a lot.

13100783_517603071760333_8882449457086362845_nHevn

Dir: Kjersti Steinsbø

Andrea (Siren Jørgensen) is a soft-spoken travel writer with a short boyish haircut. She arrives in a small town in western Norway in the middle of the night, unannounced. Why is she there? She works for a famous travel magazine and wants to interview Morten (Frode Winther) the local hotelier. So the scruffy bartender, Bimbo (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) promises to introduce her to him in the morning.

This is a small town where everyone knows everyone else. And it’s a beauty. Rows of wooden houses line one side of a11990560_444423365744971_5662763713369488379_n pristine green fjord, and stark mountains dominate the other side. And Morten’s white hotel overlooks it all.

The next day the blond and athletic Morten welcomes Andrea and offers her a suite in the empty hotel. And his wife Nina, noticing Andrea came without a suitcase, offers her 11953484_444951912358783_7881565416398246509_oopen access to all her clothes.

Andrea is clearly uncomfortable with all the nice things being offered. So uncomfortable that she runs to the bathroom to puke. She hasn’t told them why she’s really there. She’s not a travel writer, her real name is Rebekka, and she’s there to get revenge… through entrapment.

She visited the town with her much younger sister when she was just a teenager. And Morten did something then that led to her sister’s suicide. She wants him to suffer for what he 13241197_521854988001808_7585247791226230863_ndid… but did he actually do it? Is he still assaulting young women? And will she be discovered before she carries out her goal?

The movie is called Hevn (means revenge in Norwegian) but this is no Valhalla; its a festering pit of deceit and treachery. ‘s a not-bad psychological thriller. The Nordic scenery is breathtaking and the cast is attractive, but the story is not that gripping. We can understand Andrea’s struggle and feel her passion and fear, but we never learn anything about her backstory. It’s as if she lives only for revenge for her sister’s suicide. The film wavers between Big Issue and psychological thriller, without ever deciding which one it wants to be. This movie is OK, but not great.

interventionThe Intervention

Dir: Clea DuVall

Four couples, old friends all, are having a reunion. They meet up in a huge house amidst the Spanish moss of a Carolina plantation. It’s a surprise party of sorts. The surprise is they’re there not to celebrate but to break up a marriage. Ruby and Peter (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza) have careers and kids. But their friends all think it’s a sham – they don’t love each other anymore so why are they still together. So Jessie (Ruby’s sister) and Annie another friend plan to hold a secret intervention to tell that couple to face the music. But look who’s talking! Annie (Melanie Lynskey) is a heavy drinker and refuses to commit to her fiancé. Jessie (Clea DuVall) is in a longterm relationship with her girlfriend but they have yet to move intogether, still don’t live together. And the newly single Jack arrives with another surprise: Lola (Alia Shawkat), a 22 year old loose cannon he picked up at a music festival. Lola is openly bisexual, and ready to jump into bed with anyone who strikes her fancy. Will the intervention succeed or fail? And will any of the couples survive this fraught-filled get-together?1140_TheIntervention

The Intervention is a light and likeable relationship dramedy. By light I mean there’s nothing remarkable about the story. It succeeds on the strength of the excellent comic acting of three women: DuVall, Shawkatt and most of all Lynskey.

Hevn and Love & Friendship both open today: check your local listings. The Intervention — which will be released later this summer — is premiering at Toronto’s Inside-Out LGBT film fest. The festival is on now and for the next 10 days. 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.

Daniel Garber talks with Angry Inuk director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril at Hot Docs

Posted in Uncategorized, Cultural Mining, documentary, Canada, Animals, Clash of Cultures, Environmentalism, Indigenous, Inuit by CulturalMining.com on April 29, 2016

0A7A2420Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

We’ve all seen the photos: a white-furred harp seal pup looking up at the camera with tears in its eyes, almost saying won’t you please save me from those evil, greedy hunters who want to skin me 0A7A2403alive just for my fur? Images like these have been seen worldwide and raised millions of dollars for animal rights and environmental groups, from Greenpeace to IFAW.

What is wrong with that picture? A lot, say Inuit activists, and it’s making them angry.

553283_4080Angry Inuk is a new documentary from the NFB, that’s having its world premier at Hot Doc’s documentary festival. It looks at the role of the seal hunt in Inuit culture, and the terrible consequences the well-meaning EU ban on seal products has had on Inuit lives. It also follows a group of Inuit people trying to change minds. Their stories — and her own — are told by filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

I spoke to Alethea at CIUT during Hot Docs.

 

The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami. Movies reviewed: Certified Copy, Like Someone in Love

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Iran, Italy, Japan, Movies, Romance, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on March 25, 2016

AnXEQz_likesomeoneinlove_dir01_o3_8907959_1454607476Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Is love real? Are we who we pretend to be? And what is the meaning of life? The great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami deals with giant topics like these in movies that appear to be small and simple. But they’re not.

The Wind Will Carry Us: The Films of Abbas Kiarostami is an extensive, curated retrospective of the director’s work. It’s on now through April at TIFF Cinematheque and the Aga Khan Museum, with screenings, exhibitions and lectures. If you’ve never seen his films before, now’s your chance. Most of his films were made in Iran, many akm-logoinvolving children to avoid government censorship. His movies have an amazing international feel and a distinctive neo-realist look, full of road trips shot through windshields and off-screen voices.

But this week I’m talking about his two most recent features, both shot abroad with non-Iranian actors. There’s a May/December relationship in Japan that might only last a day, and a 15-year-old marriage in Tuscany that may not exist at all.

48vyn1_CertCopy_2_o3_8906737_1454607393Certified Copy (2010)

James (William Shimell) is a British writer and cultural critic who’s in Italy to promote his book. It’s called Certified Copy, and asks: can reproductions of great paintings or sculptures be considered great works of art? But he shows up late for his own speech. And midway through the talk, in walks a beautiful woman with her young son. Elle (Juliette Binoche) sits right in the front k5j0k5_CertCopy_3_o3_8906790_1454607402row. Is she James’s wife? Or just a random passerby? She walks out again before he’s finished, but not before leaving her phone number on a piece of paper.

They meet again the next day. Elle offers James a ride through the lovely Tuscan hills, ostensibly to autograph some of his books. He tells her the meaning of life is having fun. But they use the ride to discuss the book’s meaning. 0gorkX_CertCopy_4_o3_8906843_1454607411She drives him to an old church to show him a painting on the wall. It’s a copy, she says, but one considered to be the original for hundreds of years. The church itself is a popular place for young couples to take wedding pictures, even though they weren’t actually married in that church. Are those wedding pictures real or fake?

Later, they stop in a café, where the owner, a woman, tells Elle, in Italian, how lucky she is to have such a good husband. (James speaks English and a little French). She gets him to play along, and whispers they’ve been married for 15 years.

The rest of the film consists of the two of them continuing their real vs fake art debate, but extending it to real life, taking on the roles of a married couple. But… has the movie been misleading the viewers all along, and are they, in fact, a long-time couple?

This is a fascinating film, the kind that makes you want to walk out of the theatre and talk about it for half an hour. Binoche is her usual fantastic self, and Shimell (a British opera singer), is credible as the husband/not husband.

DRZK8x_likesomeoneinlove_05_o3_8907861_1454607471Like Someone in Love (2012)

Akiko (Takahashi Rin) is a small-town University girl living in the big city. She’s wants to study sociology, but to survive in Tokyo she works as a paid escort. She has money troubles, and is fighting with her boyfriend Noriaki (Kase Ryo). Noriaki is a tough guy with a volatile personality who works in a garage.

Today’s the day her grandma is coming to town to discuss something important. But her boss says she has to meet a new client in Kanagawa who specially requested her services. vgx6jr_likesomeoneinlove_06_o3_8907910_1454607485And no matter how much she protests he won’t let her take time off. The best she can do is get the taxi driver to drive slowly past the train station so she might see her grandma.

Later, she meets Watanabe (Okuno Tadashi), a kindly old university professor at his home. With his white moustache, he looks like everyone’s grandpa. He even cooks her a meal, featuring her hometown specialties. He treats her like family, while she just wants to hop into bed and get it over with.

xGzW29_likesomeoneinlove_04_o3_8907812_1454607457But things heat up the next day when he drops her off at school and waits in a parked car. Through the window he sees her argue with her abusive boyfriend. But Noriaki also sees Watanabe, and when she’s gone he climbs into his car for a chat. He’s clearly nervous to meet Aki’s “grandpa”, and wants to get his approval to marry Akiko. Clever Watanabe plays along, never exactly saying he’s her grandfather, but never denying it. Things get antsy when Akiko joins them for a long ride. She is forced to play along as the faithful y8AWoP_liesomeoneinlove_01_o3_8907713_1454607479granddaughter – a role she had rejected at his home. Will their impromptu role-playing lead to a happy ending? Or will it explode with serious consequences?

This is another great movie from Kiarostami with an intriguing story and a great cast. Even though this one is in Japanese and Certified Copy is in French, English and Italian, they are both unmistakably Kiarostami. The car trips, role-play and false relationships make for an intriguing pair of Iranian films far from Teheran.

Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love are two of the films playing at the Abbas Kiarostami retrospective. 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

Out of Their Element. Movies reviewed: Triple 9, Only Yesterday, Where to Invade Next PLUS Oscar predictions

Posted in 1990s, Animation, comedy, Coming of Age, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, documentary, Japan, Movies, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on February 26, 2016

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

The White Oscars are on this Sunday, and here are some of my predictions. But beware: I’m often completely wrong.

Animated feature: Pete Docter & Jonas Rivera (Inside Out) ✓
Foreign language: Ciro Guerra (Embrace the Serpent) X
Documentary: Amy (Asif Kapadia & James Gay-Rees) ✓
Original screenplay: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) ✓
Adapted screenplay: Emma Donoghue (Room) X
Supporting actor: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) X
Supporting actress: Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) X
Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) ✓
Actress: Brie Larson (Room) ✓
Director: Lenny Abrahamson (Room) X
Best picture: Room X

This week I’m looking at movies about people out of their element. There’s a documentary about a Michigander in Europe, an action/thriller about Atlanta bank robbers in a cop shop, and a Japanese anime about a Tokyo dweller on a farm.

gallery_onesheetTriple 9
Dir: John Hillcoat

Early one morning, Russel and Gabe, Marcus and Jorge (Clifton Collins Jr) and their leader Michael pull of a perfect bank robbery in Atlanta, taking lots of cash, and leaving no fingerprints. Why are they so good at it? Because they’re cops… crooked cops. They split the cash and prepare to pull off gallery_chrisjeffreyjust one more robbery.

Problem is there’s a new cop in town named Chris (Casey Affleck, Gone Baby Gone) investigating this crime. He’s a straight arrow. He’s looking for clues around the Latino section of Atlanta with a gang war in proigress. He doesn’t realize that his partner Marcus (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker) is crooked.

In fact the street gangs have nothing to do with the bank heist, gallery_michaelelenait’s tied to organized crime. Specifically: the Russian mob, headed by Irina (Kate Winslet, Titanic), the blond Russian kingpin.  (…Queenpin?) She’s running her hubby’s Kosher meat empire while he’s behind bars. And what’s the police connection? Policeman Mike (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Twelve Years a Slave) is married to Irina’s beautiful sister Elena (Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman) – and they have a black, Jewish kid gallery_irinaparkinglottogether (named Drake?).

That’s not all. Russell and Gabe (Norman Reedus, The Walking Dead; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad) are brothers, and Chris – who is Marcus’s detective partner – is the son of another cop (Woody Harrelson, Rampart) His dad smokes pot and expects freebies from his transsexual prostitute informant, but he’s considered “not corrupt”. Which group will triumph — good cops or bad cops? Criminals or the mob?

All clear now? I didn’t think so. This is such a confusing movie. There are a dozen important characters each with his own reason for double-crossing someone else. Triple 9 has a great illustrious cast, but they’re wasted in this messy, shoot-em-up, cops and robbers story. Not boring… just pointless.

48vgKk_Only_Yesterday_Trailer_o3_8939181_1455135765Only Yesterday
Dir: Takahata Isao

It’s the early 1990s in Tokyo. Maeko is an office worker in her late 20s, who finds life dull and pointless. So to perk things up she decides to go back to the land… on vacation, at least. She pays money to a farming family to let her help them with the harvest of WnK5vg_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(1)_o3_8935474_1455135738safflower blossoms.

The long journey by train gives her time to think and remember. Almost unbidden, memories of her childhood come flooding back. When she was in grade 5, everything — like her first crush, first tampon, even her first taste of a fresh pineapple — seemed much more JZKORD_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(4)_o3_8935564_1455135750important.

Life on the farm also gives her a connection to a greater history: how the safflowers crushed by once-poor farmers becomes the rouge used by rich city women to blush their cheeks. Even the runoff water becomes the pink dye used for the clothing she wears. The people she meets there — especially Toshio, the goofy country guy who clearly qjpO93_Only_Yesterday_credit__1991_Hotaru_Okamoto_-_Yuko_Tone_-_GNH_(5)_o3_8935596_1455135751likes her — seem more real, more important than her “friends” in the city. But what will she do when the summer is over?

Only Yesterday is a 25-year-old animated film from famed Ghibli studios, rereleased in English with Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel providing the voices of Maeko and Toshio. I have mixed feelings about this one. I like how it deals with real life problems and its beautiful animation, with bright colours for the 1990s Maeko and faded, old-fashioned illustrations for her as a child. But there’s a super-earnest tone to it, with lots of educational bits, like a kids’ show on NHK (Japan’s public TV). And it has some long silent parts, without sound effects or music, that make you squirm.

Much like Maeko’s childhood memories, the film somehow seems better in retrospect than while you’re watching it.

acbcc98e-e19f-4532-b534-2424684a1e6aWhere to Invade Next
Dir: Michael Moore

More Americans – especially African Americans and Latinos — are in prison than in any other country in the world. Decent education and health care are still out of reach for many people, with spiraling debt and falling incomes. How can America solve its huge social problems? It’s easy, says Michael Moore. Let’s invade Europe again and take home its best ideas. Armed only with an American flag and a camera, Moore visits the best parts of the EU to record its plusses. Like affordable, delicious school lunches in France, complete with 19 cheeses; the kids shudder fb3cab01-2368-4ad7-83d1-a6beb0ed251dto see Moore guzzling a can of Coke. Or free universities in Slovenia. Generous union contracts in Italy. There are open prisons in Norway that reintegrate prisoners back into society. When the stock market crashed in Iceland they arrested the brokers responsible. And Germany makes sure its school kids know all about the atrocities in their history. (We should be so lucky.)

The movie starts with a fast-moving, hard-hitting news 5ea9a85c-ecb6-4e85-8337-1504b51ab17amontage about American life, well worth the price of the film. After that, it’s a gentle, cute, and completely enjoyable travelogue of the best of Europe. (The film was made before the huge influx of Syrian refugees, where some European countries are showing their uglier sides… but that’s a different movie.) Basically, Where to Invade Next is like a travel guide to places where Bernie Sanders’ election promises are already in place.

Triple 9, Only Yesterday, and Where to Invade Next all open today: check your local listings. And if you’re into wolverines — not X-Men, the real thing — check out the rare footage in Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forest, a new documentary on CBC’s the Nature of Things this weekend.

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 actors Kerwin Johnson, Jr and Curtiss Cook, Jr and director Jay Dockendorf about their new film Naz & Maalik

Posted in African-Americans, Brooklyn, Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Gay, Islam, Morality, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on January 28, 2016

naz and maalik-4Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Naz and Maalik are African-American teenagers living in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. They sell lottery tickets and Catholic Saint cards on the street to earn extra cash. Normal kids, they chat about religion, morality and what it’s like to be young, gifted and black. They’re both Muslim, but Naz is more devout. And they have a secret they keep on the down low. They’re lovers. But when an FBI agent begins to follow them, thinking they’re radicalized, they don’t know which is the biggestJay Dockendorf threat: Arrested as a Muslim? Shot by the police as a black man? Or coming out as gay to their families?

Naz & Maalik is also the name of a new film, just released on DVD and VOD. It stars two charismatic young actors in their first feature roles: Kerwin Johnson Jr. as Naz, and Curtiss Cook Jr., as Maalik. It’s written and directed by filmmaker Jay Dockendorf. They’re winning prizes for this touching and realistic story of triply-marginalized youth. I spoke with Kerwin, Curtiss and Jay in Brooklyn by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

Non-Christmassy Christmas movies. Films reviewed: Son of Saul, The Hateful Eight

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Hungary, Movies, Uncategorized, US, violence, War, Western, WWII by CulturalMining.com on December 25, 2015

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

Merry Christmas! You’re probably drinking a hot toddy or roasting chestnuts on an open fire somewhere. But this week I want to talk about movies opening today that don’t fit the usual Christmas mould. There’s an American western about eight people in a cabin in a blizzard who want to live to see the sun rise; and a Hungarian drama about a man in a Nazi concentration camp who wants to live to see his son buried.

fba93085-318f-4715-b9e3-f35eb9c9d13eSon of Saul
Dir: Laszlo Nemes

It’s 1944, WWII, inside the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner there. He is one of the SonderKommando, who are kept alive and given certain privileges because of their duties. The Sonderkommando handle the gristliest part of the death apparatus. They tell the newly-arrived prisoners to undress, ushers them into the tiled shower room and locks the doors. The showers are actually gas chambers — that’s where they kill them. Afterwards he unlocks the metal doors again and clears away the dead bodies to be burned. He does this over and over, never seeing the light of day. He is dead inside, just like the bodies he drags away.

At the same time, some of the prisoners are planning an elaborate scheme to photograph the mass murderddf7a613-739e-417a-aa8d-80351d30fc05. Others are planning to escape, to show the photos to the outside world. Then something unusual happens. Cleaning up the gas chamber, he notices a young man, gasping for breath, but somehow still alive amidst all the dead bodies. It’s like a miracle. Then Saul looks at him: that’s my son.

The Nazi’s quickly put a stop this. They strangle the boy and send him to the morgue for an autopsy to determine “what went wrong”. But for Saul, his life suddenly has a purpose. He, a man with no religious upbringing and no family, now is determined to give the boy a proper burial amidst all the mass killing. It’s an impossible mission. He somehow has to rescue the body, wrap it in a shroud, hide him from the Nazis, find a place to bury him and a e8861a76-4856-44b6-94b2-274a9f4c8105holy man, a rabbi, to say the proper prayers.

Son of Saul is an intensely moving, high- tension drama. It somehow captures – without comment — the chaos, mayhem and absurdity of a Nazi concentration camp, with its omnipresent death, pain and humiliation.

It’s shot with a handheld camera that follows him, non-stop as he walks around the camp. (Sonderkommandos wear a special uniform that lets them move around the camp.) The action never ceases, from start to finish, constantly on the move adding high stress to the unceasing horror of the film.

It also has an immediacy missing from most Holocaust movies (if there is such a genre). It feels like you are there, following his every step. Also unusual is powerful Christian images of the film, such as Saul holding his blameless son in his arms, like Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Son of Saul is an excellent, if harrowing, movie. And it has a good chance of winning the Oscar for best foreign language feature.

THE HATEFUL EIGHTThe Hateful Eight
Dir: Quentin Tarantino

Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is a uniformed military officer walking on the Overland Trail in Wyoming after the US Civil War. He flags down a stage coach and asks for a ride before a blizzard hits. The reluctant passenger, John “the hangman” Ruth (played by a hefty Kurt Russell), doesn’t want anyone on board. He’s taking a woman wantedTHE HATEFUL EIGHT for murder to be hanged in Red Rock, and collecting the 10,000 bucks. But he relents when he recognizes the Major – they met once before, and Ruth was impressed to see a black man carrying a handwritten letter from Abraham Lincoln himself. And, it turns out, there once was a very high bounty on the Major’s head. The prisoner is Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) a foul-mouthed murderess with a black eye. She is handcuffed to John Ruth who will only give her up to the to the Sheriff of Red Rock. Warren is also a bounty hunter and carries the bodies THE HATEFUL EIGHTof outlaws he wants to give to sherriff. And who do they meet next? Why Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins) a notorious southern renegade from the war, who claims to be… the newly-appointed Sherriff of Red Rock! But can he – or any of them – be trusted? Or do they all just want to claim the reward or to free the prisoner.

The snow falls harder till they reach Minnie’s Haberdashery, an inn on the trail. Inside are four unfamiliar men: Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) a fancy-talking English hangman, General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), a Kentucky Fried confederate racist; Joe Gage, a cow-puncher wearing suspiciously clean duds (Michael Madsen) and Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir), an unknown THE HATEFUL EIGHTman who says he’s filling in for Minnie.

Each of the eight is filled with racist bile, hidden secrets, and countless skeletons in their respective closets. Which of them are the good guys and which are the bad guys. And will any of the hateful eight survive till morning?

I enjoyed this movie, though it’s not for everyone. It’s three hours long, and made in the old style, complete with an overture, an intermission, and a soundtrack by the king of spaghetti westerns, Ennio Moricone. And it’s THE HATEFUL EIGHTbeing shown on 70mm film in Panavision. Super wide screen. And while technically a Western, the story is more like an Agatha Christie locked-room mystery: who can be trusted and who is a secret killer? The film gives what we expect from Tarantino: flawless recreations of the look and feel of old movies, extreme violence, and stretching the boundaries of what people will allow on the screen. All of the characters are amazing, especially Goggins as the Sherriff and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the foul mouthed woman. I never felt bored.

But it does leave me uncomfortable for a couple of reasons. For one, the only THE HATEFUL EIGHTblack and female characters are constantly called the B word and the N word. Second, for a western there are virtually no fist fights – lots of shooting but not much punching. The exception is Daisy. She starts out with a black eye, and from there, she gets punch in the face many times by many characters. (I guess that’s supposed to be funny or shocking.) But it made me wonder: why all the men beating up the woman? Still, if Tarantino movies are your thing, The Hateful Eight won’t disappoint.

The Hateful Eight and Son Of Saul both 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

Divided personalities. Movies reviewed: Al Purdy Was Here, Legend, I Smile Back

Posted in 1950s, 1960s, Biopic, Canadian Literature, Cultural Mining, drugs, Mental Illness, Movies, Organized Crime, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 4, 2015

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

People want their friends to be consistent, reliable, regular. But personalities don’t always work this way. This week I’m looking at three movies about people with shifting lives and divided personalities. There’s a US drama about a drug-addicted, bipolar stay-at-home mom; a British biopic about identical twin gangsters, and a Canadian documentary about a poet with a second life.

Purdy-at-typewriterAl Purdy Was Here
Dir: Brian Johnson

Literature once ruled Canadian culture, with poetry at the top of the CanLit heap. Dudek, Layton, Cohen, Atwood, Bowering, MacEwan, Borson… But things change, and names get lost. This documentary looks at one of those poets, a man named Al Purdy. Have you heard of him? There’s a statue of him in Queen’s Park, about 100 metres away from here.

Purdy is born in small-town Ontario and drops out of school. He joins the Air Force, works with dynamite, and rides the rails all the way to Vancouver. In the 1950s he survives on UI and roadkill. AL+&+friends+at+the+A-FramePicture a bigger-than-life man in loud plaid pants with a foghorn voice. He’s imposing, obnoxious, and happiest talking loudly with a beer stubby in his hand. He makes his mark in Montreal among the better-educated English poets, depending on his prose poetry and rough working-class persona to pull him through. But what became of him?

This movie fills in the blanks. It uses amazing old snapshots, recordings and CBC footage, chapbooks, memorial concerts and twitter feeds to memorialize Al Purdy. It concentrates on the A-frame he built by hand with poet Milton Acorn. The house falls into disrepair so a bunch of writers and musicians get together to physically fix it up. The movie also uncovers the fact it was his wife’s work and salary that let him live the life of a poet. And some skeletons in the closet of another forgotten life. For example it was his wife’s income that let him live as a poet. This movie brings musicians and poets together again, and brings Al Purdy’s poetry back to life.

LegendLegend
Wri/Dir: Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential)

Reggie and Ronnie Kray (both played by Tom Hardy) are gangsters in London’s Bethnal Green, in the 1960s. They make their money through extortion and gunrunning. They are well known to the police, but they still go on with their work with impunity. They’re also identical twins: they may look the same, but their personalities are night and day.

Reggie is popular with the ladies, a real charmer, while Ronnie prefers sex with guys. Reg is the shrewd businessman while Ronnie is more of the brawler. Reggie can hold his own in a fight, but Ronnie’s the really scary one, the loose cannon, ready to explode at any moment, guns ablazing.

Diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, the movie begins with him locked away in a high-security Legendhospital for the criminally insane. Reggie strongarms a psychiatrist to declare his brother sane but the doctor puts it on Reggie to make sure Ronnie always takes his meds. (He doesn’t)

One day Reggie meets Frances (Emily Browning) the younger sister of one of his drivers. She’s 16, a petite, beautiful wide-eyed ingénue. They share a lemon sherbet candy, and bam! they fall in love. (She serves as the movie’s narrator). She likes everything about him… except the gangster stuff. And his brother. But Reg courts her relentlessly, even climbing up a drainpipe to her second story window to avoid her mum’s disapproving glances.

Ronnie, meanwhile, is pursuing his own interests: building a mythical utopian city in far-off Africa. And hanging out with his two boyfriends.

02They join forces with Payne (David Thewlis) a man with a middle class accent, an impressive office and a big moustache. He acts as the frontman, while the Krays lurk behind are the muscle. They sit in the background looking threatening, rarely having to raise a finger. Soon enough they’re taking over nightclubs, moving banknotes on the black market, and even doing jobs for Meyer Lansky the US mafia kingpin (who founded Murder Inc.) And the money is rolling in.

Things seem to be going great, until Reggie spends some time in jail and Ronnie takes charge. Uh oh. LegendTheir businesses start to unravel at a rapid pace. What will happen to them now? Can the Kray twins handle a rival gang, the police, the mafia, the House of Lords, their love interests… and their own sibling rivalry?

I like this movie – the music, the look, the acting are all great. I did have some trouble understanding Ronnies lines (is it his cockney accent or his mumbling voice?) And having Tom Hardy play both the twins is pretty impressive. It really feels like two separate people. They even get in fist fights and end up wrestling on the floor.

But the central love story — Frances and Reg — just didn’t grab me. It didn’t seem quite right, ‘t works well as an action-filled historical biopic, but fizzles as a romance.

oYXOpY_ismileback_03-HIGHRES_o3_8706150_1438094935I Smile Back
Dir: Adam Salky

Laney (Sarah Silverman) lives in a nice middle-class home with her husband Bruce (Josh Charles) and her two kids, Eli and Janey. Bruce is an insurance agent who loves playing basketball with their kids. Laney loves them too but finds even dropping them off at school an almost unbearable chore. So she fills her days popping pills, snorting coke, and getting drunk. Or sleeping with random guys she meets in dive bars. She even has an ongoing fling with her best friend’s husband (and her husband’s best friend), who keeps her supplied with meds. She takes lithium to handle her mood swings, leaving her like a depressed zombie when she takes it. But when she skips her meds she goes wild – irresponsible, extreme, always searching for new sexual adventures. She finds herself waking up in strange motel rooms hungover from extreme drunken excess.

That she can handle. It’s her role as the good stay-at-home mom – and the guilt that comes with it – is almost I Smile Backunbearable. She ends up telling off mothers teachers or anyone who rubs her the wrong way.

Bruce’s patience is almost limitless, but she repays this by getting even more difficult to handle. (Does he suspect she’s sleeping with strangers?) And then there are her kids – some of her worries rub off on Eli who has horrible dreams, turning to weird, nervous habits to keep calm. She realizes she’s hit rock bottom when she goes to check on her sleeping kids and ends up masturbating with his teddy bear. Oh Lanie — get a grip! She checks into rehab to try to get back to normal, But lurking in the background is something from her past involving her dad who she hasn’t spoken to in decades.

I Smile BackCan Lanie handle her spiraling decline? Will rehab save her? Can she learn to see her kids again and just smile back? Or will she end up homeless, drunk and beaten up in a dark alley?

I Smile Back is a hard movie to handle. It’s not fun – it’s disturbing, shocking and depressing. But Sarah Silverman pulls it off. We’re used to seeing her as a comic, pushing the limits with her shocking potty humour and dirty jokes. But what’s really chilling is seeing her doing the things she jokes about but for real, not for laughs. Worth seeing.

Legend, Al Purdy was Here, and I Smiled Back 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.

 

 

 

Body Consciousness. Movies reviewed: Body, My Skinny Sister, Kilo Two Bravo

Posted in Drama, Mental Illness, Poland, Sweden, UK, Uncategorized, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 14, 2015

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

North Americans spend over $60 billion a year on gym memberships and diets, obsessing over their weight and fitness. Body image is omnipresent. This week I’m looking at three movies about bodies. There’s a Swedish drama about a girl who envies her sister’s body; a Polish drama about a man who finds bodies, a woman who talks to dead bodies and a young woman who wishes her own body would just go away; and a UK war movie about a squadron of soldiers in Afghanistan just trying to keep their bodies alive.

1j3WjR_BODY_03_o3_8696634_1439859982Body
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) is a psychotherapist who treats teenaged girls with eating disorders. She works at a prestigious medical centre in Warsaw where she uses the latest techniques to make them comfortable with their bodies. She lives alone, and shares her bed with a Great Dane. Janusz (Janusz Gajos) is a lawyer who deals with death on a daily basis. Y6qWpn_BODY_01_o3_8696532_1439859952He prosecutes rapists and murderers, and treats his job as part CSI, part detective sleuth. We always see him at the crime scene, never in court. He lives with his bleached-blonde daughter Olga (Justyna Suwala). Olga has had an eating disorder since her mom died, which she blames on her dad. This dysfunctional family lives a passive 66KX8l_BODY_02_o3_8696583_1439859967aggressive life, with Olga never eating and Januzs always drinking. They coexist uneasily, leaving notes to each other taped around the house, with the spirit of the dead woman hanging over everything. That is until Olga attempts to kill herself. Januzs has her committed to a mental hospital under Anna’s care.

But they don’t know that Anna is not just a therapist, but also a spiritualist who believes she can talk to the dead. It’s up to her to convince Olga and Januzs to accept each other and to reach out to the dead woman’s ghost.8qK16m_BODY_04_o3_8696685_1439859202

Death, murder, suicide, mental illness… this sounds like a depressingly heavy movie, right? Wrong! It’s a delightfully absurdist look at how dysfunctional families cope with death and mourning. The movie consists of dozens of short scenes, many of which have hilarious or shocking details. (For example, the body of a suicide victim who turns out not to be dead.) And it’s peppered with subtle, political digs at contemporary polish society — issues like abortion, anti-semitism, sexism, and alcoholism. Szumowska is a director to look out for. I liked two of her earlier movies from Poland and France (In the Name of, Elles) and this one is even better.

my-skinny-sisterMy Skinny Sister
Wri/Dir: Sanna Lenken

Stella (Rebecka Josephson) is a pudgy, red-haired ten-year-old. She is smart but extremely self-conscious. Her older sister Katja (Amy Diamond) is a prize-winning figure skater. She practices daily with her German athletioc coach Jacob (Maxim Mehmet) and is highly competitive. Stella idolizes her but is also jealous of her. How come Katja gets all her parents’ attention? Why is she so thin and athletic, when Stella is just ordinary? And how come she gets to spend so much time with KO9Ryx_myskinnysister_01_o3_8730465_1440464810Jacob? Stella has a crush on him and is sure he’d feel the same way if he just got to know her.

But then she learns something else about her sister: Katja is eating funny. She won’t eat junk food – athletes in training can’t eat things like that! – but Stella catches her gorging out of a trash can and throwing it all up later. But when Stella confronts her she makes her promise not to tell anyone – especially Jacob or their parents. Stella is torn: anorexia could be killing her sister, so telling their parents might save her life. But deep down she wants to see Katja fail. Maybe that will get Stella the attention she deserves.

My Skinny Sister is a realistic coming-of-age drama about eating disorders, told from Stella’s point of view. It shows how even parents who love their kids — and do everything with their kids in mind — can still do everything exactly wrong.

GZWWMJ_KILOTWOBRAVO_05_o3_8716163_1439859473Kilo Two Bravo
Dir: Paul Katis

Tug (Mark Stanley) is a medic in the British Army, based in Helmand, Afghanistan. He works at an encampment on a hilltop in Kajiki, near a major dam and a big reservoir. Most of his work consists of providing band aids and inspecting grunts’ penises for sexually transmitted diseases. That is until pgLL8Q_KILOTWOBRAVO_02_o3_8716051_1439859431someone spots suspicious activity happening down in the wadi. The Taliban is active in the area and might threaten the dam.

So a few soldiers venture down the rocks to reconoiter. That’s when it happens: one of them steps on a mine blowing of a mine and some fingers. It’s up to Tug to stop the bleeding and get him to a hospital in Kabul. The problem is, where there’s one landmine, there are always more. And as the soldiers climb down they find 1j33rZ_KILOTWOBRAVO_01_o3_8716034_1439859417themselves walking on eggshells in a minefield. Each soldier they try to rescue could lead to more casualties. A false step, a kicked rock, a dropped water bottle… boom! Another deadly explosion. And adding to the danger is an incoming helicopter that could ignite even more mines, imperiling them all.

Kilo Two Bravo is a suspense-filled drama that keeps you tense for most of the film.NxWWL2_KILOTWOBRAVO_03_o3_8716068_1439859445 And it doesn’t skimp on gore: there are long medical sequences – gaping wounds, flying limbs — not for the squeamish. It’s a War is Hell-type story, where there’s no easy enemy, no Taliban soldiers to fight. Just the invisible foe hidden all around you in the minefield. If you’ve heard the term PTSD, and wondered where it comes from, this movie will show you. Kilo is neither a pro-war nor an anti-war film;  rather, it’s a sympathetic look at the soldiers themselves.

Kilo Two Bravo opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; My Skinny Sister is part of Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival featuring movies about addiction and mental health. And Body opened the Ekran Toronto Polish Film Festival and is playing at the EU film festival which starts today. Also opening today is Gaspar Noe’s Love.

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

Names. Films reviewed: Beeba Boys, Meet the Patels, The Last Saint

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, Crime, drugs, Gangs, India, Indigenous, L.A., Movies, New Zealand, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 16, 2015

12087961_10153304148320345_3900218976445656359_oHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is on right now, with over a hundred works by indigenous artists and filmmakers. Where else could you enjoy tea ‘n’ bannock while checking out virtual reality and video games by First Nations artists? Go to imaginenative.org for info, or, better yet, drop by the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see it in person. Experience indigenous culture and be sure to remember the names of these artists filmmakers.

Names are important, so this week I’m looking at some movies about names and families. There’s a documentary about a man named Patel, a crime drama about a gangster called Jeet, and a coming-of age drama about a Polynesian-Kiwi named Minka.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBeeba Boys
Dir: Deepa Mehta

Jeet (Randeep Hooda) is a charismatic criminal from Vancouver. He lives with his gossipy Mamaji and woebegone Papaji but makes a living trafficking drugs and guns. His underlings dress in garishly-coloured suits, as he carries out his business in a flashy nightclub. And he spends his spare time with Katya (Sarah Allen) 927ebef0-1c64-408d-b8dc-071f838a8b4aan old-skool gangster’s moll he keeps locked away in a luxury condo.

The movie starts with a bang, involving a dead groom and a parking lot shooting. But his rise in power is challenged by a more powerful Sikh gang headed by a man named Grewal. Jeet is sent to a local jail where he meets a petty gangster named Nep (Ali Momen) just in from Toronto. And he wants to join Jeet’s crew. But 6ebfb0be-b20d-44fe-aa5d-a62400ecbca0he has a secret: he’s dating Grewal’s pretty daughter even as he makes his name with the Beeba Boys. Which kingpin will triumph – the upstart Jeet or the powerful Grewal? And where does Nep’s loyalty really lie?

Beeba Boys is a stylized gangster pic typical in every way except for its players – all Desi Canadians – and its locale, Vancouver. Except for a few scenes, it lacks humour (despite a character who insists on telling bad jokes). And the women are all hanger-onners, surprising for a film from a female director. This is a guy’s gangster movie. But the action is good, with plenty of gratuitous violence. It holds your attention, and there are even a few truly surprising plot twist. And the acting is mainly good, including a surprising appearance by Paul Gross as a bad guy. If you’re in the mood for an all-Canadian Sikh gangster pic, this one’s for you.

f07310_6ffd442f4712499c81614a8e1ab773b3.jpg_srz_p_732_1089_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzMeet the Patels
Dir: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel

Ravi Patel is 29 and single. He’s not a doctor, but he’s played one on TV (He’s an actor working in LA). His childhood sweetheart recently dumped him for his fear of commitment. And he foresees a rootless future if he doesn’t do something soon. So he agrees to give in to his parent’s advice and find an Indian woman to marry. Soon he’s plunged into a visit to f07310_ebf8fdfaf18149debdac59e1ef2a06ba.png_srz_p_647_359_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzGujarat and a lesson in his heritage.

The Patel’s are more than just a common last name and a lot of motel owners. It’s a gujarati-speaking caste, not a family, per se. And it has an amazing networks of connections in North America with a registry of singles spanning the globe. Their “bio-data” includes their shade of skin (“wheat-coloured” women — whatever that means — are, apparently, considered more desireable), their education, family f07310_bfd6b3bf34c64d8f984b2e1387b31b17.jpg_srz_p_619_357_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzbackground and ancestry.

Followed by his sister Geeta behind the camera, Ravi begins an amazing series of blind dates, speed dates, and online match-ups. But will he ever find love among the Patels?

Meet the Patels has some cool animated sequences, and it told me a lot I didn’t know about a hidden world in North America. But it gets bogged down by endless family discussions and Ravi’s confessions that felt too much like a reality TV show. It’s not the comedy it’s advertised as, but more of an intimate portrait of an insecure, single man.

The_Last_Saint1The Last Saint
Dir: Rene Naufahu

Minka (Beulah Koale) is a young Polynesian guy who lives with his mum Lia in Aukland, N.Z. He enjoys spinning disks and hanging with his only friend, a nihilistic girl named Xi (Like the Warrior Princess, she says).

Lia (Joy Vaele) is a recovering addict, given to terrifying bouts of insane violence involving sharp knives. Minka pleads with social services to help take care of her but they turn him down. So he’s forced to look elsewhere for money. In walks a shady-looking man in black (Calvin 10562543_684630048257143_34249033864046524_oTuteao) who offers him a job at his nightclub. It’s a seedy joint but he does his work. He refuses his boss’s offers of drugs, alcohol or prostitutes, and shuns all violence.

His boss is impressed and reveals his connection to Minka and his mum: he’s his missing father! Still, he sends him out on a dangerous mission to make a delivery in the middle of the night. Minka encounters a musclebound, tattooed Polynesian dealer named Pinball (Joseph Naufahu). In the midst of 10491062_673180262735455_383628263760875119_n‘roid rage Pinball demands to know Minka’s “real name” and threatens to kill him.

Later, he encounters a gang of intimidating, torturing Tongans and other unexpected strangers. Can he survive the night? And will his family ties save him or drag him deeper into a life of crime.

The Last Saint is an excellent coming-of-age look at a good guy driven to crime. The acting is great, with nearly every portrayal compelling, especially Koale.

Beeba Boys and Meet the Patels both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. The Last Saint screens tonight as part of ImagineNative.

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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