Not Marvel Movies. Films reviewed: The Irishman, Last Christmas, Midway

Posted in 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, Christmas, Corruption, Crime, Cuba, Hawaii, Romantic Comedy, UK, Unions, War, Woody Harrelson, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 8, 2019

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

Martin Scorsese recently wrote that tentpole movies, like ones that Marvel makes, are hogging a disproportionate share of Hollywood bucks. This squeezes traditional, medium-budget, one-off films out of the picture. Luckilly, they’re not all gone.  This week, I’m looking at three films – a crime drama, a war movie and a rom-com – without superheroes.

The Irishman

Dir: Martin Scorsese

It’s the 1950s.

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) is a truck driver who delivers beef hindquarters. When his truck breaks down on the highway, a strange man offers advice on how to fix it. He’s Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci) a mob boss in Pennsylvania. When Sheeran is caught stealing beef, Russell supplies a lawyer, thus starting a longtime relationship between the trucker and the Mafia. And Teamsters, the truckers union, stands with them all the way. Soon Frank is doing a different kind of work for Russell: he paints houses. Which really means he’s a hitman for the mob. Despite his Irish background, he speaks Italian: he served in the Army in Anzio in WWII. Soon they’re thick as thieves, and Frank enjoys the benefits, but Russell is always the boss.

Eventually he’s sent to Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the head of Teamsters as a bodyguard, as well as the middleman between Hoffa and the mob. Hoffa is a brash firebrand, an old-school union organizer with legions of loyal members. He’s also an extremely powerful leader, and he controls the union’s pension. This means he can finance Las Vegas casinos with cash, something banks refuse to do. And he gives money to the Nixon campaign, a rare instance of a labour union officially supporting a Republican. But friction grows between Hoffa and the mafia until the day Hoffa mysteriously disappears without a trace, his body never found. What happened to Jimmy Hoffa?

The Irishman is narrated by Frank in an old age home, which gives it the feel of an old man’s movie. It’s a Forest Gump for gangsters, with Frank somehow tied to all the major events of the 60s and 70s: The Kennedies, Bay of Pigs, Jimmy Hoffa disappearance, to name just a few. This film has some problems: the CGI de-aged faces look wooden; female characters have virtually no lines – they just scowl and disapprove; and it’s missing the sharp edges and sexual zing of Scorsese’s early movies.

That said, I was never bored; I was glued to the screen the whole time. Pacino is fantastic as Jimmie Hoffa, and Scorsese’s movies are always superior.

The quality of filmmaking is superb and The Irishman tells a great story.

Last Christmas

Dir: Paul Feig

Kate (Emilia Clarke) is an quirky, aspiring young singer in London. By day she’s a cute little green elf, working in a kitschy, Christmas-themed gift shop run by a prickly boss named Santa (Michelle Yeoh). By night, she’s a barfly, sleeping with any guy she fancies, a different one each night. Ever since her operation, she’s been depressed. She’s embarrassed by her Yugoslavian family, and her singing career is going nowhere fast. She’s on a downward spiral of self-pity and self desctruction… until she meets Tom (Henry Golding).

Tom is everything Kate is not. He’s saintly, altruistic and generous. While Kate looks down and sees garbage tips, Tom looks up and sees tropical birds and quaint old signs. He takes her on a walk to show her the hidden side of London – a secret garden where people go to be alone; a soup kitchen for the homeless (he’s a volunteer), a deserted skating rink. Is it love? But he disappears for days at a time. What secret is he hiding? Is this true love? And can their relationship keep them together?

Last Christmas is a cute Romcom about a depressed woman coming out of her shell and her happy-go-lucky, would-be boyfriend. Emma Thompson plays Kate’s weepy Croatian mom and she also co-wrote the script. It’s cute and heartwarming… but not that funny.

Michelle Yeoh is terrific as a middle-aged woman still on the hunt, and Clarke and Golding make an appealing romantic couple. There is a totally surprising twist which brought tears to my eyes – No Spoiler – which left me with a bit more than I expected.

Midway

Dir: Roland Emmerich

It’s 1941, with war raging across Europe, China and the Pacific. But the US is cautiously viewing it from the sidelines. Dick Best (Ed Screin) is a gum chewing pilot based in Pearl Harbour. He’s a daredevil dive bomber, showing off his new techniques. Also on board the aircraft carrier is his rival, a by-the-books officer named McClusky (Luke Evans). He says Dick is a cowboy who should stop showing off. But while their aircraft carrier is out at sea, all the ships in Pearl Harbour are wiped out in a surprise attack by the Japanese, pulling the US into WWII.

Only Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) – the intel expert on Japan – predicted it. And he thinks a crucial battle up ahead: the Battle of Midway, an island in the South Pacific. Midway is a point crucial for control of the Pacific: if Layton is right, whoever wins the battle will win the war; it’s just a matter of time.

Midway is a dramatization of the years leading up to the naval battle of Midway, and the intense fight that follow: in submarines, on aircraft carriers and in planes overhead. It’s filtered through the eyes of lantern-jawed military figures like Jimmy Doolittle ( Aaron Eckhardt), Admiral Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) Vice Adm Bull Halsey (Dennis Quaid), and many semi-fictional sailors and pilots in various acts of bravery… like Bruno Gaido (Nick Jonas, of the Jonas brothers!). The story also switches back and forth to the Japanese side, with Admirals Nagumo, Yamaguchi and Yamamoto plotting to defeat the Americans.

Midway is exactly the sort of movie I can’t stand – yet another tired war pic about a long-forgotten battle, filled with smarmy patriotism. But I went to the press screening, and guess what? I actually really liked Midway! Fantastic special effects, complex battles shown in an easy-to-follow way, good acting, and great characters. Japanese are portrayed respectfully, not as hokey villains, but without covering up their war crimes in Eastern China. Like The Irishman, women are there mainly to worry about their husbands. It’s two hours, twenty minutes long, but the thrills keep you staring, rapt, till it’s over. I’m sure a lot of critics are going to compare it (unfavourably) with Dunkirk, but to me Midway is more thrilling, less ponderous.

Midway and Last Christmas both start today in Toronto; check your local listings. And The Irishman is screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, also beginning today.

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

Hot Docs 2019! Films reviewed: Bellingcat, The Corporate Coup D’Etat, American Factory, One Child Family

Posted in 1980s, China, Clash of Cultures, Corruption, documentary, Economics, Journalism, Ohio, Politics, Unions by CulturalMining.com on April 26, 2019

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

Toronto’s Hot Docs International Documentary Festival is on now. These films tell us what will be news in a year or two, and goes behind the scenes of stories we only think we know about. Hot Docs is showing hundreds of documentaries from around the world, way more than I could ever talk about, but let me briefly tell you about a few I’ve seen that might interest you.

These capsule reviews are shorter than usual, but hopefully long enough for some of it to sink in. This week I’m exposing you to amateur journalists influencing world politics, multinational corporations taking over governments, foreign-owned factories replacing local ones, and government control reaching into women’s bodies.

Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World

Dir: Hans Pool

With the explosion of Photoshop, propaganda and fake news, how can we find the real truth? A new news source called Bellingcat offers an alternative. It is similar to Wikileaks but functions as an original news source, rather than a publisher of leaked documents. Founded by Eliot Higgins, a UK “vigilante journalist”, Bellingcat uses Open Source investigations to determine whether what we see on the news and online is what is really happening.

Composed of a network of digital news geeks spread across Europe (all men), Bellingcat’s investigations range from responsibility for the Malaysia Airline plane shot down over the Russia/Ukraine border, to a look into bombings in Syria, and identifying neo-nazi faces at the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville. Using an ingenious combination of satellite footage, snapchat images, and uncensored, online discussion groups of soldiers wives, they find convincing evidence that conventional journalists – and government propaganda – ignore. I would have loved to have seen more about Bellingcat’s investgations into malfeasance within its own country – not just about Russians – but their work is fascinating, valuable and so clever.

You can find Bellingcat’s most recent investigations here)

Moving on now from journalism to governments themselves…

The Corporate Coup D’Etat

Dir: Fred Peabody

Do we still live in democracies, imperfect though they may be? Or has there been a corporate coup d’etat, a virtual takeover of our government? Well this filmmaker says, at least in the United States, the answer is a resounding yes. Widespread incarceration, congressmen and senators with corporate ties, and the phenomenal number of paid lobbyists working in Washington. New laws with extreme libertarian views are often written in total not by politicians but by ALEC a private body associated with the Koch Brothers.

Talking heads include Chris Hedges, Cornel West, Maude Barlow, and John Ralston Saul — who coined the term corporate coup d’etat.

But it also takes us into the heart of the problems by talking with the people of Camden, NJ., a city allowed to decay, and Youngstown Ohio, a former engine of the steel industry, where some people switched their votes from Obama to Trump… not because they love him, but because everyone else had failed to rescue the steel industry, so why not try someone from “outside” the system? This is a great doc, filled both with smart pundits and unknown but unforgettable ordinary people who tell it like it is. Corporate Coup d’état is another politically astute doc from Fred Peabody (whom I interviewed about All Governments Lie in 2016).

Youngstown Ohio may look bleak but how are things in Dayton? The next doc looks at both sides of an…

American Factory

Dir: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

Dayton Ohio is the longtime home of Moraine, a major General Motors plant. But when it moved south, the burgeoning middle class started to collapse.

Enter Fuyao Auto Glass, a China-based multinational that manufactures windshields for a large percentage of the world’s cars. Formerly struggling workers with decades of factory experience are offered a new chance. The only problem is GM payed $29 an hour, Fuyao pays $12. Workers are flown in from China to “train” already skilled labourers in the company’s philosophy. Can formerly unionized factory workers adjust to an autocratic, and some say unsafe, shop? Or will they succeed in unionizing the plant? American Factory is great look at changes in a Midwest factory town. It talks to the people on the shop floor and in their homes. It also follows some American managers visiting the mother plant in China. And it speaks directly both to the American and Chinese workers and management (including the odd, billionaire owner) and the cultural roadblocks they meet on the way. Another great doc from Bognar and Reichert!

And finally, a highly personal doc set in China that exposes some dark secrets…

One Child Nation

Dir: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Nanfu Wang is a young American filmmaker, originally from Jiangxi, a desperately poor, landlocked province in southeast China. She was born in the 1980s right when the One Child Family policy comes into force. (It lasts officially until 2013.) It says city people can only have one child, but peasants can have a second child if their first one is a girl. Why? It’s simple economics: peasant families depend on their son to stay in the family home and provide for the parents in their old age. Girls move away once they marry.

But the film shows a dark side of this policy. Wang returns to her home village and finds evidence of parents abandoning baby girls to die, foetuses scattered in garbage dumps, and a trafficking ring that sold babies to orphanages to be adopted abroad. There are even cases where village chiefs dictated whether pregnant women must abort their foetuses. I don’t know how much of the film applies to a huge country with 1.4 billion people, but what the filmmaker uncovers in her own area really makes one wonder. One Child Nation is a heartfelt but disturbing documentary.

You can catch all of these films — One Child NationAmerican Factory, The Corporate Coup D’Etat, Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World — at Hotdocs over the next ten days. And remember, students and seniors can get in free to daytime screenings!

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

Politics. Films reviewed: Speaking is Difficult, The Measure of a Man

Posted in Cultural Mining, Death, documentary, Drama, Family, France, Guns, Movies, Unions by CulturalMining.com on April 15, 2016

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

Art, journalism and movies are discrete entities operating within self-sustaining universes that rarely cross paths. And in movies there are documentaries and there is entertainment. But with the rise of new media the lines between all of these are starting to blur. This week I’m taking a look at movies with political themes from France and the US. There’s an art-house drama about unemployment that reads like a documentary; and a documentary about mass shootings that looks like an art-house flick.

Speaking is difficultSpeaking is Difficult

Dir: A.J. Schnack

Picture a schoolyard on a sunny day. A quiet calm feeling. An American flag, the Stars and Stripes, ripples in the breeze. And then the sound of gunshots rings out. Screaming, chaos, panic, despair. A voice calls out for help. Now picture this scene repeated over and over again: short glimpses of scenic American, beautifully-composed, in three-second takes. Schools, strip malls, bridges and movie theatres. The Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Sandy Hook elementaryLPRy1BA-NQx_ZvYBmX7br8wrkFnwmol4dqtGO8weMdA,8mNaazTQopFo1B-c4HHLIiZ-PVN-w8EkueCuTyahCE0 school in Connecticut. A movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.

Dubbed over the top of this calming new footage are grainy tapes of 9-1-1 callers. On many of them you can hear the shots still firing in the background as people, including the caller, run for cover. And each 20-30 second sequence is silently labeled with where it took place and how many people were killed.

vEUU9xhVYlPfYLc6JXk5ndqFIbXZbPuTENuotMtRubMIt finishes with testimony before congress by Gabrielle Giffords who suffered a brain injury from one of these shootings. Speaking is difficult, she says. Indeed.

What the film never shows is the killers’ names (unlike the nightly news where “if it bleeds, it leads”). This is not an exploitation film meant to inspire copycat killers looking for their moment in the sun. Instead, it’s a visual memorial to the people who are killed in mass shootings in the United States. It happens every 78 days now, 2 ½ times more often than just 5 years ago.py66lGLvKV3YZo3-eTgTEGSYDfk8QjvHprIKFwxjGss

Speaking is Difficult is a powerful short film. It’s part of Field of Vision, a new online documentary channel that combines the news – ongoing and developing stories – with cinematic directors. Pretty pictures mixed with hard-hitting stories. It’s co-founded by Schnack, Charlotte Cook and Laura Poitras. She’s the director who brought us Citizenfour, that great documentary about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

All these films are free and available online on Field of Vision.

3l30Vr_1021_o3_8981736_1456939014The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché)

Dir: Stéphane Brizé

Thierry (Vincent Lindon) is a taciturn man in his sixties. He has worked as a tool-and-die machinist for many years in a unionized factory job. He lives with his wife (Karine de Mirbeck) and his son (Matthieu Schaller). They’ve nearly paid off the mortgage on their nice apartment and own a modern mobile home to spend August at the beach. They still go out dancing as a couple, and have a caregiver who helps Matthieu, who plans to study science in college, with his disability. It’s the French version of the American dream with pensions and medical care all taken care of. Thierry’s happy family can devote its time to studying, hobbies and relationships.

Then, all of the sudden the company– the place he’s worked for most of his life — suddenly fires him without cause. The union objects and files a grievance, but Thierry is left rudderless without income and with few prospects at his age. And he soon discovers the zmANYr_1022_o3_8981758_1456939032vaunted French welfare state is fraying around the edges. They pay him for retraining, but in a profession with no jobs. They send him to low-wage interviews with condescending employers who don’t want to hire him. His banker tells him to sell his home and casually tells him to buy life insurance instead – implying he’s near the end. His union reps tell him to keep on fighting against his former employer in solidarity and testify at an upcoming trial… but can’t give him money.

12646761_1503557836617013_1107269155603285307_oHis life is on a downward spiral, a race to the bottom. He finally gets a job in retail security, where he spies on customers with aerial cameras that zoon across the store’s ceiling. Treat every shopper as a potential shoplifter he’s told.  He watches customers and staff accused of theft brought behind glass mirrors and humiliated. He tells them to hand over the missing 5 euros or misused coupons 11393008_1444867815819349_6087641443678526007_oor suffer the consequences. But how long can Thierry be part of the system that ground him down?

The Measure of a Man is a realistic drama that feels like a documentary about the decline and fall of France’s working class. Except for Vincent Lindon, the entire cast is made up of non-actors, shot in real places not on a movie set. It’s heart-breaking in parts, but it still leaves you with a sense of hope about Thierry’s integrity and self worth. Lindon is fantastic in this film.

The Measure of a Man opens today in Toronto: check your local listings. And Speaking is Difficult just premiered on Field of Vision on theintercept.com.

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 Thorben Wieditz about Toronto’s movie industry, employment, and use of city space

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Politics, Toronto, Unions by CulturalMining.com on August 2, 2014

 

Thorben Wieditz photo © Daniel GarberToronto is a movie-loving city with over 80 film festivals each year. But it’s also a movie making hub, a creative centre with the motion picture industry as a major player in the urban creative economy. But what role does it play? How does it affect the design and development of a city like Toronto? Can it survive gentrification? And what is its effect on the city’s workforce?

A series of articles, to be published later this year, looks at these and other questions. It’s called Labour in the New Urban Economy and studies the cities of Toronto and New York and how they interact with their respective movie industries.

One of the studies’ authors is Thorben Wieditz, a PhD candidate in Environmental Studies at York University. His piece is titled Toronto’s Film Unions Struggle over Space: From Toronto Film Studios to Revival 629. Thorben is a graduate of the University of Dortmund, and is a teacher, writer and researcher in Toronto, who focusses on the local politics of re-negotiating the use of urban employment lands in this post-industrial city.

Here, Thorben talks about the movie industry, the 629 Eastern Ave Studio and how they affect our neighbourhoods, urban space, workers, and our economy. (Go to yorku.ca/city for more information.)

What is a piece of popcorn worth? Movies reviewed: Payback, Jeff, Who Lives at Home

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.

So did you hear about that poor guy in Michigan? Apparently he just wanted to go to a movie, but when he got into the theatre they literally held a gun to his head and forced him to buy a very expensive bag of popcorn! Literally! Can you believe it? …Oh — wait a sec. I’m wrong. Turns out he just didn’t think the price they were charging for popcorn and candy was fair. So he’s launching a class action suit.

Question: is it fair for movie theatres to charge 6 bucks for a bag of popcorn? Are moviegoers exploited and ripped off? Of course we are – everyone knows that, but we’re OK with it. Right? I mean you’re in that theatre paying to see Images projected on a screen — the ultimate deception.

If the candy’s too much then don’t buy it — they’ll get your money one way or another. I think popcorn is up there with the huge screens, surround-sound, velvet curtains, plush seats, grand lobbies and skeezy washrooms. It’s the movie experience. These seemingly random parts are all part of a larger coherent whole.

This week I’m reviewing two movies that look at fate, morality, destiny, and retribution. One is a documentary about things you must pay back, the other a comedy about paths you must follow.

Payback

Dir: Jennifer Baichwal

Two farmers, Llesh and Ilir live in northern Albania in a lush valley surrounded by grassy hills and snow topped mountains. A few years ago, when Ilir went to complain that Llesh was farming his land, there was a fight, and it may have involved Llesh’s wife… in any case Llesh pulled out a machine gun and shot Ilir in the gut a few times. He survived, but according to the 16th cenutry Albanian ethics code the Kanun, Llesh owes Ilir a debt. So Llesh and his family are poor now, trapped inside a shack and not able to farm.

This is just one of the many tangents this movie takes you on a look at debt – moral, ecological, monetary, and legal debt, — along with penitence, guilt, and retribution. They’re all very interesting stories – Latino tomato farmers in Florida fighting for fair treatment; a fisherman in the gulf enduring ruin after BP’s mishandled oil disaster; and a look at various Canadian prisoners – a petty burglar in Ontario, and Conrad Black (!) in Florida, both serving their time, repaying their debt to society. The documentary parts are alternated with talking heads — like Louise Barbour, Karen Armstrong, and Raj Patel — commenting on law, economics and religion.

This movie is sort of based on the Massey lectures Margaret Atwood gave a few years ago – a brilliant look at the words around lending, borrowing, owing and being owed. I say “sort of”, since it almost seems like one of those romantic thriller movies that say they were inspired by a true story. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentaries usually find a starting point and then, like a Stephen Leacock character, they fling themselves onto a horse and ride madly off in all directions.

Is this a problem? Not really, because even if they’re all over the place, the subjects she chooses are all interesting. And the movie is so visually rich (cinematography by Nicholas de Pencier) with images — from ceramic figures through a pawn shop window, to staggering, long aerial shots of the BP oil slick creeping across the Gulf of Mexico – that are as fascinating as any of the things people are saying.

I do get the feeling that Baichwal realizes it’s all over the place, so, to tie it all to Margaret Atwood’s book she adds long, literal scenes of Atwood hunt-and-pecking on her laptop, or Atwood reading from her manuscript. The talking head expertss are on screen too briefly to stick in the mind, except Conrad Black – who seems to have changed his mind about debt, retribution, and prisons.

In any case, Payback is a great visual riff.

Another movie that seems, superficially, to be about random drifting is

Jeff, Who lives at Home

Dir: the Duplass Brothers

(I reviewed this after seeing it at TIFF, but it held up very well this second viewing — I actually liked it better this time.)

Jeff (Jason Segel) is part of a dysfunctional family that fell apart when the father husband died years ago. Mom works in a lonely office cubicle, douchey Brother Pat (Ed Helms) sells paint and is destroying his marriage, and Jeff, who’s 30, still lives at home – sits around his mother’s basement in his underwear, to be exact. He smokes pot, eats chips, watches TV, and waxes philosophical about the cosmos… while sitting on a toilet. He’s always waiting for “signs” to tell him what to do., like in the Mel Gibson movie.

Well, one day he’s forced to leave home for downtown Baton Rouge to get something for his mother (Susan Sarandon)’s birthday. But, when someone on an infomercial says his life will change by the words “CALL NOW!”; and at the same time a strange, threatening wrong number wanted to talk to “Kevin”, he starts off on a (seemingly) wild goose chase all around the city.

So Jeff embarks on this grand mission – one that eventually ties in with his brother’s failing marriage and his mother’s love life — because he knows, he just knows, that his actions will change the world. Will Jeff find Kevin? Will Pat forget about Hooters and Porsche’s and think about his wife for once? And will Mom ever get to kiss under a waterfall?

This is a good, enjoyable comedy. I like the Duplass brothers, who used to make low-budget, ‘mumblecore”, semi-improvisational super-realistic movies. They have a few quirks – little camera emoticons – I don’t know how else to describe it – where the camera zooms in to nudge-nudge, wink-wink to the viewer that something funny is happening like a visual laughtrack– but the movie’s good enough that it doesn’t bother me after awhile. This one, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, is their biggest budget and most mainstream one so far, with stuntmen, and chase scenes, and big name cast. But I like this direction they’re taking – it’s not a sell-out, just a very funny, light comedy.

Payback and Jeff, Who Lives at Home both open today. And Margaret Atwood and Jennifer Baichwal will be there for a Q&A at the screenings on Friday and Saturday. Worth a trip just for that — Margaret Atwood is very entertaining. Also playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox are the fantastic Japanese animated films Spirited away and Princess Mononoke. And at the newly re-opened Bloor Cinema, look out for the daily HotDocs documentaries playing now. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

 

Many Main Characters. Movies Reviewed: Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service, Little White Lies, We Can Do That, Faster

Posted in Bad Movies, Canada, Class, comedy, documentary, Feminism, France, Italy, Japan, Mental Illness, Sex, Uncategorized, Unions, US, violence, Western by CulturalMining.com on November 25, 2010

A lot of traditional movies have one main character, a love interest, and possibly a rival. But there are other types of movies out there too. This week I’m going to look at some movies with many more main characters than you may be used to.

Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service

Dir: Maya Gallus

… is a documentary that takes a look at the food-service sector with all its contradictions and idiosyncrasies, and how this kind of work differs according to class, status, culture, and sex.

It addresses a lot of questions. Why is it that women working as waitresses might be thought of subservient? And why do they get paid less than their male counterparts? Why are the jobs for women mainly at low-end diners and restaurants, while male waiters dominate the very top tier of haute cuisine? And at which point and in what way does sexual perception enter these job?

This fast-moving documentary takes you on a journey from Ontario diners and truckstops, to “sexy” and topless restaurants in Quebec, and then to Parisian edifices of haute cuisine — an exclusive profession where women have barely made inroads — and to the very strange maid cafes of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where service becomes a ritualized image formerly only seen in Japanese anime.

It has some good quotes; like a male waiter explaining that women are too emotional or too physically weak to be a waiter… immediately followed by images of a low-end Paris waitress carrying heavy boxes of alcohol up narrow, twisting staircases. Also the endless bowing scene at a maid café has got to be seen to be believed.

Dish is a documentary done the way I think documentaries should be made (but usually aren’t). It documents people and events showing you what’s going on, without an intrusive narrator or voiceover telling you what’s going on. The filmmaker stays out of the picture and lets the many people she interviews tell the stories instead. It’s quick, punchy, funny, and a bit shocking at times, exposing the hypocrisies that we all live with.

Little White Lies / Les Petits Mouchoirs

Dir: Guillaume Canet

…is another movie with a big ensemble of characters who are spending time together in a summer home by the ocean. (Sort of like a French version of The Big Chill). They go there every year, sponsored by one of the friends, Max, who’s a successful restauranteur. The people he surrounds himself with have jobs like opera singer, actor, masseur… Superficially, they’re all good-looking, fun people who know how to party. They talk about ecology, fitness, new-age, music,

But there’s a shadow hanging over this summer; Ludo, one of the friends, has a terrible motorcycle accident, and is put in intensive care at a Parisian hospital. But the group decides to go to the beach anyway. Though all the arguments, practical jokes, and gossip are comic at first, they gradually intensify, as the people slip into a kind of despair. Past and present love affairs among the various friends (some of them are married and have kids) rear their ugly heads, and the little white lies of the title gradually reveal themselves.

This was a good, ensemble movie, clever, subtle, well-made. Still if you see it, be prepared for a 2 ½ hour long movie with lots of witty dialogue… but not so much action. It played at TIFF this year and I saw it this week at the EU Film Festival.

We Can Do That

Dir: Giulio Manfredonia

…is another enjoyable movie at the EU Festival, this one from Italy. It’s also a movie with lots of main characters. Nello (Claudio Bisio) is a trade union organizer, but he’s too market oriented for his union buddies, but too anti-corporate for his girlfriend who works for a big Milan designer. So he gets sent down to a co-operative whose members are all people kicked out when they closed down the mental hospitals in Italy in the late seventies/ early eighties. Nello soon meets this big group who are all kept on very heavy medication under the dictatorial doctor Del Vecchio. Some are developmentally handicapped, some autistic, others with emotional problems, or mental health issues.

They sit around all day, catatonic, stuffing envelopes. Nello soon discovers they’re not as clueless as they initially appear to be. As one character tells him: “We’re crazy, not stupid”. So Nello decides to apply union principles to the people in the co-op. He gets them to cut down there medicines, starts treating them like adults, and works with them to found a profit making buisines that will employ all the members and make them feel good about their success.

I know it sounds like one of those group movies like The Commitments or The Full Monty — and actually it is — but it also has lots of quirky and interesting characters, good melodramatic plot turns, and lots of funny parts, too. This reviewer also liked seeing it because I’ve been told by three different strangers that I look like an Italian actor in this movie — Giovanni Calcagno. OK, he plays Luca, the violent, emotionally disturbed bricklayer who rarely speaks, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, so I’ll take it as a compliment.

You should also check out the German movie, Storm, playing this Saturday afternoon, preceded by a panel discussion on Bosnian war crimes.

Faster

Dir: George Tillman, Jr.

…is a contemporary reboot of those old 1960’s spaghetti westerns with not one, but three very similar main characters. Driver (played by Dwayne Johnson – once known as “The Rock”) is the strong, silent type, a released prisoner who decides he has to kill all the people who shot his brother. Then there’s the detective (played by the worthless Billy Bob Thorton in a bad wig) who has to catch him. And then there’s a pretty-boy millionaire assassin who has to kill Dwayne Johnston. So they drive around in the desert shooting at each other. The end.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. You have to sit through the whole thing. The title, Faster, refers to who is the fastest draw. Who’s going to out shoot the other two? But it’s not a fast action movie. It’s a slo-mo action movie. With spent bullet cartridges sloooooowly falling falling to the ground (clink clink clink.) Every time Driver gets in his car, it revs and the tires screech. Every time. There’s a chase scene where one of the cars ride in reverse. Fun? Wow… This movie is just awful. Its supposed to be an action movie, but the only word that kept bouncing around my mind, was Faster, faster, please… make this movie go faster! It’s boring and blah.

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