Movies with Kids vs Kids’ Movies. Films Reviewed: Oculus, Loubia Hamra (Bloody Beans), Anina

Posted in Animation, Art, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Dreams, Experimental Film, Family, France, Horror, Images Festival, Uruguay, War by CulturalMining.com on April 12, 2014

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

Lots of movies use kids. Some try for a young audience, others have young characters. And the two types don’t necessarily overlap. This week I’m looking at three movies: a chiller-thriller about two kids and a haunted mirror they can’t escape; an art film with kids reenacting the Algerian War; and an animated film from Uruguay about a girl with an envelope she can’t open.

VVS_Oculus_PosterOculus
Dir: Mike Flanagan

Kaylie and Tim (Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites) are sister and brother. Kaylie is a decisive, take-charge kind of girl with long red hair like her mother. Tim is brown haired like his dad. A decade earlier, something violent and terrible happened in their home. And by the time it was over, they were orphans. They locked up 10-year-old Tim in a mental hospital. Now, they declare, he’s all cured. No more of that childish nonsense he used to spout – about voices and mind-control and a demon who lives inside a mirror. He’s a responsible adult now, ready to live in the real world. (Like a babe in the woods.)

Except… what’s the first thing big sister Kaylie does? She drags him back to the JE3_7854.NEFhouse where it all happened, and says – we’re gonna get that demon – the one in the mirror – and kill her!

Apparently that antique mirror has been spawning grisly murders for centuries. It possesses all it encounters and muddles their thoughts until they can’t tell illusion from reality. So Kaylie has rigged up a complicated system, involving cameras, computer JE3_2064.NEFscreens, alarm clocks, and a lethal-looking blade that’s always poised to smash the mirror.

The return home triggers strong memories in Tim’s mind – he begins to relive the old days alongside the recent events. Are Tim and Kaylie strong enough to resist the demon’s illusions?

This is a good, scary movie with the two stories – now and flashbacks – unfolding side-by-side, and occasionally overlapping. Parts feel hackneyed, but the two sets of actors (in their teens and twenties) are totally convincing.

Suitable for children? Only if they can handle extreme violence, gore and nightmarish horror.

bloody beans.phpLoubia Hamra (Bloody Beans)
Dir: Narimane Mari

It’s Algeria. Boys dressed in stylish shorts and silk neckties are playing on the beach. They swim in the ocean, float on beached tires and lie in the sun. Until one of them farts.

You fart like an Frenchman! they shout. It’s those bloody beans — loubia make you fart. So they raid the picnic basket the girls brought. The girls warn them there are soldiers on the streets: war is coming.

(Context: Algeria is a north African country, once colonized by its neighbour across the Mediterranean. France annexed it and hundreds of thousands of Europeans settled there. A War of Independence broke out in the 1950s. The Algerian War was notorious for the violence, torture, and cruelty used by both the French military and the FLN revolutionaries. A third group, the OAS –  French extremist-nationalists who refused to leave Algeria – terrorized both the French and the Algerians.)

So the revolutionary boys and girls who want more than just beans to eat set out along the beach, just as the sun sets. bloody beans images festivalThey don wigs, scarves, masks and capes. They paint their faces and bodies with drawings and fake beards. At a French monastery they gaze at the statues, fillagries and icons. They fight an evil man in a pigs mask, and make friends with a French soldier who was drafted to serve. And they project their shadows against a white washed building, making animal noises.

Bloody Beans is a beautiful and strange reenactment, 50 years after the end of the Algerian war. It includes lots of subtle details: women fighting alongside men, the colonial division between the French haves and the Algerian have-nots, and the violence and torture on both sides. It ends with a floating recitation in the ocean, with the boys and girls repeatedly asking: is it better to be than to obey? (Vaut-il mieux etre que d’obeir?).

This complex film is a work of art that uses video as the canvas, kids as the paint.

anina_06_medium tiff kidsAnina
Dir: Alfredo Soderguit (Uruguay)

Anina Yatay Salas is a girl with wild, red hair and a triple-barreled name. Her dad loves the symmetry of her palindromes, words where the head matches the tail. And each day Anina looks at her bus ticket to see if its number is a palindrome like her.

One day, on the school playground she bumps into blonde Yisel, sending her sandwich flying through the air and down a drain. This starts a big fight. Anina calls Yisel, a big girl, “the elephant”.anina_05_medium TIFF kids Yisel makes fun of Anina’s palindromic names.

Their punishment? The principal gives them both mysterious black envelopes, closed with red sealing wax. They have to keep it safe and unopened for a week. Will this strange punishment teach them a lesson?

Anina is a very simple film, but it looks amazing. It’s an animated cartoon in a dusty and smudgy, retro style. It’s filled with fascinating details that shout Uruguay: eggs wrapped in paper, strange fried foods, kids wearing white smocks to school. At the same time, its buses, classrooms, and playgrounds look just like here.

anina_04_medium TIFF kidsBut the movie is at its best when Anina’s imagination takes over: her bus turns into a riverboat, she gets lost in an imaginary hedge maze. And there’s a fantastic nightmare sequence where the Principal and a mean teacher morph into a ghostly judge and jury – ready to punish her for what she did to her black envelope.

Anina is clearly a kids’ movie but everyone can appreciate its amazing look.

Oculus opens today in Toronto, check your local listings; Anina is part of the TIFF Kids film festival, on now (tiff.net), and Bloody Beans is playing April 14th at Toronto’s Images festival of moving art (imagesfestival.com).

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

Love, Romance and Passion. Movies reviewed: Trishna, My First Wedding PLUS Burlesque Assassins

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.

In the heat of the night, Toronto has been boiling over with record hot temperatures and high tempers, tragic shootings and a bizarre machete mugging.

But hot nights can also lead to steamy romance, passion and ultimately to love. So this week I’m looking at two movies that deal with romance. One’s about a wedding that might lead to disaster; another where the lack of a wedding might ruin the relationship.

Trishna

Dir: Michael Winterbottom

Jay (Riz Ahmed) is a confident Oxbridge toff touring India with his buddies. But when they see a young woman performing a dance at their hotel in Rajasthan Jay is smitten and decides to pursue her. And the dancer Trishna (Freida Pinto), notices him too — clearly the feelings are mutual. Jay’s father owns a palatial hotel in Jaipur, and since Trishna’s father’s accident (he was the jeep driver for the travelling Jay and his friends), her extended family has no income. So she takes him up on his offer and goes to work for the hotel, and study at the local college. All’s going well until she is accosted by some tuffs, rescued by her white knight Jay on a motorcycle and then taken back to the hotel, where they succomb to passion. But by the next morning she feels ashamed and what happens and flees home.

If this all feels like a Victorian novel, that’s because it is: it’s an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but set in modern-day India. Scooters instead of horses, jeeps instead of stagecoaches, but class is still the big divider. Trishna comes from a poor family, and although given a taste of the high life — a Bombay apartment as Jay dabbles as a Bollywood producer, or in Jaipur at the posh hotel — there’s a clear difference between Jay’s status and hers. He moodily shifts from boyfriend to employer, and the dynamics of their relationship also changes. He says in the Kama Sutra there are three types of women you can sleep with: a sophisticated woman, a servant or a courtesan. He doesn’t mention wife. Trishna wonders which one she is. There relationship could be a passing fancy for him, but for a disenfranchised woman it’s all she’s got.

Trishna is a very moving and realistic romantic drama, partly scripted, partly improvised — almost documentary like. Pinto and Ahmed are both great as the lovers, and the director, Michael Winterbottom is as experimental and surprising as ever. His movies range from 24 Hour Party People to A Cock and Bull Story (a comic adaptation of another British novel — in this case Sterne’s Tristram Shandy)

While he has no specific style – his style can change drastically from film to film — Winterbottom’s always an interesting director who constantly expands the boundaries of what you can call a movie. Trishna follows a traditional story, but by shifting the culture and language from 19th century England to 21st century India Winterbottom can take the age old story of poor girl meets rich boy and turn it into an entirely new type of film.

My First Wedding

Dir: Ariel Winograd

Adrian and Leonora are a happy couple, dressed up and ready for their country club wedding outside Buenos Aries. The wedding planner is organizing everything, family and friends are all arriving, and a rabbi and a priest are being driven out there to officiate. Adrian (Daniel Hendler) is Jewish, while Leo (Natalia Oreiro) is Catholic. But as they separately rehearse their wedding vows, Adrian panics when he loses Leo’s wedding band. She’ll kill him if she finds out. so, to postpone the wedding, he must send the Priest and Rabbi off on a wild goose chase, hide the truth from his bride, and find the ring (with help from cousin Fede).

The wedding planner recommends they go through the wedding in reverse order — party, dine, drink, and dance… and say the vows at the end instead of the beginning. Sort of an upside down wedding. But things get even more complicated. Leo’s snobbish mother, herself divorced, is disappointed in her choice, Adrian’s family are all quarrelling, his grandfather wants to smoke pot, and past lovers — Leo’s former professor, the dashing Miguel Angel (Imanol Arias); and Adrian’s second cousin who still likes him — all seem to be working hard to ruin the wedding. Angel announces that marriages are like cities under seige: everyone inside wants to get out, while everyone outside is trying to get in. With the divorces and collapsing relationships all around them, the title (My First Wedding) begins to make sense.

This is a funny, classic screwball comedy about what can go wrong at a wedding. The two leads are great as is the very large supporting cast. It’s a light enjoyable rom-com from Argentina, told from the groom’s perspective.

Trishna and My First Wedding both open today in Toronto, check your local listings. Also playing tonight (at the Bloor Cinema) is a neo-burlesque, cabaret style movie called Burlesque Assassins (directed by Jonathan Joffe), about some killer spies (with names like Roxi D’lite) who double as cold-war exotic dancers as they travel the globe to catch the villains. Lots of guns, 1950’s uniforms, and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at. Also on this weekend is the documentary “They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” about Burma and its people. It’s showing free at the East Gallery, just across the street from the AGO on Dundas.

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.

 

History, Geography, Language TJFF 2011 Films Reviewed Acne, Jewish Girl in Shanghai, Names of Love, Between Two Worlds,Little Rose PLUS Meek’s Cutoff, Modra

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

Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival, is on now and continues through the weekend. This is the first year I’ve attended their movies, my curiosity sparked by the fact they programmed Fritz the Cat last year.

This year, the festival is featuring an extensive series of films and documentaries about the three Lennies: composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, Montreal musician and writer Leonard Cohen, and comedian Lenny Bruce. But what I find really interesting were the rest of the movies programmed. There is a diversity to them – in geography, history, language and politics – that’s refreshing.

So today I’m going to talk about a few of the fascinating and very good films at this year’s festival. Plus I’ll review a western like no other.

Little Rosa (Rózyczka)
Dir: Jan Kidawa-Blonski

Rozek (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a hardboiled intelligence agent working for the Polish government in 1967. He’s always up for a hard drink or a fistfight. But he’s spotted having a passionate sexual liaison with a beautiful young woman. Word is sent to his department that there is to be a purge of crackdown on Jews or suspected Jews throughout Poland, following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. He’s assigned to bring down a mark, Adam, a prominent writer and intellectual in his 60’s. Although his name is Polish sounding, they suspect his father had a Jewish-sounding name.

Rozek assigns his naïve lover, Kamila (Magdalena Boczarska), now with the code name “Rozsczka” (Little Rose), to get close to Adam and report back anything that could be taken as Jewish, anti-governmental, conspiratorial, or Zionist. But even as she writes the reports, her feelings for Adam grow, as does her anger at Rozek for pimping her out.

As she grows even closer to Adam (Andrzej Seweryn), the three sides of the unwitting love triangle in this historical dramatic thriller come to an inevitable explosion during a time of European unrest, youth demonstrations, nationalist sentiment, and a government crackdown. This is an intriguing, visually sophisticated, story full of surprising secrets, chronicaling unexpected changes in Poland in the sixties.

Acné
Dir: Federico Veiroj

In this cute, low budget film from Montevideo, Rafael (Alejandro Tocar), a 13 year old, pimple-faced boy has a crush on a girl. But he has yet to approach her, tell her what he feels, never mind kiss her. And he’s totally at a loss of what to do, sexually with a girl – he’s 13, remember. This is where it gets… interesting. Apparently, in this insular Uruguayan -Jewish community, it is customary to introduce boys to manhood by hiring a tutor – a prostitute – to initiate him into the adult world. Will he ever talk to the girl of his dreams? And where will he go now? Acne gives a fascinating glimpse of everyday urban life in a world I’d never even heard of before this movie.

Next, an animated film – from another distinctly different area; this time — China!

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai
Dir: Wang Genfa

Ah Gen, a boy who works for a street vendor who fries big pancakes meets a starving and pennyless, red-haired girl with almond-shaped eyes, Rina, on the streets of Shanghai. Rina’s a refugee from Nazi Germany, but is living in Shanghai with just her little brother. She doesn’t know what happened to her parents, but remembers them by playing a song her violinist mother wrote.

The movie shows the two friends’ adventures set in wartime Shanghai, when Europeans – including a sizeable Jewish community – a very large Japanese population, and local Chinese people all lived together in that cosmopolitan city. Tough Ah Gen has to deal with Japanese street thugs and soldiers, and corrupt Chinese collaborators and his own family difficulties; while pretty Rina must survive, play her violin, reunite her family and find out what became of her parents.

This is a fully animated film, similar to Japanese anime, aimed mainly at kids and teenagers and lovers of anime. It’s very interesting to see a Chinese view of the Jews of Shanghai and references to the holocaust. So Rina’s European memories resemble Heidi in the alps, Japanese bullies wear kimono and speak broken Chinese, and an erhu player finds common ground with a violinist. Violence is portrayed very differently than in western animated cartoons, sometimes as broad slapstick.

This movie is the first Chinese depiction I’ve ever seen of European kids interacting with Chinese kids in pre-1949 Shanghai. It gives a whole new perspective to Tintin’s The Blue Lotus, and JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun.

This movie is in Chinese with subtitles, and is suitable for children.

Names of Love (Le Nom des Gens)
Dir: Michel Leclerc

Bahia (Sara Forestier) is a beautiful young, brash and lively, left-wing feminist, who enjoys using her sexuality to bring right-wingers to her side of the fence. She says she always goes to bed on the first date. But she meets her opposite in the dry-as-toast Arthur Martin (who shares his name with a ubiquitous, mundane line of cookware), a vet who only deals with dead birds. He is as bland and reserved as she is open, but, somehow, they end up together.

They are both assimilated French people of mixed background – she has a Muslim Algerian father, and a radical leftist, while his mother, who never talks about her past — was a Jewish girl hidden in a convent during the war, and with an extremely uptight father. My description of the characters in this romantic comedy don’t do justice to the humour and subtlety of this very charming movie. It’s clever use of memory has Arthur’s teenage self, as well as his imagined grandparents whom he’d never met appearing on the screen beside him to offer coments on what he’s doing wrong. While Bahia’s overt sexuality and indifference to her own nudity (with breasts casually falling out, here or there) is sometimes taken to an extreme degree – this is a French comedy after all – the home of gratuitous nudity only for it’s female roles — her character is very sweet and interesting and transcends the usual gags and situations.

Will the two of them ever find common ground? Are their politics really opposed? And can their families approve?

This is a great movie –the  Canadian premier – and you should try to see it.

Between Two Worlds
Dir: Debora Kaufman and Alan Snitow
(World Premier)

The founders of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival are pleased that they have inspired similar festivals across the continent, and says Kaufman, many people consider ot “one of their favourite Jewish holidays”. But in recent years, due to some controversial programming, the festival itself was embroiled in extremely divisive and politically mired fights, between left and right-wing Jewish groups and individuals.

To address this, they have made a personal documentary, about these issues and  the seemingly intractable divisions within their own families. The issues discussed in the film — including the positioning of the Holocaust in present-day issues; religious identity, right and left wing viewpoints, censorship, lobbying, and boycotts from both sides; and the Israel/Palestine issue – give air time to advocates and activists from the various viewpoints, even when the differences seem unbridgeable.

They also bring in some fascinating personal details from the filmmakers’ own lives, including a religious divide within a family where somehow a secular, rightwing Jewish patriarch ended up with religious, Muslim grandchildren.

This is being shown on Sunday followed by a panel discussion moderated by the CBC’s Michael Enright. It should be very interesting.

Meek’s Cutoff
Dir: Kelly Reichardt

This is a western set in 1845, when a group of families head west in a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. But when they reach an anknown area, they hire a grizzled guide named Meek (Bruce Greenwood), to take them through a shortcut in Indian territory. With nothing to read but a bible, or listen to Meek’s stories, this diverse eastern group moving west falls into disarray as things start to go wrong. On the way, they capture a native man who speaks no English, whom they tie up and take with them. They eventually reach an agreement – without water they’ll die of thirst, and Meek doesn’t seem to be any help. The men are old, sick, or unstable, so it’s up to the women – especially Emily (excellently played by Michelle Williams) to do all the work and make all the crucial decisions.

Like the movie Days of Heaven, it’s a beautiful spare movie showing realistic daily life, rather than the dramatic hollywood-style glamorous
depiction of life in the old west. Nothing glamorous here. But it’s a very good western-slash-art film with a new perspective on the west. Great movie.

Also playing this weekend for one show only at the Royal is

Modra
Dir: Ingrid Veninger

a touching, light, hyper-realist drama, starring non-actors, about a girl who travels from Toronto to Slovakia to visit her relatives there, with a classmate pretending to her boyfriend. I enjoyed this Canadian movie at last year’s TIFF.

Most of the movies I reviewed will be playing this weekend, so be sure to come see some unusually good movies. The Toronto Jewish Flm Festival runs until May 15th, downtown, and up north in North York, and in Richmond Hill. Check on line at tjff.ca . And Meek’s Cutoff is showing once only this weekend at the Light Box – you should try to see them on the big screen while you can.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining.com.

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