Good genres. Films reviewed: Ishtar, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Hereditary

Posted in 1980s, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Family, Horror, Japan, Movies, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com.

As I frequently say, don’t confuse highbrow cinema with good movies, and genre films with bad movies. Good and bad exist in both worlds. This week I’m looking at three entertaining, genre movies: a comedy thriller, a horror movie and a horror/comedy. We’ve got lounge singers in a hotel in war-torn North Africa, a singles retreat in a hotel run by vampires, and a family living in a dollhouse-like home… that might be haunted.

Ishtar (1987)

Wri/Dir: Elaine May

Lyle Rogers (Warren Beatty) is a gullible rube from the sticks; while Chuck Clarke (Dustin Hoffman) is a fast-talking pickup artist from Queens. Together they’re Rogers and Clarke a musical duo of singer-songwriters in New York. They think they’re going to be the next Lennon and McCartney or Simon and Garfunkel, but they are missing one key element: talent! Needless to say, they’re going nowhere fast. Their savings are gone, and their girlfriends have left them, and their agent is far from helpful. But he does have a gig for them at a hotel in Morocco. Sounds good! So they fly, off via the remote (fictional) kingdom of Ishtar.

But Ishtar is on the brink of revolution. And an ancient map that a local archaeologists has just found is the only spark needed to light that fire. Lyle and Chuck are clueless, of course, and just want to perform their act. But the hapless Americans are quickly drawn into this intrigue.

There’s a shifty American CIA agent (Charles Grodin) who convinces Chuck he can help their career; and a fiery revolutionary named Shirra (Isabelle Adjani) disguised as a young man who seduces Lyle to get him to help her cause. Will Rogers and Clarke split up? As fate would have it they end up in a camel caravan in the Sahara desert, pursued by militants, mercenaries, gun runners, nomads and US bombers, all convinced they have that crucial map.

When Ishtar came out in 1987 it was a collasal flop with many critics calling it the worst movie ever made. I disagree. I finally watched it and I think it’s a hoot. It’s funny and politically astute; when was the last mainstream comedy you saw with the CIA and US military as the bad guys? OK, its cultural impressions are rather obtuse, but it’s making fun of the American characters’ disguises not the locals. And it takes place before the “regime change” wars yet to come.

More than that, here are Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman — former icons — making fun of the whole generation of baby boomers, saying how did they all end up so uncool? Even their improvisational songs are bad-funny. If you’re yearning to see a forgotten piece of 80s culture, check out Ishtar.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel

Wri/Dir: Sion Sono

It’s 2022 in Tokyo, Japan, and something big is about to happen. Manami (Tomite Ami) can feel it. She’s about to turn 22 and is having strange thoughts. Like buzzing away at her hair until she looks like Eleven on Stranger Things. But when she witnesses a mass shooting inside a restaurant that kills everyone but her she really freaks. She barely escapes and owes her life to a mysterious woman named K (Kaho). That’s when Manami discovers the killings were committed by rival gangs searching for her. She is crucial to their plans, but she doesn’t know why.

Meanwhile, a major Tokyo hotel has invited singles to a special event – a dating weekend for coupling up. What the guests don’t know is the hotel is run by vampires. And they’re the main course. Add a rivalry between two vampire lineages, the Draculs and the Corvins, fighting for power; a Transylvania/Japan connection, and a Prime Minister who might destroy the world, and there you have it: a bloody, non-stop battle royale fought by rival vampires and hotel guests in a Tokyo hotel.

If you think that’s a lot of plot for one movie, you’re right. It’s actually a condensed version of a TV series, edited to fit into a single film. There are love affairs, Romanian castles, hidden rivers, a female killer dressed in pink, and sinister royal matriarchs, one of whom runs a secret world of blood orgies involving thousands of slaves… hidden inside her vagina! Tokyo Vampire Hotel isn’t for everyone, but I found it shocking, disgusting, sexy and hilarious.

Director Sion Sono is one of my favourite Japanese directors, a master schlockmeister unmatched when it comes to rivers of blood. Every frame uses saturated colours, and lightning-fast editing.

He treats blood as an art form, spilling it everywhere in a grotesquely beautiful way.

Heriditary

Wri/Dir: Ari Aster

Annie and Steve (Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne) are a happy middle aged couple with two kids. Peter (Alex Wolff) is a pothead in high school crushing on a girl from class. Charlie (MIllly Shapiro) is younger and a bit tetched in the head. She draws strange pictures and puts scraps of wood and metal together to make little dolls. She must have got that from her mom, an artist, who builds intricate doll houses that recreate important aspects of her own family’s lives. They live in a beautiful if isolated wooden home filled with her doll houses.

But ever since Annie’s own mother died, strange things keep happening in her house. Things like doors opening by themselves, and nonsense words found scrawled on walls. Charlie wanders off when she should be at home, Peter awakens from hideous nightmares, and mom finds herself sleepwalking holding a knife in a fugue state. What can it all mean? But when decapitated birds lead to human deaths, Annie feels she has to stop this. But what is she fighting aganst? And is she too late?

Hereditary is a chilling thriller/horror, beautifully made. You’re never quite sure if your watching Peter’s pot-fueled nightmares, Annie’s sleepwalking visions, life inside her intricate dollhouse dioramas, or real life. And by “real life” I mean supernatural goings on.

Scene changes are so skillfully done, it shifts seamlessly through these conflicting realities. This is director Ari Aster’s first feature but the acting, art direction and camera work turns a conventional story into a remarkable film.

Great movie.

Hereditary opens today in Toronto; Ishtar is at TIFF Cinematheque as part of Funny Girl: The Films of Elaine May; and Tokyo Vampire Club is playing at Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival.

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

Caught up. Movies Reviewed: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Leviathan

Posted in Corruption, Cultural Mining, Farsi, Movies, Russia, Uncategorized, Vampires, Yakuza, 日本电影, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2015

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

There aren’t many blockbusters released in January, so it’s a good time to catch up on less commercial films. So this week I’m looking at movies about people caught in a bad place: an art-house indie horror,  an over-the-top comedy/horror/musical, and a serious drama.  There’s an Iranian guy caught between a drug dealer and a vampire, a Japanese filmmaker caught between rival yakuza gangs, and a Russian caught by corrupt politicans.

A_Girl_6A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Dir: Ana Lily Amirpour

Bad City is a place for lost souls. It’s a desert town filled with oil rigs and refineries, separated from the rest of the world by a row of distant mountains. The streets are deserted except for a few people. Arash (Arash Marandi) is a Persian James Dean, who works as a gardener at a rich woman’s mansion. And at home he takes care of his dad, Hossain. Hossein (Marshall Mannesh) is depressed and slowly committing suicide by using drugs. Then there’s the track-suited, A_Girl_2tattooed drug dealer and all-around asshole; the sex worker who peddles her wares in dark alleys, and a little kid with a skateboard who observes it all. And finally there’s a girl who walks home alone at night (Sheila Vand).

A_Girl_1The girl – who is kept nameless – wears the conservative Iranian chador – an outfit that covers her head and body in an unbroken shroud. But hidden underneath the chador she’s like Marjane Satrapi in the graphic novel Persepolis, with black eye liner and a striped French jersey. She dances to Emo dirges at home, and only ventures outside at night to wander the dark streets… and look for human blood to drink. She’s a vampire.

Arash owns nothing but his treasured sports car and loses that to the thug. But due to a strange turn of events he suddenly finds himself A_Girl_4surrounded by money, power and drugs. He ends up at a costume party dressed in the cape and collar of Dracula. And in an ecstasy-induced haze he encounters the nameless girl who walks home alone at night. Is it true love? Or will she eat him?

This is a cool — though somewhat opaque — indie film, shot in beautiful black and white. It’s filled with sex, drugs, rock and roll – all in farsi. It takes place in a limbo world caught somewhere between the American Southwest and Iranian oil fields. It’s a slow moving mood piece, like Jim Jarmusch directing a Becket play, but from a feminine perspective. Interesting movie.

47_jigoku_sub3_5MBWhy Don’t You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い)
Dir: Sono Sion

A team of aspiring college film geeks called the “F*ck Bombers” vow to make a real movie, starring one of their own – a Bruce Lee lookalike. But 10 years pass and still no luck. Meanwhile, two rival yakuza gangs are in a permanent state of war. The Muto gang dress in Godfather suits and carry guns, while the Ikegami gang wear classic kimono, armed with genuine Samurai swords.

Teenaged Mitsuko – the daughter of the Muto gang boss — is famous 49_jigoku_sub5_5MBfor a jingle she sang as a child on a TV toothpaste ad. And the Ikegami boss still has a deeply-buried crush on her (they met in a bloodbath 10 years earlier). Her yakuza dad is bankrolling a film starring his reluctant daughter. But things start to unravel when the famous director quits in disgust. Who can make a movie produced by organized criminals? Especially when a gang war is about to erupt. Confusion, violence and mayhem ensues.

46_jigoku_sub2_5MBIn walks the Movie Club members to the rescue… maybe they could take over the movie? But would rival gangs ever agree to let film geeks record a bloody and violent showdown on 35 mm film… as it happens?

My bare-bones description does not do justice to this fantastic musical45_jigoku_sub1_3M comedy – including an unbelievably blood-drenched, 30-minute-long battle scene. It has to be seen to be believed, and the film is finally opening on the big screen in Toronto. Sono Sion is one of my favourite Japanese directors. His movies are outrageous and shockingly violent but also amazingly sentimental, earnest and goofy at the same time: an odd, but oddly pleasing combination.

05ff2dc3-382c-446d-93f1-6646a6b29db8Leviathan
Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) is a mechanic who lives in northern Russia by the sea. His family has lived there for three generations and Kolya built his home with his own two hands. His son Roma is a bit spoiled but doing OK at school, and his beautiful second wife works at the fish cannery. Their marriage is going well.

But there’s trouble at City Hall. They want to seize his house and land6002bf07-aaaf-4f30-8420-9d038fba9d3f to build something… municipal. Kolya is furious and he’s not going to take this lying down. He’s a real hothead. He’s sure the Mayor is up to no good – just wants to build himself a mansion. So Kolya calls his army buddy in Moscow to give him a hand. Dima (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) is a lawyer. He comes to town fully loaded with files on the very corrupt mayor Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileVadim. The man has “blood on his hands” he says, and he has the documents to prove it. This should stop the mayor in his tracks.

So things are looking up. The trial looks promising, and if not, he can always file an appeal. And there’s a picnic and shooting party to look forward to. A local cop has invited the whole gang, family and friends, to head out to the cliffs to shoot a few bottles with their rifles and AK47s. And boy do these guys have a lot of empty vodka bottles to 2e8da8fe-7cf4-40ce-a66f-5252e16ad79dshoot!

Meanwhile Vadim, the criminal mayor (Roman Madyanov) is plotting Kolya’s downfall. He’s an incredibly arrogant, abusive and greedy politician, a raging alcoholic, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has the judges, the police, even the local church on his side. This sets off a series of unforeseen events that turn Kolya’s life into a Jobean ordeal of despair.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF FileLeviathan is a fantastic movie, a slice-of-life look at modern Russia. Breathtaking, stark scenery, really great acting. But it’s also a devastating indictment of corruption and how it affects regular people there. The story starts slow, but gradually grows, driving toward an unexpectedly powerful finish. It’s also relevant: It’s nominated for an Oscar – best foreign film – but just last week Russia’s Culture Ministry threatened to censor this movie. That would be a real shame, because it’s a great film.

Leviathan, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, and a Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all open today in Toronto: check your local listings. Also opening is Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore as a professor with early-onset Alzheimers – I’ll talk about this next week – and the 50 Year Argument, a documentary about the New York Review of Books.

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

Peter Pan Syndrome. Movies Reviewed: Whiplash, Laggies, What We Do in the Shadows PLUS ImagineNATIVE

Posted in comedy, Cultural Mining, Indigenous, Movies, Music, New Zealand, Supernatural, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on October 23, 2014

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

ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival started with a blast on Wednesday night. Two women read aloud the Sami Declaration of Indigenous Cinema. It declares that the oral tradition of native cultures must be preserved through storytelling on the screen. That sums up what this festival brings us – international views and culture, respecting the indigenous creators.

This week, I’m looking at three very different, but very good movies. There’s a thrilling drama about a young musician who won’t give up; a comedy about a woman who won’t grow up; and a mockumentary from New Zealand about vampires who won’t grow old.

Whiplash-5547.cr2Whiplash
Dir: Damien Chazelle

Andrew (Miles Teller) is a 19-year-old music student. Pale-cheeked and dark haired, he lives in a New York City apartment with his single father (Paul Reiser). He plays the drums with a driven passion, and he’s just starting at a prestigious music conservatory. He finds an unused drum set in a dusty school room and plunges right in. Drummer’s heaven. And who walks by and hears him but Fletcher (JK Simmonds). He’s a bald, acerbic music teacher who is also the head of the school’s elite, prize-winning jazz band. And he pulls Andrew out of Whiplash-2598.cr2class to audition for the band. This is rare, since the band members are much older and more accomplished.

He realizes something big is happening – his talent is finally being recognized! His life is going great, and he even gets the confidence to ask a girl he sees at the local rep cinema on a date.

But, what he doesn’t know is that Fletcher is also a perfectionist who demands top Whiplash-3326.cr2performances from his players, even during rehearsal times. That’s good, right? No! Fletcher is a cruel and twisted megalomaniac, who loves nothing more than driving his music students to tears. Every position in the band is tenuous, at best, subject to Fletchers’ whims. Now you’re in, now you’re out. And he elevates the importance of the band to mythic proportions.

Andrew soon realizes that he has to devote every waking moment of his life to reaching absolute, synchonistic perfection in his drumming if he wants to stay in the band. And Fletcher seems to have singled him out as the victim he can elevate Whiplash-5301.cr2and then crush. Who will triumph in this battle of minds? Sensitive young Andrew? Or the fascistic Fletcher?

Whiplash is a fantastic and tense thrilling movie. Director Chazelle manages to portray a music academy as a boot camp or a boxing match. Andrew’s not a musician but an athlete, and one who drums until he bleeds. Miles Teller as the kid and JK Simmonds (Law & Order) as the teacher perfectly play the two sides of this violent duet. The acting, the passion and the relentless tension in this movie is just incredible… you gotta see it. Whiplash was the first movie I saw at press previews at TIFF back in August and and it became the standard against which I measured every movie after it.

g5xVwr__laggies_01_o3_8301300__8301300__1407811900-1Laggies
Dir: Lynn Shelton

Megan (Keira Knightly) is a happily unmarried slacker in her late twenties. OK, her post-graduate school career hasn’t exactly taken off, but she still has her loving dad, her high school friends and Anthony, the longtime boyfriend she lives with. But at a wedding, she discovers maybe her Dad’s not so great, and her best friends aren’t. And when Anthony proposes marriage (and a quicky wedding in Las Vegas) Megan panics. She flees the wedding.

She ends up hanging with some teenagers she meets at a strip mall liquor store. She identifies with them, especially Annika (Chloe Grace Moritz). She was like her in high school…. Which wasn’t that long ago. They become friends. And this new friendship also gives her a chance to get away from her own life. She secretly movesMjEmRm__laggies_03_o3_8301367__8301367__1407811900 in with her new best bud for an extended sleepover party. But Craig, Annika’s single dad (Sam Rockwell) discovers his daughter’s new best friend… is a grown up. They have a long talk. Does Megan see herself more as an adult like Craig, or a kid like Annika? Or is she somewhere in between? And how would their relationship change if she dated her dad?

Laggies is a cute, funny romantic comedy about the maturing of a young woman in her twenties. Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday) comes from the Seattle low-budget indie scene, and this is her first one with big name stars. And she pulls it off. Keira Knightly and Chloe Moritz are great as the mismatched friends. (My only question? Is “single dad” a new movie trend?)

mwElYp__whatwedointheshadows_05_o3__8261204__1406658669What We Do in the Shadows.
Dir: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Four guys with an unusual sense of fashion share a house in downtown Wellington, New Zealand. There’s the flamboyant and sensitive, pirate-shirted Viago (Taika Waititi) who pines for his lost love Katherine. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) sticks to clandestine orgies behind his velvet drapes. And ex-nazi Deacon (Jonathan Y6Mo7p__whatwedointheshadows_03_o3__8261132__1406658667Brugh) can often be found hanging upside down like a bat. They have regular house meetings, complete with job wheels. And of course they love a good night out. Why? So they can find some virgins and suck their blood. They’re vampires, of course! When they say “clean up the bloody dishes” they mean it literally.

And they’re part of the underground – if somewhat cheesy — supernatural subculture GZ9yR0__whatwedointheshadows_04_o3__8261163__1406658668we’re told exists in Wellington, complete with zombies, witches and werewolves. As vampires they can fly around and sleep in coffins. But they don’t know how to use facebook or take selfies. So, with the help of regular not-dead guy Stu, they try to adjust to modern life and avoid spilling blood everywhere.

What we do in the Shadows is a hilarious character-driven fake documentary aboutj2n7Z5__whatwedointheshadows_01_o3__8261101__1406658665 the lives of oddballs in New Zealand. It opened ImagineNative not for its topic, but for the filmmakers, producer and stars of the movie

All three movies played at TIFF this year. Laggies and Whiplash both open commercially today, check your local listings. What We Do in the Shadows opened at ImagineNative – which continues through October 26th featuring Australian movies and many gallery installations. Free before 6:00 pm for students, seniors and underemployed. Go to imaginenative.org for more info.

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

Motown Movies. Films reviewed: Brick Mansions, Super Duper Alice Cooper, Only Lovers Left Alive PLUS Hot Docs

Posted in Action, Art, Cultural Mining, Detroit, documentary, Drama, Hotdocs, Movies, Music, Uncategorized, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on April 25, 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.

VVS_BrickMansionsPosterThis week, I’m looking at three interesting movies with a connection to Motor City (Detroit). There’s a Hot Docs documentary about a stadium rocker; an art-house drama about a faded rocker; and an action flic about two guys caught between a rock and a hard place.

Brick Mansions

Dir: Camille Delamarre (Based on Luc Besson’s Banlieu 13)

Brick Mansions is the name of a derelict housing project in a future Detroit. The city has built a huge guarded wall around it. Why? High crime rates. The wall also blocks all the city services like schools, fire department or police. But thousands of people still live there. It’s ruled by a drug lord named Tremaine (RZA of Wu Tang fame) along with his odious henchmen, including a giant white bodyguard, Brick Mansions RZA, Bellea chubby lieutenant, and a sexy hit-woman in garters and fishnet stockings who carries a cat o’ nine tails.

The corrupt police are all paid off, so what happens in Brick Mansions stays in Brick Mansions. And just one man, Milo (David Belle), fights back. He steals Tremaine’s drugs and flushes them down the drain, to keep the block drug-free. So Tremaine kidnaps his girlfriend in retaliation. In his crusade to free her and bring Tremaine to justice, Milo kills a crooked cop.

Brick Mansions Belle Walker Courtesy VVS Still 21Then a neutron bomb is detected inside Brick Mansions, all hell breaks loose. The Mayor calls Damien, their best undercover cop (the late, Fast and Furious’ Paul Walker’s last film) and teams him up with cop-killer Milo. Can the two of them work together, stop Tremaine, rescue his girlfriend, and save the city from nuclear annihilation? And can Detroit’s corruption-ridden government be trusted?Brick Mansions Belle VVS Still27

Forget the story for a minute – the plot is not important. This movie is really about parkour. Parkour is a sport involving jumping on and off buildings, platforms, swinging and sliding on wires, spinning around poles. Sort of an acrobatic martial art, where life is one big obstacle Brick Mansions, Belle VVS, cropped photocourse. The star, David Belle, is one of that sport’s French founders, and he gets to show off his military cirque de soleil-ish prowess in scene after scene.

Brick Mansions is not meant as a great movie. It’s a “B movie”, a stoooopid movie, riddled with inconsistencies, with an ignorant take on issues like race. But I enjoyed it anyway, for the great action and fast-moving, choreographed fighting.

Super-Duper Alice Cooper: a Doc Opera

Dir: Reg Harkema

Alice Cooper was originally, the name of a group, not a man. Vince Furnier is born in Detroit, the son of a preacher man, whose family moves to Phoenix, Arizona for health reasons. By high school, he’s heavily into Salvador Dali and Beatlemania. He starts an insect-named band with his high school buddies (first the Earwigs, then the Spiders) and they start getting radio play while still teenagers. The thing is, they aren’t very good or special. Better at the spectacle than the music. They soon discover that, in LA, image is everything. They meet a girl group in Frank Zappa’s basement who help them with their makeup, cultivating a glam look. Soon enough, they’re wearing sequinned Ice-Capades Super Duper Alice Cooper Affichejumpsuits, and appearing on stage with lots of props and animals. And using a Ouija board they channel a Victorian witch named Alice Cooper (or so they claim). And that becomes the name of the group.

Next, at a rock festival in Toronto, comes the infamous chicken incident (He says didn’t actually bite off the head; it was the audience’s fault). The rest is fame and super-stardom. Furnier gradually morphs into the ever-more-outrageous and self-destructive character, Alice. Their shows become more elaborate, even as Alice Cooper’s fame grows. Eventually the group collapses, Alice goes solo, and he crashes and burns in a bubbling cauldron of eye make-up, skeletons, groupies, drugs and alcohol. This movie is a lot of fun. It manages without a single talking head. Instead, the voices of rock stars, agents and producers narrate an oral history, illustrated by countless animated still photos, period film clips and concert tapes. Very creative, ingenious, fast-moving. And it’s all tied together with silent film footage of Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde, the two Alice Coopers. Vince, the straight-laced preacher’s son, and Alice, the outrageous performer, both in the same body. All of this punctuated with hits like Eighteen, Schools Out, and No More Mr Guy. It’s a intensely edited documentary. I’ve never been an Alice Cooper fan, but found it super-duper to watch.

RZ6A6685.CR2Only Lovers Left Alive

Dir: Jim Jarmusch

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock musician who lives in a crumbling, bombed-out mansion in downtown Detroit. He lives a languorous existence, playing the lute, listening to vinyl, and mourning the loss of culture and refinement. His only visitor is Ian (Anton Yelchin) his dealer, who brings him the good stuff and keeps his fans at bay.

His long time, on-again, off-again lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives far away, in Algiers, where she hangs out with presumed-dead cultural icons like Christopher Marlowe. She’s equally "only lovers left alive"listless, with the air of a pre-Raphaelite opium eater. But neither Adam nor Eve is addicted to drugs. It’s human blood they need – they’re vampires. But they don’t kill the “Zombies” anymore (that’s their word for muggles), they just drink plastic pouches of blood smuggled out of hospitals.

Life continues, but things are disrupted when Eve’s sexy sister suddenly shows up in Detroit. Ava (Mia Wasikowska) is noisy and selfish, and doesn’t stick to his moral guidelines. When "only lovers left alive"she sees blood, she takes it, even if it’s still in a friend’s veins. Will Adam and Eve ever be reunited? Will their love last forever? And will this movie ever end?

I have mixed feelings about this film. It has incredible night photography of faded Algiers and post-apocalyptic Detroit. Just amazing. And I could listen to the soundtrack all day. But the story is weak and the movie too slow and long. Either you buy into the conceit — that vampires are a RZ6A8434.JPGsecret nation of underground Goth hipsters, addicted to blood, not heroin – or reject it. I rejected it. It felt like a never-ending Lady of the Camellias. The whole faded rock-star/junkie as hero-vampire? Just die already.

This movie would work better as a coffee table book with an accompanying music playlist.

Only Lovers Left Alive and Brick Mansions open today: check your local listings. And Super Duper Alice Cooper – along with many other fantastic documentaries are playing now at Hot Docs. Rush tickets at daytime screenings are free for students and seniors. Go to hotdocs.ca for more info.

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

Blood Bros. Movies Reviewed: Only God Forgives, Rufus PLUS TIFF13

Posted in Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Dreams, Movies, Thailand, Torture, Uncategorized, Vampires, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on July 25, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

TIFF13 Press ConferenceTIFF is coming! At the big press launch they released the names of some of the movies playing this year. Haven’t seen any yet, but a few caught my eye. The opening movie is the Julian Assange and Wikileaks story, and it’s called The Fifth Estate. Very interested in seeing which side Hollywood takes in this – but it’s cool just seeing it on the screen while Assange is still holed up in the Ecuador embassy. And then there’s Bradley Manning… Another movie that looks good is wikileaks_2459774bBurning Bush, by the great Polish director Agnieszka Holland. It’s about the self-immolation of a Prague Spring protester in the 60s. And I really want to see Prisoners, a thriller about a missing girl’s father, who kidnaps a man he thinks is the criminal. Denis Villeneuve is the Quebec director of Incendie.

Lots of crime and violence… so keeping in the same vein, this week I’m looking at two movies about brooding young men embroiled in circumstances beyond their control. There’s a violent drama about a man caught between a rock and a hard place — his mom and the Angel of Death — in Bangkok; and a Canadian drama about a boy with strange attributes who just wants to fit in.

Ryan Gosling Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives

Dir: Nicolas Wilding-Refn

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is a hardworking, honest American who lives in Bangkok. He runs a kickboxing gym paid for by family money. But this money is tainted. One day, something sets his older brother off on a rampage that leaves a young girl dead.

A local police detective named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) hears about the brutal rape and murder, and brings the dead girl’s father to the blood-drenched scene of the crime – a seedy hotel room.  Julian’s brother is still there. Chang hands the dad a baseball bat and locks the door. An eye for an eye.

Kristin Scott Thomas Only God ForgivesJulian feels judgement has been done, and doesn’t retaliate against the man who killed his brother. But his mother is a different story. Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), it turns out, is the family kingpin (or queen pin?) in the drug trade. She’s a cruel, bleached-blond harridan with dramatic eye-makeup. She kills with impunity, and gets off by watching bodybuilders pose on a stage. She flies into Bangkok specifically to kill whoever killed her son.

Chang, the cop, appears to be a soft-spoken, unassuming, middle-aged guy who likes to sing Karaoke. But in fact he is a dark avenger, an angel of death. He acts as judge, jury and executioner, carrying a square-tipped sword strapped to his back. He decides, on the spot, whether a crime deserves just the loss of a limb or two… or a death sentence. And – chop-chop-chop – case closed.

So the two sides, Chang and Crystal, are headed for an inexorable showdown, with Julian caught between them.

Vithaya Pansringarn Only God ForgivesOnly God Forgives has a strange dream-like quality that feels like something by David Lynch. It’s hard to tell if you’re watching what is actually happening, or what Julian thinks will happen. It’s also highly stylized, with the characters posing in mannered tableaux. Most of the scenes are gushing with red and black: gaudy, flocked wallpaper, red glass beads, glowing paper lanterns. And blood… everywhere. I knew this movie was going to be violent, but it’s gruesome, gory.

The movie is fun, in a way. There’s this incredible, over-the-top monologue that Kristin Scott-Thomas has in a Meet the Fokkers scene. Amazing. Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, has almost no lines in the entire movie even though he’s on-screen most of the time. The thing is, he’s not a hero, he’s not an anti-hero — he’s just there. And that’s the problem with this movie: too much gore, too simplistic a plot, and Ryan Gosling is too blah.

Rufus

Dir: Dave Schultz

Rory Saper RUFUSRufus (Rory J Saper) is a shy, misunderstood teenager with lank hair, pale features and an English accent. He arrives in a small town with a very old woman who makes him promise to make friends and blend in. Soon enough, she’s dead, and he’s taken in by the chief of police and his wife, who see him as a replacement for their own son who died a few years earlier. But Rufus is different.

He doesn’t really eat at all, except for really, really fresh meat. Bloody meat. He can lie under water for long periods of time without breathing. His body temperature is 20 – 30 degrees below normal. And did I mention he likes to drink blood? I’m not saying he’s a vampire or anything, but… he is different.

Rufus 2So he naively makes friends with Tracy (Merritt Patterson), a neighbouring girl who says she’s slept with half the town. And there’s Clay (Richard Harmon), the high school jock and bully who first attacks him, but later attempts to befriend him. He falls into a sort of normal life – a home at last. He plays catch-ball with his new dad, makes angels in the snow, sleeps in a real bedroom, eats with a real family.

But then a mysterious man who works for Big Pharma comes to town. He says Rufus can’t live in the outside world and wants to take him away. He seems to know something about Rufus’s past, and that of the old woman he came with.

Rufus can kill if crossed, but he also powers to heal. Who or what is he? A vampire, a werewolf or an immortal soul? And can a boy who is different, especially one with special powers, live a normal life in a small town?

Rufus 1Rufus is interesting as an idea. I liked the concept, but it feels more like a pilot for a TV show than a movie. The acting is good, and I like the feel of the whole thing, but the story just meanders along… there’s just not enough clear plot to satisfy you.

Only God Forgives is playing now, and Rufus opens today (check your local listings.) And to find out about what’s playing at TIFF and how to score tickets – check out the daytime passes — go to tiff.net

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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It’s a Monster Mash (-up)! Movies Reviewed: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cockneys vs Zombies, Warm Bodies

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.

philebrityMonster movies used to have one monster, like the mummy, the vampire (Dracula), Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, the wicked witch. Always just one. The, the, the. But somewhere along the way monsters have become a quantity, a generic substance, a tradable commodity, like pork-belly futures. There’s never just one, there are always lots and lots of them. And because it’s a commodity, they can be traded and mashed together with other genres in an endless search for that one hit movie. As big a hit as that vampire teen romance, which shall remain nameless.

So this week I’m looking at three such attempts: a fairytale revenge action thriller, a zom-com, and a zom-rom-com-dram.

560.6hans.gret.ls.1413Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Dir: (Tommy Wirkola)

The name says it all. Hansel and Gretel are the kids in that fairytale who are lured through a rainbow-coloured, anus-shaped doorway and into a gingerbread house by a wicked witch who wants to eat them… but they escape. They’re grown up now, and live somewhere in medieval Germany. People have dirty faces, live in wooden huts and ride horses and accuse pretty girls of witchcraft. But it’s Fairytale-land, so hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-gemma-arterton-600x399they also have things like record-players, double-barreled shotguns, and tasers.

So now the brother and sister team (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton) want revenge on all witches, because one killed their mother. So they brutally shoot, maim and bludgeon these old ladies with sticks as they hang upside-down from trees. They may be old women, but they have scaly skin and they’re wicked and canniballistic and talk like monsters and deserve to die, you see… So, with the help of some good allies (including Thomas Mann as Ben, a hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-600x398teenaged fan of the Witch Hunters’ exploits, and a sympathetic troll) they all set out to stop a witches’ Cabal. If they don’t stop them before the next full moon, witches will become indestructible and take over the world. But will Hansel and Gretel also uncover some hidden secrets from their own past?

Hansel and Gretel is a gun-toting, shoot-em-up action-thriller with a fairytale theme and a mittel-europa feel. I think it’s too “gunny” for kids – there’s even a scene where they bless their bullets, bringing God and guns together again. And it’s a bit too retro in its outlook, with women as victims who ultimately need to be rescued by men. But, most of all, it’s really just a fast-moving, violent revenge pic.

Cockneys-vs-ZombiesCockneys vs Zombies

Dir: Matthias Hoene

A big developer wants to put up a huge complex in the East End of London, right on top of an old-age home. So dodgy brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Tasmus Hardiker) along with their eastender cuz Katy (Michelle Ryan) decide to derail the project by stealing the builder’s cash in a bank hold up. You see, their irascible Cockney Wanker granddad (Alan Ford) raised the two boys, and he lives in that very cockney-wankersame soon-to-be-demolished seniors home. He’s a genuine Cockney, this one is – you can tell because he likes nothing better than gathering around a piano with his mates in pearly vests to sing a lusty round of Knees Up Mother Brown. But little do any of them know that the builders have accidentally opened a vault, letting loose an epidemic of slow-moving zombies, groaning and dragging all over the east end. Will the two groups ever meet up again? Will their working class moxie outwit the undead?

cockneys vs zombiesOK, this Zom Com is pure cheese. Dying scenes are dragged out to include every last mugging for the camera, the dialogue sucks, and the special effects consist of red rubber drippy thingies stuck to people’s arms to represent the blood and gore. And then there’s the bargain-basement zombies in every scene… and they all made the credits at the end. I think they corralled a few Zombie Walks and put them to work one afternoon for free. The pace was pretty slow, including the world’s slowest chase scene with old Hamish (the late Richard Briers, in one of his last roles) in a walker sloooowly keeping ahead of all the lethargic zombos.

Nice try, but this ain’t no Attack The Block. Still, I liked it for what it was, a cheap, campy zombie comedy. It’s stupid-funny. And as a bonus, you get Honor Blackman (the original James Bond Pussy Galore as well as an Avenger) as a gun-toting oldster, fighting zombies beside foul mouthed Granddad. All the acting was quite good, especially a whack psycho with a metal plate in his head from the Iraq War. So if you like cockneys and you like zombies well, there you go. Cockneys. Zombies. Together in one movie.

Warm BodiesWARM BODIES

Dir: Jonathan Levine

It’s a post-apocalyptic world in an uneasy truce between two sides divided by a wall. The zombies (called corpses) are on the outside, the living beings on the inside. But when some humans venture out to fight the zombies, a young woman, Julie (Teresa Palmer) is rescued and taken home by one of the zombies, “R” (UK actor Nicholas Hoult, Tony on Skins).

The story is told from the point of view of a young guy, R. He collects music, lives in an abandoned airplane, and likes hanging with his pal M (Rob Corddry) He just happens to eat brains. So inside his head it’s all, does she like me? Oh awkward moment… Jesus these clothes make me look awful. But on the outside, he’s just Rrrrrr…

But when he eats Julie’s boyfriend’s brains he takes over his memories of Julie – he becomes almost human.WARM BODIES Gradually, the crush he has on Julie begins to warm the cockles of his heart, and, on her part, she realizes that zombies are just like you and me, only dead. And that the real enemies are not the corpses, but the boneys, the ones who have turned into walking skeletons. But will her militaristic Dad (John Malkovich) ever accept a corpse within his family home? He only wants Capulets, not Corpsulets. (I apologize to Wm Shakespeare.) Can their love overcome the cultural divide? Or will it end in tragedy?

I liked this movie. Fun story, good script, lots of new stuff to keep you interested. Hoult  — and Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend — are both great; Teresa Palmer less so.

Warm Bodies is a very cute, Shakespearean Zom-rom-com-dram with lots of visual references thrown in – otto or up with dead peopleeverything from Bruce LaBruce’s Otto, to Edward Scissorshands. This would make a good pre-Valentine’s-Day horror date movie.

Hansel and Gretel is now playing, Warm Bodies opens today in Toronto, and Cockney’s vs Zombies is showing as part of the Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival, big screen classics — including the usual films by Kubrick and Spielberg, plus the seldom seen An American Werewolf in London — for six bucks!. Check your local listings for details.

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

Is It All In The Story? Movies Reviewed: Red Riding Hood, The Adjustment Bureau

I don’t about you, but one of the main reasons I go to the movies is to see a good story. I want to feel like I’m being taken into the plot and meeting the characters – I want to care if they live or die, and I want to find out what’s going to happen to them.

So people making movies look around for stories to use, if they can’t come up with their own. Awful source of plots are things like video games, 1970’s TV comedies, long forgotten Saturday morning cartoons, TV commercials, or ideas churned out by executives trying to duplicate the success of previous blockbusters. Good sources are things like novels or short stories, plays, along with myths, legends, and, believe it or not, fairytales and folktales. So today I’m going to look at two movies with stories that come from possibly good sources, but may or may not translate well into movies.

The Adjustment Bureau

Dir: George Nolfi

(based partly on a short story by Philip K Dick.)

David (Matt Damon) whose parents died when he was young, is a young and ambitious Kennedy-like congressman from New York, trying to make it to the Senate. But he blows the election when an old video surfaces of him mooning the camera in his days as a fratboy. But as he practices his concession speech in the men’s room, he has a fleeting encounter with a strange woman, Elise (Emily Blunt), he meets there. Love at first sight?

But their meeting confuses some cosmic order of destiny. When he goes into work, everyone has been frozen, except him, and the men in hats, and their faceless enforcers, are wiping clear everyone’s memory.

Who are these men in hats? Are they angels? Conspirators? Aliens? Or just accountants? Doesn’t matter. They tell him he has to follow what’s written in a book, that tells him what to do. And he’s not supposed to be with her.

Wait? Everyone’s lives are predetermined and there is no free will? No, no, no, they tell him. Just the superior – you know the politicians. The muggles all just live their lives, but the golden boys like David, are important people so the accountants take special care of them. The men with hats can pass through doors at will, and keep track of what the uber-menschen are up to all day, or so a sympathetic hat-man, Henry, tells him.

So will Dave be able to resist getting together with his lifemate? Or will he choose a life of politics? Blah blah blah…

Philip K Dick wrote the books that were turned into movies like Blade Runner, and Total Recall. So does this one work? No! it feels like a high-concept movie based on some producers scribbling down ideas on a cocktail napkin.

While it starts out good and interesting, this movie left me angry with its fake thriller trailers (it’s actually a romance, not a thriller) it’s badly thought-out characters, and its almost random plot-turns. People can only hide from the hat men near water – why? Are they fish people? Ado they swim? Are they allergic? Naaah, no reason. To pass through magic doors they have to wear their hats. And turn doonobs to the left! Why? umm… no reason. They all talk about a book – who wrote it? but when you see the books, they’re just roadmaps – no writing that I could see. And do they freeze the whole world anytime anything goes awry? Who cares…

It’s also a movie with 20 main characters, but except for Emily Blunt’s ballerina, they’re all men. The men in hats? The politicians? The people he knows? The people he talk to? All men. Even the other dancers were mainly male. What’s that all about…?

The whole movie seems like an ersatz excuse to show off more special effects. I thought the Adjustment Bureau was a waste of time.

Red Riding Hood

Dir: Catherine Hardwicke

…is very loosely based on the children’s fairytale Little Red Ridinghood, so its story is best described in the form of storytelling.

Once upon a time, in a valley by the mountains and beside a dark forest, there lived a drunk woodcutter and his wife and their two daughters. Now, everyone in the village knew there was a big bad wolf that lived in the woods, so, each month, on the full moon, they locked all the doors, and put out a pig for the wolf to eat, so he wouldn’t attack the villagers.

Valerie, the older daughter was pretty and strong, and good at hunting, and she promised to marry her best friend, a poor woodcutter like her father. But her mother said she had to marry the rich blacksmith instead. Her friend said, “Come away with me. Let’s leave this village.” But Valerie didn’t know what to do. Should she go with the woodcutter she loved, or stay with the blacksmith who her mother wanted her to marry?

Well, one day, the big bad wolf came back to the village and killed Valerie’s younger sister, despite the animal sacifice. So the village decided to call in a famous priest to catch it. Father Solomon was a cruel man: he murdered his own wife and locked up his two daughters, and traveled with a private army and an elephantine torture chamber. But he was also good at hunting wolves, and (or so he said), it wasn’t a regular wolf attacking them, but a werewolf. And this werewolf was someone from the village, but no one knew who that was. When it was a wolf, only its eyes remained human, so it looked like a giant animal.

Did she live happily ever after? And which husband did she choose? And did she stay or did she go? And who was it who turned into the werewolf? And what about the scary priest – will he kill the villagers in his crusade? And will she ever put on her red ridinghood, go through the forest with a basket of goodies, and visit her grandmother?

Red Riding Hood is a partially successful kids movie retelling a well known children’s story. You get the feeling there’s a tug-of-war going on. Hardwicke directed the blockbuster Eclipse before this one. Red Riding Hood seems to waver between the director’s artistic vision of a feminist, sexualized look at three generations of empowered women fighting a medieval culture war against religious excess and patriarchal violence and repression; and the producers’ mercenary attempt to recreate the success of Eclipse, that smarmy, anti-sex vampire/werewolf franchise of a weak and powerless highschool girl whose only thing of value is her virginity, and whose only choice is which superhero boy she’ll choose to rescue her helplessness from the baddies.

Julie Christie, Virginia Madsen, and Amanda Seyfried are all good as a three generation triumverate and the center of the movie, while the boyfriends are really just Valerie’s arm-candy. Gary Oldman as Father Solomon is a great villain, almost as frightening as the childcatcher in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. In this strange medieval universe, the men look like prancing Peter Pans lost somewhere in Sherwood Forest… while the woman all just stepped out of a commune near Vancouver. There’s a nicely multi-racial cast, and some cool scenes that like bacchanalias from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, but the sets all look artsy-craftsy, like they were constructed indoors for a stageplay or pantomime.

Problems? There are long gaps between lines, especially in the beginning, that are painful to watch – it really drags the movie down. And the whodunit/who’s the wolf plotline took away from the much more interesting rivalry between the women and the evil priest. And it’s not a grown-up movie — clearly aimed at pre-teen romantics, but still includes some horrific violence and scariness. It’s a so-so movie but one with some great ideas and images.

Red Riding Hood opens today in Toronto; The Adjustment Bureau is now playing: check your local listings.

Will Ninjas Replace Werewolves? Ninja Assassin and Kamui

Posted in Berlin, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Japan, Korea, Movies, Ninjas, US, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on January 25, 2010

Japan and Japanese period movies, usually set in the mid-19th Century, like most westerns, are often reduced to the same clichéd elements: samurai, ronin, yakuza, corrupt nobles, scheming geisha… It’s the ever-changing stories that keep them interesting.

Hollywood westerns also have their stock characters — the black hats and white hats, the saloon keepers, the sheriffs –- that they wheel out before the camera when they need them.

And movies, like anything else, go through fads. We all know that pop movies have gradually shifted popular themes, from zombies to vampires. And lots of people predict that the werewolves are pushing out vampires now.

But what about the Ninjas? Where do they stand? Will they be the next big thing? Maybe.

Ninja Assassin, a mediocre action movie, notable mainly for its ultra-bloody red, black, and white colour scheme, stars a Korean non-actor, the pop star called “Rain” as – what else? – a Ninja Assassin.

Ninja Assassin (in English)
Dir: James McTeigue

The head of a ninja academy kidnaps small children all around the world and transports them to a Himalayan mountain top’s secret hideaway. They grow up as viciously trained ninjas, the almost invisible Japanese spies and killers who wear black, who throw stars and use their swords to chop up whoever they were ordered to kill. They creep in and out like the world’s best spies, nameless, faceless, deadly. But rather than keeping its Japanese theme, this movie universalizes it. The children are of every nationality and the action takes place mainly in Berlin of all places, complete with U-bahn and curry wurst – an unexpected juxtaposition of unrelated cultures.

So it’s only as Japanese as the sliding paper screens on the sets – Ninja’s have reached international status.


Kamui (in Japanese)
Dir: Koichi Sai

Much better than Ninja Assassin is the quite amazing movie Kamui, Directed by Koichi Sai. I hope it will be released in North America this year.

As an ex-shinobi on the run, Kamui, fights a female Ninja to the death when he is still just a little boy. You can never escape the clan. He is an outcast, a hinin, and teaches himself all the secret tricks and almost magical rules of self defense just to stay alive.

14 years later he witnesses a poor fisherman, for unknown reasons, cutting the leg off a corrupt nobleman’s prized horse. Kamui helps him escape and is pulled into the conflict. He has no choice but to follow the fisherman to his boat to escape the attacking troops.

The fisherman takes him to a quaint island where life is peaceful and almost idyllic, but he must always be alert to the Ninja ghosts of his past – the shinobi agents who are sworn to execute any ex-member; and the spoiled and cruel nobleman who wants to punish everyone associated with the death of his horse.

Kamui is an amazingly beautiful and moving adaptation of a Japanese comic and shares its long and complex melodramatic plot, countless faces, and the frequent revelation of characters’ hidden secrets and acts of betrayal.

Fights are done in that old Hongkong movie style where every battle has swordsman jumping high in the air to clash blades. Fighters swing from trees like Tarzan. Although it frequently uses CGIs (computer generated images), something I usually hate, they’re all excellently done.

Watch out for Kamui.

– Daniel Garber, January 10, 2010.

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Post-Apocalypse Now: Movie Reviews — The Road, Collapse, Daybreakers

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Douglas Coupland, Michael Ruppert, Movies, post-apocalypse, TIFF, US, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on January 24, 2010

Around this time of year, when it starts to get bitterly cold, when the skies are overcast, with no hint of the sun some days, and no holiday coming for a long, long time… well this is the time of year when people start thinking of disaster, apocalypse and general destruction.

Canada’s Parliament seems to close down, without rhyme or reason.

A tsunami in the Indian Ocean, levees collapsing in New Orleans, a horrendous earthquake flattening Porte au Prince.

People’s thoughts turn to apocalypse.

Canadian writer Douglas Coupland’s new novel “Generation A” tells of a disastrous future world where technology progresses, like it always has, but the bees… the bees… are… gone.

OK, not so scary, but he imagines a world where our ecosystem has been totally decimated and 5 youngish people in five countries get stung at once by five bees which had somehow survived their extinction. An entertaining book.

Then there’s the movie
The Road
Dir: John Hillcoat
Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy

If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s still playing on the big screen and you should try to catch it, and be depressed.

A man (Viggo Mortensen) and a boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who have survived a monumental disaster (that seems to have killed everything on earth, except for some humans), are on the road slowly walking south in some future incarnation of the United States. The boy is one of the few people born into this post-apocalyptic world. This place is now inhabited not by zombies, robots, or aliens but by the scariest monsters of all: ordinary people who have lost any sense of decency or morality. These survivors live only to eat whatever food they can find or steal, mainly canned goods put aside by long-dead “survivalists”. Or, rumours have it, they eat other people.

The movie is full of religious symbolism. The boy is portrayed as an almost messianic icon, gentle as a lamb, innocent, moral, and forgiving. Scenes of death and rebirth, quasi-baptismal rituals, floors strewn with now worthless dollars and jewels, and locations in crumbling churches, give the harrowing film a decidedly Christian motif. Can the characters hold onto their civilization and beliefs (what the father and son call “the flame inside”) where humanity has ceased to exist?

Australian John Hillcoat also directed the beautifully shot and extremely violent movie, The Proposition, which failed where The Road succeeded so well. Where that movie had red, wide shots of the Australian outback, The Road has stark, arresting desolate landscapes of dead forests, abandoned, half-finished bridges, collapsing ghost towns, with garbage blowing instead of tumbleweeds. The movie feels like the cast has been transplanted into photos by Burtinsky.

This is a pretty depressing theme for a movie, but it’s not necessarily a downer. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it maybe you should check it out.

Collapse
Dir: Chris Smith

Collapse, a documentary, is a chance for a political theorist, Michael Ruppert, to voice his views of what’s going on in the world. To summarize: we’re doomed. The world’s energy supply has long since passed “peak oil” – the point at which oil is being produced at the highest level before its decline; he predicted the current burst bubble economy in his dissident newsletters – and it’s not going to get better; and the powers that be, including the CIA, are nefarious drug-dealing thugs. The entire movie consists of him in close as he riffs in an excellent ongoing monologue on various topics as he chain smokes.

This movie combines what look to me like the styles of two great filmmakers, Errol Morris (especially in his amazing TV interview show, First person, where he talked to people like the autistic Temple Grandin), with his long takes of a single subject waxing lyrical in a bare room; and Adam Curtis, a British documentary maker for the BBC, who’s style, like this one, combines the monolgue voice style with visually pleasant old-school documentary stock footage. So in this movie there are long sequences where Ruppert’s ideas on energy are amazingly well illustrated using old educational films dating back to the 1970’s energy crisis.

Ruppert is an ex-LAPD cop, who talks like a small-town American and looks, disturbingly, like Doctor Phil (the TV psychiatrist). And most of what he says in the film is completely plausible, with parts that are already proven. When he gets to his own personal story – that his own ex-girlfriend worked for the CIA when they tried to get him to help smuggle drugs into LA when he was a cop… and how they pursued him and smashed up his office when he published a controversial newsletter in which he used his own news research to expose various government cover-ups – he verges on, but doesn’t quite reach – paranoid sounding. Is he? Or isn’t he?

The filmmaker, Chris Smith, intentionally makes him seem edgy as he tells his story, but also gives him the chance to state all of his very convincing theories. It’s up to the viewer to decide what to believe and what to discount, but, either way, Ruppert’s a captivating speaker, and it’s the kind of movie you talk about with strangers in the lobby as you leave, as you try to think through the Truckload of information he dumps on you.

Daybreakers
Dir: Michael and Peter Spierig

Another view of the post-apocolyptic future comes in the form of a new vampire movie, Daybreakers, directed and written by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig. Vampires roam the planet feeding on humans, and changing some of siring them into vampire-dom. At some future point, the vampires overtook humans in total numbers, and basically tool over, living in the same homes, taing the same subways, working in the same offices. Humans are driven underground – metaphorically speaking, since they, unlike vampires, can exist in sunlight without bursting into flames – and are hunted by police and military who function as corporate entities, like the ones in Paul Verhoeven’s classic film “Robocop”. So, while Ruppert, in collapse, talks about peak oil, this movie begins at some point after “peak blood” – the demand has way outstripped supply, so the vampires — who look just like humans except they have two little cutely pointed teeth and amber-coloured eyes – are desperately chasing down the last humans for their blood, and at the same time are trying to create an adequate
blood-substitiute.

So that’s the set-up for the movie. Ethan Hawke is the heroic blood research scientist trying to find the cure, Sam Neill is his boss, the sinister CEO; and Willem Dafoe is one of the rebel humans trying to stay alive. Is it a good movie? I didn’t like it as much as a lot of people I know, mainly because it was more cheesy than scary – with lots of really cheap effects like bats flying at the screen every so often. I guess it’s supposed to make you scream. It didn’t. Still, the story was fun enough to watch, entertaining enough, and different enough… if you’re really into vampires. It has some very gross, bloody scenes, but it’s not too gory, at least not by current standards.
– Daniel Garber, January 13, 2010

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