Looking for trouble. Films reviewed: Thelma, Amerika Square, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Posted in Coming of Age, Greece, Norway, Racism, Refugees, Supernatural, Vengeance, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 17, 2017

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

More fall film festivals: The EU Film Fest brings free movies from across Europe to Toronto; and look out for the all-Canadian horror festival called Blood in the Snow – BITS for short – coming next weekend.

We all face trouble at times, but some people seem to invite it. This week I’m looking at movies about people getting into trouble. There’s a bigot in Athens trying to make trouble, a young woman in Oslo trying to avoid trouble, and a middle-aged woman in Missouri who acts like trouble is her middle name.

Thelma

Dir: Joachim Trier

It’s present day Norway. Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a teenaged girl at university in Oslo who is living on her own for the very first time. She was homeschooled by devout Christian parents including a very strict father. Aside from frequent calls from her parents checking up on her, Thelma is suddenly free to discover life on her own. She gets invited to parties, drinks beer, has arguments about politics, and flirts with an obnoxious boy who pursues her relentlessly. It’s thrilling, but also scary. Strange things seem to happen around her when she’s nervous. When she really starts to panic she shakes, shivers, and collapses into what look like epileptic seizures. But are they? And all around her nature seems to react: birds crash into windows, leaves rustle, then things start to shake, break and shatter.

Anja (Kaja Wilkins) is one of her classmates who looks out for her. They seem to have a psychic bond, meeting almost at random – when athelma wants to see her, she seems to just appear. More than that, there’s a strong sexual attraction between the two of them. But Thelma is afraid to tell her the truth: when she thinks hard enough she unleashes forces that can make people… disappear!

Thelma is a terrific coming of age drama full of suspense, mystery and the supernatural. It’s been called the Norwegian Carrey – fundamentalist christian girl with telekinetic powers – but it’s also totally different. She’s not bullied, she’s not weak, and there’s a fascinating love story in the mix.

Harboe and Wilkins — great as Thelma and Anja — are both new faces I want to see more of.

Amerika Square

Dir: Yannis Sakandis

Present-day Athens. Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) is a chill tattoo artist who runs his own shop. He looks like a young Bruce Springsteen in a diverse, workingclass neighbourhood. He lives in an apartment block near Amerika Square, a rundown local park. He just wants to live his life. Tarek (Vassilis Koukalani) is a Syrian refugee with a small daughter. He wants to make his way to safety in Germany, but keeps failing. And when he gets separated from his daughter he breaks into panic mode. Tereza (Ksenia Dania) is a beautiful, biracial nightclub singer (who speaks Greek). She wants to escape local hoodlums who control her. She meets Billy when she asks him to rewrite her tattoo and free her from virtual slavery. Is there something more between Billy and Tereza? Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou) is overweight and underemployed. He’s in his late thirties but still lives with his parents. He is obsessed with foreigners – he methodically counts how many live in the apartment and worries there will be more immigrants than Greeks. They’re changing everything and taking over! he says. His own parents migrated to Athens from a small village, but he considers the square his own. And he’s willing to do almost anything to drive the immigrants out. Will this include murder?

Amerika Square is a good drama about the current conflicts in Athens and across Europe. It looks at the plight of refugees and migrants, locals who welcome them, and the rise of rightwing groups who violently oppose immigration. It follows an ensemble cast in a complex storylines that all comes together in the end, along with a few ironic plot twists.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Wri/Dir: Martin McDonagh

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is a divorced woman who runs a gift shop in tiny Ebbing Missouri. She’s been on edge since her teenaged daughter was brutally raped and murdered. The police have yet to charge anyone with the crime. So she rents three derelict billboards on a road near her home. The billboards, like giant Burma Shave signs, ask in garish letters, why Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) hasn’t caught the killer. But when the story is picked up by local media, the powers that be fight back: highschool bullies, her dentist, even a priest. They strongly pressure her to take down the signs, and attack her friends, employees and even her son (Lucas Hedges). But she refuses. This ignites a feud between Mildred and one cop in particular, the corrupt and bigoted Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Dixon lives with his gravelly voiced mother who goads him on to greater and greater acts of violence. But Mildred fights back, upping the ante from words to fistfights, to shooting to firebombing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a satisfying, exciting, but extremely violent movie about irascible characters facing big issues in a small town. I call it cutely violent – which fits with the director’s other movies: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The violence is extreme and graphic, but it always retains a touch of humour. Peter Dinklage and Sam Rockwell are back again, but this time a woman is allowed to shine in the lead role, with great results. Frances McDormand is perfect as this hateable/loveable character. Mildred might curse a blue streak but you can still see the heart in this irascible, hard-ass woman.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF17.

Thelma and Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri both open today in Toronto; check our local listings.  Amerika Square is playing at Toronto’s European Union Film Festival. Go to euffto.com for details.

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

TIFF 13: Sex + Violence. Movies Reviewed: Tom on the Farm, R100, Moebius

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

Hollywood knows: sex and violence = bums in seats. But they also know that you have to keep it fresh and new. So this week I’m talking about three movies that, in very different ways, explore topics of sex, violence and the power dynamic between the two.

I’m looking at three movies playing at TIFF, one from Quebec, one from Japan, and one from Korea. One’s about a city boy who falls prey to an domineering farmer; one’s a businessman who falls prey to a gang of dominatrices; and one’s a family who fall prey to their own morass of escalating horribleness.

tomatthefarm_01Tom at the Farm

Dir: Xavier Dolan

When Tom (Xavier Dolan) drives out to the country to read a eulogy for his young lover, Guy, he thinks he’ll be gone after the funeral. He agrees to spend the night at his mother’s house, even sleeping in his bedroom. But, in the middle of the night, he is attacked by a mysterious man. It’s Frank (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the homophobic older brother of his late lover. He threatens Tom if he tells Agathe, his mother (Lise Roy), that Guy was gay, or that he was his lover. Tom is forced to pretend Guy had a girlfriend, thus erasing his own status. But it doesn’t stop there.

Frank is a domineering, abusive bully. He’s also much bigger and stronger than the diminutive Tom. Soon, Tom is put to work milking cows, dressed in Guy’s old clothes. Frank dismantles his car, and chases him down when he tries to run away. He’s trapped. Tom finds himself falling into the role of Frank’s submissive younger brother, regularly punched, kicked and threatened with death. Sexually frustrated Frank channels all blame onto Tom. And Tom has a mental shift where he finds himself sexually attracted to Frank and accepts any physical and mental abuse as his own fault.

What is Frank’s problem anyway? Why doesn’t he have any friends? What’s his hidden secret? And will Tom ever come to his senses and get the hell out of there?

This is Xavier Dolan’s 4th film, and the first one based on someone else’s play. This one’s a weird, captive-of-a-redneck horror story, with lots of pyscho-sexual overtones. I like it.  It’s not perfect: Tom’s sudden transformation from city boy to hick seems too abrupt; and if he really feels threatened, why doesn’t he just call 911? But Frank and Tom’s abusive relationship – the core of the movie — seems disturbingly real. And Dolan’s careful filmmaking and precise editing leaves you with a chilling feeling at the end. It reverberates in the windmills of your mind long after it’s over.

r100_03R100

Dir: Matsumoto Hitoshi

Katayama (Omori Nao) is a shy milquetoast guy who sells mattresses for a living. His wife’s in a coma, so he takes care if his six year old son. He wants nothing more than to listen to Beethoven’s 9thSymphony. But, to escape from his daily stresses, he turns to leather- clad dominatrix for temporary relief. But his life changes dramatically when he signs an unbreakable one- year contract. He will experience the ultimate thrill – never knowing when or where a dominatrix will appear to shock and humiliate him. In his workplace bathroom, on the street, in front if his kid.

Soon enough, it has taken over his life, with hitherto unknown sexual kinks inflicted on him. There’s the Queen of Voices who terrifies Takayama by perfectly imitating his comatose wife’s voice at inopportune moments. And even a queen of spit, who orchestrates elaborate performances punctuated by huge amounts of saliva, shot at r100_05him from across the room.

Can he escape from all this craziness? And does he really want to? You can tell when he reaches a new level of submission and humiliation when his face is distorted and animated ripples of contentedness flow outward from his mind.

Meanwhile, every so often, the movie switches to the dull people producing this film, sort of a meta-movie-subplot, trying to make a movie with the ultimate restricted rating. R14, R20, refers to the age when you can view a film. This movie, they say is so dirty you have to be R100 to watch it.

I dunno. It has its funny parts – very funny parts — but it gets more and more extreme in its absurdity, as the movie goes on, until it really make no coherent sense whatsoever. It’s just a shaggy dog story, with a ridiculous — but still funny —  ending.

Omori Nao is excellent as the nerdy anti-hero. Director Matsumoto Hitoshi is a dry, stand-up comic, part of the Japanese duo Downtown. If you’re into cheap-and-silly Japanese BDSM/leather/comedy, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise…

moebius_02Moebius

Dir: Kim Ki-duk

A father, a mother and their teenage son live in South Korea. Dad has an affair with a woman who has a small convenience store down the street. Mom (and son) find out. Mom goes ballistic, and grabs a dagger she keeps hidden beneath a heavy Buddha’s head. Dad fights her off, so she breaks into her son’s room instead, and cuts off his penis. When he tries to get it back, she swallows it, and runs away. (That all happens in the first few minutes of this movie.)

Husband and son are forced to live without a Mom, and without one penis. Dad researches the internet for bizarre ways to help his son achieve orgasm, including rubbing a a pumice rock on your foot until it bleeds. Will dad cut off his own penis to give to his son for a penis transplant? Or will the son chop one off a random moebius_01stranger? Who deserves Dad’s ex-girlfriend? Father, son or both? And will they learn to accept being stabbed in the back… literally? (I really do mean literally.)

OK, this is one of the weirdest movies around. It’s filled with rape, incest, violence, alterna-sex, repeated dismemberment (of a particular member – that one), and more. It’s told as a sort of a pantomime: no one speaks throughout the whole film. But its set up like a fable or a storybook, with each scene passing swiftly to the next. It deals with revenge, retribution, repentance but in a very simplistic way. Also interesting is the mother and lover are played by the same actress wearing different wigs and makeup. It’s not funny or cute, just non-stop, extremely repetitive violence. But, I have to say, it was really well made for what it is.

But what is it? Apparently, Kim Kiduk the director, felt his scripts had been stolen by his interns. I’m guessing here, but maybe the whole movie was his thumb in the nose to the powers-that-be in the Korean film industry. Who knows? Am I glad I saw it? I guess I am – it is unique and unusual (although, structurally, it’s like all his movies with a simple, symmetrical, yin-and-yang plot).

I saw R100 at TIFF, immediately – I mean immediately, five minutes later — followed by Moebius, a double- feature like no other. See these two if you dare. You will never forget them.

Tom at the Farm, R100, and Moebius are all playing at TIFF. Go to tiff.net for tickets.

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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