January 27, 2012. Airplanes and Wheelchairs. Films Reviewed: Red Tails, Moon Point PLUS Oscar nominations

Posted in 1940s, Academy Awards, Acting, Action, African-Americans, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Disabilities, Drama, Movies, Slackers, US, video games, WWII by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2012

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.

They announced the Oscar nominees this week, some expected and others not so. I’ll be talking more about the nominations closer to the awards ceremony. They nominated some enjoyable movies – like The Help, War Horse, some good but not special ones like the Descendents, some good but flawed movies like the Tree of Life, and some mediocre ones like The Artist. And then there are the shockers. They nominated one of the worst movies of the year for best picture — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; one of the worst acting performances — Rooney Mara for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and Nick Nolte’s overwrought “Drunk Dad” in the mixed martial arts flick The Warrior.

I think Hugo is a good movie, but isn’t it sad that Scorsese could win for his so-so movies like this or The Departed but not for Taxi Driver, Goodfellas or King of Comedy? Ok, just wanted to let off a bit of steam, as I plod along my way…

This week I’m looking at two movies in motion. One’s an American film about soldiers who want to fly in the air, and a Canadian one about friends who want to roll up a hill.

Red Tails (Based on a true story)

Dir: Anthony Hemingway

It’s nearing the end of WWII. The Americans have taken Italy and are pushing the Germans northward across Europe. And at one of the Italian bases is a team of ace flyers who have yet to see battle. Why? Because they’re all African Americans from a special Air Force project in Tuskegee, Alabama. And in the 1940’s America was still a segregated country, with the “colour bar” strictly enforced. Black officers aren’t even allowed to drink in the officers’ club. The want to kill some Germans. Instead they’re stuck puttering around in glued together old junk-heaps, aiming their guns at covered jeeps and enemy trains.

Their officers, meanwhile, are in DC, trying to give them a chance to do some real fighting as they train in northern Italy. The whites in the military characterize this group of bright-eyed University-educated, ambitious, would-be-heroes as lazy and incompetent.

But they are actually champ flyers and fighters, especially Lightning (David Oyelowo) the best of them all. He swoops and spins, ducks, turns and flies upside down They all have nicknames, like “Easy” (Nate Parker) the drinker, or “Junior” (Elijah Kelley) the kid – with their names and logos painted on the sides of their planes. But they all want “kills” o their planes, too.

One day on a flight, Lightning sees a beautiful woman, Sofia (Daniela Ruah) looking out her window as he flies overhead – they catch each others’ eyes, and it’s love at first sight. (But will it be happily ever after?)

Finally the men are given new planes to fly, and they paint the tails bright red to make it clear who they are. Will they win their battles? Will Lightning shoot down his personal enemy a Red Baron Nazi flyer they call Pretty boy for his scarred face? And will they get to go with the other planes to drop bombs on Berlin?

What can I say about this movie?

It has a lot going for it. I liked the acting – an all-around good cast (although the scenes in Washington, with Terrence Howard pleading his soldiers’ case, were painfully wooden). David Oyelowo, especially, owns the screen.. And I have to say I enjoy the spectacular plane fights up in the air – it felt like a cool video game. And it’s a good idea to tell little-known history, to give kids role models, and to celebrate forgotten accomplishments by African Americans.

The problem is in the movie’s tone. Seriously — is it possible to show such a gung-ho, “war is great” type of movie in this day and age with a straight face? Even a hint of disgust for the excesses of war would have made this more understandable for contemporary audiences. Instead it ends up feeling more like a 1940’s recruitment ad then a modern-day movie.

Moon Point

Dir: Sean Cisterna

Darryl (Nick McKinley) is a slacker, a loser, and a compulsive liar who lives at home and is picked on by his snobby cousin Lars. He does little aside from hanging out with his good friend Femur (Kyle Mac), a disabled orphan who lives with his grandma. But when his cousin sarcastically asks if Darryl will be bringing a date to Lars’s upcoming wedding, he vows he’ll be bringing a movie star. You see, he had a crush on Sarah Cherry when he was a kid, and now she’s back shooting a movie.

Things have got to change. So Darryl convinces Femur to drive him up north to Moon Point, a town where where the movie’s being shot. By drive, he’s referring to Femur’s motorized scooter he uses when not in a wheelchair. So Darryl climbs into the little metal cart pulled by the scooter and begin their extremely slow trip to the North. On the way they meet a young woman, Kristin (Paula Brancati) who hitches a ride after her car broke down.

Will Darryl ever find his Hollywood crush? Will Kristin find her true love? And will Femur tackle his personal crisis? And can they all get to Moon Point and back in time for a wedding… at 5 miles an hour?

Moon Point is a very low-budget, locally-made Canadian comedy. It’s cute and fairly original with likeable characters. It’s a comedy, but some of the jokes fall as flat as a pancake. The humour comes less from the one-liners than from the unusual and uncomfortable situations characters find themselves in. Like sitting in on an A.A. meeting after catching a lift from a drunk driver (played by Art Hindle… dressed in a banana suit!) Or an impromptu karaoke contest in a highway roadhouse. The tone swings back and forth, from hokey to charming — but I ended up liking it.

Moon Point reminds me of Bruce MacDonald’s earliest movies, like Roadkill, only not rock and roll… calmer, gentler.

Red Tails is playing now, and Moon Point opens in Toronto next week – check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site CulturalMining.com.

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16 September, 2011. Women Directors at TIFF. Films Reviewed: Union Square, Elles, UFO in Her Eyes, Hysteria, PLUS Road Movie

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, and movies that taste good, and what the difference is.

TIFF is a strange and wonderful place. Where else can you go from watching a Russian movie (where all the characters speak German, but most of the actors just move their lips, open and closed, since they don’t speak either language)… to a quintessentially Winnipeg party celebrating another movie, where I ended up sitting at a table between stars Udo Kier and Louis Negin, tearing soft-core pictures out of old National Geographic magazines and new Taschen art books to glue onto paper in a collage. (It was a collage party – why not?)

Well TIFF may be winding down, but there are at least three more days left to see a huge amount of movies, and there are still tickets or rush seats available for most of them. Go to tiff.net for more information. So with no further ado, lets get to the reviews. This week I’m talking about four movies directed by and starring women in lead roles.

Union Square
Dir: Nancy Savoca

Jen (Tammy Blanchard), is a neat, pretty, quiet, and tidy
professional, originally from Vermont, living with he boyfriend in downtown Manhattan. She doesn’t drink or smoke, is a vegetarian, a yoga enthusiast, and runs a health food company out of her apartment. Her boyfriend and fiancé, Bill (Mike Doyle), is a generic-looking handsome Stanford grad, who keeps meticulous notes on his marathon training stats, and calls Jen “twig”. They’re happy.

But into this rarefied existence drops Lucy (Mira Sorvino), a loud-mouthed, gaudily dressed women who seems to know Jen for some reason. It’s soon revealed that she’s her sister. She talks at twice Jen’s volume, interrupts her, laughs, shrieks, cries, and breaks hundred of house rules (no shoes, no pets, no cigarettes, no meat) even in her first few minutes in the apartment off Union Square. She’s a working-class, Italian-American from the Bronx! And Rob’s parents are coming the next day for Thanksgiving dinner, even as Lucy camps out on a pile of things on the couch.

Will Jen’s potential marriage crumble as Bill discovers her real origins? Can she still “pass” as a suburban educated WASP? And will Lucy get a chance to explain some important family issues to Jen?

Union Square works like a one-act-play, with revelations, gradual changes in character, and a final concluding scene to explain some of what’s behind the two sisters’ fighting. And it makes for an enjoyable picture.

Elles
Dir: Malgorzata Szumowska

Anne (Juliette Binoche), is a reporter for Elle magazine in Paris. She’s writing a story on two separate, pretty college students she found Charlotte and Alicja (Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig) who secretly work as well-paid prostitutes. Charlotte still lived with her parents, and Alicja was from Poland, studying in Paris but without a place to stay. As they describe their sexual experiences to her, the movie drifts in and out of their sexual experiences with their clients, or at least how Anne imagines them.

Anne begins with questions about how they were forced into this life, what miserable experiences they have, and whether it make them hate sex. But their answers surprise her. Charlotte says there’s a horrible smell that’s really hard to get rid of. Anne nods supportively – all that sex with strangers… No, says Charlotte, its the smell of the housing projects she used to live in with her parents, where she worked as a fast food cashier. Now? Life was wonderful with her new comfortable lifestyle, shoes, clothes, and food. Now she has johns teach her to make Coq au vin with Reisling, and, after sex, sit on her bed playing the guitar.

Anne begins to have sexual fantasies about their lives, even as she questions her own privileged, but meaningless and alienating consumer lifestyle, and how her husband and two sons all ignore her. Elles is pleasant, pretty and sexually explicit — if lightweight — and one that offers a pro-sex, feminist view of the trade thats different from most movies.

UFO in her Eyes
Dir: Guo Xiaolu

Guan Yu (Ke Shi) is a peasant who lives in rural southern China amid the small tree-covered mountains.
She has a roll in the hay with the town schoolteacher. Afterwards, she picks up a piece of crystal and looks at the sky where she’s sure she sees some flying saucers coming to earth. Soon, word has spread, and the ambitious communist party chief for the village (Mandy Zhang) has decided to make the town rich by forcing it to be modern, complete with an ugly town sculpture, a UFO amusement park, a 5-star hotel, and a golf course. The schoolteacher begins to teach his 8-year-old students to read Henry Miller. The town Chief declares Guan Yu a model peasant, and the married school teacher a model intellectual. The schoolteacher should divorce his wife and marry Guanyu to make a perfect couple for the town, and embrace Americanism – whether they want it or not. But what about all the people in the town – the poor, the migrant bicycle repairman, the farmers whose land is requisitioned to build a golf course, and the local butcher whose pig sty is declared unsanitary? As the haves are marching toward modernity richness, the disenfranchised are banding together to protest it. Which side will triumph? Will Guan Yu go with change? Or will she find her true love, the quiet, migrant bicycle repairman? And what about the UFO – will she ever see them again?

UFO in her Eyes, based on the director’s bestselling novel, is a cute satire of the new capitalism in rural China.

Wuthering Heights
Dir: Andrea Arnold
You probably know the story: Heathcliff, an orphan brought home from a port to a rural village in 19th century England, is baptized, and raised sort of as a member of the god-fearing family. He and his adopted sister, Cate, become very close, rolling around in the heather and mud of the moors. But they’re threatened by Hindley who thinks his dad likes Heathcliff more. When Cate decides to marry a rich man, Heathcliff flees the farm, and doesn’t come back for many years. Will they get back together and embrace their love, or will it consume ad destroy them both?

OK. The thing is, this version is done by the great director Andrea Arnold, who made Fish Tank last year – that’s why I wanted to see this. She makes some changes. People speak naturally, the camera is handheld, and jiggles around, lighting seems natural – sunlight or candlelight or complete darkness – interspersed with beautiful contemporary-looking costumes, and tons of shots of birds animals and plants. Most of the actors are non-actors, Hindley’s a racist skinhead and Heathcliff is black!

It doesn’t always work, and gets a bit tedious in the second half, but has some very beautiful scenes, like Cate blowing a tiny feather or licking the wounds on Heathcliff’s back. It’s an interesting, naturalistic take on what’s usually just a costumed melodrama.

Hysteria
Dir: Tanya Wexler

It’s Victorian London, and earnest and handsome young Dr Granville (Hugh Dancy) is trying without luck to help people stay clean and healthy while remaining loyal to the ideals of Lister, and modern medicine. He is hired by a psychiatrist, Dr Dalyrimple, who gives special treatments to rich, society women suffering from the blanket ailment “hysteria”. Women who were designated frigid, or nymphomaniacal, or moody, or argumentative – well, they’re all “hysterical”, so the problem must be in their uterus (and hysterectomies were sometimes considered a “cure”). Treatment consists of manual genital massages behind discretely mounted miniature red velvet curtains.

He’s engages to marry the Dalyrimple’s conservative daughter Emily; she’s a pianist and an phrenologist: Oh, Dr Granville, your thrombus is rigid and jutting! she says after feeling the bumps on his head. But he always seems to be in arguments with the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhall) a suffragette and social worker who runs a settlement house in the impoverished East End. And poor Granville might lose his job because of the repetitive stress injury in his right hand. But, together with his gay best friend and steampunk inventor (Rupert Everett) he just might have the solution to eveyone’s problems– a new machine that may permanently cure hysteria.

I was expecting nothing from a movie about the invention of the vibrator, but it was a real treat – a romance, a comedy, an historical drama, an old-fashioned Hollywood-style movie, along with a taboo twist. Try to see it this weekend – it’s a great movie!

Union Square, UFO in her Eyes, Wuthering Heights and Hysteria are all playing now at TIFF – check listings at tiff.net . And also check out Road Movie, a two sided, three-screen video installation at the O’Borne Gallery by Elle Flanders and Tamira Sawatki that shows pixilated footage tracing the roads in the occupied West Bank (from the view of the Israeli settlers on one side and Palestinians on the other) with their words superimposed in short phrases over the footage.

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

The Space-Time Continuum. Movies Reviewed: Source Code, Repeaters, American: The Bill Hicks Story, The Tiny Ventriloquist

Everyone loves some good time travel right? Sure you do. You want to go back in time and fix something up, right a wrong, to do something you wished you had done before it was too late. So, this week, I’m looking at four movies — an action thriller, and a psycho-science fiction movie that deal directly with glitches in the time- space continuum, as well as a historical documentary/ biography about a stand up comic who was inspired by his psychedelic trips, and an art film that manipulates old images and sound, using newly created and found footage and graphic art.

Time travel movies used to be simple, you’d climb into your time machine, travel back or forward in time, until you fix whatever the problem was and come back home.

But now (possibly influenced by start-again video games and rebooted computer programs where you always have the chance to erase your mistakes and go back to point zero) we have this sub genre where scenes are repeated over and over and over again.

You are the one variable that can make a difference, but if you mess up, someone is pressing Play Again until you get it right (like in the classic Groundhog Day)

In one new movie,

Source Code

Dir: Duncan Jones

you get to see the same 8 minute episode, throughout the film, until the hero, a US military helicopter pilot In Afghanistan, tries to win his game.

So, the soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) suddenly awakens on a Chicago commuter train, in the middle of a chat with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), a pretty woman across from him. The problem is, he doesn’t know where he is, what he’s doing, and who are all the strangers seated with him who seem to know him. And when he looks in a bathroom mirror he discovers he’s not there — he’s somehow inside another person! But even as he tries to make sense of it all, he is the victim of a huge explosion on the train whichh catapults him back to his military job.

It turns out he’s part of an experiment called source code, based on the principal that the brain can hold on to 8 minutes of short-term memory, and that after someone dies (like the man on the train) his neuro synapses remain open and retrievable if caught immediately after the heart stops.

So it’s up to him to figure out who the terrorist is, where the bomb was hidden, and then to trackdown the killer and stop a massive nuclear bomb set to go off later in downtown Chicago. he can’t change the past, but he can relive it until he finds out the truth.

Will he solve the crime, catch the bad guy, get to know Christina, and save the world? And will he ever be told why he’s In this program, and allowed out of this hellish space-time loop?

Source Code essentially has the same format as the directors other film Moon (about a man who lives alone on a base on the moon, with only a computer voice to keep him company) — a dialogue between two detached people caught in sort of a loop created by people beyond their understanding. In this one, the ongoing conversation — on the two sides of a video screen — is between the soldier and a female officer (Vera Farmiga) who sends him his assignments.

It’s a neatly imagined science fiction action thriller, even though Gylenhaal doesn’t seem quite up to the part, he’s too opaque, and the story doesn’t exactly make sense, even according to its own plot.

A Canadian film that opens next Friday,

Repeaters

Dir: Carl Bessai

follows a similar pattern.

Three young ne’er-do-well drug addicts — Kyle, Sonia and Weeks –at an isolated rehab center, live through a god-awful day iof depression, bullying, idiocy, neglect, and frustration. The three only have each other to depend on. Pick-up truck Kyle (Dustin Milligan) is rejected by his little sister for something he did; Sonia (Amanda Crew) is unable to talk about an issue with her father who is dying in a hospital; and Weeks (Richard de Klerk) is emotionally crushed by the hate-on his furious father carries for him when he tries to visit him in a prison.

But when they wake up the next morning after a thunderstorm, it’s soon clear the world is reliving the previous day exactly as before, and only those three are aware of it. This totally messes up their sense of destiny and morality. Is there any meaning to life at all? Even if they save a person’s life — or kill him — it all goes back to the same point of restart. (It’s one day, not 8 minutes, in this movie, so it’s not as action- packed as source code.) will they ever confront their own moral dillemmas and right the wrongs they know about?

This is a neat movie about things like where morality fits into one’s own self image, what are the psychological consequences of good and evil that has no effect, and what would you do if you could do anything? It’s also a romance, a bit science fiction, with a lot of psycho-thriller, as the three reveal their own minds to each other as the loops continue.

The next movie is only related to time travel in that the main character was known to mentally float around in a drug induced state.

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Dir: Matt Harlock and Pauk Thomas

Bill Hicks was a counter-culture standup comic in the Seventies and Eighties, known for tackling the topics that are taboo for comedians: not dick jokes, but politics, philosophy, intellectual issues, psychedelia. His jokes combined a Texas drawl, the lilt of a preacher’s revival meeting, and out-of-control, drunken and drug-filled vivid improvisational fantasies, rages and rants.

This moving documentary traces his life from his geeky teen years until his untimely death in his early thirties. Interesting technique for a documentary; there are almost no talking heads – instead the heads, people like his parents, his best friend, other comedians — turn into the movies narrators, like an oral history, with most of the movie comsisting of animated old photos, along with old concert footage.

He started as a thirteen yr old in suburban Houston, Texas. On his first try at drinking alcohol at a night club, he asks his fellow comedians – what’s a good drink (because he’s never had a mixed drink before)? They tell him Margaritas. So he downs seven margaritas at once and then goes on stage and lets loose. He considers alcohol as a disinhibitor, to let his true emotions loose on stage, and psilocybin mushrooms the source of his psychedelic insights. He would go up to a ranch every so often with a bunch of friends to down the mushrooms and see what images they bring.

Hicks was a heavy drinker and a creative psychedelic druggie, and the movie shows some unflattering footage of low period where audience members would buy him drinks during his standup act and he would drink, snort or inhale anything that got sent up the stage. A bt disturbing — like most of his act, where unsobreity was part of his defiance.

American, the Bill Hicks Story, is a very good and interesting movie, of a largely unsung folk-hero, done in the style of a rock-star documentary. My only criticism is that it concentrates too much on the serious biography parts and not enough on his art.

The Tiny Ventriloquist

Dir: Steve Reinke

Here’s another film that played last week’s Images Festival, where experimental art meets the big screen. This movie takes a disjointed look at the director’s own self-reflections towards his art; using his own great narrated shots and photos, along with found footage – of the most surprising kind – cut up and manipulated in an unexpected way.

I’ve always liked Steve Reinke’s work because it’s art, but it’s also always interesting and funny to watch, without the overly tedious or pensive feel, that a lot of video art has. You’re allowed to enjoy it, you’re allowed to laugh or squirm.

So in the same way Steve Hicks would drag political outrage into the usually pablum, fake-shock world of stand-up comedy, Steve Reinke, in the same way, violates the usually dry inner sanctum of art using found porn and other taboo sources (in an artistically valid way, naturally.)

So in this movie you het a combination of uneasy travel footage, spooky monochrome, costumed, home movie dancing, and old crackly recordings. Scenes of flood, water, and old rural western USA. Drunken Dutch soccer hooligans, hunters, real or imagined vaguely threatening child memories, manipulated Peanut’s cartoons, scary medical and industrial footage, and post-apocalyptic fantasies filled with dread.

The most bizarre footage is of a woman shown bear hunting in the woods, followed by a protracted explicit sex, in the form of very low-grade amateur porn, on top of the dead body of the bear. It’s funny: the dry didactic narration, while describing each scene in detail, in order to not offend the viewers it censors parts of the images by covering it with amorphous green-screen colour. Here’s the surprise: he keeps all the hard core porn images, but scribbles out the body of the poor dead bear!

Throughout the piece, vivid footage is alternated with animated simple line drawings. I liked this film, The Tiny Ventriloquist, a lot.

Source Code is now playing, American, the Bill Hicks Story starts today at the Royal Cinema in Toronto (check our local listings), Repeaters opens next Friday and The Tiny Ventriloquist was shown at the Images Festival.

Shrink Away or Fight Back? Dogtooth, The Mechanic

What do middle-aged white guys do when the world seems to be falling apart around them? Do they withdraw or do they fight back? This week I’m talking about two very different movies that deal with reactions to the collapse of everyday life, including isolationism, xenophobia, fear, and violence.

Dogtooth

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Dogtooth is an unusual film from Greece, a fantasy about a control freak of a father who regards his three children as tabula rasa, blank slates to be filled with his ideas and no one else’s. No one ever contradicts him since he keeps them isolated in a fenced-in compound with no outside contact of any kind. The twist is that the “kids” are adults now, but still live as children, not realizing there is any other life with them talking on normal, adult roles.

The three adult children live a completely controlled life in which their experience never extends beyond a fence around their estate. They are raised like trained dogs, in accordance with their father’s strange psychological theories.

They’ve been told if they step outside they will die. So, like creative small kids, they build on what they’ve learned by inventing variations and playing games, but can only riff on what they’ve seen. Their games evolve on their own tracts, far away from what even the father envisions. They’ve grown up with a bizarre twisted morality and view of the world, and become experts at mimicking his duplicity.

Only Father ever leaves the house and no one new ever comes in. Then one day he does something new, different: He brings home a visitor, Christine. She’s a security guard at his company, and he lets her have mechanical sex with the Son. But once he introduces a new variable, the father’s careful familial equilibrium begins to fray in unexpected ways.

This is a really weird, neat, movie. Great, stylized acting! The actors use stiff-sounding, controlled lines, even as they do outlandish and disgusting things. There’s a sterile, artless, faded 1970’s retro look to everything in their world, like they were frozen in some kind of time machine. Forget about computers and the internet – this place has no newspapers, no TV, no telephones.

The plastic bubble the family lives in is especially poignant when you think of the strikes, riots, demonstrations, and all-around social unrest and economic upheaval actually going on in Greece right now. The film shifts back and forth from the black humour of social satire, to strange sexual experimentation, to the pathos of a disturbing family drama. Dogtooth is a black comedy that leaves you with a strange, uneasy feeling. It’s a fascinating art film, and has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

The Mechanic

Dir: Simon West

This movie also sounded good.

Bishop (Jason Statham) a man known as “the Mechanic”, is a hitman who knocks off hard-to-kill people. He finds out what his assignments are by looking at certain want-ads looking for mechanics. He studies a man, kills him, makes it look like an accident, and collects an overstuffed envelope of cash as his reward.

There also seems to be some unspoken rule that all his victims somehow “deserve” to be killed. So, (like TV’s Dexter, the serial killer who only kills other serial killers) he’s not a bad man, just efficient… and deadly.

So he’s surprised one day, when he’s told to kill his boss, Harry (Donald Sutherland, who apparently will do any role if the price is right), an affable fellow in a wheelchair, who pays him to murder other men on behalf of the shady corporation he works for. Harry has a son, Steve (Ben Foster), who’s a ne’er-do-well. With Harry out of the way, Bishop feels he owes something to his old boss, so he decides to mentor Steve in the only profession he knows – as a killer.

Sounds intriguing, no?

Unfortunately this is a dreadful movie that seems more like a wet dream for NRA tea-baggers than a normal action thriller. Its message is clear – everyone is a murderer, so you’d better arm yourself to the teeth and kill them first, or else they’ll kill you.

Can a movie (not just its characters) actually be bigoted? This one is. It takes place in New Orleans, but naturally it’s a place were everyone’s white – except for the two blacks: a carjacker, and a lazy-ass shrimper. The Latino? He’s a drug dealer. Women have no names or personalities. They are all either victims — terrified, screaming wives and daughters — or paid, nameless prostitutes. Then there’s the one gay man in this movie — a predatory, pedophile murderer…. naturally!

I love a good action movie but this one doesn’t even make sense. It’s full of things like: the Mechanic lives in an isolated compound, seemingly reachable only by motorboat… but then in other scenes you see him driving off in his sportscar from the same house.

My mistake was I thought it would be a Jason Statham movie like the terrific, 8-bit-style, high-speed action comedy Crank, or its even better and faster sequel Crank: High Voltage. (Movies that are equally full of offensive racist caricatures, but funny ones.) Or maybe a Ben Foster movie like last year’s sad, moving film “The Messenger”. But it isn’t. It’s a Simon West movie, directed by the same talentless schmoo who brought us such cinematic gems as the wretched Con Air (about an airplane full of violent prisoners), or the even worse Lara Croft Tomb Raider, an unwatchable action-adventure based on a British computer game.

If George Clooney’s “The American” was a glamorous, shallow look at a heartless paid assassin and his troubles with his employers, at least it was visually appealing in the foggy Italian hills. It was aimed at middle-class Americans longing for the beauty of Europe. This movie is ugly to the core, (it looks like an out-take from CSI Miami) and seems to appeal only to angry, xenophobic knuckle-draggers, angry but afraid of everything, who want to see as many people dead, as soon as possible.

OK, so what? It’s just an action movie…

Admittedly, there are a couple great shoot-out and fight scenes – I liked them — involving mirrors, buildings roofs, and improvised weapons — but they are few and far between. Most of the film just dragged on and on. A few good fights and thrills can’t redeem this stupid, pointless, boring, and morally corrupt movie where cold-blooded gun-toting killers are painted as the good guys.

The Mechanic, opens in Toronto on January 28th, and Dogtooth also opens tonight at the Royal, in a double bill with another Greek film, Attenberg.

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Acting and Special Effects on Display. Movies reviewed: Tron: Legacy, The Fighter, Blue Valentine

At this time of year, a lot of the movies are trying for awards and audiences. The awards usually bring in bigger audiences and make it easier for the actors, directors, writers, et al to raise money for the next movie they want to make.

That’s one of the reasons they even bother to make some of these movies – so that actors or directors can show off their skills. Some work, some don’t.

Today I’m going to look at three movies that try something different or unusual, either through their appearance, story, or performances.

The Fighter
Dir: David O Russell

There are two brothers, Mickey and Dicky, and seven sisters who all live in working-class Lowell Massachusettes. Dicky Eklund — once known as the Pride of Lowell — was a former great boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray, before retiring. Now he’s training his brother Mickey Ward to make it as a welter-weight. And his mother’s his manager. But Dicky has a tendency not to show up for practices. Why? Because he’s a crackhead with a tendency to jump out of windows so his mother won’t find out. He’s also a petty scammer and a thief.

Dicky (Christian Bale) ends up in prison, and Mickey (Mark Wahlberg) is working with a new manager and trainer, who are rivals to his mother and brother. Meanwhile, Mickey meets Charlene, (Amy Adams) a bartender. His family also doesn’t like her – they refer to her as an “MTV girlfriend”, meaning a snob, because she went to college – and the feelings are mutual.

Will Mickey make it to the top? Will he be a boxing champ? Will he reconcile with his brother and mother? Will he listen to his new trainer or his jailed brother on boxing strategy? Will he stay with Charlene? And will he be used as a stepping stone – a boxer only there to get KOed by other boxers on their trip up the ladder?

The Fighter is a boxing movie – with some long scenes in the ring – a true biopic about an Irish- Catholic New England working-class boxer’s life in the late 80‘s / early 90’s. It’s actually a very enjoyable movie.

Trained British actor Christian Bale plays this skinny, googley-eyed, fast-talking American drug addict, and you can totally believe it. He’s amazing. Amy Adams, made to look plain, is a little less so, but still good, and she gets lots of lines to play with like “Call me skank again and I’ll rip alla your hair out!” And Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really act, he just plays the same role he always does, but he’s a likeable movie star.

But it’s all the small parts, like the gaggle of sisters, and the Mother, and the various locals, which add the real colour to the film. It’s a good, old- fashioned boxing movie… and it works.

Tron Legacy
Dir: Joseph Kosinsky

Sam Flynn (Garret Helund) is a computer genius and adventurer who, when he plays an old, abandoned arcade game, finds himself inside another world – the world of the game itself. His father Kevin Flynn, who created that world, has been trapped inside there for decades. But a never-aging doppelganger, Clu – he looks like a simulacrum of Jeff Bridges preserved in a jar of botox –is trying to take over that world, and to turn it into a Roman Empire of gladiators and constant fights. Everyone wears donut Frisbees on their backs that double as computer discs with all their data. It’s also their weapon of choice in the games, because it can take down your opponent (like a boomerang) by tearing away at the digital grid. So Sam, with the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), has only 8 hours in which to go somewhere, and get something from someone (I think) and do something or other, before the portal closes again and he’s trapped inside.

OK. This is a great movie. Except for the characters, the story, and the dialogue, which are absolutely awful and make no sense whatsoever. Ideally this would be re-released as a silent movie with no lines, just all the cool, glowing neon images, of characters zipping through cyberspace, with people creating motorcycles or airplanes out of thin air and racing all around… all of this with the mainly great Daft Punk electronic music in the background.

Great images and special effects (except when the characters are wearing white space suits instead of black ones, and the material start bunching up – you know, you’d think when they spend tens of millions on SFX they’d catch stuff like that), and good music; everything else sucks.

Blue Valentine
Dir: Derek Cianfrance

Dean is a High School drop-out who plays the ukulele. He gets a job as a mover, and, on his first trip – moving a man’s possessions to an old age home in Scranton, Pennsylvania — he sees Cindy visiting her grandmother across the hall, and he’s smitten. It’s love at first sight — at least for Dean. He pursues her, and woos her, and they both love each other dearly, and the two of them raise their cute daughter together.

But, all is not well. The marriage seems to have gone sour, and they’re just not getting along the way they used to. Cindy has a good job as a nurse, while Dean hasn’t progressed much in his career – he’s more interested in being a househusband. Dean hopes to clear up their relationship by leaving their daughter Frankie with Cindy’s parents overnight, and holing up in a seedy motel with some alcohol, so they can get drunk, have sex, and hash out their differences.

The movie shifts back and forth between the early days of their relationship and how it developed, and the present day, where they seems to have reached an impasse.

Does this movie work? I’m of mixed feelings. It’s a very passionate and realistic look at a relationship. The acting is all great – basically a two-person show. Ryan Gosling (who looks somewhere between a scraggy redneck and a hipster) is the happy-go-lucky romantic, taking life as it comes; and the pretty but plain, voluptuous but understated, bleached blonde Michelle Williams as the more pragmatic and career-conscious but troubled one, who is plagued by indecision.

It’s a heavy-duty relationship movie, good times and bad. You ever been to a party and one couple starts arguing with each other? The rest of the people exchange glances and try to figure out how to sneak away, far away as soon as they can. (Excuse me, gotta go!)? Well this movie was a bit like that. Not that I wanted to walk out of the theatre – not at all – but a lot of the movie was about a couple’s troubled relationship, and some of it really dragged to the point you just want to say:

Shut up! Both of you…
Cindy – Dean still loves you. A lot.
Dean — Cindy can’t take it any more.
OK? That’s all. Move along.

But the story’s very realistic, the movie feels like an old Cassavetes pic, the design, the camera, the acting, all very good. It’s not a sweet tear-jerker of a Hollywood romance, it’s about real romance: love, loss, sadness. I think it’s worth seeing… but it’s a bit depressing.

Rom Com Glom. Films Reviewed: The Switch, Going the Distance, No Heart Feelings plus: Types of movies to avoid; and A New Toronto Movement?

Posted in Acting, Animals, Anthropology, Bad Movies, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, drugs, Movies, Romantic Comedy, Sex, Uncategorized, video games by CulturalMining.com on September 2, 2010

Have you ever walked into a multiplex and discovered you’re too late for the movie you planned to see? But since you’re already there…How do you know what to go to, and what to avoid at all costs? Are there any clues?

Well, no rule is steadfast, but here are a few types of movies that you should not go to:

Don’t go to movies with a number in its title or where a number is the title

Don’t go to movies based on video games,

Disneyland rides,

or 60’s TV sitcoms

Don’t go to movies directed by bad actors

Don’t go to live-action movies where the main character is a talking animal

Don’t go to movies without a single positive review quoted in the ad

And never, ever go to movies with two directors!

And then there’s types of movie.

Why is it, that so many comedies, especially romantic comedies, suck? I’m going to look at three of them now, some of which worked better than others… I’ll do them in ascending order, by number of directors.

“Going the Distance”

Dir: Nanette Burstein

Garret (Justin Long) goes off to a bar to get sheet-faced drunk after his girlfriend dumps him for ordering take out and not giving her a present. “But you said no presents”. “Because you’re supposed to want to give me one…” At the bar he meets Erin (Drew Barrymore), a vintage arcade game champ. She’s in New York in an internship at a newspaper – she’s 31. Times are tough. So they end up in bed together, even after seeing his Top Gun movie poster-themed apartment. In fact his eccentric roommate plays background music through the thin walls whenever their whispered pillow talk inspires him.

But at the end of the summer, she’s back in San Francisco, and he’s in Manhattan. Life is tough. Should they stay together? Will their relationship endure in two coastal cities? Or will one of them take the plunge and move..?

The boyfriend has two goofy hipster sidekick friends, one of whom has the world’s worst douche-stache on his upper lip. The girlfriend lives with her sister and brother-in-law, who make weird sexual references, and give her humorously uptight advice.

This is an ok comedy. They’re a nice couple, who obviously are in love. In fact Drew Barrymore and Justin Long are a couple in real life as well as in the movie. She’s always a great actress. He’s just OK. He’s mainly known as the I’m Mac, I’m PC guy from the commercials, and you may have seen him this year as the boyfriend in Sam Raimi’s funny horror movie Drag me to Hell. The sister character played by Christina Applegate is very funny. Not too bad a movie, but not very good.

“The Switch”

Dir: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

In this movie, Kassie (Jennifer Anniston) decides it’s time to have a kid. She goes the self-insemination route, and holds a big sperm party for her friends. But her neurotic friend Wally (Jason Bateman) has a crush on her and feels rejected. He gets drunk and finds, in the bathroom, a little jar lying around. What’s that? It’s the sperm. Why’s it just lying there? Who knows? Oops! He spills it. Better replace it…

Naturally, that one switch, means she gets inseminated not by the blond mountain-climbing Columbia prof of feminist theory, but rather old pal neurotic Wally. And she moves to Minnesota, where, apparently,  they live in cabins without phones. So when she decides to move back to NY, 7 years later, she lets Wally know she has a 7 year-old son! And she’s letting the kid meet his biological father, the now divorced prof. Will Wally tell her he’s the baby’s father? And will he tell her he still has a crush on her? And will he get along with the genetically neurotic son?

So this is still the beginning of the movie. Basically there’s nothing left to happen in terms of the plot. They hang out, they get to know each other, he competes with the supposed donor, he helps the kid with his headlice, blah blah blah.

The thing is – it’s not funny. It has a unbelievably weak plot. It’s not consistent, the actors  — and they’re all good, Anniston, Bateman, jeff Goldblum, and long-time-no-see Juliette Lewis – look like they’re reading lines that were written on a napkin. And the characters don’t make sense. The mother has no real backstory — you don’t know who she is or what she does, or even what interests her – she’s a baby vessel. Jason Bateman’s character is supposed to be neurotic… except he’s not. He’s just a mildly depressed guy. Everythng about this movie is stupid. The feminist theory professor is a dumb jock, while the wall street trader is deeply intellectual. You even get a bruise on the kid’s face migrating around his cheek from scene to scene.

So if you’re on an airplane or an all-night bus ride, sure, watch it. Otherwise… why not go to the Kids are All Right instead, to see a much better insemination comedy. Or just check out the next movie I’m reviewing…

“No Heart Feelings”

Dir: Sarah Lazarovic, Geoff Morrison, Ryan J. Noth

Here’s a movie with not two, but three director/writers! Uh-oh… does that mean it’s even worse than “The Switch”? No! Just the opposite.

Mel (Rebecca Kohler) dumps her long-distance boyfriend by telephone. (At least she didn’t do it by texting.) Even though she did the dumping, she feels like crap so her friend gets her drunk so she can vent and recover. And in her bounce-back semi-inebriated state, she meets Lewis, (Dustin Parkes)

a nice guy, who’s just returned to Toronto after a while away. They have sex, and sorta hit it off… kinda. Mel’s a bit awkward about the whole thing. And Lewis isn’t sure. They both, separately, decide to keep it “super caj” – no commitments or anything. But there’s definitely a spark.

The movie’s super casual too – it’s the exact opposite of a high concept movie. It reminds me of Bruce McDonald’s movie, a few months back, This Movie is Broken. People in their 20’s or 30’s, hanging out in downtown Toronto and just living the life… in the nice, green summertime.

Some people are losing their jobs or working at ridiculous ones that have no meaning beyond forwarding PDFs or watching lolcats all day. It can be frustrating. One character says “I have five bosses — altogether they have one sense of humour.

But they all have people around them in widening ripples: best friends, groups of buddies, party acquaintances, the people they say hi to on the street.

Mel and Lewis run into friends on Spadina, and talk about work, condos, food…they wander around dollar stores in Chinatown, the wading pool in Kensington Market,  401 Richmond building, hotdog stand at Queen and Spadina, College Street, breakfast at Aunties and Uncles, badminton in what looks like Trinity Bellwoods Park, a garage sale, a gallery opening, and biking everywhere in the streets alleys and the bike paths in the ravines.

They finally all end up at one of the friends’ cottage for an awkward reunion. Will they end up together?

Well, it’s not that kind of a romantic comedy. The comedy is mainly in the comments of all the wise-cracking group of friend, not the “awkward situations” you usually get stuck with. This one is just a very low-key, nice slice of downtown Toronto life. It’s what a reality show should look like, but never does. And it proves that three directors can put together a sweet and coherent story, about people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

I get the impression that there’s a new Toronto film movement forming right around now. Movies where the city plays itself instead of other places; where there’s a laid back vibe, and where there’s a lot of recognizable landmarks — movies like Scott Pilgrim, This Movie is Broken, and now No Heart Feelings.

I hope it continues to flourish.

(More on the Toronto Movement to come….)

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