Dark Summer Movies. Films reviewed: It Comes At Night, Awakening the Zodiac, My Cousin Rachel

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gothic, Horror, Movies, Mystery, post-apocalypse, Psychological Thriller, Romance, violence by CulturalMining.com on June 9, 2017

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

Even on the hottest summer day, it still gets dark at night. So this week I’m looking at some dark summer movies. We’ve got rednecks stalking a serial killer, an aristocrat falling for a black widow, and an ordinary family fighting an unknown plague.

 

It Comes at Night

Wri/Dir: Trey Edward Shults

Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a 17-year-old boy who lives with his parents in a huge wooden house in the woods. He sneaks around the dark halls and passageways late at night when he should be sleeping. He’s an insomniac plagued with strange dreams. And there’s a reason for his nightmares. A terrible disease – like Ebola mixed with small pox – is killing almost everybody and no one knows how it spreads. That’s why his parents Paul and Sarah (Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo) fled the city and moved into this abandoned and isolated house. They are well equipped with gas masks, water purifiers… and guns, if they need them. They boarded up all the windows and doors except one: a red door that opens into a mud room.

One night, they hear a noise from behind the red door. It’s a young man covered in dirt (Christopher Abbott). Is he a thief or an innocent family man? And is he infected? Sam beats him up and leaves him to die tied to a tree with a bag over his head. But when he’s still alive the next day, he lets Will, his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their little boy to move in with them. But can they be trusted? And are they clean?

Don’t be misled by the title. It Comes at Night is not a conventional horror movie with scary monsters; ordinary people who discard conventional morality when faced with extreme circumstances. It feels like a zombie movie, but without the zombies. It’s violent and disturbing but without the expected triumph or disaster. Great acting, amazingly shot with indoor scenes all lit by the glowing lanterns the characters carry. It has an almost surreal feel to it, as it switches between Travis’s fears, dreams and sexual fantasies and the horrible reality if his post-apocalyptic life. See this if your looking for a spooky and violent art house drama.

Awakening the Zodiac

Dir: Jonathan Wright

Mick and Zoe (Shane West, Leslie Bibbe) are a neerdowell couple living in a trailer park in rural Virginia. They drive a rusty pickup looking for work to improve their lot in life. For Mick this usually means a get-rich-quick scheme with his good buddy Harvey (Matt Craven). Their current plan? Treasure hunting in delinquent storage spaces: you pay a few hundred bucks to take ownership of the contents. And Harver thinks they’ve struck gold in the form of stacks of 8mm films dating back to the sixties. He’s uncovered the personal footage of an infamous serial killer known for his brutal murders and the cryptic messages he sent to the police. Zodiac disappeared in 1968, never heard from again. But there’s still a $100,000 reward in his head. Zoe, Mick and Harvey want the big bucks but first they must prove the storage locker belongs to Zodiac. Can they find the evidence they need before the killer finds them?

Awakening the Zodiac is a corny horror/thriller. It has some scary parts and a few shocks, and the main characters are likeable. Unfortunately it gets bogged down by a ridiculous plot and rusty script. Would a genius serial killer save all the evidence of his crimes and then forget about it? If you found valuable films wouldn’t you rather sell them than stalk a serial killer? (But I guess there’d be no movie) Even the 8 mm selfies look like what people make nowadays, not what a serial killer would have shot in the sixties. The biggest problem is when we finally discover who the killer is, he or she is just not scary enough. Save this one for late night TV.

My Cousin Rachel

Dir: Roger Michell (Based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier)

Victorian England. Philip (Sam Claflin) is a young aristocrat with a fiery temper not given to fancy words and deep thoughts. He lives in a stately mansion in the English countryside. An orphan, he was brought up by his much older cousin Ambrose, his finances handled by his godfather. He is deeply loyal to these two surrogate fathers and is expected to marry his longtime friend Louise (Holliday Grainger) his godfather’s daughter. He spends his time galloping through the rolling hills, steep cliffs and sandy beaches of his vast estate.

Philip is lord of the manor, but works alongside his servants and tenant farmers at harvest time. But things take a turn for the worse when his ailing cousin Ambrose writes him from Italy that his wife Rachel Ashley (Rachel Weisz) is trying to kill him! Before he can rescue him, his cousin dies and Rachel shows up unannounced. Full of hatred and vowing revenge, Philip confronts the murderous witch. He expects a crone with a wart on her nose. Instead, she’s a charming and sophisticated older woman with dark good looks even shrouded in widow’s weeds.

Philip falls madly in love, throwing money, family jewels and even the estate he’s due to inherit at age 25, if only she’ll marry him. She kisses him by candlelight even as she concocts odd tasting tisanes for him to drink. Is she killing him or nursing him back to health? Is she a serial killer and con artist, or merely a woman trying to secure her future? And is Philip the victim or an abusive lover who expects to possess whatever woman he desires?

My Cousin Rachel is an old fashioned gothic romance, complete with beautiful costumes, stunning scenery, authentic songs and a realistic, modern take on English country life. It’s based on a novel from the 1950s, but to modern audiences, parts seem out of date, like Philip’s ridiculous naïveté. The movie starts slowly but eventually gets really good with some shocking twists and turns toward the end.

It Comes at Night, Awakening the Zodiac, and My Cousin Rachel all open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

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

 

Daniel Garber talks with director Jac Gares about her new film Free CeCe! at Inside Out

Posted in African-Americans, documentary, LGBT, Prison, Protest, Trans, violence by CulturalMining.com on May 26, 2017

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

In June, 2011 in St. Paul Minnesota, an African-American woman and her friends were taunted by a group of white supremacists they encountered on the street. A white woman assaulted her, cutting her face, followed by a violent attack by a white man. The situation escalated when the woman under attack pulled out a scissors to defend herself. The man ended up dead, the woman charged with murder. Her name is CeCe McDonald and she’s a transgendered black woman whose story has captured the interest of activists around the world.

Free CeCe! is a new documentary that tells her story. It’s about the violence, injustice and incarceration faced by transgender people of colour. It is directed by Jacqueline “Jac” Gares an award-winning TV director and filmmaker. Free CeCe! is her first documentary feature film, and it’s having its Canadian premier at Toronto’s Inside Out Film Festival on Sunday, May 28th.

I spoke with Jac in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM via telephone to New York City.

Daniel Garber talks to filmmaker Kevan Funk about Hello Destroyer

Posted in Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Morality, Movies, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 10, 2017

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

Tyson Burr is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job but is already getting a reputation as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay. Violence on the ice is strongly encouraged. But when an overzealous fight sends a player to hospital, Tyson falls from hero to zero overnight. He is forced to move back home, work at manual labour and try to pull what’s left of his life back together in the rise, fall and rise again of a hockey destroyer.

Hello Destroyer is a first feature which premiered at TIFF16 and was chosen as one of Canada’s Top Ten Films of 2017. It’s a thoughtful and impressionistic examination of violence and self-worth in a distinctly Canadian setting. The film is written and directed by prize-winner Kevan Funk, and opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with Kevan Funk, in studio, about hockey, violence, masculinity, Canadian machismo, Todd Bertuzzi, hockey movies…  and more!

O Canada. Films reviewed: Hello Destroyer, Maliglutit

Posted in 1910s, Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, violence by CulturalMining.com on January 7, 2017

the-true-north-the-story-of-capt-joseph-bernier-tc-fairley-charles-e-israel-illus-james-hill-1957Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Happy New Year! It’s the sesquicentennial. You’ll be hearing that word a lot. It means it’s been 150 years since Canada’s Confederation in 1867.

CRTC chief Jean Pierre Blais thinks Canadian TV should be designed to appeal on the world stage – we shouldn’t worry about Canadian culture. Writer Charles Foran, in the Guardian, calls Canada the world’s first post-national country. He’s quoting Justin Trudeau, but I think they’re missing the point. There is a strong the-rivers-end-by-james-oliver-curwood-triangle-press-circa-1946national identity. It’s just not an ethnic-based nationalism. It’s not a jingoistic nationalism. It’s not an exclusive identity, it’s an inclusive one that is welcoming and tolerant and multifaceted. But we do have a distinctive Canadian culture.

And part of our identity is Canadian literature, art, music and film. In this Sesquicentennial year look out for lots of chances to consume Canadian culture. The NFB has put thousands of films and documentaries online. And there’s Canada on Screen, a nationwide retrospective running all year with 150 of the best docs, animation, features and TV. All screenings are free!

This week I’m looking at Canadian movies playing as part of the annual Canada’s Top Ten series. We’ve got a hockey drama out of the far west, and a western from the extreme north.

hellodestroyer_still_05Hello Destroyer

Wri/Dir: Kevan Funk

Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson) is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job. He’s welcomed by a hazing where the players hold down the newbies while they forcibly shave their heads and pummel them. It helps them feel “part of the team”. Violence builds manhood and comradery. He’s known as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay – fighting on the ice is just another part of the game. Tyson is at his physical peak and on top of the world. But he admits to another rookie that he has doubts and fears of hishellodestroyer_still_09 own.

The coach (Kurt Max Runte) tells the team they should aim to be heroes. You’ve got to hammer your steel into excalibur! We are fighters, brawlers, men! That’s when they’re winning. But when they are losing he bawls them out and tells them to fight back – aggressively. Tyson does just that, and sends a player to hospital.

hellodestroyer_still_07The coach and team lawyers, rather than reaching out to him, throw Tyson beneath the proverbial bus. They make him read a prepared statement talking all the blame, all the responsibility. Suddenly he plummets from hero to pariah. He gets kicked out of his home, suspended – temporarily they say – from the team, and is forced to move back in with his parents.

He’s also plagued with guilt – he wants to apologize to the guy he hurt, to tellhellodestroyer_still_04 him he didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t fit with the league’s plans. From beating players on the ice, his new job at a slaughter house, hacking at bloody carcasses in the cold.

He seeks solace and solitude with another guy who has fallen on hard times, and doesn’t hold it against him as they salvage an old shack. Can Tyson face his hellodestroyer_04doubts and regain his self-respect, or will he continue in a downward spiral of loss and self-destruction?

Hello Destroyer is a moving look at violence and self doubt in the world of professional sports. But don’t expect to see a conventional, movie of the week type drama. This is an impressionistic, introspective art-house movie. No slow-mo punch fights or zooms at key moments. No reaction shots. The camera hellodestroyer_02always stands back, following Tyson from behind, or capturing a conversation through a half-open doorway. Dialogue might be muffled or turned off entirely. Jared Abrahamson carries the whole movie – the frustration, anger and self-loathing – on his shoulders, and pulls it off admirably. This is a good first film.

maliglutitsearchers_02Maliglutit (Searchers)

Dir: Zacharias Kunuk

It’s 1913, in Igloolik. There’s a party going on in a large igloo with singing, storytelling and all around good times. But there’s friction as well. A couple of foul mouthed men are openly groping The father’s wife and not sharing the food they caught. Those are both against Inuit law. The offenders are kicked out, and ride off on their dog sleds. But they haven’t seen the last of them.

Following a spiritual forecast, the hunters – father and son – head out to catch caribou, leaving the kids, women and elderly behind. And while the hunters are away they hear dogs barking and strange noises outside. Is it a bear attack? No it’s something worse. The bad men are back, breaking down the walls of their home, attacking and killing almost everyone. They rope up the mother and maliglutitsearchers_04daughter and tie them to their sleds, as bounty. But the women refuse to cooperate and “be nice”. They fight back.

Our heroes spot their home through a telescope and know something is terribly wrong. There’s a gaping wound in its side. In the igloo, dying grandfather passes him a bird talisman. He summons the bird’s call to help him track the attackers. Who will survive this life and death battle?

maliglutitsearchers_01Maliglutit is a great movie — part mystery, part western, part historical drama — with information you might only get in a documentary. It captures an era after western contact and technology – they use a telescopes and rifles, and drink tea – but before Christianity, snowmobiles, forced resettlement and the killing of dog teams. It loosely follows the classic John Wayne The Searchers, a so-called Cowboy and Indian movie, but this time from the indigenous point if view. Like all of Kunuk’s movies it is stunning to watch with its arctic vistas and intense whites, blacks and blues, punctuated with the occasional splash of red blood or the glow of fire.

See NFB movies at nfb.ca; Canada’s Top Ten starts on January 13th – go to tiff.net/seethenorth for details;  and for information about the year-long, sesquicentennial retrospective go to tiff.net/canadaonscreen.

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

Love lost. Films reviewed: Nocturnal Animals, Manchester by the Sea, Allied

Posted in 1940s, Art, Cultural Mining, Family, Meta, Sex, violence, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2016

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

With U.S. Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas just a month away, this is when Hollywood pulls out the big guns – Oscar-bait films, serious topics and big-name actors. This week I’m looking at three of these grown-up dramas. There’s love and lies in London, lost love in LA, and family ties in New England.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALSNocturnal Animals

Dir: Tom Ford

Susan (Amy Adams) is a rich, LA art dealer who leads a rarefied but hollow life. She receives a package in the mail from Tony, a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). They were a passionate couple in their twenties but she dumped him when his career stalled in favour of the unfaithful Stepford husband she’s currently married to. But she’s intrigued by what he sent her: a novel called Nocturnal Animals in manuscript form. The story comes to life on the screen as she reads it.

It’s about a middle class family brutally carjacked on a desert highway by redneck killers. The husband survives the attack and vows revenge. He enlists a local sheriff NOCTURNAL ANIMALS(Michael Shannon) to help.

As Susan reads the book, she examines her current, pointless life, and remembers earlier days with her ex, Tony. The movie alternately follows all three strands — the novel, her flashbacks and the present day — as filtered through Susan’s mind.

Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating but flawed movie. It moves you emotionally, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALSwithout tears or love. The emotions it stirs are fear, revulsion and uncomfortableness. Director Tom Ford made the unusual leap from high fashion to Hollywood, so Nocturnal Animals is visually powerful. But it’s too “meta”. We see Tony’s book through the reader (Susan)’s eyes as envisioned by Tom Ford – three steps away from the plot. Which leads to weird images, like performance art we see in Susan’s gallery appearing again, but in distorted form, in Tony’s story. Get it?

Interestingly, Ford bucks the Hollywood trend of exploiting women’s bodies. The naked women you see here are either grossly obese… or dead. Instead, he undresses his men — Gyllenhall, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Johnson — at every possible opportunity. Lots of surface shocks and surprises in Nocturnal Animals, but nothing deep.

76e05278-81a6-4fc7-97b4-861c73eee46eManchester by the Sea

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a handyman who lives alone in Quincy, just outside Boston. He’s called back to his hometown, a picturesque, fishing village, when his divorced brother John dies. It’s up to him to tell his nephew Patrick that his dad is dead. Patrick (Lucas Hedges) is 16 years old, on the school hockey team and in a band. Lee was close to him as a child, until something terrible happened, and Lee left town. Now, suddenly and against his wishes, he finds himself Patrick’s de facto dad. It’s written in his brother’s will. He doesn’t know what to do.

He had kids once, and Randi, his ex-alcoholic, ex-wife (Michelle Williams) still lives MBTS_2354.CR2there, but that was long ago.

At first he acts like Chris’s buddy – lets him drink, take girls home, say or do whatever he likes. But gradually reality sets in as Lee realizes he has to do the right thing: either raise him properly or find someone else who can. Trouble is Lee’s reputation in this town is dirt, and no one will hire him. Can he raise his stubborn nephew despite their geographic and emotional divide?

MBTS_3869.CR2Manchester by the Sea sounds like a typical movie, but it’s not.. It’s an emotional powerhouse that will leave you shaken. The movie is edited in a chop-up style, with flashbacks appearing unannounced right after a present-day scene. So you have to pay attention to understand it. It’s a devastating tearjerker, gradually revealed as his flashbacks come to life. The whole film is exquisitely structured, with certain scenes repeated but with new, subtle variations and revelations. And Casey Affleck might be Ben Affleck’s little brother but you can see who has all the talent. Casey is just fantastic in this understated drama.

I recommend this movie.

14708276_1786944501572397_9000336162931941931_nAllied

Dir: Robert Zemeckis

It’s 1942, when Casablanca was a hot spot for foreign spies. Max (Brad Pitt) is a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who carries out daring flights behind enemy lines. He’s in French Morocco to meet up with Marianne (Marion Cotillard) a legendary spy with the French resistance. In ten days they plan to assassinate a top Nazi at a high-society party. He is pretending to be her husband, 14700787_1785050565095124_6988829959708533249_oa phosphate executive from Paris, madly in love with her. But they are actually meeting for the very first time. They play their parts well, laughing, kissing and staring in each other’s eyes. And, the night before the big day, not knowing if they will survive, they make passionate love in a car surrounded by a sand storm.

Later, Marion joins Max in London. This 14884429_1792693047664209_3520425651819957282_otime they really are in love. They marry, have a child, and settle into a normal life in Hampstead, even as German bombs fall all around them. But then Max receives distressing orders from HQ. He must carry out a blue dye test – planting a false message to see if it‘s picked up by enemy agents. And who is the potential Nazi spy? Marion! If she proves to be a double agent, Max has to kill her in cold blood. Can spies ever know if they’re really in love when they’re so good at telling lies?

I liked but didn’t love Allied. Marion Cotillard is as passionate as Brad Pitt is stiff and wooden. Most of the side characters are instantly forgettable, the plot has holes in it, pod2gand there seems to be cigarette product placement throughout the film. The movie is not slow, but it feels flat until the last quarter, when it finally gets exciting. Allied is an OK historical drama… but it ain’t no Casablanca.

Nocturnal Animals and Allied are now playing today, while Manchester by the Sea opens November 25th in Toronto, check your local listings. And if Hollywood isn’t your thing, an animated reboot of Dr Who: The Powers of the The blood-in-the-snowDaleks, a 70s episode lost for 50 years, is showing next Wednesday; and an all-Canadian horror festival is on this weekend. Go to bloodinthesnow.ca for details.

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

Daniel Garber talks with Paul Verhoeven about Elle at #TIFF16

Posted in France, Interview, Movies, Psychological Thriller, Sex, SMBD, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 18, 2016

paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM

Elle is a hardboiled businesswoman in Paris who co-owns a video game development company. Divorced with a grown son, she’s as ruthless in the boardroom as she is in the bedroom. But her normal life is shattered paul-verhoeven-tiff16-photo-by-jeff-harris-2when she is violently raped in her own home by a man with a black balaclava covering his face. Instead of telling the police, she takes the matter into her own hands, and vows to track 0194cad2-a0cb-4884-92a0-fb2ce23ec3e6down her attacker and get revenge. But even as Elle stalks him, he threatens further attacks on her in a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Elle is the latest from filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, known for his playful movies filled with sex, violence, intrigue and war. From his Dutch greats like Soldier of Orange, the Fourth Man and (a personal favourite) Black Book, to his over-the-top Hollywood classics Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls… they all share his inimitable style.

I spoke with Paul Verhoeven at TIFF in September. Elle opens today in Toronto.

Photos of Paul Verhoeven by Jeff Harris

Daniel Garber talks with documentary filmmaker Ilan Ziv about An Eye for an Eye

Posted in 2000s, documentary, Prison, Racism, Texas, US, violence by CulturalMining.com on November 11, 2016

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

Mark Stroman was a regular guy: Texas loud and Texas proud. He hated big government, taxes, foreigners, and political correctness. He liked love, liberty, security, family and patriotism. He was also a white supremacist, an admirer of Aryan nations and a proud flyer of the Confederate Battle Flag. Then 9-11 happened and something snapped.

Stroman went out in his car to systematically murder people he called “A-rabs” — mainly the mark stroman, an eye for an eyeSouth Asians he encountered at convenience stores and gas stations. He was later arrested, tried and sentenced to death, in exchange for the lives he took. But is justice as simple as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth?

An Eye for an Eye is a new documentary that looks at Stroman’s transformation in prison, and the unexpected support he received from his enemies, his victims and their families. It’s about vengeance and racism but also compassion and forgiveness. The doc is directed by award-winning filmmaker Ilan Ziv and it opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with Ilan in studio at CIUT 89.5 FM.

War and remembrance. Films reviewed: Hacksaw Ridge, Birth of a Nation, Seoul Station

Posted in 1800s, 1940s, African-Americans, Japan, Resistance, Sex Trade, Slavery, soldier, violence, WWII, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on November 4, 2016

img_1527Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

November 11th is Remembrance Day, when we remember the death and destruction of war. Even wars fought for good reasons may result in horrible deaths for soldiers and ordinary people. This week I’m looking at movies about war. There are armies of zombies in Seoul who want to eat people, a secret slave army in Virginia that wants to free people, and a man who joins the US army in WWII… but refuses to kill people.

hacksawridge_d14-6618Hacksaw Ridge

Dir: Mel Gibson

It’s the 1930s. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) is a young man who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his drunk Dad (Hugo Weaving) and religious Mom (Rachel Griffiths). As a kid he loved climbing cliffs and rassling with his brother Hal. But when he saw how close to death his brother came when he hit him in the head with a brick, he swore never to hurt or kill another person again. As a Seventh Day Adventist he takes the Sixth Commandment — thou shalt not kill – very seriously. Years later,hacksawridge_d4-3041-edit he rescues a man injured in an accident by putting a tourniquet on his leg. He has studied medicine on his own since he can’t go to college. At the hospital he meets the beautiful and smart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) a nurse. It’s love at first sight.

But it’s 1941 and the country is at war. Young men all rush to join the army and Doss is no exception. But he joins as a medic to save lives, not as a fighter to kill people. He and Dorothy plan to get married after boot camp. But then reality hits. You can’t be in the army and refuse to carry a gun. They offer him a Section 8 – a psychiatric discharge. But he refuses to quit. He’s not crazy, he’s not un-American, he’s not unpatriotic. The army disagrees.  Soldiers beat him and bully him, and on hacksawridge_d22-10131_fullframehis wedding day the Army throws him in the brig, leaving Dorothy waiting at the altar. Will he be court-martialed?

Somehow he makes it to Okinawa, in time for a crucial battle. They must climb Hacksaw Ridge, a sheer cliff, to face a never-ending battalion of Japanese soldiers. Can Doss use his medic skills to save his fellow soldiers?

Hacksaw Ridge is a heartfelt war movie about a conscientious objector who goes into battle without a gun. For a movie about a heroic man opposed to killing,  there’s also an ungodly amount of gory carnage shown in minute detail. Not for the squeamish.

Interestingly, the entire cast, except for Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughan, is Australian. And with all those thin-lipped, lantern-jawed, soldiers, I had a hard time telling them apart. (Didn’t that guy just die in a foxhole? Must have been someone else…). Garfield, though, stands out as the stubborn, jug-eared Doss. If you like heroic war movies, this one pushes all the right buttons.

birthofanation_04Birth of a Nation

Dir: Nate Parker

Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is born to loving parents and grandparents in a wooden house in Virginia in the early 19th century. At an early age mystics declare him a born leader, with special birthmarks on his belly. He grows up a student of the bible, reading to himself at night. And he happily marries a beautiful woman when they fall in love.,But he is also an African American in the south which means… he is also a slave. The slave owner Sam Turner (Armie Hammer) played with him as a child and they share the birthofanation_02same last name. When earnings are down Sam hires him out to other plantations to preach to fellow slaves, to help calm potential unrest. Nat delivers the sermons, while Sam keeps the cash.

It is on these visits that Nat Turner witnesses the truly horrifying nature of slavery. A young girl kept like a dog with collar and leash. Men set upon by vicious dogs. Families broken up and sold like cattle at auctions. Heinous torture – worse than you can imagine – for crimes as simple as looking a white man directly in the eyes. Women are subject to birthofanation_06horrific rape.  Murder and lynching — always white violence against blacks — is not even considered a crime. So Nat Turner decides enough is enough and organizes a small army to fight back. But can a handful of men and woman overturn slavery itself?

Birth of a Nation is a fictionalized retelling of the famous Nat Turner rebellion. The movie birthofanation_01concentrates more on Nat’s life in the years leading up to it than on the battle itself. The film is disturbing, dealing with topics rarely shown in mainstream movies. Even so, it has a mainstream feel to it: flickering candles, gushing music, and Hollywood kisses in profile. The title itself reclaims D.W. Griffith’s wildly popular silent movie from 1915 which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and inspired countless terrorist attacks on black Americans. This is a good film about a neglected part of US history, downplayed or glossed over in most movies.

seoul_station_film_posterSeoul Station

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

It’s a typical day at the central train station in Seoul, Korea. It’s used by commuters everyday. But it’s also a mecca for the disenfranchised — the poor, the mentally ill and the homeless. Hye-sun is a young runaway,  a former sex worker who lives with her wimpish boyfriend. They are separated by a massive zombie attack — and the virus is spreading. He teams up with her father, while she follows a deranged, homeless man. Hye-sun communicates with her boyfriend whenever they can find a signal on their phones. When she turns to the police for help, they lock her up in a jail cel. Later, a large group of people trapped in an area besieged by zombies appeals to the army. But instead of rescuing them, the soldiers fire water canons and teargas… not at the zombies, but at their fellow citizens. Who will survive the zombie onslaught?

Seoul Station is an animated prequel to the hit horror film Train to Busan. Characters are drawn with clean black outlines against realistic backgrounds. Seoul is portrayed as a desolate place, its dim skies lit only by neon crosses.  This may be a zombie movie but it’s also an unsparing look at the maltreatment of the homeless and disenfranchised in modern Korea.

Birth of a Nation is now playing and Hacksaw Ridge opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Seoul Station is playing at the upcoming ReelAsian Film Festival. Go to reelasian.com for showtimes. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Greek Myths and Fables. Films Reviewed: Boris sans Béatrice, Chi-Raq, The Lobster

Posted in African-Americans, Canada, Chicago, comedy, Cultural Mining, Fairytales, Greece, Movies, Musical, Quebec, Sex, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 18, 2016

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

Greek myths are not just kids’ stories; they’re full of sex, violence and magical transformations. This week I’m looking at plays, myths and fables from Ancient Greece interpreted by three great filmmakers. We’ve got two films — set in Chicago and Quebec – based on ancient Greek themes; and a futuristic fable by a modern Greek director.

nZlmp5_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_1_o3_8976749_1456938988Boris sans Béatrice

Wri/Dir: Denis Côté

Boris Malinovsky (James Hyndman) is a self-made man. He owns a factory in Montreal, a beautiful country house, and his wife, Béatrice (Simone-Élise Girard) is an M.P. He’s tall, fit, rich and successful. He’s also self-centred, stubborn and arrogant. He can’t stand incompetence and lets everyone know it. Things are k5gjE6_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_4_o3_8976802_1456938983going well until Beatrice climbs into her bed and succumbs to melancholia. (Sounds like a 19th century novel.) Now she’s catatonic and requires Klara (Isolda Dychauk) a ginger-haired young Russian woman, to take care of her 24/7. Boris loves Beatrice, but what can he do to help her?

GZAX4J_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_5_o3_8976819_1456938986Enter a Deus Ex Machina: a mysterious man (Denis Lavant) dressed in gold brocade, who speaks an especially eloquent French. He arrives in an expensive black car, in a grassy field backlit by floodlights. He tells Boris that Beatrice’s illness is his fault. He must change his ways.

Boris changes his ways all right. He is sleeping with Helga, a work colleague (Dounia Sichov), and even flirts with young MjXKpm_BSB-Coutroisie_K-Films_Amerique_-_2_o3_8976767_1456938963Klara. Beatrice continues to decline, until the Prime Minister (Bruce Labruce) drops by to check up on his member if Parliament; and even his estranged, left-wing daughter – who lives with toga-clad young men – tries to help. Will Boris ever change? Or will he end up like Tantalus, the demigod permanently punished for his hubris? And are his worries real or imaginary?

Boris sans Beatrice is a satirical look at life in a Quebec – a multicultural place where ambitious people can get ahead, but where success is always precarious. The cast, especially Hyndman, Girard and Lavant, are all terrific. I like this movie.

Chi-Raq PosterChi-Raq

Dir: Spike Lee

It’s present day Chicago, a city wracked with gun violence that has killed more people than American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. There’s a real war going on between two gangs, the Trojans and the Spartans. Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) lives with Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon) who wears the gang’s colours, while Irene (Jennifer Hudson) hangs with Cyclops (Wesley Snipes) their rivals. Fighting escalates until two things happen. An innocent schoolgirl is gunned down by a stray bullet and Lysistrata’s home is firebombed. Her neighbor, Miss Helen (the amazing Angela Bassett), grudgingly offers shelter and someChi-Raq sage advice. Stop all this killing. The plan is for all the women in both gangs, in fact all the women in Chicago — even the sex workers — to say no more sex until you lose the guns. Or as they say in the movie:

No Peace, No Pussy.

This becomes an all-out protest that grinds the city to a halt, with women occupying a military base. But can they teach the men to put down their guns, take responsibility and do the right thing?

Chi-RaqDoes this story sound familiar? It should. It’s based on 2,400-year-old drama by Aristophenes. And like the original, it’s spoken in rhyme (this time in rap or in song with elaborate dance numbers) And there’s an omniscient, anansi-like narrator (Samuel L Jackson). It’s also a bit antediluvian. Is a woman’s primary role to provide sex for their male partners? Really? This is 2016.  And the film could use an edit – it’s too long. Still, I quite liked Chi-Raq. A first-rate cast, with the spark of Spike Lee’s earlier films, missing for years.

IMG_0214.CR2The Lobster

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

It’s the future. Things are a lot like now except in this world two is good, one is bad. Loners – single people — are sent to an austere sanitorium where they have 45 days to couple up. Couples are given special privileges while singles are punished and humiliated. Anyone caught having “loner sex” must wear a chastity belt. And anyone still single 97e790bc-95e5-46c5-8fe1-2911423c562dafter 45 days is transformed into an animal and let loose in the nearby forest. But the forest is also filled with runaway loner, humans who have escaped.

The movie follows the latest batch of woebegone singles all frantically searching for their perfect mate. It’s speed-dating hell. And they’re all insecure. The women are bossy or shy, the men walk with a limp IMG_3703.CR2or talk with a lisp. And everyone behaves like 12-year-old wallflowers at their first school dance. David (Colin Farrell) is a typical desperate single – he goes so far as to pretend he’s an A-type sadist just to attract a certain woman.

Things go wrong, and later he finds himself in the woods (as a human, not a lobster). He meets another runaway, a nearsighted woman (Rachel Weisz). The laws in the forest, laid down by their leader (Lea Seydoux), are a topsy-turvy version of the IMG_2135.CR2mainstream: only singles allowed with couples are absolutely forbidden. But what happens if you fall in love?

Lobster is a terrific off-beat comedy. I’ve been following Yorgos Lanthimos since meeting him when his second film, Dogtooth played at TIFF. His films are all highly stylized and uncomfortable satires. Characters speak like they’re reciting lines in a school play, and dress in dated and awkward clothes and hair. I loved his Greek movies but wondered if they would work in English. Not to worry. The Lobster is weird and quirky but totally accessible. You don’t need training in avant garde film to appreciate it. I recommend this movie.

Boris sans Beatrice and Chi-Raq open today in Toronto, check your local listings; and The Lobster starts next Friday.

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

American Dream, French Nightmare. Films reviewed: The Big Short, Joy, French Blood

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, Drama, Economics, France, Movies, Racism, Skinhead, US, violence, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on January 29, 2016

GDFF2016-655x250-ENG-V2Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s slow season for movies8-fest right now, but you can catch some unusual ways of seeing films, from the tiny to vast. The 9th Annual 8-Fest shows handmade super 8 films at the SPK Polish Combatants Hall. The Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival is showing classic digital Affiche MYFFF 40X60crowd-pleasers on the big screen across Canada, including David Bowie in Labyrinth. And online myfrenchfilmfestival.com is showing new French movies around the world until mid-February.

This week, I’m looking at two dramas about the American Dream, and one about the French Nightmare.

12238242_1696138537295341_6953460731039755401_oThe Big Short

Dir: Adam McKay (based on the book by Michael Lewis)

It’s the first decade of the 21st century and Wall Street is booming. Brokers are investing big in the security and stability of derivatives based on subprime mortgages. (Subprime mortgages were a new invention that let you buy a house with no money down.) Funds that cannot fall issued by merchant banks too big to fail. But a tiny collection of investors see it for what it is: a bubble about to burst.

There’s Michael (Christian Bale) a barefoot genius out west known for his investment acumen. Slimy Jared (Ryan Gosling) heads an unusual section of a big firm. He interests the exceptionally abrasive Mark (Steve Carrel) and his gang. And at the same time, two kids in their early twenties who can’t break through the glass walls of Wall Street, somehow manage to catch the eye of Ben (Brad Pitt) a reclusive former investor. We all know what happens. Wall Street crashed leaving millions of people jobless and locked out of their homes.

The movie follows these separate groups as they bet big against Wall Street, and shows us who comes out on top by selling short. And it explains, if you care to listen, some of the arcane economics behind the whole mess, propped up by fraud, deceit and corruption. The Big Short is a fast-moving entertainingly camp and educational Bro Movie.

More on this one in a minute…

12321495_808507162593872_4766624371283134661_nJoy

Dir: David O Russell

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a woman who lives with a lovable but misbegotten family. Her bedridden mom (Virginia Madsen) watches TV all day. Joy’s ex-husband Tony (Edgar Ramirez) lives in her basement, and her loving grandma helps with the kids upstairs. And now her auto-repairman dad (Robert de Niro) is moving back home too. Joy once had high hopes for her future but her time is wasted in a 11952687_773777219400200_7695745313849455796_odead-end job and taking care of her dysfunctional family.

One day inspiration hits. She decides to create and sell a new mop with a removable mop-head, made from a single long loop of string. But how to make it, market it and sell it? She decides to make them in a makeshift factory her dad’s garage, with funding from his girlfriend (Isabella Rosselini) a rich widow. And through a series of lucky accidents she gets a chance to offer it on a TV shopping network. But there are still lots of bumps in the road that might ruin all her plans. Joy is a cute and watchable movie about a woman – and all her quirky friends and family’s — attempt to make it big.

Joy and The Big Short — both nominated for Best Picture Oscar, and neither of which will win — are two sides of the same coin. Both are true stories with similar themes: ordinary people, with a 12238251_801317663312822_1925779943944291784_obit of luck, and a lot of perseverance and hard work can make lots of money even in these tough economic times. Stay true to your ideas, no matter how unusual, no matter what other people say. … but you have to do it within the system.

Both movies are entertaining, fast-paced and fun, with huge casts and big stars. They take risks in their methods of storytelling. The Big Short breaks the third wall with characters turning directly to the camera to “tell the truth” that the movie leaves out. And Joy features a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at a live TV set. Joy is told from a “woman’s point of view” (the home life of a mom who sells mops on TV), while The Big Short is basically an all-guy movie (men with invisible families making money at work on Wall Street). I like them both, but don’t expect to be overly challenged.

xGLJP3_frenchblood_04_o3_8760256_1439474895French Blood (Un Français)

Dir: Diastème

Marco, Braguette and Grand-Guy (Alban Lenoir, Samuel Jouy, and Paul Hamy) are three best friends living in a banlieu, the high rise ghettos ringing Paris. They are French skinheads, complete with Doc Martens, "Un Franais"bomber jackets and neo-nazi tattoos. Hobbies include getting drunk, getting laid, and attacking strangers on the street, specifically gays, leftists and Arabs. They don’t seem to follow any strict ideology, but seem to really enjoy brawling, fighting and terrorizing immigrants. They soon join the National Front, France’s political party of the extreme right. But then their paths begin to diverge.

Braguette is shot and disabled by a leftwing activist. He quickly rises up in the ranks of the National Front. Grand-Guy is a loose cannon, given to excessive alcohol and drugs. His RgjE4K_frenchblood_05_o3_8760328_1439474896attacks on immigrants turn extreme, culminating in his horrifying torture of a random, middle-aged man. And Marco, after beating, almost to death, a rival skinhead, has a mental breakdown. An altruistic pharmacist takes him under his wing and helps him adjust to a life away from violence and racism. But these changes happen gradually, shown over decades, with the movie providing just a glimpse of their lives, once every five years. It’s up to the viewer to fill in the missing parts. And it culminates in an ultimate showdown between Marco and Braguette.

This is a very violent and disturbing — but fantastic — movie. It looks at the extreme vgLEP5_frenchblood_01_o3_8760110_1439474887right in contemporary France from the points of view of three white, working-class men. The acting is amazing, especially Lenoir, Hamy and Jouy. And it’s incredibly timely; after the terror attacks in Paris, the National Front came that close to winning the last election. I strongly recommend this movie.

The Big Short and Joy are both playing in Toronto, check your local listings; and you can watch French Blood online at myfrenchfilmfestival.com.

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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