Lots of Indies! Films reviewed: The Disaster Artist, Sweet Virginia, Wexford Plaza

Posted in Acting, Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, Film Noir, L.A., Mumblecore, Realism, Toronto, violence by CulturalMining.com on December 1, 2017

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

Indie movies are in this year, picking up prizes and heading for the Oscars. They are the most innovative films out there, flouting expected cinematic rules, sharing a sense of realism missing from big-budget movies.

This week I’m talking about three new indie movies opening today. There’s a hit man staying at a motel, a security guard working at a strip mall, and an indie movie about making indie movies.

The Disaster Artist

Dir: James Franco (Based on the book by Greg Sestero)

Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is a model and aspiring actor in San Francisco. He’s taking classes, looking for his big break. Problem is he’s a terrible actor: way too shy and withdrawn. Enter fellow student Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). He’s a body–builder with a redone face, a mane of long black hair and an unintelligible accent. (He says he’s from New Orleans). He’s entirely without talent, but brimming with self-confidence. Greg sees him acting in class, shouting and literally climbing the walls. The teachers all cringe, but Greg is dumbfounded. This is what he wants to do, this is what he wants to be like. Soon they move to Tommy’s LA pied a terre, find agents and start up the ladder toward movie stardom. At least that’s the plan. When the studios don’t come knocking at their door, they decide to shoot their own movie, called The Room. Tommy will direct and produce (he’s bankrolling the whole thing) while the two of them share top billing. But will The Room be any good?

The short answer is no.

But that doesn’t convey the awfulness of the film they’re making. It’s spectacularly, stupendously, unbelievably bad… but in a very distinctive way. (It has since become a major cult hit — so bad it’s good — seen everywhere.) Its humour derives from the bad acting and non-sensical script, and from Tommy Wiseaus total obliviousness to his own social ineptitude and to how bad the film actually is (he imagines it’s a masterpiece).

This movie — The Disaster Artist — isnt a remake, it’s a move about the making of The Room. It recreates and incorporates the funniest, worst parts of the original, but also what was going on behind the camera. It’s a bro comedy, starring real life bros Dave and James Franco, who is just so funny as Tommy. And though it is ostensibly an indie movie, it may have broken a record for the number of Hollywood cameos:  Hannibal Buress, Seth Rogan, Sharon Stone, JJ Abrams, and dozens of others.

The Disaster Project is a really funny movie.

Sweet Virginia

Dir: Jamie M. Dagg

Sam (Jon Bernthal) is a former champion bull rider who used to earn his living in the rodeo circuit, until he had an accident. Now he runs a motel called Sweet Virginia nestled somewhere between two foggy mountains. Lila (Imogen Poots) is his assistant helping out in his office. All is well until the town is shaken by an unexpected killing: three men gunned down at a late night poker game. Elwood (Christopher Abbott) a man with anger issues, is staying at Sam’s motel. Turns out he’s a hit man, the one that killed the three men, including Lila’s husband. He also killed the husband of Bernadette (Rosemarie DeWitt) who is having a secret affair with Sam. Who hired him? Lila! She hated her husband and wants his money. She promises Elwood big bucks in exchange for his murder (The other men he kills are just “collateral damage”). But when Lila can’t get hold of the money, things take a turn for the worse. Will the bad guys pay for their crimes? Or will there be more violence to come?

Sweet Virginia has all the makings of an excellent movie. Great cast, good acting, wonderful locations, and beautiful cinematography. So why does it suck?

This movie is all wrong. It reveals everything in the first few minutes, ruining any suspense. It wastes a lot of screen time introducing characters who are killed off in the first 15 minutes. And the rest of the move just creaks along, revealing dull, pointless and violent lives, with no surprises. I get the feeling the only reason this movie was released is because Bernthal is starring in the Netflix series The Punisher right about now.

Wexford Plaza

Wri/Dir: Joyce Wong

Betty (Reid Asselstine) is a cheery and voluptuous 19-year-old starting her new job. She’s a security guard at a rundown strip mall in Scarborough called Wexford Plaza. She’s forced to wear a too-small uniform: black polyester pants with an ugly yellow polo shirt. Her high school friends have moved on; she only sees them on instagram. She works with Rich and Anton (Francis Melling and Mirko Miljevic) two immature asshats who smoke pot, leer at her breasts and tell off-colour jokes at her expense. Then she meets Danny (Darrel Gamotin), a bartender in the mall. He’s a nice guy, older, successful and self-confident, and seems interested in her. He has her back when she drinks too much, and she returns the favour (along with sexual benefits) when he gets sloshed. She forsees a long term relationship… until things go drastically wrong. He turns on a dime, from good guy to cold bastard. What’s going on? Is he just using her?

Wexford Plaza is a realistic comedy/drama that tells the same story twice, first from Betty’s and then from Danny’s point of view. Similar events occupy the same time and space but seem radically different. Words considered crucial by one – slurred out while drunk – are completely missing from the other one’s memories. Reid Asselstine is great, subtly exposing Betty’s burgeoning sexuality tempered by her self-doubt. This is a good coming-of-age drama set in the desolate strip malls of Toronto.

Sweet Virginia, The Disaster Artist and Wexford Plaza 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

 

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.

Western-ish. Films reviewed: Lucky, Hostiles, Sweet Country

Posted in 1800s, 1920s, Australia, Indigenous, Movies, Music, US, violence, Western, Wilderness by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2017

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

If the western seems like an old, tired genre to you, there are some new movies you should take a look at. They reinvent the western by changing key elements and points of view.

This week I’m looking at three new movies that are westerns (or at least western-ish). There’s justice in the outback, a northbound trail, and a lonesome cowboy in the great southwest.

Lucky

Dir: John Carroll Lynch

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is a very lucky man. He’s 89 years old, smokes a pack a day, lives on milk, coffee and bloody mary’s – and not much else – and is still in perfect health. He’s a crotchety old coot who wears cowboy boots and a straw hat. He lives alone in a small town in the great southwest, amidst giant Seguara cacti and hundred-year-old tortoises. He likes yoga calisthenics, mariachi and crossword puzzles. He hangs out at the local diner by day and at the corner bar at night. So why is Lucky so sad?

The other day he fell in his kitchen for no reason. His doctor says that’s just what happens when you’re old. This makes Lucky reexamine his long-held attitudes and his stubborn ways. But can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Lucky is a nice and gentle look at an old cowboy in a multi racial southwestern town. It’s an arthouse film, full of music, stories, and funny, quirky characters, (played by David Lynch, Tom Skerrit and others.) It also functions as a tribute to Harry Dean Stanton himself, who plays the music and provides the backstories for the anecdotes Lucky tells. Stanton died earlier this year, but the film is less of an epitaph than a wry celebration of his life.

I like this movie.

Hostiles

Wri/Dir: Scott Cooper

It’s the 1890s in New Mexico. The Indians have all been killed or jailed under an army led by Captain Blocker (Christian Bale). Blocker is widely known for his fighting prowess and his cruelty – they say he’s scalped more natives than anyone. So he’s surprised when the President himself orders him to protect and accompany his sworn enemy on a trip to Montana. Blocker fought and jailed Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) a decade earlier. But now the Chief is dying of cancer and wants to be buried in his ancestral lands. Blocker sets off with the Chief, his family and a squad of soldiers. On the way they meet Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) a dazed mother still holding a dead baby to her breast. Her entire family was wiped out in a Comanche raid a few days earlier. She joins the group. The Chief offers to help them fight the Comanche but Blocker doesn’t trust him – he keeps him shackled to his horse. Is the enemy of his enemy his friend? But as the soldiers travel ever northward they begin to understand their captives, and overcome the fear, bigotry and hatred that killed so many.

Hostiles is a good, traditional western, shot against breathtaking scenery. It’s a bit slow, and there are way too many long-winded apologies as each character asks for forgiveness when he confesses his crimes. (One dramatic mea culpa would have been enough.) Though told from the white point of view, it is sympathetic toward the plight of First Nations. It satisfies as a Western with the horseback riding, shoot-outs and lots of dramatic tension. And Christian Bale makes a great silent soldier who sees the light.

Sweet Country

Dir: Warwick Thonrton

It’s 1929 in Northern Territory, Australia with three homesteads not far from a small town. They’re owned by whites, but worked by aboriginal families. Sam (Hamilton Morris) works for a kindly preacher (Sam Neill); Cattleman Archie (Gibson John) is indigenous but comes from far away. And mixed-race kid Philomac (Tremayne Doolan) lives near — but not with — his white father.

In comes Harry March, a deranged WWI veteran demanding some “black stock” – how he describes aboriginal workers — to repair a fence. Sam and his family volunteer, but March gives them no food or money for their work, and then sexually assaults Sam’s wife.

They flee back to the preacher’s house, pursued by March, armed and dangerous. Sam defends himself but ends up killing March, a white man (as secretly witnessed by Philomac). So Sam and his wife flee into the bush pursued by a posse that includes Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and Archie as their guide.  The sergeant is the de facto law in these parts and plans to lynch Sam whenever he finds him. But things changes when Sam ends up saving the Sergeant’s  life and turning himself in. Then an actual judge shows up to conduct the trial. But can an Aboriginal man receive justice in a white, frontier town?

Sweet Country is an excellent western set in 20th century Australia. It gives a raw and realistic look at brutal racism and frontier justice. It’s also a subtle examination of identity, and the uneasy give-and-take among the different aboriginal groups, the white settlers and their mixed race descendents.

I recommend this movie.

Sweet Country won the Platform Prize at TIFF and the Special Jury Prize at Venice.

Lucky starts today in Toronto, check your local listings, with Hostiles opening later on. You can catch Sweet Country on Thursday, Oct 19th at the Imaginenative film festival. Go to Imaginenative.org for show times and tickets.

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 Tarique Qayumi about Black Kite at #TIFF17

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, Drama, Prison, violence, War by CulturalMining.com on August 25, 2017

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

Photos by Jeff Harris

Arian is an Afghan man thrown into a dark prison cell with a murderer. His crime? Flying a kite, forbidden by religious fundamentalist in charge. It seems an easy enough thing to give up… but not for Arian. He was brought up with them, earned a living from them, met his love from them, raised a daughter through them… maybe even lost a war because of them. Kites mean freedom, beauty, fantasy, and escape. Kites are his everything.

Black Kite is a new film having its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s written and directed by Afghan-born Canadian filmmaker Tarique Qayumi. Tarique went back to war-torn Kabul to shoot this moving, fairytale drama even while suicide bombings exploded all around. The film features popular Afghan stars and incorporates lovely animated sequences and period footage woven throughout the film.

I reached Tarique in Vancouver by telephone from CIUT 89.5 FM.

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

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