Building walls. Films reviewed: The Rest of Us, The Divided Brain, Mr Jones

Posted in 1930s, Brain, Canada, Communism, documentary, Drama, Family, Feminism, Journalism, Movies, Neuroscience, Norway, Thriller, USSR, Wales, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 19, 2020

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

I’m recording this in my home to tell you about some movies you can watch in your home. This week I have two dramas directed by women and a documentary. There’s a psychiatrist looking at the divided brain, two families trying to bridge a gap; and a UK journalist who wants to penetrate the iron curtain.

The Rest of Us

Dir: Aisling Chin-Yee

Cami (Heather Graham) is a divorced mom who writes and illustrates children’s books. She lives in an elegant house with a swimming pool. Her daughter Aster (Sophie Nélisse) is home from university and hanging with a guy she met. She’s mad at her mother so she lives in an Airstream trailer parked out front. Meanwhile, another mother/daughter family live in another nice house. Rachel (Jodi Balfour) lives with her husband and young daughter Talulah (Abigail Pniowsky). What do they have in common? Rachel had an affair with Cami’s husband 10 years back, and now she’s married to him. But when he suddenly dies, the two moms – and their daughters – are brought together, against their will. Turns out the late husband hadn’t kept up with insurance and mortgage payments, leaving Rachel and Talulah homeless. So they end up moving, temporarily, into Cami and Aster’s home. An odd couple indeed. Can four women with very little in common bond together? Or will they stew in their respective juices making for an intractable situation?

The Rest of Us is a light drama about relationships and make-shift families. It’s short – less than 90 minutes – but the characters are really well done, complete with secrets, back stories and quirks. It didn’t exactly blow me away, but it I liked watching it develop — you do care about what happens to them. A nice, light family drama.

The Divided Brain

Dir: Manfred Becker

The human brain is divided in half. The left brain controls the right side of your body, and the right brain handles the left side. So if you’re right-handed that usually means the left side of your brain is dominant. Beyond that, the two sides are said to process information in different ways: The left brain, or so the theory goes, is more analytical, concerned wth facts and minutiae; while the right brain is more creative; it lets you look at the big picture. This documentary is about the theories of Iain McGilchrist, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging researcher who also studied literature. He lives on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. He’s the author of The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009). Basically, he says we – meaning our history, civilization, educational system, society, not to mention our individual personalities – can be explained by our emphasis on the left side of the brain at the expense of the right side. And it goes on to show research and experiments on the topic as explained by various talking heads. But is it true, and has McGilchrist proven it?

Personally, I don’t buy it. I don’t even believe the basic left side/right side premise. We all use both sides of our brains, so to make it a simple A vs B, is reductionist. And then to extrapolate this theory to cover all of society, communication, and our educational system, while fascinating just isn’t believable. (I have seen the documentary but not read his book, which could explain his work in greater detail.) While the documentary mainly focuses on McGilchrist’s theories, it does include opposing views. McGilchrist is a heterodox scholar, not part of the mainstream. It also includes magnificent drone shots of cityscapes and farms to illustrate the increasing “left brain”-look of ever more geometrically divided landscapes.

Whether or not you agree with these theories, The Divided Brain does leave you with lots of food for thought.

Mr Jones

Dir: Agnieszka Holland

It’s the early 1930s in London. Gareth Jones (James Norton) is a Cambridge-educated young man from Wales. He’s multilingual and works as a foreign policy advisor to the former PM David Lloyd George. But what he really wants is to be an investigative journalist. He’s already had one big scoop: he was on the plane carrying carrying Hitler, Goebels and other top Nazis right after they came to power. Now he wants to go to Moscow to follow a source about a big story there… and maybe interview Stalin!

Easier said than done. But he does manage to get a visa and a few nights at the posh Hotel Metropol. When he gets there, he discovers his source – another journalist – has been murdered. Luckily, he is taken under the wing of a famous foreign correspondent, Walter Duranty (Peter Saarsgard). He heads the NY Times bureau – known as “our man in Moscow” – and he’s won the Pulitzer. He’s also a total sleazebucket. He takes Jones to a party, right in the middle of Moscow, complete with jazz musicians, sex workers, and party favours… like hypodermic needles, loaded with heroin, ready to shoot.

He also meets a Berlin-based journalist named Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby). She trusts Jones and tells him what he needs to know. So he gets on a train with a high-ranked party member who says he’ll show him beautiful Ukraine… but Jones manages to sneak away in the city of Stalino (now Donetsk). And what he sees is shocking. There’s a major famine going on, right in the middle of Europe’s breadbasket. All the wheat is being shipped east, leaving almost nothing for them to eat. He witnesses unspeakable horrors in what is now known as The Holodomor. But he’s arrested before he can file his story. Will Jones make it back home? Can he publish this story? And if he does, will anyone believe him?

Based on a true story, Mr Jones is a combination biopic, thriller and historical drama. It’s a bit too long, and there are a few things I don’t get: for example, the movie is framed by scenes of George Orwell typing Animal Farm, but the story’s about Gareth Jones, not George Orwell. Other than that, the acting’s good (especially James Norton), the story is compelling, and it’s beautifully shot, from the modernistic Moscow hotel to the staid, stone buildings in London. Most of all are the scenes in Ukraine where colour is dimmed to almost black and white with stark snowy landscapes.

A good but harrowing movie.

The Rest of Us is now playing on VOD; Mr Jones opens today online at Apple and Cineplex; check your local listings; and The Brain Divided is available to rent online on Vimeo.com here

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

Past and Future. Movies reviewed: Svengali, 45 Years PLUS Oscars So White

Posted in Canadian Screen Awards, Cultural Mining, Movies, Music, Romance, UK, Wales by CulturalMining.com on January 22, 2016

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

One of the big cultural stories this week was the whiteness of all the actors nominated for an Oscar. The reason isn’t the Academy’s voting patterns. It’s because Hollywood just doesn’t make “Oscar-type” movies starring non-white characters. It doesn’t cast black actors in those types of roles. TV movies, comedies, action-thrillers, yes, but “serious” Hollywood movies — historical dramas, movies adapted from books, or biopics? Almost never.

d49101d5-8581-4eba-9138-f91214bab2edBut what about Canada? Do actors in movies here look like us? I’m surprised that the cultural pundits, even on CBC radio, failed to mention Canadian Screen Awards nominees when talking about the Oscars. Take a look: Waris Ahluwalia and Balinder Johal (from Beeba Boys) and Irdens Exantus  (My Internship in 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_oCanada) are just a few of the many multicultural faces in this year’s movie nominees.

This week, I’m looking at two UK movies. A light drama about a young couple from Wales with a rock’n’roll future, and a heavy drama about an elderly couple in Norfolk with a message from the past.

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

Dixie (Jonny Owen) is a youngish guy from small town Wales. People say he has golden ears – he can tell great rock music the moment he hears it – and he aims to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Oasis. One day he hears a band on youtube and decides that’s the band I want to manage. He heads off to London with his girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) and his collection of 45s.

Convincing the band is easy – all it takes is a few cans of beer.SVENGALI_CAST_JONNY_AND_VICKY But connections prove more difficult. His childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) is now a record label exec. But he’s also a douchey hipster of the worst calibre who sneers at Dixie’s smalltown ways. Dixie dresses in chainstore mod revival outfits and carries his band’s demo songs – on cassette tapes, no less – in grocery bags.

Svengali_Stills_0651But things start to snowball when he books them at a pub. The show is a disaster – igniting a near riot — but that’s exactly what he needs. Almost instantly the band’s music is on the BBC, their pics appear in NME, and the band members get booked on a football talk show. All for a group that has yet to sign to a record label.

But at the same time, Dixie is bleeding money. On the brink MG_3095of success he’s also flat broke, nearly homeless, pursued by loan sharks, and worst of all, his girlfriend Shell – the love of his life – might leave him. Will he make it big in London, or return to his country ways?

Svengali is a cute, low-budget fish-out-of-water comedy. Jonny Owen and the gang are fun to watch and the sountrack is catchy. It’s also a self-consciously retro tribute to the good old days of rock and roll. It’s full of handbills, cassette tapes, vinyl 45s and record contracts written on paper. It feels like an aging millennial mimicking a rocker from the 80s who is imitating a mod from the 60s. But even with the stock characters and predictable plot, I enjoyed it anyway.

6a1cfe62-844f-4158-816c-b1800241235d45 Years

Dir: Andrew Haigh (based on a short story by David Constantine)

Geoff and Kate Mercer (Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling) live in a small town in Norfolk, England. They have a happy, if uneventful, life, as they enjoy their retirement years. Sex is a chore. Conversation is routine. Their friends are annoying. They have dogs, not kids or grandkids. Geoff is forgetful, Kate a bit surly and depressed. And then there are the health issues. But they do have each other. They fit together like hands in old leather gloves. They know everything there is to know about each other. And they’re getting ready for their 45th wedding anniversary. 45 years of faithful marriage. Then a letter arrives from Switzerland.

They have recovered a body from a glacier in the Alps. A be5824c6-6d9d-48eb-b2bf-3fb9a9edf94bwoman who died 50 years earlier, but whose body is only revealed now, due to global warming. And Geoff is listed as next of kin. What?

Turns out, there was another woman. Did he cheat on her? No this was before he married Kate. But he still seemed to carry a torch for this young love. And up in the attic, packed away, are letters and slides, evidence of a relationship Kate never knew about. Has their half-century together been just an afterthought? And will the big event – the 45th anniversary party in a rented hall – even take place?

66dbabff-5c1c-449f-a8ad-aa66e1279d2745 Years is a well-acted film about love and relationships. I could call it introspective, thoughtful and subtly nuanced, and that would be true. Definitely no overacting in this movie. Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for this role, and Tom Courtenay is another beloved actor known for his working class characters. Thing is – dare I say it? – I thought it was dull. Dull, drab and slow-moving. It was like the French movie Amour, but without death, dementia, intrigue or suspense. It’s not a bad movie (it’s infinitely more complex than the light Svengali) and it’s not that I disliked it, but I was underwhelmed.

45 Years open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Svengali is now available online and VOD. You can view the Canadian Screen Awards nominees here.

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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