Happy trails. Films reviewed: Ghost Town Anthology, Red Rover, The Hummingbird Project

Posted in Canada, Canadian Screen Awards, comedy, Computers, Death, Ghosts, Mars, Quebec, Romantic Comedy, Toronto, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on March 15, 2019

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

You know, Canada makes a lot of movies. Oscar season might be over, but the Canadian Screen Awards are on at the end of March, with lots of great nominees, including Les Salopes, The Drawer Boy, What Walaa Wants, The Grizzlies and The Hummingbird Project. And for a look at next year’s possible winners the Canadian Film Fest will be showing a dozen new movies starting on Tuesday.

This week I’m looking at three new Canadian movie about people blazing new trails. There’s a man in Toronto following a path to Mars, another man constructing a straight line from Kansas City to Wall Street, and locals in northern Québec trying to block strange outsiders from entering their town.

Ghost Town Anthology (Répertoire des villes disparues)

Wri/Dir: Denis Côté

Irénée-Des-Neiges is a mining town in Northern Quebec whose mine was shut down. The population is steadily decreasing and young people are moving south. So when Simon Dubé, one of the few young man left in the town, dies in a strange car crash everyone is devastated. His mom (Josée Deschênes) and little brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor), are hit especially hard. Was it an accident, a suicide, or something else? Whatever the cause it seems to spark a change in attitude in this dying town.

The Mayor Simone Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) reassures everyone that while it’s a sad event, the town will survive – we are a place for the living and will never be a ghost town. But Jimmy tells his best friend André (Rémi Goulet) his dead brother is communicating with him – so they go to visit the shack where his coffin is stored till spring (you can’t dig graves in the winter up north).

Adèle (Larissa Corriveau) a gawky young woman, prone to paranoia, is sure she hears strange noises late at night. Loulou and Robert a pair of retired busybodies thinks there might be wolves in the woods. Pierre and Camille, the attractive rich couple who own the local restaurant, see the shrinking of the town as a good thing – maybe they can renovate abandoned houses? When a grief counsellor arrives from Montreal (wearing a hijab, no less! *gasp*) the mayor sends her packing. We can take care of ourselves. We don’t like outsiders.

But the outsiders keep coming, including strange little kids wearing felt masks and Peruvian ponchos. Who are they and what do they want? Are they real, or just a hallucination? But when things turn really strange, the town has to make a decision – move away or get rid of these unusual outsiders with help from the outside.

Ghost Town Anthology is an eerie look at history, kinship, and mourning in small town Quebec. It’s also about the xenophobia and fear of strangers that persists long after secularism replaced Catholicism as its official religion.

Shot in beautiful, grainy 16mm film, it embraces the coldness and grey skies of a Canadian winter. With good acting and a consistently surprising story, Denis Côté continues his flirtation with magic realism in this unusual film.

Very interesting movie.

Red Rover

Dir: Shane Belcourt

Damon (Kristian Bruun) is a failed man. He’s a geologist at at a mining firm in Toronto’s financial district but his MBA boss Brad steals his research and treats him like dirt. His ex-girlfriend Beatrice (Meghan Heffern) dumps him the day he proposes, pushing him into the basement of the house they share. Now he’s forced to listen to her having sex with Mark (Morgan David Jones) a narcissist instructor from Australia she’s shacked up with. Damon is just a pudgy, depressed introvert who wallows in his misery. His only pastime is searching for treasure on the beaches with a metal detector.

But everything changes when he runs into a woman dressed in a space suit dancing in the sands. Phoebe (Cara Gee) is a singer- songwriter who is everything he is not – joyful, hopeful and full of life. She’s currently promoting Red Rover, a program to send a few people to settle on the planet mars! It’s sponsored by Gopi, a billionaire, who will choose the best applicants. She agrees to help Damon apply and they gradually are drawn to each other? Is it love or just a fling? Can Damon regain his self confidence? And is her really flying to Mars?

Shot in Toronto, Red Rover is a lighthearted rom-com with an unusual science fiction twist. It’s full of people telling stories and singing songs… and Cara Gee is especially appealing as the quirky love interest.

The Hummingbird Project

Wri/Dir: Kim Nguyen

Vinnie Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a young guy full of spit and vinegar. He works with his cousin the nerdy and neurotic Anton Zaleski (Alexander Skarsgård) a computer programmer. They work at a Wall street investment firm headed by the canny Eva (Salma Hayek). She keeps a close eye on her employees. Vinnie has a grand vision: to build a fiber optic line stretching from the Kansas City stock exchange directly to Wall street. By sending data a few milliseconds faster, the speed of one flap of a hummingbird’s wings. he could make billions of dollars on stock trades.

But the project is enormous. It involves digging a tunnel through mountains, under rivers in an absolute straight line, withthosands of tiny land purchase – just the width of the cable – along the way. He finds a secret investor from New Jersey to pay for it, an engineer, Mark Vega (Michael Mando) to do the physical planning, and hundreds of others to do the digging. They are working against time. Anton has to speed up the transmission. The investor has to keep investing, and Vinnie himself is postponing a potentially lifesaving operation to bring the project in on schedule. But can they complete the project in time, and overcome all the obstacles along the way?

The Hummingbird project is a look at the importance of the small local obstacles that can stall huge projects, and the burning ambition needed to complete it. It’s wonderfully shot in a forests and mountain ranges, with backplows, giant helicopters and sputtering drills all along the way. It’s a sometimes touching, sometimes tender story of an impossible dream. Eisenberg is great as Vinnie and Skarsgård unrecognizeable as Anton. Don’t get me wrong, I liked this movie’s energy, ambition and passion. It just seems at times that the meandering story is just an excuse for showing cool scenery and actors in hard hats.

Ghost Town Anthology opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Hummingbird Project opens in a week, and Red Rover is the opening night feature at the Canadian Film Fest next Tuesday night.

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

Shells. Films reviewed: Journey’s End, Ready Player One, The China Hustle

Posted in 1910s, China, Class, Corruption, Darkness, documentary, Drama, Games, Movies, Poverty, Science Fiction, Wall Street, War, WWI by CulturalMining.com on March 30, 2018

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

It’s a holiday weekend filled with eggs, whether hard boiled or made of chocolate with a prize inside. So this week I’m looking at three new movies about… shells. There are VR gamers looking for a hidden easter egg, Wall Streeters investing in shell corporations, and WWI soldiers dodging mortar shells.

Journey’s End

Dir: Saul Dibb

It’s March, 1918, in the WWI trenches of northern France. Underground, where the officers stay, it’s dark, dank and smelly. Up on the surface its deadly dangerous, with snipers aiming at your head. Four British divisions rotate their stays at the front at one week per month. It’s like a lottery – with a one in four chance of dying. And the soldiers in Company C are just trying to stay sane and alive. There’s the fatherly Osborne (Paul Bettany) who everyone calls “Uncle”, the indefatigable cook Mason (Toby Jones), and the shell-shocked Hibbert.

So no one can understand why the green, idealistic Lt Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) pulls strings to join this benighted group. Why? His upper classman Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is stationed there and he wants to see him again. But he doesn’t realize the level of death and despair that has taken hold there. And that his hero, Stanhope,

is now a mean and bitter alcoholic. The soldiers there are forced to make pointless raids in daylight so as not to interrupt the dinner schedule of far-off Generals. And things reach a boiling point when word gets out the Germans are about to attack on Thursday, right there. They’re essentially sentenced to die at the front. How do they all handle this?

Journey’s End – based on the classic play – is a tense retelling of an old war story, exactly 100 years later. It deals with the futility of war, the rigid British class system, and the male comeradery of life in the trenches. The acting is very good, and the camera wonderfully captures a world lit only by flickering lanterns. Even so, it was hard to sympathize with the stuff-upper-lip, tally-ho language of the script. The long theatrical conversations might might work on stage but not on the screen. The main emotions I got from this movie were depression, disgust claustrophobia and fatalism. It all felt too long, too slow, and too distant, especially once you know their fate… Just die already!

Ready Player One

Dir: Steven Spielberg

It’s 2045 in Columbus, Ohio and the world is a mess. People live marginal existences in ramshackle towers beside huge corporations. Wade (Tye Sheridan) is an 18-year-old orphan who spends most of his time online in a wildly- popular VR fantasy world called Oasis. Its creator left a trillion-dollar prize to whoever can solve the puzzles hidden within this digital world. First they must complete three levels of games and collect three keys  and claim the hidden easter egg. Wade he surprises the world by appearing on the boards as Player One, the top ranked player in the world. But he’s not the only gunter (egg hunter) trying to win. His closest virtual rivals are Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) a fiery red-head, Aech, a muscular giant and genius mechanic; plus Daito and Sho whose avatars look like a samurai and a ninja, respectively. Wade calls himself Parzival. Like the Wagner opera character, he’s searching for a holy grail. And he’s in love with the lovely Artemis. But as best-bud Aech keeps telling him: you only know her avatar – that’s not what she’s like in real life. And lurking in the shadows is the rich and evil Sorrento, (Ben Mendelssohn) the head of IOI, the corporate rival to Oasis’s company. He pretends to be a champion gamer, but he’s actually a fake who hires employees to play for him. But he’s out to win — and take over the world — at any cost. Which of the hunters will figure out the puzzle and find the easter egg? And can they defeat the villainous Sorrento?

Ready Player One is an incredibly fast-moving sci-if action movie. Oasis’s inventor, whose puzzles they’re all trying to solve, was obsessed with the 80s, so the movie feeds you a random hodgepodge of Back to the Future and Iron Giant, Gandam and Street Fighter, New Order and Van Halen, a non-stop shower of pop culture, to the point where you can’t tell self-referential jokes from cheap product placement. (Maybe they’re both?) But why would kids in the 2040s care about the 1980s? I can’t call this a good movie; it’s incredibly commercial, felt more like a theme park ride than a film, and parts were like watching a video game with someone else holding the controls. But you know what? I still enjoyed it. And it does have that classic Spielbergian look and sound.

China Hustle

Wri/Dir: Jed Rothstein

After the Subprime Mortgage crisis, American investors, pension funds, and ordinary moms and pops were looking to make some money. But where? Chinese people were making millions investing in their red-hot companies, but those stocks weren’t traded on Wall Street. Until, suddenly, they were. Hundreds of Chinese startups were being bought and sold and making big bucks. And companies like Roth Capital were holding lavish parties known as “investment conferences” to reel in buyers. They were backed by reputable auditors like Deloitte. It’s a win-win proposition – everyone makes money. Until, that is, some suspicious investors fly to Shanghai and looked around.

Turns out, many of these companies operate as “Reverse Mergers”. Existing Chinese corporations buy shell companies already registered in the US, take them over, change their name, and they’re open to make money.

But their books here don’t look like their books there. Idle factories in China are said to be making ten times what they’re actually earning. And no one’s checking up on them.

So a few maverick investors decide to short sell their stock (like in that movie The Big Short) counting on its value crashing soon. And they speed this along by publicising the corruption and questionable accounting of the parent companies back in China. The result, riches for a few, terrible losses for many.

The China Hustle is a fascinating documentary looking at the shady practices behind deregulation, auditing and investments, as told by three American short-sellers. I thought its view of China as a monolithic villain was superficial and rather one-sided; for example, it shows how these fraudulent investments affect ordinary Americans’ lives, but not how they affect ordinary Chinese.

But it does expose in detail a huge scandal I knew nothing about.

Ready Player One opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Journey’s End and The China Hustle are in theatres and Video On Demand. 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

Daniel Garber interviews director JIM BRUCE about his new film Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve

Posted in Cultural Mining, Deregulation, documentary, Uncategorized, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2014

MFN_Camera_DSC_0124

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

The world’s economy was brought to a standstill after the crash of 2008 – we’re still recovering. What MONEY_FOR_NOTHING_Federal_Reserve_Note_Photo_Courtesy_of_Liberty_Street_Filmshappened? A new movie posits that it was the policies of the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan that were largely responsible for the meltdown.

This in-depth documentary explains the history of this powerful but opaque agency and how it works. It’s called Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, (opening today in Toronto at Hot Docs). Director JIM BRUCE (editor: King of Kong) tells us more.

Crime Families? Movies Reviewed: We’re the Millers, 2 Guns, Blue Jasmine

Posted in Action, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, Guns, Mexico, Uncategorized, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on August 2, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Something strange happened to me recently – apparently my downtown bank was robbed… while I was there! The thing is, I didn’t even know it had taken place. In fact, if a teller hadn’t handed me a mugshot photocopy and told me to circle a face, I still wouldn’t know. Meanwhile, the bank refused to say that they’d been robbed, just what do you remember, what did you see? (Truthful answer: nothing). All very strange.  Nothing like the movies where someone in a mask always shouts Nobody move! I have a gun and it’s loaded! Don’t move and you won’t get hurt!

This week I’m looking at three new movies about how crime can affect the criminals themselves, their friends and their families. Two of the movies – one action, one comedy – focus on the lucrative drug trade across the US/Mexican border. And one’s a drama, set in San Francisco, about the ex-wife of a Bernie Madoff-type character.

were the millers poulter sudeikisWe’re the Millers

Dir: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Dave (Jason Sudeikis) is loving the single’s life as a small- time pot dealer. But when street punks steal his money and his drug stash, he suddenly finds himself in debt to his drug boss, a goofy, but cruel, businessman who keeps killer whales for pets. So he’s forced to do a one-time smuggling run from Mexico in an RV. But, in order to fool government agents at the border, he must totally change his look, from stoner to suburban straight guy. So he recruits a fake family to accompany him. Rose, a bitter and angry stripper who lives in his apartment building (Jennifer Anniston) is now his “wife”. (She hates him). Naïve Kenny (Will Poulter) — another neighbour, who was abandoned by his mom – is his pretend son, and homeless Casey (Emma Roberts) is his wisecracking daughter.were-the-millers-jennifer-aniston-jason-sudeikis-emma-roberts-439x600  Together they cross the border, evade vengeful Mexican druglords, and try to fit in with the lily-white Christian campers they meet on the road.

were the millersMeet the Millers is a cute, risqué road movie about a bunch of ne’erdowells who, in spite of themselves, gradually morph into the family roles they are given. The laughs come from the fact that we, the audience — but not the characters they meet – know that this suburban family is actually just a façade. The characters are all funny and sympatico, but Will Poulter (the wide-eyed kid in the UK comedy Son of Rambow) especially stands out as a goofy twerp forced to grow up.

2 Guns2 Guns

Dir: Baltasar Kormákur

Stig and Bobby (Mark Wahlburg and Denzel Washington) are carefree partners in crime. They kibitz with a Mexican crime lord, knock over banks and blow up donut shops. And Bobby has a beautiful non-girlfriend, Deb (Paula Patton), who’s a fed. But when a simple bank job yields the boys $30 million in untraceable cash, the dynamic changes. There’s no honour among thieves. They turn against each other. Both of them turn out to be secretly working for competing groups – and everyone seems to know this except the two of them. Soon enough, they’re each being chased by the military, the CIA, another sinister and deadly agency, and the drug lords themselves – all of whom want to get their hands on the cash. If 2-guns-denzel-washington-mark-wahlberg-549x600Bobby and Stig can’t trust each other, how will they survive this “war on drugs”?

If you like light action movies — with getaways, shoot-outs, explosions, disguises and chase scenes – this is a good one. Wahlburg is a very likeable comic actor. Washington seems to have a bit more trouble doing good comedy, but he’s got the weather-worn-persona down pat. And I love Icelandic director Kormákur’s constant use of stark, rusty-steel locations: all his trains, cars, industrial kitchens, rooftops, deserts… just beautiful to watch.

(One point: both 2 Guns and Meet the Millers are filled with dated, negative stereotypes of Mexicans… but, since the movies are also filled with negative stereotypes of Americans, I guess it evens out.)

Blue Jasmine Cate Blanchett  Photo Merrick Morton © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsBlue Jasmine

Dir: Woody Allen

Rich, blond and upper-class, New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) arrives in San Francisco with just the shirt on her back (and some jewels and dresses in her Louis Vuitton luggage.) She’s losing it. Penniless, lost, disgraced. She can’t stop thinking about her ex-husband’s – a Bernie Madoff-type Wall Street investor who bilked his clients – fall from power. Now she has nowhere to go, so she’s forced to bunk with her sister. Frowsy but affable, working-class Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is her exact opposite – could they have come from the same womb? Snooty Jasmine insists they’re not biological relatives.

Ginger lets her stay in her messy but happy home, along with two kids Blue Jasmine Sally Hawkins Andrew Dice Clay Photo  Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicsand a boorish boyfriend. Jasmine holds that the only way for a woman to improve her lot in life is to marry up. Ginger should meet better boyfriends. (Unmentioned is the fact that it was Jasmine’s billionaire husband that broke up Ginger’s marriage when he squandered their nest egg on worthless stock.)

Blue Jasmine_Alec Baldwin Cate Blanchett Photo Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsBut impeccably good taste isn’t enough to feed Jasmine. A Vassar drop-out, she has no skills, no experience. She is forced to double- date with her sister. She takes work as a dental receptionist, wears a nametag, and deals with relentless customers and sexual harassment from her boss. But she still dreams of better days in the Hamptons, even as she recalls, through flashbacks, the events that led to her husband’s financial collapse. Can a widowed diplomat she meets pull her from this morass? And will Ginger follow suit with a newer, richer boyfriend?

Blue Jasmine is a moving character study of a mentally unstable woman forced to make it on her own. Cate Blanchett is great in the title role, and Sally Hawkins good as her sister. Alec Baldwin and Andrew Dice Clay as their respective ex-husbands, Hal and Augie, round out the cast quite nicely. But I thought this movie dragged. The dialogue is rarely witty, and often repetitive and tiresome. The characters keep having identical arguments, almost word for word: Jasmine say Ginger’s boyfriends are losers, Ginger still likes them, Augie blames Jasmine for his financial losses… While I remember the good parts in retrospect, the film felt slow and repetitive while I was watching it.

We’re the Millers opens on August 9th, and Blue Jasmine and 2 Guns open today. And coming next week, a rare appearance at the TIFF Bell Light Box by French director Leos Carax at a retrospective of his fantastic movies, including Holy Motors and Les Amants du Pont Neuf. Go to tiff.net for more information.

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

Getaways! Movies Reviewed: Mud, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Star Trek Into Darkness

JH Wingfield_1966_DetailHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

What does it mean to get away for a while? You’re probably thinking, beach, a drive, a cottage, camping trip, maybe a weekend in another city across the border… But what about a real getaway, one where you might have no plan to go back home?

This week I’m going to look at three dramas opening this weekend, all by very good directors, about people trying to get away. There’s a man on the lam hiding out on an island in the Mississippi; a Wall Street financier who flees to Lahore, Pakistan; and some explorers who embark on a long trip to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Mud 2Mud

Dir: Jeff Nichols

Two boys, Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland), live right on the Mississippi river in Arkansas. They’re not townies – they live off the water where their families catch fish for a living. So one day they head off to an island down the river where Ellis says he saw a boat… up in a tree! But they soon discover it’s occupied by a man nicknamed MudMud 3. Mud (Matt McConaughey) was a homeless orphan when he grew up in the area, and now he’s come back home. He’s on the lam after committing a crime in Texas. But he wants to send a message to the love of his life, a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). He’s been in love with her since they were teenagers. But a whole posse has come up from Texas to hunt him down – and they might even kill him.

He tells the boys if they help him skip town with Juniper he’ll let them keep the boat. Neckbone is suspicious, but Ellis agrees to be his Mud 1inbetweener and contact Juniper. He’s doing it in the name of true love.

Ellis, meanwhile, is also trying to find to find his own true love. He’s only 14 but punches out a much older and bigger and meaner boy for the way he’s treating a young woman. Will she be his girlfriend? Or does she still think of him as just a kid? Maybe a girlfriend will bring some stability to Ellis’s life — his parents fight every day. If they split up that would mean the end of the family home, the end of their boat, and the end of their life on the river.

Mud is a really great movie, a drama about crime and how it affects the lives of poor, white rural families. It’s in the vein of Winter’s Bone and Frozen River. It’s also a tender coming-of-age story, and a family drama with action, mystery, guns and chases. It’s also an examination of true love and disappointment. It’s directed by Jeff Nichol who did the fantastic movie Take Shelter a couple years ago. Mud is really good – I recommend it.

IMG_7661.CR2The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Dir: Mira Nair

Changez (Riz Ahmed) is a Princeton grad who left Wall Street at the height of his career, trading riches for a quieter professorship in his hometown of Lahore, Pakistan. Why did he do it? asks an American journalist (Liev Schreiber) interviewing Changez at a tea house in Pakistan. Why did he give it all up? That is a long story. And that’s the story the movie tells.

The son of a respected but not rich Pakistani poet, Changez wants to live the American dream. Just out of Princeton, he is hired as an analyst by a financial firm. They grab existing companies and determines their “value” (Changez’s specialty) before chopping them up, firing the workers and closing the less profitable factories. He moves in with a beautiful and privileged girlfriend, an artist (Kate Hudson), and things are looking up. But then comes 9-11. Suddenly he’s being strip-searched at borders, locked up and questioned. His veneer of privilege is stripped away, and his house of cards collapses. He begins to wonder about the real value of things in his life. The path he takes and the decisions he makes are gradually revealed… but where does that leave him? Has he become a radical “Islamist” terrorist? And is he behind a kidnapping at the IMG_1048.JPGuniversity? Or is he just a well-meaning teacher?

The backstory to this whole movie is 9-11. Mira Nair knows it well. I was at a screening at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept 12th (or 13th?) in 2001, just after the incident. She had brought the entire cast of her delightful comedy Monsoon Wedding to its premier at TIFF, and was mortified that her show was being unfairly eclipsed by that nasty business in Manhattan. No one yet knew what was going to happen after that day, or how big a change it would bring to the US and the world. I think that day is omnipresent in Mira Nair’s mind while directing this film.

The story is interesting and relevant. The problem with the Reluctant Fundamentalist is that neither Changez, nor his girlfriend nor his boss (Keiffer Sutherland), are particularly sympathetic or likeable characters. They’re all equally greedy or self-absorbed. It’s hard to feel for people when you don’t really care what happens to them.

HH-00789CStar Trek: Into Darkness

Dir: J.J. Abrams

It’s Earth a few hundred years in the future. Brash Captain Kirk and logical Mr Spock (engagingly played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto) are at it again in this Star Trek prequel. The big cities (San Francisco, London) are still there, just with more, fancier buildings. So all the world is shocked when an insider from The Federation (that’s the worldwide and interplanetary government) turns out to be a terrorist, killing countless people — including someone important to Kirk. He flies off in a rage aboard the Starship Enterprise, after some goading from Marcus (Peter Weller) a high placed military hawk. Armed with a new type of missiles, they head toward the dark and mysterious Klingon territory to hunt down the terrorist. But they discover things aren’t what they seem. The man accused of terrorism turns out to be sort of an uber-human, almost unkillable, genetically stronger and smarter than any normal human. But he saves the lives of Kirk and his crew: whose side is he really on?star-trek-into-darkness-benedict-cumberbatch3-600x427

I had a great time with this movie, chock-full of insider jokes about the original Star Trek (things like tribbles, red shirts, the Wrath of Khan). There are wicked scenes of people in rocket suits zooming through outer space. Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series) is especially good as this scary superman. Yes, all the actors are just imitating the looks and voices from the original series, but so what? It works. Zoe Soldana, as a newly sexualized Uhura, and Simon Pegg as a funnier Scotty stand out. The 3-D effects are impressive for the first 15 minutes then you forget about them, but the action, laughs and, yes, excitement, keep you glued to the screen the whole time.

Mud, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Star Trek Into Darkness all open today: check your local listings. And keep your eyes open for Toronto’s Inside-Out LGBT Film Festival (insideout.ca); and the Monsters and Martians science fiction film festival is screening the original Manchurian Candidate next week at the Big Pictures Cinema, which is always worth seeing.

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

Marital Difficulties. Movies Reviewed: Side Effects, All in Good Time.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, drugs, Family, Movies, Psychology, Romance, Sex, Suicide, Suspician, UK, Uncategorized, US, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on February 17, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

After last week’s dip into low-brow genre movies, I’m back with some higher-brow dramas, suitable for viewing by grown-ups. This week I’m looking two enjoyable movies about marital difficulties. One’s a light family drama from the UK about newlyweds, and an American suspense/drama about the effect of prescription drugs on a young couple.

_MG_6630.CR2Side Effects

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh

Emily (Rooney Mara) is young woman married to a Wall Street broker who’s in prison for insider trading. She’s nervous but excited – Martin (Channing Tatum) is getting out: they’ll be together again after four years. But she’s getting more and more nervous. They were barely newlyweds when he was locked up and she’s worried about their relationship. Can their marriage just pick up where they left off?

So when things don’t live up to their potential  (bad sex)  Emily spontaneously steps on the gas in a parking garage and drives her car, full speed, into a concrete wall. In the emergency room she’s treated by a psychiatrist, Dr Banks (Jude Law).

He’s kindly and honest, but also scruffy and middle aged. He’s married to a brittle, ambitious Wall Street trader. So he’s touched by Emily’s stunning beauty, youth and neediness, and really wants to help her out. (Perhaps he even has romantic thoughts?)

So, after checking with her previous psychiatrist, the sultry Dr Siebert, (Catherine Zeta-Jones) he takes on her case and side-effects-A032_C011_0101LT_rgb_fg2do3ztstarts prescribing various medications – Zoloft, Abrixa — to ease depression, others to modify the side effects of the antidepressants, mood stabilizers… But they seem to just make things worse. Then a pharmacy saleswoman gets him to sign on for a lucrative, new drug-testing program – he needs the money.

But what about the side effects of all these drugs? For Emily, they lead to sleep-walking, bizarre mood changes, strange sexual response, and, eventually, to a bizarre, shocking incident. The case explodes onto the front pages, and the hapless doctor is drawn into a complicated drama. Suddenly his marriage is at risk, his career is in jeopardy and his private life is interrupted by droves of reporters. Who’s to blame? The drug company? The psychiatrist? The patient?

side-effects-A086_C013_0101PV_rgb_88erboizFull disclosure: I can’t stand most of Stephen Soderbergh’s recent movies. They’re misanthropic, bleak, drab, depressing. The people in his movies all seem obsessed with the crass problems of everyday life: things like real estate, accounting, medical problems, career advancement… as opposed to love, passion, family, art, religion or morality. They are also often incredibly drab in style – just blah. Especially lately, with terrible movies like The Girlfriend Experiment, The Informant, and Magic Mike. Never mind his five-hour snoozefest about Che Guevara.

I’m not saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing; he does. He constructs formulaic dramas in a spare style. I just don’t like them: they’re disturbing or distressing, not fun at all (not like some of his old stuff, like the terrific Out of Sight.)

But…but…but… That said, I actually really liked this movie! It has enough twists and shocks and plot turns to keep me glued to the screen. It starts as a straightforward, slow-moving drama, but becomes suspenseful, psychological drama, where even the doctor forced to question his own sanity. He also plays around with conventions, turning some on their head. The film and the camera function as unreliable narrators: what you see is not necessarily what happened.

Rooney Mara and Jude Law are great in this movie, and Channing Tatum does his usual job. But Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, stands out like a sore thumb. She’s unbelievably awful. It’s a smaller role, but still, just putting on a pair of glasses and pulling back your hair doesn’t equal “psychiatrist”. She looks and acts like a breathy soap-opera character – nothing like a doctor in a realistic drama. Is it just this movie, or is she always this terrible? Anyway, she’s not enough to ruin the movie. I really liked Side Effects.

All in good time 1All in Good Time

Dir: Nigel Cole

Things are great at the wedding. amid the jumble and confusion of two extended families living near Manchester, in the UK. Working-class Atul (Reese Ritchie) hangs out in a movie theatre and still lives with his parents in a council flat, while the much richer Vina (Amara Karan) is accustomed to a posher lifestyle. The newlyweds are quite in love. But, since the wedding, as his mother says, there has “been no planting in the Shalimar Gardens.” With his dad snoring and farting through the thin walls, Atul can’t get it up. And when word leaks out — via a trio of gossipy popcorn ladies at the local Bollywood show-palace — the scandal grows. He hasn’t yet shown his manhood – was the wedding just a failure?

His father, Eeshwar (Harish Patel), is a self-centred, bombastic boor, given to arm-wrestling and bad jokes. He’s all in good time 4constantly at war with his son. Things aren’t helped by a generation gap and Eeshwar’s own obsession with one-upmanship. Atul’s mother is much more understanding and pragmatic and is trying to get things back to normal. She reminds Eeshwar that their marriage also had a rocky start.

Will father and son ever see eye-to-eye? Will love keep the newlyweds together, or will stress destroy their marriage before it even starts? All In Good Time is adapted from a play by by UK playright Ayub Khan-Din, who did the fantastic East is East and its sequel West is West. all in good time 3And his was adapted from the 1960’s play All in Good Time (by Bill Naughton, who brought us Alfie), but set within a UK South Asian community. The father and son, the main characters (Patel and Richie) are just great, as are all of the female actors.

This movie is confusing and messy in the beginning, and takes a while to get into its groove, but when it does, it’s just delightful. Director Nigel Cole (known for Made in Dagenham and other small English dramas) is in fine form. All in Good Time is a very enjoyable romantic family drama.

Side Effects and All in Good Time both open today in Toronto. Also playing and worth checking out are some great documentaries, including West of Memphis, a epic documentary that tells the decades long story of three teenagers in small-town Arkansas who were arrested and charged with the satanic murder of a teenager… This is a harrowing case where the DA’s evidence consisted mainly of the fact that they wore black and listened to heavy metal bands. Check your local listings for times and screens.

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

September 28, 2012. Intractable Situations. Movies Reviewed: Arbitrage, Looper.

Posted in Cultural Mining, Movies, Science Fiction, Telekinesis, Thriller, TIFF, Time Travel, Uncategorized, US, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on October 6, 2012

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

The summer blockbusters are over now — it’s fall season, where they start playing real movies they hope will win academy awards. And TIFF has ushered in Toronto’s fall festival season, as well. Toronto’s Palestine Film Festival starts tomorrow, followed quickly by Planet in Focus (environmental films), ReelAsian, ImagineNative, European (sponsored by EU embassies), Rendezvous with Madness (about addiction and mental health), and some new ones like Ekran – a Polish movie festival. So, boys and girls, hold onto your hats in the weeks to come for more info about those.

In the mean time, I’m looking at two American thrillers, both about men caught in seemingly intractable situations. One’s a dramatic thriller set in the world of high finance, the other’s a futuristic action thriller about time travel… and murder!

Arbitrage

Dir: Nicholas Jarecki

Robert (Richard Gere) in the financial sector, who runs a gazillion dollar Wall Street investment firm. He has a beautiful French artist as a mistress, a dignified philanthropist wife (Susan Sarandon) at home in the mansion, and a daughter who works for the company. He drives the right car, wears the perfect suit, perfect hair – c’mon, he’s Richard Gere — and he looks like a big financier. Anyway, he’s ready to retire, so he’s going to sell the firm. But… he has to borrow a bit of money (like a few hundred mil) just for a couple weeks, while the independent auditor goes through his books. But his daughter Brooke (Brit Marling) notices something fishy in the books, the other wall street dude who lent him the money wants it back, his wife suspects there might be a mistress… and then, to top it all off, this one-percenter gets in a Chappaquiddick-type accident on a country road with his mistress who doesn’t survive. Any legal investigation could spoil his deal, reveal his questionable business, and maybe even send him to jail for murder! So in a panic, he decides to keep it all hush-hush Luckily he gets help from a mysterious young black guy, Jimmy (Nate Parker) to help him out of this mess. Jimmy drives him out of there before the detectives show up. Then the movie flips into an investigation that could lead to a murder trial, even as the financial deal is pending.

Will the detective (Tim Roth) nail him in court? Will Robert end up as a Bernie Madoff or a Warren Buffet: will he sell the company or will it all collapse like a house of cards? And who is this Jimmy guy anyway, and what’s his connection with Robert, and what will he do if the pressure comes down on him?

This is a good, simple thriller with lots of twists and an excellent cast. Most of the characters range from detestable to not very nice (except Jimmy, who it’s easier to sympathize with). And it’s the 25 year old director’s first movie, which is pretty impressive. It doesn’t have any moral story or political points or special dramatic elements… it’s just a financial thriller, but that’s good enough for me. So if you liked last year’s Margin Call, you might like this one, too.

Looper (Opening Night Film at TIFF)

Dir: Rian Johnson

It’s 50 years into the future – people still live in farmhouses on cornfields, and organized crime is all-powerful in a somewhat familiar distopia. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is learning French for a future retirement near the Eiffel Tower. But he’s not such a nice guy: he’s a hitman who shoots people for a living with his blunderbuss gun in a cornfield beside an old-school diner. His victims are all men sent back in time from the future – no evidence – and he keeps the silver bars taped to their vests as payment. But then one day they send him… himself! Well, his old self (Bruce Willis) and Old Joe is packed with gold bars – sort of severance pay. It also means Joe’s a looper who’s out of the loop, stuck in the past. Old Joe escapes and is intent on tracking down “the Rainmaker” an X-Men type child with special powers who could grow up into the cruel crime boss that ordered him killed. Get it? It’s up to young Joe to kill his old self and to save the child. He’s staying in a nearby farmhouse with a mom (a thoroughly convincing Emily Blunt as the middle-America farmer) and a little kid who or may not be the kid he’s looking for. So who will win this fight: Old Joe, young Joe, farm wife, angry little X-Men child or the future gangsters?

Looper is directed by Rian Johnson who did that cool low-budget film-noir-in-highschool detective movie called Brick, and the truly awful The Brothers Bloom. This one’s a good action/thriller with some interesting time-warp twists. Like to send an instant message to your future self you have to cut-up your arm with a knife – since the scar will remain there for decades. And there’s the run-of-the- mill telekinesis stuff. But here’s the big problem (or at least what bugs me): Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are supposed to be the same person, so they constructed weirdly prosthetic facial features that will make them look similar. Why did they have to be so literal? Why couldn’t they just say: This guy’s thirty years older than his other self is – but that’s how he’ll look in the future. Would that be so hard? Whatever happened to the suspension of disbelief? Anyway, it means you have to watch two otherwise appealing actors with weirdly deformed faces for the entire length of the film. Still, not a bad science fiction film.

Looper and Arbitrage both open today – check your local listings. And two good movies that I recently reviewed, Lawrence Anyways and Rebelle — both from Quebec — are now playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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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