A plastic medium. Films reviewed: Luk’Luk’I, Happy End, Les Affamés

Posted in Canada, Family, France, Horror, Indonesia, Movies, Poverty, Quebec, Vancouver, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on January 12, 2018

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

Film is a very plastic medium, with filmmakers free to do just about anything as long as it ends up looking like a movie. This week, I’m looking at three new movies where characters (or actors) shift their roles in unexpected ways. There’s horror from Quebec where friendly characters turn into monsters; a Vancouver drama where real people play themselves; and a dark comedy where actors repeat characters they played in other movies… though not exactly.

Luk’Luk’I

Dir: Wayne Wapeemukwa

It’s 2010 in Vancouver, and the world’s best athletes are streaming into town for the winter Olympics. Crowds of rowdy yahoos in red and white hockey sweaters fill the streets. Scalped tickets are selling for hundreds of dollars, and downtown houses for millions. This is a city oozing with wealth.

But the people on Hastings in the rundown east end are still struggling to get by. Ken (Ken Harrower) is a soft-spoken gay guy who gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He likes playing bingo and meeting new friends. He has a wad of cash set aside to buy tickets to a big Olympic event. He runs into Rollergirl (Angela Dawson), an outspoken transwoman who performs fancy skate manoeuvres on her roller blades. She wants to share in the excitement. There’s Angel (Angel Gates) a buxom, indigenous sex worker all dressed in pink and black, who sees the Olympics as a good source of potential business. Eric (Eric Buurman) is an older drug user, always looking for his next hit. But he has a son out there he hasn’t seen in many years. And Mark (Joe Buffalo) has a close encounter of the third kind.

Luck’Luk’I is an experimental look at the overlooked side of Vancouver, the homeless and disenfranchised, the street walkers, drug users and local characters. It tells five loosely linked stories. The film wavers in an unexplored zone somewhere between documentary and drama. Most of the parts are played by actors playing themselves, and retelling their own stories. The director gives them writing credits. Sometimes he even hands them the camera with mixed results. At the same time, the film always seems a bit stilted because it emphasizes realism over drama. There are some genuinely moving parts, but I had to keep asking myself – is this a real event or a reenactment I’m witnessing? Or did it happen at all? Well worth seeing, but view it like a work of art, a Jeff Wall photo come to life.

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch of a Laurent enterprises a huge corporation based in Calais France. It’s run by his daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) a no-nonsense business woman. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a successful surgeon, lives on the family estate with his young wife Anaïs. Then there’s the third generation. Pierre (Franz Rogowski) Anne’s son, knows how to wear a hard hat, but that’s about it. He’s responsible for a disaster that happens at a construction site. And Thomas’s daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) from a previous marriage re-enters his life when his ex-wife suddenly gets sick. This cute and innocent little girl is not as nice as she seems. She’s a tiny psychopath who does horrible things just for the lulz – and to share them anonymously on Snapchat. And Georges, the patriarch, desperately wants to end it all.

Happy End is a very dark comedy about a rich, dysfunctional family. Haneke its great director, does something really unusual: He recreates characters from a previous film, but with an entirely different back story. Amour, Which won an Oscar in 2013, was about an elderly musician man, Georges, facing his wife’s dementia. In Happy End, Georges (and his daughter) are back again played by the same actors, but this time not as musicians but as corporate leaders. And this time it’s a comedy not a tragic romance. Another great movie.

Les Affamés

Wri/Dir: Robin Aubert

It’s present-day rural Quebec, bucolic pastures where cows chew their cud and inchworms travel along twigs. There’s an F1 racetrack nearby., Bonin (Marc-André Grondin) runs a hunting club, and likes telling dirty jokes with his buddy Vezina. Pauline and Therese run a gas station, and are into home canning. And kids like Ti-cul and Zoe (Charlotte St-Martin) live ordinary lives with their families on farms. But something strange is happening. People stand in their fields staring off into the distance. Others carry wooden chairs to build a strange tower. A woman sits in the grass playing with a doll. What’s going on?

It’s a strange disease like leprosy that turns your fingers black and makes you split dark blood. And then suddenly you’re a zombie starving for human flesh. These zombies don’t grunt and drag their feet; they communicate using shouts and screams and run at breakneck speed to capture unchanged humans to eat. It’s up to the ones still alive – plus Tania (Monia Chokri) who says she was bitten by a dog, and a former “perfect wife” who now wields a machete – to band together and survive the onslaught. They share food and set up hundreds of mousetraps all around their house as a low-tech early-warning system. Who will survive? And can they stop the zombie-pocalypse?

Les Affamés (or The Hungry Ones) is a neat take on the zombie flic. It doesn’t differ too much from a Romero movie or TV shows like the Walking Dead, just enough to keep you guessing.  Beautiful images (like Tania ducking down in a field of low ferns to hide from the hungry ones), are a pleasure to watch. Great acting — the cast has some big Quebec names — and the combination of humour and terror works well.

If you like zombie movies, this is a good one to watch.

Happy End starts today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Les Affamés and Luk’ Luk’I are now playing at Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival. Also at TIFF, Daniel Cockburn’s You Are Here – maybe the strangest movie you’ve ever seen – is playing on the free screen. Go to tiff.net for details.

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

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

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

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

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

hacksawridge_d14-6618Hacksaw Ridge

Dir: Mel Gibson

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

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

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

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

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

birthofanation_04Birth of a Nation

Dir: Nate Parker

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

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

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

seoul_station_film_posterSeoul Station

Dir: Sang-ho Yeon

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

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

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

Back to School. The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea #TIFF16

Posted in Animation, Coming of Age, Games, High School, Horror, School, Science Fiction, Uganda, UK, US, Women, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on September 16, 2016

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

It’s mid-September as TIFF enters its final weekend with lots left to see. It’s also the start of an academic year. So this week I’m looking TIFF movies about going back to school. We’ve got an American school sinking into the sea, smart African kids who can’t afford the school fee, and British kids kept under lock and key.

thegirlwithallthegifts_02The Girl with all the Gifts

Dir: Colm McCarthy

It’s a military camp in a dystopian, future UK. Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a bright and friendly girl who gets along well with others. She goes to school each morning and is the best kid in the class. But she – like the rest of the kids – is kept locked up in a dingy prison cell, fed raw worms, and derided thegirlwithallthegifts_04by heavily armed soldiers as a monster abortion. Only her teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Atherton), sticks up for Melanie. But Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close) a sinister scientist, also has her eye on Melanie.

You see, all of England has been infected by a fungal virus that turns you into a flesh-eating zombie who never dies. But these kids are second generation — infected in utero — who think and act like humans but carry a craving for raw flesh. thegirlwithallthegifts_01Caldwell wants to carve up Melanie’s brain to find a cure. But when the camp is overrun by zombies, the three of them (along with a troupe of soldiers) are forced to escape in a military vehicle to find another base. Can Melanie – the girl with all the gifts – be trusted to stay moral and not eat the humans? Can trigger-happy soldiers and heartless scientists be trusted not to kill her? This is a great science fiction drama in the form of a zombie flic. Glenn Close goes a bit overboard in her evil rants, but Atherton and Manua are amazing as the good guys.

queen-of-katweQueen of Katwe

Dir: Mira Nair

Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl who lives in Katwe, a desperately poor slum in Uganda. By day she sells corn to passing motorists. By night she sleeps in an unlit shack with her brother, her sister and her stern mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who always sticks up for her kids. Is there no way out of this desperate life.

Enter Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). He has an engineering degree but works at a community centre for underprivileged kids, teaching them chess. Phiona and her brother take to the game almost immediately, despite kids deriding their unwashed clothes. She’s illiterate but learns to play strategically, plotting out future moves in her head. Robert sees a chess prodigy and his wife helps her learn to read. But Phiona is still penniless, playing chess with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. Her mother tries to Queen of Katwepull her away from that gambling den. But Coach Robert convinces her that only by becoming a chess master can Phiona make it out of Katwe. Mom finally understands, selling her only possessions to pay for paraffin candles so Phiona can study at night. But can a girl from the ghetto become a Chess Master?

Queen of Katwe is a wonderful traditional family story, about hard work and tenacity. It says never give up, believe in yourself. At the same it shows a realistic portrait of desperate lives, their constant search for money, and the terrible prejudice they face. The story is told in a simple way but it’s very moving. It’s shot in Africa by the great Indian director Mira Nair, an expert at showing class differences. The actors portray their roles well, from grumpy Nyong’o, to optimistic Oyelowo and especially the wonderful Nalwanga as Phiona.

myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_02My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea

Wri/Dir Dash Shaw

Dash is starting a new year with high hopes. A junior at Tides High, he’s a cynical news geek who writes for the school paper, the Tides Gazette, with best friend Assaf and Verti the editor. He wants to find the big story. He’s sure his school is about to collapse due to bad maintenance. But no one reads the paper’s turgid prose and his warnings are ignored. Assaf and Verti are dating now so he’s left all alone. When he is caught looking through school files for hard evidence, he ends up in detention. But that’s when disaster strikes — an earthquake starts fires and sends the shoddily built school sinking into the sea. It’s also on fire, with sharks in the water and rats on land. It’s up to Dash and his friends — along with a courageous lunch lady — to lead his schoolmates to safety. But they must face the school myentirehighschoolsinkingintothesea_01snitch, drug dealers, the devious principal, popular kids and the school quarterback who reigns from a golden throne in only his jockstrap. But who will survive and who will be torn to bloody pieces before their very eyes?

This is a fantastic animated feature, one of the best movies at TIFF. It’s the Poseidon Adventure set in a high school. The art and animation takes unexpected forms. No pixar 3-D or complex cell animation here. Instead it’s broad splashes of tempera paint behind the thick black lines that make up character faces. There are cutouts and fingerpaint, boy scout illustrations, pop art and trippy half-tone dots from newspaper sunday comics.

Great voices are provided by Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Susan Sarandon as Lunch Lady Lorraine. But the art of Dash Shaw — and his fellow cartoonists and artists — is what makes this so great.

The Girl with all the Gifts, Queen of Katwe, and My Entire Highschool Sinking into the Sea, are all playing now at TIFF. And you can line up at Roy Thompson Hall around 4 pm on Sunday to get a free ticket to the people’s choice award movie. Always worth watching, always free. Details are posted at tiff.net.

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

Women vs Tentpoles. Films Reviewed: Frances Ha, Fill the Void, World War Z

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Dance, Depression, Drama, Family, Israel, Movies, Uncategorized, Zombie by CulturalMining.com on June 22, 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.

Where is cinema heading? Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recently gave a speech at USC. They said the movie industry is about to implode.  It will split into two halves: big-budget, well-promoted potential blockbusters; and personal, smaller projects. The big movies, the “tent poles” are supposed to keep the money flowing, while the indie movies bring in the film buffs and adults. They say these indies will be relegated to Pay-on-Demand apps on your iPad, while movie theatre movies will be the equivalent of going to a Cirque du Soleil performance.

I can’t predict the future, but for now, at least, there are still lots of small movies on the big screen. And there are many other indie (or semi independent) movies being made and shown. Lots of them, not just the “tentpole” movies. And they are all playing on the big screen.

This week I’m looking at two polished, low-budget movies about women, and one Tent Pole behemoth about zombies – all of which can be seen in movie theatres, starting today.

FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Mickey SumnerFrances Ha

Dir: Noah Baumbach

Frances and Sophie (Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner) are best friends. They went to a liberal arts university together and now they’re roommates in Manhattan, pursuing their dreams. Frances likes to dance – maybe she’ll become a choreographer — while Sophie is in the publishing world. They do everything together; they say they’re like an old lesbian couple… except no sex.

But their best friendship starts to crumble when Sophie moves in with her dull boyfriend, Punch, leaving Frances with nowhere to live. And her dance ambitions are tanking. She starts couch surfing with friends of friends, looking for work.

Great Gerwig is perfect as the gangly and awkward but pretty Frances. Going through FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig, Michael Zegen, Adam Driverpostpartum depression from losing her best friend, she becomes aware of her dismal life: she’s in the arts, she’s poor, and — as Benji (Michael Zegen) one of the guys she sublets a room from, keeps telling her — “undateable”.

Will Frances find success, sex, love or maybe an apartment? And can she find a new best friend? Frances Ha, shot in glorious black and white, is a fun, light social comedy looking at the lives of smart, white, urban women in their twenties. It’s basically identical to the TV show Girls, even sharing some of the same faces (like Adam Driver). If you like “Girls” (I do) you’ll like this movie, too.

Fill The Void

Wri/Dir: Rama Burshtein

Enter the Void Hadas Yaron, Renana Raz,  Irit Sheleg, Razia Israeli Photo by Karin BarShira (Hadas Yaron) is an ultra-orthodox young Jewish woman in Tel Aviv. She plays the accordion. Her aunt is acting as match maker spying on potential grooms without them noticing. “He’s in the dairy section” she tells her in a supermarket. But when Shira’s sister dies in childbirth, she steps in to help her brother-in- law Yochay (Yiftach Klein) with the baby. Soon a plan is hatched to get teenaged Shira to marry the much older Yochay, her own family. She doesn’t want to. A family rivalry erupts in her family between the disabled Aunt and the other matriarchs. It spreads quietly to the whole community, over marriages, responsibilities and obligations. Who will Enter the Voidmake the sacrifice? Will Yochay move to Europe? And will Shira defy her elders?

Directed by an ultra-orthodox woman, Fill the Void gives a peak at a largely insular world, rarely seen in mainstream films, and almost never from the point of view of women. Despite all its religious trappings, much of the film is actually about the relationships and customs in the completely non-religious, day-to-day life of these women. Fill the Void is a very good, subtle drama.

WORLD WAR ZWorld War Z

Dir: Marc Forster

Gerry (Brad Pitt) is a former UN civil servant who lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. One day they go for a drive and get caught up in a massive traffic jam. Something is causing major gridlock. It turns out there are fast-running zombie-like people throwing themselves off of the roofs of buildings, and wildly attacking cars and people. The disease is spreading and it seems to be infecting everyone. Ten seconds after you’re scratched by zombies, you twitch, your eyeballs cloud up, and boom – you’re a zombie too!

The family escapes to Newark where the human looters – even the cops –are running WORLD WAR Zwild. Confusion, fear, panic, mayhem. Somehow, due to Gerry’s status, the family gets picked up by helicopters and sent to somewhere safe – an aircraft carrier in the mid-Atlantic.

The UN Secretary General asks Gerry to save the day. He’s a Jack Bauer with a hotline to the top brass. He flies off – with some Navy Seals to guard him — to find Patient Zero, and somehow stop this zombie apocalypse. It morphs into a military PR movie, as he flies around the world to military bases. It’s sort of a Zombie Dark Thirty (with monsters replacing terrorists).

This is where the best special effects come in. The zombies turn into a human wave, splashing against walls and careening down city streets, like they’re running the bulls of Pamplona. Really amazing.

Then it changes into a We Are the World, Hurrah for the U.N.! -type movie. He meets Segen (Daniella Kertesz) a strikingly beautiful female Israeli soldier with a buzz cut. She joins him in a UN sponsored quest to cure Zombie-ism. Gerry is the smartest agent in the world, but one that constantly forgets to turn his cell phone to vibrate (so as not to wake the dormant zombies). And, oh yeah, he seems to think wrapping magazines around his forearms are better protection than, say, the bulletproof vests he could have easily got from the military.

This is a weird, confused movie. I was quite disappointed. It looks like it’s going to be another zombie/horror movie, but it is missing the gore, the blood and the cannibalism. These zombies don’t eat brains. They don’t seem driven by hunger, and don’t do anything except run around and infect other people. There’s no blood, no sex, no real romance either. World War Z is a dull, family-style contagious disease drama… with excellent special effects.

Me the Bees and Cancer John Board PosterFrances Ha, Fill the Void and World War Z, all open today, check your local listings. Coming next week is the Italian Contemporary Film Festival; and to see a truly low-budget film, check out one from the 1000 dollar movie challenge: Me, the Bees and Cancer (John Board’s personal look alternative medicine) is playing tonight at the Royal Cinema to benefit the Actor’s Fund of Canada.

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

It’s a Monster Mash (-up)! Movies Reviewed: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cockneys vs Zombies, Warm Bodies

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.

philebrityMonster movies used to have one monster, like the mummy, the vampire (Dracula), Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, the wicked witch. Always just one. The, the, the. But somewhere along the way monsters have become a quantity, a generic substance, a tradable commodity, like pork-belly futures. There’s never just one, there are always lots and lots of them. And because it’s a commodity, they can be traded and mashed together with other genres in an endless search for that one hit movie. As big a hit as that vampire teen romance, which shall remain nameless.

So this week I’m looking at three such attempts: a fairytale revenge action thriller, a zom-com, and a zom-rom-com-dram.

560.6hans.gret.ls.1413Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

Dir: (Tommy Wirkola)

The name says it all. Hansel and Gretel are the kids in that fairytale who are lured through a rainbow-coloured, anus-shaped doorway and into a gingerbread house by a wicked witch who wants to eat them… but they escape. They’re grown up now, and live somewhere in medieval Germany. People have dirty faces, live in wooden huts and ride horses and accuse pretty girls of witchcraft. But it’s Fairytale-land, so hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-gemma-arterton-600x399they also have things like record-players, double-barreled shotguns, and tasers.

So now the brother and sister team (Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton) want revenge on all witches, because one killed their mother. So they brutally shoot, maim and bludgeon these old ladies with sticks as they hang upside-down from trees. They may be old women, but they have scaly skin and they’re wicked and canniballistic and talk like monsters and deserve to die, you see… So, with the help of some good allies (including Thomas Mann as Ben, a hansel-and-gretel-witch-hunters-jeremy-renner-600x398teenaged fan of the Witch Hunters’ exploits, and a sympathetic troll) they all set out to stop a witches’ Cabal. If they don’t stop them before the next full moon, witches will become indestructible and take over the world. But will Hansel and Gretel also uncover some hidden secrets from their own past?

Hansel and Gretel is a gun-toting, shoot-em-up action-thriller with a fairytale theme and a mittel-europa feel. I think it’s too “gunny” for kids – there’s even a scene where they bless their bullets, bringing God and guns together again. And it’s a bit too retro in its outlook, with women as victims who ultimately need to be rescued by men. But, most of all, it’s really just a fast-moving, violent revenge pic.

Cockneys-vs-ZombiesCockneys vs Zombies

Dir: Matthias Hoene

A big developer wants to put up a huge complex in the East End of London, right on top of an old-age home. So dodgy brothers Andy and Terry (Harry Treadaway and Tasmus Hardiker) along with their eastender cuz Katy (Michelle Ryan) decide to derail the project by stealing the builder’s cash in a bank hold up. You see, their irascible Cockney Wanker granddad (Alan Ford) raised the two boys, and he lives in that very cockney-wankersame soon-to-be-demolished seniors home. He’s a genuine Cockney, this one is – you can tell because he likes nothing better than gathering around a piano with his mates in pearly vests to sing a lusty round of Knees Up Mother Brown. But little do any of them know that the builders have accidentally opened a vault, letting loose an epidemic of slow-moving zombies, groaning and dragging all over the east end. Will the two groups ever meet up again? Will their working class moxie outwit the undead?

cockneys vs zombiesOK, this Zom Com is pure cheese. Dying scenes are dragged out to include every last mugging for the camera, the dialogue sucks, and the special effects consist of red rubber drippy thingies stuck to people’s arms to represent the blood and gore. And then there’s the bargain-basement zombies in every scene… and they all made the credits at the end. I think they corralled a few Zombie Walks and put them to work one afternoon for free. The pace was pretty slow, including the world’s slowest chase scene with old Hamish (the late Richard Briers, in one of his last roles) in a walker sloooowly keeping ahead of all the lethargic zombos.

Nice try, but this ain’t no Attack The Block. Still, I liked it for what it was, a cheap, campy zombie comedy. It’s stupid-funny. And as a bonus, you get Honor Blackman (the original James Bond Pussy Galore as well as an Avenger) as a gun-toting oldster, fighting zombies beside foul mouthed Granddad. All the acting was quite good, especially a whack psycho with a metal plate in his head from the Iraq War. So if you like cockneys and you like zombies well, there you go. Cockneys. Zombies. Together in one movie.

Warm BodiesWARM BODIES

Dir: Jonathan Levine

It’s a post-apocalyptic world in an uneasy truce between two sides divided by a wall. The zombies (called corpses) are on the outside, the living beings on the inside. But when some humans venture out to fight the zombies, a young woman, Julie (Teresa Palmer) is rescued and taken home by one of the zombies, “R” (UK actor Nicholas Hoult, Tony on Skins).

The story is told from the point of view of a young guy, R. He collects music, lives in an abandoned airplane, and likes hanging with his pal M (Rob Corddry) He just happens to eat brains. So inside his head it’s all, does she like me? Oh awkward moment… Jesus these clothes make me look awful. But on the outside, he’s just Rrrrrr…

But when he eats Julie’s boyfriend’s brains he takes over his memories of Julie – he becomes almost human.WARM BODIES Gradually, the crush he has on Julie begins to warm the cockles of his heart, and, on her part, she realizes that zombies are just like you and me, only dead. And that the real enemies are not the corpses, but the boneys, the ones who have turned into walking skeletons. But will her militaristic Dad (John Malkovich) ever accept a corpse within his family home? He only wants Capulets, not Corpsulets. (I apologize to Wm Shakespeare.) Can their love overcome the cultural divide? Or will it end in tragedy?

I liked this movie. Fun story, good script, lots of new stuff to keep you interested. Hoult  — and Analeigh Tipton as Julie’s friend — are both great; Teresa Palmer less so.

Warm Bodies is a very cute, Shakespearean Zom-rom-com-dram with lots of visual references thrown in – otto or up with dead peopleeverything from Bruce LaBruce’s Otto, to Edward Scissorshands. This would make a good pre-Valentine’s-Day horror date movie.

Hansel and Gretel is now playing, Warm Bodies opens today in Toronto, and Cockney’s vs Zombies is showing as part of the Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival, big screen classics — including the usual films by Kubrick and Spielberg, plus the seldom seen An American Werewolf in London — for six bucks!. Check your local listings for details.

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

Hallowe’en Special! Movies reviewed: My Soul to Take, Hereafter, The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest, LA Zombie, Cold Fish

Toronto is a scary place – and I don’t just mean the city elections this week. Our new mayor is… Biff Tannen! And I saw a couple hundred zombies marching through Kensington market last Saturday. But it’s about to get even scarier — this is Hallowe’en weekend, when everyone wants to see a scary, gory, spooky, otherwordly, gripping, chilling, or thrilling movie. So today I’m going to look at five Hallowe’eny movies: a slasher-horror pic, a spooky drama, a gripping thriller, and two more that played at TIFF this year.

My Soul to Take
Dir: Wes Craven

Like the Agatha Christie classic Ten Little Indians, this slasher pic has seven seventeen-year-olds each wondering who’s going to get killed next. You see, 17 years ago a crazed, serial killer kicked the bucket just as his widow was giving birth prematurely. And at the same hospital, six others were born the same day… they became a nerd, a jock, a Jane Austen Christian, a blind guy, a snobby girl, a family kid, and one more, Bug, who is slightly whack: he periodically slips into a Tourettes-like state where he imitates the voices of the other six preemies. So which one’s the slasher? Or is he possessing someone? Or maybe the original killer’s still alive and hiding in the woods?

And you know what? It doesn’t really matter in the end; getting there is most of the fun. It’s a Wes Craven movie – (the guy who directed the Scream series and wrote A Nightmare on Elm St) so you can be there’ll be lots of bathroom mirror scenes, shadowy killers in costume, and an equal number of red herrings. It’s interesting to watch, the characters are funny, and even though it’s mainly formulaic, it’s enjoyable. It’s also bloody and violent. What it wasn’t, though, it wasn’t especially scary.

My Soul to Take is a fun one to watch with a group of friends on All Hallow’s Eve.

Hereafter
Dir: Clint Eastwood

What happens after you die? And if life goes on, is there any contact between life and the afterlife? This movie (very, very slowly) follows three separate story lines trying to answer this question. Matt Damon plays a San Francisco psychic who thinks his gift is a curse: every time George touches someone else skin, he is hit by a vision of the dead who want to talk to her. So he decides to work instead in a sugar warehouse. Meanwhile, Marie (C»cile De France), an intelligent Parisian tele-journalist and her producer/lover encounter disaster in the tropics, and her near-death experience leads her to explore the boundary between life and death. Finally, a pair of somber, identical twin brothers, being raised by a junky mother in London, encounter death as well. Will they ever be able to communicate again?

OK, Herafter is not a bad drama, and I’ll watch practically anything with a hint of magic or the supernatural, but its glacial pace, and lugubrious tone combined with a non-religious angel motif, make it feel mostly like a big-budget episode of Ghost Whisperer (“He says he forgives you… now, walk into the light”). The three storylines eventually come together, but at least for the first half hour, I wondered is it going to go on like this for whole movie – unfinished story after unfinished story? It’s not really scary at all, it’s Clint Eastwood, at the age of 80, telling a relaxing tale of people pondering life and death. See it if you like sipping warm cocoa on Halowe’en.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Dir: Daniel Alfredson

Lisbeth Salander and journalist Blomkvist are back again for part three of their story. Lisbeth, is a fantastic character, a cross between Steve McQueen and Tank Girl. She’s tuff, she’s rough, she’s stone cold. She’s a punk, she’s a loner, she’s an ex-con, she’s a computer genius. And Blomkvist, the committed leftist investigative journalist at the Swedish magazine Millenium, will do anything he can to help her. The last movie ended with a bloody shoot out, and this one starts up immediately afterwards, with Lisbeth, near death in a hospital, charged with attempted murder, and Blomkvist on the verge of uncovering a cold-war era conspiracy involving government, police, and psychiatry.

So the two sides gear up for the long fight, culminating in a bug trial. On one side they’re all trying to uncover the truth about the conspiracy and get it to print before the trial. But the bad guys – mainly a bunch of old Swedish guys in suits – will stop at nothing – including murder, intimidation, and character assassination – to keep the secrets secret. The pale blue-eyed and goateed psychiatrist, Dr Teleborian, is especially sinister, with his plans to use the veneer of psychiatry to hide his true motives.

And then there’s the wildcards on both sides, including Niedermeier, the giant blond thug who can feel no pain, and Plague, the shy, secretive computer geek extraordinaire.

So, I liked it a lot, as a conclusion to the three-part movie series. I think it’s much better to see the first two before you watch this one. I also missed the beautiful cinematic camerawork of Dragon Tattoo – this one was much more indoors, with pedestrian TV-like scenes, and without all of the unexpected plot revelations of the first two.

But it’s still worth seeing. I love rooting for the heroes when they barely escape a killer, and mentally cheering when the villains mess up. (The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest feels more like a BBC detective miniseries — not a bad thing to be) This movie is two and a half hours long, so be prepared for a slow start with a good payoff. You’ll need lots of Hallowe’en popcorn for this one.

LA Zombie
Dir: Bruce LaBruce

A muscle bound monster emerges out of a Pacific beach like a creature from the black lagoon. All around him is violence – shootouts in the ravines, murder in drug deals gone wrong, cars spilling off the highways, and the slow violence graduaully crushing the homeless and undocumented of downtown Los Angeles. The zombie monster (porn actor Francois Sagat) is observing all and is saddened by it.

But unlike the voraciously eating- zombies we usually see, who inflict their condition on the living, this one is a sort of a messiah. Through the disgusting – but gentle – sex he has with all the newly dead corpses he encounters – and it’s always gay sex with male corpses, by the way – he brings the bodies back to life. The strangely-coloured semen that comes out of his grotesquely-shaped penis is a panacea: ejaculation equals rejuvenation.

L.A. Zombie is a violent and gory zombie movie, with very few lines, but with lots of colourful, pornographic gay sex between a gentle zombie and the spilt organs of fresh corpses. More than anything else, it’s also an experimental art film, at times quite beautiful, with extended tableaux, urban landscapes and sunsets, and some documentary-looking footage of the marginal and lost beings of Los Angeles. By the end you get the impression that the zombie scenes are just the imaginary fantasies of a destitute, muscle-bound, mentally-ill homeless guy.

L.A. Zombie turns the Hallowe’en monster-as-villain paradigm upside down, and shows that the real monster… is us.

Finally,

Cold Fish
Dir: Sono Shion

This movie also played at the Toronto Film Festival. I see a couple hundred movies every year, and I don’t normally leave a movie shaking, googly-eyed, saying “what the fuck was that?!” to total strangers. But I did after this ultimate, extreme Japanese exploitation film about a mild-mannered Shizuoka tropical fish dealer who is pulled into the sway of an aggressive entrepreneur and serial killer.

Based on a true story, Shamato is a wimpy widower who owns a tropical fish store. His young, second wife shops with her eyes closed and cooks rice in a microwave. His teenaged daughter Mitsuko is dating a hood and shoplifts for fun. He seeks solace in the peace of the local planetarium. But soon his miserable existance is altered by a hyper-enthusiastic entrepreneur, Murata, who tells him “Business is entertainment!” Soon, Mitsuko is living in his big box store dorm working as a glamour fish salesgirl wearing hotpants and a tanktop, and his wife is also on Murata’s side (after an attack/rape scene that “pulls her out of her wretched life…”) All is not well.

Shamato is soon made an unwitting accomplice in a crooked fish scam, bilking investors in a “rare”, ugly amazon fish venture. Soon he discovers Murata and his wife don’t just defraud investors, they also kill them in a most awful way, inside a tiny church. They glory in the blood and guts, sexually playing with their organs and body parts, and joyfully disposing of the remaining flesh and bones, drenching them with soy sauce and roasting them in an outdoor barbecue!

It’s up to milquetoast Shamato either to become a willing part of their awful lives or to fight back and stop it forever.

What can I say? This has got to be the most depraved exploitation film I’ve ever seen. It’s joining of sex and death makes even Miike seem tame, and LA Zombie is like a gentle glimpse of flowers and rainbows in comparison. Definitely one of the most horrific movies ever, Cold Fish retains its credibility (without sinking to the “Saw” level of pornographic torture.) The most shocking and disturbing movie of the year.

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