Big Changes, Big Trouble. Films reviewed: Every Day, The Party, Annihilation

Posted in Army, comedy, Fantasy, High School, Horror, Movies, Politics, Romance, Science Fiction, UK, Y.A. by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2018

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

Everybody knows change is good, but big changes can lead to big trouble. This week I’m looking at three good movies about women facing big changes. There’s a British politician with a once-in-a-lifetime career change; a biologist investigating changes that are scientifically impossible; and a high school student whose boyfriend changes bodies once a day.

Every Day

Dir: Michael Sucsy

Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) is a highschool student in Maryland. Her mom’s a careerist, while her dad, since his breakdown, stays at home painting pictures. Her boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith) is a popular athlete… and a bit of a jerk. So she is surprised when he agrees to play hooky and spend the day just with her. It’s the perfect date: They explore downtown Baltimore, he pays attention to her, stops smoking, they share intimate personal stories, find their special song, and for the first time, they actually have fun together. Is this true love? But the next day he’s acting like a douche again, with only vague memories of the day before. It’s like he’s a different person. What’s going on?

What’s going on is he was a different person that day, someone named “A”. “A” is a bodyless being who inhabits a different person each day and — like Cinderella — departs that body at exactly midnight. “A” has no choice of who they’ll wake up as, except that it will be someone their age who lives nearby. “A” could be a boy that day, or a girl, could be black, white or asian, could be straight, gay or trans. Could be ugly or attractive. Rhiannon and “A” have to find each other each day to carry on their relationship. Hint: “A” knowing Rhiannon’s phone number helps a lot. Can their love overcome “A”’s ever-shifting identity?

Every Day is a cool, young adult fantasy/romance that works. It’s set in Maryland, but was shot in Toronto, and it has a Degrassi feel to it, where the multiracial, multigender nature of the cast is omnipresent but not central to the plot. Instead it deals with questions of identity, look-ism, and mental illness.

I liked this movie.

The Party

Wri/Dir: Sally Potter

Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a politician in the UK celebrating her promotion, the pinnacle of her career. Starting tomorrow, she’ll be the Shadow Minister of Health for the opposition Labour Party. So she’s throwing a party for her nearest and dearest. They arrive two- by two . There’s Martha (Cherry Jones) – a lesbian feminist university prof with her earnest partner Jinny.   Cynical April comes with her flaky boyfriend Gottfried (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz), a self-professed healer. And Tom — a nervous and brittle financier (Cillian Murphy) — comes without his wife Marianne, Janet’s closest friend and workmate. Janet’s husband the grey-bearded Bill (Timothy Spall) sits alone in the parlour spinning vinyl as she bakes her vol-au-vents, to show that a woman can feel at home both in Westminster and in her kitchen. Problem is, her hors d’oeuvres are burning even as her party is collapsing like a house of cards, as each guest reveals a big secret. There’s cocaine, champagne, a fire, broken glass, face slaps… even a handgun.

The Party is a drawing room comedy that pokes fun at the social conceits of a generation of middle-class, leftist baby boomers. It’s the work of Sally Potter, director of Orlando and Ginger and Rosa. Shot in black and white with a wicked musical soundtrack that shifts the mood from scene to scene, it clocks in at just over 70 minutes, as a short-but-sweet English comedy.

Annihilation

Dir: Alex Garland

Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biology prof at Johns Hopkins who specializes in mutating cancer cells. Her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) – a soldier she met when she was in the army – is missing and presumed dead. But when he shows up at her bedroom door, seemingly with no memory of what happened and how he got there, she decides to investigate. She’s valuable to the military, a woman as comfortable with a petri dish as she is with a submachine gun. She joins a crack team of scientists, all women, headed by the laconic psychologist Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Their goal is to explore unknown territory within a swampy National Park.

It’s encased in something called “the Shimmer”, a phenomenon eminating from a lighthouse on the coastline.  No one who goes into the Shimmer comes out alive (except for her husband Kane) and it’s getting bigger and bigger each day. From the outside it looks like a giant rainbow-coloured, plastic shower curtain that’s melting upwards. On the inside it’s even stranger, a world where distinctions like “animal/vegetable/mineral” cease to exist. It’s both beautiful and grotesque, filled with Chihuly crystals, human topiary and brightly-coloured tree fungi. Unrelated species are combining and mutating at a rapid rate, into a cancerous growth — just like the cells Lena studies, only prettier. And they’re affecting the five women too, both their minds and their bodies. Video messages they find (left by previous soldiers) only make things worse. Can Lena survive the hideous creatures and her deranged and suspicious teammates before she faces the scariest entity of all?

Annihilation is a terrifying exercise in horror sci-fi psychedelia. It references everything from Arrival, to The Wizard of Oz to Apocalypse Now, as the team paddles their way though a Heart of Darkness in their search for emerald city. Natalie Portman is great as the elegant soldier-scientist, and director Alex Garland brings us a different take on post-apocalyptic images. Annihilation is the kind of psychedelic fantasy that keeps you guessing.

This movie is scary-pretty… and pretty scary.

The Party comes to Toronto next week (check your local listings);  Every Day and Annihilation open today. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Terror! Films reviewed: Warriors from the North, Help us Find Sunil Tripathi, (T)error, A War of Lies, PLUS Ex Machina

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Terrorism by CulturalMining.com on April 24, 2015

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.

Some people are terrified of terrorists — and for good reason. In Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan or Iraq, lots of people are dying. Other people are terrified of being mistaken for a terrorist by the very people – police or intelligence officers – that should be protecting them.  So this week I’m looking at documentaries about the War on Terror and how it affects us. These films are all playing at Hot Docs – Toronto’s international documentary film festival – starting today. And on a lighter note, I’m reviewing a science fiction movie… about sexy robots.

Warriors_From_the_North_2Warriors from the North
Dir: Søren Steen Jespersen, Nasib Farah

Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based fundamentalist militant group, that sprung up in reaction to Ethiopia’s invasion of that country. Now its members claim responsibility for notorious events like the 148 people gunned down at Garissa University College a few weeks ago, and the massacre at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, both in Kenya. This movie is about the young ethnic Somalis from Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway – who join the group to act as suicide bombers. Why do they do it? In a series of interviews, a youngWarriors_From_the_North_5-1 Somali-Danish man explains. He says members come to recruit despondent young men who feel they have no future and don’t fit in. The local mosques are strongly opposed to Al-Shabab — killing is condemned, but the recruiters deride them as weak. The movie opens with a shocking scene: Somalis at their graduation in Djibouti – young doctors all – blown up by a Danish suicide bomber. The movie follows an older man, who works at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, whose son has disappeared with Al-Shabab and gone to Somalia. The father is desperate to find his son, talk to him by phone, and convince him to give it all and just come home again. But as becomes clear in recordings of Al-Shabab members, you couldn’t leave even if you want to. Very touching story.

Help_Us_Find_Sunil_Tripathi_1Help us Find Sunil Tripathi
Dir: Neal Broffman

Sunil is a straight A student, a saxophone player and an all around nice guy. But after a few years at Brown University, things start going bad. He’s depressed. And one day, he just walks away from it all and disappears. His family is devastated, so, along with sympathetic volunteers, they start a huge search for him on foot in Providence Rhode Island, and online using facebook. They post his face, and a plea to him – come home, Sunil, we love you. Soon after, a horrific attack stuns the world – the bombing of the Boston Marathon. The city is locked down for a massive manhunt. And somehow, on Reddit and Twitter, someone mistakenly decides that the blurry images of a man in a white hat… is Sunil. Sunil is a terrorist! It goes viral, and the family and friends searching for their wonderful lost brother are subject to what can only be described as an on-line lynching of the missing boy. The film chronicles this harrowing period when they’re flooded by venomous online attacks and, as always, a voracious mass news media desperately trying to catch up with social networks.

Cabral_Lyric(T)error
Dir: David Felix Sutcliffe

About 50% of the arrests the FBI makes in its War on Terror are actually targeted sting operations using paid informants. And some are more dubious than others. This doc looks at both sides of such an operation, the asset and the target.
Saeed, aka Shariff, is a bit of a character. He’s an older African American Muslim man, a former black panther, who is an informant for the FBI. And – without telling the Feds – he allows a filmmaker, Cabral Lyric, to follow him around. His job? To attract and entrap terror_3.135x135potential POIs – persons of interest – within urban, Muslim communities who might be ripe for terrorism in the eyes of the FBI. The target? Khalifa, a white convert to Islam in Pittsburgh terror_1who sports a long beard and a turban. The FBI says Khalifa sympathizes with Al-Shabab. How do they know? He writes his outspoken views publicly, on facebook. Cameras follow both Shariff and Khalifa, who tells the filmmakers he suspects an FBI informant is trying to entrap him! He doxes the informants and plans a press conference. This real-life dramatic thriller is part absurd comedy, part tragedy, as it goes behind the scenes to show the FBI excesses in their War on Terror.

The previous cases are all small scale stories. The next one is as big as they come.

War_of_Lies_2A War of Lies
Dir: Matthias Bittner

Rafid al-Janabi was a prospective refugee in the late 1990s. He fled Iraq to escape Saddam Hussein’s ruthless government, but in Germany he was singled out as a Person Of Interest by their secret service. Despite the fact he had nothing much to tell them, he decided to play along – maybe it would speed up his refugee status. He told them he’s a chemical engineer who worked War_of_Lies_1at the MIC – the military industrial complex. And that he had access to a secret unit in the desert at Al Hakam that makes biological weapons. The problem is the UN had already closed that unit down. But Rafid concocted an explanation that couldn’t be disproven.  Saddam, he said, War_of_Lies_3drove his weapons around in three trucks.  (He remembered there was a truck depot not too far from Al Hakam, so satellites would see trucks driving around the area.) And, after brushing up on chemical engineering, he drew pictures to support his story. Who can it hurt? And if it overthrows a dictator like Saddam, all the better.

Known by the codename Curveball, Rafid didn’t realize that his little WMD story would reach Washington and — after 9/11 — would be used to justify the entire US invasion of Iraq, and the war, death, destruction and terror that followed. The film shows Farid himself, the trickster and storyteller, in a dark, echoey room recounting/confessing his side of the story, illustrated by spooky reenactments and period footage. This is a great, chilling doc.

19f5ba0b-e4a6-4594-a987-d6b34fe19f90Ex Machina
Dir: Alex Garland

Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) is a skinny, wimpish blond guy who works as a programmer. He wins a lottery to spend a week with Nathan, the secretive CEO of his company, a google-like search engine. Nathan (Aaron Isaac) is a burly guy with a buzzed scalp and a bushy black beard. He’s obnoxious, aggressive and lives in an isolated villa somewhere in a lush rainforest valley. He’s also a genius. He brought Caleb there to conduct a Turing Test. A Turing Test determines whether an Artificial Intelligence program – AI – can pass as a human.

Here’s the twist. This AI is Ava a beautiful, female robot (Alicia Vikander) who Calebf8a502ec-ad59-4c67-a035-43f8df86e390 speaks to through a glass wall. They form a sort of relationship – is it love? –  as she begins to feel more and more real to him. Aaron tells Caleb she’s anatomically correct. Each day, the electric generator in the place shuts down and the cameras turn off. And that’s when she confides in him – Aaron is evil and not to be trusted. Who b8c380eb-808a-4eac-840b-f93ac5d6ba3cwill Caleb side with: Aaron or Ava? Is she really alive… or just a robot? And what about Aaron? And Caleb…? Is anything real?

This is a cool, interesting science fiction movie. You have to admit though, it’s a total guy fantasy, where the woman are all machines created by men for their pleasure. And that’s basically what the movie is… but the acting is great, and there are enough twists, turns and tension to keep it very interesting. I like this movie a lot.

Ex Machina opens today in Toronto, and this week you can find (T)error, Warriors from the North, a War of Lies, and Help us find Sunil Tripathi all playing, starting right now, at hot docs. Go to hotdocs.ca for showtimes.

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

%d bloggers like this: