NAFTA movies? Films reviewed: Giant Little Ones, Sólo con Tu Pareja PLUS Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema

Posted in 1990s, Bullying, Canada, comedy, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Depression, LGBT, Mexico, Movies, Sex by CulturalMining.com on March 29, 2019

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

If you’ve been watching movies over the past few years, you may have noticed a big change. Some of the biggest Oscars are going to directors like Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzales Iñaritu.

When did Mexico start making movies? The answer is: Mexico has been making great movies for a very long time… we just never knew about it. But there is one way to fill in that gap in our collective memories.

Sui Generis refers to unique species or bodies of work. Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema is a suprising series of films at TIFF Cinematheque. It’s programmed by Diana Sanchez and Guillermo del Toro and includes some really famous movies – like Buñuel’s Avenging Angel – and an equal number I’ve never heard of. Surprises include anti-church satires, political protests, bizarre fantasies and fantastical films that transcend the genres we know. There’s also a sexual frankness largely missing in Hollywood movies under the Hays Code (1930-1968), but legal in Mexico.

Aside from Buñuel’s films and a few others, I had never heard of most of these movies, but Mexican cinephiles weep over the importance and uniqueness of these selections; a staple on late-night Mexican TV  but rarely seen on the big screen. This series features directors like Ripstein, Buñuel, Cuaron, del Toro and many others, from the 1930s up to recent times.

It’s quirky, eclectic and grand. I recommend this series.

This week I’m looking at movies from Canada and Mexico. There’s a Mexican sex farce about a man who bites off more than he can chew; and a Canadian coming-of-age drama about a boy forced to choke back his tears.

Giant Little Ones

Wri/Dir: Keith Behrman

It’s a middle class suburb somewhere in North America Franky (Josh Wiggins) is about to turn 17 at a big party. All his teammates from the swim team will be there, his divorced mom (Maria Bello) will be away that night, lots of alcohol and music, and his beautiful but vapid girlfriend says she’s ready to spend the night with him. And his best friend Ballas (Darren Mann) will be there to cheer him on. They’ve been inseparable since childhood and the two are popular and respected at school. This will be a life changing night for Franky… but not in the way he expects it.

The party ends early when his mom comes home, and his girlfriend decides not to stay. So the two drunk best friends end up crashing in Franky’s bed, and something happens in the dark. Ballis rushes home, and the next day everything’s different. Rumours about Franky start spreading, he’s blanked in the hallways and ghosted on instagram. People say he’s gay and did something to Ballas, who does nothing to defend his former best friend.

Only a few people stick by him. Mouse (Niamh Wilson) his out lesbian lab partner who packs a fake appendage in her jeans teaches him how to live with bullying (but I’m not gay! says Franky. Doesn’t matter says Mouse); and Natasha, Ballas’s sister (Taylor Hickson). She was once popular too, until she was “slut shamed” after something terrible happened to her. They turn to each other, first as pariahs and friends, but it gradually turns into something more.

Adding to the complications is Franky’s divorced gay Dad (Kyle MacLachlan). Franky hasn’t spoken to him since he moved away to live with his lover. He’s ready to offer advice but first Franky has to conquer his own homophobia. What really happened that night with Ballas? Will they ever be friends again? Is he in love with Natasha, or is it something else? And will things ever get better at school?

Giant Little Ones is an excellent coming-of-age drama, well acted, and based on an elegantly symmetrical script. It’s tender, funny and surprising, without leaving you depressed. I’ve seen this Canadian movie twice now, and it was just as moving the second time through.

Sólo con tu pareja (1991) (a.k.a. Love in the Time of Hysteria)

Wri/Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

Tomás Tomás (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is known for his sexual prowess and enormous ego. He sleeps with a different beautiful woman every night. He’s also fond of challenges and pranks like running naked down the stairwell to the lobby each morning to pick up the morning paper before anyone sees him. He’s handsome and fit, with a successful career as an advertising creative and lives in a swank apartment building in a good Mexico city neighbourhood. He lives two doors away from Dr Mateo Mateos (Luis de Icaza) and his wife, both good friends, who give him the keys to their apartment while they are away for the weekend.

But Tomas’s limits are challenged one night when he is faced with more than even he can handle. Mateo’s statuesque nurse Sylvia (Dobrina Cristeva) is arriving for a date, while his boss Gloria is also dropping by

LOVE IN THE TIME OF HYSTERIA, (aka SOLO CON TU PAREJA), Daniel Gimenez Cacho, 1991. ©IFC Films

to hear his advertising pitch for a brand of canned Jalapeños (and maybe a bit of spicy fun). Soon enough he’s bedding his boss in Mateo’s flat, Sylvia in his own, and is forced to inch his way naked back and forth between the bedroom windows and satisfy both women without letting either one know about the other. To make matters worse, he finds himself infatuated by a new tenant in the flat between

the two rooms. Clarisa is a flight attendant (Claudia Ramírez) and when he sees her robotic miming of seat belts and oxygen masks he sees through her window heid smitten. But can one man keep three women satisfied at one time? Alas, no.

He is fired from his job, and the vengeful nurse falsifies his medical tests telling him he is HIV positive, plunging him into a deep depression. Will Tomas discover the truth and change his ways? Or will he succumb to despair and throw himself off the tallest tower in Mexico City?

Sólo con Tu Pareja is a seldom seen, silly screwball comedy from the early 90s. It’s also Cuaron’s first feature film, long before his big hits like Gravity, Roma and Y Tu Mama Tambien. This is no masterpiece, but it is a fun and interesting look at a totally different era. It reminds me of the 1960s comedy Boeing, Boeing, starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, also about a promiscuous man who juggles three flight attendant gilfriends in one Paris apartment. This one is also dated, but better than Boeing Boeing — the women in this movie have personalities, and Daniel Giménez Cacho is on fire as Tomas. And it adds a pair of Japanese businessmen, some mariachi musicians and a Montezuma lookalike to give it a more Mexican feel.

Giant Little Ones opens today in Toronto; check your local listings; and you can see Sólo con Tu Pareja just tonight at the Tiff Bell Lightbox as part of the fantastic TIFF Cinematheque Mexican film series called Sui Generis: An Alternative History of Mexican Cinema, on now.

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

Nannies. Films reviewed: Mary Poppins Returns, Roma

Posted in 1930s, 1970s, Family, Kids, Mexico, Musical, Protest, UK, Women by CulturalMining.com on December 28, 2018

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

It’s holiday season, between Christmas and New Year, a good time to catch up on all those movies you’ve been meaning to see. This week I’m looking at two new movies, a musical and a period drama, about nannies. There’s an ageless nanny in London with a magical touch, and a young nanny in Mexico City with a touch of sadness.

Mary Poppins Returns

Dir: Rob Marshall

It’s the 1930s in London, the time of The Great Slump. Michael Banks (Ben Whishaw) is a recently widowed father of three adorable kids – Anabel, John, and Georgie. They’ve lived in the house for generations, right beside an eccentric Admiral who fires cannons off his roof. Michael wants to be an artist, but works as a bank clerk to make ends meet. The kids struggle to act like grown-ups now that their mother is gone. And his sister Jane is doing her part as a social activist and union organizer. But an unexpected visit by two lawyers from the bank he works for throws the family into disarray. Turns out Michael defaulted on a loan and has until midnight Friday to pay it back or the entire family will be evicted from their own home.

What to do? Who can they turn to for help? Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), of course!

Michael and Jane have almost forgotten that she saved the two of them when they were kids, and here she is back again, aged not a day. There is something magical about her, but only if you allow the impossible to happen.  The kids are much too mature to fall for her tricks… or are they? Soon they’re swimming in the ocean via their bathtub, and travelling to a music hall in an animated world inside a chipped bowl. They visit Topsy (Meryl Streep) a flibbertigibbetty repair woman who lives upside down, to fix the bowl.  They race through London piled up on a bicycle driven by Jack (Lin Manuel Miranda) who lights the city’s gas lamps. And they buy magic balloons from an old woman (Angela Landsbury) in the park. But can magic save their home before the bank’s evil Mr Wilkins (Colin Firth) takes it all away?

Mary Poppins Returns is exactly what the title promises: a continuation of the original story, one generation later. Jack was the chimney sweep’s son in the original, now he’s a lamplighter who narrates the story in song and dance. Michael and Jane are grownup versions of the original kids. The costumes – in bright yellows and fuscias with white boater hats – are pure Disney.The music, songs and dances, even the combination of flat cel animation with real people is just like it used to be. The score, the art direction, everything was a spot- on recreation of the original. The only differences are this Mary Poppins is decidedly sexier than the original, (Emily Blunt is amazing) and the cast isn’t lily white anymore. Lin Manuel Miranda is nicely endearing as Jack, though never having seen the hit broadway musical Hamilton I didn’t quite get the camera’s adulation of him.

I didn’t grow up with Mary Poppins, so I hold no deep sentimental attachment, but even so it scored high on my nostalgia meter, tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel warm inside. This is a wonderful G-rated musical and a genuine kids’ movie that also appeals to grown ups, a rarity these days.

Roma

Wri/Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

It’s 1970 in Mexico City. Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) lives in a beautiful house with a grand staircase, and walls lined with bookshelves. There’s a narrow tiled passageway that serves as a garage, where a big dog runs around. And four cute kids — Toño, Paco, Pepe and Sofi — who happily play spaceman games. Cleo lives there but it’s not her house. The kids pet their dog while Cleo shovels the poop. She’s the nanny and also the maid, the one who gets blamed when there’s trouble. And there’s lots of trouble these days, with Señora Sofía (Marina de Tavira) the mom, trying to run the house with Papa on a long business trip to Quebec. She has help from the grandmother, Señora Teresa, but it’s a world without men, at least until Papa comes back.

Cleo is from a village and not yet used to city life. She spends her free time with the cook and her boyfriend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). Fermin is a Kendo fanatic – martial arts saved my life, he says – prone to bouts of kicking and punching the air in the nude following sex. But when Cleo tells him she’s pregnant with his child, he disappears without a trace. What will happen to her baby? Who will take care of the kids? And will the family’s father ever come home?

Roma is a slice-of-life look at Mexico City in the tumultuous early 70s. It follows Cleo, a poor indigenous girl who speaks Spanish as a second language, and Sofía’s upper middle class family, as they try to understand one another, even while they both face family crises. It’s a slow-moving drama with normal, mundane family problems alternating with episodes of violence, terror and natural disaster. Cleo is viewing gurgling babies in the maternity ward just as an earthquake hits. She travels with the family to a hacienda where family dog heads are mounted on a wall like hunting trophies and forest fires break out. A simple trip to a downtown furniture store coincides with a government attack on student protesters.

Watching Roma is an immersive experience, filled with sound and unexplained images appearing on the screen. It’s shot in exquisite black and white – Cuaron is the cinematographer, as well as writer and director. Long, low shots almost always from far away: looking longingly down long corridors, at figures in a field before a spacious mountain range, or watching Cleo and Fermin from behind as they watch a movie on a screen even further away.

This is a lovely rich movie but one that intentionally keeps the audience from getting too close to any of the characters. We’re observers, but the action is far away, through a window or behind a closed door. No close ups, reaction shots, or gushing movie score, even with Cleo. But the cumulative effect – the sounds, music, images characters and historical events based on Cuaron’s own childhood – gives it a powerful impact.

See it in a movie theatre while you still can.

Mary Poppins Returns is now playing in Toronto; check your local listings. And you can see Roma on Netflix or at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

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

Past, Present and Future. Movies reviewed: Muscle Shoals, The Dirties, Gravity

Posted in Bullying, Cultural Mining, documentary, Music, Science Fiction, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 4, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.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.

Toronto is a city overflowing with film festivals, and fall high-season is upon us. Coming soon are the BRAFFTV Brazilian film fest, Toronto After Dark (for horror, science fiction and cult), ImagineNative for aboriginal film and art, Planet in Focus for environmental documentaries, Realasian – films from Asia and the Asian diaspora, and Rendezvous with Madness about addiction and mental health… to name just a few.

So this week I’m looking at three movies (opening today) that originally played at Toronto festivals: Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark and TIFF. These movies are set in the past, the present and the future.

10272_JJ_WilsonPickettSessionMuscle Shoals

Dir: Greg “Freddy” Camalier

Alabama. In the 1960s, it was still the land of cotton, and old times there were not forgotten. Die-hard Segregationist George Wallace was Governor, and Alabama had also been the sites of sit-ins, boycotts and protests — a centre of the civil rights movement. So Alabama was very much in people’s minds in the 1960s. But there’s also a small town in northern Alabama, population 12,000, called Muscle Shoals. Ever heard of it? Me neither.

But people who really know about music know about Muscle Shoals.10438_JJSkynyrdat361417

Mick Jagger knew it. And Bob Dylan. And Jimmy Cliff. The Stones’ Brown Sugar was recorded there. Later, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Allman Brothers. Most important, powerful music producer Jerry Wexler – the man from Atlantic records who coined the term R&B – knew about it in the 1960s and started bringing his singers down south to record there. Soon Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Wilson Picket and countless others were heading down to get a slice of that Muscle Shoals Sound.

The heavy, powerful Muscle Shoals sound — described as a punch in the gut that sends shivers down your spine — was made by the Swampers, a team of (mainly white) back-up musicians at studios like Fame and Muscle Shoals. They jammed ArethaFranklinaway on their electric organ, drum, bass and guitar sweetened with background horns. These free sessions, just some music and words, gave them a looseness, a funkyness, a dirty sound so different from the highly-produced, precisely composed pop songs coming out up north.

At their peak in the 1970s, they were cutting 50 albums a year, shifting from R&B to that country-influenced rock, reggae and pop. This film looks at all the musicians, the singers and the local producers who used or were influenced by Muscle Shoals. They have amazing footage from the recording sessions with new interviews with the big names (Bono, Aretha Franklin, Keith Richards).  Very informative documentary – beautifully shot —  that told me everything about where this music comes from. I’m not enough of a “history of rock” devotee that I care about all the infighting and production rivalry. But it’s the music – even those overplayed staples like Brown Sugar and Mustang Sally – that makes it so good.

412715_402768383177285_547971069_oThe Dirties

Dir: Matthew Johnson

Matthew Johnson and Owen Williams (played by Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams) are movie geeks at a Toronto high school. Matt is pudgy and flamboyant while Owen is shy and introverted. They’re best friends, almost by default, since they are two of the school’s most-picked-on kids. Not a day passes without a confrontation in the halls, a punch, or a rock in the head. They hear that perennial bully F-word more than their own real names.

They’re taking a movie-making course, and Matt is totally into it. He plunders old movies for lines, scenes and costumes to make them their own. They film it on school property. But while directors like Tarantino rely on old B-movies, Matt and Owen take it one step further, plundering equally from revenge pics and 1262545_435128609941262_422010104_onews accounts of real-life crimes.

The movie they’re making is about two tough guys (played by them) who get back at the bullies who persecute them – the guys they call the Dirties – in a great, long gun shoot-down. Their “making-of” is documented by unseen cameramen – that’s the film we’re watching.

The teacher doesn’t approve of the director’s cut, so the class just sees an embarrassing mess

So Matt has taken to carrying around copies of Catcher in the Rye (like Mark David Chapman) and is brushing up on details from books about the Columbine shootings. He wants to get the character (an insane high school spree shooter) just right. Owen is more interested in pursuing Chrissy (Krista Madison) a girl he’s crushing on heavily. Matt seems to be blurring things between the film they’re making and real life. Is Matt a psychopath? And is he just a movie copycat… or a copy-cat killer?

13010_430143987106391_924165995_nThe Dirties is so meta it’s astounding. The conversations and incidents in The Dirties we’re watching, are edited, over the course iof the movie, into The Dirties that he’s making. The viewer never knows for sure whether it’s a comedy/drama, a documentary, or just found footage of a horror movie. This film is unclassifiable and uncategorizable.

The Dirties is excellent, low budget and local, a movie that can shift from hilarious to quite disturbing in a flash. It’s easier to watch than it is to describe… so watch it!

GRAVITYGravity

Dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Three astronauts are floating around admiring the beauty of outer space. Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is on her first space mission, so she’s very meticulous about fixing some machinery. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is a veteran space guy, a regular Buzz Lightyear. He’s using his jet pack to fly in circles around their space station. Wheee! Look at me – I’m an astronaut… wheeee! A warning comes from Houston: there’s been trouble with a Russian satellite, and its debris is heading their way. Nothing dangerous, they say.

And then it hits! They’re cut off from Houston and their lives are in danger. Dr Stone starts to panic – oh no… what can she do? It seems like yesterday she was in her safe, suburban home worrying about PTA meetings. She’s just a soccer mom – not an astronaut-man. Unless Kowalski can calm her down, she’s going to use up all her oxygen.

The two of them must get to a safe space ship, somewhere with oxygen and protection from the elements. Hopefully she can learn to drive one of these crazy foreign spaceships with all their gibberish controls! Maybe if she pushes buttons at random she’ll be fine. Oh, I’m such a klutz!  Will Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – oops, I mean their characters – ever make it back to earth?

Gravity lets you experience what it’s like to be an astronaut, and it is quite an experience. The special effects are flawless. But, I suppose because it needs someone we can identify with, it gives us Dr Stone as a bumbling everywoman who has to overcome her fears. I get it. But it made her the antithesis of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. This makes women look helpless without a man there to save them.

The Earth spins round and round like a topGravity isn’t a movie, it’s a ride. I saw it in 3-D and Ultra AVX. There’s a 20-minute-long scene where you’re spinning and spinning and spinning around in 3-D space. It made me physically ill. I didn’t actually throw up, but it was horrible, like when too many tequila shots kick in all at once. If you like experiencing the spins, or want to go on a midway ride for half an hour, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, I can’t think of why you’d want to watch this simplistic, boring and sick-making film.

The Dirties, Gravity, and Muscle Shoals all open today in Toronto – check your local listings. Also opening is the cute, Saudi-made movie Wadjda I reviewed last week, and 15 Reasons To Live by Toronto documentarian Alan Zweig. I spoke with him last spring about this heart-warming, quirky film.

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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