Seeking his Fortune. Films Reviewed: Lean on Pete, Sheikh Jackson, Valley of Shadows

Posted in Coming of Age, Drama, Egypt, Fairytales, Islam, Kids, Movies, Music, Norway by CulturalMining.com on September 15, 2017

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

Whether it’s Jack or Hans or Esben or Ivan, many fairytales start with a young man leaving home to seek his fortune. This week I’m looking at three new movies premiering at TIFF17 about young men heading off into the unknown. There’s Khaled, a young man in Egypt, Charley, a 15-year-old in Oregon, and Aslak a six-year-old boy in northern Norway.

Sheikh Jackson

Dir: Amr Salama

Khaled (Ahmad Alfishawy) is an imam at a mosque in Cairo who is having strange dreams and hallucination. He cries during prayers and keeps seeing a strange man dressed in black with pale skin and a glittering glove. Is family is very religious — his wife wears a niqab scolds their daughter for watching Beyoncé videos on youtube. And his uncle is his mentor and spiritual advisor. And everyone notices something is not right. He sees a psychiatrist and after many false starts he finally opens up and tells his story.

In his youth, Khaled (Ahmed Malek) lived with a loving family in Alexandria. His father is a body-builder entrepreneur, his mother stays at home.And he is entranced by a strange figure he sees on TV — it’s michael Jackson. His mother approves, but his father says “don’t watch that transvestite”. When his mother dies, he becomes obsessed with Michael Jackson, changing his hairstyle, buying new clothes, and going to nightclubs to hear his music. He also wants to impress another fan, a beautiful girl in his music class. But things with his father get worse and worse, until everything explodes. He runs to his uncle for help, who says he can,ove inwith his family as long as he gives up his current life and studies the Koran. But, back in the present, Michael Jacksons death turns his life upside down. Can he reconcile his moonwalking past with his religious present?

Sheikh Jackson is a delightfully cute look at the conflicts of contemporary Egypt. Religious vs secular, western pop culture vs more traditional ways. It’s also a bittersweet coming of age story about a non-conformist looking fir his place in the world. And — no spoiler – it includes a dance number to the tune of Thriller!

Valley of Shadows

Dir: Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen

Aslak (Adam Akeli) is a 6 year old boy who lives his mom on a farm in remote northern Norway. His older brother is in some kidn of trouble, so he theres no one to play with. And when an older kid tells him there are monsters in the woods and werewolves killing sheep, his imagination goes wild. And when his dog runs away, he realizes he is the only one who can save him. So he packs some sandwiches in a bag and heads out up the mountain and into the forest. This starts a long journey, through trees, down slopes, across rivers, encountering, huge beasts, wild animals and a magical hermit as he travels all around. Will he find his dog, survive alone in the forest, avoid the werewolves and somehow make his way home again?

Valley of Shadows is a beautiful look at a journey through the eyes of a little boy. Fantastic scenery and wildlife seen in a dark and mystical light. With very little dialogue, it shows instead what Aslak sees in his journey. It feels like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are… but real.

Lean on Pete

Wri/Dir: Andrew Haigh

Charley (Charlie Plummer) is a fifteen year old kid who moved with his dad to Portland Oregon. His dad is a heavy drinker who picks up women and takes them home. Charley’s mom left when he was just a kid. Back home he would go running in the mornig and played on the Varsity football team. But he doesn’t know anyone here. One day on a monring run he meets a grizzly old man named Del (Steve Buschemi) who handles race horses. Charley knows nothing about horses, but Del needs someone willing to work hard and shovel manure. He hires charley on the spot. That’s where he meets a female jockey named Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) and a 5 year old quarter horse named Lean On Pete. Bonnie warns him it’s a business, and never treat racehorses like pets, but Charley loves Pete and tells him all his secrets. And when something happens to his dad, and Pete’s life is threatened, he takes the only path he can think of. He sets off across the sagebrush and deserts to save the horse and maybe find a relative who can help him.

Lean on Pete is a wonderful and very moving story of a kid on his own crossing Oregon and Wyoming. It’s not an idealized version, it’s a realistic look at someone trying to eat, drink and stay alive while broke and homeless, and with no one to turn to. It’s a bit of a tearjerker but never maudlin, and kept me riveted to the screen all the way through. And Charley Plummer is great in the title role, telling his story aloud as he travels across country.

Valley of Shadows and Lean on Pete are both playing now at TIFF with Sheikh Jackson having its world prenier tonight as the closing film of Special Presentations. And on Sunday you can see the People’s Choice award winner for free at Roy Thomson Hall; tickets are handed out at 4 pm. 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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Svengali_Stills_0612Svengali

Dir: John Hardwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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