Middle Class, Middle East. Films reviewed: Ava, The Insult

Posted in Canada, Coming of Age, High School, Iran, Lebanon, Movies, Palestine, Refugees, War, Women by CulturalMining.com on February 2, 2018

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

Looking for new things to watch other than big studio crap? Here’s what to look out for in February. It’s Black History Month, and Toronto’s Black Film Festival is coming up this month. The Goethe Foundation is showing movies set in Asia by Ulrike Ottinger. At TIFF Cinematheque they’ve got a retrospective of French New Wave director Philippe Garrel. To name just a few…

This week, though, I’m looking at two dramas about the Middle Class in the Middle East. There’s a teen drama set in Iran about a dare, and a courtroom drama in Lebanon about an insult.

Ava

Wri/Dir: Sadaf Foroughi

Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is a high school girl in Iran. An only child, she’s pretty but determined and self-confident. She lives with her mom, a psychiatrist, and her dad when he’s not out of town. She brightens up her obligatory, all-back uniform with some red Converse running shoes and a backpack. Her prized possession is her metronome. Her life consists of violin lessons, studying for exams, and hanging with her best friend Melody. Another friend Shirin, is a know-it-all always putting her down so she bets she can get a guy, Nima, to go out with her. She knows him from music lessons where he accompanies her on the piano… and she thinks he’s cute.

So she arranges an elaborate plot where she says she’s going to study with Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi), but actually plans to meet up with Nima, and drop by Shirin’s place to show him off so she can win the bet. Easy as pie. Except Shirin isn’t home – so no bet – and worse, when she sneaks back to Melody’s place her suspicious mom is there going ballistic and taking it out on Melody and her mom. And when Ava arrives her mom’s all Where were you? what did you do? Why did you lie? Then she drags Ava to a doctor to check that her virginity is intact!

In school the next day it gets even worse, with teachers searching through her backpack for forbidden things (whatever that may be). Even the school principal lectures all the girls about the dangers of doing the unspeakable with their unmentionables! She lost the bet, is humiliated in front of everyone, forbidden to see her best friend, and forced to quit her music lessons. All this, even though she didn’t do anything. Her stress and frustration rises to a boiling point and she has a meltdown in class.

Why is her mom so worried about her daughter having premarital sex? Can Ava pull her life back together, pass her exams, play violin at the recital, make up with her friends and family and maybe get back together with her non-boyfriend Nima? Or is her life ruined?

Ava might sound like a YA soap opera, but it’s actually a realistic coming-of-age drama about life in contemporary Iran. This is a good movie, surprisingly mature for a first feature. It has the look of an arthouse flick, with experimental camera work — like characters shot from behind, from above, from far away, with parts of them obscured, or even out of the frame entirely. And Jabari is excellent as Ava.

The Insult

Dir: Ziad Doueiri

Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha) is an engineer working on contract for the city. He supervises dozens of workers who repair potholes, drainage and infrastructure. He’s at the height of his career, known for his skill, diligence and bringing projects in under budget, while still looking out for the little guy.

Tony Hanna (Adel Karam) runs his own business, an auto repair shop, fixing BMWs. He lives in a second floor apartment with his pregnant wife. The young couple are saving up to buy their first home. Everything’s peachy until one day Tony spills dirty water through a faulty drainage pipe all over Yasser on the street below. Yasser calls Tony a rude name, but later fixes the pipe at the city’s expense. Tony smashes it to pieces. Words escalate with neither side apologizing for their insults. Until Tony voices the ultimate insult, and Yasser responds by beating him up.

Seems like a small problem, easily solved, right? Wrong. It turns into a lawsuit and the ensuing trial captures the attention of the whole country, leading to riots, molotov cocktails, even a meeting with the President of Lebanon. What is so important about this dispute? Yasser is Palestinian and Tony is Maronite Christian, and their disputes go back for generations, including the bloody, 15-year-long Lebanese civil war.

Their two lawyers, both working pro bono, are the famous Wajda Webb on Tony’s side and rising legal eagle Nadine working for Yasser. Both sides discover hidden histories from their two clients’ pasts, as victims and perpetrators of some of the massacres that tore the region apart: Black September in Jordan, Damour, Sabra and Shatilla.

The Insult has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and I understand why. It manages to handle controversial topics in a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious manner. The movie is told from Tony’s point of view, and therefore that of Maronite Christians as a group – including his political influences, their role in the civil war and Tony’s personal memories. That said, it is respectful and sympathetic to Yasser’s side and takes pains to portray him in a positive way. And Kamal El Basha gives a great performance as Yasser, both subtle and explosive at appropriate places.

The Insult is a good crash course in Lebanese modern history.

Ava and The Insult are both playing now in Toronto; check your local listings.  This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Strong female roles. Films reviewed: In the Fade, The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches PLUS Forever My Girl

Posted in C&W, Depression, Drama, drugs, Family, Germany, Nazi, New Orleans, Quebec, Terrorism by CulturalMining.com on January 19, 2018

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

It’s funny. A few years ago I was wondering what happened to all the female movie stars? They had been pushed into the margins, with hardly any good female roles. This year, though, there are more great female performances than you shake a stick at. Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Francis McDormand in Three Billboards, Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, Claire Armstrong in Dim the Fluorescents, Annette Bening in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and so on.

So this week I’m looking at some more powerful performances by women in very intense movies. There’s a woman in Hamburg confronting Nazi terrorists, and an isolated teenager in rural Quebec reacting to the outside world.

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes)

Wri/Dir: Simon Lavoie

It’s some point in the distant past in rural Quebec. Two brothers with dirty faces and scruffy hair (Marine Johnson and Antoine L’Écuyer) live with their father on an isolated farm in the woods. They’re close enough to the next village to hear churchbells in the distance, but they never go there. It’s a grand old stone manor filled with empty rooms and whole sections blocked off. The teenaged boys are forbidden from seeing them. If you go there, says their father (Jean-François Casabonne) you will die.

The house is lit by church candelabra arranged on altars with lanterns carried through the dark halls. The boys can read but most books are forbidden. They listen to liturgical records on their wind-up gramophone. And the younger brother sometimes visits a terrible monster, locked up in a dark shed. He feeds it apples and pieces of bread through gaps in a wooden cage.

The boys dress in frontier clothes and priest’s hassocks. Younger brother has to keep watch – his bullying older brother often jumps him in the woods and does something to him he doesn’t understand. He keeps his chest tightly wrapped in cloth – his father insists. But he still has questions. He has seen pigs mating in the sty. Why don’t I have a penis? His father says, I told you, it fell off when you were younger. He also believes babies are made out of clay.

It’s a rough life, but it’s all they know, save for faint memories of a beautiful woman in a white dress, and two little girls in pinafores. In fact they can’t remember ever seeing someone from the outside. Until one day when a young man (Alex Godbout) drives to the house on a motorcycle. The town needs to survey the property, he says, but Père and Frère chase him away with their rifles. Is he a knight in shining armour? Or does he signal an invasion by the churchgoing villagers? And when something happens to Père, the two boys discover the house’s secrets, and some of their own. Like the fact that the younger brother… is pregnant!

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is a powerful, surreal drama with an almost fairytale feel. It tells the story of naïve teenagers whose father (who went mad) is their only source of information. It’s shot in stunning black and white, and is filled with sinister images of the all-pervasive Québec church. It’s creepily fascinating with fantastic acting by L’Écuyer and Johnson. This is a great — but highly disturbing — movie.

In The Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

Wri/Dir: Fatih Akin

It’s present-day Hamburg. Katja Sekerci (Diane Kruger) is a happily married woman with a young son named Rocco. She likes artistic tattoos, going to saunas with her best friend Brigitte and making love to her husband. Nuri is of Kurdish ancestry, but wears his hair like a samurai. They were married when he was still in prison. Now he runs a translation office in a Turkish section of town.

Katja’s life is nearly perfect until something devestating happens. An explosioin levels her husband’s office killing him and their son. It turns out it was a bomb, possibly the work of terrorists. And Katja thinks she knows who did it. She saw a blonde woman park her bike right in front of the office on the day of the explosion. In fact she even spoke to her so she knows she’s German. But the police, the press, even her own mother, keep looking at the victim as the cause of the killing. Is it the Turkish Mafia. Islamic terrorists? Drugs?

Katie talks with Danilo her lawyer and good friend (Denis Moschitto) to make sense of it all. They realize it must be be a right wing terrorist — a nazi — who did this. Eventually the police make an arrest based on her description, and two Nazis, a young couple named Edda and Andre Möller (Hanna Hilsdorf, Ulrich Brandhoff) are put on trial for the killings. But will they be convicted?

In the Fade is a great dramatic thriller that combines Katja’s grief and sorrow with her need for vengeance. It’s told in three chapters: her interactions with her family, in-laws and the police; the trial itself; and the heart-pumping aftermath, when she decides to track down and punish the killers. Diane Kruger is just fantastic as Katje, the best I’ve ever seen her, and she puts her whole body and soul into the part. You can really feel her anger, grief and frustration, but she never overacts.

I liked this movie a lot.

Also opening today is this romantic drama:

Forever My Girl

Wri/Dir: Bethany Ashton Wolf (based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin)

Liam Page (Alex Roe) is a Country & Western superstar. He writes and performs his own songs with a back-up band. He can fill a New Orleans stadium with adoring fans.  Teenaged girls will chase him, screaming, down a city street when he appears in public. They love his smooth voice, handsome face and his sentimental songs. But offstage Liam is a real prick. He’s emotionally vapid, sleeping with different groupies each night. He’s rude and abusive toward his affable, bearded manager Sam (Peter Cambor) and his LA publicist Doris. And he’s addicted to alcohol and drugs.

He carries only one thing to remind him of his life as a smalltown boy: an old flip phone with a recorded message. But after a tragic turn of events, he finds himself back in his hometown, St Augustine, LA, for a funeral. He may be famous, but in “the Saint” his name is mud. You see, he was engaged to marry his highschool sweetheart Josie (Jessica Rothe) eight years earlier, but left her standing at the altar, without an explanation or apology.  When she sees him now, Josie greets him with a sucker punch. And he discovers he has a 7-year-old daughter named Charly (Abby Ryder Forston) that Josie has been raising on her own.

Can Liam change his ways and conquer his demons? Will Josie ever talk to him again? Can he spend time with his precocious daughter? And can his father, the town preacher, forgive his selfish son?

I’m not a big fan of country music or conventional romances involving small-town churchgoers — this is not the kind of movie I rush to see.  It takes few risks and most of the characters walked straight out of Central Casting. But I found it entertaining anyway. I assumed the aw-shucks, southern boy Liam was played by a non-actor, a country singer who basically played himself — woodenly, at that — and performed his own tunes. Turns out I was way off the mark. This UK actor had me convinced he was a real country singer from the Deep South!

In the Fade and Forever My Girl open today in Toronto; check your local listings. The Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches is playing at Canada’s Top Ten festival; go to TIFF.net for details. Also opening today is Hostiles (read my review here) and My Piece of the City  (listen to my interview with director Moze Mossanen 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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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.

Just for the lulz. Films reviewed: Adventures in Public School, Father Figures, Downsizing

Posted in comedy, Coming of Age, Family, Fantasy, High School, Road Movie by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 2017

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

There are lots of heavy-duty movies out now, with great actors, by famous directors about important issues. But what if you just want to have some fun for 90 minutes? Enough great movies — this week, just for the lulz, I’m looking at three comedies. There’s a homeschooled boy who meets a one-legged girl; a teeny-tiny man who meets a one-legged woman; and two adult brothers who just want to meet their dad.

Adventures in Public School

Dir: Kyle Rideout

It’s present-day Vancouver. Liam (Daniel Doheny) is a gawky, home-schooled teenager preparing to write his high school equivalency exams. Once he passes with flying colours he’s off to Cambridge to study astronomy. At least that’s what his over-protective mom thinks. Claire (Judy Greer) gave birth to Liam when she was still a highschool student, so she planned his life to avoid all the problems she faced as a teen.

But when he enters Claire’s old high school to write the test his world is turned upside down by a beautiful girl he passes in the hallway. Anastasia (Siobhan Williams) has blonde hair, an angelic face and a prosthetic leg. Who is this one-legged girl? He deliberately fails the test just so he can attend school and maybe meet her. He manages to join class midterm when he convinces the principal (Andrew McNee) — who has a crush on Claire — that he’ll take the place of a missing girl for two weeks. Now Liam is the new kid, known to everyone as “Maria Sanchez”.

He soon learns about friendship from the flamboyant Wes who shares his locker; bullying from BDC an Aussie competing for Anastasia; and unrequited love. Can he learn about love, sex, drugs and survival in just two weeks of school? And can he shake off his mom’s relentless interference?

Adventures in Public School is a cute Canadian coming of age comedy, but one that takes few risks. Doheny is appealing as Liam, and Greer funny as Claire, and the story is interesting enough, but the film is underwhelming as a whole. But there are enough twists and funny bits to make it worth a watch.

Father Figures

Dir: Lawrence Sher

Kyle and Peter are brothers. They’re also fraternal twins but couldn’t be more different. Peter (Ed Helms) is uptight angry and depressed. He’s a proctologist who hates his job. He’s divorced but has no luck meeting women because he lacks basic social skills. Kyle (Owen Wilson), on the other hand, is a hippy-dippy beach bum who lives in Hawaii. He’s also rich with a beautiful girlfriend. A chance photo of him ended up on a bottle of BBQ sauce, and he has lived off the royalties ever since. He explains his extraordinary luck as “the Universe” talking to him. The two were raised by their single mom Helen (Glenn Close). Their dad died of colon cancer when they were infants.

Peter and Kyle don’t get along but when they meet up again at their mother’s house they discover a secret: their dad didn’t die – in fact he’s still alive. The two of them jump into a car to try to find him. They son discover their mom slept with a huge number of men in the mid-1970s. which one is their real dad? And will they tear each other apart before they meet him?

Father Figures is a simple buddy/road movie – two guys who don’t get along but share a single goal. It has a very barebones plot, with a sentimental ending. Ed Helms is good as the uptight Peter but Owen Wilson is barely trying. It’s the “father figures” who are funny, especially JK Simmonds as a miscreant Repo Man. Again, this is not a great movie, but it’s funny enough.

Downsizing

Dir: Alexander Payne

It’s some point in the future. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is a non-descript but happily-married man who works as a job counsellor for a large corporation. Life’s OK, bit something is missing. Then he hears about a new scientific discvery out of Norway that addresses climate change without affecting your lifestyle. They’ve discovered how to shrink you down to the size of your finger, and developed tiny gated communities where you can live a normal life. Since you’re so small, you leave no carbon footprint and everything is cheap – middle class people with savings from the big world can live like kings in the small world. Food, real estate, travel – all affordable. One catch: the process is irreversible. And when Paul awakens he discovers his wife has changed her mind. And a bunch of his savings have disappeared. Now he’s all alone, works in a crap job and lives in a condo. He’s small and life sucks.

But when he meets a Eurotrash neighbour named Dusan (Christoph Waltz) things start to improve. He learns to let loose and live a little. And when he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a one-legged, Vietnamese cleaning woman, he begins to see how the other half lives. This tiny world has slums, refugees and undocumented migrants just like the big world. Can a normal guy find love and satsfaction in a strange new world?

Downsizing is a silly and goofy movie, but an interesting one anyway. Once they establish the big/small changes, the size thing disappears, and it turns into a light social satire with a middle class guy learning about poverty. Mart Damon plays that gormless white guy he does so well; Christoph Waltz – with sidekick Udo Kier – adds some life, and Hong Chau pours on a heavy Vietnamese accent but is still believable.

Father Figures and Downsizing open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Adventures in Public School starts in January as part of the Canada’s Top Ten movies series. 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

 

Daniel Garber talks to filmmaker Kevan Funk about Hello Destroyer

Posted in Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Morality, Movies, violence by CulturalMining.com on March 10, 2017

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

Tyson Burr is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job but is already getting a reputation as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay. Violence on the ice is strongly encouraged. But when an overzealous fight sends a player to hospital, Tyson falls from hero to zero overnight. He is forced to move back home, work at manual labour and try to pull what’s left of his life back together in the rise, fall and rise again of a hockey destroyer.

Hello Destroyer is a first feature which premiered at TIFF16 and was chosen as one of Canada’s Top Ten Films of 2017. It’s a thoughtful and impressionistic examination of violence and self-worth in a distinctly Canadian setting. The film is written and directed by prize-winner Kevan Funk, and opens today in Toronto.

I spoke with Kevan Funk, in studio, about hockey, violence, masculinity, Canadian machismo, Todd Bertuzzi, hockey movies…  and more!

O Canada. Films reviewed: Hello Destroyer, Maliglutit

Posted in 1910s, Canada, Depression, Drama, Hockey, Indigenous, Inuit, Nunavut, violence by CulturalMining.com on January 7, 2017

the-true-north-the-story-of-capt-joseph-bernier-tc-fairley-charles-e-israel-illus-james-hill-1957Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Happy New Year! It’s the sesquicentennial. You’ll be hearing that word a lot. It means it’s been 150 years since Canada’s Confederation in 1867.

CRTC chief Jean Pierre Blais thinks Canadian TV should be designed to appeal on the world stage – we shouldn’t worry about Canadian culture. Writer Charles Foran, in the Guardian, calls Canada the world’s first post-national country. He’s quoting Justin Trudeau, but I think they’re missing the point. There is a strong the-rivers-end-by-james-oliver-curwood-triangle-press-circa-1946national identity. It’s just not an ethnic-based nationalism. It’s not a jingoistic nationalism. It’s not an exclusive identity, it’s an inclusive one that is welcoming and tolerant and multifaceted. But we do have a distinctive Canadian culture.

And part of our identity is Canadian literature, art, music and film. In this Sesquicentennial year look out for lots of chances to consume Canadian culture. The NFB has put thousands of films and documentaries online. And there’s Canada on Screen, a nationwide retrospective running all year with 150 of the best docs, animation, features and TV. All screenings are free!

This week I’m looking at Canadian movies playing as part of the annual Canada’s Top Ten series. We’ve got a hockey drama out of the far west, and a western from the extreme north.

hellodestroyer_still_05Hello Destroyer

Wri/Dir: Kevan Funk

Tyson Burr (Jared Abrahamson) is a minor league hockey player in Prince George, BC. He’s a rookie at his first job. He’s welcomed by a hazing where the players hold down the newbies while they forcibly shave their heads and pummel them. It helps them feel “part of the team”. Violence builds manhood and comradery. He’s known as a destroyer, an enforcer who keeps the other teams’ players at bay – fighting on the ice is just another part of the game. Tyson is at his physical peak and on top of the world. But he admits to another rookie that he has doubts and fears of hishellodestroyer_still_09 own.

The coach (Kurt Max Runte) tells the team they should aim to be heroes. You’ve got to hammer your steel into excalibur! We are fighters, brawlers, men! That’s when they’re winning. But when they are losing he bawls them out and tells them to fight back – aggressively. Tyson does just that, and sends a player to hospital.

hellodestroyer_still_07The coach and team lawyers, rather than reaching out to him, throw Tyson beneath the proverbial bus. They make him read a prepared statement talking all the blame, all the responsibility. Suddenly he plummets from hero to pariah. He gets kicked out of his home, suspended – temporarily they say – from the team, and is forced to move back in with his parents.

He’s also plagued with guilt – he wants to apologize to the guy he hurt, to tellhellodestroyer_still_04 him he didn’t mean to, but that doesn’t fit with the league’s plans. From beating players on the ice, his new job at a slaughter house, hacking at bloody carcasses in the cold.

He seeks solace and solitude with another guy who has fallen on hard times, and doesn’t hold it against him as they salvage an old shack. Can Tyson face his hellodestroyer_04doubts and regain his self-respect, or will he continue in a downward spiral of loss and self-destruction?

Hello Destroyer is a moving look at violence and self doubt in the world of professional sports. But don’t expect to see a conventional, movie of the week type drama. This is an impressionistic, introspective art-house movie. No slow-mo punch fights or zooms at key moments. No reaction shots. The camera hellodestroyer_02always stands back, following Tyson from behind, or capturing a conversation through a half-open doorway. Dialogue might be muffled or turned off entirely. Jared Abrahamson carries the whole movie – the frustration, anger and self-loathing – on his shoulders, and pulls it off admirably. This is a good first film.

maliglutitsearchers_02Maliglutit (Searchers)

Dir: Zacharias Kunuk

It’s 1913, in Igloolik. There’s a party going on in a large igloo with singing, storytelling and all around good times. But there’s friction as well. A couple of foul mouthed men are openly groping The father’s wife and not sharing the food they caught. Those are both against Inuit law. The offenders are kicked out, and ride off on their dog sleds. But they haven’t seen the last of them.

Following a spiritual forecast, the hunters – father and son – head out to catch caribou, leaving the kids, women and elderly behind. And while the hunters are away they hear dogs barking and strange noises outside. Is it a bear attack? No it’s something worse. The bad men are back, breaking down the walls of their home, attacking and killing almost everyone. They rope up the mother and maliglutitsearchers_04daughter and tie them to their sleds, as bounty. But the women refuse to cooperate and “be nice”. They fight back.

Our heroes spot their home through a telescope and know something is terribly wrong. There’s a gaping wound in its side. In the igloo, dying grandfather passes him a bird talisman. He summons the bird’s call to help him track the attackers. Who will survive this life and death battle?

maliglutitsearchers_01Maliglutit is a great movie — part mystery, part western, part historical drama — with information you might only get in a documentary. It captures an era after western contact and technology – they use a telescopes and rifles, and drink tea – but before Christianity, snowmobiles, forced resettlement and the killing of dog teams. It loosely follows the classic John Wayne The Searchers, a so-called Cowboy and Indian movie, but this time from the indigenous point if view. Like all of Kunuk’s movies it is stunning to watch with its arctic vistas and intense whites, blacks and blues, punctuated with the occasional splash of red blood or the glow of fire.

See NFB movies at nfb.ca; Canada’s Top Ten starts on January 13th – go to tiff.net/seethenorth for details;  and for information about the year-long, sesquicentennial retrospective go to tiff.net/canadaonscreen.

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

Daniel Garber talks with director Patrick Reed about his new documentary Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Prison, Suspicion, Taliban, Terrorism, Torture, US, War by CulturalMining.com on January 9, 2016

 

Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar KhadrHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid born in Toronto into a controversial family. He was captured in a firefight in Afghanistan at a militant camp. A US soldier was killed and Omar, as the sole survivor, was blamed for his Patrick Reed, Guantanamo's Child: Omar Khadrdeath. Labelled a terrorist, he was sent to a prison in Cuba at the American military base known as Guantanamo. He was the youngest inmate there and reached maturity as Guantanamo’s Child.

Guantanamo’s Child is also the name of a new KO79nx_GUANTANAMOSCHILD_01_o3_8887721_1449615152documentary about Omar Khadr’s stay in that notorious prison. Partly based on Michelle Shephard’s book, the film chronicles his and his family’s lives from his early years in Toronto, his stay in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the decade spent in Guantanamo, and his status today back in Canada. The film premiered at TIFF15 and is now playing in Toronto as part of the Canada Top Ten Film Festival.

I spoke with the film’s award-winning co-director, Patrick Reed, in studio.

A new year. Movies Reviewed: Anomalisa, Sleeping Giant, The Demons

Posted in Animation, Canada, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Movies, Psychology, Quebec by CulturalMining.com on January 8, 2016

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

Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival is now screening some of the best movies of 2015. This week I’m looking at two coming-of-age films, one set in Quebec the other in Ontario, that look at summer stories; and an unusual animated drama about celebrity and conformity.

qjLZ5G_anomalisa_02_o3_8703152_1438094874Anomalisa
Dir: Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufmann

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a minor celebrity in the world of business self-help books. He’s much loved by office staffs all across America. His specialty? customer service. He’s staying at a hotel in Cincinnati for a day to prepare for an upcoming speech he’s giving there.

But something seems not right. Everyone else (Tom Noonan) just 12375066_931049030312493_458353283602098012_orepeats what they’ve been told: Cincinnati has a great zoo. Cincinnati makes great chile. And they all look the same too: same face, same voice. Old or young, male or female, they all talk just the same.

He begins to doubt his sanity… maybe he’s the robot, not them!.

Then, somewhere outside his hotel room door, he hears a voice, a distinctive voice, a woman’s voice. He pulls on his pants, runs out of his room, and races down the hall, knocking on every door. Until he 12247951_918554004895329_2691172879829888643_ofinds what he’s looking for. It’s a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), from Akron in town to hear Michael’s speech. She’s ordinary looking, not particularly bright, but he decides, she’s the only real person left in this world. Lisa is the anomaly amongst all the conformity. Anomalisa.

Could this be true love?

What I haven’t said yet is that this is an animated film using stop-motion photography. And in fact, Michael, Lisa, and everyone else are actually dolls. Anatomically correct dolls. They get in fights, sing songs, get drunk, have realistic sex – with all the bumps and faux pas – but they’re not human. So it’s a triple conundrum: is this an animated movie about a normal middle aged guy losing it? Or are we seeing the characters as animated dolls because that’s how the main character envisions the world? Or are we all actually identical automatons?

Anomalisa is a weird and funny, if troubling, drama.

vgRX90_SLEEPING_GIANT_02_o3_8685410_1438737298Sleeping Giant
Dir: Andrew Cividino

Adam (Jackson Martin) is a sheltered, middle-class kid who still goes to bed on time. He’s up in cottage country on Lake Superior for the summer. His parents just bought an expensive place, so everything seems to be going well. But parents don’t see everything.

Adam is 15, and still in touch with his old summer friends, mainly j25GLP_SLEEPING_GIANT_03_o3_8685445_1438737314girls like Taylor (Katelyn McKerracher). But now he has some guy friends to tell him what’s what. Nate and Riley (Nick Serino and Reece Moffet) are a pair of cool cousins he meets out there on the road. They are staying with their grandma, with no parents around Lg0XAr_SLEEPING_GIANT_01_o3_8685366_1438737282to supervise. Nate’s the aggressive fast talker, while older Riley is less volatile.

Together the two of them are slowly corrupting Adam, introducing him to the basics adult life: lying, stealing beer, getting drunk, smoking pot and badmouthing girls. They use a golf cart to rob a liquor store. But things start to go wrong when Taylor upsets the delicate “guy balance”. One of them falls in love with her, another feels stilted and a third sees her as a danger to their friendship. And looming in the background is a huge rocky cliff on a nearby A019_C001_0724VXuninhibited island. Legend has it, someone jumped and died there.

Based on a short film, Sleeping giant is another great coming of age story that looks at the scariness and discovery of adolescence played against the cottages and lakes of northwest Ontario.

2RqJ9W_demons_05_o3_8888535_1449615258The Demons
Wri/Dir: Philippe Lesage

Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier) is your average 10 year old boy in a Quebec suburb. Bigger kids pick on him so he bullies littler kids. He spends his days at school where he forgets his pencils, at home where he hears his parents fighting, or 0go30V_demons_03_o3_8888443_1449615229with his friends at the outdoor swimming pool. He’s at that age between childhood and adolescence where everything is new and strange and more than a little scary. Like ghosts that can sense your fear, kidnappers who might grab you off the street, and AIDS which will infect you if you act “too gay”.

qjp8QR_demons_02_o3_8888396_1449615258His fears are preyed on by his siblings and friends. They pile on the kind of urban myths that make you shiver. Like the girl who has cockroaches growing inside her tongue, or how chewing your hair leads to death from hair balls. But at the same time, something weird and sinister is happening all around g5DX2Z_demons_04_o3_8888488_1449615243him. Why did his Dad spend the night visiting his best friend’s mom? How come the girl he loves ignores him? And why are kids disappearing right around his neighbourhood?

Demons has a terrific ensemble cast with kids saying the stuff they won’t say in front of adults. It’s based on the director’s memories of his own childhood and it rings true. This is an unsparingly realistic look at dark shames and fears. Really good movie.

Anomalisa opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. And Sleeping Giant and The Demons are both part of Canada’s Top Ten Film Fest. 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.

Canada’s Top Ten. Closet Monster, Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre

Posted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bullying, Canada, Clash of Cultures, Coming of Age, Cultural Mining, Gay, Politics, Quebec, Satire by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2016

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

It’s New Year’s Day, a good time to look back over the past year. Canada’s Top Ten — running at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 8th to 17th — offers a selection of ten movies over ten days for ten bucks a pop. So this week, I’m looking at two of those movies: a coming of age drama from Newfoundland about a gay teenager yearning to spread his wings and fly; and a comedy from Quebec about a newly-empowered politician who dreads leaving the ground. And afterwards, I’ll give you my favourite films of the 2015.

98Y9QD_closetmonster_03_o3_8698586_1438737352Closet Monster

Wri/Dir: Stephen Dunn

Oscar is a little boy in Newfoundland, whose head is filled with strange voices and nightmares during the day, and his bed is full of scary nightmares at night. He depends on his story-telling dad Peter (Aaron Abrams) to banish the bad thoughts. But two things happen. First, on the same day he discovers he’s gay, he witnesses a terrible incident in a cemetery near his school. A kid is beaten up, impaled,  and left to die. But Oscar’s obsession with the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer leads him to internalize the violence and permanently tie it to his newly discovered sexuality. Now gay means dealing with X6pQL5_closetmonster_04_o3_8698631_1438737343supernatural monsters and death and vampires, so he banishes it all to a metaphoric; closet. Around the same time, his parents begin to fight. His mom moves out leaving the boy with his dad… who is losing it. Now Oscar only has his talking hamster Buffy (Isabella Rosselini) to turn to for advice.

Flash forward a few years. Oscar (Connor Jessup, Blackbird) is in high school now and getting ready for University. where he wants to study movie make-up design. He spends most of his time in his secret Buffy-verse, a world of monsters he has created inside his backyard treehouse. It’s a place where people grow horns, he practices his make-up, and a place where he hangs out with a sort-of girlfriend named Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf). But he really has his eyes on Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) a guy he 8qK3q3_closetmonster_01_o3_8698541_1438737331works with at a big box store. But as things start to go wrong and his life begins to unravel he realizes now’s the time to make the big decisions in his life. This culminates in a big costume and makeup party.

Can Oscar escape his very real inner demons, embrace his sexuality, come out to his neglectful mother and homophobic father, find live at work and pursue his dreams of creating monsters for the movies?

I liked this movie. It’s wonderfully imaginative with leaps of faith and new things all around. Even so, the script and the acting is uneven, ranging from the superb to moments of dialogue so jaw-droppingly wooden you wish they had never made it to the screen.  Still, this first-time director’s look at sexuality shown through a supernatural lens — played out in a Newfoundland setting — offers an unusual take on an old story.

qjp892_myinternship_01_o3_8889108_1449615288Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (My Internship in Canada)

Wri/Dir: Phillippe Felardeau

Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus) is a highly-educated young man from Port au Prince, Haiti. He is well-versed in the writings of Rousseau and de Tocqueville, but wants to experience real democracy first hand. So he arrives in northern Quebec, at an office above a lingerie store, to start his internship. MP Steve Guibord (Patrick Huard) is a former hockey player who cares little about politics science. He’s also an independent, free from party 12080363_1650555245182508_6174572057209938197_opolitics. He divides his time cutting ribbons, listening to local complaints, and mediating disputes between Algonquin First Nations and the small town miners and lumberjacks who get in their way. And he drives everywhere he goes because of a pathological fear of flying.

He lives with his conservative wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) who owns a nursery. and his neglected lefty daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) who wants to move to Denmark. And Souverain fits right in, passing on sage political advice to the 12113292_1650759721828727_4678384698342888006_ohapless Steve.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party, which holds a slight majority, decides it wants to go to war in the Middle East, while the opposition parties want to stay away. Everything is going smoothly until Steve suddenly finds himself at the centre of things when a Conservative backbencher is rushed to hospital, and 11825648_1629299423974757_2831573805500131430_nwon’t be well in time for the vote. Souverain, meanwhile is observing everything, and secretly skyping back to large crowds in Port au Prince. And, through his his Machiavellian manoeuvres and machinations, he steers Steve on the path of direct democracy. He sets up local meetings so the people can decide whether or not to go to war. His wife is adamantly in favour, and his daughter steadfastly opposed. But as his story gains national attention, the competing parties zoom in to try to win him over. Can Souverain help Steve solve this Cornellian dilemma without alienating either his wife or his daughter? And can democracy flourish in northern Quebec?

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is a genuinely funny look at Canadian politics, one of the first movies like this I’ve ever seen. Acting is great all around, and the story has lots of surprises, including a quintessentially Canadian journey to Ottawa. Great fun.

And finally, here are some movies I really liked in 2015: (coming soon!)

Closet Monster and Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (also known as My Internship in Canada) are playing as part of Canada’s Top Ten. 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

Daniel Garber talks with filmmaker Harold Crooks about his new documentary The Price We Pay

Posted in Cultural Mining, documentary, Economics, Politics, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 19, 2014

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

The post-WWII social safety net has collapsed — governments say we can’t afford it any more. And they raise sales tax, social security and other fees to try to make up for revenue losses.

Middle class wages remain stagnant, while personal debt has reached record highs. And the wage gap between the very rich and the rest of us has reached levels not seen since the gilded age.

But, at the same time, population, productivity, GDP and profit levels have continued to rise. How can we be producing more than ever before, with greater efficiency while both the government and the people are falling deeper into debt?The Price We Pay

Well, according to a new documentary, the problem is tax avoidance and the use of off-shore tax havens. Based on Le Crise Fiscale qui Vient (The Coming Fiscal Crisis) by Quebec author Brigitte Alepin, the film exposes offshore banking and The Price we Pay for it.

The documentary is called The Price we Pay, and is directed by filmmaker Harold Crooks, known for his work on films like The Corporation. It’s showing in Toronto for two days on January 10-11 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Canada Top Ten movie series, and is opening later this year. I spoke with Harold Crooks by telephone from New York City. Harold talks about the City of London, the illusion of off-shoring, Canadian banks’ role in creating Caribbean tax havens, Thomas Picketty, Asterix, the redistribution of wealth upwards, austerity measures, the “Robin Hood” tax, the “equality of sacrifice”, Antonio Gramsci, … and more!

 

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