Daniel Garber interviews director JIM BRUCE about his new film Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve

Posted in Cultural Mining, Deregulation, documentary, Uncategorized, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2014

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

The world’s economy was brought to a standstill after the crash of 2008 – we’re still recovering. What MONEY_FOR_NOTHING_Federal_Reserve_Note_Photo_Courtesy_of_Liberty_Street_Filmshappened? A new movie posits that it was the policies of the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan that were largely responsible for the meltdown.

This in-depth documentary explains the history of this powerful but opaque agency and how it works. It’s called Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, (opening today in Toronto at Hot Docs). Director JIM BRUCE (editor: King of Kong) tells us more.

Movies within Movies. Films reviewed: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, The Wagner Files, Saving Mr Banks

Posted in 1960s, Biopic, Cultural Mining, documentary, Germany, Hollywood, Movies, Music, Musical, Politics, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on December 13, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

There are movies… and then there are movies within movies. This week I’m looking at some juicy brain candy, films that cross or blur the barriers between movies and real life. There’s a documentary with a Marxist lecturer who steps into the movies he talks about; a dramatized documentary that answers Bugs Bunny’s question What’s Opera, Doc?, and a drama set in Disneyland… about trying to make a movie.

perverts_01The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology

Dir: Sophie Fiennes

What does the shark in the movie Jaws have to do with totalitarianism*? Well, a lot, if you listen to Slavoj Zizek.

If you haven’t seen him before, Slavoj Zizek is a real hoot. He’s this huge bombastic, bearded Slovenian who likes to talk – a lot.

A Marxist, he approaches ideology in unusual ways: pop culture and totalitarianism; Lacanian philosophy and The Big Other; social class and sexuality. A typical topic: how come Beethoven’s Ode to Joy was a national anthem for everyone from the extreme right to the extreme left? From Nazis to Peruvian Maoists? He seems to make sense — even when it’s complete  nonsense.

You might think – how can I listen to this guy lecture for two hours straight? The way the movie works is he shows a clip from a film – say Reifenstahl’s Triumph of Will – and the next scene has him, in black and white, dressed in period uniform.  He talks about a movie, and then he’s in the movie he’s talking about.

If you have an itch for some complex political chatter about pop-culture, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology is the perfect place to find it.

(*In case you’re wondering about the shark in Spielberg’s Jaws… Zizek says it’s the Big Other, a way of reducing all of society’s fears and anxiety into a single entity. Fascism uses it to galvanize the population against a single feared “enemy”.)

Moving from the broad to the specific, here’s a new, experimental documentary about Wagner, called:

Die Akte Wagner_2©FalcoSeligerThe Wagner Files

Dir: Ralf Pleger

Wagner! He’s the 19thcentury German composer best known for his symphonies and operas. You’ve heard the expression “It’s not over till the fat lady sings”? They’re talking about the valkyrie Brünnhilde from Wagner’s ring cycle.

But who was Wagner? Not what you might think. This doc digs up the skeletons in Wagner’s closet. He was born in Leipzig and became a composer famous across Europe. But it turns out his trips to Paris, Venice, Munich were partly so he could outrun his creditors! He was deeply in debt. Then there’s his friend Hans von Bulow, an aristocrat and musician. Wagner was sleeping with von Bulow’s wife, Cosima, a Die Akte Wagner_5©FalcoSeligerraven-haired beauty who was also Franz Liszt’s granddaughter. She gave birth to Wagner’s kids while still married to von Bulow. Scandal! Sounds almost like a soap opera.

Then Wagner befriended King Ludwig of Bavaria – a crazy gay king who built a castle inspired by a Wagner opera. They had a passionate – though non-sexual – affair, and he became Wagner and Cosima’s patron, showering them with money and paying for his four-part opera and the Bayreuth festival in Bavaria devoted to his work.

Die Akte Wagner_Simone Young©FalcoSeligerThen there’s his fetishes. Wagner covered himself with feminine things –rose-coloured silk and velvets. They found his dead body clothed in pink robes.

Wagner and Cosima also had a dark side. He wrote a virulent tract against Jewish musicians and composers, saying they were members of an “inferior race” ruining German culture. And later (after Wagner died) the widow Cosima became closely tied to Hitler and the Nazi party, a tarnish still associated with Wagner’s work.

The movie uses both experts — conductors, historians, writers – and actors who portray Cosima and Richard… but in 20thcentury settings: Cosima posing dramatically; Richard rolling around in his pink feather boas. Half drama, half doc, German dialogue, English narrator. This is a strange but endlessly fascinating movie.

999622_578413545546254_1393361059_nSaving Mr Banks

Dir: John Lee Hancock

Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) is an uptight, posh writer in her 60’s living in London, sipping tea and reading Gurdjieff.

She wrote Mary Poppins and Disney has been trying to buy the rights to it for decades. Finally, in 1961, she agrees to fly to LA to meet Walt Disney himself (Tom Hanks).

She is not impressed by America. She says it smells like chlorine and sweat. And she’s creeped-out when she finds her hotel room filled with stuffed, giant Mickey Mice. At the studio she objects to 1392799_571559062898369_585661440_neverything the writer and songwriters (the Sherman brothers, played by Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak)  show her. Who are these penguins? She said no cartoons! Why is Mr Banks (the father) portrayed as mean? And the mother as uncaring? 

But then her childhood is gradually revealed in a series of flashbacks. She’s actually not English at all. She grew up in the Australian outback. Her mom was depressed. Her dad (Colin Farrell) was an alcoholic bank manager who hated his job. He told her life is just an illusion. And then there’s the inspiration for Mary Poppins.

1471835_584864851567790_1428997927_nCan Walt discover what’s holding her back from making a movie? This is a cute, heavily nostalgic and somewhat moving biopic, about turning a book into a movie script. The songs are great and lots of fun. Emma Thompson is terrific as the hard-to-like Mrs Travers who gradually opens up. Totally believable. Tom Hanks role is less rounded, more superficial. Why? Think about it: a Walt Disney movie about their founder shot on the Disney backlot? It’s like a Vatican-made drama about the Pope. So the Disney scenes are restricted, but the Travers scenes allowed to blossom.

The Wagner Files — at the Carlton — The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology — at TIFF — and Saving Mr Banks all open today 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

 

Philadelphia Freedom. Movies reviewed: Jingle Bell Rocks, Let the Fire Burn

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.

I was in the US for American Thanksgiving. Had a wonderful visit to family and friends, beautiful places, lots to see and do. But you wouldn’t know it if you watched TV news on Black Friday. It’s an orgiastic  frenzy of consumer excess slapped onto an otherwise sedate family weekend. All you could see on TV was the repeated image of two women at a Philadelphia Walmart tasing each other to get at a discount i-Pad. Just crazy.

But they segue nicely into my themes this week: Philadelphia and holiday excess. I’m looking at Canadian documentary about Christmas music. And an American doc about a firebomb dropped on a radical commune in Philadelphia.

mitch_hat_vigJingle Bell Rocks

Dir: Mitchel Kezin

Mitchel is obsessed with Christmas songs., Not the traditional carols or sing-alongs — Silent Night, Jingle Bells —  but the many, possibly countless, record albums released over the past 60-70 years. He believes that, among all the treacle and dross they play constantly for a month and a half every year, there are gems to be discovered. So he goes to every flea market, ducks into every used record store he sees, on the off chance there’s an indie treasure waiting to be rediscovered.

It all started with a Nat King Cole song about a little kid pining for his absentee dad, who won’t be home for Chistmas. His own dad was never there and eventually his parents were divorced. Now he feels driven to recreate the sad feelings john_waters_pic2he remembers from a melancholy tune.

And he’s not alone. There’s a hip-hop producer, a radio DJ, and a rock star, each with their obsessive horde of old Xmas vinyl.

The movie spans decades, including everything from be-bop jazz (that’s Bob Dorough singing with the Miles Davis Quintet in the background) to soul – there’s a risqué song about a Backdoor Santa – to Vietnam protest songs, ordinary pop, bill_adler&rev-run_prod2counter-culture kitsch and hip hop, all the way to the nineties and beyond.

Stars include Flaming Lips, Run DMC, and John Waters, with the movie culminating in an amazing recording session with calypso legend Mighty Sparrow.

Not bad for a documentary. Jingle Bell Rocks is 90-minute look at an ordinary – if oddball – guy with a hording obsession. I can sympathize with the narrator’s plight, but never feel his drive. Anyway, it’s a light subject, not intrinsically exciting. But it’s saved by the music: great tunes.

let the fire burn poster_largeLet the Fire Burn

Dir: Jason Osder

In the mid 1980s, Philadelphia — a city I love — experienced a terrifying event. A home was bombed, and many people were killed. You might think: terrorists? But the bomb was dropped on a row house from a helicopter… by the police! And as the fire grew, the fireman stood by to letthefireburn.photo03watch the flames engulf a city block.

How could this have happened? Some background.

Half a century after the civil rights movement, Philadelphia is still a de facto segregated city. It experienced decades of unrest and white flight to the exurbs. Much of this was related to the combative stance letthefireburn.photo05of the police force and City Hall, led, in the 1970s by Frank Rizzo.

A former police commissioner, Rizzo fought a personal battle against radical groups like the Black Panthers, displaying, at times, seemed more loyalty to his fellow police than toward the people of the city. He was known for his harsh treatment of black people, in general. Well, right in the middle of this was a small, black-to-nature group known as MOVE, headed by the self-named John Africa. They believed in such “radical” concepts as a vegan diet, the raw food movement, animal rights — a new religion that was anti-pesticide letthefireburn.photo02and anti-technology. The kids walked around naked and everyone shared the same last name. They also proselytized loudly in public, using a megaphone, not endearing themselves to their neighbours.

The police accused them of being an armed terrorist group and raided their home. In the melee a cop was killed, but it was never determined where the shot came from. (The police were caught on video brutally attacking an unarmed Delbert Africa.) Nine members of MOVE were convicted of third-degree murder and jailed.

Seven years later, in an apparent act of revenge for the  policeman’s death, they dropped two fire bombs – supplied by the FBI — on the urban commune and stood by, as 11 people, including five small children, letthefireburn.photo01died. Afterwards, the city’s Mayor, W. Wilson Goode, called for an investigation.

This excellent movie tells the story in an unusual way. The documentary is composed entirely of  period news footage, TV interviews, and, most of all, the recorded testimony of the inquiry. There’s no narrator, only voices from that time, preserved on tape. Police and survivors of the bombing all testify why they did what they did and bring light to what was happening that tragic day. (Some police were appalled by what happened and did what they could to rescue people, while others clearly supported it.) Especially poignant is the testimony of a little boy, Birdie Africa, who clears up many of the false claims and misconceptions about what went on. This is a stunning movie and an excellent oral history.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Hot Docs) and Let the Fire Burn (TIFF Bell Lightbox) both open today 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 .

Daniel Garber talks with Swedish director Gabriela Pichler about her new film EAT SLEEP DIE (Äta Sova Dö)

Posted in Cultural Mining, Migrants, Movies, Sweden, Uncategorized, Women by CulturalMining.com on November 23, 2013

Gabriela Pichler. Foto: Claudio Bresciani

Sverigesradio foto Gabriela PichlerHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Raša (Nermina Lukač) is a young Swedish woman, a Muslim born in Montenegro. She lives with her Dad in a small town near Gothenburg and works in a produce-packing factory. She’s a damned good employee — the type who can tell the exact weight of a handful of lettuce.

But when she and some others are laid off by the company, she finds herself suddenly rudderless, adrift. And, when her ailing father is forced to look for work in Norway, she has nothing to do and no one to do it with. All her friends were at the factory — her life was there, too. Is she “Swedish” enough to find a new job in her home town?
A new movie, a realistic drama, looks at small-town life in Sweden through the eyes of an assimilated, working class immigrant. It deals with questions of identity, community and exclusion.
This award-winning film is called EAT SLEEP DIE and played at the the Venice, Busan and Toronto film festivals. It is screening at the EU Film Festival in Toronto.Eat Sleep Die 06
I speak — by telephone from Gothenburg, Sweden — with the film’s writer/director, Gabriela Pichler. She talks about immigrants in Sweden, making her film and the personal connection she has with the story.

Daniel Garber talks to Destin Cretton about his new film Short Term 12

Posted in Crime, Cultural Mining, Depression, Drama, Family, Mental Illness by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 2013

Destin

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

What’s it like to live in a group home for troubled youth? Is it a refuge for people facing violence, abuse and addiction in the outside world? Or is it a place where people are exposed to these harsh realities? And are the staff as troubled as their charges?
 
A new movie called SHORT TERM 12 looks at just these questions. It follows two staff members, Grace and Mason, as well as two patients: Jayden — a troubled girl who just arrived and doesn’t want to be there — and  Marcus, a depressed kid on the verge of 18 who doesn’t want to leave. It’s a drama that’s short term 12 films we likemoving, informative and surprising. And one that seems very real.
 
Writer/ director DESTIN  DANIEL CRETTON, tells more about this film, his inspiration and more, by telephone from Los Angeles.
 
Short Term 12 played at Rendezvous With Madness and opens today in Toronto.

 

Tough Times. Films reviewed: Alien Boy, The Book Thief, When Jews Were Funny

Posted in 1940s, Canada, comedy, Cultural Mining, Death, Depression, documentary, Drama, Movies, Uncategorized, WWII by CulturalMining.com on November 15, 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.

Life isn’t always rainbows and lollipops. There are tough times out there: violence, war, death. But tough times can make for good movies, better drama and funnier jokes… if done right. This week I’m looking at a documentary about a police assault on a man with schizophrenia; a literary, historical drama about a little girl living in Nazi Germany, and — to end on a lighter note — a documentary about Jewish comedians.

Alien Boy James Chasse Oregon_OrganizmAlien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse

Dir: Brian Lindstrom

James Chasse grew up in Portland Oregon along with the early punk scene. Jim-Jim was into groups like the Wipers and in his own band. He loved comics, drew one-copy zines, believed in ghosts and werewolves. He even had a song recorded about him.

Flash forward: he’s an adult living with schizophrenia and he isn’t doing that well. He becomes increasingly isolated, grows a scraggly beard and wears ragged clothes. He’s also had a bad run-in with the police, making him wary of future encounters. And he finds being physically touched abhorrent. So, one day, when a policeman calls him over, he runs away instead. What happens next is just horrifying.Alien Boy James Chasse Group_home

He is chased, and brutally thrown to the sidewalk under the full weight of police twice his size. They tell passersby — concerned at James’s calls for help — that he is carrying a bag of drugs (which is actually bread crumbs). And that he is a transient – though his home is only a few blocks away – and that he has a long arrest record: also not true. They tase him. Repeatedly. And while he’s lying there, unconscious on the sidewalk, they stand beside him, unconcerned, sipping Starbucks. Despite his calls for help, they take him not to the hospital but to the police station.

They put this horrible clear plastic thing called a spit mask (I’ve never seen anything like it before this film) over his head. He’s treated like a dog… or worse. And then he’s dead at the hands of the police.

Alien Boy Marquez_PhotoIt makes my blood boil.

Alien Boy is a collective, oral history of James Chasse. His mother, friends, lovers, acquaintances and strangers all tell about his life and what happened. The second half follows the court case in Portland, about whether or not the police who killed him will be held responsible.

Very sad, very moving story about an interesting man, his tragic fate, and what happens afterwards.

This is an important topic, that deserves to be seen, especially now, especially in Toronto. In fact, an inquest started just this week into the deaths of Michael Eligon, Sylvia Klibingaitis and Reyal Jardine-Douglas. All three killed by police, all three mentally ill.

the-book-thief-poster1-401x600The Book Thief

Dir: Brian Percival

From the novel by Markus Zusak

Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) is a young girl in Nazi Germany, before WWII. When things are getting treacherous, she’s sent to live with a foster Mother and Father. Loving Papa and mean Mama (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) are her new parents. He calls her “Your Highness” because of her regal bearing. Liesel is illiterate, but her toughness and independent spirit stops any bullying in its tracks. She quickly learns to read, and makes friends with Rudy, the boy next door.

But her life changes when a young man, Max, who is Jewish, moves into the house with Book Thief1 gofobothem. They hide him in the basement to keep him out of sight. Liesel and Max become very close. Meanwhile, newly literate, Liesel is shocked when she sees her beloved books being burned in a public square. She makes friends with the Burgermeister’s wife who invites her to read in her library. But when she is discovered and barred from the house, she becomes the “book thief” of the title, borrowing other people’s books to keep Max’s spirit up.

They all face not just the cruelty of the Nazi war machine, but also the Allies, who are frequently bombing their homes.

Book Thief 2 gofoboWho will live through the war? And who will die? The movie is narrated by a passionless angel of death, who takes away both the good and the bad.

I like the story, its tender drama and fairytale-like tone. Quebecoise Sophie Nelisse is terrific as Leisel, as are many of the supporting cast. But it didn’t quite work for me. Certain things are really annoying. Why does everyone speak English with a fake German accent? It’s an American movie about Germans in Germany speaking German. We just “hear” them in English. They should sound like native speakers.

And the omniscient, impassive narrator keeps pulling you back from the characters. It makes it harder to care about them if it’s just a fable.

When Jews Were Funny

Dir: Allan Zweig

*Winner TIFF13 Best Canadian Feature prize

Berman_BW

Is there a specific type of humour, that can be called Jewish humour? And if so, is it – or was it – a central part of stand-up comedy? And are the new comics as funny as ones from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s? In this great and funny documentary, Director Allan Zweig asks Jewish stand-up comics these questions. Zweig thinks the dry wit of the old guys eating soup in the delis of his childhood were much funnier than today’s stand-up comics. Is he right?

Listen to this very old joke about a man asking a grocer if he has any salt: (audio clip from film: Shelley Berman)

When Jews Were Funny and The Book Thief both open today (check your local listings), and Alien Boy plays at Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival tonight. Also on right now is Toronto’s Polish Film Festival: go to ekran.ca for more info.

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

Daniel Garber speaks with Sameer Farooq about his new documentary The Silk Road of Pop

Posted in China, Clash of Cultures, Cultural Mining, documentary, Islam, Music, Uncategorized, Xinjiang by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2013

Sameer Farooq The Silk Road of Pop

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

Most Chinese live in the eastern half of the country. Western China — places like Tibet, Gansu, Xinjiang — are sparsely populated, and traditionally the home of minority populations, people who are different from the Han Chinese.
One of these groups, the Uyghur — a central Asian, Muslim Turkic people — were once a dominant culture in vast Xinjiang.
But very recently, an influx of Han Chinese migrants have shifted the population balance away from this indigenous group. A fascinating new documentary called The Silk Road of Pop, premiering at Toronto’s Reel Asian Film Festival looks at how the Uyghur people and their music have fared in contemporary China.
The director is Nova Scotia native Sameer Farooq from Smoke Signal Projects. Sameer has a background in Cultural Anthropology and a deep familiarity with China and its peoples. He’s currently completing his MFA at RISD in Rhode Island.
In this interview Sameer explains more about the origins of Uyghur music, his own identification with that group, outside influences, hip hop, their future as a minority within China, the role of women in Uyghur music… and more!
silk road of pop

Survivors. Movies Reviewed: Ender’s Game, Dallas Buyers Club, The Disappeared PLUS Last Vegas

Posted in Biopic, Cultural Mining, Drama, Gay, H.I.V., Movies, Nova Scotia, Psychology, School, Science Fiction, Texas, violence, War by CulturalMining.com on November 1, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s Movember… time to grow those mustaches, ladies! And keep your eyes open to all the film festivals opening in Toronto this month. Look for: Reel Asian, Rendezvous with Madness, Ekran, Planet in Focus, and the EU Film Festival and Regent Park Film Fest – the last two of which are completely free!

This week I’m looking at three movies about people facing impossible odds. There’s a space drama about small children trying to save the universe; a biopic about a Texan trying to survive the HIV virus; and a Canadian drama about a lifeboat full of fisherman trying to find their way back home.

Enders Game Ford ButterfieldEnder’s Game

Dir: Gavin Hood

It’s the future. Ant-like aliens have attacked the planet. Little Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a smart but bullied school kid. Like his classmates, he has a metal knob attached to his head so the military can read his mind. But when he fights back against a much bigger kid, he’s suddenly pulled from school. Is he in trouble? No, he’s been chosen to join an elite military academy in outer space.

Ender is a smart kid. They choose him both for his analytical thoughts and assertive nature, but also for his compassion. Two military brass (Harrison Ford as hawkish warmonger Colonel Graff and Viola Davis as a compassionate psychologist Major Anderson) are closely studying him. They use Ender as a test case for the perfect soldier, possibly the one who can beat the ant-people in their endless war. Only children, they believe, can absorb and apply complicated digital info fast enough to beat the bad guys. Ender is the perfect leader. He follows orders but also questions authority if things aren’t going right.

He makes friends – Bean, Alai and Petra () –  with his fellow child-soldiers at the academy as they train for various battle simulations. These games are like 3-D computer simulations, except they fight physically, in immense arenas without gravity. They learn new strategies, play new games, fight new battles and form enders game 3 eonenew teams. And Ender is always there, taking it all in and devising new battle plans.

But he also pines for his family back on earth: his genius parents, his sadistic older brother Peter, and his loving sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin). Just like the two military officers, the brother and sister are fighting to influence Ender toward cruelty or compassion. Which one influenced him the most?

Enders Game 2 eoneCan the earthlings ever defeat the ant people? Will ender provide the solution? And in the process, will he turn into a baby Hitler? Or a mini-Gandhi?

This movie is based on the popular cold-war science fiction novel. It’s pretty close to the original. I’ve read the book, so it was really fun to actually see it on the big screen. And it handles the good vs bad and all its permutations well – Peter vs Valentine, Col Graff vs Maj Anderson, Earthlings vs Formic beings. Asa Butterfield is good, though a bit wooden or robot like, but that suits the role. It’s a enjoyable sci-fi pic, with an unexpected ending. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s still smarter than most. It’s also darker than a Star Wars or a Star Trek, and it’s not a straightforward, “feel-good” superhero movie.

dallasbuyersclub_01Dallas Buyers Club

Dir Jean-Marc Vallee

It’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas. Ron’s a rootin’-tootin’ redneck in a cowboy hat. He’s an electrician at the oil fields, and in his spare time he picks up girls, snorts coke, guzzles alcohol straight from the mickey, and goes to strip bars. His hobby? The rodeo: he likes to ride bulls (not bareback, I hope.)

Anyway, Ron (Matthew McConaughey) also prone to fainting and hallucinating, and he’s looking rather thin these days. He’s clearly illing. While dallasbuyersclub_02he’s in hospital, he meets Rayon (Jared Leto) a trans woman in the next bed. It’s hate at first sight. Homophobic Ron calls her pansy, buttercup, tinkerbell – and that’s when he’s being nice. And she wants nothing to do with him.

When they test Ron’s blood, turns out he’s HIV-positive, his T-cell count is down to eight, and he has 30 days left to live. The FDA refuses to release experimental drugs, even though AIDS patients are dropping like flies. They’re testing AZT at that very hospital, but only as double blind tests, with placebos for half the patients, and lethally high AZT doses for the rest.

Basically, Ron’s dead.

dallasbuyersclub_03Then an orderly tells him about a doc, down Mexico way, who can get him what he needs. Sure ‘nuff. He doesn’t die. So he starts smuggling the meds, the vitamins and dietary supplements across the border. And Rayon becomes his business partner. The two of them setting up a quasi-legal centre – that’s the Dallas Buyers Club of the title —  where members can get access to treatment the mainstream medical profession is denying them. With the help of a sympathetic doctor (Jennifer Garner channelling Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich) they just might beat the system ( the FDA, the hospitals, Big Pharma) that’s trying to shut them down. But can they fight their own illnesses, too?

This biopic works well as a drama. It’s moving, good story, good acting. This is Quebec director Jean Marc Vallee’s first English language film, and he totally pulls it off.  (C.R.A.Z.Y. was a huge hit in Canada a few years ago.) Matt McConaughey lost tons of weight for his role, and Jared Leto dressed as a woman (although it’s unclear whether he’s playing an extremely effeminate, cross-dressing gay man, or a transsexual)  Maybe I’m totally cynical, but I just get the nagging suspicion that they’re out there performing “big” mainly so they can win some Oscars. In any case, they are good and convincing in their roles, as is Steve Zahn as Ron’s buddy a local cop.  All in all, a moving and interesting biopic.

the disappeared stillThe Disappeared

Dir: Shandi Mitchell

Ever been to sea, Billy? 

No, Captain Highliner…

Well, these guys sure have. There are six of them drifting around in a lifeboat in the Atlantic, somewhere off Nova Scotia. There’s the Skipper (Brian Downie) a god-fearing type, and then there are the various sailors, played by Billy Campbell, Ryan Doucette, and others. The mean sailor, the young sailor, the experienced sailor, the bearded sailor,  the other bearded sailor… And you can tell their names because they do a role call every morning to see if they’re all still there. (Mannie here, Pete here, Merv here…)

When they’re not rowing the boats (Heave! Ho!) to somewhere, they’re singing 559878_589502101108342_1960101735_nribald sea shanties, eating their rations, whittling wood, drinking rum… you know, behaving like fishermen do. Will they spot land? Or will they get rescued? Or will they be like the Flying Dutchman, forever floating on the seven seas?

Have you noticed there are a lot of movies about Men in Boats recently? Book of Pi, Kon Tiki, All is Lost, Captain Phillips, La Pirogue… Well, this is another one. Some of these are great adventures; this one’s more of a character study. I get the impression that the sailors in The Disappeared are all waiting for some ship called the SS Godot to arrive, but in the meantime they’ll sing a few more sea shanties and call it a day.

Last Vegas Kline De Niro Douglas FreemanThe Disappeared, Ender’s Game and Dallas Buyers Club all open today in Toronto (check your local listings). Also opening is the so-called comedy Last Vegas, a real groaner about four retired guys (starring great actors like Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline) meeting up in Las Vegas for a final, wild bachelor party before Michael Douglas marries a beautiful young woman. She’s not that young… she’s 35! Douglas says. I have a hemorrhoid older than 35, says the Kevin Kline character. Ugh. Nuff said about this tired, unfunny geriatric version of The Hangover.

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

Daniel Garber speaks with musicians Volker Goetze and Ablaye Cissoko about Volker’s new documentary GRIOT

Posted in Africa, Cultural Mining, documentary, Movies, Music, Senegal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on October 24, 2013
photoHi! This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining,com and CIUT 89.54 FM.
In West Africa — in countries like Senegal,  Gambia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinee, Niger, and parts of Nigeria —
every village traditionally had a town speaker or storyteller. They announce special occasions like births, weddings, and even wars and battles. They tell fables and tales, parables and jokes, lore that was passed on from generation to generation.
The storyteller is known as the griot (or griotte) and is the subject of a new documentary. It looks at theAmanke_Dionti_COVER griot in Senegal, including Ablaye Cissoko, a hereditary griot and a musician who plays the kora.
Griot is both a fascinating subject and a beautifully musical film to look at and listen to.
I speak with director/musician Volker Goetze and griot/musician Ablaye Cissoko about the role of the griot (Volker provides the translations). The film opens today, as does their musical tour of Canada.
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